As Blair stared at the glistening surface of the wormhole, his insides twisted.
Although, under any other circumstances, the thought of traveling to another world would
have him in awe, right now, it had him on the verge of a genuine panic attack. No one
bothered to explain much about the process of traveling through a Stargate, but he got
enough glimpses of information from Serapis' mind to know that he'd be taken apart and
then put back together again.
He didn't like the sound of that. Not at all. He was suddenly very happy to have drugs in his system. Although his head was clearing, even now, the sedatives took the edge off the panic he was sure would otherwise cause his feet to sprout roots into the floor.
Still, if these guys went through the wormhole on a regular basis, he supposed it had to be safe enough. He hoped. Not like he had much choice in the matter, he mused, as Teal'c's grip tightened and Blair found himself being firmly guided up the ramp.
No, he didn't have a say in anything. He couldn't speak even if he wanted to. He had to trust Jim, which he did, but he also had to trust the military guys in charge, and that wasn't something he could do. Not yet, especially since they all looked at him in the same way the cops at major crimes looked at a drug lord.
He shuffled up the incline, the chain linking the shackles clanking against the metal ramp. His wrists ached, and Fraiser's patch job had been quickly nullified as Serapis started once again tugging and twisting against the cuffs. His skin was no doubt completely raw by now.
When he got within inches of the wormhole's surface, he felt Serapis' terror burst inside him. Suddenly, his legs propelled him backward. Teal'c's grip remained firm, however, and Blair found himself yanked forward and tossed face-first into the glistening horizon.
The next thing he knew, he was on his knees, shivering, blinking against specks of frost on his eyelashes, gasping for breath.
The hand on his arm pulled him to his feet. He looked up to see the Jaffa, a staff weapon in his free hand, staring up at some kind of tower. Blair looked around at the planet. It had a blue sky and a brown-green landscape much like Earth, which was something of a disappointment.
A low humming filled the air. Blair heard O'Neill bark an order for everyone to huddle around Teal'c and hold on. Seconds later bodies surrounded Blair. Jim's hand came down on his shoulder, and Blair looked up in his friend's eyes just as a light enveloped them and the world blinked to darkness.
"All right! Worked like a charm," O'Neill said, his voice coming from somewhere to Blair's right.
Immediately, the crowd parted. Jim and Teal'c stayed close to Blair, and Blair found himself wishing the Jaffa would relinquish his hold to Jim.
"Now what?" the sentinel asked.
An image of a blond man dressed in Viking gear sprang from the darkness, casting a white-yellow light on the walls of the cavern. His deep voice echoed through the cavern.
"Ignore that. It's a projection." O'Neill flashed Jim a grin. "Now, we make our way to the Hammer. It's the only way out. Anyone without a Goa'uld in them can pass freely. Anyone with a Goa'uld gets trapped in a force field until the snake dies."
"And the host survives this process unharmed right?" Jim asked.
"As I said, that's the plan, but Doc Fraiser's here just in case."
"What about Teal'c?"
"Not a problem. Our good buddy Thor fixed the Hammer to let him pass."
Blair felt Serapis' desperation, and it threatened to overwhelm him. The creature knew it was going to die, and death was pretty imminent. It might even be painful.
"Well, why can't you just contact your good buddy Thor and ask him nicely to get this thing out of my partner's head?"
O'Neill sighed. "It's not that easy, trust us."
Jackson spoke up. "The Asg---"
"Eh-eh!" Jack waved a finger at the archeologist. "Need to know, Daniel, and he doesn't."
Jackson crossed his arms. "You can't be serious. Don't you think he's already seen way, way too much? Do you honestly think--?"
Jim cocked his head. "I need to know."
Jack turned away from him, resting his palm on the handle of the gun at his side. "No, you don't." He clapped his hands. "Okay, kiddos, let's go." He flung his hand in front of him. "This way."
Teal'c tugged Blair forward, causing him to stumble a few steps, the motion of his feet restricted by his shackles. The Jaffa glanced at him, steadying him with his grip, then slowed his pace to allow Blair to gain his balance.
"Thank you," Blair said, but the words were initiated by Serapis, a deception, Blair realized, in the hopes of making the others believe him to be complacent.
The Jaffa didn't respond. Blair felt his wrists pulling against the cuffs. Serapis wasn't letting up, but so far, the small chain linking the bracelets was holding.
A warm hand touched the skin on his arms, just above his wrists, and he jerked in surprise, then looked back to see Jim standing very close.
The Sentinel leaned in, his eyes darting to Blair's wrists. "Stop it."
Blair felt his lips curve into a smile. Then, suddenly, he felt his body yanking away from Teal'c. He went into a roll, bringing Jim down, and shot to his feet. Serapis tried to force Blair's legs' to run, but the shackles tripped him, and he crashed forward, slamming face-first into the dirt.
The others were strangely silent. Blair felt the Jaffa's strong grip on his arm again, and he was yanked once again to his feet. Jim was at his side, grabbing Blair's other arm. O'Neill, Jackson, Carter, and Fraiser remained ahead, pausing to allow them to catch up, but otherwise, no one spoke.
Inside, Blair felt Serapis' fear turn to fury, and his legs went limp, putting the full burden of his weight on Teal'c and Jim. They didn't miss a step as they dragged him deeper into the cavern.
Words, spoken in a deep, alien timbre echoed in Jim's ears. He stopped suddenly and released his hold on Blair, who promptly sank to his knees.
Teal'c yanked upward, bringing Blair to his feet, and turned to face Jim. "Why have you stopped?"
Jim tilted his head, listening to the distant voice. "I hear something." He couldn't get a fix on its location, and the words seemed to resonant as though bouncing off the walls of the cavern. "It sounds like another Goa'uld."
A second voice, deep, but not touched with the Goa'uld intonation, joined the first, as though in answer. Jim stiffened. "It sounds like a Goa'uld and at least one Jaffa." He strained his ears, trying to locate heartbeats. He heard the thrumming cardiac rhythms of those around him, with Blair's racing, but he couldn't locate the heartbeats of the distant aliens.
"I don't hear a thing." Jack sauntered up to Jim. "How sensitive is your hearing? How far away could the snakehead be?"
Jim winced and threw the colonel an irritated look. "It's hard to say. The sound's bouncing around in here."
"Any indication they know we're here?"
"I don't speak Goa'uld."
"Fine. Okay, so we just keep moving," Jack ordered. "You keep your ears tuned to our friends, and if it sounds like they're getting close, give a heads up. The Goa'uld shouldn't have any weapons, and we've got our primitive but remarkably effective guns, so I think we're holding the advantage here."
"I thought you said the weapons wouldn't work here?" Jim asked.
"I said probably," Jack countered. "Long story, and need to know, which again, you don't."
Daniel turned to Jim. "Can you repeat what you hear? That'll give us an idea if they're aware of our presence."
"Good thinking, Daniel," Jack commended, then looked to Jim. "How 'bout it?"
Jim focused on the distant, alien words, trying to make sense of them. The Goa'uld was talking in a fast, clipped tone, making it difficult for Jim to figure out where one word ended and another began.
He repeated the sounds as best he could. "Mid'ch Hi'ato."
Daniel titled his head. "Uh, pay attention keep walking, I believe.
Tealc, still firmly holding Blair, nodded. "You are correct, Daniel Jackson."
"Good," Jack said, forging ahead. "Keep it up, but lets get a move on."
Jim glanced at Blair and tightened his grip on the young man. For once, he agreed with ONeill. They needed to get Blair to the Hammer as quickly as they could.
By repeating phrases or words that he caught, Jim was able to keep the group clear of the mystery Goauld. The last thing they needed was a confrontation. Theyre objective was to get Blair through the Hammer alive and book it home. The Goauld, and its unfortunate host, would have to fend for themselves.
He tried not to think too much about the host of the other Goa'uld. Eventually, he hoped, the alien snake would tire of the cave and risk the Hammer. Maybe then, its victim would be freed.
Jacks voice interrupted Jims focus.
"What?" Jim blinked. They had stopped in front of a stone doorway. "This is it?"
"Yep." Jack walked through the doorway. "Theres a field here. Anyone with a Goauld goes through, except for Tealc since Thor fixed this baby, and the snake gets fried."
"NO!" The single, defiant word ripped from Blairs throat as he bucked backward, away from the Hammer.
Tealc and Jim tightened their grips, keeping Blair firmly between them.
"If you do this," Serapis growled, "the host will die. I will make sure of it!"
Jim stiffened, his eyes snapping to Colonel ONeill. "Can the thing really do that?"
The colonel rubbed at the back of his neck, then shook his head. "I cant tell you, not for sure."
Carter stepped forward. "A dying symbiote is capable of taking measures to try to preserve the hosts life, but the truth is, whenever a Goauld dies inside a host, theres a substantial danger to the host."
"You knew that going in," ONeill interjected.
"Knowing theres a risk and knowing that this thing can willfully kill my partner are two different things." Jim took a breath and eyed the Hammer. A coldness settled in his gut. His resolve had been so strong up until this point, but now he was face-to-face with the ugly reality. He could be forcing Blair to his death. His own hands would be doing the deed.
"Look, weve got no choice." Jack rested his hand on his P90. "This is it. All I can tell you is that this has been done before, and the host survived. The Asgard designed this Hammer, and they intended that the host survive. And if there are complications, well," he gestured to the petite doctor who was silently standing in the background, her face grim, "weve got Fraiser here, and shes damn good at her job."
"Thank you, Colonel." Fraiser apparently took that as her cue, because she dropped her pack and moved closer to Jim. "There is definitely a risk, Detective, but "
"Please," Blairs voice interrupted.
Jim stopped breathing as he turned to face his partner. Sandburgs blue eyes were wide and sparkling with fear.
"Please, Jim," Blair begged. "Dont force me into that thing. The Goaulds telling the truth, and I I dont wanna die, man, especially not here, tied up, on some alien planet."
Jim forced himself to breathe even though it felt like a fist was crushing his heart. Logically, he knew Serapis was most likely forcing words out of Blairs mouth. It wasnt really Blair talking. It was the creature.
But, what if .?
"I have to be sure." Jim straightened and turned to Jack. "This is Sandburgs life. He has a right to have a say."
"You want to zat him?" Jackson asked.
Fraiser shook her head. "Thats not a good idea. The Hammers going to pose a severe strain as it is. Subjecting him to the device while hes recovering from a zat blast could prove fatal."
"How long would it take him to recover enough to get past the danger?" Jim asked.
Fraiser frowned. "I have no idea. The zat is alien technology, and theres been no formal testing on the effect it has on the human body, or how long the effects last. If we assume its comparable to an electric shock, full recovery could take several hours. Days, in some cases, and some non-lethal electric shocks can cause permanent damage, particularly to neurons and muscle tissue."
Blairs eyes widened even further. "No. No way. Not that thing you shot me with before." He shook his head, tears spilling on to his cheeks. "Please, Jim, dont let them do this to me. This isnt my fault, I ."
Jim closed his eyes. "The woman that you met, the one who went through this she came through fine. Full recovery. No permanent damage?"
"Yes." Daniel answered.
"Jim, no!" Blair begged. "Serapis will kill me. Hell ."
"Lets do it." Taking a deep breath, Jim moved forward with Tealc.
"NO!" Blairs body bucked, his legs digging in to the ground, but Jim and Tealc lifted him up and, with a unified surge forward, thrust him into the Hammer.
Blair expected pain, so he was totally unprepared for the gentle, warmth that enveloped him. His skin tingled with something that vaguely felt like electricity. Inside him, Serapis stirred, then the warmth grew warmer, rising in intensity until it threatened to become a painful inferno.
He was taken by surprise at the bone-deep, heart-crushing agony that suddenly ripped through him, driving away all conscious thought, and he barely heard the scream that tore from his throat.
Jim staggered back when the screams began, every muscle in his body going tight as he fought the urge to lunge forward and yank his partner out of the Hammer.
God, he hoped he was doing the right thing.
Blairs screaming continued, bouncing inside the cavern, and Jim could swear he felt their vibrations in his chest. Then, mercifully, they faded, and a moment later, the subtle glow and soft hum emanating from the Hammer died.
Jim flew forward as Blair crumpled. Even as he caught his partner, Jim was already focusing his sensitive hearing, searching for signs of life. Gently, he lowered Blair to the ground, sliding one hand beneath Blairs head to prevent his skull from making harsh contact with the rocky surface. His ears picked up a heartbeat faint and erratic -- but no air traveled in and out of Blairs lungs, and his chest wasnt rising and falling.
"Hes not breathing!" Jim looked up at Fraiser even as he tilted Blairs head back, preparing to administer mouth-to-mouth.
The doctor was already in motion, dropping on her knees next to Sandburg as she slid out of her pack and opened it, reaching in to pull out an ambu bag. She fastened it over Sandburgs mouth and nose, then looked up at Jim.
"Hold this," she ordered, tapping the balloon-like pump. "Squeeze that about every 5 seconds hard enough to see his chest rise slightly. Keep it up."
Jim nodded and grabbed the mask just as she let go. He did as instructed, squeezing the pump to force air into Blairs lungs. Fraisers hands dove back into her pack, and she pulled out a stethoscope.
"His heartbeats fading," Jim offered.
She nodded an acknowledgement, but fastened the stethoscope over her ears, then held the stainless steel disk over Blairs heart. She flicked grim eyes up at Jim, then draped the stethoscope around her neck and pulled out a black, hard case. She snapped the lid open, revealing three vials protected by foam molds. Carefully, she set the container on the ground, then reached in to the front of her pack and pulled out a long, thin wrapper. Tearing the end, she removed the syringe and selected one of the vials.
"Wait." Jim heard a distinct change in Blairs heartbeat. Tilting his head, he focused his hearing. The sound of the oxygen pump was like a roar in his ears, and he stopped, just for a second, and .
