Barely a week in Terra Nova, and Jim Shannon had already seen more action than his entire last month on the force in 2147. Never mind the two years he'd spent in Golad after that. Though none of it was the kind of action he'd been looking forward to-- his life had always been contrary like that. He let out a small, internal sigh as he and Elisabeth walked through the door of their new home, taking in the sights of disarrayed furniture and children sprawled on couches and chairs instead of tucked into bed where they should be, and reminded himself that patience was supposed to be a virtue.
At least the kids all looked happy and more or less unscathed: a sight worth any amount of pterosaur bites and cold, lonely showers. However many 'malcomus pterosaurians' had invaded the house while the flock hovered over the colony, it seemed like the younger Shannons had managed to handle themselves just fine. Jim stopped just inside the entryway, and smiled faintly as he took in their drowsing faces.
Getting to see them every day instead of the grey walls of an oxygen starved prison cell still felt like a miracle, most mornings. Josh was still a little touchy, but Maddy was taking the whole reintegration as a family thing in stride, and little Zoe was smiling and calling him Daddy again as though they'd never been apart from each other. He knew it had to be especially hard for her-- Elisabeth had told him the government had separated her from the rest of the family, too, with the excuse that they didn't reward people for breaking the law-- but she was taking it like a little trooper. Jim was never going to take any of them for granted, ever again.
Elisabeth let the silence lie for a moment as he soaked in the feeling of home and family, then tilted her face up with a smile. "Do you remember when they were really small and we used to just scoop them up and carry them off to bed?" she asked, a wistful note threading through her voice.
Of course he did. Those memories had got him through a lot, inside. They were a little big for that kind of treatment now, though; Josh and Maddy at least, and it would take a crowbar to pry Zoe away from Maddy at the moment.
"Well, I guess we're all pretty tired," he shrugged, feeling the corners of his mouth tug as he turned his attention to his wife. She was so beautiful, even after a long day of working to a literal deadline, a beauty as much of the spirit as of the body. Elisabeth had been the center of his world since the day he'd met her, for her sharp wit, her generous heart, and her tenacity. Even when they weren't meshing well in the bedroom, even if he left out the fact that she was the mother of his children, she was still the best friend he'd ever had.
"Oh, I'm not that tired," she said, smile shifting to something a little warmer, reminding him just what they'd been interrupted in the middle of about twenty four hours earlier.
He was tempted-- very tempted-- to take her up on that. He'd been trying to, actually, all week. He was almost afraid to find out what was going to interrupt them next, though, after fielding Zoe crawling into bed with them, dinosaurs screaming right outside their door, emergency shifts in the science lab, and all night field trips to divert an incoming horde of native flyers to a new spawning ground.
"Well, I guess we should start fixing this place up," he allowed, half teasing and half serious, glancing around at the distressed décor. "I mean, there's a lot of damage...."
Elisabeth chuckled softly, then caught his fingers, shaking her head at him. "Bed," she whispered suggestively, tugging him toward the sliding door to their bedroom.
The thing was, though, even he could see beyond the impulsive desires of the moment, if he was given enough chances to think with something other than his hormones. Jim let her pull him away, to be sure the conversation would be out of sight and hearing range of the children if any of them happened to be playing possum, and slid the door shut as they stepped into the small, airy room.
There wasn't as much damage from the transient winged invaders away from the main room; less to damage there, really. He hadn't had anything to pack beyond the tools Elisabeth had slipped him to break out of Golad, and Elisabeth had sacrificed a significant chunk of her own baggage allotment to smuggle Zoe's things through the portal while he carried their daughter in an oversized backpack. All that had mattered to either of them had been making it to Terra Nova as a family; mere things could always be replaced.
That was all that mattered now, too, really: the family. The commitment they'd built together. Yes, Jim was a little needy and hard up after two years behind bars; and she was probably a little touch starved herself. That didn't mean they needed to push each other into bed, not if it wasn't for the right reasons. She'd been awfully quick to take every excuse presented, almost relieved at every interruption, and he wasn't a cop for nothing.
He settled his hands on her hips as she drew him close for a kiss, savoring the touch-- he was only human-- but when she tried to push him back a step, he firmed his grip and held her away from him instead.
"Elisabeth," he said gruffly, shaking his head at her. "It's okay."
That took her aback; she stopped short, nose wrinkling in a puzzled frown. "What do you mean, Jim? Of course everything's okay."
She made to pull him close again, but he captured her hands in his instead. "I know it is. And look, I'm not turning you down. But I thought, after the week we've had...." He frowned, trying to figure out how exactly to capture what he wanted to say in words. "I guess I just want to make sure it really is the right time. We're hardly even used to sleeping next to each other again, and I don't want to fuck everything up if you're not really in the mood."
His wife's face went through some interesting contortions as he spoke, indignation and want and worry-- and, yes, relief-- shifting like clouds across the face of the sun. Remorse was the one that lingered, though, as she tugged a hand free of his grip and flattened it over his chest, stroking softly at the cotton of his shirt over his breastbone. "It's not my mood that's the problem... God, I was hoping you hadn't noticed." She flashed a quick, weary smile at him. "But of course you did; you're my Jim. It's just that... well, I've been alone for two years, and things here have been...."
"Distracting?" Jim finished for her. It was the most tactful word he could think of.
She grimaced. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't...."
"No, no; don't be sorry." He shook his head, cutting her off before she could get more specific, and pulled away to sit down on the edge of the bed; if he was going to be all responsible and actually have this conversation, at the very least he was going to do it in comfort, not begging for a crick in his back. He patted the sheets next to him as innocently as he could, and waited as she took a seat next to him, folding her hands in her lap and searching his face with concerned eyes.
Then he blew out a breath and tackled the next step of the conversation. "You know I love you, right?"
She swallowed at that blunt opening. "Yes, of course, Jim. You know I love you, too, I hope."
He snorted. "I'm here, aren't I?" She could so easily-- so easily-- have left him behind, and he'd never have known the difference until his sentence was up four years after the Tenth Pilgrimage went through the portal. "Of course I know. I'm not accusing you or staging an intervention, or anything."
Elisabeth's brow furrowed at that, gaze sharpening on him in alarm. "Who said anything about accusations? What are you trying to say, Jim?"
"Okay, that was a poor choice of words," he winced. "The thing is-- I noticed the timing, all right? I'm not complaining. I'm not trying to prove anything one way or the other. But I don't want you choosing to sleep with me out of guilt, or whatever else is bothering you. We never exactly planned for this, I know-- but it's not going to break us, whatever happens."
"Now you're really starting to worry me," she frowned. "I don't understand what you're trying to say."
Did he really have to say it? Jim turned his face away, taking another deep breath. "Liz... you gotta realize. I'm a cop. It was the law. I went for the sterilization treatment after Maddy was born. So I know. And now that we're all here...." He let the sentence trail off.
Elisabeth's breath caught, her complexion lightening by several shades as he glanced back to take in her reaction. "What...? Jim, why didn't you say anything then? I honestly thought... well, I couldn't be certain, and I never wanted to.... I can't believe you never told me!"
Well, that was one worry, drifting away like mist: she hadn't set out to deceive him. He hadn't thought so... but he'd had a lot of time to think about things, and he could have been clearer, too. "I guess it just never occurred to me that you wouldn't realize. And you didn't exactly tell me anything, either." He sighed. "But it doesn't matter to me. It never did. You know me; I adored her from the first time I felt her kicking. She was mine, and that's all there was to it."
The next part was a little more difficult to get out. "And I knew-- look," he continued. "I hardly saw you one day in seven for a few months there, as rough as things were before my promotion came through and you finished your night rotation. So the fact that I never met him-- I got it. I'd have liked to know, but it wasn't a deal-breaker. If you weren't telling me about him, I figured that meant he wasn't going to be an issue, and there was no point making a fuss about it."
They may have left the exclusivity clause out of their contract, but one thing they had vowed to each other: commitment, with a side order of honest communication. That was why he was bringing it up now, before Malcolm Wallace's smug face drove him to do something he'd regret; the man obviously did mean something to Elisabeth. Letting the question hang unresolved was just going to make the situation more unpleasant for all three of them.
Elisabeth swallowed, her expression still wary. "And you were right," she said. "So why bring it up now?"
"Because now that we're here, and I've met your boss... yeah, he's going to be an issue," he said, with a wry smile. "I'm not blind. What was it, going out for drinks one last time before he 'went on an expedition'?"
Elisabeth bit her lip, looking away. "Malcolm," she sighed, heavily, then shook her head. "Yes; we were very close, once, and I thought it was goodbye. He said it was his last night in the country, and that he was never coming back-- though he never said he was a pilgrim. I never expected it would amount to anything more than the one evening, or I would have mentioned it. I was very surprised to see him yesterday."
"I guess Mr. CSO didn't tell you he put your name on the top of the shortlist he gave to Taylor, then," Jim snorted. Dr. Wallace had known exactly what he was doing, whatever he'd said to Elisabeth.
It was like the plot of some bad romantic drama. One he did not want to find himself living out. Good thing he trusted his wife.
"Really?" The storm cloud in her expression lifted for a second in surprise at his news. Then she shook it off and lifted a hand, stroking soft fingertips along Jim's jaw line. "I suppose I'd better live up to the implied praise, then. But even if he'd told me-- you should know already, but let me tell you again: I'd never have left you behind. You're mine; you're ours. And that will never change."
Jim nodded and stroked a lock of long, dark hair back out of her face. He'd expected that; but it was a relief to hear, all the same. And it made it a little easier for him to lighten up on the subject. "Yeah, I know. But he does still make your heart go pitter-pat, doesn't he."
"Well." Elisabeth paused, assessing his expression again, then gave him a wistful, teasing smile. "I wouldn't phrase it that way; he doesn't hold a candle to you, love. But he and I had a tremendous intellectual crush on one another at university, and our personalities and working styles meshed well; that hasn't changed. He's not exactly ill-looking, either. Can you blame me for carrying a bit of a torch?"
Jim wrinkled his nose up a little at the resulting mental image. Their personalities sure didn't mesh; but then, that wasn't the question she was really asking, was it? "Eh, he's not my type, really," he said, carefully. "One of those cases where our tastes don't really overlap. But I'll take your word for it."
She gave a breathy chuckle, the rest of the tension leaking out of her shoulders, and leaned sideways where she sat to wrap an arm around his back and pillow her head on his upper arm. Without intent behind it, the contact was as easy and unfreighted as ever; he sighed at the feeling of security that settled over him despite everything as he turned his head to rest his chin on her hair.
"Hmmm," she mused, tracing slow patterns on his sleeve. "There's someone who is, though, isn't there, or you wouldn't be going to so much trouble to clear the air about Malcolm before we've even finished settling back in together," she said, thoughtfully. "I know you, remember; being understanding is one thing, but you're almost unnaturally calm about this. It isn't very like you."
"Oh, believe me, part of me wants to beat on my chest, tell him you're mine, and punch that smirk off his face," Jim replied, promptly. Then he paused for a second, one corner of his mouth curling up as he savored that mental image. Whatever his rational mind might say about their arrangement, he couldn't always quite stomp out those feelings of possessiveness. "I've been waiting a long damn time to see you and the kids again, to start over together, and here this guy is, one foot already through the door before I even knew he was there. But I had a lot of time to think in Golad. And I figure it's better to clear the air now, before things get any more complicated. I know my temper's not the best in the heat of the moment."
"No, really," Elisabeth said with a not so delicate snort. "If I hadn't known that before you struck that population control officer...."
