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Metamorphosis

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May 1999

It was a casual afternoon; Colonel O'Neill was flipping channels on the television set in the recreation lounge, complaining that he could not find the PGA tournament, when Teal'c glimpsed a face he never expected to see again. "Stop!" he shouted, staring at the screen as a dark-haired man quietly destroyed his reputation...

***

February 1999

On Chulak there would be no need for this... subterfuge. But as Colonel O'Neill had stammered, red-faced, things were different here. On Chulak, warriors who spent years serving the Goa'uld far from their wives and families were expected, even encouraged, to seek release with each other. No warrior dared show cowardice in battle, knowing that if he survived the punishment of the Goa'uld he would then be scorned and rebuffed that night by his lovers and brothers in arms. With a fellow warrior, one did not always have to be careful, rein in one's passions. And only in the arms of a fellow warrior could one mourn the innocent blood on one's hands.

But the Tau'ri frowned on such bonds between warriors. Colonel O'Neill had finally told him, "If you absolutely have to, Teal'c, I can't know about it or you're off the team, understand? Go talk to Daniel; he's gotta know something about this stuff."

Daniel Jackson had been equally embarrassed, but quite helpful. He had instructed Teal'c in how to dress and looked on his computer for where Teal'c could find like-minded men. And so, at a suitable distance from the SGC, Teal'c found himself in a crowded warehouse lit with flashing lights and filled with deafening sounds that made his symbiote thrash in pain.

He had intended to conclude his business quickly, but the men he approached eyed him and backed away, giving him wide berth, until, at the center of the dance floor, he found what he sought.

The man was smaller than most, with long, curly hair, jewelry flashing in his ears. But his body was solid and moved with a warrior's grace, turning the deep bass from obnoxious noise to sensuous rhythm. And unlike the others, this one met Teal'c's appraising interest with a smile of invitation, shimmying down and then up Teal'c's torso sinuously. The man shouted something, but the words were lost to the music and Teal'c's English was still too unpolished to read lips. He tapped his ear and the man leaned in to shout, "I said, are you a cop?"

"I am not," Teal'c shouted.

The man clearly misheard, because his next words were, "I thought so. Cop or soldier. The muscle shirt and the do-rag look thuggish, but you stand too straight. Gotta work on that."

Teal'c had caught perhaps every third word of that, but understood enough to know why the other men had avoided him, from Colonel O'Neill's earlier reaction to Teal'c's request. "You are not afraid?"

The man tapped his ear again, looked towards the bathrooms, then decided otherwise and led Teal'c outside, where the noise was greatly reduced.

"That's better," his companion said. "What were you saying back there?"

"You are not afraid of me?"

"Are you kidding? Cops are my world, man." He took a step back and opened his arms, inviting Teal'c's appraisal. "Not dealing, not using, not selling my services or looking to buy. I've got nothing to be scared of."

There was something about this man that reminded Teal'c of Daniel Jackson. Not just the obvious intelligence or the strength hidden in the deceptively slender build. No, it was the tired lines by the mouth and eyes that almost, almost killed the spark of animation in the man. This was a man who had been ground down but not defeated. This was a fellow warrior.

"Like what you see?" the man asked.

"Yes," Teal'c responded.

"Have you got a place?"

"Yes," said Teal'c, and the man led him around the corner to his car and waited for Teal'c to get in and give him directions.

The hotel was clean, but had few amenities, only the bed and a curtained window that looked out onto the parking lot. As soon as they were in the door, the man grabbed his shoulders, hauled him down, and kissed him soundly. Teal'c kissed back, tongue exploring the sweet mouth as he wrestled to pull off the man's clothes. But when the man reached to do the same, Teal'c stopped him. "I would prefer to leave my shirt and head covering on," he said.

The man blinked at that, but finally shrugged off the last of his own clothing and waited for Teal'c to undress as far as he chose. The man was lovely in the soft light, compact, muscular, hairy, with a few surprising knife and bullet scars marring the golden skin. A ring hung from one nipple, and Teal'c bent down to catch it in his mouth, chuckling at the low cries this wrung from his lover's throat. Teal'c reached down and roughly grasped the hard, dripping cock, the plump balls, and then further back, he found a surprise. Where he had expected to encounter a tight, dry ass, he instead discovered the man had prepared before going out tonight; his ass was already well-lubricated and opened. The man looked down to gauge his reaction, and Teal'c bared his teeth. "Am I to understand you do not wish me to be careful?"

The man reached over to scrounge through his discarded jeans for a little square packet. "Oh, I definitely want you to be careful," he said hoarsely, "but you can be as rough as you want."

Daniel Jackson had warned him of this, but still Teal'c wished he could tell the man it wasn't necessary -- Teal'c could neither catch nor pass on any disease, and he had no desire to lose any of the sensation he was anticipating. But the man slipped the condom into his mouth, dropped to his knees and suckled Teal'c's cock with such abandon that when he finally stood to reveal Teal'c's latex-covered, rock-hard cock, Teal'c decided that safety had its advantages.

Even with the shirt on, there was a possibility that the symbiote might be revealed, so Teal'c pushed the man face down on the bed and knelt over him, running a reassuring hand down the man's flank as he pushed inside. The size of him forced another low cry from the man's throat, for despite the preparation, it was still a tight fit. Teal'c closed his eyes and tried to hold still, to let the man grow accustomed to the invasion, but it had been so long, so long since he had had the joy of release, and he couldn't help driving his cock deeper into the tight, slick cavern.

The young man thrust back against him despite a sob of mixed pain and pleasure, and Teal'c slammed into him harder and harder, filling him up. "So long, it has been so long, need this," he groaned, until his vision whited out and he gripped his partner's hips hard enough to leave bruises on fragile Tau'ri flesh as his seed jetted out of him in a delicious rush.

Immediately he pulled out and scrounged on the floor for a second foil packet, sinking back into that welcoming ass before his partner could ask what was happening.

"What, already?" the young man gasped.

"I recover quickly," Teal'c growled, trying for a better angle. He knew he had found his target when his partner groaned and arched into his thrust, and Teal'c began driving against that spot as hard as he could, smiling at the low cries of need that grew more keening with every moment. When the passage that held him began spasming, the sensation drove Teal'c hard over the edge again. He pulled out again and found another condom. He was nowhere near finished yet.

***

Later, drenched in sweat, Teal'c finally collapsed on top of his sated lover, warmed by the pre-dawn glow through the window.

"Oh man, that was good," the young man groaned, running a warm, strong hand across Teal'c's back. "I'm gonna be bow-legged for a week."

Teal'c kissed the man's curly hair, relishing the luxury of touch. He wished he could stretch the time out further, but he would be needed back at the base soon. "May I ask you a question?"

"Shoot."

"Who is Jim?"

He could feel the young man's face heating. "Oh. That's... I'm sorry, man, shouting someone else's name is in pretty poor taste, even if you didn't give me yours. Jim is... someone I shouldn't be thinking about here. I'm sorry."

Teal'c patted the curly head resting in the crook of his shoulder, not offended. "Dead or living, yours are not the only ghosts in this bed. Can I find you back at that establishment again?"

"What, the club?" He shook his head. "Sorry, man, I'm just in town for a conference. I don't live around here."

Teal'c gave no sign of his disappointment. He would have liked another night such as this, though. "I am sorry to hear that. I would have liked our paths to cross again."

***

May 1999

Now Teal'c turned, mind reeling, from the television to Colonel O'Neill's puzzled face. "We must contact this Sandburg," he said. "We must offer him a place at the SGC."

"What, a bogus academic who admitted to public fraud? Forget it. His career's toast, and for good reason, it sounds like." Colonel O'Neill stared at Teal'c as though he was mad. Perhaps he was.

"I have encountered him before," he said, remembering the young man's outstretched arms in the parking lot outside the warehouse. "He is unafraid when he tells the truth. Look at him. He is afraid now." Teal'c leaned forward, determined to convince his team leader. "A man brave enough to destroy his career to keep a secret is a man of great principles and courage. With the defection of Colonel Makepeace, we need such men here more than ever."

Colonel O'Neill studied him, but finally said, "Okay, Teal'c, I'll make some calls."

Teal'c watched him go, and a rare smile touched his lips. Sandburg had given him what he needed on that night so long ago. Now it was time for Teal'c to return the favor. He shifted, giving a certain part of his anatomy room to expand. Perhaps Sandburg would want to return the favor in kind...

***

Blair rubbed his hand against his jeans again, trying to exorcise the memory of a badge smacking his palm. Not that he wasn't grateful -- God, what kind of strings had Simon pulled to make this happen? But he kept thinking of all the hours Jim logged in court, testifying about cases. What was going to happen the first time someone put him on the stand? And there was something else, something he hated to admit still bothered him, but Jim had assumed, right off the bat, that Blair had sold him out. He'd jumped out of an airplane for this man, what more did he have to do to win Jim's trust?

The ringing telephone snapped him out of his depressing train of thought. "Hello?" he said, not identifying himself. They'd been getting a lot of crank calls since this whole dissertation mess started.

"Blair Sandburg?" asked the voice on the other end of the phone.

"Who's calling?" Blair asked, still waiting to know whether it was safe to say who he was.

"This is Colonel Jack O'Neill, U.S. Air Force--"

Blair slammed the phone down, heart pounding. The military. Oh, that couldn't be good. Crap. Oh, crap. Jim was going to kill him.

The phone rang and rang, and the machine picked up. "Aw, for crying out loud, I know you're there. Will you pick up the damn phone?"

The guy sounded pretty frustrated. If he could be thwarted just by being hung up on, he couldn't be too menacing. Blair picked up the phone, and the machine clicked off. "Uh, hi. Sorry about that. Reflex."

"It's okay. From the sound of it, you've been having a shitty week."

"Yeah, that about sums it up," said Blair.

"Listen, can we talk? Not over the phone. I have something I want to discuss with you."

"Okay, uh, when?" Blair asked.

"How about now? Look outside your window."

Blair obediently stepped out onto the balcony and paled. Leaning on the hood of the silver car parked below was a man in dress blues, talking on a cell phone.

"Sandburg. Sandburg! Stop breathing like that; you're going to pass out. Yeesh. Look, if we wanted to kidnap you, we could have just broken into the apartment. Now why don't you pull yourself together and come down so we can talk?"

Blair tried to calm down. "Right. Sorry."

"It's okay. Now get your ass down here."

Downstairs, the colonel gave Blair an appraising glance as he emerged from the building, and Blair used the time it took to cross the street to do some assessing of his own. Colonel O'Neill was fit, despite the gray in his hair. Not a desk jockey, then. And there was something in his expression that reminded Blair of Jack Kelso, both seasoned, with the same lack of military coldness. It made Blair feel more comfortable about the whole situation.

"Sorry about before," he said. "I'm usually not such a spaz."

O'Neill shrugged. "It's not even a week since you trashed your career to take back your claim that your partner is some kind of superhero, and the military is calling you for face-time. Honestly, I'd be checking for brain damage if you weren't a little freaked out." He gestured to the car behind them. "Let's take a ride, Sparky. This isn't a conversation I want to be having on the street."

Blair only hesitated a little before getting in on the passenger side. O'Neill got in the driver's seat and started what seemed to be a leisurely tour of downtown Cascade. "I've got a job offer for you, Sandburg."

"For me and Jim, you mean," said Blair, feeling uncomfortable echoes of Brackett. "Not interested."

"Believe it or not, this actually has nothing to do with Sentinels, although if you wanted to bring Ellison along, we'd definitely find a place for him. No, this would be... I guess you could call it field research. Translation, looking at artifacts, keeping us from making cultural snafus with local populations."

Despite himself, Blair was intrigued. "Local to where?"

"That's classified until we know you're in. But trust me, you won't be bored."

"So why me?" Blair asked. "There've gotta be dozens of anthro-types out there, with doctorates and sterling records. Why would you want someone w-who's a liar and a fraud?" He fought down the nauseous turn his stomach took at those words. He had to get used to them. That was who he was, now, who he had to be, if Jim was going to be safe.

"A member of my team vouched for you," said O'Neill. "And we've been looking over your police record as much as your published articles. You're a geek, and we need geeks, but we need tough geeks who can think on their feet. You took out armed men with a fire hose, you spent a year in the African bush figuring out how to fit concepts of safe sex into local superstitions so AIDS workers could get their points across, and your translations of Coptic impressed Carter, so even though I don't know what the hell that is, I figure it must be pretty impressive." He took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Blair. "You can keep a secret, and you're not going to be upset that you can't publish or make a name for yourself. So I figured what the hell, I'd feel you out, see if you're interested. What do you say?"

Blair had to admit, he was interested. O'Neill's voice was full of passion and excitement. Whatever this job was, it wasn't Blair's dream, but it was someone's dream, one that hadn't been tarnished. One that sounded like it would draw on all his skills. "When do I start?"

***

Blair's tension only increased as he waited for Jim to come home. What exactly did this job involve? Colonel O'Neill had refused to give details until Blair committed to the project in Colorado. And who was this team member who had supposedly vouched for him? Blair's acquaintances were many and varied, but he was sure he would have remembered an Air Force officer among them.

He was going to have to get a move on, if he wanted to be packed in time to drive in the day after tomorrow. Clothes were first priority; Colorado was certainly not warmer than Cascade. Would he have to wear a uniform? Cut his hair? He hadn't thought to ask. At any rate, doing his dirty laundry and boxing it up couldn't hurt.

When he came up from the laundry room with the load of clean clothes, he found Jim waiting for him. "I thought laundry day wasn't until Thursday, Chief," said Jim, holding the door for him.

"Yeah, I needed clean clothes." He took a deep breath. "I got a job today."

Jim's expression was controlled and bland. "That's great, Chief. Where?"

"Colorado."

Jim tensed. "You're leaving." His voice held a note of anger.

"Yeah."

"What about the academy?"

Blair sighed. "Jim, it was a great gesture, and it meant a lot to me, but we both know I screwed up my reputation too badly to survive as a cop. And you'll be okay, man; you've got the Sentinel thing down by this point. It's been ages since the last time you zoned, and I'll be just a phone call away if you run into anything unexpected."

"Screw 'the Sentinel thing,' Sandburg; I thought we were partners! And now you're leaving, just like that?"

"Jim, a couple of weeks ago, you were ready to kick me out. Again."

"That was different," Jim waved the point away. "Everything was crazy then."

"Yeah, it was, just like last year when everything was crazy because of Alex." Blair couldn't believe he was finally saying all this out loud, things he would never have dared to say even the day before. He hadn't realized how angry he was until he had somewhere else he could go, until he didn't have to worry about keeping things on an even keel. "Partners are supposed to trust each other, depend on each other."

"Exactly," said Jim, presumably drawing breath to make a point about the betrayal of Blair's leaving.

But Blair wasn't through yet. "We've lived and worked together almost four years now," he said. "But every time something happens, you're ready to assume the worst of me. When it looks like Simon or Rafe screwed you over, you hunt them down and ask about it without thinking twice. But me, I'm guilty until proven innocent as far as you're concerned, every time. Just once, Jim, just once I wish you could trust me without a shred of evidence to back that trust beyond your faith that someone who's been through hell with you over and over for four years isn't going to stab you in the back. But since you can't do that, I don't know what I'm doing here."

Jim stared at him, openmouthed. Then he abruptly slammed out of the apartment, leaving Blair shaken and silent. After a few minutes, Blair pulled himself together. He still needed to pack.

He hadn't unpacked the boxes from his office, and he wasn't sure what he would need for his new job anyway; better take all his books and papers and throw out what he didn't need when he got there. And once he sorted out the things worth saving, his room turned out to have very little of actual or sentimental value. A lifelong vagabond, he'd tried not to burden himself with too many possessions. Half his stuff had been destroyed in the warehouse explosion, and after that, he really hadn't collected mementos because on some level he'd thought he'd be here with Jim forever. Hoarding reminders of the person he came home to every day had seemed silly.

It hit him, all of a sudden, that he was giving up the only stable home he'd ever had, giving up his best friend, people who cared about him, and a dream he'd cherished since childhood. But this stopped being home when Jim kicked you out, he reminded himself. Maybe it's time to find a new dream.

It was late by the time he heard Jim stumble up the stairs to his bedroom, carrying with him the stench of alcohol and smoke. Blair waited to see if Jim would come back down, talk to him, argue with him, something, but when Jim's light switched off, Blair resigned himself to a night of restless dreaming.

***

The next morning, Blair started dragging boxes and garbage bags down to the Volvo. Jim watched reproachfully from over the rim of his coffee mug, but made no offer to help. Helping probably seemed like tacit approval, Blair decided. He was surprised, though, as he put the boxes in the trunk and got ready to head upstairs for a second load, to see a familiar squad car pulling up to the curb. "What are you guys doing here?" he asked as Joel and Megan got out of the car.

"Jim told us," said Megan. "Were you just going to leave without saying goodbye?"

Blair winced. "I'm sorry, guys. This all happened kind of fast, and after you all went to so much trouble to get me that badge, I felt bad expecting you to be happy I was leaving."

"So what really happened; you proposed and he said no?" Megan asked.

Joel and Megan were the only two at the station who knew how Blair felt about Jim; they'd comforted him through enough bouts of 'What's wrong with me, going after someone who will never think of me that way?' that of course it was the first thing that sprung to mind when they saw him moving out abruptly and without Jim's help. "No, I just... too much has happened the last couple of years. When I got this offer, I just realized that things with Jim are broken too badly for me to stay. I need to start over."

Joel nodded, accepting without criticism. His friendship these past few years had been a surprising and wonderful gift, and Blair was going to miss him terribly. He'd never had time to make deep friendships like this before, and the longer he stood there, the more names popped into his head of people who had stood by him through this whole mess, close friends he might never see again. Joel. Megan. Simon. Daryl. Rafe. Brown. Jack Kelso--

"So what's this job?" Joel asked.

"Translation, mostly," said Blair, shaking off his funk. "You know how it is; I'm not going to get a full sense of the day-to-day until I'm up to my elbows in it. But it sounds like a good place."

"Don't be a stranger, mate," said Megan. "You need some help with those boxes?"

"Hey, thanks!" said Blair, grateful for their support.

Joel nominated the two younger backs to carry boxes, volunteering instead to watch the car. Jim stared at them when they came in the door, and something in his expression made Blair cringe at the thought that he'd probably been listening to their conversation. Sure enough, when Blair sent Megan down with a load of boxes and went to pick up a stack for himself, Jim stood up and blocked the doorway to Blair's room. "You never told me."

"I didn't want to freak you out, man. It doesn't matter now. Don't worry about it."

"Don't--" Jim bit off what he had been about to say. "Is that why you're leaving? You're in love with me and you got sick of waiting?"

Blair shook his head. "I told you why, man. I need a job, and you and I have used up whatever currency of trust we'd built up."

Jim looked like a drowning man. "If I kissed you, would you stay?"

They were so not having this conversation. Not now, when everything else was so raw. "You don't like men, Jim. You're as straight as they come."

Jim waved that away. "Answer the question, dammit. Would you stay if I kissed you?"

Megan opened the door to the apartment, glanced at their faces and backed out again, murmuring quiet apologies.

"You're not gay, Jim. If you tried to change that, I think it would only make things worse between us."

"Maybe you're wrong about that. Maybe you're wrong about me," Jim challenged.

Blair regarded him quietly for a long moment. He stood on tiptoe and leaned in to press a kiss against Jim's temple. Then he picked up the pile of boxes and walked away.

***

The two elevators deep into the hidden military complex would normally have seemed much more intriguing, but after driving through the night and only catching a quick catnap in the front seat of his car, Blair was saving most of his energy for the interview and wasn't at his most observant. General Hammond turned out to be a stocky, phlegmatic man in shirtsleeves, who ushered him to have a seat at the lavish conference table. "Thank you for coming in, Mr. Sandburg. How was the drive from Cascade?"

"Long," said Blair, which earned him a half-smile.

"I won't waste your time, then," said General Hammond, pushing a pen and a thick sheaf of papers across the table. "That's a non-disclosure agreement. It says that, whether or not you agree to work under my command, you will not divulge any part of what you see or hear today, and will hold this conversation in the strictest confidence."

Blair took a minute to look over the contract and confirm that it really did say that, then signed and dated it and pushed it back into Hammond's waiting hands.

"I realize it's completely outside your field of study, Mr. Sandburg, but what do you know about wormholes?"

Had he heard that right? Blair was flummoxed for a moment. "Isn't that theoretical physics? It's like a tesseract, right; folding space to get from here to there without the in-between?"

Hammond nodded. Blair sent up silent thanks to Naomi for thinking that no free-thinking child's education was complete without Heinlein.

"Six years ago, we managed to use an alien device to create a stable wormhole between Earth and a planet called Abydos. Since that time, we have been exploring other worlds on a regular basis through what we call the Stargate."

This sounded like some insane practical joke, but Hammond didn't look like the joking type. "I assume you've got proof of this?"

Hammond smiled. "All in good time, Mr. Sandburg. In our explorations, we've found hundreds of other civilizations. Some are transplanted human communities. Others are aliens. And while most are friendly, some pose a genuine and immediate threat to life on this planet. This project's mandate is to explore as many worlds as possible to develop technology and alliances that can help us combat those threats. There are a lot of ways you could be of use to us, working on one of our translation and analysis teams here on Earth, or on a long-term mission embedded in an alien society, paving the way for trade and diplomatic exchange. But our flagship exploration team, SG-1, has recently suffered a loss, and I'm having a hard time finding a replacement the remaining team members are willing to work with." His expression didn't change, but Hammond's tone showed just how little patience he had left for this flagship team. "I'm hoping that because one of them recommended you, it might smooth the way with the others and get them past this roadblock." He sat back and watched Blair.

"When you say, 'suffered a loss...'" Blair asked cautiously.

"I won't lie to you. This is dangerous work. You'll need to be certified combat-trained, and there is some risk of injury or even death. But this is a chance most people don't get: to do something that will change human history for the better. Everyone here is here because they believe the risk is worth it."

Blair nodded, feeling the words resonate. But he couldn't help pushing a little, trying to burst the bubble now before he got too invested in this. "And you're really okay working with a confessed fraud with no academic credentials?"

He was glad to see Hammond didn't wave the point away. "Trust is something that needs to be earned here, probably more in your case. But I think you'll find you're not the only person at the SGC who is here because they need a second chance. I've found that many of them are more faithful and dedicated because of that. As for your credentials, the last thing a top-secret project needs is people with impressive reputations drawing attention. I don't care if you have letters after your name; I just care about the quality of your work here. But I would encourage you to write a new dissertation, based on project-related research, which would be sealed by the Air Force committee that would award you a doctorate. I think you'll agree that whether or not your Sentinel project was a fraud, it's best to let that lie. But by the time you leave here, I would think a doctorate, military commendations and contacts with some of the brightest minds in your field should go a long way towards repairing whatever mistakes you made in the past."