"Hes breathing on his own, and his heartbeats stronger," Jim told her as he slid the oxygen mask away from Blairs slack face.
Fraiser set the opened syringe on the ground and grabbed her stethoscope again and listened. After a moment, she sighed and leaned back, hanging the stethoscope around her neck. "Youre one hell of a handy med lab." She gave him a brief smile, then looked up at Colonel ONeill. "Mr. Sandburgs pulse is increasing, and his respiration seems steady but shallow." She returned her attention to Jim. "Can you keep your ears tuned to him and tell me if anything changes?"
"Of course," Jim agreed.
Fraiser returned to her pack and pulled out a blood pressure monitor. She eyed Jim apprehensively. "If you tell me your senses can monitor his blood pressure, Ill "
She gave another shallow smile and wrapped the cuff around Blairs upper arm, over his sleeve. Grabbing her stethoscope, she slid the disk beneath the cuff and pumped the rubber balloon at the end of the device until the cuff seemed in danger of cutting off Blairs blood supply.
Jim kept his ears tuned to Blairs breathing and heartbeat as the doctor took her readings. Blairs heart was now beating too fast, and his breathing didnt sound right.
"Hes hypotensive, in shock," Fraiser announced, removing the blood pressure cuff and tossing it next to the pack. She grabbed a fresh syringe from her pack and popped another vial out of the black case.
Jims eyes focused on the vials label. Epinephrine.
When she withdrew a small amount of the liquid, Fraiser used one hand to return the vial to its case. Then she squeezed the plunger of the syringe just enough to cause a small amount of liquid to shoot out of the tip.
"Pull his sleeve up, please," she ordered.
Jim complied, rolling up Blairs sleeve to expose the soft skin in the crook of his elbow. Fraiser sank the tip of the needle into Blairs vein and pressed the plunger.
Jim tilted his head as he listened, trying to determine if the chemical had an immediate effect. "His breathings steadying out, but his hearts still going fast."
Fraiser took a breath and leaned back, tilting her head to look up at ONeill.
"We need to get him warm and on an IV drip ASAP. He needs to get back to the SGC as
soon as possible, but Im not sure how stable his is, and the long journey isnt
going to do him any good, even on a stretcher."
"Kendra," Daniel offered, moving to stand behind Fraiser. "We can get to her in half the time it would take us to get back to the gate, and," he glanced at the dim light filtering in to the cavern from the exit, "we can definitely make it before dark."
Jack clapped his hands once. "That'll have to do. We're not hiking to the gate in the dark, anyway."
Jim wasn't sure he liked the plan. "Doc, do you have what you need to get Sandburg through the night?"
Fraiser nodded. "I packed for the occasion, Detective. It's not as ideal as the SGC infirmary, but it'll do."
They'd been walking for almost an hour, and Jim had been carrying his end of the stretcher since they'd left the Hammer. Teal'c carried the other end, and from the looks of the Jaffa, he could go on all day.
Jim's arms, on the other hand, were beginning to lose all feeling, and his back felt like it was ready to voice its protest in a particularly unpleasant way.
The colonel's voice took Jim by surprise.
"Hey, my turn."
"What?" Jim looked to his right.
O'Neill waved a hand toward the stretcher. "We're halfway there, maybe a bit more. I can take it the rest of the way."
Jim managed a tired smile. "Thanks."
He slowed up, in sync with Teal'c, just enough to allow a smooth transition. Once O'Neill had hold of the handles, Jim moved alongside the stretcher. Restraints held Blair firmly in place. Studying Blair's slack, pale face, Jim took a deep breath and tried to quell the cold churning of fear in his gut.
Fraiser fell in to step alongside Jim. "How do things sound?"
"Better. His heartbeat's more normal, but his breathing's still a little too shallow."
Fraiser moved behind Jim and placed a palm on Blair's forehead. "His body temperature's still low." She shifted the thin, military blanket covering Blair and pulled it up to his chin. "Once we get to our destination, I'll be able to hook him up to a drip. He should improve quickly once I get some nutrients and fluids into him."
Jim looked over his shoulder at her. "Thank you, Doctor."
It felt like hundreds of needles were being driven into his brain. He was aware of rocking and the sound of voices, though he couldn't distinguish words. Cold blanketed him, driving deep into his core. Something -- a sound -- escaped him, and as if in response, a warm pressure touched his forehead.
"Hold up." Jim slowed as Teal'c and O'Neill came to a stop. He was almost sure he heard a faint whimper, but as he studied Blair's face, he saw no signs that the kid was waking up. "Chief?" He placed a palm on Blair's head. "You with us, buddy?"
"What?" Fraiser placed the ends of the stethoscope in her ears and listened to Blair's heart. After a moment, she looked up. "Rhythm's steady, but a bit elevated."
Jim shook his head. "I thought he was waking up."
"Kendra's place is just up ahead," Daniel announced. "We can get him settled and hooked up to an IV, right Doctor?" He glanced at Fraiser for confirmation.
The petite doctor nodded. "The sooner the better."
Jim looked up, his eyes searching the twilight horizon. He spotted a small tent and the makings of a camp ahead in the distance. "I see it."
A short while later, they arrived at the edge of the camp. The sun had dipped far enough below the horizon to bathe the land in soft darkness. A compact, house-like structure with a straw-covered roof sat at the rear of the camp.
The front door to the 'house' opened, and a dark-skinned woman with long, curly black hair stepped out, a red shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyes scanned them, and she hurried forward.
Daniel moved ahead of the stretcher, stopping just in front of her. "Hello, Kendra."
She bowed her head, then looked behind him to eye the stretcher. "You have an injured man?"
Daniel nodded. "He had a demon within him, and we sent him through the Hammer to free him. We were hoping we could rest the night here."
She waved them toward her home. "Of course. My home is always open to you. Come."
A prick of pain in the back of his hand invaded the murky void that blanketed him. He was burning, the air hot and sticky. His chest was tight, and no matter how deeply he breathed, he couldn't seem to draw enough air into his lungs. The clang of voices surrounded him, beating against his skull like a tambourine. The words faded in and out as he struggled against oblivion.
"That should...drip going. We...see some improvement soon."
Something touched his forehead. One of the voices became louder, as if closer.
"He's burning up."
"It happened to you?"
"Yes. It...burning my insides, but like the pain, it passed."
"When a Goa'uld...protein behind. His immune system...as a foreign...to mount a defense."
"What is it?"
"A hundred and....climbs any...head for the gate. Here, Detective...."
Blair felt something tug at his upper body, and a sudden breeze tickled the hair on his chest. He shivered. A cold, damp weight slid over his chest, slithering up to his neck. It lifted and descended on his forehead moments later, leaving a trail of cool relief in its wake.
Jim, perched on an old stool next to the bed, dipped the rag in the wooden bucket, then wrung the excess water from the cloth. "Hey, Chief, you better wake up soon or you're gonna miss all this," he whispered as he wiped the cool rag over Blair's forehead, disrupting the beads of sweat. "How many more chances are you going to have to visit another planet?"
Jim rubbed at the back of his neck with his free hand, then leaned back and stretched his arms above his head. Kendra had put them all up in her small home. The house was one large room, with a bed against one wall and a table near the front door. Blair slept on the thin, straw-filled mattress. His temperature had risen from a low 93 degrees to an alarming one hundred and three.
Since the sun had set a while ago, Kendra and most of SG-1 had made themselves comfortable on the floor and turned in for the night. Fraiser was also curled on the floor, at the foot of Sandburg's bed. Jim had promised to wake her up in a few hours if Blair's condition remained the same, but as long as the fever didn't climb, Jim figured he could do without her. The woman needed sleep. They all did.
That thought brought on a yawn, and his vision clouded. He dropped the rag in the bucket and shifted on the stool, then scrubbed a hand over his face. God, he was tired.
He felt her pulse against his fingers and the warmth of her body against his. Her breaths were coming in shallow, quick gasps. He'd lived in the same building with her for over three years. She'd been a quiet but otherwise cheerful woman, always greeting him with a smile, until her husband died. After his funeral, the few gray strands on her hair had tripled, and her face had withered. She'd transformed into someone who kept to herself, rarely smiled, and whenever he looked into her eyes, the sadness he saw in them would cause his throat to tighten.
He held her in his arms now. Couldn't stop himself.
Words spilled from his throat. "Put the weapon down, or I'll kill her."
The barrel of Jim's gun was pointed straight at his head.
"You kill her, I kill you."
Do it, Blair begged silently. Make it quick, but please just do it before I--
His arms jerked, bone crunched, and Sarah Warren's body spasmed once before going limp in his arms. He flung her corpse toward Jim.
He had the sudden sensation of falling, then something hard slammed into him. A hot pain lanced the back of his hand.
"God, Blair. Are you--?"
He blinked against the darkness, and he could barely make out a large, dark shape towering over him. He scampered away until his back hit something solid.
"Mr. Sandburg?" A woman's voice. It came from somewhere to his right.
Where...? What...? He looked around, trying to see through the oppressive blackness. A chill swept over him, and he shivered.
Sarah. Oh, God. He'd killed Mrs. Warren.
Jim crouched in front of Blair, his sensitive eyes easily penetrating the darkness to note the small stream of blood on the back of Blair's palm the IV had been. Blair was plastered against the wall, shaking and pale-faced. His eyes, wet with tears, darted around the room. His pupils were fully dilated, but it was obvious he couldn't see much of anything.
"Easy, Chief." Jim kept his voice low, and Blair's eyes immediately snapped to him. "Everything's okay."
Soft light filled the room, flickering against the walls. Someone had obviously lit a lantern.
"Mr. Sandburg," Doctor Fraiser began, moving closer, but Jim held a hand up and, keeping his eyes on Blair, waved her back.
"Jim?" Blair took a deep, shaky breath, on the verge of hyperventilating. "I... Oh, God. I killed her. I...." His hand shot to the back of his neck. "It... Is it gone?" He shook his head. "I can't--"
"It's gone." Jim moved forward and gently grabbed Blair's wrist, guiding it down. "It's dead."
Blair's eyes grew wider. "Dead?" He flinched, pressing harder against the wall, then yanked his arm out of Jim's grip and raised both hands to claw at the back of his neck. "Inside me? That thing is still inside me? Decaying or something or...."
"Take it easy, Chief." Jim kept his voice supremely calm as he grabbed both of Blair's wrists again, feeling the heat from the raw skin, a result of Serapis' struggles against the restraints. "It's gonna be okay."
"It's not okay!" Blair tried to pull away, but Jim's grip remained firm. "I...I killed her," he gulped, squeezing his eyes shut as though trying to block out images he didn't want to see. "God, I killed her. There's no way back from that."
"You didn't kill her, Blair. You're as much a victim as she was."
Blair's eyes sprang open, filled with a mixture of anger and raw fear. "Tell it to the jury! I did it. It was me. My hands! You and Simon saw it. She's dead, and there's nothing we can do to change that, and no one's going to believe the truth."
Jim swallowed, releasing his partner's wrists as Blair lowered his head and pressed his palms against his eyes. That was a situation he had deliberately refused to think about. First things first. He'd focused on getting Blair free of the creature. Everything else had to wait.
"I don't know what's going to happen, Chief, but we'll figure something out."
Blair just shook his head and laced his fingers behind his skull, his face low.
"Look," Jackson spoke up, "I'm sure there's something we can do. Right, Jack? Some strings we can pull? Some--"
Blair's head shot up. "You knew." He looked straight at Jackson. "You knew these things existed. For how long?"
Jim turned to look at Jackson, waiting for the man's answer.
The archeologist glanced at his feet, "Uh...."
"Need to know, Daniel."
"Right." Daniel took a breath. "I'm sorry." He met Blair's gaze. "It's classified."
Blair sprang off the floor, taking Jim by surprise, and hurtled himself toward Daniel, but his coordination was obviously off, and he went into a chaotic stagger. Teal'c moved from behind Daniel and intercepted Blair, catching him before he took a header into the floor.
Daniel staggered back, nearly bumping into Jack.
"Get your hands off me!" Blair tried to yank away from the Jaffa, his eyes locked on Jackson. "You knew and you didn't warn anyone! She's dead because of you."
Jim grabbed Blair's arm and pulled him away from Teal'c. "Take it easy, Chief." He tugged gently on Blair, but it was enough to knock the young man off balance. Jim caught him and practically carried him back to the bed. He plopped Sandburg on the mattress and gripped his shoulders, holding him in place. "What's done is done."
Blair deflated and would've fallen forward had Jim not been holding him. He rubbed shaking hands over his face. "How long have you known?" He didn't bother looking up. "And how many more of those things are out there? How many more unsuspecting people are going to become victims before the government decides to come clean."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Sandburg." O'Neill stepped forward, but Blair wasn't looking at him. "There's a lot more to this situation than--"
Jim shot the colonel a look, keeping his hands still firmly on Blair's shoulders. O'Neill got the message and clamped his mouth shut. He took a breath and clapped Daniel on the shoulder, then tilted his head toward the front door. "Come on, kids. Let get some air, leave them alone for a few minutes."
Daniel nodded. He and the rest of SG-1 filed out of the small house. Kendra also followed, leaving only Janet, Blair, and Jim.
The doctor moved slowly to Blair's side. "Mr. Sandburg," she crouched in front of him. "I'm Doctor Fraiser."
Blair finally looked up, his hands dropping to his lap. He blinked at her. "I remember." He swallowed, and Jim felt Blair begin to tremble again. "I'm sorry."
She smiled at him and raised a hand toward her neck. "It wasn't your fault." She shifted closer to him. "I'd like to check you out, if you don't mind. Nothing invasive, I promise."
Blair nodded slowly. Jim lowered one arm but kept the other on Blair's shoulder to make sure the young man stayed upright. He could still feel the tremors beneath his palm, and the coolness told him Blair's fever had broken, but it felt like the kid's temperature was yo-yoing back down.