"Yeah, not my best decision, was it?" He shook his head. He would still defend Zoe's existence if he had it all to do over again, but hitting that guy? Yeah, that had been stupid; he'd known better. A fine and a citation, they could have dealt with; instead, in exchange for the momentary satisfaction of losing his temper, he'd been sentenced to six years in prison, and Elisabeth had been forbidden to keep Zoe. Their clandestine third child would have grown up in a government home, if Elisabeth hadn't found a way to sneak her and Jim into the Tenth Pilgrimage.
"Not so much," she replied, dryly.
Jim shifted to press a kiss to the top of her head. "You know, while we're on the subject of being all mature about this... there is one thing I want to add to our agreement," he said, carefully.
"Mmmm? And what might that be?" she asked, stifling a yawn.
"Like I said, I'm Zoe's father. And I don't want that to change." He could handle sharing Elisabeth, within the boundaries of their understood rules; she was her own person, and he never wanted to dim the light in her eyes. But his kids? Call him selfish, but no. And besides, they'd never felt the need to clue the children in on the more complicated details of their relationship before. Josh and Maddy might be old enough to understand, but the truth would probably just confuse Zoe, and a couple of twists in a double helix didn't define fatherhood as far as he was concerned.
"Zoe doesn't find out," he continued. "Not until she's mature enough to understand. I'd prefer if you didn't tell anyone else, either-- but I know that's not my call. Just make sure he knows if he ever crosses that line, he'll regret it. Zoe is mine."
She raised her eyebrows, pursing her lips as she looked up at him. "And there's the Alpha Jim I married. I'd wondered where he was hiding," she said, wryly.
That-- wasn't what Jim had been expecting; he'd been deadly serious about the request, and he'd been hoping she'd either agree outright or offer an alternative they could both live with. Not-- whatever that was. "What, do you think I'm overreacting?" he frowned at her, stung.
"No, no; I quite understand," Elisabeth said. She smiled, then pulled away for a moment, leaning forward to slip off her shoes. "For Zoe's peace of mind, if for no other reason. But the way you phrase things, sometimes. Honestly." An amused, fond smile lit up her face as she changed the subject. "Considering your new job, I suppose it's a good thing Commander Taylor has an even more dominant personality than you do...."
Her voice trailed off worryingly before she reached the end of that sentence, but before he could guess where she was going with it and head her off, she brightened, smile growing wider. "No. Jim! That's it, isn't it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied, turning his attention to his own boots. Trust her to change the subject with that; it wasn't like there was even anything to tell.
"It is!" Elisabeth exclaimed. "You have a crush on the Commander!"
"Shh, you'll wake the kids!" He sighed. "Look, you save a guy's life, play a little dinosaur chicken with him, do some pterosaur wrangling together...."
"He gives you a decent job when he had every right to jail you for breaking into his colony or leave you on weed-pulling duty..." she continued, teasingly.
The Soldier and the Lawman: yeah, so Taylor had a use for him. There was really no point in exaggerating that into anything more than it was, though, which was why he hadn't brought it up. Even if it did make Jim feel warmer to have such a guarded and-- well, commanding-- guy trust him with his life when they barely knew each other, it would be ridiculous of him to set any value on that while everything else was still uncertain.
"I wouldn't call it a crush," Jim hedged.
Elisabeth snuck a hand under the hem of his shirt, fingers dancing over his lateral muscles, catching him by surprise. "Men. What would you call it, then? How did you put it-- does he make your heart go pitter-pat?"
He squirmed away her tickling offensive, trying not to laugh. How exactly had he ended up on the defensive, again? "Elisabeth!"
Her smile softened and she let up for a moment, letting him recapture her fingers. "As you said: he's not my type, really; but I suppose I can see how he's yours. All that testosterone, and you always did have a thing for bull-headed personalities...."
He shifted his grip so that both of her smaller wrists were trapped in one hand, then snuck the other behind her back to search out her weak spots. "You know what they say. Takes one to know one," he drawled.
She laughed, but didn't object, wriggling in a half-hearted attempt to free herself. "Oh, and even better," she managed to gasp between bouts of giggles. "I've already told him to be careful with you!"
"What?" Jim gaped at her, fingers stilling in surprise. "When? That was kind of premature, don't you think?"
"I was talking about his giving you a badge, actually," she grinned at him. "But perhaps I was being a bit prescient as well. Don't tell me I've embarrassed the big bad Sheriff?"
"I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I may incriminate myself," he sniffed, leaning back to sprawl limply across the bed and dropping an arm over his eyes. Seriously; there was just no accounting for human libido, sometimes.
"You know I was worried, when you pulled away from that kiss," Elisabeth said more seriously, sprawling back to join him, propping herself up slightly on one elbow so she could still meet his eyes. "I thought-- well, it doesn't matter. But I'm very glad we had this conversation."
He stared back at her, drinking in her face for a second as the still silence of the golden-lit room sank under his skin, thinking it all over. "So am I, actually," he admitted, roughly. He hadn't realized how much the thing with Zoe had still been knotting him up until he'd actually aired it, and they didn't need that kind of jealousy clouding their marriage when they had enough outside pressures working against them already.
"Good," she replied warmly, reaching over to trace a finger down his cheek again.
He cleared his throat, trying to ignore the line of heat flashing straight to his groin from that casual touch. "Just... uh. If you do pick things back up with Malcolm. Not in the house, all right?"
"Nor the lab either, I think," Elisabeth mused, ghosting her fingertip down over his chin and along the line of his collarbone. When she ran out of visible skin to trace, she nudged him up a little and yanked at his shirt, slipping it off and discarding it on the floor to join their shoes. "Though I'll be sure and leave a forwarding link, if the children need to reach me when I'm not in the house. And we'll have to work our schedules around each other-- I'd prefer if at least one, if not both of us is here every evening."
Jim shuddered as she picked up skimming over his skin where she'd left off, distracted by the casual way she was discussing their outside love lives while deliberately setting his nerves on fire. She knew exactly what she was doing-- and this time, he didn't plan on resisting her. That delicate touch was about ten times more arousing than all her earlier dutiful attempts at seduction.
"I seriously doubt I'm going to have any excuse to be anywhere else anytime soon," he muttered, reaching out to snag his fingers under the hem of her shirt.
She let him tug it upward, raising her arms briefly as it passed over her head, then tossed her hair free and leaned forward, following the path her finger had taken over his sternum with her tongue. Her breasts fell free against his chest as she moved; she'd left her bra behind at the infirmary with her sweaty scrubs when they'd cleaned up before heading home, and his hips bucked as already-taut nipples scraped over sensitive skin.
"Care to wager on that?" she laughed, arching her whole body against him. Then he groaned, digging his fingers into her hips as she pulled back and shifted her attention to the fastening of his pants.
"What were we talking about, again?" he asked.
"Oh, I do love you, Jim," Elisabeth chuckled, lifting her head to capture his lips again.
"Likewise," he murmured back.
And finally, finally the awkwardness of the past week swept away, until they were both pleasantly sated, settled, and sore.
Jim's second week in Terra Nova was nearly as eventful as the first. The threat to the colony was a lot smaller-- a genemod virus instead of a winged predator with razor-sharp beaks as long as his thumb-- but no less dangerous to their small, concentrated population. He was safe from its effects due to the cold he'd caught from Zoe, but he had to watch everyone around him fall apart without any idea whether Malcolm and Elisabeth would be able to come up with a cure, and they lost a few people before it was all over.
The victims were scientists, not soldiers, but their loss was just as significant as those who'd been killed the week before, if not more so. 85 Million BC might be a paradise compared to resource-strapped 2149, but living there came with correspondingly spectacular dangers, many of which were still poorly understood. And the people in charge of it all were just as human as the rest of them. Not that Jim had been under any illusions; but it was still sobering to have proof of that first hand.
He trudged slowly up the stairs to the Commander's office the day after Taylor returned to duty, giving the man plenty of time to hear him coming. Taylor had been one of the worst affected; eleven years of his memories had been erased, leaving him mentally stranded in a war zone, convinced that every person and object around him was either working for the enemy or a PsyOps hallucination. Elisabeth had cleared all of the victims, including both Taylor and herself, but she'd privately confided that they were all likely to be distractible and jumpy for a few days while their recovered memories finished settling back into place.
He knocked on the open doorframe, then stuck his head into the wide, wooden-walled room. The table and the virtual screens they used to monitor the colony's defenses were all clear, and the vanity desk with its massive skull base and glass top was likewise empty, except for a powered down plex and an abandoned coffee cup. None of the chairs were occupied. But over at one of the windows, a tall figure in the standard black outfit of the security forces leaned against the sill, bracing his weight on both hands as he looked out over the colony.
"Taylor?" Jim prompted the man, in a quiet interrogative tone.
The Commander let out a long breath, then glanced back over his shoulder, blue eyes haunted by whatever was on his mind. He offered Jim a slight nod before turning to look out the window again. "Shannon."
"Lt. Washington passed me on weapons and security procedures this morning," he replied, walking slowly into the room. "There's some differences from what I was used to on the force in Chicago, but nothing that would keep me from doing my job."
"Good, good," Taylor nodded absently. "You should probably read through the bylaws, too. Most folk do before they come, but given the non-traditional nature of your recruitment...." He let the sentence trail off, dry as dust, a wry curl at the corner of his mouth.
Jim noticed himself noticing that little curve and the way it pulled at Taylor's closely trimmed facial hair-- he'd never taken a lover with a beard, and the sight made his skin prickle with curiosity-- and mentally cursed Elisabeth's perceptiveness. He would have been just fine ignoring the way the man affected him awhile longer, especially after Maddy's horrified report from the night before, when she'd witnessed an amnesiac Taylor's reaction to hearing about his wife's long-ago death. Taylor was clearly a man who loved deeply and without reason, and bore deep scars from past losses. Not exactly shallow waters for a newcomer to splash around in.
"Yeah," he drawled in return, blinking those thoughts away. "I'll get Elisabeth to quiz me. Or better yet, Maddy. She was in love with the idea of this place long before her mom was recruited; I'm sure she's got them all memorized."
"Just the kind of young folk we need here," Taylor approved, glancing back at him again. Then he frowned thoughtfully. "Which reminds me. When you asked a few days ago about recruitment procedures for Terra Nova...."
Crap; Jim should have known Malcolm would say something despite their tentative truce. The smug asshole really wasn't Jim's favorite among Elisabeth's boyfriends, especially now that Jim knew just how far back their history went. He winced, holding up a placating hand, and walked closer to Taylor so his voice would have less chance of carrying. Enough people were aware of their private business already.
"Now hold on a minute. I'd apologize for getting on Malcolm's case about that, but he had to have known I was in prison when he asked for Liz. I saw the look on his face when he realized who I was, and that I was actually here, and I couldn't let that go by unanswered. I thought we'd worked those issues out, though; I didn't even hit him when he kissed her in front of me while we were all trapped at Outpost Three." Amnesia or no, that had been a little much for Jim to take.
Taylor's eyes widened at that, apparently surprised by Jim's vehemence. "Ah... Malcolm didn't actually say anything," he said, raising an eyebrow. "But now that you bring him up... how did he get that bruise on his jaw if you weren't the one who punched him? I know I didn't run into him before I broke out. My memories of the whole thing are a little hazy, but not that hazy."
Wait, what? Jim froze in embarrassment as he switched mental gears. If this little conversation wasn't about his love life, what was it about? "Oh. Uh, it was me, actually... but that was later, when he was panicking about the ovosaur, not.... You know what? Never mind." He waved a hand dismissively. "What did you want to ask me? Commander?"