Blair ducked his head and rubbed his tight throat. He'd accepted that his academic career was over, that he'd lost everything he'd worked his whole life for. Now Hammond was handing it back to him on a silver platter. "That sounds... amazing," he admitted, feeling a little giddy. "I'd like to meet this exploration team, but even if that doesn't work out, the research and fieldwork you were describing sound great. I'm in."

Hammond smiled and stood up. "Then I'll introduce you to the--" He broke off as an alarm went off. "Good. On time, for once. That'll make things easier. If you'll follow me, Mr. Sandburg?"

Hammond led him down two flights of stairs as a voice called over the loudspeaker, "Offworld activation. SG-1 iris code confirmed." They walked into a warehouse-like room where gun-wielding airmen watched a gangway leading up to a huge, spiraling disk, humming with energy, that opened to reveal a ring of shimmering light, blue as the Caribbean. Three figures stepped through wearing green fatigues, hands resting casually on their odd-looking machine guns.

"Blair Sandburg, this is Major Sam Carter," a striking blonde who nodded a curt greeting. "And of course, you already know Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c." Colonel O'Neill nodded like Major Carter, and Blair turned to...

Abruptly, his mouth went dry and his stomach lurched, because the big black man with the startling gold symbol branded into his forehead was unmistakably the one-night stand who'd ploughed him like a field a few months back. Seeming oblivious to Blair's social panic, Teal'c inclined his head in greeting. "It is good to see you again, Blair Sandburg."

Thankfully, General Hammond interrupted before Blair could stumble over the greeting and make this the shortest tenure he'd ever held down a job. "You can stay on base until you know what you're doing, Mr. Sandburg. I assume your things are in your car? We'll have someone unpack it and set you up in quarters." He glanced at Blair's long curls and a flicker of amusement tinged his voice as he added, "I'll see that copies of the base regulations and Air Force code of conduct are left out for you, along with a copy of SG-1's mission briefs."

Blair noticed a barely concealed grimace from Colonel O'Neill at that, but Hammond was already moving on. "Teal'c, take Mr. Sandburg down to the infirmary for a full examination. Then he needs to report to supply for uniforms and the drill instructor for a combat readiness assessment. Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, report to the briefing room for debriefing."

Teal'c made another of those expressive nods and indicated for Blair to follow him in the opposite direction from the others.

Blair's mind was churning with questions, most of which he didn't dare voice in a public corridor. What did that weird symbol on Teal'c's forehead mean? How the hell had Teal'c found him again? What had he told people about how they knew each other? Somehow he didn't think base personnel would believe they were cousins... He finally settled for, "I didn't expect to see you again."

"Nor did I, Blair Sandburg. The thought of working alongside you pleases me, but I am sorry for the circumstances that make it necessary."

Blair nodded. "I heard you lost a team member recently. I'm sorry. Were you close?"

Teal'c's shoulders tightened. "Too much blood lay between myself and Daniel Jackson for us to be considered close. But I was proud to call him my friend. We served together for many years."

"I'm sorry," Blair repeated. When Teal'c said 'too much blood,' he didn't mean literally, did he?

Their arrival at the infirmary cut off any further questions for the time being. Dr. Janet Fraiser was a short, efficient brunette who called up the medical records Blair had forgotten to bring on her computer and scanned them while he was still making his apologies for not thinking ahead.

"It says here that you were declared dead back in February, and that you went through two courses of treatment to fight pneumonia after that," she noted, her gentle tone taking the sting out of the words. "Have you had any complications since then? Any trouble breathing?"

"I've been pretty okay," said Blair, feeling his neck heat as he avoided Teal'c's sudden scrutiny. He could only imagine what Teal'c must think; it was hard to miss the fact that Blair's near death experience had occurred less than two weeks before he had offered himself to Teal'c, practically begging the larger man to use him until he couldn't think straight anymore.

Dr. Fraiser asked a few more questions about the bullet wounds and whether he had noticed any residual effects of Golden, and then began the examination. Blair had undergone some pretty extensive check-ups before going on expeditions, but this one took the cake. Blood tests, urine tests, X-Rays, an MRI, inoculations against every disease Blair had ever heard of and a few he hadn't, and then she really got to work on him.

The supply sergeant seemed to think Blair had chosen to be short just to make the sergeant's job more challenging, and the drill instructor said he'd never seen someone with so many bad habits in hand-to-hand combat, but was impressed that despite Blair's loathing for guns, he was actually a decent shot. Then Teal'c showed him how to work a staff weapon and a zat, and Blair took to the non-fatal weapon like a duck to water.

Finally, Blair stumbled after Teal'c to his temporary quarters, where half his boxes had been stacked against one wall, waiting for him. "Where's the rest of my stuff?" Blair asked.

"I believe they would have put your books and papers in Dr. Jackson's lab, since you will need to immerse yourself in his research," said Teal'c. Blair couldn't help a small whimper of exhaustion, and he thought he heard a smile in Teal'c voice as he said, "It is nothing that cannot wait for the morning. I thought I would ask for two trays to be brought here; we could both benefit from rest and nourishment."

Blair nodded in gratitude, flopping down on the bed while Teal'c stepped outside to speak to a corporal and return, leaving the door open a crack for propriety and pulling up a chair. Blair eyed the door, then sat up to get a better look at Teal'c's deceptively bland expression. "So," he began carefully. "Um, you're, what? An alien?"

"I am a Jaffa," Teal'c confirmed, watching Blair's expression just as closely. "Bred to serve a race called the Goa'uld. We carry their larval forms in return for good health and long life, and act as their warriors and their slaves. The brand indicates that I was First Prime of Apophis before I betrayed him to come serve here, among the Tau'ri."

"Tau'ri. Earthlings?" At Teal'c's nod, Blair blew out a breath. "And I thought I had some serious adjusting to do. What about your family, your parents? Are they still slaves to these Goa'uld?"

"My parents died some time ago. My son Rya'c has joined the rebellion against the Goa'uld at the side of my mentor." The note of pride in his voice was unmistakable.

There was a discreet knock at the door, and then the corporal came in with two trays of what looked like decent cafeteria food. Blair dug into the mac and cheese, famished, but after the guard left, he put down his fork and caught Teal'c's eye again. "Um, I have to say, this is, well, all of this is a shock, I mean, alien invasions and wormhole technology aren't things that come up in every job interview, but--" he cut himself off before he started babbling, then managed, "Us. I mean, you've had a few days to figure this whole thing out. I haven't. We're working together, and I haven't checked the regs yet to see if 'don't ask, don't tell' applies to civilians working on base, but I'm betting people around here aren't going to be happy if they know about us. But. Um. Yeah." There had been enough going on earlier to distract him, but now that it was just the two of them, Blair was finding it harder and harder to hide his attraction. Especially since he knew just how good that body could feel under his hands, his mouth...

"What you say is true, Blair Sandburg," Teal'c agreed, some of Blair's hunger reflected in his eyes. "And I do not wish to pressure you into something you do not wish to do. But it would give me great joy if you would consent to be my he'a'kree when the opportunity presents itself."

"He'a'kree?" Blair asked.

"One who makes duty sweet," Teal'c translated.

"So... fuckbuddies, basically?"

Teal'c nodded. "Indeed."

Blair nodded. "That sounds good. Really good." Beautiful word, too, but the anthropologist in him knew that if there was a specific word for this in Teal'c's language, Blair would need to watch out for cultural expectations Teal'c might have that didn't match his own, things either of them might mistakenly assume were givens in this sort of arrangement. "Once I know I'm staying, I'll look into off-base housing. I figure no one will think too hard about it if two buddies get together for beers and pizza a couple of times a week, especially if we mix in a few team bonding nights -- poker, pool, some way to help Major Carter and Colonel O'Neill accept me as part of the team. I make a mean ostrich chili, you know."

"I have never heard of this dish," said Teal'c.

"Trust me, man, you're gonna love it."

They finished eating and sent their trays back, and then Blair turned his attention to the frighteningly high stack of files awaiting him. "Man, I'm still running on no sleep; I'm going to be completely fried in the morning. What about you, Teal'c, aren't you wiped?"

"Indeed I am not, Blair Sandburg," said Teal'c. "Jaffa do not require sleep as humans do. But if you are going to read, I thought I might perform my kel'no'reem here, so that you could ask questions if needed. The mission briefs are quite dense."

"Thanks, I appreciate that," said Blair. "You go ahead and do what you need to do. Just tell me if I'm bothering you."

"I am sure you will not," said Teal'c with a smile. He withdrew a candle and lighter from his pocket, sat cross-legged on the floor and lit the candle. Soon, his body relaxed in a pose of attentive meditation with a stillness and focus that even Blair would have had a hard time matching. He watched for a few minutes, watching the candlelight flicker across that handsome face and glint on the gold brand, then turned his attention to the first of the mission briefs.

Dense was right. There were over a hundred briefs to sort through, and leafing through them revealed a dozen terms he'd never heard before. Hopefully they'd be clear in context, but it meant he'd have to start at the beginning and work his way through each one.

The first brief related how Daniel Jackson had first made the Stargate connect to Abydos, and Blair was shocked to discover that the ancient gods whose legends he'd devoured as a kid weren't fairy tales, they were alien parasites who thought less of humans than most humans thought of factory-bred beef cattle. The second explained Teal'c's defection, and Blair read it carefully, trying to get some sense of what Teal'c's life had been like under Apophis and why he had chosen that moment to resist a creature he'd been raised to view as a god. The photographs of mature and larval Goa'uld in the folders gave Blair some pause; they were pretty disturbing pictures. Teal'c carried one of those things inside him, in his belly. What was that like for him, to depend on a creature he hated, to feel it inside him all the time? Blair flashed back to the night they had spent together, the shirt and head-covering Teal'c had insisted on keeping, tried to remember Teal'c's tone and body language. He hadn't seemed self-conscious about the brand just now when Blair asked, though. Blair would have to follow Teal'c's lead on that.

He shook off his musings and returned to the files, and O'Neill's odd reaction back in the Gateroom suddenly made sense. The next few files had to be both private and painful for the colonel -- a man he had trained and worked with for years had been possessed by a Goa'uld and O'Neill had been forced to kill him, and then an alien shapeshifter had assumed the forms of both the colonel and his son, accidentally killed years before with O'Neill's own weapon, and managed to escape the SGC. Hammond had mentioned that they had been going through potential replacements for a while now. How many total strangers had read these reports? No wonder the colonel didn't like the idea.

Blair shook himself again. If he thought about the implications of each and every file, he wasn't going to get through half of them by morning, and without really knowing any of the players involved, it was pointless to speculate. He needed to skim for relationships and terms now, broad strokes. He could go back for an in-depth read later. Blair firmly set his brain in cram-mode and started again. Goa'uld and Tok'ra. Asgard and Replicators. Tollan. Unas. Harseisis. Ascension. Colona. He made notes and sketched quick diagrams, only interrupting Teal'c's meditation every couple of hours for fear of being a nuisance.

He woke to find Teal'c gently tugging the folders out of his hands, and groaned when he saw the clock. He'd dozed for about an hour, but he was still exhausted and they had a briefing in 45 minutes. "Coffee," he begged.

Teal'c smiled. "Follow me, Blair Sandburg."

Blair stumbled behind him to the Commisary, where they found O'Neill and Carter catching a late breakfast. Blair mumbled a greeting and went straight for the coffee machine. Two cups later, he was at least feeling alert, and took a third cup and some eggs back to the table to join the others.

"Well, you're looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning," O'Neill proclaimed. "I assume you studied the mission briefs all night, and now you're ready for anything."

Blair shook his head. "Mission reports are always so cut-and-dried; I've written enough police reports to know the reality's a lot more complicated. I'm probably not going to be really on my game until I've been out in the field a few times."

O'Neill grunted at that, but hopefully he'd gotten the message that Blair wasn't going to assume he knew O'Neill just because he'd read about his son.

"What about your hair? You can't go into the briefing like that; it's longer than mine!" Carter protested.

Blair reached up to finger the curls, uncomfortable. He'd had short hair when he was younger, grown it mainly out of absentmindedness, but for the past four years, it had been one of the few boundaries he put up to establish an identity separate from Jim's world. Here, where he'd have to wear a uniform and carry a knife, two guns and a zat every time he went to work in the morning, the hair felt all the more important. "I, um, I thought the hair could wait until I knew I was going to stay," he tried.

Carter shook her head. "You're supposed to be representing Earth. General Hammond will have a fit."

Blair heaved a sigh. "I'll go find a pair of scissors."

"If you follow the green line left, it will take you past Daniel Jackson's office," said Teal'c. "His name is still on the door. Then follow the red line right and it will take you to Hammond's office and the briefing room."

Blair nodded and left. That explained how everyone was able to find their way so easily through the maze of corridors; he'd have to get a map of which lines led where.

Someone was already in Dr. Jackson's lab, a young man with short brown hair who skimmed his fingers across the artifacts with a look of terrible pain and longing on his face. As soon as he noticed Blair, though, he covered it with a bland smile. "You're the new guy. Blair Sandburg, right? I'm sorry, I'll get out of your way," he said.

Blair made a 'stay, stay' motion with his hand, then extended it in greeting. "Jonas Quinn, right? I--" recognized you from O'Neill's blistering report about Daniel Jackson's death was probably the wrong way to go, here. "I'm still trying to get everyone's names sorted out. So what do you do around here?"

"Not much," Jonas laughed bitterly. "Sorry, it's just that I keep hoping Colonel O'Neill will give me a chance to take Dr. Jackson's place, and I keep getting passed over."

"Well, there's your mistake," Blair pointed out. "You can't take Dr. Jackson's place. Neither can I. Maybe one of us can fill his position, but that's it."

"But it's my fault he was hurt! I have a responsibility to carry on his work, fix the damage I've done." Jonas protested.

This sounded achingly familiar. Blair wiped his hand on his thigh, trying not to remember the warm weight of a police badge. "Jonas," he said, and had to clear his tight throat. "Jonas, I think some things can't be fixed, once they're broken." He had to take a deep breath to steady himself, but when he looked up, he saw that Jonas was actually listening to his words. "Look, my brother, you can't base your life around someone else, living or dead. Not if it means tearing up everything you are. So, if Daniel Jackson wasn't part of the equation, what would you be doing? What's your calling?"

"I can't, I have to prove--"

"To who? Daniel's gone; he doesn't have an opinion. His friends are still mourning him; you're not going to get anything objective out of them, one way or the other."

Jonas leaned against a counter and thought about that. "I love learning, solving problems," he said finally. "But I don't want to go back to hiding in a lab, pretending not to see what's going on in the real world. I can't make a mistake like that again."

"Okay," Blair soothed, bringing him back to the earlier point. "So what about one of the field expedition teams that analyze artifacts and technology on-site? That sounds like it might be more up your alley, spending time on a problem and thinking it through, playing to your strengths. Do something important without living in Dr. Jackson's shadow."

Jonas nodded, seeming to brighten at the thought. "I think I could do it. I think I could really be of use there."

"Okay, then. I'm sure Hammond would love to help you out, man; go talk to him, see what he says."

"I'll do that," said Jonas, heading for the door. "Thank you."

"Good luck, man. And come by whenever to hang out or talk, just us new guys. Okay?"

"You're on," said Jonas.

Blair found a pair of scissors in a pencil mug on Daniel's desk and heaved a sigh. "This isn't Cascade," he reminded himself. "You're not a grad student, you don't have any status but your membership on the team. You have to prove you can play ball."

He picked up the scissors and began pinching his hair between his fingers to measure out the length of curl he wanted. Then he took a deep breath and cut.

***

"It's a curse," Blair swore as a staff blast made the wall behind him explode into a thousand sharp pieces of rubble. "From now on, I'm just calling in sick for the first day of work!"

He could write off that bad business where he'd joked about the incoming Chancellor's shoddy research to a graceful older woman only to discover that he was talking to the new Chancellor herself. Then, his first day working with Jim, being held hostage by the Sunrise Patriots was just bad luck, right? But having a Goa'uld System Lord drop by the same naquadah refinery as SG-1 on Blair's first day with the Stargate program was just over the top. He'd joke that the gods had it in for him, but considering that the Goa'uld shooting at them actually was Kali, it wasn't very funny.

Kali and her Jaffa had them pinned down; there was no way SG-1 could get past them to dial home. The others all seemed to know what they were doing, shooting back at the Jaffa with deadly accuracy, but they were outnumbered and nothing was getting through Kali's personal shield. Blair spared a glance behind him for the refinery workers, all unarmed slaves fleeing in terror. So much for the quiet little rebellion they had been ordered to nourish here...

Blair turned and started running, not towards the Gate, but behind him towards the refinery. "Dammit, Sandburg, where the hell do you think you're going?" Jack yelled.

"Cover me!" Blair yelled back, dodging and weaving through the underbrush as a staff blast whizzed past his ear and turned a tree into a sudden fireball to his left. He dashed across the last few yards of clearing to the refinery and ducked inside. As he'd hoped, all the workers had fled; the place was deserted. He ran to the core of the refinery and unseated the heavy electromagnetic naquadah shaper, balancing it against his belly as he staggered back to the battle. Then he switched it on.

The EMNS was the ideal way to manipulate the shape of molten naquadah, using sensitive magnets to knead the purified, superhot metal into shape without touching it. For Kali's Jaffa and the members of SG-1, the result was that all their naquadah-based weapons were yanked out of their hands to float harmlessly in midair, leaving P-90s the only weapons in play. The effect on Kali herself, however, was a little more dramatic. Her impenetrable shield, also naquadah-based technology, was similarly yanked twenty-feet in the air... with her still inside it.

Jack, Sam and Teal'c stared at the floating Goa'uld. Then they turned to stare at Blair. Then, in unison, they turned and aimed their P-90s at the astonished and unarmed Jaffa. "Sam?" said Jack, sounding a little dazed.

"Yessir?"

"Dial us out of here?"

"Yessir."

Once Teal'c and Jack had restrained all the Jaffa, Blair fiddled with the device and eventually just gave up and switched it off, bringing the weapons and the outraged Goa'uld down in an undignified heap. The only sour note was, when they approached the Gate, it was clear the magnetic force Blair had aimed so close to it had pulled its base to the left at almost a right angle, leaving an impressive trough in the ground where it had churned up the soil.

Blair tried not to look too smug as SG-1 strutted down the runway with twenty Jaffa, a cache of weapons, a really kick-ass EMNS and a howling System Lord in tow.

"Colonel O'Neill?" said Hammond, trying to contain himself as the Gateroom officers took command of their prizes.

"They followed us home; can we keep 'em?" asked Jack, tongue in cheek.

Hammond shook his head, biting back laughter. "Report to the infirmary, then I'll see you all for debriefing."

Jack chuckled and led the team out of the Gateroom. He paused to tousle Blair's curls. "Not bad, Blair. But next time, try to point that thing away from the Gate, all right?"

He'd made it past 'Sandburg.' "Right," he said, grinning. "Sorry."

Jack and Sam turned the corner, heading for the infirmary, but before Blair could yelp, someone's hand covered his mouth and hauled him into a supply closet. Urgent hands clenched on his waist as a hungry mouth kissed him senseless. Teal'c. Blair moaned and kissed him back, sliding his hands under Teal'c's uniform jacket to better feel the heat pouring off the larger man, the muscles that bunched and tensed under his touch as Teal'c pinned him to the wall and plundered his mouth.

"I feared for your safety," Teal'c growled against his neck, grinding his hips against Blair's. Blair's heart was racing, but it felt like all the blood in his body was thrumming directly to his groin, and he hooked his legs around Teal'c's waist and dashed himself again and again against Teal'c, their erections driving hard against each other. It wasn't going to take much to send him over, just another few quick thrusts...

Footsteps sounded in the corridors, two people chatting as they passed. Blair and Teal'c both froze, hearts pounding, as the footsteps passed without pause. Reluctantly, Blair let his feet slide to the floor and rubbed his swollen lips to try and get back some illusion of composure. He could hear Teal'c beside him, adjusting the fit of his disheveled uniform, struggling to rebuild his usual impassive facade.

Blair leaned back against Teal'c's chest, gratified to feel the fierce erection that pressed against him. "I have so got to get my own place before we explode," he said.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.

***

June 1999

The apartment was small and dark, situated over a busy street whose hum and roar didn't sound anything like the ocean in Cascade. But it was cheap, furnished, and it had a month-to-month lease. If things didn't work out here, it wouldn't take long for Blair to tie up loose ends and move on. He'd learned the hard way not to settle in and get comfortable in a place.

But he was touched beyond words when all three of his teammates showed up with pizza and beer to help him move, and when moving only turned out to mean lifting a pitiful few boxes and trash bags full of books and clothes from the back of his car, Sam took it upon herself to help Blair spruce up the place while Jack teased and Teal'c chuckled, both sprawled on the couch with beers in hand and calling out directions whenever Blair and Sam hung pictures or carvings they didn't like.

Finally, Jack gave a huge yawn. "See you bright and early, campers. I'm gonna hit the hay while the hitting's good. Anyone need a ride back?"

"I will remain to assist Blair Sandburg with the disposal of these boxes," said Teal'c.

"'S nice of you, Teal'c," said Sam, also fighting back a yawn. "I'll take that ride, sir. I can't keep my eyes open to see the road. See you in the morning, guys."

"See you. And thanks, guys. This was really great of you," said Blair.

He closed the door after them but paused, waiting to hear them leave the building. As they walked down the stairs, Blair could hear their voices echoing. "So, it's been over a week, Carter. What do you think?"

"I like him." Another huge yawn. "He's not Daniel, but he'll do. One thing I don't get, though."

"Yeah?"

"You said he was an old friend of Teal'c's. But Teal'c hardly ever leaves the base. How could he have friends we haven't met?"

"Fishing," came Jack's swift reply. "Yeah, they're old fishing buddies. You saw that weird fishing spear Blair had, right?"

"I thought Teal'c hated to fish, sir."

"Are you kidding? Teal'c loves to fish. Loves it."

Blair suppressed a smile at the mental image of Teal'c nobly suffering the indignity of waders. So. It sounded like Jack knew, or at least had a good idea, but was willing to look the other way. That was a weight off Blair's mind. The regulations had been sketchy on whether civilians were still bound by 'Don't ask, don't tell.' He turned, smile changing to something more heated when he saw the way Teal'c watched his every move.

"So there's this ancient Earth custom," said Blair, walking slowly and deliberately across the living room to where Teal'c was standing. "When you move into a new apartment, you have to christen it for good luck."

"I see," said Teal'c, with a soberness that showed he had no clue what he was in for. "And what does this ritual require, Blair Sandburg?"

