Summary: Set between The Entity and Double Jeopardy for SG-1 and post TSbBS for The Sentinel.
This was written for Sue when she won me at the Moonridge auction, poor thing. You are a star, hun. Many thanks to her and the others for being such good sports and taking part and handing over hard earned cash for such a good cause.
Yet another first time crossover. There's weird goings-on in the Washington rainforest and two teams set out to discover the truth. Our heroes discover more than they bargained for.
"Another one's gone missing," Simon Banks announced to his best detectives.
Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg sat in his office and looked over the latest report. Yet another young man had disappeared while walking in the rainforest not too far from Cascade. That hikers and campers went missing in the dense forest wasn't unusual, but there had been too many recently; really speaking, it was still only the odd one here and there, but with more frequency than would normally be expected. Other reports were coming out of the area, ones of strange creatures, weird noises... There was even talk that the Sasquatch had moved north from the redwood forests of California.
Jim groaned internally. Ever since his sentinel abilities had been exposed, he'd been assigned all of the weird and crappy jobs that were dumped in Major Crimes' laps. Sure, Blair had done his noble sacrifice thing, trying to cover up for his mother's cock-up, but detectives being detectives had done some figuring of their own. The Mayor and the Chief had worked a few things out too. On the quiet, Chief Warren had hauled Jim up in front of him and made him tell the truth. He'd guaranteed that he'd still have his job; after all, having a walking crime lab around wasn't a bad thing. Jim had broken and confessed all when the Chief had told him that he'd not allow Blair to work with him unless he spilled.
To be fair, the man had done more than Jim had expected. Using the legal resources he had to hand, he'd threatened Rainier and the publisher with a lawsuit - words including theft, wilfully endangering a policeman's life, interfering with the course of justice and so on had been bandied about. Blair had received a televised apology for the theft of his 'story' and the way that it had been handled. He had also got his PhD awarded. Rainier had blamed the publisher and Sid had been sacked. Blair had gone to the Academy, done the fast track course, aced his detective's exams and was now a fully-fledged, genuine cop, and the hassle Jim had got from lawyers in the courtrooms ended. When he provided evidence, it was once again treated in the same way as that provided by other cops.
The trouble was, even though no one spoke of Jim's abilities, he was still getting the weird jobs.
Blair knew that this was part and parcel of the life he was now leading, and he also realised that Jim resented it. Their personal life was strained. Yes, they were still the most effective partnership in the history of law enforcement in Cascade and most other places (though there were tales of a Mountie, a Chicago cop and a deaf wolf who also had a record like theirs), but home life was plain torture.
They'd finish work, go home, eat - usually separately, watch TV (Jim), read (Blair) and go to bed with few words exchanged. Blair had tried to return to normal, but Jim had shut him out. Feeling that it was his fault, Blair accepted his punishment as he viewed it. Surely it was better to suffer it in this life than to take it into the next.
"How long has this one been missing?" Blair asked as Jim scanned the report.
"Three days. He's an experienced woodsman," Simon informed him, "which makes this disappearance more unusual. Oh, and there were tracks this time."
He pushed a picture over to them and both men were startled. It looked like a giant lizard track.
"Okay, now that's not possible," Blair said.
"Darwin, you're the one that tells us to accept that weird shit happens," Jim growled.
"True," Blair shrugged, "but look at the size of that thing!"
Simon, who had noticed the tension between the two men, decided that a little levity wouldn't be a bad thing.
"I never had you pegged for a size queen, Sandburg."
Keeping his amusement to himself at Blair's sudden blush, he continued. "I think it's time you gentlemen went on a camping trip."
He was greeted with stereo 'Huh?'s' .
"Captain, if this is an animal, don't you think that the rangers would be better off tracking it?"
Simon leaned forward and smiled his, 'I so own your ass' smile. "And just who better to track than a Ranger?" he said, looking pointedly at Jim.
Personally, Simon thought that a couple of days of solitude together may do the fragile partnership more good than harm. It was either that or only one of them would come back, in which case he'd not have to worry anymore. It was a shame, he thought, but he could just about tolerate the loss of Jim Ellison. The man had been a royal pain in the ass for months. He had no doubt that Sandburg would come back, if not smelling of roses, then at least in one piece.
With mutters about this so not being a good idea, the men stood and left, evidence folder in hand.
Cheyenne Mountain; Colorado
"Hey, Daniel, how's it going?"
"Oh, hiya Sam," Daniel said, keeping his nose firmly glued to the screen in front of him. He was tapping madly and cursing under his breath.
"So? What are you doing? I thought we were all going on leave."
"We are," Daniel replied, still looking at the words that were appearing.
"Look. It's a newsgroup," he said, replying to a message that appeared. "After the run-in we had with Seth, I figured it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the weird and wonderful happenings around the world. Most of the stuff that turns up on these groups can either be explained easily or is the product of one of the various demented minds that inhabit these lists, but this is..."
His voice trailed off as he tapped again.
"This is what, Daniel?"
"Strange. And it's sending shivers down my spine, Sam."
She looked over his shoulder and saw his handle, fighting to keep a straight face. "Daniel? Dr. Jones I presume?"
Daniel ducked his head and blushed a little as he grinned. Shrugging, he said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"So, what's up?"
"Missing people in the rainforest in Washington State," he said. "Latest rumour is that a large lizard track has been spotted."
"Large lizard?" Sam sniggered.
"Yeah. Normally, I'd just shrug this one off, but there's something setting my alarm bells off, Sam. What if it's an Unas?"
"In Washington? How would it have got there? I know you said that the first king of Egypt was King Unas, but if the rebellion happened in the time of Ra, who had a human host, how would an Unas get there?"
"I don't know," Daniel said quietly. "Maybe it was a host to an ancient snake and was sent over the world to collect humans? We've had indigenous peoples from all over the world turning up throughout the galaxy, Sam. It's not such a stretch to think that it's at least possible."
"You going to tell the General?"
"I think I'm going to have to, aren't I? I've checked the news reports in Seattle and Cascade, the nearest cities to the disappearances, and they've confirmed the rumours and the fact that people are missing. Local police are baffled, apparently."
"You do realise that this means that our leave is going to be cancelled, don't you?"
"Go," Daniel said. "Your duty shift is over?"
"Yeah, I was just leaving."
"Go then," he encouraged. "I know how much you and Jacob have been looking forward to this trip to see Mark. I'll hold off telling him for the next hour or so. What time's your flight?"
"Two hours from now," she said, unsure about leaving.
"Then I'll do some more research. Go on, Sam. You have to have this break. The kids are looking forward to it, aren't they?" He tried the emotional blackmail thing, knowing that it would work. "Besides, chances are the General will send another team up there anyway. Scoot."
She bent over and kissed his cheek. "Thanks, Daniel. Teal'c's already jumped ship, he couldn't wait to see Rya'c. You're right, the General will send a whole team. Take care, okay?"
"You too, angel," he said, turning to stand and pulling her into a hug. Their relationship had been salvaged since her disastrous flirtation with Jack, and she'd become more demonstrative. In private, hugs and kisses were the norm, even if they didn't let others see how close they really were. "Love you," he said, dropping a kiss on the end of her nose.
"Love you too," she said, happy that she could have a close and loving relationship with someone without all the strings attached. With another squeeze to him, she left.
Daniel returned to his computer and wondered if he should call up his friend in Cascade. Blair was a cop now, so he'd have the inside track on this. But then he was in Major Crimes, so why would he get a missing persons case? Nah, best not say anything for now. He'd call him up later if he felt it necessary.
He looked at his watch and timed himself. He'd give Sam two and a half hours. That would mean she'd be on the flight with her father and untouchable for a while. He'd have until she landed to convince the General that he could do this alone. He wasn't expecting Jack to be around for him, after all, why would he be? Their on again, off again friendship was driving Daniel up the wall.
Two and a half hours later, Daniel knocked on the General's door. His heart sank when he realised that Jack was in there with him.
"Dr. Jackson, what can I do for you?" Hammond greeted him warmly.
"Er, General," Daniel replied, holding some papers in front of him, "I think we may have a problem."
"Oh?" Hammond wanted to ask more but he knew from experience that he'd get the whole story out of his favourite civilian soon enough.
"Yeah," Daniel drawled. "I can't be sure but I think that there's an Unas in Washington. Um, that's the state, not DC," he added hurriedly.
Jack snorted. "Like they'd notice if there was one in DC," he said, though hiding the shiver that ran down his spine at the mention of an Unas. That had been too close for him.
Daniel did a double take, then grinned. "Right," he chuckled. "Anyway, there have been a number of unexplained disappearances in the rainforest up there and this," he laid out a photo that he'd downloaded from the web, "was a track that was left near the latest scene. Look at the size on that thing. There's a leaf there, next to it. Judging the size of the track from that, it's at least twelve inches long."
Jack and Hammond studied the picture closely.
"Where did you get this?" Jack asked.
Daniel blushed a little as he told him.
"A whacko's newsgroup? Come on, Daniel, that's a little far out even for you!" Jack complained. "It's probably a hoax. Not worth disturbing two weeks' fishing for, if you ask me."
"I wasn't asking you," Daniel replied, hurt by Jack's indifference to his methods of research. "I'm not even asking you to go. I was just wondering if I should check it out." He looked at the General and smiled, his sweet, disarming smile. "I'll take my handgun with me, of course. Just in case it is an Unas. It could be some sort of hoax, could even be a track of a large lizard like a Komodo dragon, but the leaf is of a tree indigenous to the Washington rainforest, not the tropical rainforest where the dragons live. I just get a feeling about this," he added quietly.
Silence fell for a moment, then Daniel stood up. "I'll be camping out in Washington," he informed the General. "I'll have my cellphone with me if you need me."
"Just hold on, Doctor," Hammond said as Daniel took a step away from the desk. "What are the chances that this is an Unas?"
"About the same as finding a System Lord posing as a cult leader, I guess," Daniel replied. "I'll be armed. May I take some spare cartridge clips?"
"I'd rather you took some back-up," Hammond answered, looking pointedly at Jack.
Jack slumped in his chair, resigning himself to the fact that his leave was now over.
"That's all right," Daniel replied sunnily. "I'd rather the peace and quiet."
Hammond looked at Jack again and the colonel finally shrugged. "I'll go with you," he said.
"Jack, no," Daniel replied adamantly. "This is supposed to be leave for all of us. Quite frankly, I'd rather not have to put up with orders for once."
"Like you ever listen to them," Jack muttered.
"When they make sense, I always follow them."
"Colonel," Hammond said, growing fed up of the bitching between the men, "please accompany Dr. Jackson on this hunt of his. I'll see to it that you both get extra leave as soon as it is possible. In the meantime, I suggest that the two of you sort out whatever it is that is making it hard for you to work together. Either that or I'll be making some changes with your team on your return."
His cold words hit them hard and they nodded.
"See my secretary and she will make the transport arrangements to McChord," Hammond ordered. "Take plenty of weaponry, and whatever equipment you need. You could be going on a hunting holiday? As cover," he suggested.
"I'll think of something, Sir," Jack replied, squaring his shoulders and taking this as a mission.
As the two men made it to the door, Hammond sent up a silent prayer, hoping that he'd made the right decision to send them in without back-up. He'd felt the tension between them for a while, ever since Jack's return from his nine day hiatus with Sam and Teal'c in fact, and wanted the months-long problems over and done with. No matter how that happened.
Blair said nothing as they packed the truck with camping gear. He just knew that Jim was blaming him for this. Like it was his fault that the guy had super senses! All he'd done was try to help him. All he'd done was fuck things up, he thought miserably. And much as he loved his mother, there were times that he could cheerfully throttle her.
Their initial destination was a complex of lodges deep in the rainforest. Mainly set up for hikers, in season it could be for hunters too. The idea was that you had your cabin and based yourself there, walking out on set trails that spread from the complex in a spider's web fashion. Each trail was interlinked with the others. Each spike was joined at various points by other trails which ran at near right angles to them. Parallel trails were placed at set intervals, about half a mile away from the others. This had the advantage that you didn't have to go far to get onto another trail if your current one was either blocked or otherwise uninteresting (usually from a hunter's point of view). If you got lost by wandering from your trail, you wouldn't have to walk far to find another, so you could easily find your way back to the lodge. Each junction had a marker which pointed back to the complex, so when you found a trail, all you had to do was walk along it, get to the next junction, follow the marker and you'd get back. This was one of the reasons that the disappearances had been so damned strange. The hiking lodges hadn't been there that long, but they'd become popular with less-experienced walkers. Most of the missing people had come from there, the last one being one of the few to not belong to that pattern.
It would take them a good few hours to get out there, off the main road as most of the journey was, and Blair was dreading the ride. He knew that it would be silent - just as so many others had been recently. He also knew that Jim wouldn't let him drive, so he found himself a couple of books, resigned to reading if only to stop being bored.
When they were all set, they left, Jim automatically getting into the driver's side, just as Blair had known he would.
Jim looked over at his silent companion briefly, then turned his face back to the road as he pulled out. He didn't know why he kept taking it out on Blair. Logic told him that it wasn't Blair's fault. But that conversation with the Chief hadn't helped, the threat to separate the men permanently had been too much. He'd seen the tape of the press conference, watched it time and time again. He'd seen how much Blair had given up, physically felt his pain as he declared the work a fraud, and he'd felt guilty about it. More so when he'd finally accepted that Naomi and Sid were to blame and not Blair. The last bastion of his stoic personality, however, had rebelled at that point. He'd done the right thing and admitted it all to the Chief, of that he was certain. But, his macho side said, he was now even with Blair. They'd both given up things, both admitted things... both been hurt as a result. There was no need to play nice anymore.