A smile tugged at the corner of Taylor's mouth again as he absorbed Jim's babble. "Taylor, please. Or Nathaniel. I think you've earned that, since I'm pretty sure I did punch you." He mimed a solid shot to the jaw. "Actually... I was wondering about the sequence of events that brought you to Terra Nova."
Jim snorted almost involuntarily at that, then shifted his attention toward the view below them, bracing himself on the window sill next to Taylor. He supposed it would have been too much to hope for that the Commander would let the details of that particular security breach slide unquestioned. "I'm pretty sure you already know. I broke out of Golad, snuck into Hope Plaza, crashed the Tenth, and stumbled out of the portal into the arms of your soldiers." He lifted a hand, gesturing toward the patrol passing below them in the lane by the gate.
"Yes, but how did you break out of Golad?" Taylor pressed him. He wasn't quite interrogating him-- Jim was pretty familiar with that sort of thing from the other end, so he'd know-- but there was a lot of intent in the question, more than just curiosity. "Where did you get the false ID? How'd you get your daughter out of the government foster home? There are a lot of unanswered questions, there."
He turned and raised his eyebrows at Taylor. Truthfully, he'd wondered about the details himself. But there hadn't been time to ask between the moment his wife slipped him the laser and the instructions under the prison guard's nose and the moment he'd met up with her again on the platform in front of the portal. And afterward, he'd figured what he didn't know couldn't be used to incriminate her.
"What, didn't Elisabeth tell you? I assumed it had something to do with her family connections."
Taylor blinked slowly, blue eyes searching Jim's face. "So... you didn't arrange the escape yourself?"
Jim huffed a laugh. He wished; but no, he'd been the princess in the tower, that time. "And when would I have had time to do that? In those two seconds of freedom after punching that officer for threatening my family?"
"No one visited you in prison?" Taylor asked, frown deepening with the question.
"What are you asking me here?" Jim asked, frowning back. What answer had Taylor been expecting, if not that? "No, no one visited me in prison. It wasn't allowed. The only person I saw was my wife, the week before the Tenth was supposed to depart. She bribed a guard to talk to me, then passed me an air mask with a laser and instructions stuffed inside."
"Just like that?" Taylor said, skeptically.
"Just like that," he shrugged. "I cut my way out the morning of the pilgrimage, ditched my tracker, and went where the instructions told me to go. My first stop was a cache with ID and payment; I traded the money I found there for Zoe's backpack after I got to the station." Taylor's expression grew more incredulous the longer Jim spoke, but he wasn't sure how better to explain it. He knew how it must sound, but that didn't make it any less true. "And before you ask how she got our daughter there... money greases a lot of wheels, and while my in-laws might've preferred Elisabeth to marry someone of their caste and educational background, they'd still do just about anything to make her happy. I wasn't going to ask any awkward questions."
"Convenient," Taylor commented, still frowning.
"Convenient would have been me not getting arrested in the first place," Jim had to point out. "Or whoever reported us keeping their damn mouths shut. Of course, Malcolm might not have invited Liz here if that hadn't happened, so...." He tilted his hand back and forth in the air. The last two years had been several levels of hell, but if he'd known ahead of time that it would all lead to the kind of freedom his family had found in Terra Nova... he just might have thrown that punch anyway. "I'm just glad they didn't manage to stop me before I made it through the portal."
Taylor nodded slowly. "So your purposes for being here are, in fact, entirely your own."
The decicred dropped, finally, and Jim crossed his arms in exasperation. "What, did you think I was working for the same people as the Sixers?" he said, sarcastically. "The guy who saved your life his first week in Terra Nova. With a wife and three children at risk if you ever found out what I was up to."
"I didn't say that; you're right, it doesn't make much sense," Taylor shrugged. "But then again... neither does your story, if you break it down. No matter who was involved, you have to know how it looks. Someone went to an awful lot of trouble to make sure you got here."
"Yeah, my wife." Jim rolled his eyes.
"And by your own admission, you know absolutely nothing about what she might've had to do to make that happen," Taylor pointed out.
At some point during the conversation, Jim had moved close enough that he barely had room to move his arm when he jabbed the Commander in the chest for that remark. "Just what are you suggesting, Nathaniel? You asking if my wife might be a traitor?"
Taylor snorted, irritatingly calm. "I'm not suggesting anything. Just asking a few questions. Trying to close a new hole in our security. If one man could get through that way, how many others could? And they might not all have innocent motives."
Maybe so. But did he have to be so provoking about it? Jim sucked in a breath in an attempt to quash his roiling temper. "So much for the song and dance about earning the right to use your first name."
Taylor shook his head, idly reaching to rub at the spot Jim had jabbed with his finger. The strap of his holster shifted over black cloth and firm pectoral muscles as he moved-- and something in his posture seemed to relax, contrary to expectation, as Jim's mood worsened. "It wasn't a song and dance; I do like you, Jim. I just don't know how far I can trust you, yet. You can't blame me for being cautious."
Jim stared back for a long moment, weighing earned wariness, responsibility, and the spark of stifled warmth that wanted to leap in his chest like a twelve year old girl chanting 'he likes me' against his touchy pride and urge to defend his wife. It was a close run thing. "Fair enough," he said, roughly. "Though you don't exactly make it easy to trust you back, you know."
A smile broke over Taylor's face, as sudden and bright as a sunrise. "You're not the first person to say that," he agreed, amused.
From the look on his face, Jim could guess who the other-- or at least one of the others-- was. From the clues he'd picked up so far, Taylor and Wash had known each other a long time; more than a decade, given how defensive Taylor had been about her loyalty to him while he was having those flashbacks to Somalia. Jim wouldn't be surprised if there were more than friendship there, either-- or if there had been, at some point in the recent past. It would fit his pattern: deeply and without reason.
It would be easy to be jealous of her... if Jim acknowledged the nonsense his hormones were feeding him. But Alicia Washington was a very competent soldier, and a damn fine friend, from what he'd seen. Taylor relied on her-- and she made him smile. How could Jim stay angry in the face of that?
"Wash, I bet. You should listen to her," he replied, allowing a grudging smile in return.
"How'd you guess?" Taylor inclined his head.
"It's not that hard. You've known her a long time, right?" He rubbed at his throat, reminded about their violent encounter in Outpost Three again; the way Taylor'd insisted she'd been medevaced out when Jim had mentioned her name. "Since 2138, at least, from the available evidence."
Taylor's grin faded a little at the gesture, and he glanced aside, toward the dinosaur skull desk. "Longer than anyone else in Terra Nova, you're right about that. Last person I'd ever doubt." He cleared his throat. "So I get that you don't want to question your wife, Shannon. But think about it this way. If someone in 2149 made the price of your freedom her cooperation with Sixer activities, would your Elisabeth have done it?"
Well; probably. He'd certainly have been tempted. But: "Not without telling me," he replied, fiercely. Sure, they fucked up sometimes on the communication front. But something that would affect all their futures? She might do it, if push came to shove, but only long enough to turn it around on whoever thought they could use her. And she'd never keep him in the dark, if she did.
"You're sure?" Taylor pressed, gently but firmly.
"I'm sure," Jim replied, equally immovable.
Taylor stared at him measuringly a moment longer, then nodded. "Well, all right then. I believe that you believe it, and that's something more than I could say this morning."
So... in other words, the jury was still out on Elisabeth, but not Jim? That seemed backwards-- unless Taylor really did mistrust everyone whose motives he couldn't account for a hundred percent. So what made him that sure of Jim? Was he really that transparent?
"You have a suspicious mind, you know that?"
"I like to think of it as well prepared," Taylor replied.
"Well, it's something, all right," Jim drawled, with a rueful smile.
Taylor returned the smile with interest, wolfish with a hint of a dare in the crinkles around his eyes. "Regret saving my life yet?"
There was only one way to respond to that kind of question. "My life would be a damn sight less interesting if I hadn't," he said, dryly. "Regret giving me a badge yet?"
"I'll let you know," Taylor chuckled, then gestured toward the door. "I won't keep you, though; I know Wash has probably already added you to the security rotation. And-- I'll have a word with Malcolm. Like I said, he's a good man; but if he brought your wife here under false pretences...."
"Nah, that's all right," Jim waved that idea down as casually as he could. The last thing he needed was Malcolm explaining to Taylor exactly how the Shannon's marriage worked; that was an awkwardness that could wait for another time. "I'd hate to piss him off if it's not really necessary; after the last couple of weeks, I think it's pretty clear the colony would be worse off if Elisabeth and Malcolm weren't working together. I just didn't think it was appropriate for him to bother you with our domestic issues."
"If you're sure," Taylor clarified, raising his eyebrows as Jim half-turned to retrace his steps toward the door.
"Very," Jim replied, lightly. "Besides, I think Elisabeth would skin me alive if she heard I'd said anything."
"I'll just bet she would," Taylor snorted, then nodded. "Keep me informed about the investigation."
"Will do," Jim said, tapping the doorframe again on the way out.
A month and a half after the Shannon family's arrival in Terra Nova, Jim thought he'd finally finished adjusting to their changed circumstances. He still had the occasional nightmare about waking up alone in his cell, or about faceless men ripping Zoe from his arms, but he woke most mornings next to his gorgeous wife, ate at least one meal every day with his amazing children, and worked alongside a collection of brilliant, earnest people who-- for the most part-- completely believed in the new home they had signed up to build.
There'd been a few bad moments, of course. Making a deal with the saboteurs' leader, Mira, to rescue a child hostage; catching Taylor eying him with suspicion after he returned from the Sixer camp that night; and one of the colony's soldiers murdering a teammate over a gambling debt, to name a few. Being forced to stand on his role as head of the colony seemed to bring out Commander Taylor's sharpest edges, and it wasn't always easy to figure out what he expected of Jim. The Saturday when the sky quite literally fell in on them didn't help.
Jim might have thwarted Mira's first attempt to recover the box she'd left behind in the colony, but Nature had given her a fresh opportunity when the meteor shower knocked the electronics out, and she'd taken it. The incident had justified the time Jim had taken to familiarize himself with the more obsolete weapons in the colony's arsenal-- but proved he still had work to do with his physical reconditioning. The two years he'd spent breathing unfiltered uptime atmosphere were a pretty poor excuse for losing that fist fight in the infirmary and his best chance to stop the Sixer thief with it.
After all of that, the fishing trip Taylor suggested came as something of a surprise. For all the times he'd been told 'You're with me, Shannon' since being added to the security forces, it was the first chance Jim had to spend time with Taylor in a purely-- or at least mostly-- social situation. He'd pretty much given up on any pretense that all he felt for the man was simple lust or admiration, but he'd kept a tight rein on it, enjoying the working synergy developing between them for what it was. Bowfishing for Xiphactinus finally gave them a chance to establish a baseline for a friendship outside of stressful situations.
Even if the only fish he actually hooked got away. Even if he kind of got the impression the next morning that the fishing trip was half cover for some other side venture of Taylor's. Jim still got the chance to breathe seaside air for the first time in his life, see the way Taylor's eyes crinkled when he was in a genuinely good mood, and watch the man wander around in a sleeveless shirt for hours before sleeping next to him in bedrolls under the stars. A better way to acclimate to the peaceful side of the Cretaceous era, Jim couldn't imagine.