"Well," Blair said, "You have to have sex. On the bed. And the couch. And possibly the kitchen table. Basically every flat surface in the apartment."

"I see," said Teal'c, his mouth quirking at the corner as his hands slid to Blair's hips.

"It's tradition."

"I would not wish to break tradition, Blair Sandburg."

Blair felt a little internal flutter and decided he could get used to being called by his full name very quickly. He stood on tiptoe and pulled Teal'c down to claim his lips, feeling Teal'c's mouth open to his invasion. They both had entirely too many clothes on. Blair started tugging at Teal'c's jacket, trying to get his shirt off without relinquishing his mouth. When he finally came up for air, Teal'c yanked his shirt and jacket off in one smooth pull and reached for Blair again, but Blair stopped, distracted, looking at the x-shaped incision in Teal'c's belly. "Does it, um..." He paused, unsure of what to say. "Tell me if I do something wrong?" he finally asked. "I don't want to hurt you."

"You will not," Teal'c reassured him, and grabbed a handful of Blair's short curls to haul him up and kiss him past all reasoning.

Teal'c was way better at the whole undressing-someone-while-kissing-them thing, and the next time Blair had a spare brain cell to consider the situation, he found himself stark naked and leaning over an equally nude and visibly eager Jaffa who sprawled over the couch cushions and drew his knees up invitingly. That was a surprise; Blair had assumed, after his memories of their last encounter, that Teal'c would have preferred to be on top, but then again, last time Blair had made it pretty damned clear he was looking to be dominated and taken as hard as possible. "That's gonna put pressure on your stomach," Blair warned. Jackknifing like that couldn't possibly be better for a Jaffa than for a pregnant woman, right?

Teal'c's dark skin took on a rosy tint. "The sensation of pressure is most pleasurable, Blair Sandburg," he assured Blair. "You will not hurt me, or my prim'ta."

That being said, Blair took a moment to nudge Teal'c into a position that would be a little easier on them both; his back supported by the arm of the couch, one leg flung over the back of it, the other drawn up to his chest. He took a moment to kiss his way down that lovely chest, bypassing the incision in favor of a gentle, exploratory kiss on the crown of Teal'c's cock, which relinquished a bead of moisture when Blair teased it with his tongue and lips. Teal'c was almost completely silent in his pleasure, jaw tight, breathing like a racehorse, and Blair decided to test that control by moving his head lower, and lower still, until he could kiss the puckered entrance that yielded to his tongue, opening for him. Still no moans, but Teal'c was now thrashing his head from side to side, fighting to keep still, fighting to keep the control that Blair was rapidly eroding.

Finally Blair took pity on them both and got on the couch to slide into Teal'c, whimpering slightly as he tried to keep from going off on the first thrust, because despite the fervent tonguing Blair had given his lover, Teal'c was incredibly tight, clamping down on Blair's cock so hard he could barely move. Blair wrapped one hand around Teal'c's impressive cock and started jacking him slowly, and that did the trick, made his body relax and welcome Blair deeper into the silky heat of him. It had been far too long since Blair had had any kind of relief, he could feel the orgasm coiling in his balls, making his skin tingle with need, another two seconds and he was going to come no matter what--

Blair clenched his eyes shut, but it was too late, with a joyful cry he pulsed inside Teal'c, spurting so hard he thought he'd black out from the pleasure of it. His hand sped up on Teal'c's cock, and a moment later, he felt hot splashes against his belly, gluing them together, and the clenching of Teal'c's body milked the aftershocks from his own shaft. He slumped, exhausted and happy, on Teal'c's belly.

Teal'c's hand reached down to card through Blair's curls. "You mentioned that you wished to repeat this experience on the kitchen table, Blair Sandburg?"

***

After Teal'c left, Blair surveyed the empty pizza boxes and beer bottles and heaved a sigh as he cleaned up. They were good guys. He knew he wasn't one of them yet, but at least they were making an effort, now that they knew he could pull his own weight. It wasn't home yet. But it could be.

He went down to find an all-night supermarket and load up on supplies, and came home with four bags of groceries in either hand to find his door unlocked. He froze, letting the groceries slide to the floor. Whoever was in his place, they must have seen the door handle move. Should he get out his gun? Was it too late already?

"You may as well come in, Mr. Sandburg," came a cool voice from inside, tinged with amusement. "After all, it is your apartment."

Blair nudged the door open and found a tall man with colonel's tabs making himself very comfortable on Blair's new armchair. He eyed the man warily. There was something oily about him, something that set Blair's teeth on edge beyond the casual invasion of his space. "Can I help you?" he asked. Stay cool. Don't let him see he can frighten you.

"Colonel Frank Simmons. I'm actually hoping we can help each other, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair looked around and, finding no muscular goons lurking in the corners, gestured to the bags of groceries. "Mind if I put these away while we talk?"

"Please," said Simmons, standing so he could follow Blair into the kitchen and watch as Blair put away yogurt and cilantro. "You're awfully calm for someone who just came home to a break-in."

Ketchup. Where was the ketchup? "I've lost count of how many break-ins we had back in Cascade," said Blair, aiming for a casual tone. "Unless you're here to kidnap me or trash the place, there's not much point in getting excited about it."

"You lead an interesting life," Simmons observed. "And it's just gotten a lot more interesting. I'm going to save us both a lot of tap-dancing: the Stargate is the most important discovery of our time, something that will change the course of human history more than the atom bomb. It's a Pandora's box -- I'm sure you've been briefed on how many times we've averted disaster by the skin of our teeth since we first turned the damned thing on. And worse than our enemies are our so-called allies across the galaxy. They refuse to give us any practical knowledge or technology to fight the Goa'uld or the Replicators. They want to keep us dependent on their good will, they want to decide for themselves, when we're in trouble, whether we're worth the effort of saving." He pursed his lips in disgust. "And unfortunately, for reasons of diplomacy, the president has to go along with that -- publicly, at least. Privately, though... I represent certain political interests that want to ensure our capability to stand on our own two feet."

"NID," said Blair. He closed the fridge and stood up.

"You've heard of us," Simmons observed.

"Not the nicest things," said Blair, stalling for time by starting on the canned goods.

"Well, you have to remember that those reports were written by Hammond and O'Neill, career military officers. They don't have a lot of sympathy for... creative thinkers."

It was a long time since Psych 101, but Blair could see that ploy for what it was. Simmons wanted him to feel like he'd never really be trusted, that he had no reason to feel loyal to his new team. Simmons was trying to cultivate him as a double agent.

Blair had seen enough with the Cascade PD not to seem overeager. If this was on the level, this could be a chance for the SGC to do some serious damage to the NID. But then again, the reports on the NID hadn't included a picture of Simmons. This could all be some elaborate loyalty test for new employees at the SGC. If he guessed wrong, he'd spend the rest of his life flipping burgers. Hell, wasn't this treason? Didn't they give you the firing squad for treason?

"Hey, man, they gave me a chance when no one else would," said Blair, playing the self-interest card. "If I get caught, my career's toast." If Simmons thought Blair's highest moral virtue was fear of getting in trouble, he'd believe Blair's eventual capitulation more easily.

"It wouldn't be the first time you risked your career for money," Simmons pointed out. He drew an envelope out of his breast pocket and spread the contents on the kitchen counter. "And after all, with the risks you're already taking, it might be a good idea to have some powerful friends in your corner."

Blair stared at the digital photo prints that couldn't be more than an hour old and fought down the sudden lurch in his stomach. Oh God. They were watching the whole time and I didn't have a clue. He turned to face Simmons and summoned up his best Ellison impression. "Let's get something straight, Simmons," he snapped. "I'm a civilian and so is Teal'c. Those regulations don't apply to us. If you ever threaten me again, I'll show you what a 'creative thinker' I really am. Now, if you want to do business, tell me what you're offering and cut the crap."

He turned back to stocking his shelves before Simmons could read the fear behind his bluff.

"Very well," said Simmons. "Continue to work for the SGC. We'll give you small assignments to round out the ones you get from Hammond. Nothing too big or too dangerous, don't worry. In return, you'll be compensated for each assignment; the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Please tell me you have more subtlety than to put the payment in the same account as your Air Force pay packet." The exasperated expression Blair dredged up earned him an oily chuckle. "And, as I said, if you were to find yourself in any trouble, for whatever reason, it might help to have people who can pull a few strings behind the scenes. Do we have an understanding, Mr. Sandburg?"

***

After a sleepless night, made more uncomfortable by the fact that Blair didn't dare turn on the lights, read or pace frantically, he went to work in the morning as usual and tapped on General Hammond's door. "I need to talk to you, sir. Do you have a minute?"

Hammond motioned him in and Blair closed the door. Well, no MPs in sight, so presumably this hadn't all been some elaborate entrapment. Blair took a deep breath. "Someone paid me a visit last night. Colonel Simmons."

Hammond fixed him with an appraising eye. "I think I can guess what he wanted, son. What did you tell him?"

"Are you kidding? I told him yes! I've worked with the cops long enough to know how hard it is to get a man inside to blow these things open. Dickered with him over the price so he wouldn't think it was too easy." He paused a moment, worried sick again. "I did the right thing, didn't I? I mean, I can always call him back and tell him I've changed my mind--" he flashed on that envelope full of pictures and prayed he didn't have to. "I just, it would be nice if some good could come of my having screwed my reputation all to hell. If they think I'm dirty enough to do business with, maybe I could find out more from them. Or feed them fake information and bad artifacts, if you wanted."

Hammond motioned for him to be quiet. Blair stopped babbling. "What you're proposing is a big risk, son. Are you sure you can handle it?"

Blair nodded. "Absolutely." Maybe. Probably. He'd figure it out somehow.

Hammond sighed. "All right. I'm authorizing you to go along with this; you'll report back to me privately and I'll tell you what changes to make to their orders and whether to pass on misinformation to them. But no one else can know about this. Not even SG-1."

Blair winced. Teal'c had gone out on a limb for him, trusted him when he had no reason to. The last thing he wanted to do, starting over, was repeat the horrible mess his secrets had made of his friendship with Jim. "Sir," he began.

"I understand it makes it hard on you. Trust is the backbone of a good team, and I'm asking you to jeopardize that. But the last time we had a spy inside the NID, we found they had other personnel on base working for them. If SG-1 knows what you're up to, they'll try and help you or cover for you. I can't take the chance that someone watching the team may report back to Simmons that your offer wasn't sincere. You'll have to work around your team as best you can until I say otherwise."

Blair swallowed miserably. "Yes, sir."

Hammond gave him a kindly look. "You have my sympathies, son, and my respect."

***

October 1999

As a cop, Jim knew how normal it was to want to give in to the temptation of a really bad idea. Strangle the guy who pissed you off at work. Sleep with a married woman.

Kiss your best friend.

But no matter how much you wanted to, as long as you didn't act on those impulses, you weren't a killer. Or a homewrecker. Or gay. As long as you didn't actually do anything, no one got hurt.

That was the theory, anyway. Until Blair had walked out on him, Jim had never realized how much damage you could do by doing nothing.

He smelled Simon's cigars the moment the man stepped off the elevator, but didn't get up to answer the door until Simon rang the doorbell four times and hollered, "Dammit, Jim, I know you're in there. Your goddamn truck is right downstairs!"

"Simon," Jim acknowledged, opening the door but blocking it with his body. "What do you want?"

"Poker night," Simon reminded him. "Everyone's at Joel's already."

"I'm not in the mood. You go without me." Jim went back inside the darkened loft, mildly annoyed but unsurprised when Simon followed him. "I'm sorry, Simon, I just don't feel like company right now."

"I'm not company," said Simon. "I'm your friend. You gonna give me one of those beers, or have you drunk them all?"

Jim snarled and flopped down on the couch, pointedly not offering a beer. Simon took one anyway and parked himself on the other couch. He'd clearly been taking lessons from Sandburg in making himself at home. Jim winced. He shouldn't think of Sandburg.

"Jim, it's been months. It's time you pulled yourself back together again. Hell, you weren't even like this when Carolyn left."

"By the time Caro left, we were pretty sick of each other. It was a relief. This... It's like he's dead, Simon. It's like he's dead and there's no body."

"Don't talk like that," said Simon.

"No one's put up with me half as long as he did," said Jim. "I kept thinking he'd get fed up and leave, kept pushing him, and," he broke off with a short, bitter laugh. "I finally managed to push him away, and I can't figure out how to get him back."

Simon opened his beer and took a long pull. "Jim..." He sighed heavily. "I know you miss him. I miss him too. But knowing what you know, are you sure you'd want him to come back?"

Jim clenched his fist around his beer.

"I mean, you and I both know you're not gay."

"Megan told you?" His voice was tight, controlled.

"Joel told me what happened. But anyone with half a brain could see how the kid felt about you. At first I thought it was just hero worship, but it was pretty obvious."

"So everyone knew about this but me?"

"Rafe and Henri don't. Well, I think they don't."

Jim stared at the bottle, careful not to look up. "Simon? Have you ever..." He took a deep breath. "I mean, everyone does sometimes, right? Look at another guy for half a second, and then put it out of your head?"

"Jim. You're not gay."

"I don't know. I've spent the last four months going over it in my head, little things I never thought about because they didn't mean anything; they weren't worth changing my life over. But Sandburg is. I just... I don't know if it's enough to go against a whole lifetime of being something else. I don't want to wear an earring, or go to rallies, or watch gay porn." He could hear Simon wince at that. "But if you ask me if I've ever looked at Sandburg that way, or if I can imagine the two of us growing old together, I can't say no."

He could feel Simon watching him, trying to gauge his sincerity. Jim met his eyes, hoping his friend could see clear of the tangled emotions inside him better than he himself could. He'd been going around and around this for months now, and wasn't any closer to a course of action than he had been when Blair kissed him and left.

"Let's just be clear on this," said Simon finally. "You're still attracted to women, right?"

"Yeah."

"But you'd give them up? I mean, if you're talking about growing old with Sandburg, I assume that would be exclusive, right?"

Jim nodded. "I'm not saying I won't look, but then, I still looked when I was married to Caro."

"Yeah, join the club on that one," said Simon. "I don't know a married man who doesn't look. Right. Which leaves the $64,000 question: You really think you can turn over for a guy? Even Sandburg?"

Jim took a deep breath. "For the right guy, I think. It wouldn't be the first time it's crossed my mind. Yeah, I think for Sandburg, I would."

"You love him?"

And that was the easiest question in the world to answer. A smile finally broke across Jim's face. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

Simon nodded and dug in his back pocket for his wallet. He fished out a slip of paper. "For emergencies. He told me not to give it to you, but under the circumstances... Call the kid. Tell him to come the hell home and sort this out. And if you need to hear it, we're all behind you on this."

Jim nodded, looking down at the phone number in Simon's nearly-illegible scrawl. "Thanks, Simon."

"Don't mention it." Simon stood up and patted Jim's shoulder goodbye. "I should get going, I have to relieve some damned poor bluffers of their hard-earned cash. See you tomorrow?"

"I'll see you, Simon. Thanks again."

He waited until Simon left, then reached for the phone. It was an hour later in Colorado, but Blair should still be up. The phone rang a couple of times and then Sandburg picked up, sounding breathless. "Hello?"

"It's me," said Jim. Then he heard a frustrated groan in the background, and rustling noises as Blair moved locations. Blair was with someone. Blair was with someone else. Jim suddenly wanted to hang up the phone and go die of embarrassment and hurt.

"Jim?" Blair said. "Everything okay, man?"

"Everything's fine," said Jim, trying to sound okay. The last thing he wanted to do right now was lash out at Sandburg and screw everything up again. "I... Simon gave me your number. I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were, uh..."

"It's... yeah." Blair swallowed. "So, everything's okay? Really?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. Miss you, though," Jim admitted. "So, you're working? What is it they have you doing?"

"Counseling, mostly. It's confidential, I can't really talk about it."

"They let you do counseling? Really? I thought you had to be licensed. What is it, like guidance counseling or something?"

"I'm just getting my feet wet right now while they train me. But it's good. Things are good." He paused. "Um, Jim, it's really good to hear your voice and stuff, man, but I sort of can't talk now. Can I call you back? Say, Thursday night?"

"Thursday. Thursday's good," said Jim. "Good night, Chief."

"Good night. And Jim? I'm glad you called."

Jim hung up. After a minute, he loosened his fist and smoothed the crumpled slip of paper, laying it down by the phone. Thursday.

***

June 2000

Blair's pen tapped a nervous tattoo against his thigh as he waited for the other members of SG-1 to make it to the briefing room. Teal'c was on time, of course. Blair couldn't look him in the eye. Then Sam arrived, and finally Jack's appearance meant they could begin.

Hammond cleared his throat. "Over the past year, we've been gathering information about the NID through a plant in their organization. Last night, we were finally given the coordinates for what we believe is their main base of operations. If we're successful in taking control of this facility, we stand to gain access to their labs, operation cells, records, everything we need to bring them down."

Jack winced. "Why do I get the feeling there's a huge catch here, sir?"

Hammond sighed. "Unfortunately, the base of operations has turned out to be housed in, of all things, a building owned by the Treasury Department. We can't raid it without evidence that they've been committing wrongdoing on the premises, and we can't get evidence without raiding the building."

"And there's the catch," Jack groused.

"There must be a loophole," said Sam.

"There is," said Hammond. "Our mole is going to go to his scheduled meeting with a recording device which will transmit directly to us and the President. When the President gives us a go, we'll be within our jurisdiction to go in."

Jack nodded. "So who are we working with on this? Who's the mole?"

Blair cleared his throat. "That-that would be me." He was painfully warmed by the surprise on their faces. He'd proven himself to them this past year, enough that they didn't assume he was the weak link, the one who wasn't really part of the team.

"It was hell working with those slimeballs for a few weeks," said Jack, with grudging respect. "I can't imagine what it must have been like, playing that part for months."

"You should have told us!" Sam protested.

"He could not," said Teal'c. He gave Blair a quiet nod, and Blair felt the sick worry he'd carried with him for so long begin to fade. He hadn't betrayed his lover by keeping this secret. Teal'c wasn't going to leave him.

Blair was so caught up in his own thoughts that he missed Hammond's next words and forced himself to pay attention as Hammond outlined the plan. Blair would bring samples of the Asgard's forays into organic technology to the NID facility, armed with a Tollan-derived recording device. Since they couldn't risk tipping off the NID about the raid, only SG-1 would be waiting for the go from the President to come charging to Blair's rescue. Blair forced down his instinctive nervousness at that; if the four of them could take down a Goa'uld mothership teeming with Jaffa, one measly, corrupt government agency shouldn't be a problem, right?

***

Despite the high stakes involved, Blair couldn't help an almost giddy sense of relief as he drove to the NID stronghold. However things turned out today, after this, his life was completely his own. No more secrets. Whatever he owed SG-1 for giving him his life back, he'd more than repaid them by serving both in the field and as their spy, and after today his cover would be blown and they couldn't ask him to continue living a double life. He could stay with SG-1, if that was what he wanted, or he could take the doctorate they'd helped him earn and strike out on his own, but he'd finally paid off his karmic debts. After today, he would be free.

The Tollan recording device was similar to a spider in its design; once he was inside the building's shipping bay, a simple tug of his pants leg was enough to loose the device and send it skittering unnoticed across the floor to find a prime viewing spot, leaving Blair free to pass the NID thugs' security inspection. There were three of them this time, none he recognized from previous encounters, but as usual they were clean-cut visions of military perfection that belied their treachery to their country, all of them looking down on him like he was something they had scraped off their shoes.

Simmons showed up, finally, emerging from an inner room with barely a nod of greeting and taking the cell sample Blair offered for his approval.

"I want something extra for this one," said Blair. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to get that past Thor?"

"Don't worry," Simmons drawled, inspecting the sample and handing it off to goon number three to take back to the labs. "I'll make sure you're well repaid for this." He looked up again, fixing Blair with a hard gaze. "I do have a question for you, though, if you don't mind: How stupid do you think we are?"

Blair backed up a step, suddenly cold, but the goons grabbed his arms and forced him forward again.

Simmons got up in his face, smiling despite the sharp tone of his voice. "You got careless, Dr. Sandburg. Did you really expect us to believe you could burgle an Asgard ship without getting caught? Did you really think we would direct you to the headquarters of our illegal enterprises without following you to catch and detain your backup? But you did one thing right, at least. If my men had found any sort of wire to record and incriminate us, we would have been forced to dispose of you quickly, as we are in a rush to clear out of here before the cavalry arrives. But since there will be no record of who was here or what went on in this room, I'm going to offer you a choice."

The door behind him opened again and goon number three returned, carrying a pale, shrieking larval Goa'uld. "Do you know what that is?" Simmons asked.

"A baby Goa'uld," said Blair automatically. Oh shit. Oh, please, no.

"Close. We took some cell samples from the Tok'ra queen on Pangar; we've been attempting to clone her to get around the way she tainted her offspring. Our scientists think they've got it right, but of course, there's only one way to be sure." He smiled and drew his service weapon. "Your choice, Dr. Sandburg. I can shoot you, or you can let Major Gregory put a larval Tok'ra in your head."

A bullet or a symbiote. Blair swallowed. At least with the symbiote he had a slim chance. He flashed on the memory of the brain-dead security guard on Pangar and prayed to every god he knew that Teal'c and the others would make it here before that thing latched on and destroyed his brain. He didn't want to die here, not like this. But he had to buy more time. He parted his lips and closed his eyes, waiting.

His mouth was suddenly filled with a sour, acid bile as the thing burrowed past his gag reflex. He had to get it out, he tried to claw at his throat, but the goons held tight to his arms. There was a flash of pain and a sickening crunch at the base of his skull, and then a sense of joy and triumph that wasn't his. His mind flooded with thoughts and images he didn't have words for, horrible and wonderful all at once. Stop struggling, came the command in his mind, sharp and serpentine. Trust me. I will get us out of here. He gave himself over to it and felt the queen's wild joy as she took control of his body.

***

When he woke up in the hospital, surrounded by Hammond, Fraiser, and the rest of his team, Blair just groused, "Better late than never, I guess," and then realized he couldn't make any gestures, rude or otherwise. "Aw man, what's with the restraints? Come on, guys!"

Fraiser pursed her lips and asked gently, "Blair? What's the last thing you can remember?"

"Um, the part where they put a Tok'ra in my head, or the part where we sorta burned the building down?"

"Dr. Sandburg," said General Hammond, sounding more than a little pissed, "This is no time to be flip. Do you have any idea what you've done? You killed fourteen people and destroyed a federal building, along with all the information we hoped to obtain. Now, we're prepping you for surgery--"

"No!" Blair yelled, trying to think clearly despite the sudden shriek of terror in his head. "You can't do that. I don't consent."