The fact that Jim knew that he still needed Blair around to keep him from losing his mind hadn't helped. Despite a few glitches in his senses, he hadn't been able to turn them off completely since the trip to the pool in the Temple of the Sentinels. When Blair had been away at the Academy and his scent had started to fade from the shared living space of the loft, Jim had found that he'd had sensory spikes. Only by creeping into Blair's room had he been able to control it. He'd found one of Blair's hair ties and put it in his pocket, using it as a reminder and a way to keep himself more or less grounded. But as the days had gone on, he'd needed more and more, finally giving in and sleeping in Blair's bed at night as a way to get his fill of the younger man. Blair had come home on the weekends and Jim had found a way of stopping him stripping his bed sheets on the Sunday night before returning to the Academy. He'd spent little time with Jim when he had come home, acting as if he was almost afraid that Jim would notice that he was there.
That pattern had continued in the many months since Blair's return. There was no more mess in the loft. No signs of Blair's presence other than what was in his room and a few, sparse toiletries in the bathroom. Even Blair's herbs and natural remedies resided in the 'cupboard under the stairs' that purported to be Blair's bedroom. Jim ground his teeth as he thought of how they lived. They didn't cook for each other now, Blair rarely ate dinner at the loft. They made their own breakfasts, spoke only when necessary, went to work together, did work together, but there was no happiness anymore. Jim wondered if that was what Blair had wanted all along. His PhD, a job, somewhere to live...
He bit down on that thought immediately. Blair rarely smiled, his once bright-blue eyes seemed to have turned grey, the more formal short hair and style of dress were not of the man that he'd met. No jewellery, no long curls... no Blair.
He missed his friend.
Daniel wasn't sure how this was going to go down. Jack hadn't been able to resist the 'You just couldn't leave it alone' jibes when they'd left the General's office. Daniel had countered with the fact that he wasn't the one to ask Jack along. A flash of hurt had streaked across Jack's face at that.
"What, not good enough for you now, am I?" he'd spat.
"Only inasmuch as I'm not good enough for you and never have been," Daniel had replied quietly before turning on his heel and walking off to the armoury.
"Shit." The curse came through gritted teeth as Jack followed closely.
They'd made up their gear in no time at all, very well experienced as they were in this sort of thing, packing everything they'd need for a 'hunting holiday' in the woods. Daniel informed Jack that he'd taken the liberty of booking a lodge at the centre of the disappearances to use as his 'base camp' before his conversation with the General, but if Jack wanted to camp out, he'd be willing to cancel it.
Jack had actually chuckled, saying, "Ach, I'll go for the comfort option at my age, thanks."
Surprised by Jack's admission, Daniel had actually given him a small smile back. It was at that moment that Jack realised that he'd missed that.
Before Daniel could realise how stunned he was, Jack shot off, saying that he'd go home and get some more clothes and things and he'd meet him at Peterson as soon as he was ready and don't be late Daniel or else they'd miss the lift they were getting.
Daniel stood stock still, stunned by Jack's long sentence. Weird!
Snapping himself back to the present, he grabbed all of his own kit and carried it up to his car, locking his weaponry in the boot. Maybe he'd go visit Blair when all of this was over. Hmm. Some nice clothes would be good then. Last time he'd spoken to his oldest friend, he'd sounded pretty miserable. They could cheer each other up.
They were getting close to the holiday cabins and Jim was getting anxious. The journey had been strained. Hardly speaking, they'd barely said two words, even when they'd stopped at a roadside café to eat. Blair had said nothing about Jim's choice of food, despite it dripping with fat. Jim ruminated on the fact that he missed the nagging. Sheesh, were things that bad? After paying for their own dinners and going to take a leak, they'd returned to the truck and Blair hadn't even offered to share the driving. He'd just got in and pulled out a book. Not a text book either, a work of fiction. Jack London, The Call of the Wild. Jim had nearly chuckled when he'd seen that, the aptness of the title given their current task tickling his funny bone, but he'd held it back. There would have been a time that he'd have found a way to tease him, but the words wouldn't come anymore. He tried to think of the times that he'd seen Blair read fiction before the fiasco - the times had been few and far between. Now? When was the last time Blair had looked at something non-fiction that wasn't directly related to a case? Not at all, that Jim had seen. But then again, Blair locked himself into his room most nights and Jim had no idea what he was doing.
He pulled up outside the main office and Blair slipped out and checked them in. Jim scouted around with his senses, not even getting out of the truck. There were hardly any people around, but the number of cars and trucks told him that each cabin was in use. The occupants were obviously out in the forest, catching the last of the day's light before returning for the night or camping out.
Only one pair of men were clear to him, standing outside a cabin, arguing. He got out of his truck and headed directly towards them.
"Dammit, Daniel, would it have hurt to have booked two cabins? Or at least one with two beds?"
"I wasn't expecting you to come, Jack! Besides, I had no idea that there was only one bed. Oh, grow up, O'Neill. I can promise you I'm not going to jump you."
The younger of the two men stormed off to the cabin, leaving the grey-haired one standing near what looked like a military staff car. Jim stared at the older man. There was something familiar about him, but he couldn't place the face. He was definitely military, either now or in the recent past. His bearing was that of a soldier, his haircut too.
So caught up was he in his thoughts that he missed Blair approaching him.
"Jim," the voice was quiet. "Here's the key. It's that cabin," he said pointing to the one next to the sparring men.
Jim stopped dead, looked quizzically at Blair then he nodded. "I'll get the truck over here."
Blair was left standing alone as Jim ran off to get the truck.
A minute later and Jim had parked the truck outside the cabin and was getting out. The man with the grey hair was still standing by the car next to the nearest cabin to theirs, and there was something about him that made Blair stop. Something nagged at him, a vague sense of familiarity which he couldn't pin down. Blair looked at Jim and realised that he was thinking the same thing. Perhaps the man was a crook?
It was only when the door to the other cabin opened and the tall, fair-haired man came out, did it make sense to Blair.
"Daniel? Whoa Daniel!" Blair flew across the ground and jumped into the surprised but opened arms of the man that had rushed down the steps and towards him.
"Blair," he called out, virtually sweeping the smaller man off his feet. "Damn, I wasn't expecting to see you here. I was going to come into Cascade to visit you when I'd finished up here."
"You were?" Blair looked surprised but happy at that.
"Well, of course. Why wouldn't I?"
A deliberate cough brought their attention back to the others. "Jack," Daniel said, "this is my best friend, Blair Sandburg - or should I say Doctor Sandburg?" he added with a grin.
Blair shrugged. "Just plain old 'Detective'," he said with a wink.
"Nothing plain about you, pal," Daniel retorted. "I take it this is Detective Ellison?" he asked, jutting his chin in the direction of Jim.
"Yeah, Jim Ellison, this is Doctor Daniel Jackson - my oldest and best pal," he said, still smiling fit to burst.
Daniel completed the introductions. "This is Colonel Jack O'Neill," he said. "My commanding officer."
Jack winced at his introduction. There was no mention of their friendship. 'But why would there be?' he thought to himself. After all, Daniel wasn't even sure that they were friends anymore.
Daniel suddenly got a wicked grin on his face. "Jack was complaining that they'd supplied us with a cabin which only has one bed," he said. "What about yours?"
"Two single beds," Blair confirmed. "It was the last one with two bedrooms."
"How about you come and stay with me then? Jack? Why don't you share with Detective Ellison?"
Not giving the older men a chance to answer, Blair virtually bounced back to the truck. "Great idea, man! We can catch up on stuff tonight before setting out."
"Sandburg," Jim growled, "we're not here for a vacation."
"Sure, I know that, Jim, but the sun's going to set soon. You really want to go out into the woods now?"
"Of course not," came the same growl.
"Well then. We'll set out tomorrow morning."
"I want to go first thing, Sandburg."
"What time is sunrise in these parts?" Daniel asked.
"This time of year, it's about six," Blair said.
"Fine. How about he meets you out here at six-thirty?"
Stunned, too stunned to react otherwise, Jim just agreed. Jack still said nothing. Daniel turned and looked at him. "Six-thirty do you too, Jack?"
"Whatever," Jack replied after a few moments. When Jim had been introduced, something had nagged at him. He felt like he should talk to this guy anyway. "Remember why we're here, Daniel."
"As if I could forget," Daniel replied laconically.
He opened up the boot of the car and picked out his rucksack and a case.
"That's a weapons case, Daniel," Blair said, shock in evidence.
"So it is," Daniel answered, trying to sound like he didn't know it.
"I hope you've got a licence for that," Jim stated, though he felt a little foolish for reasons he didn't understand.
"Licence?" Daniel said, his eyebrows raising. "Here." He opened up his jacket and Blair was even more surprised to see a gun in a shoulder holster. Daniel pulled out an ID card and presented it to the older detective.
"Oh," Jim said, recognising the wording on it. Daniel was virtually untouchable by the police. Not immune from prosecution, but his implicit protection from it was as high as Jim had seen in a long time. He looked at Jack and saw the colonel holding out a similar card. Most police wouldn't recognise the subtle symbolism but the ex-covert ops man knew what to look for. "May I ask why you're here?"
"No," Daniel said, his face blank. Jim was surprised to realised that Daniel's heartbeat and other body functions were as unreadable. This guy was as calm and as cool as anyone he'd ever met. To double-check that his senses were working, he looked at Blair and picked up on his partner's confusion. Then he checked on Jack's reactions and found that the ice man was also a tad upset by the situation. So why not the enigmatic doctor? His detective's curiosity piqued, Jim handed Daniel's ID back to him with a nod, then he turned to his truck to get out some supplies.
"Six-thirty, Sandburg," he said. "Here's your pack. How about you and I share the food I've brought, Colonel? I take it you brought things for the two of you?" he continued, looking at Jack.
"Sure," Jack replied. "Detective Sandburg's welcome to them. See you in the morning, Daniel."
Daniel walked without looking back into the cabin, Blair closely following as soon as he'd picked his bag up from Jim.
"Night, Jim," he said quietly.
He just got a grunt from Jim in reply.
"So, you going to tell me what that was all about?" Blair said as he shut the door behind him.
"Maybe," Daniel shrugged. "Damn, B, it's good to see you again."
He dropped what he was holding, prompting Blair to do the same. Blair stepped back into his arms and let his long-time friend hold him close.
"Good to see you, too, buddy," Blair whispered.
They held onto each other for a while before letting go and getting out the food from Daniel's pack. Blair stoked up the fire in the wood-burning stove as Daniel prepared a few things for them to eat - a pot of coffee brewed, naturally.
"Why haven't I heard from you over the last couple of months?" Blair asked after a few minutes of companionable silence.
"Ah. I wish I could tell you, B, I really do. All I can say is that I've had some problems at work."
Daniel sighed and sat on the edge of the bed, patting the space next to him. Blair dutifully sat, loving it when Daniel's arm wrapped itself around him and pulled him closer still.
"Baby, I'd tell you everything, but it's so highly-classified that most people can't know about it. Literally a handful of people have clearance high enough to know. Even your partner, when he was in covert ops, wouldn't have been cleared to work with me."
"You know about that?" Blair asked in surprise.
"B, you, the archetypal flower child, suddenly running off to study the police? Then you move in with the guy you study? C'mon, B, of course I checked up on him, if only to make sure you were safe. I've got a friend at the Pentagon who found out for me, and now I know all about him. Needless to say, knowing you as well as I do, I put two and two together. You've finally found your Holy Grail, haven't you?"
Blair looked up in horror, but relaxed a little when he saw Daniel's face smiling back at him.
"Blair, I'm not going to tell anyone, for heaven's sake. You think I'd do that?"
"No, of course not. It's just that after what happened..."
"The dissertation?" Daniel asked. At Blair's nod, he continued, "What did happen there? I was, er, out of the country for that. I heard about it, then heard about the apology and so on, but I'm sure that there was a lot more to it than that. And before you think about obfuscating, young man, I have a built in lie-detector when it comes to you," he said with a chuckle. "You know I can keep a secret. Tell me, huh? Get it all out."
In the other cabin, Jim and Jack were sizing each other up. Jim watched in approval as Jack sorted out his things with military precision.
"I was in the Army," he offered after a few minutes.
"Oh? Which division?"
A light went on in Jack's mind. "I thought I knew about you," he said. "You were in Peru, right? Sold out by your colonel."
"How did you know about that?" Jim asked in surprise.
"Oliver? He was a prick," Jack spat. "I was on a mission once, a joint one, Rangers and AFSOC. He was there, just a captain in those days, but something about him made my hair stand on end. When I got back from, er, well, another mission later on, and heard on the grapevine that he was the one that sent you guys into the jungle, let's just say my radar went off. I checked into it, but without setting any alarms off, I couldn't discover anything more. I was sure that there was more to it than met the eye. You were shot down, weren't you?"
"Yes," Jim answered quietly. "Lost all my men."
"Yeah, I know that one," Jack replied, just as quietly. "Heard you got Oliver in the end," he added, his voice a little lighter.
Jim nodded with a grin.
"Sorry I couldn't do any more when you were missing. I was sent elsewhere and couldn't get access to the info," Jack shrugged.
"You did what you could," Jim replied. "Besides, the guys died pretty much as soon as we got there. Even if you'd got help out there for me, it wouldn't have saved them."
Jim wandered into his own room and took out a few things. As he did, a light went on in his mind and he went straight back to Jack.
"You were in Iraq, weren't you? Escaped about the same time I got back from Peru."
"Same bat hospital, same bat debrief," Jack said with a humourless laugh, recalling his dreadful time at the so-called hospital. Set in a secret location; agents, special forces operatives and so on were treated there, irrespective of their regiments and organisations. That way, it was easier to keep things quiet if secrets were yelled out by drugged patients or those with nightmares.
"I knew I recognised you," Jim hissed. "I got off lightly compared to you."
"Your team died!" Jack argued.
"Yours left you!" Jim snapped back.
"So did yours." The whispered words came directly through to Jim and his energy suddenly left him. Jack was right, they'd abandoned him by dying, just as surely as Jack's team had by leaving him to die.
"Yeah, my feelings exactly."
Jim looked at Jack and laughed, the same empty sound made by Jack.
"C'mon, let's eat," Jack said suddenly. "I wonder what the guys are talking about?"
Without thinking, Jim cocked his head to one side and just listened in. "Oh, they're just talking about what's been happening over the last couple of years."