It was a pity it couldn't have lasted longer, but crime waited on no man. He'd barely parked the rover back at the colony before Wash was on him wanting to know why the Commander was still OTG. And from there, she sent him straight to the infirmary to investigate a break-in that had occurred while he was gone. His professional familiarity with narcotics was one aspect of his police experience he'd hoped never to have to use in his new home, but he guessed people really were the same, no matter the place or time they lived in.
Josh was the only one home when he finally walked through the door several hours later. He dropped his bags on the floor, then turned to smile at his son-- but his good mood faded quickly as Josh looked up, eyes flicking disdainfully in Jim's direction. The teenager's shoulders were set just as belligerently as they'd been those first few days after Jim had rejoined the family, when Josh had still been furious at his father for getting arrested and leaving them in the first place. What was causing it now?
"Hey, Josh," he said cautiously, testing the waters. Clearly, something new was bothering him; and Jim had no idea what it might be.
Josh snorted and turned back to his plex, firing barbed words from behind the shaggy curtain of his hair. "So, you're back. How'd your date with Commander Taylor go?"
"Excuse me?" Jim frowned. If Josh had said it in a teasing way that would be one thing; but there was definite venom in his son's tone.
"You went 'fishing' with him. Overnight," Josh replied dryly, making quote marks in the air with his fingers. "And Maddy says her boyfriend says Taylor never asks anyone to go out to the cliffs with him, not since Lucas disappeared."
If that was true, Jim would bet fifty Terras it was only because Wash wasn't a fan of the sport. And that if Taylor found out Reynolds was gossiping about him and his son, Jim wouldn't have to bother kicking the soldier's ass over Maddy-- Taylor would take care of it for him.
Regardless, Jim didn't see what was so offensive about the observation. Was Josh upset that he hadn't taken him OTG to do some kind of father-son activity of their own yet? Jim and Elisabeth might not be the greatest role models in the world for not rewarding bad behavior, but Josh was still grounded for a very good reason. He was nearly an adult, old enough to be taking responsibility for his own mistakes.
"That hardly makes it a date, Josh. He's my boss. We were due some downtime, and we happened to take it in the same place. And as for 'fishing'," he repeated the quote mark gestures with a tolerant grin, "I actually did catch one-- briefly. It was enormous; at least eight feet long. I'd show you, but I was too busy trying not to fly over the cliff to take a capture at the time."
"Is that what those bruises are from?" Josh continued tartly, pointedly eyeing Jim's arms.
"Bruises?" Jim had taken off his jacket when he'd dropped the pack, and he'd changed into a short-sleeved shirt when he'd taken advantage of the shower at the infirmary; it had been the only thing left unworn in his pack. "Oh; yeah. I didn't even notice," he said, eying the wide bruise on his left bicep and the clear finger marks visible on his other arm.
His heart had been pounding so fast from the close call with watery death that his memories of the moment were a little blurred, but he didn't think he'd ever forget the feeling of Taylor wrapped bodily around him, or the sound of waves crashing beneath his feet as the Commander laughed heartily in his ear. It was the closest he'd been to anyone but his family in years without some kind of negative intent involved. "I locked my fingers on the reel like an idiot, and it nearly pulled my chair right into the ocean," he chuckled, shaking his head. "I guess I'm lucky I wasn't out there by myself; Taylor caught me."
"Lucky. Nice choice of words, dad. I'm sure you're right; that's all it was," Josh replied sullenly, looking away again.
The conversation was getting ridiculous. And the insinuations were becoming too obnoxious to ignore. "Now hold on a second. I don't think I like your tone," he said sternly, his mood starting to sour.
Josh dropped his plex on the table with a clatter and shot to his feet with a hiss. "You don't like my tone? Because clearly, that's the important thing here, not the fact that you're screwing around on Mom," he spat in return.
Jim's eyebrows shot up. Where was all the anger coming from? Maybe they'd made a mistake not coming clean to the kids about their arrangement years back. But frankly, he'd have expected better from Josh, even if that particular accusation had actually been true. He and Elisabeth had both been very clear with all three children: they were expected to treat both parents with respect as long as they lived under the same roof, no matter how upset they were.
"I'm not screwing around on your mother, Josh. Because there's nothing going on between the Commander and I. And even if there was--"
Josh swept a hostile hand through the air between them. "I know there is, I'm not deaf, I heard Mom saying you had a crush on him weeks ago when I got up to use the fresher. And lately you've been spending more time with him than her!"
Jim made a tactical error, then; he knew it even as the words left his mouth. He should have shut the conversation down calmly, but he was too surprised to self-censor, and what came out instead was, "You heard that? Just how much of that conversation did you hear?"
Josh snorted, triumphant. "Like that isn't enough?"
"No, not if you're going to take it like that!" Jim growled in aggravation. "In the first place, if you'd listened a little longer you'd know that your mother was the one who made the suggestion, so it'd be kind of hard to do anything behind her back. And in the second, as I was trying to say before you so rudely interrupted, even if there was, it would be none of your damn business."
"It is my damn business if she's spending all her time in the lab because you're not here!" Josh fired back. Then he crossed his arms over his chest, deflating a little as if he finally realized just how far out of line he was. "I know I was pissed at you when we first got here, but I thought you and Mom were going to put things back together. What are you going to do, split custody of us after she decides Doc Wallace would make a better husband? I've seen the way he looks at her. And I've seen the way she looks at him. I can't believe you guys are being so selfish."
A rock sank in Jim's gut as Josh's voice wavered on the last sentence of his run-on explanation. So that was the problem: Josh was feeling abandoned again, and taking it out on Jim like he had before. Not that it gave him an excuse for the attitude, but it made it a little more understandable. And at least he'd blown up at Jim about it, not Elisabeth-- and hopefully not to his sisters, either.
"We're not splitting up, Josh. I already know about Malcolm; like I said before, nothing's going on behind anyone's back. Just because your mother and I are both spending time with other people--"
"Could have fooled me," Josh replied under his breath.
Jim sighed, crossing the room to lay a hand on his son's shoulder. "I'm going to give you a pass just this once because you're worried. But I'm not going to tell you again, Josh: we're not going to get a divorce. When we said 'til death do us part, we meant it. Ask your mother if you doubt me."
Josh's gaze flicked briefly to his face at that, then away again, clouded with anger and fear and something that looked a lot like guilt. "Yeah, that's what Kara's parents said," he muttered.
"Is that what--" Jim softened further, tugging him closer for a half-hug. "Josh. Look, I'm sorry you had to leave Kara behind. But you can't dwell on it this way. It'll just get you into trouble. Maybe one of her parents will win the lottery. Or maybe, after the colony's well established and they open it up for wider settlement, you'll be able to pay her ticket through. But until then, you're just making yourself miserable to no purpose."
Josh hunched his shoulders under the touch, curling inward a little. "If you say so," he said, his voice oddly strained.
Jim froze, something niggling away in the back of his mind as that gesture clicked with a couple of other cues from earlier in the conversation. By itself, it was nothing, but....
"Josh, is there something else going on with you?"
His son stepped away from him, almost absently pressing one hand against his chest. "No. Why do you ask?" he said, almost stumbling over the words in his haste to reply.
Jim assessed him again, the way he was standing, the defensive mood he'd been in before Jim ever walked in the door; he couldn't believe what his cop instincts were suggesting, but he had to follow up. "Josh? Could you lift your shirt up for me?"
Josh took another step back, glaring defensively. "Why?"
And to think he'd been all sympathetic. He couldn't believe he'd fallen for the distraction tactics. "I'm your father, Josh. And I said, lift up your shirt."
"What the hell? You spend a day OTG with your boyfriend, and you think you get to come back here and accuse me of--? I don't think so," Josh erupted, shaking his head.
"Whether or not the Commander is anyone's boyfriend has nothing to do with the fact that someone fired a sonic pistol in the infirmary last night," he pointed out, noting grimly that Josh didn't even seem surprised by that statement. "I can't believe I even have to ask this, but this smokescreen you're throwing up? If you're innocent, show me. And if you're not, if you've been doing azimeth behind our backs...." Some father he was, if that turned out to be true.
"You'll what, Dad? God; I'm not doing azimeth," Josh retorted in disgust.
"Well thank God for small favors," Jim fired back. "You're still not leaving this room without taking off your shirt."
Josh stared at him a long moment, clenching his jaw, then sagged visibly. "You don't even know what's really going on around here, do you? Some cop you are." He stripped off the shirt in one quick movement, wincing in pain. "There. You're right. I fired the fucking pistol. Now what the hell are you going to do about it?"
"Why, Josh?" Jim asked, as aghast at the dark rings of bruising across his son's torso as he was at the proof of Josh's guilt. It looked like it really hurt, and he couldn't imagine what could have driven his son to do such a thing. "Has your mom looked at that?"
Josh snorted, eyes shimmering with angry tears as he threw his shirt to the floor. "What do you think? And I did for Kara. Maybe you can't do anything for her, but Mira said she could get her on the Eleventh if I got her the azimeth. And don't say she can't do it-- she can talk to 2149 without waiting for the portal to open."
Idiot. Idiot. Jim was still furious at him for his terrible judgment, but a growing percentage of his turbulent emotions were blazing instead with the urge to track down whatever adult had preyed on Josh's teenage fears and sent him into Mira's clutches in the first place. Maybe she would have rewarded him with his girlfriend; or maybe not, but either way she'd have kept digging her claws deeper and deeper into him if Jim hadn't pressed for an answer. That was how it worked: once a blackmailer had something on you, you were less likely to ask for other help, and they had zero incentive to let go.
What would have been next? Enlisting Josh as their next spy? Jim had already known from the example of little Leah Marcos, sent into Terra Nova to steal for the mutineers under the threat of harm to her brother, that Mira wasn't above using children-- but this was personal.
"You gave Mira the azimeth?" he said grimly, staring his son down. "I don't believe this, Josh. Didn't you learn anything from sneaking out and nearly ending up Slasher bait on your second day here? You still haven't worked off the consequences from that, and believe me, this will be much, much worse. It isn't just a teenage prank this time; you're working with a group of people who want to destroy the colony!"
"So Taylor says," Josh muttered, then sat down again, losing steam. "I should have kept my mouth shut. If I tell you anything else, then they'll know it was me, and then Kara...." He trailed off miserably.
"Did you even think about what you might be exposing her to before you brought her to their attention?" Jim replied. Was anything he'd said getting through to the kid? "Did you even get any useful information out of it? Like who Mira's spy is? Or where their camp is located?"
"Are you kidding?" Josh snorted, bitterly. "Like they'd give the cop's son any important information. The security around this place is a joke, anyway; it might keep strangers out, but it sure as hell doesn't keep anyone in. The spy could be anyone."
Jim took a deep breath, rubbing a hand over his chin as he thought carefully through what to say next. "Well, you better give me something. If you make me charge you officially, Josh, it'll go on your permanent record, and you'll be doing punishment detail for months, if not years. And you realize I have to tell Taylor what you did, regardless. And your mother."
"Nice priorities there, Dad." Josh crossed his arms over his bare chest as he picked up the earlier thread of accusations again, but his tone was much more subdued, confirming Jim's assumption that the azimeth issue was what had really been upsetting him. Small favors. "I do get that it's serious. But-- I thought the reward would be worth it."
"Do you even know how many people that 'meth could have saved? Ask your mother; there's at least one patient that will die without that treatment. There's no way she can get any replacement chems until the Eleventh arrives, at a minimum. And what about the harm the Sixers will do with it? It's a Schedule II drug for a reason, Josh. Did you put any thought into the potential consequences?"
"But... it was just medicine. And it was for Kara. That's all I wanted: her safe in Terra Nova," Josh replied, plaintively.