Sam shook her head. "You're compromised by a symbiote; you don't have the mental capacity to give or withhold consent. Look, if it's a Goa'uld, you can thank us when you're back in your right mind, and if it's a Tok'ra, then it should be prepared to sacrifice itself for the well-being of an unwilling host."

He could feel waves of guilt and fear that weren't coming from him and tried to project a sense of calm. Just relax. You helped me, now trust me to help you. I'll get us out of this. "Look, she had every right to do what she did. Her clone, mother, whatever you want to call her, spent decades being experimented on in a lab. Then those NID jerks did it to her all over again. She saved my life, and she destroyed the labs and the other clones to stop the experiments. She's just a baby, and she's scared, and she's doing the best she can." He didn't seem to be winning anyone over. "Sam, you can sense the difference between a Goa'uld and a Tok'ra, right? Tell them it's okay!"

Sam's eyebrows crinkled and she shook her head. "I'm sorry, I just can't tell. Maybe it's because she's still immature, or because of the tweaking the geneticists did... The Tok'ra might be able to help. I could call my dad."

Hammond nodded. "Call the Tok'ra. We can put off the surgery until we see where we stand. But until then, Dr. Sandburg, you are going to be kept under 24-hour guard."

Blair breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay. Good. Call Jacob. Thank you." He could feel the symbiote relaxing, too. The Tok'ra had been without a queen for centuries; they were a dying race. The Tok'ra Kelmaa had given her life for Egeria; they would welcome her daughter with open arms. This was just the godsend they had been waiting for. And now that he thought about it, this could kill two birds with one stone. The Jaffa rebellion was severely hampered by the sudden scarcity of available symbiotes; it was hoped that the tretonin research might create artificial immune systems for the carrier race, but if the Tok'ra suddenly began reproducing, the larvae could save the Jaffa and bring more rallying to the cause, drug or no drug.

Sam left the room, and Hammond and Jack followed, but Blair was shocked to see Teal'c leave close on their heels. "Teal'c?" he asked, a note of hurt in his voice, but with the armed guards and Dr. Fraiser as witness, he didn't dare draw too much attention.

Dr. Fraiser, though cautious, was her usual unflappable self, and began briskly taking his vitals now that he was awake again. "How much do you remember of what happened?" she asked, timing his pulse against her watch.

"I remember everything, I guess, but it's weird, like I was sort of taking a back seat." He sighed heavily. "I hate that she killed those people. But if you'd seen what they were doing there, all the clones they were testing; I tried to argue with her that the SGC would do the right thing, but after everything she's been through, I really couldn't convince her that the military wouldn't continue the experiments. And they shot at us..." he trailed off, trying to clear the fog in his memories. "I was badly hurt, I think she sort of shut us down at the end to try and heal me. The next thing I remembered was waking up here." He looked at Dr. Fraiser, gripped with sudden worry. "There wasn't anyone else in the building, was there? Just the NID guys?"

"No, from what we can tell, the only people in the building were NID personnel," she said, and Blair breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God for that, at least. No innocent lives on his conscience. Dr. Fraiser looked at him, clearly trying to figure something out.

"What is it?" he asked.

She frowned at him. "Well, over the years I've seen a number of hosts for mature and immature symbiotes. I remember what we went through with Major Kowalski, and with Sam, when she was taken over against her will by Jolinar. And I have to say, your reactions are atypical."

Blair shrugged. "I didn't want this, believe me, but she saved my life. I'm not fighting her anymore, and she's too young to really fight me. It's weird having company in here," he said, tapping his skull, "but I think I could get used to it. I like her."

"Hm, well, there's enough going on in your brain normally, Dr. Sandburg, I'd hate to imagine what it must be like, 'thinking for two'."

He felt the corners of his mouth twitching in a smile despite everything. "She kinda reminds me of me when I was younger. When I was a kid, I was a real know-it-all; I still cringe sometimes at the mistakes I made, thinking I knew everything because I'd read it somewhere. And she knows everything Egeria knew, but she hasn't actually experienced much yet. I get her, if that makes any sense."

"You haven't called the symbiote by name, the entire time you've been awake. Do you know that?"

Blair frowned, searched his mind, but he couldn't call up her name. "I don't think she has one, yet. The Goa'uld took names from the pantheons of the people they enslaved, on purpose, and the Tok'ra have always made up their own names to get away from that. So I think she's waiting for the Tok'ra to name her."

Dr. Fraiser checked the newly-healed scar on the inside of his throat, checked his pupils and finally stood up. The klaxons sounded through the base, and she smiled at him. "That's probably Jacob Carter."

It wasn't, though, as Blair soon discovered; it was Malek. "Dr. Sandburg," said Malek, his voice rich with the tones that meant symbiote was exerting firm control over host. "It is good to see you again. I hear that there is some question as to the provenance of the symbiote inside you." The rest of SG-1 followed him into the room and waited as he approached Blair.

"No question in my mind," Blair emphasized.

"Hm," said the Tok'ra, frowning as he stared into Blair's eyes. Then he turned to General Hammond. "You mentioned that the symbiote had been tampered with, did you not?"

"The NID agents holding Dr. Sandburg said that they had changed the genetic makeup to compensate for the damage Egeria did to her DNA," said Sam.

Malek nodded. "I can only determine that the symbiote inside Dr. Sandburg is not a Tok'ra. Whether it is Goa'uld or some unforeseen mutation, I cannot say."

"Are you sure of that?" asked General Hammond.

"Quite sure," said Malek.

"You're lying! I want to talk to Jacob," Blair yelled.

"Selmak is unavailable at the moment," said Malek. He turned back to Hammond, ignoring Blair entirely. "Our surgical techniques are more advanced than yours. Let us take Dr. Sandburg to our base; we can remove the symbiote without injury to the host and return him to you unharmed."

"You have my permission," Hammond agreed.

"But you don't have mine," said Blair, thinking quickly. "General Hammond, I request asylum on behalf of my symbiote. You can't let them kill her, not if I don't consent!"

Malek smiled ferally. "Clearly, that is evidence that the symbiote is not Tok'ra. As Major Carter well knows, any Tok'ra would give their lives rather than cause their host such hardship, our queen most of all."

He is right, came the voice in Blair's head, frightened, but determined. It is wrong to make you suffer on my behalf.

No! Blair thought back. You saved me. It's my turn, now. I'll get us out of here, I swear. I just need to buy us some time. "Sir, please. I want asylum until we can sort this all out."

"There is a very simple method for determining the truth of the matter," said Malek.

"If you're talking about one of those Tok'ra lie detectors, no thanks!" He turned to Sam. "You said yourself; those things give false positives even under the best circumstances. Please. Don't let them take her. I don't like this. I really don't like this."

Sam bit her lip. "Sir, it wouldn't hurt to keep him in a secure cell for now, at least until we can get a second opinion from my dad."

"Very well," said Hammond. "Take him to the brig."

"General Hammond, I feel I must advise against this," said Malek.

"Noted," said Hammond. He gestured to the guards, who untied Blair and put him in handcuffs to lead him down to the brig.

As he stumbled down the corridor in handcuffs and a hospital gown, shaking in delayed reaction, he heard the worried voice in his head. It's not too late. I can end this and give you back your freedom.

Stop that, Blair mentally ordered. We're in this together now. I'll get us out of here, I promise.

***

The blonde in the Air Force uniform caught Jim's attention the minute she stepped off the elevator, but not for the reasons she might have a year ago. He noticed her looking back at him as she marched to Simon's office -- at least she had the courtesy to knock, unlike some of the brass that came through here -- but he was only interested in what kind of trouble she was bringing to their doorstep, barely sparing a glance for her legs or her pretty face. It was ironic; Blair had walked out on him because he was in love with Jim and thought a straight man couldn't reciprocate. But the gaping wound of Blair's absence sure felt like a broken heart to Jim, and Jim had eventually come to accept that he was not quite as straight as he had been raised to believe.

Not that the realization did much good. Blair was gone, and although the occasional phone calls and the letters they'd written back and forth had helped heal some of the rift in their friendship, the breathing and heartbeat Jim had heard in the background more than once told him that Blair had moved on. Jim tried to convince himself that he was happy for Blair, but the truth was, he was torn between jealousy of Blair's nameless lover and self-recrimination because he still wasn't sure he could follow through physically on what he felt for Blair, even if he'd been given a second chance.

Simon opened his door again and motioned for Jim to join him and the Air Force major. Jim obeyed, wondering what drug shipment or missing aircraft had brought the major here, and just how much trouble it was going to be.

"Detective Ellison, it's good to finally meet you. I'm Major Carter. Has Blair mentioned me at all?"

Jim frowned. "He hasn't talked about himself much since he left. He said a lot of it was confidential." Confidential, not classified. The sneaky little shit had known the word would have raised Jim's alarms and sent him straight to Colorado, guns blazing, before he could say 'Blessed Protector.'

Major Carter nodded, unsurprised. "Dr. Sandburg knows how important it is to keep what we do secret, but most of us do tell our families about the people we work with."

"Dr. Sandburg?" asked Simon.

"It wasn't," she stressed, locking eyes with Jim, "for his original dissertation." So she knew. And she knew Simon knew, or she wouldn't have said anything right in front of him. But since the dissertation mess had blown up in their faces over a year ago, and Jim was still walking free, Jim forced the sudden lurch in his stomach to subside. Whatever this was about, it wasn't some elaborate trap to bag a Sentinel. Probably. "So if you and Sandburg are so buddy-buddy, how come he's not here with you?"

Major Carter winced. "Dr. Sandburg's been infected with a parasite. It's affecting his mind. He escaped from a secure hospital three days ago; we have to find him before he hurts anyone. We need your help." She turned pleading eyes on him. "Look, I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but the chances are good that he'd run here, back to his friends. We need to contain him before the parasite has a chance to spread."

Jim exchanged glances with Simon and pasted on a bland smile. Whatever Blair had gotten himself into this time, the important thing was keeping the major's confidence long enough to get him out of hot water. "You can count on us, Major Carter. Just tell us what you need."

She frowned at him, sensing his insincerity. He met her eyes, watching her look from him to Simon and back again before coming to a decision. "What I'm about to show you is top secret. If you discuss it with anyone, you could be tried for treason. But you need to understand that if you really want to help Blair, the only way is to help us recapture him." She waited for both men to nod confirmation, then took a slim, portable DVD player out of her briefcase and booted it up. "The footage is from a covert operation; Blair was transmitting back to us. We've edited out most of the classified material." She pressed play and the screen was suddenly filled with a grainy image of Blair, his arms pinned by men on either side while a third advanced on him with something pale and writhing in his hands and a fourth held a gun on him. The third man pressed the shrieking worm against Blair's mouth, playing it back and forth. "Your choice," said the man with the gun.

Blair closed his eyes and slowly parted his lips. Jim flinched as the worm burst out of the man's grasp and into Blair's mouth. Blair choked, thrashing against the men who held him, and then an inexplicable glow lit Blair's eyes. He went limp.

Jim couldn't breathe. The men let go of Blair and the man with the gun kicked Blair's unresponsive body. "Damn. That stubborn, uncooperative bitch."

Then Jim gave a strangled cry as Blair's body moved again. Swift and deadly, the thing that had been Blair Sandburg rose and slaughtered everyone in the room.

Jim swallowed hard as the screen went dark.

"Jesus," said Simon. "What the hell was that thing?"

"It's a parasite," said Major Carter, but the strain in her voice made a lie of her calm expression. It hadn't been easy for her to see that footage either. "It clamps onto the brainstem of its host, completely takes over their mind. Look, if we get him back in one piece, there's a surgical procedure that can remove that thing. It's risky, but it's our only shot." She gave Jim a look of pain and sympathy. "Blair isn't himself right now; he's paranoid, delusional, and as you just saw, very dangerous. I need you on board with this, Detective, Captain. I need you to get the word out to his friends and family that they need to tell us if they've seen him or heard from him."

"This isn't the first time this has happened," said Jim, watching her.

"No, it's not," she said quietly. "Detective, we may not have much time. The parasite you saw is an immature queen. We need to find it before it spawns, or this whole mess is going to get a lot worse."

"Spawns?" Jim repeated, feeling a cold wash of fear rush through him. It was like something out of a bad science fiction movie, but it was definitely real. And Blair was caught in the middle of it. "How many eggs are we talking about?"

Major Carter winced. "These aren't like chicken eggs, Detective; they're closer to fish or frog larvae. Queens have been known to spawn up to a hundred of them at a time."

Simon was shaking his head in denial of the whole thing. "This is crazy, Major! If these things were really out there, even in some remote area, we would have heard of them by now. Hell, we've heard of Ebola, and there've only been a handful of outbreaks of that worldwide." They both definitely remembered that piece of trivia, after what Brackett had put them through.

"I told you, this project is classified. There's a news blackout on anything relating to the project. Look, we're on the same side here. We all care about Blair and want him to get out of this safe and unhurt. I need you to trust me."

Jim stared at the darkened laptop for a long time. Finally, he nodded. "All right. We'll figure out something to tell everyone, and we'll give you a heads up if we see him. But when we find him, I'm coming with him, understood?"

"Understood," she agreed.

***

Simon made the arrangements for coordinating with the Air Force personnel and ran the briefing that gave the other detectives in Major Crime a heavily edited version of the truth, essentially saying that Blair had had a breakdown and needed help. Jim sat through most of it in a daze, numb with shock. He kept seeing Blair killing those men, Blair, who hated violence and did everything to avoid hurting people.

How the hell had Blair gotten involved in something like this? What was he thinking? There hadn't been any shock on Blair's face when he saw that thing they were going to put in him; he knew what it was. And Jim hadn't missed the fact that the major hadn't mentioned destroying that thing, only getting it out of Blair. There was more going on here than anyone was saying, and Jim didn't like it one bit.

But for now, there was nothing he could do but go along with this so that he could be there when they finally ran Blair to ground. They put out an APB on Blair, and Jim checked to make sure Blair hadn't gone to his bookie cousin for money, shelter or a fake ID. He'd also wondered, with Blair up to his neck in a top-secret military operation, if Blair might go to Jack Kelso for help, but the ex-agent's heartbeat didn't quicken at all when Jim talked to him on the phone. Beyond that, there was little he could do but wait for Blair to try and make contact.

He didn't have to wait long. When Daryl came by in the break between his college classes for his usual lunch with his dad, he casually dropped a note in Jim's trashcan as he passed Jim's desk. Jim's eyes narrowed as he watched Simon and Daryl leave and waited for a moment when no one was looking to fish the note out of the trash. Get some home cooking. Jim frowned at the note -- there was no way in hell Blair could have gotten past the cops watching the loft -- but then, with a flash of inspiration and anger, he made his way down to the garage.

***

He had his gun out as he approached the house. Parasite or no parasite, how could Blair put his family in the middle of this? When he found Blair, he was going to take him apart for putting Dad and Sally in danger. But he froze, puzzled, on the doorstep. He could smell the same perfume that Major Carter had been wearing. Had she beaten him here?

He unlocked the door and crept silently down the hallway, hearing only two familiar heartbeats coming from the kitchen; no sign of Carter. And yet he could smell the metallic tang of the perfume getting stronger, rising above even the sweet scent of baking. He found Blair and Sally chatting in the kitchen over aromatic slices of fresh plum cake, and the best friend he hadn't seen in a year looked up and smiled tentatively at him. "Hey, Jim. I wasn't sure you'd get my message."

His hair was cropped short, he'd bulked up a little, but otherwise he looked the same as always. But the scent was pouring off him, metallic and oily, reminding Jim that things were not what they seemed. Jim gave Sally a kiss on the cheek, eyes on Blair, and kept his voice calm as he said, "Good to see you, Sandburg. Let's take a walk out back, get some fresh air."

Blair glanced down at the gun Jim had kept out of Sally's line of sight and nodded quietly. "Thanks for everything, Sally. You're the best."

"Anytime, Mr. Blair," said Sally, clearing his plate. "You boys go talk; I'll clean up here. Are you sure you don't want a piece of cake while you walk, Mr. Jimmy?"

"Not right now, Sally, thanks," said Jim. He forced a smile. "How about you wrap me up a piece to take home, okay? You know I can't pass up your plum cake." He gestured for Blair to precede him out the kitchen door and waited until they were deeper into the backyard before he growled, "Whatever else is going on, you're obviously not out of your mind. So you've got no excuse for putting Daryl, Sally and my dad between yourself and a lot of paranoid airmen with guns. Tell me why I shouldn't just turn you over to them."

"Oh man, Jim," Blair pleaded. "Look, whatever they told you, I can explain. This whole thing is completely messed up; you wouldn't believe--"

"Let's start with the part where you've got a parasite in your brain," Jim interrupted.

Blair didn't even try to deny it. "There's more going on here. Something's very wrong." He caught Jim's expression and said, "Yes, Jim, besides the symbiote renting space in my skull." He swallowed, searching Jim's eyes, and finally said, "Basically, for the last five years, the Air Force has had the technology to visit alien worlds. It's incredible, Jim; it's an anthropologist's dream. I've been to the far corners of the universe, saved whole cultures from annihilation, helped build treaties between alien races -- I could spend the rest of my life working with this project and never see a tenth of what's out there." The thrill in his eyes and voice couldn't be faked. Crazy as it sounded, Blair was telling the truth.

"So there are lots of different types of aliens out there, and human cultures, too, that have evolved parallel to ours; the differences in language alone would -- right, sorry," he said as Jim's growl of frustration reminded him to stay on topic.

"When I started to work for the project, I was contacted by this shadow organization that wanted me to help them steal alien technology and reverse-engineer it. They... they offered me a lot of money."

Jim hoped he knew Blair better than that, after the dissertation. "You turned them down."

"Hell, no! I went straight to my boss and set up a sting operation. You taught me better than that, Jim."

Jim smiled with a burst of irrepressible pride, but then remembered the footage he'd seen. Clearly Blair hadn't been able to maintain the ruse forever. "But they figured out you were double crossing them."

"I'm getting there, man, be patient. So there's this alien species of symbiotes that split into two camps centuries ago: the Goa'uld and the Tok'ra. The Goa'uld are pretty nasty customers, setting themselves up as gods and enslaving people. When they take a host, they do their best to extinguish the personality that was there before. They don't like to be reminded how much they depend on us so-called inferior beings. The Tok'ra, on the other hand, collaborate with their hosts. They've dedicated themselves to freeing the galaxy from the oppression of the Goa'uld. But there's a problem. All Tok'ra can be traced back to a single queen, one who went missing ages ago. The Tok'ra who die aren't being replaced by new generations. They're becoming extinct."

Here Blair paused, studying his hands. "A few months ago, my team discovered that the Tok'ra queen wasn't dead; she was being experimented on by scientists. We weren't able to save her in time. But this shadow organization got hold of a tissue sample -- not through me! -- and they started trying to clone her."

"Why?" Jim asked. "Why would anyone in their right minds want a bunch of alien parasites running around?"

"Well, these aliens give their hosts unheard-of health and long life. The scientists experimenting on the queen were making medicines that could potentially wipe out all diseases, even things like cancer and Parkinson's. How much would people pay for something like that? Plus, the symbiotes are born with the knowledge of all the generations before them, and the shadow organization wanted that information. And, well, like I said, the Tok'ra are on borrowed time. I think they were hoping the promise of a new queen would be a freaking huge bargaining chip."

"So what happened, Sandburg?"

Blair winced. "I kind of blew my cover, and the bad guys decided I was expendable. They put one of the immature queens inside me to see what would happen; the old queen had been rewriting her DNA to fuck with the alien researchers and they weren't sure if the clones would be viable because of that." He took a deep breath. "She got us out of there; destroyed the facility. She didn't want any trace of the other queens to survive for more experiments. And then my teammates finally showed up and took me back. I figured I'd host the symbiote for a couple of years and keep working for the project. I didn't think it would be a problem; I wouldn't be the first alien to work for the project, after all."

Jim frowned at Blair referring to himself as an alien, but Blair didn't seem to notice. "But that's where everything went wrong. The Tok'ra are claiming my symbiote isn't one of them; they're going to cut me open and kill her. They're lying; I know they are!"

"Because the little voices in your head tell you so?" Jim asked warily.

"No, not just that. Jim, the father of one of my teammates, Jacob Carter, is a Tok'ra host. He's a lot of why we trust the Tok'ra; he's loyal to Earth and he'd never do anything to hurt Sam or us."

Major Carter's father had one of these things in him? "Does she have one too?"

"Who, Sam? She did, but it died to save her. How did you know? And how did you know 'Sam' was a girl?"

"I met her. She smells a little like you." He cut off Blair's excited questions; the last thing he wanted right now were tests. "Why can't you go to her with this?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you. Jacob's been 'away on assignment' ever since this whole mess started, and I don't trust the guy they sent in his place, even though we've worked together a couple of times. Something's up and they don't want us getting a straight answer from Jacob. But no one will believe me!" He buried his face in his hands. "She's too young to take a host; it was a miracle we both survived the process once. If they take her out, she'll die, and I owe her too much to let that happen. If I could get to the Stargate, wait this out for a couple of years on some alien world, I'd have a chance. But I can't run from them forever here on Earth. I'm sorry for going to Daryl and Sally, I didn't mean to put anyone in danger, but I didn't know what else to do."

Jim grimaced. "So you were thinking what, exactly? Go on the lam for two years and then dump this thing on some other poor shmuck?" It sure as hell didn't sound like the Blair he knew. Jim's fingers tightened on the grip of his gun.

"No! Jim, I'd never... look, I just have to find a way to talk to Jacob Carter, find out what's really going on. Whatever's up with the Tok'ra, they're good guys. We'll sort it out somehow; I know we will."

Yeah, that sounded like Sandburg, trying to hold the world together with love, bullshit and baling twine. He looked his curly-haired former partner over, trying to pick up some sort of clue, but though those baby blues tugged at his heartstrings, he just couldn't tell. "You know, Chief, this whole conversation, I've been waiting for you to bring up that fight we had, tell me I owed you the benefit of the doubt."

"You called me Chief," said Blair, the relief in his voice unmistakable.

Jim let out a breath and rubbed his hair, what there was of it, anyway. "Yeah, well, I figure if you were some alien trying to get me to trust you, you'd guilt trip and snow me until I didn't know which way was up and I can't believe I'm actually having this conversation..."

Blair chuckled, looked up for confirmation, and snuggled into the gap under Jim's arm. "Welcome back to the Sandburg Zone."

"I'm homesick for normal already..."

Blair laughed and dared a quick hug. Jim didn't pull away, though he had to admit that certain scenes from alien movies flashed through his head when Blair first touched him. "So, how do we get a hold of this guy Jacob?" Jim asked, taking some pride in how well he kept his cool. After five years of Sentinel-related insanity, he was getting better at handling the unbelievable.