"You're cold," Jim announced. Carefully, he released Blair. When the young man stayed put, Jim reached for the blanket on the bed and draped it over Blair's shoulders. "How are you feeling?"
Blair shrugged and dropped his head again.
"Okay," Fraiser stood and retrieved her medical kit, then moved back to the bed. "I'm going to start by taking your temperature." She pulled out an electronic thermometer. "I'm just going to set this in your ear, all right?"
Blair didn't bother responding. Fraiser shot Jim a questioning look, and he nodded. Slowly, she put the thermometer in Blair's ear and waited. When the device beeped, she pulled it out and looked at the reading. "Ninety-three, a little low. I'm going to listen to your heart next."
"Right now it's about sixty-five," Jim told her.
Blair stiffened, surprised by Jim's announcement. Then, a vague memory teased at him -- Jim in the cavern, using his abilities openly. But Blair couldn't remember Jim telling the military group about his senses, which didn't surprise him. His memory was riddled with holes. Some images were painfully clear, others murky.
Fraiser raised her eyebrows. "Right. Okay. I'll go with that." She retrieved her pen light from the kit and raised it to Blair's eyes. "Can you look up for a minute, Mr. Sandburg?"
Quietly, Blair complied, but when she turned on the light, he flinched and turned away.
"Sorry." She quickly lowered it. "We can pass on that. You have a headache?"
Blair nodded, dropping his head again.
"Any ringing in your ears? Blurry vision?"
"No." Blair pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders and lowered himself carefully to the mattress. He rolled away from them, facing the other wall, and muttered softly, "Actually, I do mind. I'm tired. Can you just leave me alone, please?"
Fraiser placed the penlight back in the kit. "Sure. How 'bout you let me give you something for the headache and put something over your IV wound?"
"I'm fine," Blair answered.
Fraiser sighed and looked up at Jim. "Okay, I guess I'll get some fresh air myself."
Jim gave her a small, grateful smile. "Thanks."
She nodded and rose to her feet, walking softly to the door and stepping out into the night.
Jim moved the stool closer to the bed and sat down. "Do you want anything, Blair? Food? Something to drink?"
"No, thanks," Blair whispered.
"We've got a bit of a hike tomorrow, Chief. You should get something in your stomach."
Blair expelled a breath. "Tomorrow. Please just leave me alone."
Jim swallowed. He placed a hand on Blair's arm, on top of the coarse material of the blanket. "We'll figure things out, Chief. Don't worry about anything right now except getting your strength back. Okay?"
"Sure." Blair's voice trembled as though he were fighting tears.
Jim gave Blair's arm a soft pat. "Get some rest."
Taking a breath, Jim pulled back. He found a spare rolled up sleeping bag and dragged it next to Blair's bed, rolling it out on the floor. As he slipped into it and closed his eyes, he knew he wouldn't be able to fall asleep. He couldn't stop thinking about how he was going to fix things for Blair once they got back to Earth.
The cold woke him. Blair tried to pull the blanket tighter around himself, but his efforts did nothing to combat the chill. Shivering, he curled into a ball and snuggled toward the center of the small mattress.
He realized then that the bed felt all wrong, and with that realization came another. He wasn't at home. His memory of recent events flooded back, taking his breath away, and it was then that he became aware of the low voices around him.
"It's about a two-hour hike."
"I'm not sure he's up to that," Jim said.
"Well, we can carry him on the stretcher if need be."
Blair rolled over and opened his eyes. He was in the same small room that he'd found himself in before. Had that been last night? A table sat a few feet away, and Jim, along with three men and three women, most of whom Blair recognized, sat around the table. Baskets of fruit and bread lay spread before the group.
Although Jim's back was to Blair, the sentinel must have heard something, because he turned and looked at Blair. A smile softened his face. "Hey, Chief." He rose and walked to the bed, then sat on the edge of the mattress. "How're you feeling?"
Blair's eyes skittered over the group at the table. There were seven people, including Jim and a dark-skinned woman Blair didn't know, but he recognized the doctor and the four people who had shown up at the loft moments after....
He swallowed and looked away.
"You hungry?" Jim asked.
At the suggestion, Blair's stomach growled. He ignored the sudden pangs, however, and rolled away from Jim. "No."
Footsteps sounded on the wood floor, and a woman's voice spoke. "Can I take your temperature, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair looked over his shoulder at the small doctor. "Not now."
Jim placed his hand on Blair's forehead, and Blair batted it away as he shifted back to face the far wall.
"Still a slight fever," Jim announced, "but it's much lower."
"How's his cardiac rhythm?"
"Steady and strong."
Blair closed his eyes. Sometimes, he wished Jim wasn't a sentinel.
"C'mon, Chief, you need food. We've got a long hike ahead of us."
"Back to the military base?" Blair asked, not bothering to turn around.
"And then what?"
Jim gave a long sigh. "Then the doc gives you a thorough going-over and we head back to Cascade...I hope."
There was silence for several moments. Finally, O'Neill spoke. "We'll probably have you sign a bunch of stuff...I guess."
Blair sat up and faced the colonel. "Stuff that says we won't tell anybody about this? About the fact that the military is covering up a massive conspiracy and..."
"We'll sign whatever nondisclosure forms you want," Jim interrupted.
Blair threw a glare at the detective. "And what if I don't?" His eyes darted back to O'Neill. "What then? Do I just conveniently disappear? Have an accident? Or maybe wind up as a lab rat somewhere?"
"Sandburg..." Jim's tone held a dark warning. "Not now."
Daniel Jackson stood but made no move forward. "What we're dealing with at the SGC affects earth on a global scale. If it got out...."
Blair swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself to his feet. The room spun suddenly, but a hand on his arm held him steady. He blinked, aware of Jim standing next to him, and looked at Jackson. "You're an archeologist, aren't you?"
Jackson nodded. "Uh, yeah."
"You know, the others are military. I can understand the whole 'follow orders' thing. Not that I agree with it, but I can understand it. But you," Blair shook his head, and the room did another somersault, but he remained on his feet, "there's a code of ethics for archeologists, or have you forgotten? Accountability. Public Reporting and Publication. Record and Preserve. Any of these ring a bell, man?"
Jackson stepped forward. "You know what the Goa'uld are. You know what they do, and you know they've destroyed entire civilizations."
"Daniel," O'Neill began, but Jackson held up a hand to stop him.
"I'm not telling him anything he doesn't already know, Jack."
"Riigght." Jack sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Why didn't I retire when I had the chance?"
"Look," Jackson continued, "if the world were to know about the Stargate and the Goa'uld, the resulting public outcry and political upheaval could very easily put a halt to the Stargate program. Without the Stargate, we have no means of finding resources to defend ourselves against the Goa'uld."
Blair's legs couldn't hold him anymore, and he sank back to the mattress to sit on the edge. Jackson seemed to believe what he was saying, but the argument had one fatal flaw. "And you decide what's best for over five billion people on this planet? You and some small secret government society get to gamble with the fate of our entire planet?"
"Look, Chief," Jim began, but Blair cut him off.
"And they know about your..." Blair waved a hand in the air. "You told them?"
Jim shrugged. "Yeah, they know. I don't think we have much to worry about."
O'Neill swiveled to face them. "Yeah, we know about Ellison's sensory abilities, and you know about the SGC. I think we can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement here."
Blair's chin snapped up. "You're blackmailing us?"
"Sandburg," Jim sat next to Blair, "let's just drop it for now. You're getting all worked up here when you should be resting."
Blair threw a glare at Jim. He opened his mouth to give a retort, then thought better about it. Nothing he could say would do any good. He wasn't even sure why he was arguing. He knew how things worked. The military had its secrets, and now that he and Jim had been privy to one of those secrets, the United States government wasn't just going to let them go their merry way.
He knew he should just shut up. By mouthing off, he was risking more than his own well-being. He was risking Jim's.
God, what a mess. He closed his eyes and dropped back to the mattress, rolling away from everyone. Everything was all wrong, and he'd been nothing but a helpless tag-along in his own body for...for...
How long had it been?
"Sandburg?" Jim's voice prodded gently.
"We're going to set off for the Stargate soon. You need to eat something."
"Fine." He was hungry, and since nothing really mattered anymore, anyway, not with him being a murderer and the military breathing down their necks, he couldn't see the point in arguing.
They had only been walking for about twenty minutes, at what Blair suspected was a frustratingly sluggish pace for everyone except him. When they'd first embarked on their trek, Blair felt so weak and shaky he was sure he wouldn't last three steps, but he'd insisted he could make the hike without a stretcher, and he intended to hold true to his word.
He quickened his pace, inhaling the warm, alien air. Jim was at his side, hovering a bit too close, and if it wasn't for the lingering pain in his head, the itchy aching of his wrists, the imposing Jaffa, and the very large guns held by the military group surrounding him, he could almost imagine he and Jim were out for a leisurely hike on a comfortable spring day back home.
Looking around at the noticeable sparsity of vegetation, Blair amended his musings. Maybe not home as in Cascade. More like Central California. Or maybe somewhere in the midwest.
"What's the name of this planet, anyway?" Blair asked, then blinked at the sound of his own question.
He was actually on another planet. He remembered the journey - vaguely. The thing Serapis had known as the Chappa'ai a.k.a. the Stargate had come to life with a splash of something resembling water. He'd been forced through it, and a shock of cold had enveloped him. Then, he was here, on this planet.
Jackson, hovering to the right, glanced over at Blair. "Cimmeria."
Colonel O'Neill, who was marching steadily to their left, sighed heavily. "Now, Daniel, I ask you, was that 'need to know?'"
"Sorry," the archeologist muttered, "but somehow, I think his having traveled through the gate, gone through the Hammer, and stepped foot on an alien planet is more of a security breach than him knowing the name of the planet he's traipsing around on."
"Humor me. Okay?"
Blair looked over at Jim, who offered a faintly reassuring smile, and shrugged. "Sorry I asked."
Jim patted him gently on the shoulder. "You seem to be feeling better."
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I am. I guess I just needed to get moving and take in some fresh air." The lie fell effortlessly from his lips. He felt like he would collapse any moment. The pain in his head persisted, and his itching wrists threatened to drive him mad.
He tried to quicken his pace even further, to prove his words, but his feet refused to move any faster. Maybe it was the fatigue hindering them, or maybe he just didn't really want to get to Earth any faster than necessary. It wasn't like anything good waited for him there. Even if the SGC let him go, his life back in Cascade was over. He could be walking toward his own execution.
His feet stopped moving, and he jerked to a halt.
"Blair?" Jim grabbed his arm. "You okay?"
Blair swallowed and looked at his friend. Then, his eyes drifted across the plain landscape. It wasn't a bad place. Certainly not the prettiest, but the woman -- Kendra? -- had seemed nice enough.
His stomach sank as realization slammed into him. There was an option staring him in the face. Why hadn't it occurred to him before? He'd traveled a lot in his life. He could adapt. He might even end up being happy.
He swallowed again. Harder. He didn't want to. God, he really didn't want to, and maybe that was why he hadn't thought of it before, but if he went back to Cascade, he'd likely end up behind bars, and he'd still be away from Jim. Someone else would have to help Jim with his senses, and the only person that came to mind was Simon, but as captain, that wouldn't be very practical for the man.
And if he didn't go back, that pesky national security problem would disappear nicely, at least where he was concerned.
"Blair?" Jim prodded, moving to stand in front of him. "What's wrong?"
Blair lowered his gaze, studying the sandy soil beneath his feet. "What if..." He took a breath and looked up at his friend. "What if I just stayed here?"
"What?" Two voices answered simultaneously. One was Jim's, and Blair thought the other belonged to O'Neill.
"It makes sense," Blair shrugged, struggling to keep his voice even. "I stay here, I'm no longer a national security risk, and Jim, you won't be put in a bad position trying to cover up for me, which we both know isn't going to work. I killed her." His voice cracked, and he forced air into his lungs. "You saw it. Simon saw it, and a whole bunch of people saw you chasing me down the street. There's forensic evidence to tie me to her. I was bleeding all over the place." He closed his eyes. "There's no way out for me, Jim. If you try to protect me, you'll just go down with me."
The silence was oppressive, and he opened his eyes to see everyone staring at him. Jim looked a few shades whiter, his wide blue eyes a stark contrast against his pale skin.
"Maybe there's another way." Jackson stepped forward. "Jack, could they join the SGC? Officially disappear?"
Blair shook his head, throwing a hard look at the archeologist. That wasn't on his list of options. No way. "Thanks, but no thanks."
"It's not practical, Daniel, and it's definitely not approved," O'Neill answered.
"C'mon, Jack. Ellison would be an asset with his abilities, and we could always use a good anthropologist." Daniel took a step closer to Blair. "Think about it, Mr. Sandburg. The chance to explore--"
"No." Blair rubbed a hand over his face. "I'm not going to be part of some secret military organization. I'm not going to carry a gun. Yeah, it'd be a dream exploring new planets and new cultures, but not like this. I can't just waltz around, knowing all this stuff, and not warning anyone. What if what happens to me happens to someone else? More people could die, probably will die, and you're letting it happen, all in the name of national security." He forced himself to breathe. "I don't want to become like you. No way. No thanks." He lowered his gaze, "And I definitely don't ever want to meet another Goa'uld again." He wrapped his arms around himself. "One was enough."
Jackson's eyes filled with some dark, indefinable emotion, and he crossed his arms over his torso and backed away.
Jack clapped him on the shoulder and threw a glare at Sandburg. "Well, that settles that, and might I say we're really gonna miss your sparkling personality at the SGC?"
"Chief," Jim turned away from O'Neill, his voice heavy. He looked tired, and a sadness filled his eyes. "You'd be giving up your life. Everything. You'll never see Naomi again."
Blair's vision clouded, and he nodded. "I know." His voice trembled. "But if I go back, my life as it was will be gone, and the only time I'd get to see you or Naomi would be during visiting hours, from behind a barrier." He bowed his head. "That's not a life. If I stayed here, at least I'd be able to make a new life for myself."