Jim shook his head in frustration. So no, he hadn't thought about the consequences. Like father, like son, unfortunately-- but just as Jim had paid the price for his impulsivity, Josh was going to have to make amends for his. At least he'd started using the past tense; he wasn't still deluding himself he could pull it off.
"But it isn't going to happen. And if you thought it really would have, you're dreaming. Last chance, son, before I go find your mother."
Josh stared down at the table for a long moment, thoughts churning in his head; Jim left him to it, well aware that an intimidating stare and a stretching silence would provide more incentive for his son to talk than any amount of filling the air further with angry words.
Finally, Josh looked up, tangling his hands together on the table. "It isn't-- I mean, I don't think Mira actually has the drugs yet. Boylan's got an arrangement with the Sixers, or something. I put the drugs in the refrigerator at the bar. So. So it's not like-- I mean, I haven't actually hurt anyone but me, yet."
Jim clenched a fist at his side, choking back blistering words. "Boylan? I might have known."
Of course the bartender was up to no good. And Boylan wouldn't be able to claim love-blind youth as an excuse; whether he was the actual spy or just the opportunistic black marketeer he'd always appeared to be before, Taylor was going to come down on him like a bag of bricks. Jim should have stuck to his guns when Josh first took the job at that bar; he'd known from day one that no good would come of it, but he'd been feeling guilty about his two years of absent fatherhood and hoped that allowing Josh a little independence would improve their relationship.
"That's it; no more job. And you're grounded until I say otherwise. No games on your plex, no meeting Skye or her friends, no leaving the house for anything but school unless your mother or I are with you."
"But, Dad...." Josh objected, perfunctorily.
"No; you know that's the least of what you deserve. And you better hope Taylor's in a good mood when he gets back, and that those drugs are still there, or we might be revisiting those consequences."
"Guess I better send you in to butter him up first, then," Josh muttered, scuffing his shoe under the table.
"This is not a joke, Josh," Jim replied, exasperated.
"I didn't think it was," Josh said wanly, then finally looked up at him. "Not any of it. I'm not a kid, all right? I knew what I was doing."
Jim shook his head. "I just wish you'd trusted me with any of this, before things got this far."
"Whatever," Josh sighed.
What a way to wrap up the day. And it was only going to get worse. Elisabeth, Boylan, Wash, Taylor, the other kids-- Jim wasn't looking forward to any of those conversations.
"Come on," he said, dispiritedly. "Let's go talk to your mother."
Dealing with the fallout of Josh's transgression was the least pleasant thing Jim had done since his arrival in Terra Nova, even counting the grunt work he'd been assigned his first few days and all the various opportunities he'd been presented with to risk his life since. It was a good thing Taylor didn't believe in imprisoning colonists, because from the way he ground his jaw when Jim reported what had happened, the Shannons might have had an empty place at the table for awhile.
As it was, Josh would be wearing a tracking tag for the foreseeable future, his movements restricted to school and construction crews without express authorization, and he'd have to keeping turning over half his income to the infirmary as repayment for damages until Taylor deemed his debt paid. At least the chems had been recoverable. If the azimeth had already made it into Mira's hands, Jim doubted Taylor would have been even that lenient.
Dealing with Boylan was far more rewarding... for about the first five minutes.
The primitive part of Jim's soul bared its teeth in self-satisfaction when he and Wash found the stolen merchandise under the barkeep's counter and dared him to give an innocent explanation for its presence. Unfortunately, that was all they found; there was no other proof that Boylan had ever done anything more than engage in a little under the counter dealing. And when they tried to question him about those connections, to try to narrow down the identity of the actual spy, Boylan threw another wrench in the works: he waited until Jim was in the room alone with him, then started hinting at a dark secret buried at the base of Pilgrim's Tree.
Concerned about his motives, Jim investigated alone... and suddenly found himself in the middle of the worst ethical quagmire he'd faced since his arrival. The secret turned out to be a body, one not mentioned anywhere in the colony's records. One that Boylan had apparently been holding over Taylor's head for quite some time.
It wasn't the first time someone had implied that Taylor wasn't the heroic leader he made himself out to be, and Jim's cop instincts had been telling him all along that the man had layer upon layer of secrets that he wasn't keen on sharing. But Jim knew Taylor, as well as the man let anyone know him who hadn't served with him for years, and probably even better than some of those. Whether Taylor was just keeping an unknown quantity close, or if he really had taken to Jim that quickly, he'd given Jim a lot of authority and trust within a very short span of time. And from everything Jim had learned over the course of those months, he didn't think Taylor was the type to commit outright murder, whatever Boylan might imply.
Self-defense, though, or defense of the colony as a whole-- that, Jim could believe as a motive. Taylor seemed to think of himself as Terra Nova, in the sense that history texts used to refer to the earliest legendary sovereigns: that almost archetypal, "the king is the land" type of connection. And if that was the case? Regardless of the details, there was no possible way trying to conduct an investigation without his knowledge wouldn't end badly.
Forcing a confession out of him would only endanger their working relationship, and Elisabeth's position as well, since she'd have to perform the autopsy without official authorization to maintain secrecy. And if Boylan was lying altogether.... well. Taylor had been good to Jim, and the colony was his family's new home. He wasn't about to throw all that away on the word of a man who'd sold his son to the enemy.
He made his decision, then radioed Taylor to come out and join him. And in return for Jim's show of faith... Taylor finally let him in on one of the difficult, private secrets he'd been keeping.
It was no wonder the man was so paranoid; it turned out that his own son was working for people who intended to turn the colony into a strip mine to benefit a few ruthless corporate interests back in 2149, and never mind all the innocents who'd traveled there to start new lives. Jim felt raw by the time the conversation was over-- but even more dedicated to Taylor's cause than before. He'd been right about the body; and he'd been right to put his faith in the Commander, too. They came to an agreement, then arranged a confrontation in the infirmary to throw off the spy, just as if they hadn't spoken.
After all of that, when the first shred of physical proof of the spy's identity fell into Jim's lap a week later while Taylor and Wash were both OTG-- well. He wasn't about to let Taylor down.
It might be a little weak. A single blood drop dissolved in a jar of paint sealant in a neighborhood still under construction? With nothing else to go on and no witnesses to anything other than the fact that a flashing light had been sighted at roughly the location? Yeah, they'd have had a hard time getting any concrete evidence out of that scenario even back uptime. But it was something, and Jim didn't care who he had to sweet-talk-- even if it was Dr. Malcolm Wallace-- to wrest something useful out of it.
"Come on, Malcolm," he wheedled the man from the doorway of his lab, offering him the jar he'd retrieved from the scene of the crime.
Malcolm didn't bite; he barely even looked at him as he walked briskly across the room, a vial full of liquid in one hand. "Absolutely not."
His tone was firm, but Jim knew a brush off when he heard one, and wasn't about to take that for a final answer. "Tell me why," he demanded, following Malcolm to his chosen workstation.
"Because," Malcolm drawled derisively, clinking several small glass containers together as he busied himself not looking Jim in the eye. "It's the chemical equivalent of a needle in a haystack. The dominant ingredient in paint sealant is toluene. Among its many talents: destroying red blood cells."
"So, just to clarify. You're not going to help me," Jim replied, pursing his lips as he thought over his plan of attack for the conversation. He wasn't going to leave until Malcolm had agreed; but there were ways, and then there were ways, of getting him to cooperate.
"Nope," Malcolm replied cheerily, still ignoring him as he bustled around conducting tests.
It was too bad Jim had never taken any college courses in chemistry, because he would have given a lot to know whether any of the things Malcolm was doing were actually meaningful, or if he was just having fun being an asshole. It wouldn't really surprise Jim either way; he was a brilliant guy, but he was also really used to getting his own way. He really didn't know what his wife saw in the man. But Taylor liked Malcolm too, even if he also said he was a pain in the ass, and Jim had dealt with children acting out because someone else had possession of their favorite toy before. He was pretty sure he knew what Malcolm's real objection was, and he wasn't going to let him skate on it.
"Why?" he asked, as patiently as he could.
"Because I'm busy with something else," Malcolm replied, tone tart with dismissal.
Right. Next step. Jim eyed a nearby long lab table and all the delicate glassware set up on its surface, then stalked over.
"I'm hunting a spy, Malcolm," he said grimly, setting his precious jar down with an audible clunk so he wouldn't accidentally drop it, and had the satisfaction of seeing Malcolm look up at last, glancing between Jim and all the breakables at his elbow in alarm.
"Yes, well that's not my problem," the scientist said, cautiously. "And I don't think anything on that table is going to help you."
"Maybe not directly," Jim replied, casually placing a hand on its smooth surface next to a set of capped bottles full of colored liquids. "But I bet it would get me some kind of result, if I just...." He made as if to slip and cast his weight against the table, and smirked as Malcolm visibly twitched, taking a half-step forward before realizing Jim hadn't actually done anything yet.
"You really want me to go through here like a wrecking ball until I get my way?" Jim continued. "Because I will, Malcolm, if you don't grow up in a hurry. I know you don't much care for me, and your respect for Taylor goes about as far as he supports you, so I'm hardly surprised you're ignoring the fact that I'm the Commander today and what I say goes. But you do have to live in this colony, same as the rest of us. And more to the point, so does Elisabeth."
Malcolm finally set down the beaker and eyedropper he was holding, mouth set in a defensive line. "Ah, so we're talking about that, now, are we?"
"I'd really rather not," Jim replied, shrugging. "But if it gets your attention...."
Malcolm snorted. "You still can't stand that she cares for me, do you?" he said, tipping his chin up. "I knew that little talk we had after Outpost Three was just a smokescreen for her benefit."
"Yeah, and you keep on stirring the pot anyway, don't you?" Jim shook his head. "But you're wrong. It doesn't bug me that she cares for you, Malcolm. What bugs me is your attitude, the way you act when she's not around to see you doing it. If you can't handle the fact that she's my wife, then you have no business spending time with her outside of work."
He regretted the euphemistic language he'd chosen when Malcolm's tone grew intolerably smug. "'Spending time with her', really. You can't even say it, can you?"
Jim clenched his hands on the table, trying to keep a grip on his temper. "You really think she wants to be fought over like a piece of meat, Malcolm? Then wow, are you involved with the wrong woman. I respect her right to make her own choices. If that includes you-- well. I know you've got history, and I'm willing to make allowances. But she isn't ever going to choose to leave me, no matter how persuasive you think you are."
It was his turn to be smug as Malcolm's expression darkened to a scowl. "You're not the first boyfriend either of us has had outside our marriage, you know," Jim continued, scornfully. "You weren't even back when you met up with her in 2142. Yeah. Didn't think I knew about that, did you? We're a family, and you can take what she's willing to give you outside of that, or you won't. It's your choice."
That took the wind out of Malcolm's sails, and he stared at him, crossing his arms over his chest. "You're serious about that, aren't you," he said in astonished, disgruntled tones. "So it's true, then?"
And there was the next attempt at a diversion. It really was a lot like arguing with Josh-- not exactly a pleasant association at the moment. Jim frowned. "So what's true?"
Malcolm snorted. "About you and Commander Taylor. I wondered, after all that rigmarole with the dragonfly-- I knew there was something more going on than just a pistol charger coincidentally set to the spy's frequency. He deliberately lured the little beast to your house. I just couldn't figure out why, after the fishing trip and your appointment as alternate SIC-- why the turnaround? But perhaps he got jealous, after the way you and Elisabeth faced him down together over that skeleton."