"I'm not sure, I mean, getting to Jacob pretty much means breaking into the SGC, bypassing a shitload of security to borrow the Stargate, and then getting past whatever roadblocks the Tok'ra have set up to keep him away from this."

"What, you can't just call him on your tricorder and ask him to beam you up?" Jim joked.

"No, the Tok'ra don't beam you up, that's the Asgard," Blair responded automatically, then his eyes widened. "Wait, Jim, that's it! The last mission--"

"--The one where you blew your cover?"

"Yes, but that's beside the point. Hush. This race called the Asgard, they gave us some bogus research to use as bait. They're probably still hanging around in Earth orbit; if we get the right frequency on a strong enough radio signal, Thor can give us a lift. If anyone can find Jacob, Thor can."

"Thor. The guy from The Avengers?"

"Norse mythology. Smartass." Blair smacked his shoulder, and Jim smiled this time.

"You still haven't answered my question, Buck Rogers. If this Thor guy was in on the operation that went all to hell, does he owe you one, or are you at the top of his shit list?"

Blair swallowed, and looked like he was considering that seriously. "I don't think he's going to be happy with me, and if push comes to shove, he'll side with Jack and General Hammond, but seriously, the only other option is breaking into a heavily-guarded underground base that's already on high alert because of me."

"Yeah, but you broke out once already, didn't you? It shouldn't be impossible to break back in."

"I had help breaking out," said Blair. He rubbed his face, looking completely exhausted. Sally had obviously let him shower and shave back at the house, but Jim wondered how long it had been since the kid had slept.

"You can't stay here." Jim said apologetically. Much as he wished he could offer Blair shelter, the thought of black ops teams rappelling through the windows and terrifying Sally and his father made Jim's jaw clench.

"I know," Blair agreed, probably thinking the same thing. "And they'll be checking motels and homeless shelters. It's not the sort of thing I can go to one of my old grad school friends for, either. I wouldn't wish this kind of trouble on my worst enemy -- oh man, Chancellor Edwards!"

"Chief?" That parasite had to be scrambling Blair's brain.

"It's summer, she'll be doing her usual Tuscan villa thing. No one would ever think of looking for me at her house."

That actually made sense, and the poetic justice made Jim grin. "I'll give you a lift. So, Elliot, if you and E.T. are phoning home, what kind of supplies are you going to need?"

Blair frowned, seeming to make some internal negotiations. "I don't know. She knows what materials she'd need to make a transmitter that strong; the problem is finding Earth equivalents to MacGyver one. We're gonna have to hash that one out and get back to you."

"Okay, but let's get one thing straight, Chief: I draw the line at holding up a radio station for you." Jim tried to put up a determined front, but he couldn't help feeling, if it came to that, he'd end up storming the radio station, gun and badge out, yelling for everyone to evacuate because of a bomb threat. A whole year apart and he was still twisted around Blair's pinky finger. And from the smile on Blair's face, the kid knew it, too.

***

Sally had a picnic basket ready when they got back to the house, with, "Just a few things for you, Mr. Jimmy, and you too, Mr. Blair." The smells coming from the basket were mouthwatering.

Blair gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you, Sally. For everything."

"Let's go," said Jim, giving Sally a kiss as well. "Say hi to Dad for me."

They went back to the truck and Blair got in and sat on the floor of the cab before Jim could ask him to, which gave him a less-than-thrilling view of Jim's knees and the underside of his chin. Blair virtuously avoided staring at Jim's crotch. It wouldn't be fair to Teal'c. Not that Blair was sure he wanted to be fair to Teal'c; the Jaffa had been cold to him in public and refused to come by his cell since Blair had first woken up in the infirmary. Thank God for Jonas Quinn, at least; if it weren't for Jonas distracting the guards, Blair would be on an operating table right now, or worse. But he couldn't help feeling hurt that Teal'c hadn't tried to save him, hadn't so much as asked if Blair was okay or told him he respected what Blair was trying to do.

When they got to the house, Jim efficiently buggered the security system and they stepped through the foyer into an expensively and professionally decorated living room, a show house that was never meant for grading papers or kicking back with friends after a hard day. The only thing harder for Blair to imagine than buying a house like this was actually living in it.

Jim looked around and finally nodded. "Don't turn on any lights after dark," he warned. "If you know the Chancellor isn't here, the neighbors probably do to. The last thing we need is a patrol car checking out a possible break in."

"I won't," Blair promised. "You going to leave me the goodie basket?"

"Fat chance," Jim snorted. "You already had plum cake."

"Come on, man, have a heart. There probably isn't a bite to eat here," Blair pouted.

"I'll bring some Wonderburger by for you."

"Oh yeah, that's a fair trade," Blair groused.

"Hey, this way I get plum cake and Wonderburger. I don't see the problem with this scenario." Jim smirked, then fished through the basket, bringing up a container of potato salad, a thermos, and a roast beef sandwich with all the trimmings, wrapped in wax paper. "Somehow I don't think you'll starve."

"I still would have liked a little cake," said Blair, nearly drooling over his bounty. Sally had had a delicious-smelling pot of tomato-cheddar-dill soup on the stove when they left, he'd bet anything that's what awaited him in the thermos. He set his prizes down on a spindly end table and when he turned back, he found Jim watching him with an intensity that made his heart start to pound. He dropped his gaze, watching Jim's chest rise and fall with each breath, his own breathing loud in his ears.

Jim's cell phone rang, and the tension was broken. "Simon? No, nothing -- they did? I'll head back. Yeah, of course." He snapped the phone shut. "I have to go. You'll be okay here for a while?"

Blair smiled at him. "Yeah, I'll be okay. Thanks, Jim."

"I'll see you later."

After Jim drove away, Blair looked around the huge living room and sighed. "Well, looks like it's just you and me," he told the symbiote. "How about we have some lunch and then see if there's a computer in this mausoleum?"

***

Jim drove back to the station, still trying to wrap his head around everything Blair had said. It all sounded insane, but Jim had seen Blair strung out on Golden; he knew how Blair sounded when he was paranoid and delusional, and this wasn't it. Which meant aliens really were among them, and Blair really did have one in his head. But despite the parasite, symbiote, whatever the hell it was called, Blair didn't sound like a pod person, either. As much trouble as the snake-thing was causing them, it ultimately didn't sound any different from the dozens of hard-luck cases Blair had taken in over the years.

The metallic scent was overpowering when he walked into Simon's office, fainter from Major Carter and the man with colonel tabs beside her, far stronger from the large black man with the rank-less uniform and the Air Force cap pulled low over his eyes. Daryl was slumped in a chair in front of Simon's desk looking miserable, and Simon just looked pissed.

"Jim, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill and--"

"Murray," the colonel supplied.

"They work with Major Carter," Simon finished.

"Daryl told you he saw Blair?" said Jim, trying to beat them to the punch.

"He said Sandburg gave him a note telling you where to meet him. Where is he, Jim?"

"He was at my dad's house," said Jim. "He freaked out when he thought I was going to turn him in, and he ran."

"And you didn't follow him? Call it in?" Carter asked, sounding suspicious.

"A couple of years ago, we chased a killer through the woods in back of that house. Simon can tell you how long it takes to mount a search there. By the time I made sure he hadn't hurt my dad's housekeeper, I couldn't follow the trail. Sandburg and I used to go camping a lot; I've taught him how to cover a trail, and he knows those woods pretty well. I figured it made more sense to talk to the housekeeper, Sally, and figure out if Sandburg told her anything."

"And what did you discover?" asked the black man.

Jim's eyes narrowed at the familiar voice. Raising the dials confirmed it; he'd heard that heartbeat more than once in the background of a phone call. Blair's lover. And he had one of those things inside him. Blair had said not all of those parasites were good guys. But then, he'd also said he had help escaping, and it would make sense for that help to come from his lover. Tough call.

"Daryl?" said Jim, keeping his tone light. "It's okay, you did the right thing by telling your dad what you told me. But you've got classes soon, don't you?"

"I'm missing anthropology right now," said Daryl, still looking pretty down.

"So you should get back to class. Everything's going to be all right."

Simon looked hard at Jim and kept a light tone as well. "He's right, Daryl. I'll see you tonight for dinner."

Daryl left, shooting backward glances their way as he went to the elevator, and now the only people left in the room were people who knew he was a Sentinel. Jim turned back to their guests. "Sandburg tried to tell me the thing in his head was an alien."

"Aliens, Jim?" Simon asked.

"Sounds pretty crazy," the colonel agreed, watching Jim carefully.

"Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" said Jim. "Except I smelled something on him, something I've never smelled before, sweating out of his pores. And you two have a little of it coming off you, but you," he said, pointing to the black guy, "You're drenched in it. So what the hell is going on here?"

The three Air Force personnel exchanged looks, and finally the colonel said, "Like Carter said, Blair's got a thing in his brain making him go crazy." When that wasn't enough to satisfy Jim or Simon, he sighed and added, "Me and Carter had those things in us once; trust me, Blair will thank us for this when he's back to normal."

"And 'Murray', here?" Jim pressed.

"The symbiote does not reside in my head. It has no control over my thoughts," said Murray.

Jim walked up to him, dialing up, and heard it rather than smelled it, a second heartbeat and a few baleful, almost inaudible shrieks coming from Murray's belly. "What's it doing down there?" Jim asked.

Murray looked to Colonel O'Neill before answering. "Without the symbiote, I have no immune system. I would die without it."

"No immune system? You have AIDS?" asked Simon. "That's what this is about, huh? Some top-secret medical project to find a cure? What the hell was Sandburg doing with you guys, then? He's not a doctor -- not a medical doctor, anyway," he corrected himself.

"We needed someone who could talk to the natives," said Carter. Jim could hear her heartbeat skip, but as far as he could tell, she wasn't outright lying, just bending the truth. "Look, we're just as worried about Blair as you are, and whatever you think of us, I'm sure you agree that he shouldn't be walking around with a parasite in his brain. We're the only ones who know how to get it out without killing him. If you care about him at all, please, help us find him."

Jim nodded, glad that he was the only human lie detector in the room. "Sally didn't know any specifics; Sandburg seems to be improvising, as usual." He expected the half-frustrated, half-fond eyeroll from Simon, but he was surprised to see it from Colonel O'Neill, too. "He told her there was some huge misunderstanding, said something about needing help to get to a gate?" There, hopefully that would send them on a wild goose chase back to Colorado and out of their hair.

The three Air Force personnel all looked at each other, perplexed. "He wouldn't..."

"You think Maybourne?"

"As Colonel Maybourne himself has stated, the enemy of my enemy is my ally."

Simon frowned at Murray. "You're not from around here, are you?"

"I can't believe that Maybourne would happen to be hiding out here," said Carter, frowning at Jim.

Oh yeah, wild goose was definitely on the menu tonight. At this rate, he'd be giving Sandburg lessons in obfuscation. "I have no idea who this Maybourne guy is, Major, but if he's military personnel, Blair was always close friends with Jack Kelso, an ex-CIA agent who taught at the university. If he wanted to find Maybourne in a hurry, I'm betting he'd go there." Jim sent up a silent apology to Jack Kelso for inconveniencing him like this, but hopefully the informal check Jim had made earlier in the day had tipped Kelso off that now would be a good time to wipe his computer and hide any evidence that he was still keeping his hand in.

By the time he chauffeured their three guests over to talk to Kelso, dropped them at their hotel and went by Wonderburger, it was already late enough to be considered early again. Jim hurried back to Chancellor Edwards' house, hoping Blair hadn't been worried. The lights were off, as promised, so Jim took his sack of Wonderburger and followed the sound of Blair's heartbeat down to the basement. There was a laundry room and an exercise room down there, and Jim found Blair flopped down on his belly by the treadmill with a screwdriver and a soldering iron, cobbling something together from various electronic devices. There was crumpled packaging everywhere; where had Blair gotten all this?

"How's it going?" Jim asked.

Blair looked up at him and smiled, but when he spoke, there was something horribly wrong with his voice. "It goes well, Jim. Is everything all right?"

Jim's mouth was dry. "Blair?"

"Blair let me have the use of the body; my knowledge of machines far surpasses his."

Jim was thoroughly creeped out and kept what he thought was enough distance to get his weapon out if he needed it. He'd seen the footage, after all, knew how fast and deadly this thing could be. "You're the thing inside him?"

"I am the Tok'ra queen, yes." Blair pushed off the floor and sat back on his heels, watching Jim, unnaturally poised and still in a way Blair could never be. "Thank you for everything you have done for us, Jim. Blair is right to think so highly of you." He sighed. "I am afraid I have caused my host a great deal of trouble."

"That's one way of putting it," Jim agreed. "Blair's still in there, right? Is he okay?"

Blair's head dropped to his chest and Jim noted a slight hiccup in his heartrate. When Blair looked up again, he was his usual, bouncy self. "Aw, Jim, not Wonderburger!"

"Everything a growing boy needs," said Jim, pulling out two large sodas, heaping baskets of fries, and four triple-stacked burgers with all the trimmings. He waited while Blair attacked his first burger ravenously. He seemed normal: no weird resonance in his voice, sitting cross-legged on the floor and cheerfully licking ketchup off his wrist. "You've had a busy night," Jim observed. "Where did you get all this stuff?"

"Outlets in town; paid a few extra bucks to have everything same-day delivered. The Internet is a beautiful thing."

"Paid? With what? Sandburg, they have to be tracking your credit cards--"

"Jim, relax, man, I've got it covered. The one perk of being a double agent; I actually do have an untraceable Swiss bank account. Burning it up at a ridiculous rate, the last few days, but if ever there was a rainy day, it's now."

Jim fretted for another moment, but since Blair didn't seem to be worried, Jim let it go. Wouldn't want his Wonderburger to get cold, after all. "Sho, wazza pram?" he mumbled around a mouthful of burger.

"The plan? Finish building this sucker and turn it on," said Blair, helping himself to fries. "If we're lucky, Thor decides to be a mensch and help us out."

"And if not," said Jim, "he turns us over to your former teammates and we're both screwed."

Blair winced. "Yeah, there is that." He dragged a couple more fries through the puddle of ketchup and chewed them thoughtfully.

It was the first moment of peace they'd had since Blair had come back, and Jim found himself watching his former partner eat, soaking up the companionable silence. Blair's clothes looked oddly familiar; after a moment, Jim realized the turtleneck and jeans had been his years ago, back in high school; Sally must have dug up clean clothes for Blair. Jim decided he liked it, especially the faint notes of his own scent mingled with Blair's and the symbiote's.

Blair licked the traces of salt and grease off his own fingers and sighed. "We should get to work. You mind if Ellie takes over again?"

"Ellie?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, she liked that whole E.T./Elliot reference you made. I keep trying to tell her E.T. is the alien, but..." he shrugged, seeming amused.

"Sure, Chief. Are you okay when she does that? I mean--"

"How much control does she have? Not much. I could take over if I really needed to, at this stage." He smiled at Jim. "It doesn't hurt, I promise."

Jim nodded and watched Blair's chin drop to his chest again. The smile this time was more a formal acknowledgement of Jim's presence before Blair got back to work. Jim walked around Blair to get a better look at the device; it looked like pieces of a cell phone, a radio and a laptop, green computer chips hooked up with dozens of wires, a headset trailing off to one side. "How much longer?"

"Soon," the symbiote promised, its voice making the hairs on the back of Jim's neck stand on end. He wondered if he'd ever get used to that thing. "The difficulty is creating a device that can project two signals simultaneously, one with the recognition codes for their computer, and one with a message, both strong enough to reach the Asgard ship through all the radio traffic surrounding this planet."

Finally Blair sighed, dipped his head to his chest, and said in his normal voice, "Okay, Jim, let's turn this sucker on and see if it works."

Jim offered Blair a hand to haul him up off the floor and Blair plugged the device into the wall socket and turned it on. The basement lights flickered from the power surge. "Uh, Thor? Look, if you can hear me up there, it's Blair Sandburg. My friend Jim and I really need to talk to you, it's important--"

There was a crash above them and the shriek of the alarm system; for them to have noticed the transmission so fast, whoever it was must have followed Jim here. Damn. Jim got out his gun, had it ready when Murray burst through the door, his own gun out and pointed right at Blair's head.

The three of them froze, all watching each other. There was no way in hell Jim was putting down his gun, and he bet Murray felt the same way. Blair was wide-eyed, heart speeding up, but he wasn't looking at Murray's gun, he was looking at Murray's face, trying to project an attitude of calm. "Boy, it really sucks, not being allowed to use zats on Earthside missions, huh?" said Blair, stepping between Jim and Murray. Jim thought that was a really bad idea, but since Blair was facing away from him, there wasn't much Jim could do short of shoving Blair out of the way, which was sure to start a shooting war. "It's a hell of a lot easier to shoot first and ask questions later."

"Indeed," Murray ground out through clenched teeth.

"You gonna shoot me, Teal'c?" Blair asked, his voice heavy with sorrow. "Really?"

"If I shoot you in the shoulder or leg, the symbiote can heal the damage while we take you back to extract it," said Murray or Teal'c or whatever his name was. But his shoulders twisted fretfully as he held the gun on them; he wasn't quite able to pull the trigger.

"Come on, Teal'c, after a whole year, you can't tell it's still me in here?" Blair begged.

Teal'c's hands tightened on the trigger and he took a step back, preparing to fire. "I wish I could not," he said.

The last thing Jim saw was the look of shock on Teal'c's face as Jim and Blair vanished.

***

It had taken Sam a long time to learn to read Teal'c's moods. The stronger his emotions, the blander he tended to become, a holdover from his years as First Prime. So she took it as a bad sign that when Teal'c told them what had happened, he was more neutral than she had seen him since he killed Daniel's wife.

The Colonel was less reserved.

"That lying rat-bastard!" Jack yelled.

"It's not Blair's fault," said Sam. "The symbiote--"

"I'm not talking about Blair. I'm talking about Ellison. The man lied to us and we fell for it, hook, line and sinker."

"So did his boss," Sam pointed out.

Teal'c unclenched his jaw enough to ask, "How long must we wait before hearing if General Hammond was successful in contacting the Asgard?"

Sam sighed. "I don't know, Teal'c."

Jack looked Teal'c over, clearly seeing the same things Sam was. "Teal'c, I'm taking you off this one."

Sam frowned. That was a little extreme. Sure, Teal'c and Blair were best friends, but Jack and Daniel had been best friends too and that had never stopped either of them from doing what was needed when one of them was brainwashed.

Teal'c obviously thought the same thing, staring Jack down. "That will not be necessary, Colonel O'Neill. I am capable of remaining objective."

Sam watched the silent battle of wills for a moment, but her own thoughts kept distracting her. It was only a year since they'd lost Daniel; some nights she still cried herself to sleep over old photos of the four of them. Losing Blair too... She forced herself to pull herself together. They hadn't lost Blair yet.

The secure sat-phone rang and Jack put it on speaker. "Sir? Any news?"

"I was able to get through to Freyr. In his words, Thor is temporarily unavailable."

"I'll just bet he is," said Jack. "There has to be something we can do! That snake has hijacked a member of my team!"

"I'm aware of that, Colonel," said General Hammond. "But the fact remains that the Asgard are allies we can't afford to lose. We have to work with them. Now, I've explained the gravity of Blair Sandburg's situation to Freyr, but until we hear from Thor, there is really nothing we can do." His sigh echoed over the phone connection. "The Asgard know how to remove Goa'ulds from unwilling hosts, as we well know, and Thor isn't going to let Blair have the run of his ship in the condition he's in. Whatever's going on, we have to trust Thor and sit tight, people."

"Wait, you don't really think Blair's right about the Tok'ra lying, do you, sir?" said Sam. The possibility made her sick to her stomach. She'd had a moment of doubt there in the infirmary, but she'd talked herself out of waiting to talk to her father, worried that she wouldn't be taken seriously if she ran to Daddy every time a decision had to be made. But with her father away on a mission and Martuf... gone, a lot of her trust in the Tok'ra had to do with Jolinar's bone-deep faith, not friendships she could count on personally. If the Tok'ra had their own agenda, Malek had no personal loyalty to anyone at the SGC, no reason to do right by them.

"I think it's out of our hands at the moment, Major," said General Hammond. "Call off the search in Cascade and report back."

"Yes, sir," said Jack, cutting the connection. Then he dialed the Cascade PD on his cell phone. "Captain Banks? Hi. Funny thing, your detective seems to have left the state with our scientist." He winced and held the phone away from his ear. "Yeah, I thought you'd like that..."

Teal'c sat on the bed, completely motionless, and Sam went over to sit next to him. "Hey," she said. "You want to talk about it?"

"I do not," he said, staring straight ahead without acknowledging her.

"Look, it was a bad call, but we all made it. I mean, it was a choice between believing the Tok'ra and believing someone harboring an NID-manufactured Goa'uld."

Teal'c turned to look at her, his voice tightly controlled. "Major Kowalski fought against his symbiote with everything he had. He would rather have died than let it control him. Sha're resisted as well. Even after Jolinar died for you, you still fought against her influence. You did not even take her lover as your own." Sam felt her eyes sting at the reference to Martuf, but Teal'c ploughed right past the point. "Even Colonel O'Neill only accepted the symbiote that saved his life when he was promised that it would be taken out immediately. I have spent decades enslaved by these creatures and I have the greatest respect for those who fight them. Blair Sandburg embraced his. He is willing to sacrifice everything to save it." He could barely speak at this point. "If Blair Sandburg could willingly give his mind to this thing, I never really knew him."

Sam took in the muted grief in his voice, the rigid posture, and suddenly the pieces fell into place. "Oh. Oh, Teal'c, I didn't realize--"

"Everything okay, Carter?" Jack interrupted, giving her a sharp glance.

"You knew?" she accused.

"Knew what?" Jack asked. "I don't know anything. You don't either," he said, fixing her with another firm stare until she swallowed and nodded.

"I'm sorry, sir. I must have been mistaken," she said, shooting looks at both Jack and Teal'c, trying to wrap her brain around the idea. Holy Hannah. Teal'c had been her friend and teammate for years now, how had she missed this? She'd met his wife, ex-girlfriends -- for goodness sake, he couldn't be gay!

He must be going crazy over this; chasing down his lover, knowing that even if they got Blair back, whether the symbiote stayed in or was removed, the memories it left behind would change Blair forever. Years after Jolinar had left her mind, Sam still found herself second-guessing some of her choices when she felt Jolinar's memories clouding her emotions, making her want or fear things more than she otherwise might. Whatever Blair and Teal'c had, Teal'c had to know nothing would ever be the same again. And, even more painful, Blair had embraced that change, thrown himself into something that could only divide him from Teal'c.

But Jack's glare stopped her from asking questions -- they couldn't talk about this. Ever. If this got out, Blair and Teal'c would both be kicked out of the SGC, and Sam couldn't bear to lose anyone else so soon after Daniel.