Jim turned to O'Neill. "What about temporarily? Could we leave him here, and if I can clear things back home, come and get him. If I can't, I... Well, would I be able to come back here to stay?"
Blair's head shot up. "Stay? No, Jim. You do have a life back home. I don't."
Jack sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know, Ellison. You can't just waltz up and knock on the SGC's door, and even if we let you back on to the base, the odds of the higher ups approving you for gate travel would be very, very slim. There's a good chance that if you leave him here, you'll never see him again."
Blair rubbed at the back of his neck. Wasn't anyone listening to him? "Jim, forget it. Just go home. Leave. I'll--" His throat closed, and he blinked back tears. "I'll be fine here. I'll miss you." His hands clenched into fists at his sides. "I'll really miss you, but I'll be fine, and," he managed a strained smile, "you'll get your spare room back. No more jungle music. No more--"
Jim moved forward and pulled Blair into a rough embrace. "Shut up, Sandburg."
Blair closed his eyes, spilling a few hot tears onto his cheeks.
"There are other ways." Jim's voice was husky. "Come back to Earth, but don't go back to Cascade. I'll set you up some place safe, and if we can work things out with the murder investigation, somehow, you can come back. You don't have to give everything up."
Blair shook his head against Jim's chest, feeling the strong heartbeat beneath his ear. "I'd be a fugitive. You'd be aiding and abetting. We could both end up in jail. No." He opened his eyes, knowing he would be seeing Jim for the last time. "I won't let you do that."
"To hell with it." Jim pulled back and grabbed Blair's shoulder, pushing him far enough away to see his face. "I'm not going to let you go down for something that was my fault. It was my stupidity that let Serapis escape, so if you insist on staying here, then I'm staying with you. No way am I leaving you alone to fend for yourself on some alien planet."
"Jack," Daniel turned to face the colonel, and Blair glanced at the archeologist, "the SGC played a part in this, too. We've got to do something, take some responsibility."
Jack sighed and looked at the young man. "What do you suggest, Daniel?"
"I don't know, but we can't just leave them here. What if they come back and Mr. Sandburg remains at the SGC? We let Ellison leave and, between us, we figure out a way to clear Mr. Sandburg's name?"
Blair wasn't sure he liked that option any better. "You mean I get to stay under guard inside a top-secret military installation for who-knows-how-long? And what if you never figure out a way to clear me?"
Jack scratched at the back of his head, frustration darkening his eyes. "Dammit, what a mess." He looked heavenward and took a deep breath. "Look, I'm not even authorized to leave you two, here. My orders...."
Blair turned to face the colonel. "I don't care about your orders."
"Well, I do," O'Neill shot back. "Us military folks are real fond of them."
"Two of us could go back and talk to Hammond," Daniel offered.
"And if you return with us, Mr. Sandburg, I can give you better medical attention," Doctor Fraiser interjected. She'd been so quiet, Blair had forgotten she was even present.
Blair's shoulders slumped. He didn't know what to do. He certainly didn't relish the thought of spending the rest of his life on this alien planet, and if that was to be his fate, he couldn't let it become Jim's, too. Jim had admitted he was motivated by guilt. He blamed himself, and his overworked sense of duty wouldn't let him just leave.
But guilt wasn't a good reason to give up one's life, and Blair couldn't live with himself if he capitalized off Jim's guilt, no matter how much he wanted Jim with him. He didn't see any way around it, though. How could he convince Jim to leave him behind? And what if he and Jim did go back, and no one ever figured out a way to clear up the mess back in Cascade? Then what would happen to him? They wouldn't let him stay at the base forever, and even if they did, that wouldn't be much of better of a life than staying in prison.
No, it wouldn't be much of a life at all. Blair blinked quickly, and swallowed hard as guilt tore through his insides. How could he be worrying about himself when Sarah Warren didn't even have that luxury, anymore?
"Okay, fine." O'Neill's hard voice cut through Blair's mental voice. "We'll all finish the hike to the gate. Ellison, you and Sandburg will stay behind with Teal'c and Carter. You, too, Doc. Daniel, you'll be with me." He smiled a not-so-sweet smile and slapped a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Since you're so gung-ho on this idea, you get to explain it to Hammond." He looked to Carter. "While Daniel and I are gone, you're to keep everyone near the gate at all times."
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
O'Neill gave a curt nod and turned to Jackson. "Daniel, dial us out."
As the rippling surface of the wormhole disintegrated, Jim shook his head. He'd seen a lot of weird things in his time, but he still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that he could take one step and end up on an entirely different planet.
"Okay," Carter began, dropping her pack to the sandy ground, "I guess we'd better pick a spot and settle in for a wait."
Jim frowned as Blair practically dropped to the ground, raising a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow.
"Hey, Chief." Jim crouched next to his partner. "How you holding up?"
Fraiser appeared next to him. "How's your head? Any pain? Dizziness?"
"A bit of a headache," Blair admitted, waving a hand in the air, "but I'm okay. Just tired. How long do you think they'll be gone?"
Carter looked up from the stake she was busy driving into the ground. "It's hard to say. They'll first need to go through a standard medical examination. After that, I guess it'll depend on how much convincing General Hammond needs."
Blair nodded. He interpreted that answer to mean they'd either be waiting for an hour or many, many hours.
Jim patted Blair's knee as he tuned his ears to the young man's heartbeat. It was elevated, but that wasn't surprising considering the hike. "You stay here and rest. I'm gonna help Carter and Teal'c pitch the shelter."
Blair leaned forward as if to get to his feet. "Hey, I can help..."
"Oh, no." Fraiser put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "You stay put."
Jim left Blair in Fraiser's capable hands as he trotted over to Carter and Teal'c. Two of the stakes were already set up, so Jim grabbed the third one and drove it into the ground as best he could with just his hands. He'd leave the brute force to Teal'c. As the Jaffa began to tap the loose stakes into the ground and Carter readied the canopy, Jim grabbed the fourth stake laying on the soil nearby.
Jim's head snapped up at doctor's shout. His eyes went wide when he saw Blair laying flat on the ground, seizing. Dropping the stake, Jim rushed over to Blair and immediately held Blair's legs while the doctor tried to hold Blair's arms.
Carter and Teal'c appeared, and between the four of them, they restrained Blair while his body went through the seizure. Seconds passed, and the convulsions showed no signs of fading.
"What's happening?" Jim shouted, panic making his grip on Blair's leg tight.
Fraiser shook her head. "A seizure, obviously, but I have no idea beyond that."
"It's lasting too long," Carter announced.
Fraiser nodded, her forehead creased and her expression grim. "I know. I know." She eyed the Stargate.
Suddenly, Blair's body went still, and Jim held his breath as he extended his hearing. Sandburg's heartbeat was frantic, almost irregular. Not good at all.
Fraiser grabbed her stethoscope from her bag and listened to Blair's heart the traditional way. After only a second, she dropped the tool back in the bag and leaned back. "We've gotta get him back to the SGC now."
Her tone left no argument. Jim knew he could be condemning Blair to a life in prison by letting the team take him back to Earth, but if he didn't, he could very likely be condemning Blair to death.
Jim looked up when he heard a sharp whine. Carter was at the round pedestal, pressing symbols that glowed when touched. Then, suddenly, the gate flared to life and a water-like vortex shot out from the great circle's center, then collapsed to form a bright, glistening pool.
"Sending GDO code." Carter announced.
"Let's go." Fraiser moved to grab Blair's arms, but Teal'c intercepted her.
"Allow me, Doctor Fraiser."
She nodded and stepped away. Jim met Teal'c's eyes briefly and gave a small smile of thanks, then grabbed Blair's legs. Together, he and the jaffa lifted Blair and made a dash toward the wormhole.
"Medical emergency!" were Fraiser's first words upon emerging from the wormhole, and Jim winced as they ripped into his eardrum.
He and Teal'c carefully lowered Blair to the ramp, and the doctor immediately descended on the young man as a voice over the PA system called for a medical team.
"His pulse is about 35," Jim told her, hoping she wouldn't waste time with a stethoscope.
Fraiser nodded an acknowledgment and pulled a penlight from her bag, quickly checking Blair's pupils. Both responded normally, and Jim found himself thankful for that small favor.
"What's wrong with him?" Jim leaned back, frustration making him rub a hand over his face.
"I don't know," she snapped just as the security doors opened and two medics hurried in, pushing a stretcher.
"What happened?" O'Neill's familiar voice intruded, and Jim looked up to see the colonel, Jackson, and General Hammond standing at the base of the ramp.
"We have no idea, sir," Carter supplied. "Mr. Sandburg just suddenly went into seizures. We had no choice but to bring him back."
"Okay, let's get him up," Fraiser ordered, and the two medics stooped to lift Blair onto the stretcher.
A distant sense of shock dampened Jim's senses, and he listened to Fraiser bark orders as she ran alongside the gurney until, finally, both she and it disappeared from view. He shook his head, realized the general was asking him something, and ignored the man as he stumbled after the departed stretcher.
He followed the medical team, but got stopped at the elevator when a hand clamped on his shoulders. He jerked away just as the lift doors closed, sealing the medical team from him, and spun to face the offender.
"There's nothing you can do for him, right now," Hammond said gently, the members of SG-1 hovering in the hall behind him. "We need you in the briefing room. There are some matters we have to discuss."
Jim took a slow, deep breath, willing his emotions under control. "I need to make a phone call."
To Jim's surprise, Hammond nodded. "What kind of a phone call?"
"To my captain. I've gotta check in with him or he might start to think we've disappeared for good. He might think we need rescuing, and you don't want that to happen. He's a very resourceful man. Also, since we left rather abruptly, I need to check in on a few cases I left hanging and, of course, find out the status of the murder investigation."
"All right. You can use the phone in my office. Then, we go to the briefing room."
"Thank you, General."
Hammond turned, and Jim followed the older man down the hall, oblivious to the path, his feet working on automatic as his mind drifted back to the lift doors as they closed, cutting him off from Blair.
God, please don't let that be the last time I see him alive.
Jim jerked to awareness and realized he was standing in the general's office. Geez, what the hell was the matter with him? He straightened, forcing himself to focus on his present situation as Hammond sank into the seat behind the desk and grabbed the black phone's receiver. Jim eyed the bright red phone a short distance away, knowing what it signified. He suddenly had the urge to pick it up and give the man on the other end an earful. If it hadn't been for the government and its damn secrets, he and Blair would very likely still be in Cascade, fighting normal, human threats.
Hammond pressed a series of buttons and handed the receiver to Jim. "Just dial the number, a one before the area code, like normal."
With a nod, Jim took the receiver, turned the phone toward him, and dialed Simon's cell phone. The captain answered on the third ring.
"Thank God." Simon gave a harsh sigh. "Hold on." Jim heard a door closing, then the crinkle of leather. "Are you and Sandburg all right?"
Jim swallowed. He wished to hell he could answer that question with a simple 'yes.' "I'm okay. Sandburg... Well, we got that thing out of him."
"Is he okay?" Simon asked, his words tense.
Jim realized his tone must have betrayed his emotions. "He's not doing too well, but he's alive. The doctors are working on him now."
"I don't know. What's the status of the homicide investigation?"
Another sigh. "Since you and I were the officers on the scene, I've managed to keep it in Major Crime. Officially, we've got no suspect, and no evidence."
"What?" Jim felt his knees go weak, and he dropped into one of the empty chairs facing Hammond's desk. "How is that possible?"
Simon's voice dropped to a near-whisper. "I lied through my teeth. The official report states that three men and a woman kidnapped you and Sandburg and killed Sarah Warren. Sandburg was injured during the struggle, which neatly explains why his blood was all over the crime scene."
"What about the witnesses who saw me chasing Blair?"
"What witnesses? Major Crime hasn't found any witnesses."
Jim closed his eyes. The situation was turning even uglier. All of Major Crime could be implicated. "Who knows?"
"Just me, Jim. I gave the case to Henri and Rafe. I told them I was already there and I'd already canvassed for witnesses and they shouldn't bother. I made it an order."
"You're risking your career, sir. Hell, you're risking prison. I can't let you do that."
"And what's the alternative? We let Sandburg go up for First Degree Murder? I don't think so. Not while I'm still breathing. Like I told you, this is at least partially my fault. I'm big enough to try to fix my mistakes."
"But, sir, if--"
"We'll worry about that if it happens, not before."
"I don't know what to say, Simon."
"All I want to hear from you is that Sandburg has pulled through with flying colors. Call me when you can."
"Aye-aye, Captain. And thank you."
"They are treating you all right?"
"Yeah." Jim eyed Hammond, seated casually in the chair. "So far."
"Can you tell me where you are?"
"Colorado." When Hammond stiffened, Jim added, "But that's all I can tell you right now, sir, except that I have no idea when I'll be getting back. You should probably start assigning my cases to other detectives. The Cascade municipal opera case is still in the preliminary stages, and Connor was helping me on it, so she should be able to pick it up without a problem."
Come on. Jim gave a silent prayer.
"Oh." Simon didn't sound very confident. "You have so many cases, I'm losing track. I'll put Connor on it."
"Thank you, sir. I gotta go." He replaced the receiver and offered Hammond a smile. "Thanks for letting me make that call, sir."
Hammond nodded, rising from his chair. "No problem. We'll try our best to get you back to your case load as soon as possible."
"Thank you, General."
"Now, would you mind following me to the briefing room?"
"Not at all." He gestured to the door. "Lead the way."
Simon opened his office door. "Connor!"
The Australian inspector looked up from her desk with an expression that indicated she had no idea what she'd done. "Yes, sir?"
In a slightly more subdued tone, Simon said, "A moment, please," and waved her inside.
"Yes, sir." She rose and hurried to him.
"You've been helping Ellison on his cases?" he asked, closing the door and moving back to his seat behind the desk.