Jim froze when he realised what he'd just said. Jack raised an eyebrow. "I've heard of good eyes, but damn, that's good hearing you've got. Wanna talk about it?"
"Not really, no." Jim cursed under his breath when the magnitude of his error hit him. Jack, however, surprised him by changing the subject.
"Ellison, why are you here?"
"Uh, I'm looking into the disappearances of a couple of people," he replied vaguely.
"So'm I," Jack said carefully. "It seems that the boy wonder out there thinks that the nature of our job makes us prime candidates for investigating."
"What is your job?"
"Way more classified than you can imagine."
Jim listened into the others again. "It would seem that your friend wants to talk to Sandburg. He's kind of frustrated. Only talking about anthropology in the most general terms. He's been away?"
"Yeah," Jack said through gritted teeth. "You could say that." He didn't want to remember the various occasions in the recent past when Daniel had been away from him. This mission was too damned close to Daniel's invitation to dinner with the Chaka - as the main course.
"What are the chances of an anthropologist teaming up with an ex-spec ops military man, not once, but twice?" Jim ruminated.
"Slim to ain't gonna happen," Jack replied, wishing he could tell this man more. There was something about him that made Jack want to trust him. He knew who he was and about his background, further details from Jim's time in Peru drifting back into Jack's mind as the moments passed. Even if mission details weren't spread among the spec ops community, the players were known as were the general scenarios. Especially when something had gone wrong.
Jim got some beers out of the cooler he'd brought. "Did you bring any beer?" he asked.
"Nope. Seems like the boys are gonna miss out," Jack replied with a snigger.
"You think we should take some in?"
"Nah, they're big enough to come get some if they want it. Well, Daniel is. How old is your pal?"
Jim winced at the word 'pal', but he replied, "Thirty-one. I know, he doesn't look it."
"Looks about eighteen," Jack sighed. "But then that's me looking from the viewpoint of a couple of years shy of fifty. They all look young to me."
"How old is Daniel?"
"Thirty-five, believe it or not."
"I can only believe it because of Sandburg," Jim sighed. "I'm nearly forty myself. I'm kinda dreading it because it's going to put me into another decade to him again."
"Tell me about it," Jack chuckled, then putting the bottle to his lips, he took a long draught. "You going to tell me about your ears?" he prompted. "I'm guessing that it's something you want to keep quiet, right?"
He got a nod from Jim.
"Don't sweat it, pal. I know I can't tell you anything about what I do, but I am one of the good guys. You use your, er, talents for good, right?"
"I'm a cop," Jim said defensively. "A good one. This just helps."
"I got that," Jack agreed. "So, what advantage would it be to me to tell on ya? C'mon, Ellison, I know as well as you do that there are those out there that would like a guy that can hear through walls to work for them. You've already been targeted, haven't you?"
"How did you know?" Jim asked, his words harsh.
"I didn't. How did you hide it?"
Jim's shoulders slumped. "You should be a cop," he said with a wry grin. "The guy who tried to use us is in jail. A traitor. Went against The Firm."
"Won't be coming out again then?" Jack asked, rhetorically. "Who's to say he won't squeal to get a reduced sentence?"
Jim stood up and wandered to the window, beckoning Jack to follow. "Look," he said, handing Jack his field glasses. "You see that bird in the tree?"
"The one with the red tips to its feathers. Her feathers I should say. On top of the pine."
Jack turned in the direction to which Jim was pointing. It took him a few minutes but he eventually found the bird.
"Fuck," he whispered. "What else?"
"All of them," Jim admitted. "Touch, taste and smell."
Jack whistled through closed teeth and made his way back to his beer. "You're a prime target, Ellison," he said. "How do you keep it quiet?"
"Sandburg helps me keep it under control," Jim explained. At Jack's prompting, he explained about sentinels and guides.
Jack let the information sink in, then he got a small card out of his jacket. "If you need any help," he said, "call this number. I'll tell the General that you are to be protected." Jim looked concerned at those words. "Don't worry, I won't tell him why. You have my word. Let's just say I know of an organisation even more insidious than the CIA. If they got wind of your abilities, you'd be a lab rat. You should give this number to Sandburg. If you ever disappear suddenly, he should call it. We'll find you."
"Told ya, I'm one of the good guys," Jack replied with a grin. To explain further, he said, "Put it this way. That organisation I was telling you about? I hate them. They're nothing more than a bunch of self-serving traitors. They've even got politicians in their pockets."
Jim shrugged as if that was no news.
"I owe those bastards nothing but trouble, Ellison. Much as I know you don't know me well enough to trust me, you can trust me."
"I know I can," Jim answered. He'd been monitoring Jack's heart rate and breathing. Either the man was telling him the truth or he was in incredible control of his autonomic functions.
Daniel and Blair had eaten, chatted, and were now looking at going to bed. They needed an early night so without much in the way of delay, they made the most of the bathroom facilities and then crawled under the crisp cotton quilt.
"A bit luxurious for a cabin in the woods, eh?" Daniel said as they snuggled up together.
"Nah, not at all. C'mere." Daniel wrapped his arms around Blair and pulled him really close, holding him tightly. He felt Blair tense, then relax. "B? What's up?"
"You have to ask?" Blair answered with a hollow laugh.
"Oh. You want to do something about that?"
"It's been so long I'm beginning to forget what to do."
"Tell me about it," Daniel sympathised.
"So, what do you want to do about it?" Blair asked, twisting around to face him.
"I haven't exactly come prepared, Blair," Daniel moaned.
"Me either," came the sad reply. "Hang on though, just had a thought." He hopped out of bed and grabbed his rucksack. Inside it was a bottle of hand lotion. From his wallet, he pulled out a condom and waved it in front of Daniel. "It may not have been on my mind, but I always carry some of these - just in case, you understand," he added, trying to sound innocent.
Daniel laughed and put his hands out to his occasional lover. "Well, get your ass over here, Bug, I want you to fuck me."
"Man, you do not want to call me that if you want sex. Talk about incestuous feelings."
Daniel got onto his knees and stared Blair right in the eye. "Blair," he whispered, "come to me. I want you. Need you. Want to feel you inside of me. Don't say no."
Swallowing hard so as not to come the moment he was touched, Blair stood right next to the end of the bed. Daniel shuffled forward on his knees until they were nose to nose.
The kiss started out gently, but soon the months that they'd been apart told and they built it up, increasing the pressure and the passion. Blair felt Daniel's strong arms as they wrapped around him and then he felt himself being lifted onto the bed and tipped onto his back. They pulled their boxers off, their sole items of clothing, and took the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with each other's bodies.
"Now, baby," Daniel moaned, getting onto his stomach. "I need you now."
With fumbling fingers, Blair ripped open the packet and rolled the condom on, thinking distinctly unsexy thoughts in an effort to hold off. With a perfunctory plastering of hand lotion for lube, he pushed into Daniel, both men emitting a long, low groan of satisfaction as he slowly made himself at home.
When he'd finally got all the way in, Daniel tilted his head around and grinned. "Tha's better," he slurred. "Y'okay?"
"Oh yeah, man, just right. Going to move now, right?"
Just like the kiss, Blair started slowly, but soon it was too much for him. Daniel got up onto his knees and thrust backwards, forcing Blair to hit the spot with every movement. Grunts and groans accompanied the squeaking of the bed until a growled order from Daniel had Blair reaching around and grabbing his cock. He jerked him once, twice... and Daniel spilt over his hand. The resulting contractions milked Blair for all he had and finally, the two men collapsed onto the bed, panting with exhaustion.
Somehow, Blair found the wherewithal to clean them both up and crawled back under the covers and into Daniel's arms.
Jim woke at the crack of dawn, unsure of how he was going to tackle the day. As he'd got into bed the night before, he'd run a check on his partner, wanting to hear his heartbeat. He'd never admitted this to Blair, but he always found it easier to sleep if he had the rhythmic thump of his guide's heart to drop off with. He hadn't expected to hear it racing. Immediately regretting what he was doing, he piggybacked his sense of smell onto his hearing, justifying it to himself in the form of a fear detector. He knew how Blair smelt when he was afraid, so he wanted to check that that wasn't the cause. He knew the second he did it that it was a mistake. The aroma of freshly spent semen hit him hard - and not just Blair's. His guide hadn't jerked off in private, he'd had sex. Hearing the quiet murmurs of loving words between the men only made it worse.
In a fog, he stumbled out of bed, only to see Jack making some coffee and breakfast.
"Still doing the military rises, Ellison," Jack answered with a grin. "It would seem that years as a cop has softened you."
Jim laughed out loud as he headed to take a leak. He'd really taken to Jack O'Neill for reasons he couldn't fathom. Or maybe he could. Misery loves company after all.
"What's the story between you and Daniel?" Jim asked over breakfast.
"I get the feeling you know each other really well, but there's, I dunno, a tension there."
Jack sighed, took a sip of coffee and said, "I've lost him too many times."
"Can't really go into it, but he's died on a number of occasions. Fortunately, and rather obviously, we've always got him back. I've lost him and nearly lost him a couple of times this year already. Once to a creature that we think we're going to find out here. Daniel nearly got killed by it - I, er, I had to kill Daniel's college friend as a result of it. I wish I could tell you more..."
Jim put his hand up to stop Jack. "That's okay, I understand. It hurts to lose him, doesn't it?"
Jack studied Jim's face carefully. "You'd know about that." It was a statement, as if he could read Jim's history with Blair all too well.
Jim nodded. "Yeah. Since he's hooked up with me, he's been shot, kidnapped, nearly killed, drugged... I sent him away once and that actually got him killed. She drowned him."
Jack didn't ask any questions, he just put his hand on Jim's arm in comfort. Much as his curiosity was piqued by Jim's statements, he knew that Jim didn't want to think about those times.
"You shutting him out too?" Jack asked quietly.
Jim dropped his head in his hands. Jack was right, this had nothing to do with balancing the books and everything to do with having lost Blair once too often. When Blair had joined the police force for real, started carrying a gun and got himself into a position where Jim couldn't tell him to stay in the truck, his likelihood for getting hurt had increased. Slowly, he lifted his head and looked into Jack's brown eyes and saw not sympathy, but empathy. Jack was doing the exact same thing.
At six-thirty on the dot, Blair and Daniel met up with Jack and Jim outside the cabin. Unlike their older companions, the two were laughing and joking between themselves. Kits had been packed up and weapons readied. Daniel shook his head when he saw Blair checking his handgun and slipping it into a shoulder holster with the same ease that he himself now had. Blair caught his eye and grinned.
"Tell me about it," he said with a laugh.
"You ready to go?" Jack asked, sounding a little friendlier than he had done the night before.
Daniel's eyes opened wide with shock as he heard the tone. "Uh, yeah, I guess," he said. He slung his kitbag and then his P-90 over his shoulder, and said, "Which way?"
"Should we all go together or should we split up?" Jim asked.
"Seeing as we're looking for the same thing, maybe it would be better if we stick together," Jack answered. "With your tracking abilities and our knowledge, we'll make a good team."
"What about me?" Blair muttered. "You want me to stay here?" He pointed towards the truck and glared at Jim, daring him to suggest it.
"No, Chief," Jim said, then added with a grin, "we need someone to carry that pack."
Blair stood silently for a moment. He couldn't remember the last time that Jim had called him 'Chief'. It had been 'Sandburg' or 'Darwin' or any number of other stupid nicknames, but the one that was meant affectionately had been missing.
"C'mon, Bug," Daniel said with a grin. "It's gonna be fun."
Blair scowled at Daniel for calling him that, picked up his own kit and said, "We should make towards the river, Indy. If there's going to be a creature out here, it's going to need water."
"Good thinking," Daniel laughed. "So, who's got the map?"
Jim cocked his head to one side and listened out, filtering out the background noises until the quiet rippling of the river came into focus. "That way," he said, pointing to one of the paths.
Without questioning him, the others started out.
They walked until midday, Jack and Jim leading the way, the others content to follow behind them. Initially, there had been chatter, but as they got deeper into the forest, that had trickled off. Jim would stop them every so often as he listened out for any noise that shouldn't be there, but he found nothing.
Eventually, they came to a small clearing and decided that it would be a good place to stop and eat. Rather than light a fire in the forest, Daniel pulled out a camp stove from his pack. He put some coffee on and handed over some MREs to Jack, Jim and Blair.
"Uh, D? What's this?"
"MREs," Daniel explained. "Meals Ready to Eat. Or, Military Rations are Execrable," he added with a smirk.
Jim laughed out loud as he opened his. "Ah, brings back memories. Mind, when I was in the Army, we were still getting C Rations, I think."
"Got news for you," Daniel sniggered, "these are C Rations - World War II ones - just repackaged."
They settled down to eat and Jack asked something that had been annoying him all morning. "So, you gonna tell us how you guys know each other? And what's with the nicknames?"
Daniel looked at Blair and got a shrug back from him. The implied 'tell him whatever' came across loud and clear.
"We've known each other since we were kids," Daniel offered. "I was, uh, fourteen, B was ten."
"Mom decided to go on a spiritual retreat for about six months," Blair put in. "So, she decided to drop me off with some people that were 'recommended' by a friend of hers."
Jim growled. "For fuck's sake, didn't that woman have any sense of responsibility towards you?"
"Hey! Don't you dare criticise her!" Blair was up off the floor and flying angrily towards Jim. He'd had about enough of Jim's sniping at her. Daniel stood behind Blair, also ready to do battle on Naomi's behalf.
"WHOA!" Jack called out. "Don't you think we can deal with this like adults?" He glared at Jim and Jim apologised to Blair. Daniel caught a hold of Blair's hand and pulled him back to where they had been sitting. Neither of the older men missed the fact that Daniel's arm was protectively wrapped around Blair and that he'd placed a kiss on Blair's head. Jim especially didn't miss the fact that Daniel's expression was murderous.
Silence fell once again, the two anthropologists unwilling to say any more. Jack sighed. He hated the tenuous link he had with the man he'd called his best friend and wanted it back to the way it was. He knew it would be up to him to make things better. Daniel had tried - on many occasions - to fix things, but Jack had drawn a line in the sand and now Daniel was reluctant to cross it. It was up to Jack to rub that line out.