"Look, when that Tok'ra that got put in my head made me run off and do something stupid, you guys came after me," said Jack. "Whether Blair's driving or the snake is, we owe it to him to bring him back and sort this out."

"Yeah, but how?" Sam argued. "Thor's gone; there's no way we can track and chase down an Asgard vessel. They could be anywhere."

"No, General Hammond was right; Thor can take care of himself. If the snake's in charge, Thor'll rip that sucker out, you betcha. But if Blair was telling the truth, then that means the Tok'ra were lying. I wanna find out why."

***

The first thing Jim noticed was that his gun had vanished from his hand. The second was the smell; stale, recycled air and the unmistakable odor of old age.

The third was the Roswell-type alien in front of them. He was having a little trouble absorbing that detail.

"Greetings, Dr. Sandburg. I assume that your call for help has something to do with the symbiote my sensors detected inside you?" There was a note of warning in the alien's voice that made Jim think it would be a bad idea to piss him off, no matter how spindly and cute he looked.

"I need your help," said Blair. "The symbiote is a Tok'ra queen, except the Tok'ra have SG-1 convinced it's not. I need to find Jacob Carter; he's the only one I can trust to give them a straight answer."

"I see," said Thor. "And your friend?"

"Detective Jim Ellison. I'm with him." The alien's hand, when he shook it, was both fragile and strong at the same time, fingers cool and dry.

"You put me in a difficult position, Dr. Sandburg. My alliance with Earth is through Colonel O'Neill and General Hammond, as I have taken pains to make clear to the governments of your world. If I harbor you against their wishes, that alliance may be called into question."

Blair spread his hands. "Yeah, but if the Tok'ra are lying to us, I think Hammond will want to know why." He was wearing an expression now that Jim recognized from years of experience. "Come on, if they knew the whole story, they'd be the first ones to authorize it. And hey, as long as they don't actually tell you to turn me in, you're not really going against them, right? Can't you just, I don't know, turn your phone off?"

The creature quirked its head at Blair, but Jim had seen the old Sandburg charm in action often enough to know Thor was a goner. "Very well. I will do what I can to locate Jacob Carter and verify your story for the SGC. In the mean time..." Thor touched a silver stone in his palm and a side hallway lit up. "The lights along that hall will lead you to a room where you can rest and refresh yourselves. I would ask you not to stray from the path, however, as you have no other business on this ship." Meaning he still wasn't sure about them. But as long as he was helping them, Jim could forgive the precautions.

The hallway was huge; the room they were assigned to made the loft look tiny. "For short guys, these Asgard sure like to spread out, huh?" Jim asked, looking around the bright but Spartan quarters. Two hard pallets slid out from hidden recesses when he pushed a wall button; aside from that, the huge, high-ceilinged room had no furniture.

"It's defensive," said Blair. "They've spent centuries fighting an enemy that crawls across flat surfaces. When you can't run very fast, you try to keep those flat surfaces as far away as possible."

The statement was so utterly 'Blair' that Jim had to swallow past a sudden lump in his throat. "You were happy here," he said. "You got to be yourself."

Blair nodded, breaking into a tired but irrepressible grin as he surveyed the alien architecture surrounding them. "It definitely had its moments." He yawned. "I don't know about you, man, but I'm beat."

"You didn't sleep at the house?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head. "Ellie took over right after you left and we worked straight through." He yawned again and lay down on the floor, tucking his arm up under his head for a pillow. "Trust me, man, those flats aren't any softer, and I don't want to worry about falling off in the night."

Jim could see the logic in that, and lay down next to Blair. Blair murmured a series of liquid syllables and the lights dimmed. Jim tried to close his eyes, but the floor was hard and his mind was still racing, turning over everything that had happened in the last -- God, was it only a day? "So," he said after a while. "That was him."

"Teal'c."

"Teal'c," Jim acknowledged. "Did you love him?"

A long exhalation. "I don't know. We spent the whole year holding back too much; you need to let go to fall in love."

"He didn't know you were a double agent?"

"No, I never told him." Blair rolled over onto his back. "They had my place bugged. Every time I slept with him, I knew they were watching us, listening to us. It was awful." He sighed. "He was married."

"You slept with a married man?" Jim couldn't believe that of him; despite Blair's checkered romantic history, he was too aware of his bastard status to make anyone commit adultery.

"No, not--" Blair started again. "His wife died the week before I came on board the project. The week of the dissertation. I read it in the file. He asked for me two days after his wife died in his arms and we never talked about it, the whole year. And even after he saw my file, he never asked me about my dying. You can't build a relationship on not talking. But he was a good man and he wanted me and he was proud of me and I was proud of him. And I think we both needed someone to see us as strong. Worth..." he cut himself off, rolling over onto his stomach, turning his face away from Jim. "I shouldn't be laying this on you, man. I'm sorry."

Jim watched the faint outline of him in the dark for a moment, then reached over and stroked his hand lightly, nervously, down Blair's back. "Anything you need, Chief," he said. He inched closer, letting his body conform to Blair's shape in the dark, feeling Blair's warmth sear him as his hand continued to stroke up and down Blair's back.

"Jim..." Blair said.

"Shhh. I know what I'm doing," said Jim, which wasn't quite true, but if Blair knew that, he'd worry and make Jim stop. And Jim had thought about this too often to stop now. The little noises Blair was making made Jim harden against Blair's hip. Jim bent to kiss Blair's shoulder, but Blair turned at the last moment and his mouth found Jim's and oh, this was better, so much better than he'd imagined, Blair's lush mouth opening for his tongue, fighting him, feeding on him, urgent sounds as Blair rolled over and drew him down.

Jim had a sudden flare of worry as he felt Blair's erection pushing back against his own, but this was, this was so, so good, and Jim thrust, trying to push his way through two sets of jeans, trying to feel Blair against him. He bent to bite Blair's nipple through his shirt and felt triumphant at the way Blair writhed under his teeth. He slid his hand down possessively to cup Blair, feel the denim-cramped hardness that surged against his hand, begging him to touch it again.

Then Blair pulled away, gasping for air, and started tugging at Jim's jeans, and the nervousness was back; he wasn't sure if he could handle nakedness and what might come after, but Blair just unzipped him, pulled out his erection and gave it a few reverent strokes to bring him to full hardness. "Wanna taste you, Jim, please, can I taste you?" and Jim was sure Blair couldn't see his nod in the dark, but that didn't matter, because oh, wet, so wet and warm, sucking him, welcoming him in, tongue exploring shaft and veins and slit, mouth enveloping, fingers sliding up and down his thighs, his whole body singing as he arched his back, trying to get deeper inside Blair's wonderful mouth.

He could feel it building inside him, feel the tingle in his balls, but just as his climax started to sizzle, Blair pulled away, fingers barely teasing his shaft, cool air soothing him before he could come. "Sandburg," he growled, half-begging, half-warning, but those hands were exploring his chest, his buttocks, his arms, and then the mouth was back, kissing a trail up his thighs to bathe his balls in warm suction, tongue rolling over each in turn. His flagging erection took interest again, his balls tightening as Blair rolled them in his hands, but then Blair pulled away again, gently cooling him off before he could come. His balls were screaming, now, his whole body taut as a guitar string, and he cried, "God, Sandburg, if you're going to do it, please!" And then that wonderful mouth was back on him, sucking him, hands cupping his buttocks, mutely coaxing him to thrust, and he screamed as he poured himself down Blair's throat, hands clenched in Blair's curls, dialing up as far as he could go until the world sparked white behind his eyeballs and disappeared in a roar.

When he came back to himself, Blair had gently put him back in his pants and was watching him uncertainly in the dimness. It took Jim a moment to manage words again. "That -- that was..."

A shy smile crossed Blair's face. "You're okay with this? Really?"

'Okay' would be saying too much; Jim was still shaking. It was scary. It was incredible. It meant all sorts of terrifying changes when they got home. Jim tugged Blair until the smaller man rested against his chest, and as his breathing slowed, he realized he couldn't remember the last time he had felt so completely happy with the universe. His hands soothed up and down Blair's chest, then lower, finally stroking the bulge that still distended Blair's jeans. "You don't have to," said Blair.

"I know that," said Jim, undoing the fly and curling his fingers around Blair's cock. From this angle, it was almost like stroking himself, easiness itself, and Jim chuckled and whispered dirty encouragements in Blair's ear until Blair shouted his name and hot fluid gushed over Jim's hand.

Out of curiosity, Jim raised his hand to his face, tongue darting out to taste. His first impression was just salt and stickiness, but Blair's scent was beguiling, and Jim tasted it again and again until his hand was licked clean and Blair was staring at him with a hungry, amazed expression.

A sudden thought crossed his mind. "You've been tested, right?" he asked.

Blair tapped his skull. "No need, anymore. You okay?" he asked, repeating his earlier concern.

"I think so," said Jim. "Go to sleep, Chief. We'll figure it out in the morning."

"Mgh," Blair mumbled, curling up on his chest like the world's biggest puppy. "You make a good pillow."

Jim snorted. Yeah, everything was fine. "Good night, Sandburg."

***

Maybe there was some perfectly innocent reason why Jonas Quinn would be urgently paged from his lab to the infirmary, but his churning stomach couldn't think of one. Blair must have been captured or killed, and the SGC had figured out that Jonas had had a hand in his escape. Was Blair okay? Would Jonas be kicked out? And if they did kick him out, where could he possibly make a home for himself now?

But Blair wasn't in the infirmary, only Dr. Fraiser and Major Carter, leaning on the microscope table. "Oh, Jonas, good. We need your help with something."

"Anything," he said. Blair wasn't hurt. Jonas wasn't fired. They could be asking for a kidney and he'd say yes at this point.

"What do you know about the way Goa'uld sense each other?" Dr. Fraiser asked.

"It's the naquadah in their blood," said Jonas. Everyone knew that! "Naquadah has a low-level EM field even in trace amounts, and the EM fields react to each other when they get close."

"But how fine-tuned is it?" asked Sam. "I mean, when I first met the Tok'ra, I could feel somehow that they were different from the Goa'uld. And Machello's booby trap could sense the difference between a dead Goa'uld and a live one."

"Well, that's because of the protein marker, as you and Dr. Fraiser found."

"But that protein marker is only in former hosts," Sam pointed out, "And Machello's devices were swimming around in our bloodstreams where they could check the markers directly."

Jonas shook his head. "But your report said that the Tok'ra knew Jolinar was dead when they met you. So we have to assume that the protein markers affect EM transmission." He pulled up a stool and sat down, thinking hard. "Okay. Assuming protein markers affect transmission, and that difference can be sensed, that would mean, since hosts seem to be able to sense the difference between live Tok'ra and Goa'uld if they concentrate, that there must be distinct protein markers even before death."

"There must be a reason those proteins are sent out in the first place," said Dr. Fraiser. "The brain needs proteins to function, and the body needs them to repair muscles. We've never had an opportunity to study a human host, but we know that the symbiote repairs damage to the host and controls its mind. What if the symbiotes naturally commandeer the body's proteins and restructure them before sending them on their way?"

"And when the symbiote dies, the waste proteins are flushed into the bloodstream," Sam nodded. "It makes sense, but it's just a theory. Without symbiotes on base, we can't test if it's true or what affects the proteins." Her brow crinkled. "Janet, do you still have blood samples and EKGs from the time Daniel overused the sarcophagus?"

Jonas's eyes went wide. "I see where you're going with this: if the sarcophagus changes the way the brain breaks down proteins, it could explain the sensed difference between the Tok'ra and the Goa'uld."

"And why they don't seem to notice spies in their midst," said Dr. Fraiser, getting up to open her walk-in freezer and begin rummaging.

Jonas sagged suddenly. "But that's not going to help Blair. Malek said that he sensed a difference. Blair's never been in a sarcophagus, and neither has his symbiote."

"Malek said," Sam stressed. "But if we can prove the sarcophagus makes the only difference, maybe we can prove there was no way Malek could sense any difference between Blair and himself. We could prove he was lying."

Dr. Fraiser came out of the freezer, brandishing samples. "Let's get to work."

***

Jim's first impression of an alien world was that, if he didn't know better, he'd say they had traveled no further than Canada. The man they had crossed the galaxy to meet was startled to see them appear, but put his odd-looking weapon away when he recognized Blair. "Dr. Sandburg," said Jacob, waving them over to what looked like a gilly tent. "Good to see you, Blair, but I'm in the middle of a very important recon mission. Is everything okay? It's not Sam, is it?"

"Sam's fine," said Blair. "I'm the one who needs help."

Despite the man's slight frame and patchwork clothes, there was something about Jacob Carter that made Jim stand a little straighter, an instinct that was confirmed when Jacob asked, "Where did you serve, son?"

"Peru," Jim answered, "With the Rangers."

Jacob looked sharply at him. "You're Jim Ellison. I remember when you were recovered. Blair, you never told me your Jim was Jim Ellison."

Jim tried to decide how he felt about being "Blair's Jim," but Jacob had already moved on. "What can I do for you, Blair?" Then he frowned and did a double take. His face broke into a smile. "Well, I'll be damned. Who is it? How are you two getting along?"

The relief and emotion that poured off his partner at those words broke Jim's heart. "You can sense she's Tok'ra?" Blair asked.

"She?" said Jacob, looking Blair over again. "Yes, as far as I can tell. Blair, what's going on?"

"The Tok'ra are claiming that she's not one of them, and everyone back on Earth believes them. The NID cloned her from Egeria, but they didn't mess around with her, I swear. Ellie's good people."

"Ellie?" Jacob chuckled. "Not exactly a name chosen to strike fear into the hearts of men." His eyes flashed, and when he spoke next it was with those eerie tones that gave Jim the willies, and in a guttural language he didn't understand. Blair's eyes flashed and he answered in the same language, a quick, sharp conversation that Jim couldn't even guess at, which ended with both men bowing their heads and talking normally again.

"It's true, this recon mission is important, but the Tok'ra High Council should still have told me that Sam was asking for me. This is the first I've heard of this." Jacob frowned. "This isn't the first time it's happened, either. Lately they've been sending me on more and more dangerous, deep-cover missions. I thought it was because my military experience made me the best man for the job, but I've been wondering lately how much of it has been a way to keep me from Council sessions where I might disagree with them." He traded a significant look with Blair. "If they're that unsure about me, I can only imagine how terrified they must be by what you represent."

Blair's eyes went saucer-wide. "Oh. Ohhhh. Oh man, why didn't I think of that?"

"Someone want to fill me in here?" Jim asked, a little annoyed by this point at the way the conversation seemed to be going over his head.

"Sorry, Jim. See, the Tok'ra are known for collaborating with their hosts instead of just taking them over like the Goa'uld. But the Tok'ra are used to hosts from low-tech, agricultural worlds ruled by the Goa'uld."

Jacob nodded. "Exactly. When the symbiotes say they share with their hosts, they mean it the way the world seems fresh when you see it through your child's eyes. They do share, but the Tok'ra are wiser and more experienced, and the hosts usually follow their lead."

"But we Earthlings aren't protectorates, we're allies. Equals," said Blair. "Think of aristocrats who work to aid the deserving poor, but would never allow their daughters to marry those people. Jacob's been a more strong-willed and influential host than they're used to, and his symbiote was one of their elders, someone who should be able to hold her own even against a strong-minded host. Ellie's still immature; I could have a lot of influence over her, and that would get passed on to her children."

"More than that, Blair," said Jacob. "There haven't been any new Tok'ra for centuries; the Tok'ra know every member of their society personally, and you're proposing to flood them with new members, complete strangers. This is a huge change; even if you were just some backwater peasant, I think just the idea of a new queen would be pretty terrifying for them."

"So where does that leave us?" Blair asked, throwing up his hands. "I can't stay on the run forever just because the Tok'ra are a bunch of sticks-in-the-mud."

"They need time, Blair. Most of them have been around for centuries; they need more than a few days to wrap their heads around this, but I think they'll come around in the end." Jacob sighed. "For now, let's see about getting things straightened out with the SGC. It's going to be years before Ellie's children can have any real impact on the Tok'ra; hopefully by then they will have had time to adjust."

"That doesn't help you, though," Blair pointed out.

"Don't worry about me," said Jacob. "I can take a little tension and they need to understand that we Earthlings aren't going anywhere. What we don't want is two sets of symbiotes fighting each other instead of the Goa'uld; we've got enough problems with Tok'ra/Jaffa relations as it is."

***

The journey to the Stargate took the better part of a day, over rough country, and Jim kept finding himself seeking out Jacob Carter. The man fascinated him: a buttoned-up general who had found a place for himself in all this Buck Rogers insanity, a host who claimed that the 'blending' had made him more happy than he had been since his wife's death, maybe ever. "It's not for everyone, Jim. But Selmak got me talking to my kids again; we're a family for the first time in decades. She's damned good at taking me down a peg when my anger or my pride get in the way. And she's good company, a real friend."

Jim stared at the trail ahead, his throat suddenly tight. "That's what Blair's always been for me."

Jacob gave him a penetrating look. "Jim, I don't think you have any idea how important you are to that boy. Once, on a long flight, we got to talking about the last time a place felt like home. And he told me home wasn't a place for him, it was a person."

Jim's whole chest felt tight now, and he fought to keep his emotions off his face as Jacob's quiet words battered him. "I can think of three ways Blair could have gotten off Earth without the Stargate or the Asgard, and without going back to Cascade where he knew the SGC would be looking for him. There's an amnesiac in California with a spaceship, the NID has means of their own, and there's a portal to parallel universes where Blair could have started over fresh with no one chasing him. He went back for you, Jim. If this whole thing goes south and he's never able to come back to Earth, it's damned clear to me that you're the one person he can't stand to lose."

Jacob abruptly stopped talking and made the military hand signals for 'quiet' and 'danger ahead'. Jim ducked down, already trying to find a good scouting position to see over the next ridge, but he was surprised to find Blair silently bringing up his rear in a textbook crouch, one hand resting on Jim's back to give him the focus he needed to stretch his senses. The metallic scent ahead was overpowering, and piggybacking sight onto smell showed him a huge structure that had to be the Stargate. A light patrol was watching over the structure, five men with symbiotes in their bellies, like Teal'c. Jim relayed this all to Jacob via hand signals.

Jacob frowned for a moment, then drew up close enough to whisper to Jim and Blair. "Damn. That's more than normal to guard the Gate; the System Lord I've been waiting for must be almost ready to arrive and set up his new base. I know the Tok'ra mainly wanted to keep me away from the Council, but this is important work, and I hate to just abandon it." He shook off his thoughts. "Nothing to be done about it now. I don't suppose either of you have weapons, do you?"

Blair shook his head, and Jacob winced, pulling out the strange-looking hand weapon he'd pointed at them when we first arrived. "Great, one zat against five fully-armed Jaffa. All right. Blair, you're in charge of dialing us out of here. I'll transmit my iris code so we don't get squashed on the other end. Jim, you're going to have to hold off the Jaffa long enough for us to open the Gate. Just point and shoot; there's no kick, but be prepared for a pins-and-needles sensation when you fire. First shot stuns, the second kills, the third disintegrates. The range is less than six meters, though, so we're going to have to get in pretty close."

"Sir," Jim acknowledged, got down on his belly and began crawling closer, using the trees and bracken as cover. The weapon felt strange in his hand and he found it distracting to crawl without accidentally clenching it in his fist and setting it off. The brush had been cleared away from the immediate area of the Gate, leaving an exposed clearing with no good cover. He was going to have to charge at the Jaffa for the last few feet, and he was betting those wicked-looking staffs they carried packed a little more punch than his peashooter.

Jacob crept away, off to their left, and suddenly began throwing rocks at the Jaffa, sparking cries of irritation and focusing the guards' attention away from Jim. As one drew closer to check out the disturbance, Jim suddenly yelled and charged him, shooting him with the zat thing and then using him as a body shield when the others drew their staff weapons and began shooting. He grabbed the Jaffa's staff weapon and returned fire as he retreated to the trees. Now things were more evenly matched, and Jim used the staff to take out three more Jaffa, leaving one who was using the Gate itself for cover as he fired back at them.

Then the Gate hummed to life and began spinning.

"Aw, man!" Blair wailed, and dashed forward, with Jim desperately trying to keep the Jaffa pinned down.

"Damn it, Blair, get back here!" Jim yelled.

But Blair was running right up to the Jaffa, to a little podium beside the Gate, where he started slapping panels. "I have to dial out before they finish dialing in," Blair yelled, "or we're going to have a whole lot more than five Jaffa to deal with!" He ducked one staff blast, but when he stood again to slap the center crystal, a second blast hit him full-on and he was knocked to the ground with a smoking crater in his chest.

"Blair!" Jim screamed, running before he could stop himself. The Gate blasted to life with an explosion of aquatic blue, disintegrating the Jaffa as he tried to get out of the way, but Jim only had eyes for Blair's motionless body. "No, no, no, please, no!" Jim begged, falling to his knees and gathering Blair in his arms. Blair's eyes were wide and unseeing. Jim could feel the body cooling in his arms.

"Jim!" Jacob yelled, tapping a device on his wrist. "We have to go, now!"

Numbly, Jim lifted Blair's body and stepped through the shimmering circle. He barely noticed the jarring trip through the Stargate or the armed contingent awaiting them on the other side. He sat right down on the gangplank, still cradling Blair to his chest. He couldn't be dead. He couldn't be dead.

"Medic! Get Dr. Fraiser to the Gateroom now!"

"...gone..."

"...even if we had a sarcophagus..."

"Detective Ellison, you're going to have to let go so I can examine the body--"

"No!" Jim fought off the hands that tried to take Blair from him. "It doesn't end here. He can't be dead." He clung tighter to Blair, burying his face in Blair's neck, and reached with that part of himself he usually tried to pretend didn't exist.

The Temple of the Sentinels always looked different in the cool, blue light, more menacing. A little girl knelt on the stones, nude except for the enormous snake draped over her shoulders and around her waist. She was surrounded by shards of pottery, a shattered amphora. The larger pieces still had water in them, dark and wet, but most of the water was dripping down the stairs under Jim's feet.

The child looked up at him, eyes swimming in frustrated tears. "I can't fix it. I tried."

Jim knelt beside her, water soaking his knees. He had to struggle not to let an hysterical edge creep into his voice; if she knew he thought it was desperate, she'd give up for sure. "You can do this. Come on, I'll help." She shook her head, but he jostled her shoulder and reached for one of the larger pieces, careful not to spill the precious drops of water. "Come on! Where does this one go?"

Hesitantly, she searched through the pieces for a smaller piece and fitted them together, then another.

"That's it. You're doing it," he cheered, reaching for another piece.