"Uh, no sir." She dropped into the vacant chair across from him.
Frowning, Simon leaned back. He was pretty sure Jim had just given him a code, but he had no idea what it meant. "Do you know something about a Cascade municipal opera case?"
"Uh, no sir."
With a sigh, Simon nodded wearily. "Thank you, Connor. Dismissed."
Her brow furrowed, but she made no move to stand. "Sir? Does this have--"
"Dismissed, Connor. Goodbye."
"Yes, sir." Her lips pressed into a tight line, but she rose and walked briskly out of his office.
"Great," Simon muttered as he swung toward his computer screen. He was almost certain Jim had given him a clue, but what did it mean? Cascade municipal opera case?
He typed in the url for a search engine. Ellison had mentioned Colorado and Cascade municipal opera, and Simon assumed the opera case was actually an acronym. Nothing else would make any sense.
The search engine filled the screen, and he typed in 'Colorado' and CMO. The first page of results gave him nothing that looked relevant -- a couple of references to cetyl myristoleate, whatever that was, and a bunch of stuff on collateral mortgage obligation.
"Damn." Taking a deep breath, he changed his search to 'Colorado' and 'CMOC' and pressed ENTER.
His eyes went wide at the very first thing that sprang on his screen: '2002 COLORADO: NORAD.' In the descriptive text below, the words 'Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC)' popped out at him.
"Bingo." He grinned. That made sense considering a Colonel Jack O'Neill of the United States Air Force had mysteriously shown up at the Prospect apartments and swept Ellison and Sandburg away.
Unfortunately, Colorado was way out of the Cascade PD's jurisdiction. Swiveling in his chair, Simon reached for his phone, picked up the receiver, and dialed the Seattle branch of the FBI. Agent Barren owed Ellison big time, and Simon intended to convince the man it was time to pay up.
And then he'd give Sandburg's ex-CIA contact, Jack Kelso, a call.
Jack shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He'd gotten too little sleep over the last few days. Instead of grabbing a shower and heading to the infirmary, he was stuck in the briefing room.
"You understand our position?" Hammond inquired.
Suppressing a tired sigh, Jim nodded. "I already told you. Sandburg and I will sign whatever nondisclosure forms you want."
Hammond glanced at O'Neill. "As Colonel O'Neill has already pointed out, Mr. Sandburg didn't seem all that eager to comply."
Jim took a slow, deep breath. "He'd just gone through the Hammer. Trust me. Sandburg knows how to keep a secret. He's kept mine."
"And what are we going to do if he doesn't sign?" Jackson pushed his glasses up as he leaned forward? "Come on, General? I didn't think we were in the business of making innocent U.S. citizens disappear."
O'Neill stiffened. "Or making them accidentally get hit by a speeding car?"
Hammond sighed. "Colonel, that was an accident.
Jim didn't like the way the conversation was going. He stood up abruptly. "I've heard enough, and what I've heard tells me you're all hoping Sandburg doesn't pull through. That'll solve your little national security problem, won't it?"
O'Neill shot out of his chair. "Now, just a minute..."
"No! I can't believe I let you take him back." His eyes snapped to Hammond. "What did you tell the doctor? Not to use any 'extraordinary measures?' Or no measures at all? Or maybe a nice, untraceable..."
"Detective, please." Hammond rose slowly. "I assure you Doctor Fraiser is doing everything in her power to ensure Mr. Sandburg's well-being. Even if I gave her such an order, I seriously doubt she'd followed it. She's proved herself a physician of the highest integrity."
"You'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it."
"Oh, come on." O'Neill flung a hand in the air. "If the general had given that order, would we be here trying to figure out this mess?"
"To keep me out of the infirmary? Yeah." Jim turned toward the door. "I'm going to check on my partner, now, and the only way any of you are going to stop me is to shoot me."
He walked out of the room, his senses on alert and his breath held tight in his lungs as he made his way to the elevator. It was surprisingly quiet in the briefing room, then O'Neill's sarcastic voice drifted to his sensitive ears.
"He's not at all paranoid."
"I don't know why. Your accident comment was remarkably reassuring," Jackson replied.
"I said we DON'T do that. DON'T!"
"Well, actually, sir," Carter's voice interjected, "you--"
"Oh for crying out loud. Never mind."
Someone broke into a jog. Just as the elevator doors opened, O'Neill appeared beside him.
"Well, I tried to convince the general to let me shoot you," the colonel began, "but he seems to think that would be unethical."
Jim walked into the elevator. Jack hit the button to take them to the infirmary, and a moment later, the doors closed.
"What did you mean by that 'accident' comment?"
Jack sighed. "I was trying to make a point to the general." He turned to Jim. "Look, Ellison, I know you don't trust us, but right now, you haven't got much of a choice."
Ellison turned a flat gaze on O'Neill. "I have a few choices."
"Yeah, okay, whatever." O'Neill waved a hand in the air. "We do have a problem, though."
"It's not a problem."
"Sandburg's facing a murder charge. If he told anyone about this -- that an alien invaded his body and made him kill that woman -- you think anyone would believe that?"
Jack tilted his head. "You've got a point there." The elevator languished to a halt, and the doors opened. "Well, here we are."
Jim brushed past the colonel, hurrying out. He walked the short distance to the infirmary, operating on memory, and turned left, following the sound of Fraiser's clipped voice.
He stopped in the doorway of a back room. A group of white-clad medical personnel, including the petite Fraiser, worked over his partner. Blair was bare-chested, electrodes hooked to his chest that rose and fell with each shallow breath.
Fraiser glanced his way, frowned, and broke away to approach him.
"How is he?" Ellison looked down at the doctor, keeping his ears tuned to Blair's slow heartbeat.
"We've stabilized him and performed an MRI." She looked to the Colonel. "He's all clear on that. We saw remnants of the Goa'uld, but it's being absorbed."
Bile touched the back of Jim's throat, and he swallowed quickly. "Is that what caused his seizure?"
"I don't know. Maybe. "
"You won't object to my staying?" Jim eyed her closely, tuning his ears to her heartbeat.
She looked to the colonel, her brow furrowing. O'Neill simply shrugged nonchalantly, so she looked back at Jim. "If you stay back and out of the way."
"I can do that."
His head throbbed, and his throat felt as though someone had stuffed a ball of cotton down his esophagus. He tried to open his eyes, move his limbs, do something, but his whole body felt strangely weak.
And it was hot. Too hot.
"Sandburg? You awake?"
"Doctor, I think he's waking up."
"Mr. Sandburg? Can you hear me?"
Blair took a deep breath and struggled to open his eyes. A crack of white split the darkness, expanding until he saw a blurry face.
"You're back at the SGC," Fraiser informed him. "How are you feeling?"
Blair let his eyelids fall closed. He swallowed and managed a hoarse croak. "Hot."
"You're running a fever. Your body rejected the foreign Goa'uld protein, but you're past the worst now. You're going to be okay."
"Jim?" Blair managed to open his eyes again, and he turned his head toward where he'd first heard Jim's voice. Sure enough, there was the sentinel, sitting in a chair at the side of the bed.
"You gave me a scare, Chief." Jim smiled and scooted his chair closer.
Blair furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what had happened. The last thing he remembered was talking to Fraiser. He and Jim had decided to stay on the planet because of...
...the murder charge.
Blair closed his eyes, and Sarah Warren's face popped in his head. He was pretty sure she had died instantly, and for that, he was grateful.
"Doctor," a man interrupted, his voice hard and business-like, "I'm here for Mr. Sandburg."
What? Blair's eyes sprang open.
Jim shot out of his chair to face the stout, dark-haired man in the dress uniform who stood in front of two armed guards. Jim's eyes dropped to the man's nametag. "What do you want with Sandburg, Colonel Maybourne?"
Maybourne handed a sheet of paper to Fraiser as he turned to face Jim. "Mr. Sandburg's best interests would be served by..."
"Colonel!" Hammond's voice boomed through the infirmary, and Jim turned to see Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson standing beside the general, all three men wearing grim expressions. "This is neither the time nor the place."
"You slimy son of a --" O'Neill began, but Jim interrupted him.
"What the hell is going on?" Ellison stepped between Maybourne and the bed.
"I've got orders from the President to take Mr. Sandburg into custody."
"What?" Jim looked to the general. "For what? He's no longer a danger, and --"
"As a former Goa'uld host," Maybourne continued, "and someone who was subjected to Asgard technology, it is imperative that we study--"
Jim stiffened. "Make him a lab rat?" He stepped closer to the man. "You'll have to go through me first."
Maybourne held Jim's gaze. "That can be arranged."
"Jim?" Sandburg's weak voice pulled Jim's attention to the bed. Blair was struggling to sit up, confusion and fear in his eyes, and Jim hurried to the bed and put a restraining hand on Blair's chest, gently pushing him back to the mattress. "It's okay. Don't worry about this."
"I assure you, Detective Ellison," Maybourne continued, "Mr. Sandburg will not be harmed in any way."
"Doctor Fraiser," Hammond's voice commanded attention, and the doctor straightened in response.
"Mr. Sandburg is to remain here until I say otherwise. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." A brief smile played on her lips.
Hammond turned to Maybourne. "I'm ordering you out of the infirmary, Colonel. Nothing's going to happen until I've had a chance to talk with the President personally."
Maybourne straightened. "Sir," he gestured to the paper held in Fraiser's hands. "That's a signed Presidential order. It commands me to take custody of Mr. Sandburg immediately. It instructs you and every officer on this base to give me your full cooperation, and it became effective the moment it was signed. Mr. Sandburg will be taken to Area 51 immediately." Maybourne turned to the guards. "Please prepare the subject for transport."
"You can't do this!" Jackson stepped forward. "He's a United States citizen. There's already a search for him back in Cascade, Washington. You'd be risking exposure for the Stargate project."
Maybourne leveled a cool gaze toward Jackson. "I have no intention of holding a press conference, Doctor Jackson. Do you?"
"Of course not, but--"
"If you interfere this time like you did with the Tollans, I have authority to take you into custody as well."
O'Neill stepped forward. "You know, Harry, I'm beginning to realize there are a few Goa'uld I like better than you."
Maybourne smirked and turned back toward the guards. "I gave you two orders."
"Yes, sir!" the one on the right said.
Jim wished he had his gun. Unarmed, he didn't stand much of a chance of stopping the men from taking Sandburg. Still, he had to do something.
The two guards stepped forward, and Jim moved to block their path. "I wouldn't try it."
The guards both reached for their sidearms. Suddenly, the whine of a zat rose moments before a burst of blue-white discharged and enveloped Jim. The energy sizzled over his skin like fire, sending his senses into chaos.
Jim heard Jack spit, "Dammit, Maybourne," seconds before everything went dark.
"Jim! Jim!" Sandburg's voice cut through the pain. Jim came to with a jerk, his eyes springing open as he rolled to his side. Opening his eyes, bright white shot into his skull, and he groaned, blinking, until his eyes focused on the stretcher being wheeled toward the door.
"No." He pushed himself to his feet, his eyes on his partner, who was strapped to the gurney. His head throbbed, and a strange ringing filled his ears, but he pushed all that aside and tried to focus on Sandburg.
"Jim!" Panic laced Blair's voice as he twisted his head toward Jim, his eyes wide.
Jim struggled to his feet, stumbling toward the gurney, but hands caught him, holding him back, and a growl built in his throat as he looked into O'Neill's dark eyes.
"Back off," the colonel ordered. "There's nothing you can do right now. Hammond's going to get on the phone with the President and see if he can fix this mess."
Jim twisted and pushed away from the colonel. Sandburg was almost out the door, surrounded by Maybourne and two guards.
"General, sir," An airman appeared in the doorway suddenly, blocking the corridor. "The President's on the phone, and there's a disturbance at the gate!"
"....and reliable sources have indicated that, here, in one of the nation's most top secret military installations, The Cheyenne Mountain Operations Complex, Detective James Ellison and police observer Blair Sandburg are being held, possibly against their will."
Simon chewed on his cigar, standing to the side, out of the way of the camera. He had to hand it to Wendy Hawthorne. She really was trying hard to turn over a new leaf from her sensationalistic True Crime days, and it didn't hurt that she owed Ellison and Sandburg a huge favor after first almost blowing a case and then getting herself and her assistant kidnapped.
"An agent for the FBI has attempted to contact government sources for confirmation, but thus far," Hawthorne continued, her eyes fixed on the camera and her tone steady and professional, "no one inside Cheyenne Mountain seems inclined to answer inquiries."
Simon paced. He'd have to remember to send Agent Barren a fruit basket, or something. Granted, all the agent had done was make a few phone calls, but Simon hoped that, at the very least, getting a couple of official inquiries from the FBI would catch the attention of the right people."
Wendy walked toward the gate, and the camera man followed her. "As you can see, armed guards stand ready at the entrance to this military installation. But --"
Simon saw the camera man wave a signal as an armed guard approached the gate, and Wendy turned just as the soldier stopped inches from the chain link.
"I am going to have to ask you all to leave."
Wendy tilted her head. "And I'm going to have to refuse. Ever hear of the First Amendment? I'm not officially on government property."
Banks stepped forward. "I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department."
The soldier eyed him skeptically. "You're a bit out of your jurisdiction, aren't you?
"If you don't want to talk to me, you'll be talking to Special Agent William Barren of the FBI next."
The soldier frowned as the radio at his shoulder cackled to life. Turning away, he walked out of audible range and spoke into the radio.
Simon sighed, hoping, eventually, he'd get to talk to someone with authority.
Hammond hung up the phone on the wall of the infirmary and turned to the group, his eyes drifting over O'Neill, Jackson, Fraiser, and, finally, Maybourne. "It's confirmed. There's a reporter with a camera at the gate, along with Captain Simon Banks with the Cascade PD." His eyes snapped to Ellison. "Will you meet your captain at the gate, tell him you and Mr. Sandburg are all right, and ask him to leave?"