"Danny? So, how did you meet?"
Daniel looked curiously at Jack, wondering at the name choice and his tone. He stared hard into Jack's eyes and only saw friendship there - a sight that had been missing for a long time.
"I was being fostered by the same people," he offered. "B came to stay with us, we shared a room in fact. Been friends ever since."
"Why do I get the feeling that there's a lot more to it than that?" Jack asked kindly.
"Because there is," Blair admitted. "We stayed in touch by letter after Naomi came back, then met up again when I was sixteen."
"And?" prompted Jim, getting surprised looks from all three.
"And we've been together on and off since then," Daniel said. "Sometimes as friends, sometimes as more than friends. That's not important, our friendship is," he added, emphasising the word so that the others got the message. The two men meant a great deal to each other, more than a fleeting sexual relationship would normally engender.
"I didn't know you were gay, Daniel," Jack said quietly.
"Nope, not many people at the SGC do, Jack," Daniel replied. Jack nodded, understanding Daniel's desire to keep that quiet.
Blair didn't even look at Jim, unwilling to see how Jim would react to it.
"So, what about the nicknames?" Jack pushed, his face breaking out into a smile.
"Simple, it was the way I wrote my name," Blair said. "The R wasn't always legible. First time Daniel saw my signature, he thought my name was Sandbug. Seein' as I was so small, he started calling me Bug." He finished with a shrug.
"You aren't small," Daniel insisted.
"Man, I was tiny for a ten year-old. I didn't get this tall until I was seventeen for fuck's sake."
"So? You're average height. What difference does it make?"
"That's easy for you to say," Blair grumped and Daniel chuckled and hugged him close. "...Indy," Blair finished with a snigger.
Daniel looked at Jack. "Tzufit didn't give me that nickname until 1981, but do you really have to ask why?"
"Uh huh, Indy, I get it," Jack teased. "Who's Two Feet or whatever you said."
Daniel shook his head. "Tzufit," he pronounced carefully. "My sister," he added sadly.
"Also known as Teivel," Blair sniggered.
At Jack's querying look, Blair explained that "Teivel" meant "Devil" in Yiddish, and that it suited Tzufit down to the ground.
"Your sister?" Jack asked cautiously.
"Uh, well, foster sister," Daniel explained. "Would have been my real sister if..." his voice hitched then he stopped talking. "I, er, need to take a piss," he said quietly and left.
"Blair?" Jack prompted.
"Daniel was going to be adopted by Miriam and Gil, the ones I stayed with, but they were killed in a plane crash when Daniel was fifteen. Tzufit and Binyamin were twins, about a year older than Daniel. They returned to Israel on the death of their parents and went to live with relatives there. Miriam was a teacher and Gil was a doctor. They were great people. Moved over to the States when the twins were young - Gil had an offer of a consultancy at the teaching hospital in New York. They wanted more kids but couldn't have them, for reasons I don't know. They took Daniel in when he was about eleven or so. He'd been in a bad way since his parents died. Gil told me that it took them the best part of a year to settle him in with them. You've gotta understand, man, Daniel loved those people as much as he loved his own parents. He's never really recovered from losing them too."
"Fuck," Jack muttered. He knew that Daniel's foster parents were dead, but he'd not known the details. Something struck him about the story though. "Uh, Sandburg, Daniel's not Jewish. How did he end up there?"
"No one else wanted him," Blair shrugged. "You gotta know his IQ?"
"Yeah, it's high."
"High? It's fucking astronomical. He was brilliant as a kid too. He needed parents with patience - and ones that could understand his nightmares. Fortunately, Miriam spoke Arabic as well as Ivrit and English. So, when he'd have times that he called his 'Cairo street kid' spells, she could get through to him and understand him."
"I've seen him have days when he just withdraws into himself," Jack whispered, worrying about Daniel overhearing him. "I never know how to get through to him."
"You don't. You just leave him and hide the sharp objects."
"He gets suicidal?" Jim broke in, stunned by the implication.
"No, not that," Blair answered. "He just doesn't realise what's going on, kinda like a zone," he added. Jack had dropped a few hints that morning that he knew more about Jim than he should do, so Blair felt confident in saying that. "Add a zone to a manic depressive moment and who knows what could happen?"
"He's a manic depressive?"
"Again, not really, it's just a temporary thing. Lots of brilliant minds go into that sort of thing," he shrugged. "It's not as if he needs medication. Keep him busy and he's fine."
"That's why he pushes himself," Jack whispered, the truth dawning on him.
"Yeah. He knows how he'll get if he has nothing to do."
Jim's heart sank. Daniel wasn't the only genius there. Did Blair get like that too? Without the need to study, did he descend into that funk?
Blair didn't have to ask what Jim was asking. Neither did he feel inclined to answer. He just shrugged.
Daniel returned and said, "C'mon, we have to get on with it." His no nonsense tone left no room for argument.
They'd found nothing, even hours later, though they'd reached the river. Frustration was starting to set in until Blair took charge.
"This area's huge," he said. "Could it be that whatever's taking these people lives further up or downstream? Uh..." his voice trailed off then his face lit up for a moment. "Look, the river's flowing really fast here. Where's the nearest spot that it quietens down?"
Jim focussed on the sound of the river, uncaring as to whether Blair had explained his abilities to Daniel or not. Jack and Daniel had secrets from them, after all, he had the feeling that Daniel wouldn't say a word about his senses even if he didn't know - he hadn't up till that point anyway.
Turning his head, he followed the track of the river until he heard a quiet ripple instead of the rushing noise nearby him. Blair had been standing behind him, his hand on Jim's shoulder, grounding him as he looked and preventing him from zoning. The comfort he received from that was overwhelming.
"It's about two miles downstream," he said suddenly, turning to face the others as he spoke. He didn't miss the fact that Blair pulled back from him as if he'd been stung when he turned, either. He thought about that for a moment and then remembered that recently, he'd scowled or snapped at Blair for doing his job. 'Dammit', he thought, 'I have to stop doing that'.
He nodded at Blair in acknowledgement of his help, his heart cracking with sadness when he saw the surprise on his partner's face.
"Shall we carry on now?" Daniel asked.
"I think that night's going to settle in pretty soon," Jack said. "Perhaps it would be better if we set up camp? How about watches? Do you think it would be a good idea, just in case the creature comes in the night?"
"They're not normally nocturnal," Daniel answered, "but I wouldn't stake my life - or yours - on that fact. Thing is, this one's in hiding, so it may be acting out of character."
"No need to watch," Jim said. "I'll know if there's anything nearby."
They were at a spot by the river that had sufficient space for some tents. Jack and Daniel had brought one between them, as a matter of habit; Jim and Blair had one each.
"How about we share?" Blair asked Daniel.
"Sounds good to me. You okay with that, Jack?"
"Sure, if you want," Jack shrugged. "Whatever suits."
Jim went into the forest and found some wood while the others put the tents up. By the time they were done, he'd got an armful of dry wood. Whereas they wouldn't light a fire in the forest, it would be safe enough to do so on the river's edge.
In no time at all, they had a campsite up and running and Daniel and Blair retreated to one side of the fire, Jim and Jack on the other.
"Can you give us any information about the creature we're looking for?" Jim asked.
Daniel looked at Jack and the older man shrugged. "It's not that we don't want to give you details," Jack said, "it's just that you don't want to know them. I know you can both keep secrets, and you're going to have to keep whatever you see a secret for certain..." Jack looked to Daniel for help, not really feeling good either about keeping things back or about telling them anything to start with.
"The creature's called an Unas," Daniel said quietly.
"As in...?" Blair prompted.
"The one and the same," he nodded. At Jim's confused look, he carried on. "It was the name of the first king of Egypt," he said. "I can't explain why it has the same name, but it does. Basically, we're talking about a sentient lizard, for want of a better word."
"Sentient lizard?" Jim snorted.
Daniel fumbled around for a better explanation, without telling the policeman that it was an alien. Inspiration struck and he shot a glance at Jack that warned him to keep his mouth shut and his face straight.
"It's more or less a living dinosaur, evolved along similar lines to a human. It's not as developed as us, but it is way more intelligent than your average gecko. And it's big and very strong. In the condition in which we think it is, it's highly-dangerous and totally amoral. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say about an animal, but if my suspicions are correct, it may well speak to us."
"Yeah?" Blair looked stunned. "What language?"
"Now, that is the kicker," Daniel sniggered. "It could be one of a number."
"So, what are you saying? We may have a psychotic, multilingual, serial-killing dinosaur on the loose?" Jim drawled.
"Yup, that about sums it up," Jack replied, a huge grin on his face.
"You're telling the truth, but you're keeping something back, aren't you?" Jim carried on as if Jack hadn't spoken.
"I already told you more than you should know," Daniel answered, never taking his eyes from Jim's.
"You do know that if we had gone after this ourselves, if it turns out to be what you think it is, it would have hit the headlines when we caught it?" Jim said, almost in a challenge.
"Most likely," Daniel agreed, too sweetly for Jack's liking. "Assuming you got out of here alive."
Jack didn't need to have sentinel hearing to detect the harsh swallow of both cops that accompanied that statement.
"We should turn in," Daniel prompted, looking at the tent pointedly. The others agreed and they got ready for bed. Before they retired to their own tents, Jack pulled Daniel to one side. Knowing that if he were the sentinel, he'd listen into a private conversation, he surprised Daniel by speaking in the Ancients' language.
[We're going to have to use zats, you know.]
[Most likely,] Daniel agreed, even though he detested the idea of killing anything. [Even if this Unas isn't a Goa'uld, we can't take it back with us. I mean, how would we hide it?]
[Exactly. You sure these guys can keep a secret?]
[You know about Jim? You've been acting like you do.]
[Yeah. He screwed up last night - was listening in to you two talking for a minute.]
Daniel flushed a little as he pondered the possibility that Jim had heard more than just words. He swallowed down his potential embarrassment and continued his whispered discussion.
[I'd trust Blair with my life, Jack, and he trusts Jim.]
Jack studied his face for a moment and then nodded. [That'll do me then. We won't mention their part in the proceedings - they can cook up a story for their captain.] He shifted about for a moment, looking at his shoes.
[Jack? What's wrong?]
[Er, you and him. Is it just him? Or do you like men in general?]
[I prefer men, Jack. Nothing against women either, it's just I've always preferred men. Is it a problem?]
Jack was again silent for a moment and walked away before he answered.
"No," he said in English. As he neared his tent, he threw a comment over his shoulder. "It would be a bit hypocritical of me to have a problem, Daniel." With that, he went into his tent, leaving a very astounded archaeologist standing still.
"Daniel? You okay?" Blair asked.
"I'm fine," Daniel replied, though his voice was elsewhere. "I'll, er, I'll just..." he waved his hand in the general direction of the tent.
"Give me a minute and I'll be in with you," came Blair's voice, aimed at the retreating Daniel's back.
He went to the river and caught water in his cupped hands, splashing it over his face to wash off the day's dust. Putting his hands back into the water for some more, he saw Jim's reflection, the big man standing behind him.
"Jim?" Blair whispered, knowing that only the sentinel would hear him.
"Chief." Jim's voice was low, but loud enough for Blair to hear him. "You believe him?"
Blair stood up and tilted his head up so that he could look Jim directly in the eye. "Daniel," he said quietly but firmly, "has never once lied to me, nor has he ever let me down. When I was alone as a child, he protected me, even though he got beaten up for his troubles on more than one occasion. As a student, he was there - a mentor on the other end of the phone. On the expeditions we were able to get on together, he was a guide for me, a teacher. He never did a thing to hurt me. Tell me, do you really think that he'd lie to me about this?"
All of this was spoken in the quietest whisper, but Jim heard every word as it rang out loud and clear to him. He heard the other meaning too, that Jim had let him down when Daniel hadn't. He lowered his eyelids to disguise the pain that ran across his face, then he nodded.
"If you think we can trust them, I'll go with that. Goodnight, Sandburg."
Jim stalked off before Blair could reply, but he heard the wistful, "Yeah, g'night Jim," anyway.
Jim had, in fact, already decided that he could trust Jack. It was just that Daniel was an enigma to him. So calm, so apparently... geeky... on the surface, but Jim knew that there were more layers to Daniel's personality than he could ever hope to unravel. The obvious distaste in Daniel's eyes whenever they settled on a gun contrasted totally with the consummate ease with which he handled them - whether it was the handgun in his shoulder holster, or the lethal P-90 that was slung over his back.
Something about his manner with the weaponry reminded Jim about Blair's attitude as well. A necessary evil. Even with all of his training, even though he'd come out of his Academy days with the highest score sheet in his class, Blair had yet to fire the gun in anger. He still looked for the oddball ways of defeating the enemy, whether it was a baseball or a hose pipe - or a convenient pickup crane.
Smiling to himself, he got into his sleeping bag. Perhaps he should think of Daniel as a larger - more dangerous - Blair. Because he got that feeling from the older of the two academics. Jack had warned him over dinner the previous night. Do not piss Daniel off. It wouldn't be conducive to a long life.
Jim had lain in bed, half-asleep, but on alert for any odd noises. Nothing had come from the anthropologists' tent, just quiet snores and the rasp of fabric against fabric, where they were obviously snuggling up together for warmth. He fought down a chuckle as he realised that that was something that Blair would do irrespective of his partner in the tent. He should have been the cat, not Jim. Always looking for the warmest, most comfortable place to rest.
He rose with the sun, noticing straight away that Jack had been disturbed by his movements. He mentally acknowledged the military training and experience of the older man, the fact that the slightest change in his locale would have him out of bed in an instant. It was something that he himself had done, years after leaving the Army, even before his senses had come back on-line.
The two soldiers met up outside their tents, grunted a greeting to each other and Jim watched in amusement as Jack quickly stoked up the fire and put some coffee on.
"You need it too?" Jim asked as he sat next to him.
"Ya kidding? You live with an academic, don'tcha?"