He didn't know how long he knelt there before color crept back into the blue, turning stone to gangplank and the water soaking his knees into blood, but when it did, Jim heard the most wonderful sound: a heartbeat. Thready, weak, but there.

"I don't believe it," said the petite doctor beside him. "What did you do?"

Jim shook his head, his fingers trembling as they rubbed the fabric of Blair's shirt, reassuring him that Blair was still alive. He didn't want to answer. The last thing he wanted was to talk about this with a total stranger; he had a hard enough time talking about it with Blair.

Reluctantly, he let the doctor take Blair from him and put the younger man on a gurney. "Let's get him to the infirmary," the doctor ordered, and Jim followed, leaving Jacob to talk to the base commander. Jim barely noticed as the medics put him through a battery of tests; his attention was focused completely on the sparrow-fragile heartbeat in the next bed.

Finally, the petite woman sat in front of him and gently forced him to make eye contact with her. "Detective Ellison? I'm Dr. Fraiser."

"How's Blair?" Jim asked immediately.

"He's alive," she said, her voice tinged with amazement. "His lungs are trying to repair an enormous amount of damage and his heart seems to be regenerating itself from almost nothing. I recommend complete bed rest until he's healed, but at this point it looks like he should make a full recovery."

"He hasn't woken up yet," said Jim, afraid to get his hopes up before he was sure.

"It's going to be a while before his heart and lungs can sustain consciousness. We're giving him oxygen and whole blood, but aside from that, we're letting his body do the work." She caught his eyes again; he couldn't look away from Blair for very long without needing another reassuring glance. "Detective Ellison, symbiotes are very, very good at healing damage, but I've never heard of one healing a point-blank shot from a staff weapon without the help of a device we call a sarcophagus. I have no idea what you did back in the Gateroom, but it's nothing short of miraculous. And from the sound of Blair's medical file, it's not the first time you've done this, either. Detective, I have to know more about this gift of yours; it could mean the difference between life and death for a lot of the young airmen who come through here."

Jim shook his head and got up, walked over to Blair's bed and rested his hand on Blair's chest, feeling the quick, light pulse under his fingers.

"Detective--"

"It's just Blair," he ground out, because she wasn't going to stop until he told her. "I've tried with other people, people I couldn't stand to lose, and it didn't do a damn bit of good. But Blair's mine."

He could feel her eyes on him and burned under the scrutiny, but finally she said, "Well, we've checked you over and everything seems to be fine, Detective. General Hammond wanted you to report to his office as soon as you were cleared."

Jim recognized an order when he heard it, but he still hated to leave Blair. Finally, though, he followed the directions she gave back to a room overlooking the Gateroom, where Jacob and the base commander waited for him.

"I'm General Hammond," the base commander introduced himself.

"Sir," Jim confirmed, respectfully.

"Jacob has been painting a very disturbing picture of the situation with the Tok'ra for me, but I want to hear your impressions. You've spent several days in the company of Blair and the symbiote; what's your assessment of it?"

"I'm not sure you should be asking me," said Jim, uncomfortable. "We both know I'm probably the person on this base with the least experience in what aliens are supposed to be like. But I can tell you Blair's still in there, and he's still in charge."

"And the symbiote?" General Hammond asked.

"I've only talked to her a few times; I don't know her that well." He searched for the right words. It was a difficult situation; he wasn't sure what would help Blair and what would make things worse. "Polite," he said, finally. "She thanked me and apologized for all the trouble she was causing. I get the sense that she doesn't know what she's doing any more than Blair."

Hammond shared a look with Jacob. "If there's one word that doesn't describe the Goa'uld, it's 'polite'," said Hammond. "All right. Barring any unexpected problems, I'm willing to give the symbiote a fair hearing when it wakes up. Jacob, if you wouldn't mind staying on until then, I have a feeling our next meeting with the Tok'ra might go a little smoother with your help. If the Tok'ra High Council's new policy is to withhold the truth to keep things going their way, we may need to reexamine our treaty with them."

Once Hammond dismissed them, Jim and Jacob went back to the infirmary, where they found Major Carter, Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c standing over Blair's bed, along with a young man Jim didn't recognize. Jim felt a surge of jealous rage at the sight of Teal'c; it would be one thing if the man looked sorry for having tried to shoot Blair, but the expression on Teal'c's face was one of anger and contempt. Like hell was Jim letting that guy near Blair in this condition. "You've lost your hovering privileges, pal," Jim informed him, putting himself between Teal'c and Blair's bed. "I want you out of here. Now."

"Hey! You don't give my team orders, Detective," said O'Neill.

"Whoa, guys, easy," said the unknown man in a soothing tone that would have done Blair proud. But Jim was too angry to calm down. These were supposed to be Blair's teammates, and they'd hunted him down without even trying to hear his side of the story?

"Dad," said Major Carter, smoothly breaking the tension, "Boy, am I glad to see you."

"Missed you too, Sam," said Jacob, giving her a quick hug.

"So what's going on? Is Blair a Tok'ra or isn't he?" Sam asked.

Jacob winced. "As far as I can tell, he is."

"Which means Malek lied to us," O'Neill growled.

"Which means," Selmak corrected, as Jacob's eyes flashed and his voice deepened, "That the High Council is understandably concerned that their whole culture may soon be swallowed up by Earth's priorities. While I am disturbed by the action they have taken, I cannot say I entirely blame my fellow Council members. The SGC has stepped on more than a few toes where the Tok'ra are concerned, and are close to making the same mistakes with the Jaffa."

"Aw, for crying out loud," said O'Neill, "We've stepped on their toes? We've refused to share technology? We've used them as guinea pigs for crazy armbands and broken lie detectors that start witch hunts on their bases?"

Selmak didn't deny it. "You must understand, the Tok'ra are accustomed to being the only significant power opposing the Goa'uld. All of a sudden, the Tau'ri demand to be apprised of every covert mission without granting the same respect in return. Add to this the fact that the Tau'ri rely on relatively short-term missions, whereas the Tok'ra have always preferred long-tem infiltration, with covers easily disrupted by the constant Tau'ri demands for assistance... I am concerned that some among the Tok'ra may feel that you want to turn us all into just another SG team, and that the power shift of a new, Tau'ri-sympathetic queen will make that inevitable."

O'Neill winced. "You've gotta admit, it would make things a whole lot simpler."

"Sir!" Major Carter warned, at the same moment that Selmak smirked and said, "I will pretend I did not hear that, Colonel O'Neill. Diplomatic skills have never been your strong suit. But it proves my point. If we are to find a solution to the problem, these things need to be discussed as honestly as possible, instead of being left to fester."

Jim couldn't help tuning out a little during all this, focusing instead on Blair, and on Teal'c watching Blair. He jerked back to attention when he felt a light touch on his arm from the man who had tried to calm them down before.

"So, you're Jim?" he asked. "I'm Jonas, I'm a friend of Blair's. It sounds like you're going to be here a while, at least until Blair's strong enough to go home. Let's see if we can get you a room on the base, so you can come down here and see Blair whenever you want. Okay?" When Jim hesitated, Jonas wheedled, "Come on, if we wait until after five, the sergeant is not going to be happy, and you don't want an unhappy sergeant making your room assignment. Trust me."

Jim knew when he was being manipulated, but didn't fight it too hard. The guy really did sound comfortingly like Blair.

***

Everything hurt. Moving. Swallowing. Breathing. He tried to avoid all three, slipping in and out of sleep and painful waking. He was vaguely aware of Dr. Fraiser, once, and then Teal'c, standing over him and asking "Why?" like the word ripped his heart open. Jonas, reading in what Blair thought might be Etruscan but which he was too tired to make sense of, just letting the liquid sounds wash over him and carry him away.

But when he woke, it was Jim, holding his hand, smiling worriedly.

"Hey," Blair croaked.

"Hey yourself," Jim answered. "You gonna stick around this time, buddy?"

"Mmm," Blair confirmed, wincing as he tried to sit up and failed.

"Here, let me," said Jim, gently propping Blair up with pillows. He smoothed Blair's hair away from his forehead, and Blair smiled.

"Feels nice," he said. He turned his wrists over and back, then reached out to spiral his fingers sleepily across Jim's hand. "No shackles. Thassa good sign."

Jim nodded. "I think they're going to listen to you this time." He suddenly blushed hard, hand going rigid under Blair's teasing.

Oh, this was fun. "Like that?" Blair asked, nearly purring.

Jim was bright red now. Very cute. "You're still hurt. Someone could walk in..."

"So close th'curtain," said Blair.

Jim torqued his whole body and managed to yank the curtain all the way around the bed one-handed, never pulling his other hand away from Blair's teasing. Blair chuckled, then winced as laughter set off a round of painful, wheezing coughs.

"Dammit, Blair, you're in no condition for this. Your heart and lungs are still damaged."

"You'll be gen'l. I know you." Blair could be very persuasive when he wanted to be. He shifted his hips just a little, not enough to hurt, and grinned as he saw Jim's nostrils flare at the scent. With a low sound, Jim leaned over the bed and kissed him, a soft, sweet press of lips that made the world go away. Jim's tongue subtly mapped his mouth as their lips met again and again, a delicate reacquaintance.

It was Jim who reluctantly pulled away and drew back the curtain. A moment later, Dr. Fraiser came back into the infirmary, chart in hand. "Hey, you're awake! Planning to stay with us this time? How are you feeling?"

Blair looked over at him, licked his lips in what could be seen as an innocent gesture, and said truthfully, "Better'n the last time I died."

Jim nodded in silent acknowledgement, eyes never leaving Blair's, but Dr. Fraiser had her back to him. "I'm not surprised," she said. "Your symbiote seems to be taking the opportunity presented by the fresh injury to heal some of the earlier scarring on your lungs from the drowning and pneumonia. You're going to be a very healthy young man when this is over." She took out a stethoscope and began examining Blair's heart and lung activity. "But until then, I recommend at least another ten days of bed rest and a week of light activity."

"But--"

"Your heart is growing itself back from nothing, Blair," she reminded him sternly. "The last thing you need is to give yourself a heart attack from pushing yourself too hard."

"Don't worry," said Jim, glowering like the kiss earlier had been all Blair's doing, "I'll make sure he doesn't overdo it."

Dr. Fraiser nodded, finishing up her examination and letting Blair lie back. "General Hammond asked me to notify him when you woke up; I'm going to page him."

When she'd moved out of earshot, Jim glared down at Blair.

"What?" Blair asked innocently.

"You know what. You heard the doctor; you're not supposed to put any strain on your heart."

"So I'll lie back and let you do the work," Blair persuaded with a mischievous smile, trying to keep his breathing steady so he wouldn't scare Jim off by coughing.

But when Hammond came in with a couple of corporals, Blair couldn't help tensing up, waiting for the axe to fall again.

"How are you feeling, son?" Hammond asked.

"'ll be fine, s'r," said Blair. Damn, it was still so hard to catch his breath!

"Sir?" Jim asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah, well. Four years with you rubbed off a li'l."

"Simon will be thrilled to hear that."

"Gentlemen," Hammond warned, interrupting the friendly banter. "Dr. Sandburg, Jacob is willing to vouch that you are a Tok'ra and we've run tests to confirm that if anyone raises more suspicions. Now, the last time we discussed this, you asked for asylum on behalf of your symbiote. I've spoken with the President and we're prepared to grant that request. We would hope that the symbiote would return this gesture of friendship by agreeing to help us in our fight against the Goa'uld, specifically sharing vital information."

"Technology," Blair clarified, just to make sure they were all still on the same page. He could feel Ellie weighing the offer and mentally sent her his own concerns, but ultimately the decision had to be hers. As most of her energy was focused on healing him, she sent her reply but left him to bargain for both of them.

"Ellie says... s'fine, but we wan' ethical guidelines drawn up... for each piece of technology, an' it can't be just for 'mericans. Tip the balance, put us too far ahead. Cold War all over 'gain."

"I'll have to talk to the President before I can give you my word on that, son."

Blair nodded. It was a hell of a thing to ask; the thought of terrorists getting a hold of alien weapons technology was pretty terrifying, but since there was no way to keep that power out of Senator Kinsey's hands, the only real solution was to make sure everyone had the power to stop him.

He wasn't completely unselfish, though; there were a few things he wanted for himself, as long as they were still at the bargaining table... or bed, as the case may be. "Plus, asylum can't mean jus' locking us up at the SGC. Either you trust us or you don'."

Hammond ground his jaw, but there was affection in his voice when he said, "It doesn't seem like we can keep you locked up in any case, Dr. Sandburg."

Fighting back laughter kicked off a nasty bout of coughing. He couldn't get enough air... But Jim rubbed soothing circles across his back until the coughing stopped and he could breathe again. After a moment, Blair wiped the tears from his eyes and sipped the glass of water Jim pressed into his hands. "Sorry."

"It's okay. Take your time."

Blair took another sip of water, and then went for broke. "One last thing. Ellie wants assurances that she can get a female host in a couple... of years, and reproduce within reason."

"Define 'within reason'," said Hammond.

This they had talked about. "Reasonable population growth. Ellie will have enough offspring to meet the needs of the Jaffa who've defected to our side. And we make a good faith effort to find suitable hosts, but if no hosts can be found, the larvae will accept their own deaths. But shouldn't be a problem."

"Dr. Sandburg, I can't guarantee..."

"There's whole countries going under because the adult population is infected with AIDS, Gen'ral. Hell, you could stand outside the GMHC with a bucket and ask for volunteers. If you're worried 'bout security, how many medically discharged vets wouldn't... jump at th'chance to fix their disabilities and serve again? How many kids with cystic fibrosis or... cancer? Not to mention... scientists or explorers who'd jump at th'chance without being at death's door? Or people who just believe... fighting to save their planet is th'right thing to do? Everyone could win, here."

Hammond's lips pressed together. "I'll have to discuss it with the President and the Chief of Staff. You're talking about disclosing the existence of the Stargate program to the general public and proposing a wide-scale Revenge of the Body Snatchers. I'm not sure you realize how much of a panic that could cause."

Blair looked him in the eye. "Sir, half the time we step through that Gate, we start a panic on some world. I'd like t'think we can handle things even better... when we have the home court advantage."

Hammond declined to answer that, though the curl of his lip showed the point had struck home. "Once we have some agreement in place, our first order of business is going to have to be sorting out this disaster with the Tok'ra High Council. They're powerful allies, and I'd like to keep it that way. In the mean time, Dr. Sandburg, I suggest you follow Dr. Fraiser's orders and rest." Before Blair could ask the question, Hammond added, "Detective Ellison is being housed on base while you recover; housekeeping is still going over your apartment."

Blair nodded and sank back against the pillows. "Thank you, sir."

"Take it easy, son. The hard part's over now." With that, Hammond left.

Jim frowned at Blair. "Housekeeping?"

"Getting rid of all the NID bugs. Man, I can't wait t'have privacy again." Even with Ellie's intervention, the long negotiation had exhausted Blair to the point where his hands were shaking and his vision was blotchy.

Jim, bless him, could still read Blair like a book. "It's okay, Chief. You rest. I'll keep watch."

***

Whatever the medical tests said, Blair's rule of thumb was this: when you had enough energy to be bored out of your skull, you were well enough to leave the infirmary. Since Dr. Fraiser didn't agree, that just meant Blair had to be a little imaginative about going to see Jim. And really, if they didn't want people crawling through those air ducts, they shouldn't make them so big.

He'd just keep the fact that he had to catch his breath every few minutes his little secret. Wouldn't want anyone to worry.

Once he was well away from the infirmary, though, he thought it was safe to risk the hallways again, and frankly, he had a much better chance of figuring out which guest quarters Jim was in out here than he did crawling around in the dark. It took a while, but he knew most of the other people stationed on base; tapping on the remaining doors in the guest wing until he heard Jim's "Who's there?" was a snap.

Blair opened the door and let himself in, closing it behind him. Jim had been lying on his back on the bed, reading, when Blair came in, but got his elbows under him to prop himself up a little when Blair came in. Blair couldn't help feeling a fond tug in his heart as he realized his Sentinel was immediately cataloguing him, making sure everything was all right. "Hey," Blair said. "Miss me?"

"You shouldn't be up, Blair; you could have just had me paged again. I would have come down."

Blair shot him a lascivious grin. "Somehow I didn't think you'd want 'booty call' going out over the loudspeakers."

Jim swallowed hard and Blair's grin widened at the sudden added tension in Jim's belly and the way the fabric shifted across his groin. He went over to the bed and straddled Jim's legs, staring down at Jim heatedly, but giving Jim plenty of time to process what was going on. Shocked and overjoyed as he had been at what Jim had started onboard Thor's ship, no one went from ruler-straight to bisexual at the ripe old age of forty without some well-deserved freaking out along the way. The last thing Blair wanted to do was spook Jim and risk losing him again.

"Whatcha reading, Jim?" he asked in a singsong tone, flirting just as much as he thought he could get away with. He leaned forward to snag the book from Jim's hand, proud of his ability to make Jim's breath catch in his throat when his fingernails skimmed up Jim's arm to take the book away. The book looked like one of the base publications, judging by the 'classified' markings and the USAF and SGC watermarks.

"You," said Jim, and Blair was surprised to find it was. Elision as Tone in Goa'uld Diction: A Primer by Blair Sandburg. On the nightstand was his Genetic Versus Synaptic Memory in Symbiote and Host: Preliminary Findings. "They don't sound like your dissertation -- your first dissertation, I mean."

Blair put down Elision and ran a rueful hand over Memory. "I'm going to have to rewrite half of this one," he said. "I can't believe how much I got wrong." But Jim had brought it up, and Blair would be chickenshit to avoid the subject. He used his knees to urge Jim over to one side of the bed, and then flopped down in the crook of Jim's arm. "I should have listened when Dr. Stoddard told me I was wrong for anthropology. I thought he just wanted to see if I cared enough to fight for it. But that's the problem: I care too much." He stared at the ceiling, not looking at Jim. "I completely screwed up the Sentinel diss, man. The committee would have thrown that piece of crap out and made me pick a new topic, if I'd actually gotten a chance to submit the damned thing. I was so wound up about getting it right that I got in your face with shitty, embarrassing questions that threw you completely off your game, when I should have just shut up and watched like a good little field worker. Then we became friends and I completely lost objectivity, and to make up for that I tried to write as coldly and analytically as I could, snow everyone with jargon to hide how badly I messed up. The difference with these is I wasn't trying to fool anyone, least of all myself. I was just trying to make sense of things and give my friends the intel they needed to keep from getting themselves shot."

His voice was scratchy and even though Naomi had always taught him boys could cry too, he'd be damned if he did it here, in Jim's bed, after a year of barely speaking and a week of dragging Jim all over the known universe as fugitives.

Jim rolled over, on top of him, and how did he know; how did Jim know that pressure on his chest would push him back from the edge of tears so he could look Jim in the eye? "The diss wasn't crap, Sandburg. If it wasn't for you, I'd be locked in a mental institution somewhere, or flattened by that damned garbage truck. That's not just being a good friend. Simon was a good friend. Carolyn was a good friend. You. Fixed. Me. You're damned good at what you do," he said, with a growl that said this discussion was over.

"That may be," Blair agreed, "But what I do isn't anthropology."

"Chief, what does it matter what you call it? You're damned good and people pay you to do what you love. End of story."

It mattered to Blair, but when he opened his mouth to say that, Jim apparently decided that if rational argument wouldn't shut Blair up, kissing his tonsils out would. And Jim was a very good kisser. Blair could spend his life worshipping that fantastic mouth and never get enough. Jim propped himself up on his elbows and Blair took a much needed gasp of air before Jim captured his mouth again. Jim tasted good, salty and warm with a hint of compulsive mintiness from brushing his teeth before bed like you were supposed to.

Jim managed to insinuate a hand between them, running it up Blair's arm and across his chest, pausing to pinch and roll the nipples. "No piercing?" he asked, sounding disappointed. God, how long had Jim been picturing this?

"Made me... take it out. Regs."

"Hope the hole hasn't closed up," Jim purred, "I've got plans for that ring."

Oh, that image went straight to his groin. Blair shivered and started tugging at Jim's shirt, but Jim sat up and pulled first his own and then Blair's shirt off with smooth efficiency. He looked down at Blair's chest and Blair waited, self-consciously biting his bottom lip. He was in good shape, for his size, but face it, he was one hairy guy. For someone like Jim, who had spent his life going after women, it had to be a hell of a change. Jim's fingers carded through the curls, accidentally tickling as the hair sprang up in their wake, mapping the round pecs and bronze nipples, the hint of pudge hiding Blair's strong abdomen, the treasure trail disappearing into his infirmary-issue drawstring pants.

"First time I actually get to look at you," said Jim. He eased off Blair's pants, coming back to lean over him and run an exploratory hand over one knee and up a heated inner thigh. Blair couldn't help a moan, spreading his legs a little in invitation as Jim's hand hesitated and then wrapped around his straining erection. The pressure was knowing and welcome, and Blair thrust up once before letting Jim set the pace. Jim seemed more intent on exploring than on jerking Blair off, one hand slipped down to roll and fondle Blair's balls while the other held his shaft hostage. "Yours are bigger than mine," said Jim.

"Huh?" Blair asked, lust frying his synapses a little.

"Your balls," Jim clarified, giving them a loving squeeze before releasing them to roll his palm lazily over the head of Blair's cock. "They're bigger than mine. I wonder if you shoot more?"

Blair groaned, thrashing his head from side to side a little. "You're killing me, man. How the hell are you so good at this?"

"Like my first girlfriend told me, hard to go wrong if you just imagine what you want done to you and do it to your partner." He sounded more than a little smug, and Blair decided it was safe to stop holding back so much.

He reached up to grab Jim's forearms and pull him forward, then unzipped Jim's jeans and eased Jim out of his underwear, squirming around until their cocks were side by side. Jim stilled, face blank, clearly trying to figure out whether this new sensation boded well or not. Blair thrust a little, shimmying so his balls rolled against Jim's, and felt Jim answer the tentative thrust with one of his own. Oh yeah, they were in business.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that rolling your hips made the friction even better, so it was only a matter of time before Jim rolled a little too far and ended up pointed down instead of up, pressed into the crease of Blair's ass. He froze. "Sorry, I didn't mean--"

"Jim, whoa, chill. I'm down with that." He spread his legs a little and thrust up, letting Jim feel it.

Jim's eyes widened. "What the hell? You're wet down there!" he accused.

Blair grinned. God, what an innocent. "It's called being prepared, Jim. There are advantages to sleeping in a fully stocked infirmary."

"I can see that," said Jim, his voice a little shaky despite his biting sense of humor. He checked Blair's face, for permission, maybe, or something else, then took himself in hand, aimed himself, and slid inside.

The sudden stretching felt wonderful, but Blair was focused entirely on Jim, watching shock and tension and bliss slide across Jim's face. "God, you feel so good, Blair. You feel so good to me." He sank deeper, then pulled out, and back in; slow, gentle, lost in sensation.