"Absolutely not!" Jim kept an iron grip on the top gurney strap, preventing
it -- and, consequently, Blair -- from being wheeled anywhere. His head was throbbing, and
white dots swirled in his vision. His ears were ringing, and his skin felt as though a
colony of ants were crawling all over him. He tried his best to push those sensations
aside and focus on the situation at hand. "I'm not leaving Sandburg alone."
"Can someone please unstrap me!" Blair lifted his head, trying to reach the top buckle with his teeth, to no avail.
"Maybourne, out," Hammond commanded, facing the colonel, "I've informed the President of the security concern at the front gate, which means we are in lock-down and on alert. Your prior Presidential orders are null and void. Now, if you're not out of here in five seconds, I'll have guards escort you to a holding cell."
"Hello. I'm losing circulation in my arms here!" Blair protested.
"Yes, sir." Maybourne glanced at his guards and, with a jerk of his head, marched out of the infirmary, the soldiers following behind.
"Thank God," Blair muttered.
Jim pulled the gurney back toward the bed as he leaned on it for support. "This changes nothing," he told Hammond. "I'm not leaving Sandburg."
"And now that we've settled this," Sandburg interrupted, "can someone please unstrap me!"
Hammond took a few steps closer. "All I'm asking, Detective, is for you to meet your captain for a few minutes. Let him see that you're all right. You can tell him just about anything you want as long as you don't reveal the existence of the Stargate or the nature of work at this installation."
Jim shook his head. The room spun, and he tightened his grip on the gurney. "No."
"Jim, man, are you all right?" Blair asked, lifting his head, "You took a pretty bad hit, and believe me, I know how those things feel." He threw a pleading gaze toward Hammond. "Can you please tell someone to unstrap me?"
Jackson stepped forward, his hands going quickly to the buckle on the gurney. "Sorry."
"Yeah, whatever." Blair breathed in deeply when the strap securing his chest fell away. Next, his arms were free, and he sat up, eyeing Jackson flatly. "Thanks." Sarcasm touched his words as he rubbed his wrists, but as soon as his legs were free, he swung them off the gurney, toward Jim. "Come on, man, you're not looking so good. Let's get you off your feet."
Blair slid off the gurney, reaching out for Jim, but his legs gave way, and he hit the floor hard. "Ouch."
Jim winced when he heard the hard thud, but he didn't dare let go of the gurney or he'd very likely end up joining Sandburg. "You okay, Chief?"
Jackson was already kneeling down just as Fraiser rounded the gurney to help.
"I'm fine!" Blair pulled away from Jackson. "What I really want is to get the hell out of here."
"That's not going to happen just yet," O'Neill said, stepping forward. "Sorry."
"Come on." Fraiser grabbed Sandburg's arm. "We need to get you off the floor."
"Sandburg," Jim wheezed between ragged breaths, "let them help you so I can get off my feet."
Blair started to try and drag himself to his feet by using the edge of the gurney as leverage, "Ji--"
Jim's hoarse voice broke through Blair's obstinate refusal of aid. "Let them help you, Sandburg." Jim's pained voice insisted that Blair be tended to before he gave in to his own exhaustion.
Blair deflated. "Okay," he said softly, reaching a hand toward Jackson. "Look, I'm sorry. Thanks for unstrapping me."
Jackson grabbed the hand, giving a soft smile. "You're welcome."
Fraiser grabbed Blair's arm, and together, she and Daniel helped him to the stationary bed.
"Now, you're turn," Fraiser commented, turning to Jim and wrapping a hand around his arm. Carefully, she guided him to the bed next to Sandburg's, then looked at Hammond, "Sir, he's in no condition to go to the front gate, anyway."
With a sigh, the general rubbed a hand over his face.
"Look, sir," O'Neill shrugged, "how 'bout we just let the captain in and keep him away from level 28? Just like we did with Nick? All he'll see are gray walls and guards."
Hammond's eyes narrowed. "And where is Doctor Ballard now, Colonel?"
Jack glanced at the floor. "Uh, well," he looked back up sheepishly, "he's not a security risk, is he?"
Hammond shook his head, looking like he wanted to give in to a chuckle. "All right. You and two armed guards are to escort Mr. Banks to the infirmary. Put the base on alert and clear the path from the gate to here. I want him seeing as little as possible."
After a few moments, the guard stiffened and spun smartly back around to face them, taking a few brisk steps closer to the gate. "Captain Banks, I have orders to escort you inside the mountain."
Simon almost dropped the cigar from his mouth, but his fingers snagged it. "You do?"" He straightened, glancing at Hawthorn, then back at the guard. "Well, hurry it up then!"
Wendy didn't look relieved. "If I don't hear from you..."
Simon gave her a small smile. "I'll call you in half an hour, if I can. If you don't hear from me in ONE hour, call Agent Barren and tell him what's happened, then get yourselves out of here."
She nodded, a slight frown marring her face. "All right."
The gate opened, and the guard stepped aside. With a final glance back at the reporter, Simon followed the soldier toward Cheyenne Mountain.
"I'm f-- hey!" Jim jerked his head back, wincing as the narrow beam from the doctor's penlight drove a spike of pain into his skull. His legs dangled over the edge of the bed, putting a strain on his back. At least the infirmary was relatively quiet. Hammond and SG-1 had left, presumably to talk in private.
"You're taking longer than most people to recover from the effects of a zat," Fraiser pocketed her pen light and took a step back.
"He's not like most people," Sandburg spoke up from the neighboring bed, irritation and fatigue coloring his voice. "That thing probably put all his senses on overload. Jim, man--"
"Sandburg, you should be resting." Jim waved the Doctor toward Blair's bed. "And shouldn't you be checking him out, Doctor? I said I'm fine."
Fraiser studied Jim critically. "Headache?"
Closing his eyes briefly, Jim sighed. "Yeah."
"I'll give you some--"
"Before you go pumping him full of drugs, you should know that he has unusual reactions to them," Blair offered.
"Sandburg," Jim leaned to look past the doctor so he could throw a glare at his partner. Despite the fact the kid wouldn't shut up, he looked ready to drop, even lying in bed. His face was far too pale, and the redness around his eyes betrayed his exhaustion. "Relax. Let the doctor do her job."
Blair propped himself up on his elbows. "Come on, Jim. What if--"
Jim hopped off the bed, pausing a moment to see whether the room was going to do another spin. When it didn't, he decided he wasn't going to take a header to the floor and hurried to Blair's bed. "Relax, Chief. Simon's going to be here in a little bit, so we've got everything under control. You need to take it easy."
Blair sagged back to the mattress, his eyes closing. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, Chief." Jim patted Blair's cheek. "A bit of a headache, but it's fading. I'm fine."
"Tha's Good." Blair's breathing grew suddenly shallower, and his head lulled to the side.
"It's about time." Fraiser moved to stand next to Jim.
He managed a small smile and faced her. "Well, if it's one thing Sandburg can do well, it's talk." His expression grew more serious. "How is he?"
"He's doing well. Like I said, he seems to be past the worst. Now, he just needs to rest. We'll keep his fluids and nutrients up and monitor his fever. I think he'll probably be ready to leave the infirmary tomorrow."
The faint scent of cigar tickled Jim's nose a moment before the captain's deep voice reached his ears.
"And you should know, General, that reporter outside your gate expects me to call within half an hour ."
Jim smiled, relief sagging his shoulders. He turned to the doorway just as Simon Banks and General Hammond, followed by Jack O'Neill, walked into the infirmary.
"Jim!" Simon straightened, taking a visible breath. His eyes went from Jim to Blair, lying still and quiet on the bed, and his expression went from surprise to dread. "How is he?"
Jim's smile widened. "He's going to be okay."
"That thing's really out of him?"
"Yes, it is." Fraiser walked up to the captain and extended her hand. "I'm Doctor Janet Fraiser."
Simon nodded and shook the petite woman's hand. "Last time I spoke with Jim, he said Sandburg wasn't doing too well."
Fraiser nodded. "He had a bad reaction, but he's over the worst of it now."
Simon's eyes drifted back to Blair and hovered there for a few moments before going to Jim. "How 'bout you? You doing okay?"
Jim tilted his head. "Okay, yeah." He glanced at Hammond briefly before returning his attention to Simon. "I'd like to get the hell out of here, though, with Sandburg."
Simon nodded curtly and turned to face Hammond. "General?"
Hammond sighed heavily. "I have no objection to releasing Detective Ellison or Mr. Sandburg as soon as they both sign nondisclosure agreements."
Jim rubbed the back of his neck. "Blair's....reluctant."
"Which is a problem," Hammond added.
"And what exactly are they agreeing not to disclose? I take it you folks know exactly what that thing inside Sandburg was." Banks' gaze snapped to O'Neill. "You didn't seem all that surprised back in Cascade."
"I'm afraid we can't tell you anything, Captain." Hammond interjected. "You've already seen too much. All you have to know is that we are a top secret installation working under the President's orders."
Simon straightened, using his height advantage to stare down the General. "Is what happened to Sandburg your fault? Is this some military screw up that you're going to cover up?"
Hammond didn't seem intimidated. "I appreciate your concern, Captain, but no, what happened to Mr. Sandburg wasn't our fault. There are..." He frowned, apparently considering his next words carefully. "Let me just say that the situation we're dealing with exists on its own, and it has existed for a very long time. It's just that, now, we're aware of it, and we're trying our best to deal with it and ensure global security."
Blair hovered in a twilight world between sleep and consciousness. Was that really Simon's voice, or was he dreaming? He made a half-hearted attempt to open his eyes, but nothing happened, and he wasn't even sure whether that attempt was, itself, part of his dream. Maybe he was dreaming he was awake when, really, he was fast asleep.
Hammond had said Banks was at the gate, hadn't he? But that didn't make much sense. How had Simon even known where they were? Maybe that, too, had been a dream. It would be nice, in fact, if he were really asleep in his office, and the jar had never fallen, and all that had happened was simply part of some nightmarish story concocted by his twisted subconscious, and Mrs. Warren was still alive, and he wasn't a murderer, and everything was normal.
Or at least as normal as usual for him and Jim, which, actually, wasn't all that normal by normal standards.
"That still gives you no right to kidnap my men and hold them against their will," Blair heard Simon say, or dreamed it, anyway. He really should open his eyes.
"We didn't kidnap anybody." Jack's voice responded. "If you recall, Captain, Ellison came willingly."
"I didn't have much of a choice, did I? But that's not the point. I'm grateful for your help in getting that thing out of Sandburg, but after that stunt that guy Maybourne just pulled, I'd like to get the hell out of here...with Sandburg."
"And the charges against Mr. Sandburg?" Hammond inquired.
"Right now, he's a kidnap victim, not a suspect," Simon answered.
"Let's hope his status doesn't change," a new voice interjected.
Blair's heart sped up a notch when he identified that voice as Maybourne's.
"Colonel, I gave you an order--"
"I spoke with the President, General. He is very concerned about the potential security problems we've developed."
"Are you threatening Sandburg?" Jim growled.
"Who is this guy?" Simon asked.
"He tried to take Blair into custody. Apparently, the government's interested in using him as a guinea pig."
Blair tried again to open his eyes, and this time he met with success. Blurry whiteness filled his vision.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a violation of Sandburg's civil rights, isn't it, Detective?" sarcasm permeated Simon's voice.
Blair attempted to lift his head, but he simply couldn't muster the energy. His eyes drifted around the white of the infirmary until they settled on a large, dark image.
"I can assure you, Captain," Hammond said, and Blair made an effort to shift his gaze to the general, "Maybourne was acting outside my authority, apparently under orders, but that situation has been dealt with, and Mr. Sandburg is no longer in any danger. You have my word."
"There is still the matter of the nondisclosure forms," Maybourne added. "We've done some checking, and it seems as though the Cascade PD hasn't exactly handled the homicide investigation very diligently. In fact, it appears as though there's been a rather disturbing cover up in order to...."
Blair's heartbeat spiked, the surge of adrenaline giving him strength to lift his head. A cover up? What cover up?
He wasn't sure what was going on, but he recognized the not-so-subtle threat.
"What--?" His throat felt like sandpaper.
"Sandburg." Surprise flickered over Simon's face, and he hurried to Blair's bedside. "How are you doing?"
Blair frowned and let his head drop back to the mattress. "So-so." He managed weak smile. "Better than I was, I suppose." He let his eyes drift over the group. "What cover up?"
Jim took a breath. "Simon's been directing the homicide investigation, Chief. He's made sure you aren't a suspect."
Blair blinked. "And if I don't sign the nondisclosure form, the military will make sure that comes out?"
"We don't work that way." O'Neill stepped forward, casting a glare at Maybourne.
"I certainly didn't say that, did I, Colonel?" Maybourne straightened and met Jack's glare. "I simply stated facts."
Blair closed his eyes. He was really, really tired. They wanted him to keep his mouth shut about everything. What if there were other jars floating around out there? What if someone else got...infected? And if another person died as a result, could he really say he wasn't to blame when he knew about the threat all along and didn't warn anybody?
Could he live with himself if he let what happened to him and Mrs. Warren happen to other people?
"May I remind you, Colonel Maybourne," Hammond stated, "that we have a reporter and a cameraman outside the front gate, and the President himself has already received official inquiries from the FBI regarding this matter. I don't think we want to stir the pot anymore than it's already been stirred. Now, I want you out of this infirmary, Colonel, and if I see you here again, I will have you escorted to a jail cell."
Blair opened his eyes in time to see Maybourne disappear through the doorway. Relief flooded him, and he took a deep breath. That guy really gave him the creeps.
With Maybourne gone, Blair found himself the center of attention. He tried for a weak smile, but wasn't quite sure he managed to look convincing.
"So, Sandburg," Simon leaned against the edge of the bed, "you really doing okay?"
"Yeah, I think so. Thanks."
Simon looked to Jim, "So, what exactly was that thing inside him?"