"Er, yeah," Jim replied.
"Well then. Coffee first, or you get your head bitten off."
"Sandburg's not like that," Jim shrugged. "Sure, he likes his morning coffee, but he's usually pretty amenable - unless he's had a late night."
"Daniel doesn't know the meaning of the word amenable till he's had at least one pot of coffee," Jack sniggered. "He doesn't know the meaning of lots of words before then. After that, mind," he said with a grin, "he'll not only give you the meaning, but the etymological history and its equivalent in over twenty languages."
"Sounds like Sandburg," Jim chuckled in understanding. "He knows so much... stuff!"
"If you two have stopped whining, how about a coffee?" Daniel snapped, causing both Jack and Jim to jump. Neither had heard him approach.
"Er, sure, Daniel. Here." Jack got a tin mug and poured a cup for him, getting a nod by way of thanks from Daniel.
"How did you do that?" Jim asked.
"Move silently? No way I couldn't notice you."
"You were otherwise occupied," Daniel said, his eyes narrowing as they did. "I suggest you don't do that when we get further into the..." he waved his hand at the forest as if he couldn't be bothered to look for the right word just then.
Otherwise occupied or not, Jim should have heard him and he knew it. He looked at Jack who just chuckled. When Daniel retreated to the woods to take a leak, he whispered, "Daniel's been trained to keep silent since he was a kid. I'm sure Sandburg could fill you in a bit more, but it has a lot to do with being fostered by the wrong people. I don't know much, just that some of the families weren't too keen on having a kid around - just did it for the money. So, seen but not heard. He's not like that now, but still, he knows how to creep. Besides, he's been trained by the best infiltration artist in the business."
"You?" Jim asked with a grin - his face masking the revulsion he felt at Daniel's history.
"Nah, another member of my team. The T man makes me look inexperienced. Kinda took it upon himself to look after Daniel. They've got a history between them I can't go into, but it makes T feel indebted to him and kind of protective."
Blair stumbled out of his tent and joined them and Jim looked at him hard before handing him a coffee and getting a warm smile in gratitude. He understood just what it meant to feel protective about someone.
It took them only about an hour to reach the clearing that Jim had heard and they dropped their kits together and looked around for signs of life. No footsteps were discovered, but Jack pointed something out.
"Look," he said quietly, "it looks like someone's been wiping out tracks here."
They all stared at the point that Jack was concentrating on and could see what he meant. It was as if a branch had been used to sweep away any sign of a visit.
"Can you find out what was there?" Daniel asked.
"The track has gone," Jim said, shaking his head.
"Try," Blair insisted. "Remember how you find writing on pages that were underneath the one that was written on? Maybe it can work for mud."
Jim was about to argue about that, but in the end he just decided to try. To be frank, he was all argued out.
Kneeling on the ground, he turned his touch dial up to the max. Feeling a little bolder, Blair knelt behind him and put his hand on Jim's shoulder.
"Just concentrate on your fingertips, Jim," he whispered. "I'll stop you from zoning." He gently coached the sentinel in his task and Jack and Daniel watched in amazement as Jim traced out the shape that he felt.
"Okay, Danny, you've got me convinced," Jack gasped. "If that's not a stinkin' Unas, I don't know what is."
His opinion was reinforced by a roar that shook the air and chilled them all to the bone.
Jim and Blair stood quickly, their hands snapping to get their guns, Jack and Daniel already having theirs at the ready.
"Can you pinpoint it?" Daniel asked of Jim.
"I don't know what to look for!" he complained.
"It's a fuckin' giant lizard! What more do ya want?" Jack growled.
With an angry scowl, Jim tried to shut out all of his senses except hearing and scent, Blair picking up on his sentinel tracking and immediately taking his place at Jim's back. Without moving, Jim scanned the surrounding area.
"There's something over there," he said, pointing south of their present position.
"Shall we go after it or wait here?" Daniel asked. "I'm only suggesting waiting here because the path south of here goes right next to that thick bush." Experience told him that attacks could be launched from cover such as that.
"He's got a point," Jack acknowledged.
"But who's to say it's going to attack us?" Jim countered. "All of the missing people up till now have been hiking on their own. There are four of us."
"You think we should split up?" Blair asked incredulously.
"How about into pairs?" Jack suggested. "You two know how to work together, so do we. If you see the beast, use this."
He dived into his kitbag and pulled out a two-way radio, throwing another at Daniel as he did.
"Uh, much as I think that's a good idea, Jack, there is one snag," Daniel answered as he caught the radio.
"Oh yeah? And what's that?"
"They don't know what to look for and we do. How about Blair comes with me..."
"No. If you are going with anyone, Daniel, it's gonna be with Jim. Let's even up the weaponry and experience here, shall we? I know you are more than capable of taking care of yourself, and I dare say that Blair is too, but hell, Ellison and I have way more experience in tracking than you two do."
Blair looked at Daniel with an eyebrow raised and he got a shrug back. Then he looked at Jim who was staring hard. Following his line of sight, he saw Jack's eyes boring a hole into Jim's gaze. The message from both men was clear. 'Let anything happen to my archaeologist/anthropologist - delete as appropriate - and you will not live to see tomorrow.'
He turned his gaze back to Daniel and saw that his long-time friend was rolling his eyes in amusement.
Without another word, they picked up their packs and Blair attached himself to Jack's side, Daniel strolled up to Jim more casually, and pointing a little further into the woods, Daniel and Jim moved off. Moments later, Jack and Blair made their way down the path along the river.
A squeak on the radio told Jack that Daniel was about fifty yards away from him.
"What was that? A code?" Blair asked quietly.
"Yeah. Something we use on missions," Jack acknowledged. "He's over there."
"Cool," Blair answered with a grin.
A few silent minutes later and Blair couldn't contain himself.
"So," he started, keeping his voice low, "why the distance from Daniel?"
"What do you mean?" Jack asked, even though he knew just what Blair was getting at.
"C'mon, Jack. I've known Daniel a long time. Much as he's never told me what he does, he did tell me about you. At first, he was really bubbly about things you'd do together, stuff that was said and so on. But this last year... well, let's just say that any enquiry I've made about you has been met with a growl. What's up?"
"Nothing," Jack said firmly.
"Right," Blair drawled. "You know, I understand why Jim hates me. Without what happened between us, he wouldn't be relegated to investigating Cascade's answer to the X-Files cases, but I have no idea what's become of your relationship with Daniel."
"Relationship?" Jack said with a start.
"Yeah, you know, friendship and all that crap."
"You think that friendship is crap?"
"The only true friendship I've ever had has been with Daniel. So for the most part, yeah."
"Jim doesn't hate you," Jack said, trying to change the subject.
Blair snorted. "Sure he does. Or he would do if he thought I was worth the effort. This last year, I've more or less ceased to exist. Daniel says that for you, the same thing has happened with him."
"It's not true," Jack whispered. "Not true at all. He's the most important person on the planet to me."
Blair stopped sharply. "That true?"
"Yes. It's true."
"Well fuckin' tell him! As far as he's concerned, you couldn't care less whether he lives or dies."
Jack looked Blair in the eye and said, "He's died... too often."
Unlike Blair, Daniel was managing to keep quiet. His big brother nature concerning Blair made him want to beat the crap out of Ellison. Question after question bubbled up in his head but he bit down on them, somehow understanding that Jim wouldn't answer any of them anyway. After about ten minutes of silence though, he was surprised when Jim spoke out loud.
"I can't get a handle on you," Jim said, his voice filled with curiosity.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. You're like Sandburg, but you're not. You're not a soldier but you act like one, yet you obviously dislike that side of things."
"I detest unnecessary violence," Daniel replied coolly.
"So do I," Jim answered quietly.
Daniel let silence reign for a while before the obvious question popped into his head and begged to be asked. "How long have you been in love with him?"
"You heard." The sarcasm dripped from Daniel's voice.
Jim didn't answer.
"So, what are you afraid of? That I'm going to run to him and tell him? Puh-lease, give me some credit. You think I'd do anything to hurt him?"
"No, I don't suppose you would." Jim carried on walking, scanning his surroundings for any signs of the Unas, but without knowing what to look for, it was hard. "It's just he's not exactly, well..." He stopped speaking for a moment as he searched for the right word. "Reliable, I guess."
"What? How can you say that?" Daniel was shocked.
"You know how many women he dates," Jim hissed. "He's never had a committed relationship in his life. Not to mention he's only with me because he feels guilty about what happened."
"You have got to be kidding me," Daniel growled, grinding his teeth together in an effort to stop himself from shouting. "How long has he been with you?"
"How fucking long, Ellison?"
"Uh, about five years," Jim admitted.
"So, not even mentioning the twenty-one years he's been my best friend - he's spent five years by your side at work, of which the best part of four was unpaid. Five years of being shot, kidnapped, drugged... killed; of helping you out with your senses. Not to mention the what, thirteen, fourteen years at Rainier? The how many years spent looking for you? The fact that he became a cop when he didn't have to? That makes him unreliable and uncommitted? You are such a prick, Ellison."
"He didn't have a choice but to be a cop!" Jim snarled, hanging onto his one last 'fact' when the others had been kicked out from underneath him.
"You think so?" Daniel stopped walking and grabbed Jim, slamming him against a tall tree. "You really think that? Blair could have dropped you and come to me any day of any week of any month that he's known you. He has a job open and waiting for him at my side. A better paid job by far than the one he's got, and one where he would be appreciated and treated well. He's always known that, too. Instead, he chose to stay by your side. If anyone has reliability and commitment problems here, it's you, not him. I suggest you think about that. Because if you don't, I am going to come and get him and take him away from you once and for all. You don't deserve him. You don't deserve his undying loyalty and you don't deserve his love." With that, he span on his heel and stalked deeper into the forest, leaving the shellshocked sentinel standing alone.
"He's had somewhere to go... something to do. He didn't. Why didn't he?"
The thoughts rattled through Jim's head, causing him to develop a headache as the sounds seemed to echo in an empty space. He wasn't able to work through the quandary though as a piercing scream followed by a splash caught his attention.
Just knowing it had something to do with the others, Daniel and Jim took off, running desperately through the trees, aiming for the splashing and shouting, a shot ringing out but not stopping their progress.
They arrived together at the position of the initial sound in moments, but they didn't immediately see what had happened. It was only when another shot rang out a little further down the track did they find out.
The Unas had suddenly appeared out of the trees when Jack and Blair were making their way cautiously down the riverside track. Jack reached for his gun, as did Blair, but they were both too late. The Unas knocked Blair into the river and turned to attack Jack. The older man didn't have the time to check on Blair's predicament, trying as he was to get a shot off.
He got on his knees, making himself a smaller target. As the Unas launched itself at him, he shot one round, but his gun was knocked out of his hand before he got another, a second shot ringing out as it dropped.
By the time that the others had arrived, Blair was in the water and Jack was wrestling with what appeared to Jim to be a monster.
"SANDBURG!" he screamed when he saw his partner. His blood froze. Blair was not moving and he was face down in the water.
"HELP JACK!" Daniel yelled at Jim, throwing his machine gun at the cop before diving into the water to rescue his friend.
Jim shook himself and then piled into the fray. He had no idea of how to fight the monster, but he saw a blue-green slime emanating from its side. Was that its blood? He grabbed at it and used every ounce of his strength to pull it off Jack, but found it an almost impossible task.
"O'NEILL! PUSH!" he shouted out as he pulled yet again.
Underneath the Unas, Jack struggled to draw his legs up, but Jim managed to finally give him enough room. As soon as Jack was in position, he pushed hard, Jim tugging with all his might. The Unas was flung off the colonel and it crashed onto the ground. Jack dived for his pack and grabbed something that looked truly alien to Jim. He held it in his hand and then aimed it at the monster. A strange noise came out of it and an electric-blue flash enveloped the Unas, making it writhe around on the floor until it finally lay still.
"Tie it up," Jack gasped, trying to get his breath back as he scrabbled to get some rope from his pack.
Jim grabbed the rope and wrapped it around the unconscious beast, though desperate to get to Blair. As soon as it was done he turned on his heel and ran towards his partner, calling out to Jack to keep an eye on the captive.
His heart stopped when he saw the sight in front of him. Daniel, soaking wet from the chest down, was working on the completely wet Blair. Jim saw that Blair had a cut on his forehead, undoubtedly the major contributory factor to Blair's situation. If he had been knocked out when he'd either hit the water or before that moment, he wouldn't have stood a chance. Jim was just grateful that this section of the river was very calm and that he hadn't been taken further downstream.
He dropped down on his knees and helped Daniel, using his senses to listen in to Blair's heartbeat.
"It's beating," he said.
"Thank God," Daniel gasped. "How're his lungs?"
Jim focussed on them and heard that air was getting into them as Daniel breathed for him. Why wasn't he breathing for himself?
"What temperature was the water?" Jack asked as he appeared, dragging the still unconscious body of the Unas behind him.
"Fucking freezing," Daniel informed them.
Jim took his jacket off and put it over Blair's chest, Jack doing the same. Daniel threw his own on top, the fact that it was wet not making so much difference with two layers of dry clothes in-between.
"What's his core temperature like?" Jack asked Jim. The sentinel put his finger inside Blair's ear.
"Still down. Light a fire!" The soaking wet clothes were keeping Blair's temperature down and confusing his body.
Jack grabbed some dry wood and quickly got a small fire started, also lighting a camp stove and starting to heat some water up.
A cough distracted him. Blair was fighting for his own breath. Daniel wrapped him up in his arms and held him close.
"Shh," he whispered, dropping kisses on Blair's head. "Calm down, Bug, we've got you, you're safe now baby, you're safe."
Blair's eyes remained closed but his breathing settled.
"Did his heart stop?" Jack asked quietly, not taking his eyes off Jim and his guide as he cleaned up and patched the cut on Blair's head.
"No, it was beating when I pulled him out and Jim double-checked it later. He just stopped breathing. I think it was shocked out of him, what with the head injury and the cold. Heck, it made me stop breathing for a few moments and I had the advantage of being conscious. I felt like I'd been winded, like someone had kicked me in the chest. Heaven only knows what it was like for him."