"Focus, Jim. Dial it back if you have to."

"Not zoning, Sandburg," Jim said, his voice a little vague and dreamy, eyes shut. He slid in and out of Blair torturously, one hand wrapping around Blair's cock to leisurely pump the shaft, the other sliding restlessly over Blair's overheated flesh. "Just taking it slow."

"J-jim -- fuck! -- please, please, harder."

Jim's glare was somewhat tempered by an exasperated smile. "Sandburg, your heart's going like a hummingbird. Let me do this my way."

"Fuck," Blair groaned, reaching up to touch Jim's hair, his shoulders, his nipples, desperate for sensation. Jim felt huge inside him, the long, slow fuck making Blair feel impossibly stretched and full, and his cock was leaking, precum pouring down the shaft in a steady drip, slicking Jim's fingers. There was more on the line here than just pleasure, Blair realized, on the dizzy and terrifying edge. He'd been careful not to scare Jim, not to ask anything Jim might not be ready to give, but the result was that Jim was the one in control here and he clearly wasn't going to stop until he'd laid Blair completely bare, until he got a good look at Blair's heart and decided if he was really ready to take that trip or send Blair on ahead and keep himself shuttered up. Jim's next thrust brushed Blair's prostate and he couldn't hold back a sob. Ellie was frantic at the back of his mind, desperate to come to his rescue without any clue how to help, and he tried to send some reassurance her way, to tell her it was all right when he didn't know himself if it would ever be right again. "Please," he begged, not entirely sure what he was asking for, just that he was on the edge of a cliff and if Jim didn't catch him, he'd fall forever.

Then his balls tightened, his whole body shook and quivered, and his mouth opened in a soundess wail as he came and came and came, cock spitting hot pulses across their bellies as he spasmed around Jim's shaft. Jim wrapped him close and made an urgent sound and pounded into him six times before searing Blair's insides with welcome heat. "Love you," Jim murmured hoarsely against his hair. "Always loved you."

It took a long time for both of them to stop shaking.

Putting on clothes was as much of a seduction as taking them off had been, Jim gently tugging Blair's shirt and pants on when Blair's fingers turned out to be too shaky. "No marathons, okay, Chief? Straight back to the infirmary. You need me to go with?"

"I'll be okay," said Blair, stepping out into the corridor. "Come by in the morning?"

"Of course," said Jim, and Blair started down the corridor grinning like an idiot.

He made it all the way to the juncture before the grin faded. Teal'c's quarters were right down there, and with SG-1 on downtime, he was probably there. The last time they'd talked in private was two days before the NID raid. Blair squared his shoulders. Damn it, he deserved some answers.

He knocked on Teal'c's door and, when there was no answer, walked in as usual. All the candles were lit and the room glowed with warmth that did nothing for the chill in Blair's gut. Teal'c knelt on the floor, seeming oblivious except for the sudden tension in his shoulders. Blair had to swallow past the lump in his throat. That had been one of his favorite parts of the relationship, meditating together, and one of the few they dared carry on in public. It was something he'd never shared with a lover before; he'd been stupid enough to think it made them closer.

Blair crouched on the floor, facing Teal'c, and the sudden ache in his ass as he knelt was a welcome reminder that whatever had gone wrong between himself and Teal'c, it was in the past. Jim loved him. Jim had stood by him. However hurt he was by Teal'c's turning on him, nothing Teal'c said or did could change that.

He made himself comfortable, sitting Indian-style, and finally said, "I admit, there've been a lot of times this year when we didn't seem to get each other. But I thought, whatever cultural differences there were between us, you at least cared about me as much as you do about Jack and Sam. I don't get it, man; you abandoned me. You wouldn't even hear my side of it. Who does that to a friend, let alone a lover?"

"You are not my lover," Teal'c spat. "It is you who have betrayed me. You gave up your soul to that thing willingly; I heard you beg Dr. Fraiser to let it remain inside you. If you hold yourself of so little value, how can you ask me to treat you as he'a'kree?"

The foreign word brought Blair up short, reminding him how wide the gulf was between them. Teal'c had been born and raised to serve the Goa'uld; he carried one inside him. He'd given up everything to betray them. Asking him to accept this must have been like asking a survivor of torture to try a little S&M in the bedroom. Blair wanted to smack himself for not seeing it earlier. "Look, I can understand why you're angry. But you said it yourself at the house, you could still tell it was me in control, and yet you were ready to pull the trigger on me. If you don't want a host in your bed, that's one thing, but that doesn't give you the right to help them lock me up and cut me open!"

Teal'c just looked at him, impassive as he was only when he was at his most angry and upset. "You are interrupting my kel'no'reem. Please leave."

Damn it, there had to be a way to repair the breach. He just couldn't see it right now. And with thing so raw and new between him and Jim, it was probably a bad idea for him to try too hard at this. "Take care of yourself, Teal'c. I'll see you around."

He didn't look back to see if Teal'c watched him leave.

***

Per'sus, never a fool or a dreamer, knew his days were numbered the moment he took the office of Supreme High Councilor, just as his predecessor's had been. Supreme High Councilor was a lifelong office, one often held as little as two years. Necessity more than honor. At the rate they were going, he thought to himself in moments of grim humor, it was likely to be an office every Tok'ra held at some point.

Malek's report had terrified his colleagues on the High Council; an immature queen of untested loyalties and purpose, and in a Tau'ri, of all people. The Tau'ri had come late to the war against the Goa'uld, come with their fresh energy and their short lifespans and their damned impatience, blessing and curse in one package as they trampled blindly over centuries-old treaties and used up precious operatives because now was important and later was too far away to grasp, throwing themselves in harm's way at a rate that terrified even the morbidly self-sacrificing Tok'ra and reacting with anger and disgust with the Tok'ra would not, could not, do the same. The closely guarded secret of all symbiotes was that they did not so much have minds as they had lenses, perspectives on the host's understanding, bolstered by past facts stored deep in their genes. Their race's lack of creativity and reputation for scavenging went deeper than mere culture. Ultimately, all they saw, all they knew of the world, they saw through the window of their host's mind. Coming of age in a Tau'ri mind, then taking her place as head of the Tok'ra, what terrible cliff might this new queen drive them all off of, in her impatience to win an unwinnable war? And if she fought the host's influence, tried to submerge his thoughts enough to form her own, would she still be Tok'ra then?

He'd expected General Hammond to greet him at the Gate, and SG-1 as well, with Major Carter standing beside Dr. Sandburg in an obvious show of solidarity. Another man stood on the other side of Sandburg, not in uniform, and Per'sus made note of him for later. Teal'c had the careful blankness of a Jaffa who would rather be anywhere else but here, and Per'sus filed that strategic gem away as well.

He had not expected to see Selmak, who should be safely away from all this at the far end of the galaxy, standing beside General Hammond. But short of calling his fellow Council member a traitor and demanding his immediate execution, there was little Per'sus could do.

"High Councilor Per'sus, thank you for coming," said General Hammond, indicating the way to the briefing room.

"General Hammond," Per'sus acknowledged, but made no move towards the door. Malek had told these people that Sandburg's symbiote could not be trusted, and yet here it was, unrestrained, in the greeting party. He had no intention of sitting down at the bargaining table until he understood how the ground lay. "Is it wise to have an untried symbiote present -- and armed," with a disapproving look at Sandburg's belt holster, "when receiving foreign dignitaries?"

General Hammond locked eyes with him. "We're satisfied that the symbiote poses no threat to us, or to you."

"As you were satisfied in the case of Tanith?" Per'sus probed, satisfied at the muffled reaction that produced among the Tau'ri. Tanith had cost them greatly, and he didn't intend to let the Tau'ri forget their error in judgment. "This is not the first time you have asked us to take a foreign symbiote into our confidence. And now you call me here, to ask me to endanger my people again in your name?"

"Ellie has asked, since the Tok'ra seem reluctant to accept her, that Earth offer her asylum. Now, since the Tok'ra are valued allies of Earth, I would prefer to find a solution that doesn't add to any internal dispute between your people, but if such a solution can't be found, I'm authorized to grant asylum to Dr. Sandburg and Ellie."

Asylum. Meaning Tok'ra technology in Tau'ri hands. Meaning, possibly, Tok'ra born and raised on Earth, with no conception of Tok'ra ways, who would soon outnumber their older siblings in the field. He sorely wished Malek had succeeded in separating Sandburg from the larval queen and quietly killing it if it could not be brought to the proper way of thinking. His choices now seemed limited to fire or flood.

"I wish to speak to the symbiote in a less formal setting than at the bargaining table, to form my own opinions," he said. "A private walk, perhaps, under your sky?"

Hammond frowned, but finally said, "I think that can be arranged, provided you don't mind an armed escort, for your safety."

"Come now, General Hammond, either you trust Dr. Sandburg in the use of those weapons or you do not. He should be able to protect us should trouble come uninvited, and I hardly mean to flee into the hinterlands of your planet." It was a test, one he was satisfied to see Hammond balk at. Two armed guards remained at a respectful distance as symbiotes and hosts took two elevators to the surface of this world.

The mountaintop was grassy and cool, and his eyes could follow the scar of the road out to the distant gray of a city on the horizon. On this world, even a base kept secret and apart was not so far from teeming cities. The mind boggled.

"I feel it necessary to apologize to you," he told the symbiote in their own language. "Even a mature symbiote's first hosts are chosen carefully for their naivete and pliability, to give the symbiote a chance to develop its own personality. Circumstances have robbed you of that birthright; weak-willed is not how I would describe the members of SG-1."

"I don't feel cheated," Ellie replied in the same language. "I view it as an unexpected gift."

"A gift. To have your free will stripped from you before you're old enough to know your own mind?"

"To learn, before I'm set in my ways, that loving one's life and sacrificing it do not have to be mutually exclusive. My memories tell me that the Tok'ra fling themselves into the fight against the Goa'uld because of the shame they feel for what they had been a part of. But I wonder, High Councilor, how passionately one can fight, century after century, when one has nothing but the struggle and no plans beyond the hope of victory? We have no art, no music, no science beyond the science of war, because we have asked our hosts to put these things aside for the greater good. What else have we lost in the process, that humans understand and we do not?"

"Strong words," Per'sus chided, "from a larva who has yet to join the fight."

"You think me naive."

"I think, swallowed up by your first host, you have no perspective to judge these feelings."

Ellie cocked her head at him. "You could, of course, judge for yourself, High Councilor."

His eyes narrowed. "What are you up to, child?"

"I don't want to spend my hopefully very long lifetime running from my own people, at home nowhere. My host deserves better than that."

Fair enough, and he was far older than her, from Egeria's first clutch of larva. He was strong enough to fight her if she had something up her sleeve. "Give your weapons to the guard, then," he challenged.

He was surprised when she did it, when Sandburg took off his holster belt and handed the whole thing to one of the guards before walking back to Per'sus. Sandburg's hands were clenched at his sides, his whole body tense. Per'sus didn't blame either symbiote or host for being nervous; they were literally putting their lives in Per'sus's hands. It would be so easy to kill them here, simplify this whole mess. But Hammond was waiting downstairs, between him and the Stargate, and wouldn't take kindly to Per'sus murdering his anthropologist.

He stepped in close, steadying Sandburg with one hand on his waist and the other behind his neck, and bent to kiss him, openmouthed, ignoring the yell of disgust from one of the guards. He felt the sharp pain and the sudden taste of blood as his symbiote breached his mouth, driving its tail stinger into Sandburg's palate. He felt the host's involuntary jerk and struggle, felt it fight to get free, but he held that curly hair tight in his iron grip and forced it still as Sandburg choked on their blood, trying to breathe past the sudden obstruction in his throat. Then he felt Ellie's tail sting his own, felt the release of memory RNA bubbling through his bloodstream, letting him glimpse the world through her eyes.

He could feel the wood of the podium under his clenching fingers, hear his voice crack as he tried to keep from crying. He took the dream he'd poured his whole life into and ground it to dust, because Jim and Megan and Simon were more important than a damned diploma. And the fear, the horrible, selfish fear that he'd never find a job after this beyond working at McDonalds, maybe the Peace Corps? His whole life, he'd trusted that he could land on his feet, and here he was, sawing his feet off. God, he was going to be sick...

But the world didn't end. Even losing his best friend, his job, his whole purpose in life, he walked out of that lecture hall and saw the fountain sparkling in the sun and remembered that he wasn't dead. That he could survive this, too. One of the students on the grass was playing a radio and, still fighting not to pass out or break into tears, Blair focused on the music, let it pull him out of himself. The world hadn't ended. And even if he couldn't see it now, he knew he'd find something good again, find work that had meaning, find friends who trusted him, find moments of pure joy he couldn't even imagine now. Dry-eyed, shaky but calm, he walked to the parking lot. He should check in with his friends at the hospital, make sure they were okay.

Per'sus gently released Sandburg, let the host fall to his knees, spitting out blood and gasping for breath. He wiped his own mouth on his sleeve, seeing for the first time the richness and individual flair of the monochrome fabrics, host creativity in the one field left open to them. Perhaps there was something to this joy of creation, something vital that the Tok'ra did not yet grasp. A way to be more than just not-Goa'uld, or merely against-Ra.

Sandburg weakly put a hand up, signaling the guards to stay back. "It's cool, man. We're fine."

"Dr. Sandburg, I think we should head inside now," one of the guards pleaded, sounding very young. "I think Dr. Fraiser should make sure everything's okay."

Sandburg nodded weakly, but got to his feet without aid. He looked Per'sus in the eye, asking a question, and Per'sus nodded. Whether the two generations of Tok'ra could ever join as one society remained to be seen. But whatever Sandburg was teaching Ellie, it had merit, and only she could decide when she was ready to take that understanding and test it against the prism of another host's mind.

When they returned to the bowels of the SGC, there was much dismay over the blood: tests run, questions asked, but Per'sus ignored it all, lost in his own thoughts.

"High Councilor," General Hammond finally said, when Dr. Fraiser was satisfied that both hosts and both symbiotes were unharmed, "If you're feeling up to it, we're ready to discuss arrangements with you in the briefing room."

"That's not necessary," he said, getting to his feet and signaling his guards. He looked around to make sure he had everyone's full attention; this ought to be clearly understood. "Ellie is not Tok'ra. But she and her children can apply to join our cause. If we feel her interests and actions agree with ours, we will welcome her among us. For now, however, asylum may be the best thing. It will be some time before Ellie is fully mature, able to take a new host or breed a new generation. Let us use that time to let the dust settle, before any more rash decisions are made." He gathered his cloak around him and turned to leave, locking eyes with Sandburg one last time. "Tal'matte, kal'ma. I look forward to that conversation, in the proper time."

***

Working alongside Daniel Jackson had changed Teal'c profoundly. He had never known hosts before they were taken by the Goa'uld; he knew in his mind what the Goa'uld stole, but it was Daniel Jackson's agonized hope that something of the host must survive that seared the gravity of that loss into Teal'c's heart. Daniel Jackson had done everything in his power to rescue his wife; Teal'c had no doubt her love for him was just as strong, and yet Teal'c had been forced to shoot her to prevent her from killing Daniel Jackson. Any power the Tok'ra claimed to share with their hosts was illusory; a moment's distemper and they would take over just as the Goa'uld did. Blair Sandburg thought he had an equal voice, but as the symbiote matured, his will would slowly be subsumed by the symbiote's.

Blair Sandburg was his he'a'kree. It was Teal'c's duty to shame and isolate him, as Jaffa always did when their lovers showed such a lack of sense or will. It was the only way he knew to show Blair Sandburg the error of his ways and force him to return before the symbiote destroyed him. But he could not help a glimmer of spiteful satisfaction, watching Blair Sandburg's wounded but hopeful expression across the table; it felt good to know Teal'c still had the power to hurt him, as he had hurt Teal'c.

General Hammond cleared his throat. "With Dr. Sandburg due to be cleared for duty soon, I wanted to clear up any problems with his new duties. Dr. Sandburg has agreed to assist our scientists in their efforts to engineer Goa'uld and Tok'ra technology, but I see no reason why he can't fulfill those responsibilities when SG-1 is between missions, just as Dr. Jackson used to help other teams with archaeology and translation."

"General Hammond," Teal'c interrupted, steeling himself. "I must warn you that if Blair Sandburg remains a member of SG-1, I will find it necessary to resign."

Colonel O'Neill winced. "Aw, c'mon, Teal'c," he said. "I know he's got a symbiote now, but so does Jacob! You don't mind working with Jacob, do you?"

"Jacob Carter has proven himself to be a formidable ally and a man of his word," said Teal'c, shooting a pointed glare at Blair Sandburg.

"That's not fair, man," Blair Sandburg protested, "You guys were going to kill Ellie. I had no choice but to go behind your backs."

"Dr. Sandburg made the right call, under the circumstances, Teal'c," said General Hammond. "I believe if we'd given him any indication that we would give him a fair hearing, he wouldn't have gone on the run."

"For the record, sir, I have no problem serving with Blair. Or Ellie," said Major Carter, looking worriedly between Blair Sandburg and Teal'c. "Teal'c, give him a chance. Please."

"Colonel O'Neill," said Teal'c, ignoring Major Carter. "You have often stated that you deeply mistrust all symbiotes, even the Tok'ra. Do you not agree with me that a symbiote and host would make an unwelcome addition to the team?"

"Damn it, Teal'c, Blair's not an addition to the team--"

"But his symbiote is. Tell me that you truly have no objection to its presence," said Teal'c, staring Colonel O'Neill down.

He could see the battle within Colonel O'Neill. More than anyone in this room, Colonel O'Neill knew what it was to be betrayed by a symbiote, to have it force him into unwanted action. He still bore marks from Baal's torture chamber, when the Tok'ra symbiote he carried temporarily had forced him to try and raid Baal's compound against his will and his better judgment. If Colonel O'Neill accepted a symbiote into SG-1 and it betrayed them, the responsibility would be Colonel O'Neill's.

The silence stretched out and Teal'c knew he had won. Major Carter looked stricken, but she knew when she was outnumbered. Blair did not look surprised. He looked resigned. And suddenly old. He got up from the table and Teal'c realized with growing numbness that Blair was not going to reject the symbiote and come back to them.

"It's been an honor to serve with you," Blair Sandburg said softly.

Teal'c had lost him.

***

After spending a year going over every stupid or selfish thing he'd ever done to Blair, Jim knew the only fair thing was to get a sense of the SGC and decide if he could enter Blair's world, as Blair had struggled for four years to enter his. Major Carter took the time to show him around, but when he made a joking apology for his and Blair's sticking a wrench in the works, she just blinked in surprise and said that it was par for the course around here!

Jim tried to decide how he felt about that; yeah, it meant using the skills he'd perfected as a Ranger and a cop, but frankly, it was all a little too far off the weirdness scale for him. It would be one thing if he just had to get over the first shock and adjust, but from the sound of it, every time these guys got a handle on things, there was some new alien race or ascended being or piece of technology shifting the boundaries of what was real, what could be counted on. For a guy who had struggled so long just to control his senses in the normal world, playing fast and loose with reality didn't sound so hot. And from what he could tell, everyone at the SGC worked in teams of four. He and Blair had always had their own rhythm down; he wasn't sure he could open that up to two other people, function as a larger unit.

But going back to his room and looking at the base manuals Blair had written, Jim tried to shake it off. Blair had made a place for himself here; it was where he belonged, doing what he was good at. He'd already given up everything for Jim; if Jim wanted to make this thing work, it was his turn to make the sacrifice and adjust.

Blair came in from his meeting with General Hammond looking subdued, which was never a good sign. "Everything okay, Chief?" Jim asked, greeting his lover with a kiss and a quick, warm hug that gave him a heady whiff of Blair's scent.

Blair sat down on the bed, his expression still a jumble of emotions. "They don't want to work with me," he said quietly.

"Who doesn't?" Jim asked, already pissed. Damn it, hadn't they done enough already to prove Blair was one of the good guys?

"Teal'c doesn't want me on SG-1, and if SG-1 isn't willing to take on a symbiote, no one else wants me on their team, either."

"Of all the -- I thought they wanted to pick your brain, get all that Tok'ra know-how."

"No, they still want to pick my brain, but that's all labwork, cobbling things together with the Air Force techs, trying to build gliders and death rays. I can do it in small doses, but I just don't know if I want to spend the rest of my life hunched over a desk. You know me, Jim, I can't get off the roller coaster and go back to the merry-go-round."

Don't push Cascade, don't push Cascade, Jim ordered himself, sitting down next to Blair. The last thing he wanted was to pressure Blair into coming back just because he didn't know what else to do. He didn't want their life to feel like a last resort to Blair, ever. "So, if you don't want to work in a lab full-time, what do you want to do?"

Blair opened his mouth, hesitated, then shook his head. "I guess now that I've got my doctorate, I can try and find a teaching position."

Jim glared at him. "Don't guess, Sandburg. Perfect world, where would you be?"

"Working with you, actually doing some good." The answer was immediate, and unhappy. "But this is the only place where my little credibility problem isn't a problem."

Jim shook his head. "Whatever happened to thinking outside the box, Chief?" he asked. When all he got was a puzzled stare, Jim took a deep breath and prayed he wasn't screwing this up. "Credibility only matters if you have to testify."

"Yeah, and if I'm your partner, I have to testify every time a case comes up."

"Only if you're a detective." It was terrifying to say it out loud for the first time, waiting for Blair to say no. He'd tried to put it out of his mind, again and again, but he'd spent most of the past year fantasizing about how he could bring Blair back. "Go to the academy, get a psych degree under your belt at the same time. It's been a while since Major Crime had a police negotiator on the team; Simon would go for it. No one cares about a negotiator's credibility; you're supposed to make things up. You do what you do best: talk people out of making the worst mistake of their lives. The rest of the time, you ride with me, but I'm the lead on the cases, the only one who needs to testify."

Blair stared at him. Jim was going crazy. "Just say something, Chief. If you hate the idea, just tell me and let's get it over with."

Blair just kept staring at him, face full of too many emotions for Jim to read. Then he ducked forward and kissed Jim soundly, cupping Jim's face in his hands. Jim had never tasted anything so sweet as the relief of that kiss. "So that's a yes?" he joked, leaning in to kiss Blair again.

"God, what are we going to tell Simon?" Blair gasped between kisses. "Symbiotes, Air Force conspiracies--"

"Chief, this is Simon we're talking about. The less said, the better." He pushed Blair back on the bed, enjoying the sudden rush of heat through Blair's body, the scent of his arousal. "You're okay with this?" he asked, needing to be sure. "You really okay with this?"

Blair wrapped his legs around Jim and drew him down. "Claude," he said, with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes, "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."

End.