Jim sighed. He might have known their little staged play would backfire on him in some unexpected fashion. So what explanation could he give that Malcolm would buy, without revealing any sensitive information?
"I don't know why everyone keeps saying that. There is no 'me and Commander Taylor'. Look, it was a test, all right? I came across some information critical to colony security-- and no, I'm not going to tell you what, it's classified for a reason-- and he made an opportunity to discuss it with me in controlled circumstances. After which, we came to an agreement."
"Controlled circumstances." Malcolm's expression went through the same contortions Josh's had, when he'd seen the finger-shaped bruises on Jim's arm a few weeks before. "By which you mean, alone in the underground ComCen. With restraints, and locked doors-- look, if you wanted to indulge in a little role play, I wish you'd left the rest of us out of it. Do you know how much of my valuable time I set aside to work on that damned bug?"
Jim ignored the insinuations as if they were beneath his notice, reaching over to tap a finger against the jar of sealant. "Probably more than I'm asking for today," he said, pointedly.
"Well, I'm not going to play along, again," Malcolm replied, mulishly. "Think up ways to impress Taylor on your own time."
"Damn it, Malcolm!" Jim ran a hand through his hair, casting his eyes up to the ceiling. If this went on much longer, Elisabeth might just have to forgive him for introducing his fist to Malcolm's jaw again. "That's not what this is about. This is about finding the Sixer spy. You think they're going to stop at raiding our convoys and taking pot-shots at Taylor?"
"They've been content enough with that for more than two years now," Malcolm sniffed, feigning unconcern.
"And they haven't escalated at all in the last couple of months?" Jim replied, dryly. "You know they're building toward something. I don't think I have to go into detail for you to understand that at some point, they're going to try to take this colony again. And the more intel and materiel they're able to steal from us in the meantime, the better the chance they have of making that happen."
He picked up the jar of sealant again, waggling it in the air between them. "Come on. Give it a chance, Malcolm. I'm not asking for perfect results. I'm asking for something, anything, to give Elisabeth so she can find a clue as to who's sabotaging us. Unless you're trying to tell me that it's you...." He raised his eyebrows, challengingly.
"You're insane!" Malcolm objected instantly, affronted. "Of course it's not me. I'm the chief science officer of this colony! I have as much invested in its future as anyone; and they've damaged my work as much as anyone else's."
"I'm not insane: I'm motivated," Jim said, giving him a sharp grin. "You may be the CSO, but I'm the Sheriff, no matter what your opinion is of me and my siren." He made the same mocking, whirligig motion above his head that Malcolm had back before the incident at Outpost Three, making fun of Jim's uptime job. "And my wife's one of your doctors. Can't we work together on this?"
Malcolm winced a little at the gesture, his expression softening, and Jim pressed on, seizing the advantage. "I admit, seeing you with Elisabeth isn't easy for me. I went two years without seeing her even once, and the second I'm out, we're here-- and you're here, taking up more of her time than I want to spare. Of course I'm jealous. But like I said: it's her choice, and I know you're not a threat to me. So I can work with you, for her sake. And the colony's. If you'll let me."
Malcolm frowned, mollified as Jim had expected by the admission-- but still a little suspicious. "And Taylor's. The more I think about it, the more you deny it-- the more I'm certain something's there. I was watching him at the festival the other night, you know. After that 'misunderstanding'? When he said, 'my friends', he sought out Wash; when he said 'my family', he looked at Skye, and when he said 'my loved ones'...." He let the sentence trail off suggestively.
Jim flushed a little. Yeah, he'd noticed Taylor looking at him, too; he'd been staring back, after all, arms around his family and spirit full of their recent agreement to fight the bastards planning to destroy Terra Nova in any way they could. But it had been Harvest Festival. Almost the whole colony had been there, commemorating Arrival Day and listening to Taylor's speech. It would be ridiculous to assume Taylor hadn't just been connecting with the crowd like any accomplished speaker.
"You're imagining things, Malcolm. He trusts me, that's all. This colony is the most important thing in the world to him, besides his son-- and he knows I feel the same way. I don't have any ties back to 2149-- no sponsors, no superiors, no family, no way the Sixers could get to me-- and he knows it."
Malcolm smirked at that, finally in a positive mood. "You keep telling yourself that. I think I'll see what Elisabeth has to say on the subject," he said, wryly. Then he thrust out a hand. "All right, then. If you're willing to behave like an adult, so am I. You treat me like a respected colleague, and I'll do the same."
He looked like he meant it, too-- at least in the moment. Objective achieved: and without any destruction of property or bruising, too. Elisabeth would be proud.
"We'll try, anyway," Jim replied, shaking the proffered hand. Then he held out the jar. "You'll do it, then?"
"Provided there's anything to be done," Malcolm agreed. He took the clear container from Jim's hand and shifted it over to his workstation, where he picked up a pipette and thrust it into the transparent liquid.
Something about the results of that action seemed to surprise him, though, because his eyebrows almost immediately flew up. "Which.... hmm. There very well might be. It looks like there's a chance-- a slim one, but still a chance-- I might get a clean sample out of this after all," he said, wonderingly.
Thank God. "I'll leave you to it, then. Thanks, Malcolm," Jim said, smiling in relief. Then he clapped a heavy hand on the doctor's shoulder-- he couldn't quite resist at least that much of a reminder-- and headed for the door.
Malcolm's voice drifted absently after him, already absorbed by the puzzle. "You're welcome. I think."
Wash was as efficient as ever with her debrief after she came back from scouting the Sixer camp, all badass in black with her dark hair pulled up in a ponytail and a smudge of dirt along the side of her face where she'd missed it in her quick wash-up between the gates and the command center. Jim would hate to have been the thing she'd been stalking through the twilight. But he didn't think he was imagining the concern in her eyes when she looked at the Commander, or the slight increase in warmth in her attitude toward him. He'd been getting a lot more respect and a lot less perfunctory obedience from all the soldiers in general lately, but Wash had maintained her skepticism for quite awhile.
Perversely, while he was far more obsessed-- yes, he was admitting it-- with his interactions with Taylor, he was a lot more smug about having earned the lieutenant's good will. She'd made him earn it, and he always appreciated that in a person.
Jim's daughters adored her, too; especially Zoe. Maddy might still want to go into the sciences, even after her bad experience with the guy who'd had himself facemodded to look like her hero, but the littlest Shannon wanted to be just like Lieutenant Washington someday. He was saving that little tidbit to spring on Wash at just the perfect moment.
The aftermath of Skye's revelation that she was the spy, and Lucas' success in reversing the portal, was not that moment, though. Especially when she pinned him with that glare that made him feel like he was a rookie all over again, jerking her chin to direct him back to a chair when he made to follow Taylor out of the command center. He wasn't sure what was up that she wanted a solo conversation with him, but he wasn't fool enough to beg off, not with the Sixers on the move and threat of invasion through the portal imminent.
Her expression softened once he dropped into a seat, though, and she linked her hands on the tabletop. "Shannon..." she started to say, then paused, her manner strangely hesitant.
Okay; so maybe it wasn't a military type of conversation after all-- because he couldn't imagine her being less than sure in either her work or Taylor's command. "Yeah, Wash?"
She tapped her blunted fingernails against the table, thinking, then nodded. "I just wanted to say-- thanks."
Jim raised his eyebrows. He hadn't done anything specifically for her, lately. "For what?"
"For..." she gestured vaguely in his direction, somehow conveying the whole idea of him sitting there in his unaccustomed armor. "For what you've done for the Commander."
He shifted self-consciously in his chair, still not sure what she was getting at. "I'm just doing my job," he replied.
"That's... not exactly what I meant," she began, then chuckled and favored him with a wry smile. "Though I have to admit-- as far as the job goes, you do know what you're doing. I had my doubts, the first time he left you in command of the colony."
Jim had been well aware that most of Taylor's men had been humoring him at first, listening to him because the Commander had told them to and for no other reason, but he was a little taken aback that Wash was actually bringing it up. "You sure didn't show it. Though I was a little surprised everyone went along with it so easily. Cop or not, I'm still a civilian as far as the soldiers are concerned-- and an escaped felon, at that."
Wash's smile turned a little more teasing at Jim's honesty. "Yes, well. Commander's prerogative; if he says we have to call you sir for a day...."
He chuckled, sharing the smile. "When he says jump, you ask how high?"
She shrugged. "And of course, the law you were convicted under doesn't exist in Terra Nova. It would be a little pointless to try to enforce it with only a thousand or so humans occupying the planet."
As opposed to the double handful of billions back uptime. Not that the law had been consistently enforced even then, especially in countries not so technologically advanced. Sky-eyes, show-me ID's and wrist comps made it a lot easier for first world governments to surreptitiously keep track of their people and monitor their 'four people are a family' population limits, but the determined, the desperate, and the non-traditional still found plenty of ways around the draconian laws. Unless they were so unlucky as to have someone else turn them in.
"Yeah, well," Jim shrugged, pleased. "I appreciated it, anyway. But, ah. If that wasn't what you were thanking me for... do I dare ask?" He tilted his head.
She returned the appraisal, eyeing him up and down in an evaluating kind of way. "Off the record?"
"Of course," he assured her.
Wash nodded, then said plainly and rather obliquely: "Before you arrived, he hadn't gone fishing in three years."
So it wasn't just Reynolds who'd noticed. Apparently, Lucas really was the last person Taylor'd tried to drag out there to share a little peace. Still, to be thanked for that? "I didn't think it was that big a deal."
She shook her head. "I've known Taylor for most of my career, Shannon. I knew him before Somalia; and before Lucas disappeared; and before you showed up, and believe me, those were all three very different men." She cleared her throat, then continued more slowly, her expression pained. "It's that-- he talks to you. About personal things, not day to day concerns and assignments. He almost never does that anymore, not since the Sixers declared war on the colony."
Jim sensed difficult ground there; he knew Wash had been Taylor's second in command, field medic, and general all-around right arm long before he ever came on the scene. "Not even with you?" he asked, carefully.
"Not even with me," she confirmed with a wan smile.
He rubbed a hand over his chin, thinking. Wash was too strong a person to need his reassurance; but in her situation, he was pretty sure he'd still appreciate someone pointing out the obvious. "It would take a blind man not to see how much he relies on you. And how much you respect him. Whatever might be going through his mind lately, you know he trusts you to have his back."
"That's sweet of you, Shannon, but I think you know that's not what I'm getting at," she replied, dryly.
Then she sighed and kneaded her forehead with a weary hand. "Imagine that, Jim Shannon trying to be polite. All right, then; if you're not going to bite, I'll go ahead and lay it all out. When we first came here... you realize, he didn't actually intend to remain the Commander forever. He'd made plans to designate a replacement after a few years, once Terra Nova was large enough to support its own economy and things had settled. He would have transitioned over to governor, left me with the day to day military duties, and then we could have--" She paused, glancing toward the windows, and grimaced. "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter anymore."
"Wash," he blurted, sympathetically, unable to stop himself. He'd wondered; of course he'd wondered whether there was anything more between the two of them. Half the colony probably speculated about whether they'd christened Taylor's vanity desk; and fear of Wash folding, spindling and mutilating him had been nearly as high on Jim's list of 'don't go there's' as the lack of clear signals from Taylor himself. Somehow, finding out that they had been, but weren't anymore, hurt more than it would have to find out they were still a couple.