Jack noticed that Daniel was shivering now, and wanted to do something about that. Double-checking that the Unas was still out cold and that his bindings were solid, he got up and rifled through the packs. He got two sleeping bags out and opened them out wide. He gave one to Jim.
"Hey, Danny," he said softly. "Let Jim hold him."
Daniel looked into Jim's eyes and saw the detective pleading wordlessly with him. He handed his long-time little brother and some-time lover over to the big man, his own eyes instructing Jim to take care of him or else. Jim nodded in understanding and wrapped the sleeping bag around his partner and held him tightly.
"Danny, come here," Jack instructed, holding the other bag out to him. Daniel moved next to Jack, warily accepting the bag. Jack shook his head and soon Daniel found himself in the same position as Blair, wrapped inside the bag and being held tightly by his older friend.
"Tell us what happened," Jim said to Jack, wanting to get a handle on the events. Jack explained how Blair had been knocked into the water and how he hadn't been in a position to get to him. Daniel turned to look.
"Jack, are you injured?"
"No, just gonna be sore for a bit," he reassured him.
"Good." His voice was firm, though tired. He added quickly, "That's good you're not hurt, not good you're sore, by the way."
"I got that," Jack answered, a twinkle in his eye.
Blair opened his eyes a bit groggily and seemed very surprised to find himself in Jim's arms. He started to struggle to sit up but Jim held him closer.
"Stay still, Chief," he said. "You've had a heck of a shock. How's your head?"
"Hurts," he admitted.
"Jack, can you get us some Tylenol, please? There's some in the first aid box."
"Sure," Jack said, though he was reluctant to let go of Daniel.
He retrieved the tablets and used the moment to make some hot drinks for them all. As soon as he'd handed them out, he returned to Daniel's side. "You warmer now?" he asked kindly.
"Yeah, thanks, Jack," Daniel answered with a smile.
Silence fell for a moment, until Jim asked, "What was that thing you zapped the monster with?"
"You know I can't tell you," Jack replied with a grin.
Before Jim could say anything else, there was a noise from the Unas. Jack and Daniel stood quickly, hands on their weapons immediately. The two cops stayed put though, feeling that whatever happened now, the others would be best set to deal with it.
Daniel looked at the Unas, staring hard. He muttered under his breath that he wished that Teal'c or Sam were there, what with their built-in Goa'uld detectors and all.
"Who are you?" Daniel demanded.
The Unas stared at Daniel, as if assessing him. A sickly look crept over its face, a sardonic smile which sent shivers down the spines of the two cops. Neither SGC man reacted.
"Khepri," it said.
Daniel sniggered and the others looked askance at him, Jack because he didn't know why Daniel was sniggering and the others because the creature had understood Daniel and answered.
"Khepri," Daniel replied with a smirk. "From the Ancient Egyptian 'kheper' or 'scarab'. In other words, dung beetle."
His voice was filled with contempt and loathing and the Unas was starting to buy a clue about his position.
"How did you get here?" Daniel continued, staring into the Unas' eyes.
"Why should I tell you?" The Unas tried to reassert its own strength of position, but Jack held a zat in front of it and it got the message.
"No reason," Daniel shrugged, his voice cold. "You can tell us and we take you with us, or you can keep it to yourself and we don't."
"You'd leave me here?" it asked incredulously.
"I didn't say that," Daniel answered with a smile, his head cocking in the direction of the zat gun.
The Unas tried to move, showing Daniel the gunshot wound it had and trying to gain some sympathy and failing. Now Daniel knew it was a Goa'uld, he had no worries about killing it. If it had been un-Goa'ulded, then his surprising affection for Chaka would have made his current position difficult for him.
"I have been on this backwater of a planet for three years," it said.
Daniel thought for a moment. "You were on Apophis' ship?" he asked.
The Unas made a sound that reminded the two cops of a hollow laugh.
"I was travelling on a glider towards Klorel's ship when they both exploded. I had no option but to land here."
"Where's the glider?" Jack asked.
"You do not expect me to tell you that, do you?"
"Wrong answer," Jack stated, his voice cold.
Jack looked at Daniel, a question in his eyes. Daniel just shrugged in answer. With a sigh, and as casually as Jim had ever seen anyone pull a trigger, Jack zatted the monster, once, twice and then for the third time, making the creature disappear.
"What the fuck?" Blair called out.
"What?" Daniel asked, his face innocent. "Nothing happened."
Blair opened his mouth to say something but Jim shook his head. "Nothing happened, Chief. Trust me on this one."
His voice was so quiet and gentle that Blair could only nod his head slowly. He figured that Jim had a better grasp of the mechanics of military secrets and the look on both his face and the faces of the others told him that they were trying to keep him safe. The less he knew, the safer he was.
"We should get you to hospital, get you checked out," Jim told Blair as the younger man shook off the events of earlier, getting changed into some dry clothes to properly get warm.
"I'm fine," Blair argued.
"You stopped breathing!"
"Given the time lapse between the attack and you guys arriving, I'd say that he was only in the water for a few seconds, thirty at most, before Daniel got him out," Jack said, offering a little comfort to Jim. "Just keep an eye on him. If he says he's okay, I'm sure he is."
"I am fine. Just cold, that's all."
Daniel had got some dry clothes on and was helping Jack to make some food. "We'll get some more hot drinks into you and some hot food. But you've got to promise, B, if you start to feel ill, you must tell us. More warning will give us a better chance of getting you out of here safely. If you suddenly collapse on us, we're going to have to carry you."
Blair nodded in agreement, saying that he promised he would.
"You are going to have to find the bones of the missing hikers," Daniel said as he handed out some soup.
"Yeah. The Unas is a carnivore - I get the feeling that it used them for food."
Blair went slightly green at that thought - as did Jack.
Daniel saw his reaction.
Jack shook his head. "Too close, Danny. Too fucking close."
Daniel initially seemed a bit surprised, but then shrugged in answer to Jack's words. There had been too many 'too close' times for both of them.
They camped out for the night again, letting Blair rest before they continued their search. Given that he hadn't actually drowned (in that he hadn't taken any water into his lungs), the others were prepared to take the chance. Jim, however, had reverted to his old 'mother' routine, not letting Blair either out of his sight or taking his hearing from Blair's heart and lungs, even though Jack's diagnosis of the breath literally being shocked out of him seemed to ring true. Blair wasn't sure whether to be pleased or annoyed by that.
When it came to bedtime, Jim asked if Blair would share a tent with him for once, just so that he could be sure he was okay. Blair knew that Jim could have monitored him from a mile away, but he said nothing. Daniel warily allowed it, though he wanted nothing more than to be with him too.
As Blair settled down for the night, he realised that he wanted to be held and wished that Daniel had been there with him. Daniel was the only person he had ever felt comfortable about asking to hold him, as if asking for it would make him seem weak.
Jim picked up on Blair's agitation.
"Chief? What do you want?"
"Nnnnothing, man, I'm okay," he lied.
"No, you're not. Come here, Chief, please," he whispered.
Blair turned himself around and looked at Jim, unsure as to what he would find. He saw only compassion for once.
"What did you think? That I wouldn't be relieved to see you're okay? That I wanted to see you face down in the water again?"
Jim's voice was breaking as he spoke, but he only gave into his tears when Blair had no answer for him. Before long, both men were holding onto each other tightly, sobbing in relief at the fact that they could indeed hold on.
Outside, Daniel sat hunched near the fire, his sleeping bag wrapped over his shoulders. Jack watched him as he prodded the embers with a stick, aimlessly sending sparks shooting up a few feet as he did.
"Danny? You okay?"
"I'm fine, Jack," Daniel answered without looking at him.
Jack stood next to him and pointed up into the starry night sky. "Hey, Daniel, look up there," he said.
"See what, Jack?"
Daniel snorted, then shifted to one side and looked up at Jack's face. He saw concern written over it, hiding the teasing that was in his voice.
"You gonna let go of the kid?"
"He's not a kid," Daniel replied, turning back to the fire.
Jack sat next to him, his side brushing Daniel's. "He's always been a kid brother to you, though, hasn't he?"
"Tell me about it, you know, when you two first met."
Daniel took a deep breath, prodded the fire a bit more, then said, "His mom, Naomi, used to leave him places." He kept his voice down to a whisper, thinking that maybe Jim would hear him, but he didn't want Blair to know what he was going to say. "She always made sure that he was safe - at least she thought so. Turned out that one or two of the places he stayed weren't as good as others."
Jack muttered a 'shit' under his breath. One thing he couldn't abide was any form of cruelty to kids.
"Anyway, with Miriam and Gil, he was safe. They were incredible people, Jack, so much love..." His voice trailed off at the memory, then he pulled himself together. "The only room they had for him to sleep was in my bedroom. Sometimes," he whispered, "at night, I'd hear him trying not to cry. In the first few days he was scared, unsure of what was going to happen to him. I tried to help him out, but at first, nothing seemed to work. Then I told him about my parents and some of the less than successful placements that I'd been in. He found someone that understood him, that didn't want to beat up on him because he was smaller and smarter than them. We got on really well, having similar interests and thought processes."
"And intelligence?" Jack prodded gently.
"Yeah, I guess," Daniel shrugged. "He's sharp, Jack, even when he was ten he knew stuff that most adults didn't know. Most adults had no idea how to handle him," he added bitterly, Jack guessing - rightly - that the bitterness came from experience. "Naomi knew how to handle him, but being on her own she got exhausted by it all. It's hard, hard work being a guardian of a child genius. You have to constantly feed the mind, to stop a level of insanity kicking in."
He added that last bit with a hollow laugh.
"You ever feel like you're going insane?" Jack asked, a question which could have been cruel, but was filled with fear.
"Sometimes," Daniel admitted, his voice barely audible. "It's hard. If you don't keep shovelling information in, if you don't constantly challenge that sort of mind, you... I become afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"What, your mind?"
"Yeah, that and my grip on reality. I'm scared that one day I'll wake up and it's all gone."
A cold shiver ran down Jack's spine and he shook violently.
"That's what you said on the balcony, just before you wanted to throw yourself off of it. You said it 'all goes away'. I didn't understand what you meant."
"You think I meant that?"
"Perhaps," Jack answered. "I could imagine that would be a terrifying prospect for someone like you. Like being pulled off active duty is for me. I mean, what could I do?"
"You could do lots of things, Jack. You have a smart mind, lots of qualifications... tons of experience in more things than just fighting. You could teach, run a company, fly commercial..."
"I'd be too old to fly commercial," Jack interrupted.
"Not if you had your own plane, Jack. You have options. But if I lose my mind..."
Silence fell for a moment, then Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel and held him close. "You won't lose it," he whispered harshly, "you just won't. But if you did, I'd be there for you."
Daniel couldn't breathe for a moment, couldn't take in what Jack was really saying. His entire body went rigid, but Jack refused to back down and just held him closer still. "I promise, Daniel. No more pulling away. I can't lose you again."
Daniel's posture softened, then he wrapped his own arms around Jack. "No, you won't, Jack. I'm not going anywhere, I promise."
The only sound then was the whoosh of breath that Jack let out as his body sagged in relief.
They were about a mile off the beaten track, following Jim's nose and not really looking where they were going. Further downstream, getting closer to the edge by the minute. The scent took them high, along the edge of a hill which was behind a cliff that dropped into the river. Blair didn't dare look to his side, memories of jumping from a similar cliff nearby too fresh in his mind.
"Here!" Jim took off at a run and Blair's heart stopped when he seemed to just disappear over the side. Jack saw the look of horror on Blair's face and followed Jim, trying to find out what he had discovered.
"It's a path to a cave in the cliff face," Jack called back on the radio.
Neither Blair nor Daniel wanted to follow, but they knew they had to. Taking deep breaths, they carefully stepped down the narrow path, Daniel leading as he had always done, Blair close on his heels. Jack was waiting at the bottom of the path, anxiously watching their steps.
"Bones." The word seemed to echo from inside the cave. As soon as the men arrived, all three entered, Jack getting a flashlight from his pack to illuminate the hollow stone. Daniel and Blair followed suit and soon they were able to see how the Unas had been living. A fire was near the front of the cave, a huge pile of bones was to one side.
"Are they human, Daniel?" Jack asked.
He got on his knees and started to look through them. "Uh, yeah. Hang on. B, come here a minute, would you?"
Jim watched in fascination as the two men fell back on their training. Much as Blair was not very good with the freshly dead, bones had no 'ick factor' built into them. After all, there was nothing mouldy or maggoty on bones that had been stripped clean.
They pulled out the pile and started to separate the types of bones they were finding. It seemed that the Unas ate pretty much anything it could get its teeth into. Human, bear, deer, rabbit, fish... Daniel was pretty certain that it had either only recently moved into that cave, or else it had had a clean-out at some point in the not too distant past. When he was certain that he had found all of the human bones, he informed Jim.
"Five," he said. "Can't tell you any more than that here, but it should be possible to tell if they're your missing people or not."
"HOW?" Jack was astounded that Daniel and Blair had even been able to tell that some of the bones were human in the first place.
"Oh, there's lots of ways," Daniel replied. "Uh, it's possible that there's DNA left in the few bones that have marrow in them," he said that because the larger arm and leg bones had been split open to retrieve just that. "Three of the skulls have intact jawbones, and the teeth, so dental records will be useful. Um, the shape of the skull and the size of the various openings in it can tell us the race; the pelvic bones tell us the sex and age and the length of the thigh tells us the approximate height. All in all, if you have a reasonably intact skeleton, it's possible to find out who it belonged to. When you look at the striations on the thigh and upper arm bones you can even tell how muscular an individual was."
"There's the forensic reconstruction of the face, too," Blair said, his voice distracted as he went through the animal bones yet again to make sure that they hadn't missed anything. At Jack's query, he said, "A forensic artist will either make up the face to approximate how it looked - um, by knowing, or having a good guess about the race, and by using a set of average tissue depths for that age/race combination, the artist can often get a reasonable likeness. It can be done with computers too, by scanning the skull in a 3D imager."