"Uh, that's classified," Hammond answered. "Sorry, Captain."
Simon shot an incredulous look toward Jim. "Is he serious?"
Jim tilted his head. "Apparently."
Simon looked at the general. "I'll sign whatever nondisclosure forms you want, but I already know something was inside of Sandburg, and this installation you've got here is hiding something very secret. This affects my men, and potentially the Cascade police department."
"I'll take that under consideration," Hammond replied, then gestured toward the door. "Now, Colonel O'Neill will be happy to show you to the VIP room."
Simon raised his eyebrows. "Subtle hint." He glanced at Blair. "Take it easy, Sandburg."
Blair gave a shallow smile. "Don't have much choice. And thanks, Simon...for coming all the way here."
"Yeah, well," Simon looked like he was hiding a grin, "remember this on my birthday, got it?"
Blair gave a mock salute. "Aye-aye, Captain."
"Here you go. It's not quite the Hyatt, but it's got stunningly grey military walls." O'Neill preceded Simon and Jim into the room, and the door closed behind them.
"Thanks." Simon's eyes scanned the dim interior of the unimaginatively decorated room. "Cable TV?"
"Yeah, actually." O'Neill walked to a wood armoire-type of case and slid open the double doors to reveal a modest-sized television. "All yours."
Simon flashed a brief smile. "Thanks." He turned to Jim. The sentinel was still hovering near the door, his expression flat. "They put you up in one of these?"
Jim shook his head. "No. Things moved kind of fast once Sandburg and I got here."
"Oh, right." O'Neill winced. "Sorry. I'll get a room assigned to you ASAP."
The room turned out to be around the corner from Simon's. Yawning, Jim rolled over in the bed and raised his arm to look at his watch. 8 hours. He'd managed a solid 8 hours of sleep.
Tossing back the covers, he shot out of bed and headed into the bathroom. Stripping, he turned on the water in the stall and set the water to a comfortable level, then hopped in and showered quickly.
Fifteen minutes later, he was clean, relatively dry, and dressed in the only clothes he'd brought with him. His sensitive nose twitched at the unpleasant smell, more noticeable since he'd freshly bathed. The slightly oily cotton against his flesh made his skin crawl, but he'd have to deal with it. Now that things had calmed down, he'd ask someone for a clean pair of clothes.
He slipped on his socks and shoes and headed out of the room.
"Seriously?" Blair sat up, his attention focused on the petite doctor.
She smiled. "Yes, as long as you follow a few, simple rules."
"What rules?" Jim asked, walking into the infirmary and coming to a stop at the foot of Blair's bed.
"Hey, man," Blair grinned at him, "Doctor Fraiser says I'm free to go."
She tilted her head. "Not off the base, of course."
"Right. Right." Blair waved, his smile fading. "But hey, I'll take what I can get for now."
Fraiser turned to Jim. "He will need someone around. He's still not 100% yet, and I'd like to have someone nearby in case... Well, just in case. He seems completely on the road to recovery, but I can't guarantee another seizure won't happen or he won't have some kind of a relapse."
Jim frowned. "You think that's a possibility still?"
She shrugged. "It's possible, but not likely. His condition isn't exactly found in medical textbooks. We're dealing with a lot of unknowns here. In my opinion, though, he's fine. His tests are normal. He's only got a slight fever, barely worth mentioning, and his oh-two saturation levels are good."
Jim allowed himself a sigh of relief. Thank god. Things were finally starting to look up. The worst was over, and they'd made it.... Sandburg had made it. He looked at the young man and smiled. "So, you ready to blow this joint, Chief?"
"Oh, man, you have no idea."
"Ah, home, sweet home." Blair glanced at Jim, then surveyed the dim VIP room. There wasn't a window in sight, of course, considering they were several levels down, inside a mountain. He glanced up at the buzzing fluorescent lights that cast a sallow hue to the room.
"Yeah, well, at least there's cable TV," Jim remarked.
"Seriously?" Blair eyed his partner skeptically, then looked at the small oak stand against the wall. A panel covered the front, and he walked up to it and slid it back, revealing a 19-inch television set. "Well, thank heaven for small favors." Turning to Jim, he crossed his arms. "So, when can we leave...for good?"
Jim took a breath. "If you'd just sign that...."
"Right." Blair flung his hands to his side and marched to the bed, dropping his butt to the mattress. "Just keep my mouth shut and let this happen to some other poor sap who comes across a canopic urn?"
The phone rang, and Jim hurried to it. "We'll continue this conversation in a minute," he told Blair, picking up the receiver. "Ellison."
Blair fell back on the bed and stared at the gray ceiling. Well, as far as prisons went, it wasn't bad. The mattress seemed fairly comfortable, and the cable TV was a bonus.
"Now?" Jim spoke into the phone. "Why not? How long is this going to take? Yeah... Okay, fine. I'll be right there."
Blair sat up as Jim hung up the phone. "Where are we going now?"
"Not we, Junior. Me. That Maybourne jerk has requested a briefing. Me only. You stay here."
"Why? Don't I have a right to--"
"This is a military base, Chief, in case you haven't noticed. Don't rock the boat."
With a sigh, Blair flopped back to the mattress. "Fine. I'll just stay here and stare at the gray paint."
"You can watch television."
"It's probably all government-approved censored stuff."
Jim let out a bark of a laugh. "You've been watching too much X-Files, Sandburg." Shaking his head, he strolled toward the door, opened it, and turned back to Blair. "See you in a bit."
Blair mocked a sloppy salute from his horizontal position on the bed. "Aye, sir."
"Smart ass." With a glance heavenward, Jim ducked out of the room and closed the door behind him.
"Oh, hey!" Blair shot off the bed and hurried to the door, yanking it open. Jim had only gotten a few feet down the hallway, a uniformed guard shadowing him, and turned back toward Blair.
"Tell them you're not my type, and we need TWO beds. Got it?" He jerked his head back toward the interior of the room. "TWO, or I want my own room. I am a big boy, after all."
"Doc wants me to keep an eye on you, remember." Jim cocked an eyebrow. "And what do you mean I'm not your type?"
Rolling his eyes, Blair simply shook his head and moved back into the room, closing the door. "You're too old. Can't keep up with me."
"I heard that!" came Jim's distant reply.
With a laugh, Blair dropped back to the bed and resumed his study of the ceiling.
Jim walked into the briefing room to see a full table. Apparently, he was the last one to arrive. Hammond sat at the head of the elegant conference table. O'Neill, Carter, and Teal'c sat to the general's right, while Maybourne and Fraiser sat to his left. There was a vacant chair at the other end of the conference table, and Jim dropped into it, folding his hands on the polished surface.
"So, what's this about?" Jim asked.
Hammond leaned forward. "This is about Mr. Sandburg."
Jim took a deep breath and tried to keep his expression neutral. "About his refusal to sign the nondisclosure form?"
"He presents a substantial security risk," Maybourne interjected.
Jim shifted his gaze to the colonel. "Your security risk was in a jar that wound up on Sandburg's desk."
Jackson shifted in his chair and pushed his glasses higher on his nose. "Look, nothing that's happened is their fault." He punctuated that comment by gesturing to Jim. "If Mr. Sandburg doesn't sign, I don't see what we can do about it. We can't keep them here on base forever. Besides, Ellison's already agreed to sign. So, if Mr. Sandburg comes forward, it'll just be his word, with no evidence. No one will believe him. I really don't see much of a problem here."
Maybourne sighed. "I suppose." Reaching down, he brought a briefcase on to the table, snapped open the locks, reached in, and pulled out sheets of paper and a pen. Closing the case, he set the papers on the smooth table surface and gave them a push, sending them sailing toward Jim, then did the same with the pen. "If you'll just sign on the last page, we can finish up here."
Jim raised his eyebrows, surprised by the colonel's easy acquiescence. Something didn't seem quite right....
Blair heard the door to the room open. Jim hadn't even been gone five minutes. "That was fast." He sat up, and froze at the sight of two uniformed soldiers heading toward him.
"Hey." Shooting to his feet, he staggered a few steps back. "What's going on?"
The guards stopped their advance and remained rigidly stiff. Both men were young, with military-cropped hair. The one on the right had a darker complexion and broad, square soldiers, while the other soldier appeared a bit softer, with blond hair and fair skin.
"We have orders to procure your signature on a nondisclosure form," the dark one began, his brown eyes focused on Blair. "I have the papers in my pocket, and if I can just get your signature, we'll be out of here in no time."
Blair crossed his arms. "And if I want to think about it some more?"
The blonde one's hand whipped out, and Blair heard a familiar whine a second before the sizzling blue energy slammed into him, sending him reeling backward and crashing to the floor. The pain drove all conscious thought from him, and he could do nothing but ride it out, his lungs frozen, unable to draw in air or expel the scream locked in his throat.
He must have blacked out, because the next thing he knew, he was laying on the bed. The dark face of the soldier hovered above him, and just as he mustered the strength to lift his head, preparing to give everything he had to knocking the two GI Joe's on their asses, he felt a prick in crook of his right arm.
"No..." He tried to pull away, but almost immediately, the room spun, and any thought he had of resisting yielded to the warm, gooey feeling that slowly washed through him.
"Mr. Sandburg?" the dark soldier stared down at him. Blair focused on the man's lips, watching as they shaped the words that seemed to echo strangely through his skull. "Can you hear me?"
Hear you? A giggle bubbled in Blair's throat. Loud and clear, Mr. G.I. Joe.
"Damn, you think we gave him too much?" a seemingly disembodied voice asked.
"No, he'll be okay." Brown eyes glared down at Blair. "Say 'yes,' Mr. Sandburg."
Blair laughed. Okay, a game of Simon Says... without the Simon. Actually, where was Simon. It wasn't right for him to miss out on the fun.
"Mr. Sandburg, say 'yes.'"
Oh, right... "Yes," Blair dutifully repeated, nodding his head. The room whirled around him, and he felt like he was floating. "Whoa."
A warm hand grabbed his, pushing something into his palm.
"Hold the nice pen, Mr. Sandburg."
"Okaaaay." Blair felt himself being pulled into a sitting position. A chair was in front of him, and the dark soldier slapped a sheet of paper on the hard wood seat. "Sign right here. Blair Sandburg." He pointed to the line at the end of the page.
"Sign right here. Okay." Blair stabbed at the line with the pen, but the chair seemed to move, and he missed. "Right there." He tried again, but again his hand -- and the pen -- sailed through air.
"Christ." The soldier grabbed Blair's hand and guided it to the line. "Now sign."
Blair twisted his head to look up at the man. "What am I signing? And you didn't say Simon."
"Aha!" Blair yanked his pen hand away from the man and held the instrument victoriously in the air. "You didn't say 'Simon.'" He flopped back to the mattress, giggling.
"You gave him too much!"
"Oh, shut up."
Blair once again found himself being yanked upright and his hand guided to the paper.
"Sign, right here, or...."
"Simon didn't say." Blair shook his head vehemently.
"Oh... Hell," the soldier exhaled sharply. "Simon says sign on this damn line right now, or..."
"Now, there you go!" Blair nodded and scribbled his name above the line.
Jim lifted the pen. "If I sign this, we're all free to go? Me, Sandburg, and Captain Banks?"
Maybourne nodded. "This'll be adequate for you and Mr. Sandburg. Your captain will have to sign his own nondisclosure agreement."
Jim frowned. Maybourne's capitulation seemed too easy, and it didn't make a lot of sense. Still, he knew he wasn't getting off the base unless he signed, and since the colonel seemed willing to let the matter drop, he wanted to sign and get out of the mountain as soon as possible. "Fine." Jim looked down, reading the agreement. It was pretty standard military stuff. Flipping the page, he scanned the final paragraphs, then scribbled his signature on the final line.
He slid the agreement back to Maybourne. "Satisfied?"
Maybourne's smile was almost smug. "Oh, yes, Detective. Very satisfied. Thank you."
"Oh, man," Blair groaned, rolling onto his side on the mattress. He grabbed fistfuls of the blanket and closed his eyes. He really, really didn't feel well. Everything kept moving, rocking, see-sawing. When had he gotten on a boat?
He needed to get to the bathroom. "Jim." He swallowed the bile in his throat. Where was Jim? Jim. Jim... was out. Out. At a meeting. Or something. To get another bed. Yes, that's right. He remembered telling Jim they needed another bed, and Jim went to get another bed, which was good, because Blair was pretty sure he was about to throw up on the one beneath him.
"Oh, God, Jim, get your ass back here." He opened his eyes and pushed himself off the bed. The bathroom. Where was the bathroom? He saw a door to his left and staggered toward it. Some kind of table leapt out in front of him, jamming into his thigh, and he muttered a curse as he pushed away from it, only to slam into the wall next to the door.
It felt like the boat was in the middle of a hurricane. Well, not actually the middle of one, because then the waters would be calm but...
Boat? Wait, he wasn't on a boat, was he?
He slid along the wall until his hand contacted the doorknob, then he turned it and opened the door. Sure enough there was the bathroom.
He was at the SGC, in a mountain. Or at least, he thought he was.
Staggering into the bathroom, he collapsed on his knees in front of the toilet.
God, if he was inside a mountain, why was everything swaying?
He didn't have anymore time to ponder the situation before his stomach revolted, spewing its meager contents into the toilet.
"Well, Detective," Maybourne prattled, "I--"
"Jim," a soft voice called.
Jim tilted his head.
"Oh, God, Jim, get your ass back here."
Jim's heart fluttered, and dread turned his gut cold. Suddenly, this little briefing made perfect sense. Maybourne had wanted to get him away from Sandburg.
He shot out of his seat. "You son of a bitch!" He didn't bother saying anything else. He didn't know if he had time. All he could do was shoot out of the room and run as fast as his legs would carry him toward the VIP room.