Wash waved him off, plainly not interested in his pity. "Those daydreams stopped after Lucas vanished," she continued briskly. "But it wasn't until half the Sixth Pilgrimage turned on us that he really started walling me out, and I figured out what was going on. He didn't trust anyone else with long term command anymore, not even me. Not when information and supplies kept leaking out, and it was clear from the start that the spy had access to closely restricted information. If he stepped down without knowing who it was...." She shrugged, smiling crookedly, and spread her hands in lieu of a conclusion.
"There's no way he ever doubted you," Jim objected. Even when Taylor had told him he trusted no one else in the colony but Jim, that day he'd left Jim in charge, he'd specifically excluded Wash from the limitation: he'd been careful to remind Jim that she was patrolling one of the far outposts that week.
"I didn't think he did," she replied, carefully. "He's never directly said or done anything to give me that impression. But regardless of his feelings, he never talked to me about his concerns-- or Skye, and the possibility of her betraying him was probably even further from his mind." She raised her eyebrows pointedly in Jim's direction at that, her implication clear. Not foster daughter, not second and ex-lover-- Taylor talked to Jim. "He just... withdrew, farther and farther behind the Commander mask as the years went by. It got harder and harder to reach him as anything more than my C.O."
"And what makes me so different?" Jim asked, uncomfortably. He couldn't trust his own impulses, there; he had to ask.
She raised an eyebrow at him, inspecting him as though he were a particularly dim child. "Are you really going to make me spell it out? You'd been here how long before he started turning to you before anyone else?" Wash chuckled, gesturing toward the window that opened onto the command center's balcony. "Though I guess to be fair, you weren't there to see him gawking at you through a viewer the day you were playing king of the weeds. Saving his life that day just gave him permission to follow his... shall we say, inclinations."
He gaped at her, torn between surprise at what she was implying and embarrassment as he remembered his behavior on the day in question. He'd stripped his shirt off and straddled the fence, raising his arms in a cheering V for victory, sweaty and self-satisfied and completely unaware that anyone might be watching.
"But I didn't think...." He broke off again, trying to recall just when he'd decided his interest in Taylor was completely unattainable. "Back when Ken Foster died, before we knew Curran killed him, when we still thought Rebecca Milner's husband had done it, he said he wouldn't tolerate any of his men getting involved with a married Terra Novan. And he's never-- he's never even hinted that he might think of me that way."
Wash rolled her eyes. "Men. I'd wondered why he's still running with the early patrol at the crack of dawn; he only does that when he's sleeping alone, and I ought to know." She smirked again as he flushed at her straightforward reference. "Look; back then, he probably thought your marriage was like his and Ayani's, so there would have been no reason to say anything. You and your wife love each other very much; that's obvious to anyone who sees you together. It was awhile before it became apparent that the details are a little more... flexible in your partnership; and he's still probably going to wait for you to say something first, to be sure. Taylor has a problem with betrayal, not legalities. You should know that by now."
Jim was still having trouble believing that Wash was actually discussing the Commander's love life-- and by proxy her love life-- with him. "And you're really... okay with that idea?" he asked, skeptically.
"Okay with it?" she shrugged, smiling tightly. "I wouldn't say that. I miss the old Nathaniel; my Nathaniel, and if you tell him I said so, I will end you." She aimed a finger across the table at him to underscore the point. "But that's Lucas' fault, and my own fault for getting tired of him shutting me out; it's nothing to do with you. If you can give him what I haven't been able to lately... I'd leave you naked in a bow on his doorstep and call your wife 'sir', if I thought it would move things along."
He laughed in surprise. "Better be careful there; Liz might appreciate it more than you might think."
"Oh, I bet." She grinned at him. "Anyone who thinks you're the most dangerous Shannon clearly doesn't know the women in your family very well. So let's hope it doesn't come to that. As far as I'm concerned, once we leave this room, we never had this conversation. But considering what's about to come down on us-- I thought I should take the opportunity to clear the air."
Jim finally got it then, why Wash had brought the topic up at all, and smiled at her, touched. "You wanted to ask my intentions. No; don't give me that look. You did, admit it."
She glanced away, adopting an aloof attitude as she shoved back her chair and stood. "I don't know what you're talking about, Shannon."
"Right; right." He smirked at her, then sighed. "I'll take it into consideration, all right? If there's a good opportunity. But the last thing I want to do is distract him right before all hell breaks loose. And you never know," he felt compelled to add, feeling even more awkward as he did so, "he might forget all about the scruffy insubordinate cop with the baggage when the dust settles and he remembers that you're the one who's actually been there for him, all along."
"Bring him back in one piece, and we'll see about that," she said, then smirked. "Although... so you know, I've started considering the merits of a drawing up a contract like yours. I could always keep him around to flex his biceps and take things down from high shelves, then send him over your way when he starts being difficult. Not necessarily in a temper, though; with him, that's not always a bad thing."
"Wash!" He blurted, flushing again as she waggled her eyebrows.
She left the room chuckling as he dropped his head into his hands. "Elisabeth's never going to let me hear the end of this."
Jim had made it through the whole nightmare of Pilgrimage Day-- the explosion at the portal, the hasty triage, the desperate rush back to the colony to try and cut off the invaders, the skirmish and retreat to a defensible position when they discovered they'd been outmaneuvered-- all of it without once veering out of professionalism, despite the desperate urge burning in the pit of his stomach to check Taylor over, every inch, and make sure he was really in one piece under all that scuffed armor and Commander attitude.
It was irrational, Jim knew, but he'd never exactly been accused of being rational when someone he cared about was in danger. The minute the camp was secure and they were shrouded from the soldiers' sight by the camouflaged walls of the command tent, he reached out to flatten a hand over Taylor's chest, stepping close enough to watch the way the other man's pupils dilated.
Deeply and without reason, right. Caught in his own noose.
"Shannon. What...?" Taylor blurted, scanning his face in concern.
"That was damn close," Jim said, voice shaking as he remembered the moment of the explosion. "If either of us had been out there when that bomb went off...."
They'd been close enough to the portal as it was; when the seventh pilgrim had detonated his vest on arrival, it had rocked the rover they'd been stationed behind, half-deafened them both, and left them covered in bruises and scratches from flying debris. The soldier who'd emerged from cover to guide the sixth pilgrim to the med tents had been killed instantly, and the girl he'd been escorting had been so severely injured Elisabeth hadn't been sure if she'd survive.
That could so easily have been him. What if he hadn't confronted Josh when he did, and Mira had gone through with her agreement to put Kara on the Eleventh Pilgrimage? Her contacts would have known what the girl meant to his family. He wouldn't have put it past them to use her to draw him from cover before sending the suicide bomber through.
Or even from targeting him in some other fashion. He still wasn't entirely comfortable with functioning as Taylor's alternate SIC when Wash was busy, but half the colony seemed to think of him as Taylor's new right hand already, and that could only make him a more valuable target to the enemy. If the assassin had been carrying, say, an RPG instead of a bomb... things could have gotten very, very messy.
Taylor swallowed. "Can't say I was expecting them to blow the portal," he said, gruffly. "But we both knew something would happen." He stood still for a moment longer as Jim brought up his other hand to skim both palms over the black matte surface of the body armor, seeking out the fastenings; then he stirred and reached up to snag one of Jim's wrists, plainly uncomfortable with the contact.
"Right," Jim said lightly, tugging his wrist free to get back to his self-appointed task. He made quick work of the central zipper, tugging it down with soot-darkened fingers as he vented the rest of what he'd been thinking. "That's why you wanted me sitting right next to you, where a lucky shot could have taken us both out."
"It was a risk, yes, but no more so than our being there to begin with. We were always going to be fighting a retreating battle. And I can undo my own damn armor, Shannon," Taylor said, temper flaring, grabbing for his wrist again as he moved to push it off the man's shoulders.
"Taylor," Jim replied carefully, turning his hand in Taylor's grasp until they were both clasping each other's forearms. "Nathaniel. I know you can undo your own damn armor. But after what happened today... why in the hell would you want to?"
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Taylor replied stiffly, the muscles in his jaw working in concert with the tense lines around his eyes.
Jim took a calming breath. Taylor was a paranoid bastard, as Jim well knew-- but he was also nearly as impulsive and passion-driven as Jim himself, if something disrupted his iron control. It just remained to be seen if Jim could do so.
"You know what I mean. I can't possibly be any clearer about how I feel; even my son has noticed, and believe me, that was an awkward conversation. And I was under the impression that I wasn't alone in this. Wash all but told me to be careful with you."
Taylor's eyes widened, but he kept an impressively straight face for a long moment. Then he let his tight grip soften, dropping Jim's hand to flatten his palm against Jim's armor in an echo of his initial gesture. "Funny thing," he mused. "Your wife said much the same to me, when I first gave you that badge."
"I know," Jim snorted, letting his smile widen a little at the touch. "Believe me; I heard all about it. She's been teasing me ever since."
Taylor shook his head, then started echoing Jim's other gestures without another word, stripping the sonic-baffling, bullet-deflecting pads away to join those already on the floor. When the last unstrapped holster finally hit the pile, he let his hands settle on Jim's shoulders, studying his face with narrowed, wintry eyes.
The slight pressure of those callused fingers seemed to burn through the thin grayish-green cotton of Jim's undershirt, and he knew that they'd finally reached the do or die moment. It was going to be touchy, whichever way Taylor jumped; but then, what wasn't with him? The one thing Jim was sure of was that it would be worth every moment of effort. He had never meshed so well with another man in his life, both professionally and personally.
"I don't understand how you can do it," Taylor finally said, frowning.
"Do what?" Jim asked, skimming his own hands down over Taylor's black tee to settle on solidly muscled flanks. He'd never have guessed, if the outline of Taylor's bio hadn't been plastered all over every reference to the colony back in 2149, just how old the man was; he was fitter at fifteen plus years Jim's elder than Jim was. The idea of all that strength and focus yielding to his touch-- well.
With Elisabeth, it had been her stubborn brilliance. And it didn't hurt that neither of them was difficult to look at. But in both cases, it was the challenge that really got Jim's motor going; it always had been. The challenge they represented-- and their challenging him in return.
"Hold onto each other so-- loosely, I suppose," Taylor frowned. "It's obvious you adore her, and she thinks the world of you. But I've noticed she spends at least an evening a week with Malcolm-- and, well. You're here."
He sounded more confused than offended, just as Wash had predicted, and Jim smiled, ruching up the hem of Taylor's shirt with seeking fingertips as he formulated his response.
"Ah. It's not for everyone, I guess. But-- we come from pretty different backgrounds. Remember what I said about her parents? Yeah. She's dome-born, I'm not; she went to college. I didn't. Her family's religious, mine wasn't. We had to make a lot of compromises when we first got together. But one of the things we both agreed was that marriage is only a prison if you build it to be. We vowed for better and for worse, 'til death do us part; not cleave only unto, and we meant every word."
"I don't think I could ever have agreed to that with Ayani," Taylor admitted, the taut skin of his abdomen jumping a little under Jim's touch as he lifted his arms to shuck the shirt off, then tugged at Jim's. "She was my refuge, my safe harbor; the day the Somalis forced me to choose between her life and our son's killed something in me as surely as it did Lucas."
"Different people," Jim shrugged, breath coming quicker as his blood rose. "Different needs. Different circumstances. I'll be honest, I have to fight not to be jealous sometimes myself; but I know Elisabeth will always come back to me. And there are, hmm. Some benefits to the arrangement, I think you'll agree." He reached out, fingers drawn to one of the scratches that had made it past Taylor's body armor, and gently stroked a thumb over the reddened line.