"Oh!" Jack said, surprised but pleased to know that the families of the dead would stand a chance of reclaiming the remains of their loved ones. "How did you know about that, Daniel? I mean, Blair's a cop, he should know that but..."
"What am I?" Daniel asked quietly.
"An archaeologist?" Jack replied, his voice a touch curious.
"And what do archaeologists do?"
"What for, Jack?"
"Bits of pottery, mummies..."
"Clues, Jack. Often in the shape of skeletal forms. Archaeology is the same as detective work, it's just our field is..."
"A coupl'a thousand years removed, right?" Jim prompted, looking directly at Blair.
Daniel turned to look at him and saw Jim smiling warmly back. "Yeah, that's right," he replied.
Jack let that ride for a minute, then he said, "How do you want to handle this? You can't let the bones be found here."
"Why not?" Blair asked, thinking that this was a crime scene.
"Some wild animal is going to have to be blamed for this, Blair," Daniel answered. "There's been a fire here. You know any local animals that can do that?"
Blair smacked himself up the head. Camping out, and making a fire, was so natural to him that he didn't even think about it.
"How about we take the bones with us? Give your captain a call, Ellison, and tell him that it's the result of an animal attack. You've got anything big enough out in this neck of the woods?"
"Cougars, I guess. They sometimes bury or hide their food after the kill. If we say the bones were a bit scattered but in a small area, it could be assumed it was a den. There have been some cougar attacks on humans recently - not many, but there have been some. Over time, people have been killed by them. We could suggest that there's a rogue one out there? When the news dies down, people will forget that it's happened."
"Maybe you could say you had to shoot one to get to the bones?" Daniel suggested. "If it happened close to the edge of the cliff..."
"No body needs be supplied," Jim answered.
"I don't like this, it's lying, man," Blair complained.
"Think of it as an embellishment of the truth," Jack answered.
"An obfuscation," Jim added.
Daniel grinned and said, "BS."
Blair laughed out loud.
"B, if the families were to find out the truth, would they feel any better? Would it make their loved ones come back?"
Blair shook his head. "No, I guess you're right."
"In the end, this is a case of interfering with the truth, but for the greater good. If what happened got out, there could be mass panic. This way, nature is blamed. We all know how cruel nature can be, don't we? Nobody would blame a cougar for doing what comes naturally to it. Use the case to highlight the fact that its habitat is being eroded, that if we keep doing that, more and more attacks would be likely because the cats would be left with no food and nowhere to go. Use this profitably, Blair. Push the families to campaign to protect the rainforest in memory of the ones they've lost."
Daniel's gentle persuasion worked as it always did on Blair and soon he got an agreement.
They left the cave and went out into the open, so that Jim could talk to Simon to decide what to do about the bones.
Jack, meanwhile, pulled Daniel to one side.
"What are we going to do about the glider?"
"They can't come with us, Jack," Daniel answered. "It's been bad enough that they've seen what they have done. I'm sure that the thing will be in this area. Maybe we can call the SGC and see if there's a way to get any, er, help?"
Jack nodded and stalked off down the path to speak to the General and give him an update on the situation. Daniel returned to Blair's side. Seeing a suitable rock, he grabbed Blair's hand and took him to it. They sat together while the others made arrangements.
"B, I know I've been keeping things from you, and that you have a million and one questions for me, but..."
"D, I know what it's like to have to keep secrets, you know," Blair interrupted, nodding towards Jim.
"I know. Believe me, I know. I wish I could tell you, Bug, but I can't. If I could, I would. It's not that I don't think you'd keep it to yourself. You have to believe that."
"I do, Indy, I do," Blair answered with a grin. Daniel wrapped his arm around Blair's shoulder and hugged him close.
"You and Jim seem to be getting on all right?" he prompted.
"Yeah, yeah, better than we have done for a long time," Blair replied, a huge smile on his face.
"I'm happy for you. Just remember that there's a place with me if ever you want it. You're not alone, you're not jobless and you're not homeless. Just a couple of states removed, that's all."
Still smiling broadly, Blair thanked him with a hug. "What about you two? Jack seems to be a lot calmer than the day we met."
"He is. This is the way we used to be, even if things are a bit prickly compared to then, I'm sure that we'll get over it and get back to normal."
"I wish I knew, B. I wish I knew."
"My biggest worry is that the forensic scientist is going to look at the marks on the bones and come up with the fact that it wasn't a cougar that did this," Blair said as they started to pack the human remains into a bag. Jim had told Simon that the position of the bones was going to make it difficult for a crime scene survey, not to mention that they were way away from the tracks in the forest. A bit of persuading had gone into making Simon believe that an animal had been involved in the disappearances, but the captain had gone off and discussed the situation with the DA and then come back with the word that that would be the official line. Simon had sounded a little shaken, and Jim didn't know why. Jack had already finished on the phone to the General by then, and he wondered if the DA had had pressure put on her from on high. Whatever, it covered their asses.
"I see your point, Blair," Daniel agreed, "but the Unas has sharp, pointy teeth. Hopefully it will be enough of a similarity to convince anyone that that was what happened. Let's be honest, what else could it logically be? The teeth marks are nothing like human ones, so they won't think it's cannibalisation or anything. And if it's not been caused by a human, how could it be a crime?"
The others agreed with Daniel's logic and decided that sticking to the story and keeping their fingers crossed would be the way to go.
When all of the bones had been collected, it was time to leave. Blair and Jim grabbed their things and were just about to walk off when they realised that the others weren't coming with them.
"Uh, Daniel? Jack? You're not coming?"
"No, we've got something else to do first," Daniel replied. "However, if we can make it back in the next day or three, er, is there anything to do in Cascade?"
He aimed that at Jim as much as Blair and got a reply from the big man. "Plenty. Enough to keep even the smartest people occupied. We've got a great natural history museum," he teased, looking directly at Jack and getting a groan from the older man.
"Sounds great," Daniel replied. "B? You want I should come?"
"I'd love it, D." Blair smiled warmly, then stepped up to Daniel for a hug. They held each other tightly, whispering into each other's ears as they did. They pulled back, then Daniel stared into Blair's eyes, dropped a soft kiss on his closed mouth and then let go of him.
"Take care," he said to Jim, putting his hand out. Jim knew that Daniel meant for him to take care of Blair as much as of himself.
"Shall do. You too."
Jack grinned at Blair and put his hand out to him, pulling the smaller man into a protective hug when he took it. "Look after the big lug," he said, nodding his head in Jim's direction.
Blair was about to speak when Jim butted in. "He always does."
The two military men shook hands and then the cops left without another word. Jack and Daniel watched as they made their way back towards the cut trails, Jim's hand cautiously moving towards Blair, then eventually settling on Blair's shoulder before they disappeared into the trees.
"It's going to get dark in a couple of hours," Jack said when they stopped watching. "So, do you want to camp here or shall we find somewhere else?"
"How about we move in that direction?" Daniel suggested, pointing a little further south. Jim had told him that he heard a stream in that position, so they'd have some fresh water if they wanted it.
What Daniel didn't tell Jack was that the area around the cave was giving him the creeps.
They picked up their packs and picked their way through the undergrowth, carefully scanning the area for any signs of a glider as they went.
"You think we're ever going to find this?" Daniel asked.
"The General gave us the option," Jack replied. "We could either look for a couple of days, and make this a camping holiday to make up for losing the leave, or we could head on back to work until we get time off again."
"I want to stay out here," Daniel agreed. "It's not as if we missed much of the vacation, is it?"
"Nah, just a day or so. It's not Minnesota but..."
Daniel interrupted Jack's good-natured moaning and pointed towards a rock. On top of it, in the dusky light, stood a cougar. Knowing a little about the cats, Daniel was able to see that by its size, it was a male. He knew that they were lone animals, so there wasn't the worry of attack by others from a pride. He was watching them, assessing the threat to himself and his territory.
"Keep quiet and keep still," Daniel whispered. "If we show no signs of aggression, it shouldn't attack."
"Jim wasn't kidding about them attacking?" Jack asked quietly.
"No. It's rare, but it does happen. More so since they've been losing their habitats, but out here, it shouldn't really happen. Just stay still."
Jack's hand slowly slipped under his jacket and reached for his gun. He had no intention of shooting the beast, but he also had no intention of being attacked by it. After a while, the cat got bored and turned its back on them, obviously deciding that they were not worth the effort. It melted back into the trees and soon disappeared.
"You think we should carry on?" Jack asked.
"There's a space over there. Don't see why we shouldn't camp there, Jack. Light a fire and it will stay away. They're crepuscular anyway, so it won't attack at night. Don't leave any food where it can sense it though, it will only attract it. Or bears, of course."
"Yeah, big beasties, covered in fur, roar a lot... have a taste for honey. You know, bears," Daniel teased.
Jack smacked his arm.
They had their tent up in no time, as used to camping out as they were. Working as a team, their campsite looked like they'd been there for hours, professionally set up, a fire burning and all of the equipment safely stashed. Jack figured that there was a need to keep at least one gun handy, even if the threat from the Unas had gone. After all, there were bears...
Once they'd eaten and got ready for bed, Daniel crawled inside the tent and into his sleeping bag. Jack stayed out for a while longer, thinking a few things through before coming to a decision and then following his teammate and erstwhile best friend to bed.
Daniel was shivering with the drop in temperature, so without saying a word, Jack undid his bag and nudged Daniel out of it. Then he joined it up to his own and got inside, holding it open for Daniel to join him.
"You sure?" Daniel asked, thinking back to their bad start up at the cabin.
"Yeah. Sorry I was such an ass back at the cabin, Danny. Things were different then."
"What, now you know I'm gay it's okay? Jack, you are just plain weird sometimes."
Jack snorted a bit, then he wrapped his arms around Daniel and pulled him close. "I know, Daniel, and like I said, I'm sorry. I also told you I'd be a hypocrite if I had a problem with that."
"Yeah, I heard that. So, you going to tell me? Or is this one of those things that I just have to guess about the enigmatic Jack O'Neill?"
Jack sighed, but he'd already decided to share this with Daniel. "You know how it is, Daniel. You're out in the field, no women around... a guy's gotta let loose once in a while. It's not that I'm gay - I guess these days you'd call me bi. I like guys okay, I just prefer women. But if there's no women, then hey, I'm flexible."
He said that with a vocal shrug, making Daniel laugh. When he stopped laughing, Daniel turned around, still in Jack's arms.
"And what if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere with me?" he asked quietly.
"More to the point, Daniel, what if I'm anywhere with you?"
At Daniel's querying look, he continued. "I guess that only half of my problem has been because I keep losing you. I mean, you're the best friend I've ever had, bar none. Just watching you die, or get close to dying, well it's hard, ya know?"
Daniel said nothing, but he nodded. Having seen Jack in a similar state on more than one occasion put him in the same situation.
"What really scared me was your appendix going. Silly, isn't it? I mean, we've been out in the galaxy, millions of miles from home, not always able to get to the gate, yet those times have seemed a little unreal. Yet there we were, at home, in the General's garden having a barbecue and you keeled over. You were grey, Danny. For a moment it was like Thor had been transported there. The worst thing was there was nothing I could do. I was fucking helpless."
Daniel heard the desperation in Jack's voice and he held him close.
"I know, Jack. I get it, honestly. When the bitch was putting that snake in you and I just had to stand there and watch it... that was like the worst thing I'd ever seen. I know how it feels to be helpless."
"I know you do," Jack agreed. He pulled himself together, but held Daniel even closer. "What scared me was how much I loved you. I knew then that it wasn't just as a friend. That was really scary. Up till then, all my 'encounters' with guys had been a quick fuck here and there, nothing serious, no real emotions. I gave nothing of myself, ya know? But with you, I'd have given anything and everything to help you, to take away your pain... to save you. It's why I've been such a fucking jerk. Can you forgive me?"
"Are you going to stop?"
"I'm going to try. It's hard, Daniel, it's really hard. I don't expect you to feel the same way about me, but you deserve to know the truth. It was never you. It wasn't your fault." He took a deep breath and carried on. "When I saw you with Blair, I had flashbacks to you and Shau're. You treat him in a similar way - protective, strong, but you respect him, just as you respected her. I think I'm a bit jealous," he laughed. "I know you couldn't go for me..."
Daniel put his hand over Jack's mouth. "Says who?"
"Well, says me, I guess. I mean, I don't exactly look like either of them, do I?"
"Since when have looks got to do with anything, Jack? Don't you think that I love you? Why do you think that your withdrawal from me hurt so much?"
Jack had nothing to say to that, he just bowed his head.
Daniel put his hand on Jack's chin and raised it. "Look at me, Jack," he whispered. "Tell me, are you willing to take the chance? Do you want me?"
"More than anything," Jack croaked. "Promise, Daniel. More than anything."
"Then shut up and kiss me," came the smiled reply.
"Seein' as you put it like that," Jack started, but his next words were cut off when Daniel's lips caught his.
They explored each other's mouths, tentatively probing with their tongues and gently suckling on each other's lips. Daniel let out a happy 'hmm' when Jack's upper hand wrapped around his waist and pulled until Jack was on his back and Daniel was lying on top of him. They broke the kiss and looked at each other, sharing goofy grins and feeling inordinately pleased with themselves.
"You want more?" Daniel asked, his voice quiet but seductive.
"Anything and everything, Danny, but we don't have to do it all now."
"No, that's true. Hang on." He rolled off Jack and reached to the zip on the side of the bag and quickly undid it. He followed that up by kicking off his pants and hauling his T-shirt over his head. "Uh, you can, um, even up the score," he informed Jack.
"Kinda enjoying the view," Jack replied, but his hands went to his belt anyway.
Daniel smiled broadly and turned to watch Jack, swallowing hard when he saw him slowly undoing the belt and then unzipping the flies on his jeans. Daniel had to temporarily shut his eyes as Jack wriggled out of them, leaving himself in his boxers and T.
"Do you have any idea how often I have wanted to watch you do this?" came the croaked reply.
"I'd see you in the locker room," he continued, his voice now husky and filled with want, "but you were always out of reach. Standing there, naked, uncaring of the fact that I was having to hide how hard I was. Strolling into the shower, a towel over your shoulder, not knowing that I'd give anything to be able to follow you in there, wanting to push you up against the wall and..." His voice trailed off and he said nothing more as Jack removed his shirt.
"Danny? Tell me."
Daniel's eyes took on a smoky look, filled with desire. Not saying anything for the moment, he pulled down his shorts and knelt astride Jack's thighs. Putting his hands on the elastic of Jack's boxers, he pulled them down to Jack's knees, trapping him for the moment.
"I would go into my own shower, listening into you chatting away to Teal'c and me, trying to keep my voice calm when all the while I was jerking off. In my mind, I was on my knees, sucking you off, Jack, fingers up your ass, opening you, getting you ready for me. I'd find the spot and you'd come down my throat, then I'd get up, turn you to face the wall and I'd nail you so fucking hard you wouldn't be able to sit for a week."
Jack shut his eyes and groaned hard.
"You like that thought, Jack? You want that?"
"Yes," Jack hissed.
He kept his eyes shut but knew what Daniel was up to as he felt him shuffling backwards. Daniel kept watching Jack's face for clues and soon realised that Jack really wanted what he wanted. He spotted his prize and noticed just how hard Jack was. The big man was big all over, he thought to himself. Bending over, he took just the head into his mouth, sucking gently and running the tip of his tongue over it. Jack's low, hungry groan told him all he needed to know. Jack was really enjoying this.
He pulled back, then started to explore the whole area, using his tongue and lips, occasionally rasping his teeth against Jack's skin. He built him up and backed him off, time after time after time, until Jack hoarsely complained that he couldn't hold out. Daniel moved back up and then swallowed Jack whole. A few hard sucks were enough to send Jack spiralling out of control. Jack's brain sent out a 'mayday' and then melted.
When Jack opened his eyes, he saw Daniel kneeling over his thighs again, a smug grin plastered on his face.
"You okay?" Daniel asked.
"Fine. Better than fine. Great. Amazing. Fucked."
"Not yet," Daniel sniggered. "You want?"
"You got anything?"
Daniel smacked his head. "No condoms," he said. "Sorry. I didn't exactly think I was going to get laid out here, Jack."
Jack stared Daniel in the eye. "You're clean, right? I mean, you..."
"Blair and I didn't go bareback," Daniel admitted. "He came prepared."
"Do it, then," came the answer. "You and me, we're it, right?"
Daniel shut his eyes slowly for a moment, then opened them, fixing his gaze on Jack's eyes. "We're it, Jack. No more messing about. This is us."
Jack's face broke into a huge grin. "Well then, what are you waiting for? Find something to use as lube and nail me. It's either that or this fantasy thing you've got going is going to go to waste."
"Oh, it'll never do that, Jack," Daniel answered, diving into the first aid kit to find something suitable. He waved a jar of Vaseline in front of Jack and got a nod in return. "You see, when we get home, we can act it out... at your place... at my place..." His voice kept pausing as he pulled Jack's boxers all the way off and then persuaded him to roll over. "Who knows?" he continued, placing kisses on Jack's nape and making a trail down his spine, stopping at the small of Jack's back and licking him gently as he did. "Maybe..." he said, kissing one of Jack's ass cheeks. "Maybe we'll get a chance at the SGC."
Daniel unwittingly nailed one of Jack's kinks straight on the head when he said that. When Jack was younger, much younger, he'd had sex with one of the guys in the barrack room shower, only to discover that another couple of guys had watched. The resulting 'confrontation' had led to a free-for-all between the four of them and since then, just the thought of having public sex turned Jack on like nothing else. He figured that a lot of it had to do with the fact that he couldn't do that.
Jack tensed as he felt one of Daniel's greased fingers pushing into him, but soon relaxed when he heard the soothing voice of his lover.
"It's just me, babe," Daniel crooned. "Open up for me, please. Just relax and let me in. I'll make it good for you, I promise."
Two fingers were in, scissoring and stretching in deference to the fact that it had been a long time for Jack. To try to take his mind off the pain, Jack wanted to talk.
"Did you do this to Blair? Did you fuck him?"
"Not at first," Daniel answered, greasing himself up as he did. "First time that night, he did me."
"You like being fucked?"
"I love it," came the matter-of-fact reply. "You?"
"Oh yeah," Jack answered with a drawl.
"I did him later on," Daniel informed him, leaning down and putting his lips near Jack's ear. It wasn't that he wanted to talk in detail about his sex life, he just knew that Jack needed to think of something other than the fact that Daniel's dick was pushing slowly inside him. "He's got a nice, tight ass," he added. "Says mine is too, by the way. You can find out for yourself later, if you want."
"Please," Jack gasped as Daniel slid all the way in.
Daniel rested for a moment, letting them both draw a much-needed breath. When he got the nod from Jack, he started to move slowly at first, then building up both speed and pressure. Jack drew himself up onto his knees, thrusting backwards in encouragement. They stopped talking, and soon the only sound was that of skin on skin and the grunts of the men. When the reality of his situation suddenly struck Daniel, that he was finally with Jack, it was too much and he came hard, collapsing on Jack's back and fighting for breath.
"Gerroff," Jack complained as he flopped to the floor, nearly 200lbs of archaeologist on top of him.
"Sorry," Daniel gasped as he carefully pulled back and rolled off him. "Uh, you need anything?" he asked.
"Nah. I'm getting too old to go again straight away," Jack said, bemoaning his lost youth.
"Maybe, but you last a lot longer than a younger man. That's got to count for something, Jack. It takes me an age to recover too."
He reached into his bag and pulled out a travel pack of tissues and cleaned them both up, before zipping up the sleeping bag and finding himself pulled to rest on Jack's chest.
"We going to be okay when we go home?"
Jack paused for a moment, knowing just what Daniel was asking. Not just their personal relationship, but their working one, now that the rules had been broken.
"Yeah, Danny, we'll be fine. Just... we'll just have to be careful, okay?"
"Yeah. Got that. Love you."
Jack squeezed him for a moment before dropping a kiss on Daniel's head. "Love you too, Daniel. Always did. Always will."
A muffled "sap" was thrown back at him, but before he could reply, Jack heard that Daniel had followed it up with a deep sigh and a quiet snore. Chuckling quietly to himself, he shut his own eyes and drifted off to sleep.
"You think that the others will be okay?" Jim asked Blair as they set up camp for the night. They were about halfway back to the cabin and whereas Jim could easily navigate through the dark forest, and he knew that Blair would follow him anywhere without question, he didn't want to push the younger man any further than necessary. He'd finally accepted that Blair hadn't drowned in the river, had in fact only had his breath shocked out of him, but he was still afraid. He remembered how sick Blair had got after their return from Mexico, the pneumonia that had hit his tortured lungs because he hadn't taken care of them had lasted for ages. Cursing his own lack of compassion at the time, Jim was desperate to make up for that by preventing anything from going wrong in the first place.
"They'll be fine," Blair answered, quietly oblivious to the war raging inside Jim's psyche. "Daniel said they were returning to their old ways, so hopefully any tension will now be gone."
"I think that there's going to be more between them than just friendship," Jim ventured.
Blair ducked his head, not wanting to fight anymore, but knowing just what Jim was getting at.
"Do you have a problem with the fact that I'm bi?" he asked, but then continued before Jim could answer. "I'll move out, if that's what you want," he offered. "You can get another partner if it makes you uncomfortable."
"Have I done or said anything that would make you think that I feel that way?" Jim asked, not a little hurt.
"Well, no, it's just..."
"Well nothing," Jim interrupted. "It's no big deal."
Silence fell again as they crawled into their own tents. Jim had set his up right next to Blair's, not really wanting to be separated from his guide, but having to.
"Blair?" he called out, knowing that he was still awake.
"Why didn't you tell me that you had a job offer with Daniel? He told me that you could have left me at anytime you chose, but you didn't. Why?"
"I wanted to stay with you, man," Blair answered simply.
Jim didn't really know what else to say. Instead, he called out, "Okay, then. Well, goodnight, Chief."
"Ye-ah," Blair yawned. "Night big guy."
Jim smiled at the affectionate term and soon dropped off to sleep himself.
The next morning they cleared up the site and then headed directly back to the cabins. Blair had more of a spring in his step and chattered happily all the way back, making Jim laugh a lot at his antics. He told stories of expeditions that he and Daniel had gone on together, told how they'd played practical jokes on the team jerks, wound each other up, interacted with natives and so on. Jim listened the whole time, enthralled by his stories, but a little saddened when he realised that this was the first time he'd seen Blair like this in ages, really since before the whole blow up with the opening chapter of the dissertation. He ran the events of the previous two years through his mind and knew that for the most part, it had been his fault. Blair had never once knowingly or willingly done a thing to hurt Jim. Sure, he had made mistakes, but hell, he was only human. Surely he was allowed some? It gripped Jim's stomach like a cramp when it dawned on him that he hadn't allowed Blair those mistakes. Hadn't forgiven him for them, or for being human. Blair was his guide. His teacher. The one that was supposed to lead him and give him a safe place to be the sentinel. Blair was the one that led him through the trials and tribulations of enhanced senses. He was supposed to be perfect. Wasn't he?
Jim cast a glance at the younger man and knew for certain that he wasn't perfect, he was allowed to make mistakes - and that he had been paying time and time again for Jim's lack of tolerance for his inexperience in playing the guide. The poor man had been winging it all the time, working flat out to protect Jim the only way he knew how, and Jim had cut him very little slack when he occasionally got it wrong. How much slack had Blair cut Jim when he'd fucked up?
The answer was obvious. All that Jim needed and enough to hang himself. No wonder Blair hadn't been sure of how tolerant Jim would be about his sexuality. He'd never really been very kind to Blair about his het side, let alone facing his gay side. Muttering a 'shit' under his breath, he marched up to Blair and grabbed him by the arm, swinging him so that they faced each other.
"Why what, man?" Blair answered in shock.
"Why do you keep forgiving me when I fuck things up? Why do you keep staying with me when I push you away? WHY?"
Blair stared into Jim's eyes and saw pain, immediately feeling the need to take it away. He raised his free hand and stroked Jim's face.
"I love you," he whispered, leaving it at that as if it explained everything.
Jim wasn't sure about what to say, so he let his instinct take over. He dropped his kit, grabbed Blair's and made him drop that, then he pushed him against a tree. A quick hearing scan of the area told him that they were alone, so he bent down and let his body do the talking.
Blair moaned, deep in his throat and resonating throughout his entire body as Jim kissed him hard. The big guy wasn't letting up, was in fact staking a claim to Blair's tongue, lips, throat... 'ah fuck it,' Blair thought, 'he's marking his territory.' A few more kisses and desperate touches, including the palming of Blair's denim covered but very hard cock, made him think - 'so what? I can do some territorial marking myself when he lets me.'
Blair felt his shirts being lifted and Jim ducked further down, searching out his nipples and suckling on them when he found them, opening Blair's jeans at the same time. Blair felt no desire to object to anything and just let his sentinel do what came naturally. Before he knew what was going on, he realised that Jim had pulled his jeans and briefs down and was currently deep-throating him like an expert. Jim would have some 'splainin' to do later on, he thought.
He writhed against the tree like a bear scratching itself as Jim's hands moved over his body and up and down his thighs, all the while, his mouth doing things that made Blair forget his name, let alone anything else. He knew he wasn't going to hold on, gasped out a warning to that effect, but Jim didn't let up. Instead, Jim took everything that flooded out of his guide... his lover.
When it was over, Jim pulled back and flopped onto his backside, looking up at Blair and seeing that he looked thoroughly debauched. Grinning, he asked, "You okay?"
"Incredible," Blair gasped. "You do that a lot?"
"Nope. First time," Jim answered.
"Wow. You're a natural," Blair replied with a laugh. "Come up here, big guy."
Jim stood up and moved till he was right next to Blair, finding his mouth captured in moments. "Love you," Blair whispered. "So fucking much."
"I know. Love you," Jim whispered back. "I'm sorry about..."
"Shh. It's over. Isn't it?" The question was so filled with doubt that Jim's heart broke.
"Promise, baby, I promise. It's over."
He felt Blair's entire body relax at those words.
"Can I do something for you?" Blair offered.
"When we get home," Jim answered carefully. This had been for Blair only - he had to do it like that for his own peace of mind.
"Yeah. Let's get going, check out and go and lie through our teeth to Simon. When it's over, we'll take some time off. You and I can, well, get to know each other a little better if you like?"
"If I like? Oh yeah, Jim, I like," Blair answered, his voice suddenly filthy in tone and making Jim laugh.
As Blair put his clothes back to some semblance of normality, Jim willed his own dick to relax and picked up his gear, picking Blair's up too, and holding it out until he was ready to put it on.
With a shared grin, they made their way home.
Jack and Daniel didn't find the glider, instead they went back to Colorado after calling the others to say they'd meet up with them some other time. Hammond called the Carters in San Diego and asked that Jacob fly his teltac to Earth at some point in the near future so that he could scan from orbit for it. After a detailed report which singularly failed to mention any fact that Jim and Blair had seen either the Unas or the zat guns, they requested that they could finish their leave. Pleased that the men were getting on again, Hammond granted it and after a shopping trip to stock up on certain, er, items, they headed off to do some 'fishing' in Minnesota.
In Cascade, a confused and harassed Simon Banks granted leave to his own version of Mulder and Scully, hoping that the apparent hatchet burying that had happened on the case wouldn't result in said hatchet being buried in one or the other's head while on holiday. The smiles aimed between them, though, spoke to Simon of more being settled than just a few arguments. Deciding that a policy of 'don't ask, don't tell' wasn't always a bad one, he said nothing. It wasn't as if he could partner either man with anyone else successfully anyway.
In the rainforest, a strange roar pierced the air. Near the crashed two-man glider, a large, lizard-like creature searched for food.
Obviously not... Allegory