Taylor took a sharp breath; his eyes had darkened considerably in the last few moments, dilated wide with arousal in the low light. "Yes, I can see that," he drawled, amused. Then he returned the gesture, seeking out each purple-black mark of discolored flesh along Jim's ribs, each seeping line of torn skin where something had struck between the panels of his armor, and marking them with his own touch.
"Well?" Jim chuckled, a deeply seated tension he'd been carrying around for months starting to uncoil at last under Taylor's appreciation. "What's your verdict. Think there's enough of me to go around?"
Taylor huffed a laugh, on the verge of giving in as he stroked the line of a bruise over Jim's hip. "Well, if Elisabeth doesn't object, and even Wash is throwing me at you..."
Jim chuckled, then sobered a little, stepping back to put a little space between them before things went any farther. He'd promised to keep Wash's secret-- but that didn't mean he couldn't, or shouldn't, drop a few hints before they took an irrevocable step. "I wouldn't say throwing. More like, willing to make the same kind of allowances my wife is. If you're interested."
Taylor went still in surprise, eyebrows raised at the implications. "But Wash and I aren't...."
"Maybe not now. But like I said-- I talked to her." Jim shrugged, still keeping the tone light. "Key thing, here: honest communication with all adult parties concerned."
He was treated to the entertaining sight of Taylor's cheeks taking on a distinctly reddish hue, before he stopped himself, glancing aside. "Just how much did she-- no, no don't tell me. I doubt she had much to say that I'd care to hear. I haven't exactly been the best of company since I killed Philbrick-- and I didn't even do her the courtesy of telling her why. She's the best second a man could ask for; and she's a hell of a woman. But I just couldn't...." He shook his head, at a loss for words.
"You'll have to talk to her yourself, but I'm pretty sure she understands," Jim replied. "Just because Philbrick didn't succeed in knocking you off didn't mean she might not have ended up having to answer to some other Commander anyway. There's no chance of that now that Hope Plaza is lost, though. There'll be no answering to anyone but ourselves from now on."
"Provided we win," Taylor allowed, letting out a long breath.
"Of course we'll win," Jim smirked, then dropped to his knees. Enough self-denial; that was a clear enough signal to satisfy his conscience, and he was only human. "We're too pretty not to."
It was Taylor's turn to hiss as Jim brushed his fingers lingeringly over the bulging zipper of his uniform pants-- before reaching down to tackle his boots. "I'm not done with this conversation, Shannon," he managed, breathing unevenly as Jim made quick work of the task.
"Neither am I," Jim smirked up at him, then sat back and reached for the zipper again. "But there'll be plenty of time to finish it later, don't you think?"
That was the last coherent word either of them said for quite awhile. They only had a couple of hours before Taylor had to be up for his watch, and Jim the one after; and Jim was determined to make the most of them. He didn't think Taylor would regret it in the light of day-- but he knew from past experience how therapeutic sex could be after a day of death and disaster, and he wasn't going to deny either of them whatever release they could find.
They didn't finish the conversation the next day, either; or the next, while they fortified their position and tended their injuries. One or both of them was always out with the patrols, on watch, or in meetings, and the few minutes they caught alone before or after meals or in their few overlapping hours of rack time were too short to spend on anything more emotionally taxing than reaffirming that they were both still alive. But Taylor didn't take a step back, either, and Jim tentatively took that as a positive sign.
On the third day, his wife finally got a message through to the camp, and the pace of activity picked up even more. Jim had taken a moment to slip her his comm before they left her and the other doctors with the wounded at the blown terminus, just in case, but he'd cautioned her to make absolutely sure she had a secure frequency if she had to use it. The Commander had taken to having the soldiers scratch the details for their code sequence on a batch of old-fashioned bullets before each exchange of fire with Lucas' hired mercenaries, and she must've finally gotten the message from one of the wounded that passed under her knife.
She was still alive, and free within the boundaries of the colony. And in contact with Wash, who had deciphered the message. But that was the only good news she had to share. Lucas and Mira had set up shop in Taylor's office, Malcolm was being forced to put new terminus equipment together, and the surviving Terra Novans only lived as hostages against Taylor's return. Twenty-six people had been killed in when the invaders broke in; added to the two Taylor had lost to Carnos, the deaths at the portal, and the fact that they'd only received six of the Eleventh's anticipated pilgrims, their overall losses were well over one hundred personnel and climbing. With the portal under enemy control, every life lost was a blow against the colony's continued viability.
Taylor wasn't the type to mourn overtly. But Jim picked up more than a few new bruises-- enthusiastically earned-- over the next several evenings in lieu of talking.
The days became a blur of skirmishes and retreats, planning sessions, messages exchanged with the nucleus of resistance growing around Elisabeth and Wash, and the endless tension of waiting for an opening. They nearly died when one of Skye's friends snuck out to warn them about a pyrosonic bomb Lucas had brought to clear-cut a nearby valley, and in any of half a dozen firefights after the kid snuck back with a fistful of trackers to plant on the enemy's trucks. The mercenary soldiers seemed to target Jim and Taylor especially any time they showed their faces, and they ended each day more exhausted and frustrated than the last.
And then the message came that Josh had got into a fistfight with Lucas trying to defend Skye Tate's honor, and proved that the situation could always get worse.
"Damn it. I should have been there for him," Jim fretted, pacing back and forth along the tree line while they waited for Wash to break his family out of the colony. Elisabeth had manipulated the mercenary leader into letting Josh out of jail, but Lucas' men had installed a fancy new perimeter detection grid since the invasion; if they couldn't find a way past it, the whole resistance would end up paying. He didn't fancy the odds of Elisabeth holding out if they threatened Zoe or Maddy to make her talk-- and he wouldn't blame her.
"Of course my damn temper's genetic, and Elisabeth said he's been on a slow boil ever since they taunted him about never getting to see Kara again. I should have been there!"
"Then you'd just have got yourself in trouble too," Taylor growled, clapping a hand on his arm, and handed over his binoculars. "There's movement between those containers along the fence. Looks like they're on their way."
Jim swallowed and focused the image, zooming in on the face of his eldest daughter peering toward him around a corner, lit briefly by the flare of a search light. He held his breath for a moment, drinking in Maddy's worried features-- then winced as the small screen abruptly whited out. He jerked his head back to see a column of flame in the ring of buildings behind her. "What--?"
"Must've needed a distraction to get out," Taylor said tersely, taking the binoculars back and refocusing along the fence. "There they come. Dunham? Bring them in."
Jim shifted, wanting to be the one to bring in his family-- but Taylor was no more going to allow him to expose himself there than he had back at the portal. He threw Jim a sharp glare, and kept a hand on his arm until his family arrived. Luckily, it didn't take very long.
Jim wrapped his arms around his wife and buried his nose in her hair for several seconds, then dragged in each of his kids, spending an extra jaw-clenching moment with Josh when he caught sight of the boy's fresh wounds. Taylor, beside him, had broken his reserve to clutch a disheveled-looking Wash close and brace his forehead against hers; but it only lasted for a few breaths, while Wash choked out the story of how Boylan had insisted on staying behind to catch the blame for disabling the grid.
"I'd have done it myself, but he insisted. Like I ever needed anyone to play the strong man for me," she snorted-- but Jim could hear the suppressed grief in the words, and it finally dragged his attention back to what was going on around them. Boylan was nobody's favorite person, except for the few drunks and gamblers in the colony, but he'd been an essential part of the resistance, and he'd just put his life on the line for Jim's family.
An echoing shot rang out, and Wash flinched, bracing herself against Taylor's chest as his incipient question was answered.
No other questions were aired that night; instead, Jim slept wrapped up in Elisabeth's arms, while distinctly more feminine curves moved against the lamp-lit walls of Taylor's tent, much to the evident surprise of several of the soldiers. No one said a word aloud to any of them, though. Not even Reynolds, who was incredibly obvious in his attempts to sneak a few moments with Maddy in tree-screened corners of the perimeter Jim had previously explored with Taylor.
Maybe they all felt the same way Jim did: that there'd be time to settle the future after they were sure there would be one. In any event, the only changes to the camp's routine were the added contributions of their new residents. Elisabeth had acquired new edges in her time behind the fence, and she and Wash had picked up the disconcerting ability to practically finish one another's sentences; they joined in on the planning sessions with enthusiasm.
Finally, Malcolm transmitted word that he'd finally put the finishing touches on the terminus, and Lucas' men had lined up a shipment for 2149. The best strategy they had come up with was to swap one of their trucks for one of Lucas's-- a truck containing an agent who would sneak through to Hope Plaza and sever their link to the future for good. It was the only way any of them could see to give themselves a fighting chance before even more invaders could come through. It was practically a suicide mission, though-- and therein lay the problem.
They all knew who the best possible choice would be, but none of them wanted to give the order. The agent would have to first wait for someone to open the truck; wake the Carnosaur; somehow evade it as it rampaged through their uptime welcoming committee; plant a bomb to blow the particle accelerator; and make it back through the portal before the explosions shut it down for good, all without getting caught by any guards. It would be a tall order for anyone. Much less a man some might see as Wash's professional and romantic rival.
God only knew what the rumor mill would make of the situation. But it had to be done. And Jim was the one who knew Hope Plaza best, and that was that. If either of them let personal relationships or public opinion alter their behavior, then they really would be letting Taylor down, and they both knew it. He smiled at Wash, and volunteered without hesitation.
Elisabeth understood too, he knew. All that remained was to clear the air with Taylor. He waited until the time came to be sealed into the stolen truck's container, then drew the Commander aside for one last private moment. Elisabeth gave him a knowing look as he waved Taylor over, then pressed the syringe of stimulant into his hand with a quiet word of instruction and gave him a shove; Taylor followed along with a puzzled frown.
"Last minute second thoughts?" Taylor asked, brow furrowed with concern, the moment they were screened from casual observation. "Dunham volunteered, too, you know."
"Nah," Jim shook his head. "We all know I'm the best one for the job. It's just, there was that conversation we never managed to finish...."
Taylor's frown escalated into a thunderous scowl. "It's waited this long, it can wait 'til you get back," he said firmly, as if daring Jim to say otherwise.
Jim was briefly taken aback, not sure whether he had meant that to be encouraging or discouraging-- then snorted. "Ah, fuck it," he said, and hooked his hand around an edge of Taylor's armor, dragging him close.
Who needed conversation, anyway? They were both guys, after all.
Taylor chuckled into the clash of mouths, then sank his teeth in Jim's lower lip just enough to leave a sting before pulling away. "Fuck it," he agreed, then swatted his shoulder with a glint in his eye. "See you in a few hours, Shannon."
"Aye, aye, Commander." Jim grinned, tossing off a casual salute, then turned himself over to Corporal Reilly's brisk care.
His lip was still slightly swollen when he stepped back through into a clearing outside Terra Nova hours later; and he was still smiling when he walked through the gates of the liberated colony, greeted by his children, his wife, her boyfriend, his boyfriend, his boyfriend's warrior fiancée, and all the others who made up their community.
His community. His home. Built stronger on those bonds of connection than Jim had ever found back in polluted, oppressed Chicago. Lucas Taylor really was crazy, to have willingly cut himself off from that in rejecting his father.
Then again, maybe he did understand in his own, warped way. Hate wasn't the opposite of love; it was the other side of the same coin. Too bad-- for him-- he'd run out of minions with similar motivations between bringing the Sixers through and hiring Weaver's profit-focused soldiers.
Because it wasn't greed that had driven the Terra Novans to defeat their opponents, any more than it drove Mira or Lucas.
No. It was something a good deal more dangerous.