He was aware of footsteps behind him. He saw a door to a staircase to his left and ducked into it, barreling up the stairs until he reached the floor where he and Sandburg had been assigned. Bursting through the door onto the hallway, he heard his pursuers panting hard, their feet pounding behind him as they followed.
Finally, he was at the door. A solitary guard stood silently a few feet away. Jim slid the key card through the lock, then yanked the door open. "Blair!" His eyes quickly scanned the dim room, but he didn't see Blair anywhere.
Listening, he heard a rapid heartbeat coming from the bathroom.
"What the--" O'Neill's voice began, but Jim wasn't listening. Instead, he was running toward the bathroom, pushing open the door...
"Get some help in here!" Jim shouted the command behind him, then crouched beside Blair, who was lying on the floor, his face white and his eyes open and roaming blankly around the room. "Hey, Chief, you with me?"
Getting no answer, Jim felt Blair's pulse and confirmed what his ears had told him. Blair's heart was beating too fast. Looking at the young man's dilated pupil's, Jim figured Blair had been drugged.
"What happened?" O'Neil asked, and Jim looked up to see the colonel standing in the bathroom. Teal'c and Hammond were visible in the room, just outside the bathroom doorway. "What did you hear?"
"I heard him calling for help." Jim gently slid his hands beneath Blair. "Help me get him on the bed, will ya?"
O'Neill complied quickly, stepping over Blair to take the side opposite Jim. He crouched to his knees and slid his hands beneath the anthropologist. "Okay. One. Two."
"Three," Jim said, and lifted. He and O'Neill managed to get Blair to the bed with a minimum of jostling. Jim ignored the onlookers, vaguely aware of Hammond barking orders that Maybourne be detained and requesting a medical team. The general then moved outside, conversing in a low voice with the guard. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jim did a quick visual scan of Blair, searching for injuries. If Blair was drugged, there'd be a puncture wound, unless the chemical was forced down Blair's throat or delivered another way.
Aha! He found the tiny pinprick in the crook of Blair's right elbow. "Here." Jim said, looking up at O'Neill, who leaned over and nodded.
Hammond returned to the room. "What is it, Colonel?"
"A needle mark, sir."
"Jim?" Blair asked, his voice soft and groggy.
"We're not on a boat, right?"
"No. Can you tell me what happened?"
"Oh, man, I still don't feel good."
"Who did this?"
Blair closed his eyes and curled into a ball on the bed, wrapping an arm around his stomach. "We played Simon Says, but Simon wasn't here."
"What?" Jim shook his head and leaned closer to Blair. "C'mon, Chief, tell me who did this."
Blair opened his eyes and blinked at Jim. "I'm drugged?"
"Yes, Chief. What did they want?"
"Oh." Blair took a breath and closed his eyes again. "Two guys. I signed something. I remember now. They used that electrical gun...zat-something? I hate those things."
"What happened here?" Janet's voice intruded.
"The form!" Blair exclaimed suddenly, and moved to sit up. "I signed the...whoa." He put a hand over his eyes and flopped back to the mattress. "The room's spinning again." He groaned, clenched his eyes, and pressed his face into the blanket. "I'm gonna go to sleep, now," he mumbled, and true to his word, he did.
A throbbing pain in his head woke Blair, and he moaned, opening his eyes to the sight of familiar, fluorescent lights. "Oh, man, not again." He was really beginning to hate the infirmary.
"How're you feeling, Chief?"
Blair turned his head to the right to see Jim sitting in a chair next to a wall of machinery. "Uh," he swallowed some of the pastiness in his mouth, "like I got hit in the head with a sledgehammer."
"Hang on, I'll get the doc."
"Right here," Fraiser said, moving to the side of the bed and whipping out her penlight. She checked Blair's pupils, causing him to wince and pull back.
"What is it with doctors and penlights?" Blair muttered, grumpy.
Fraiser gave him a patient smile. "Would you like something for the headache?"
Blair squinted up at her. "Sure, load me up with more drugs. I've already had so many, what's one or two more?"
She shook her head. "I'll be right back."
"You'd better behave, Chief," Jim scooted his chair closer, "she's armed with a variety of needles."
"Yeah, I know," Blair closed his eyes and sighed. "So, how long have I been out?"
"Just a few hours," Jim rubbed at his neck. The redness in his eyes and stubble on his face gave Jim an almost haggard appearance.
"You were zatted and drugged, and you signed a nondisclosure form. We checked the security tape from the camera inside the room, but..."
Blair's eyes popped open. "There's a camera inside the room? Man, don't these people know anything about privacy?"
"This is the military, Chief. It's a security measure, and it was obviously needed. Anyway, I know Maybourne had something to do with it, but there's no hard evidence to connect him to this. The guard stationed outside the room could only say that two uniformed men entered, but he didn't recognize them."
"Great." Blair took a breath. "But at least the footage shows I didn't sign it intentionally, right?"
"Well, as I was saying..."
"There's a but, isn't there? Damn. There's always a but."
"As I was saying," Jim continued, sounding slightly impatient. "The security camera, it turns out, wasn't on. Whoever did this probably messed with the surveillance."
"Hey, look who's awake," Simon's deep voice intruded.
Blair's eyes darted to the tall captain, and he managed a smile. "Hey, Simon."
"So, you tell him, Jim?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, no security footage."
"No," Simon corrected, "I mean we're all free to leave. We've just been waiting for you to wake your lazy ass up."
"What?" Blair's eyes darted back to Jim. "Are we?"
"Yeah." Jim gave a tired smile. "Simon signed his form, I signed mine, and since they got a form with your signature, and of course, since the media and the feds are breathing down their necks, the SGC -- and even Maybourne -- is letting us walk."
Simon moved closer to the bed, "Of course, they'll probably give you the same spiel they gave me and Jim -- over and over again. If we say anything about this --" he swept a hand out, "we'll rot in a prison for a very long time, and no one will believe us, anyway."
"Uh," Blair rubbed his temples, "they do realize that if we're rotting in a prison, that might lend credibility to--"
Jim held a hand up. "Don't go there, Chief. Let's just get out while the getting's good. Okay?"
With a sigh, Blair nodded. "I'm down with that." He tossed the covers back just as Fraiser returned with a syringe. Swinging his naked legs over the edge of the bed, he fixed his gown in the back and held up the arm attached to the IV line. "Are those pain meds gonna knock me out?"
She shrugged. "They'll make you drowsy, yes, but they won't necessarily put you out."
"Well, give me whatever amount won't put me out, because I've been told we're free to go, and I'd like to. Now."
She raised her eyebrows and looked at Jim. "Now?"
He nodded. "I can't say I disagree. Not that it hasn't been great, but..."
"Okay, okay." She took a breath. "I guess I can't blame you." She plunged the drug into the IV line, then disposed of the syringe. "You want to go right now, Mr. Sandburg, or can you wait a few minutes while I have someone get your clothes?"
Blair looked down at his bare knees, then back up at her. "Clothes would be good." He gave a grateful smile. "Thank you."
"Well," Jim turned from the gate and looked at O'Neill and Daniel, who'd felt compelled to escort them to the front gate, "it's been, well, not nice, and I can't say I ever want to see any of you again, but," he extended his hand, "thanks."
O'Neill tilted his head. "Gee, thanks." He shook the extended hand.
"And, uh," Daniel interjected, waving a hand vaguely in the air as he shifted on his feet. He shot a hooded look at Blair. "About the... Well, you know... We're sorry."
Blair glanced at Jim and Simon, then back at the archeologist. Finally, he sighed and extended his hand. "Well, we all have secrets we're keeping, knowing others could benefit from the knowledge," he cast another quick glance at Jim, then looked back to Daniel.
"Right." Daniel gave a brief smile and shook Blair's hand. "Well, it was nice meeting you, though I wish it had been under different circumstances."
"So get out of here already," Jack said, waving a hand toward the gate and the blonde woman waiting by a green Ford sedan. "You might as well enjoy some of Colorado's sites while you're here. Go shopping. Skiing. Spend those tourist dollars."
Jim gave a tight smile. "I think we'll pass. Before we go, about Maybourne...."
Jack sighed. "I hate to say it, but the slimeball's probably going to get off scott-free. Believe me, I'd like nothing more than to see him rotting behind bars, but--"
"Right." Jim nodded, frowning. He understood all too well how things worked at this level in the military. "Goodbye, Colonel."
Jack gave a quick salute. "Goodbye, Captain Ellison."
Jim studied the colonel a moment longer, then tugged on Blair's shirt sleeve. "Come on, Chief."
Jim, Blair, and Simon stepped through the gate and met Wendy Hawthorne as she approached.
"Hello, gentlemen," she smiled. "It's good to see you again."
Jim stepped forward and gave a quick dip of his head. "I guess we owe you thanks."
Her eyebrows rose and she turned an ear toward him. "You what?"
Jim couldn't help the smile that blossomed. It felt good to be out of Cheyenne Mountain, and Wendy, although she could be annoying, wasn't all that bad. "Thank you, Ms. Hawthorne."
She squared her shoulders and looked at him. "You're welcome," she said, then gestured to the waiting car. "This way, gentlemen. Your chariot awaits."
"Oh, man!" Blair practically leapt out of Megan's car. He gazed at their apartment building, relishing the feel of Cascade's chilly air against his cheeks -- a sensation he thought he'd never miss. "We're home." There were more than a few moments over the past several days when he thought he'd never see this place again.
"So, you want to tell me now where you three were and what happened?" Megan Connor asked as she slid out of the driver's seat and closed her door.
Jim and Simon looked over the hood of the car at her. "It's all top secret, Connor," Simon told her. "You'll just have to trust us on that."
Blair frowned. He certainly hadn't agreed to keep anything hush-hush, no matter what his signature on a piece of paper said, but he knew he couldn't say anything. The SGC folks were, unfortunately, right. No one would believe him, and if he did open his mouth, he'd just bring more trouble, and drag Jim and Simon down with him. He wouldn't risk that.
"All right, I need a shower and a beer," Jim said, slapping Blair on the shoulder.
They made their way through the doors, blessedly luggage free except for the overnight bag Simon carried, a fringe benefit of being virtually kidnapped, but as soon as they stepped into the lobby, Blair froze, his eyes going to the spot where he'd held Mrs. Warren and snapped her neck, then dropped her body.
The floor was spotless. Someone had obviously cleaned recently. At least the only blood had been his. At least her death had been quick and clean.
"Come on, Chief," Jim said, softly, his hand sliding to Blair's shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze.
Blair swallowed and allowed Jim to gently pull him toward the elevator, and he pulled his eyes away from that spot, wondering if he'd ever be able to pass it again without remembering.....
Jim punched the elevator button, glancing briefly at Simon, and slid a step to the left to block Blair's view of the area where Mrs. Warren had died.
"Look, I don't mean to push things, sir," Megan began, hovering near the front doors as the group waited for the elevator. "Actually, I do," she amended. "This is still an ongoing homicide investigation, sir," looking at Simon, she crossed her arms, "and although it's not my case, if people, as you say, killed Mrs. Warren and kidnapped--"
Simon turned to her. "You're right. It's not your case. Let it go."
Megan frowned. "A woman died, sir, and I'm an officer. I think that makes this my business."
"Look, Megan," Jim sighed, turning toward her. "All I can tell you is....Well, the United States military is involved. The murderer has been dealt with. Permanently. You have my word, but if you push this, some top secret information could be compromised, and Simon, Blair, and myself could be placed in serious jeopardy."
Her frown deepened, and she stared at Jim for a few seconds until the elevator doors opened with a ding. Finally, she breathed a sigh and shrugged, moving forward into the elevator after them. "Okay, I'll let it go."
"Thank you, Megan," Simon said.
The door closed, sealing them inside the lift.
Blair followed Jim and Simon into the loft. Megan entered last and closed the door behind her. Blair slipped out of his jacket and hung it on the coat rack, then eyed the hallway and his bedroom, his eyes darting between the two as he tried to decide which he wanted more -- sleep or a shower.
Running fingers through his oily curls, he decided on the shower. He could be in and out in about ten minutes, and then hit the sack, though he didn't like sleeping with wet hair. Still, it was better than sleeping with oily hair, and he knew he'd feel a lot better once he washed away the grime, dirt, and odors he'd accumulated over the past several days.
"Dibs on the shower," he mumbled, flashing a brief, weary smile at his companions.
At Jim's nod, Blair shuffled toward the bathroom, his shoulders slouched, his back throbbing, and his feet aching with fatigue.
Closing the bathroom door behind him, he kicked off his shoes and slid out of his clothes, peeling his shirt over his head and tossing it in the corner behind the door, on top of the other items.
Releasing a sigh, he stretched his neck from side to side and rubbed his shoulder as he trudged to the shower and turned the knob, adjusting it until a strong, hot stream of water pounded behind the curtain.
Quickly stepping beneath the spray, he flinched when the hot water slammed onto his bare skin, but after a few seconds, the heat turned comforting, and a soothing tingle spread along his spine and down his arms and legs. His tired, aching muscles began to relax, and the pain ebbed slowly, as though washed down the drain with the water.
He closed his eyes and turned into the spray, relishing the hard, wet pounding against his face, wishing the water could cleanse him of the memories that plagued him -- Serapis' memories, accumulated over thousands of years, and his Blair's more recent memories of being trapped in his own body, watching as his hands snapped Mrs. Warren's neck.
"Thank you, Megan." Jim turned to the Australian detective and gestured toward the door. "We appreciate the ride. I know you must have a lot of work to do, so...."
She glared at him. "You want me to go? Okay. I can take a hint." She turned to Simon and nodded. "G'day, gentlemen."
"Connor," Simon started, setting his bag beneath the coat rack and taking a few steps toward her as she opened the front door, "we do appreciate your help."
She tilted her head. "Thank you, sir." She looked back at Jim. "Take care of Sandy. He's looking a little pale."
Jim nodded. "He's just tired, but I'll make sure he eats all his vegetables and gets plenty of sleep." He managed a weary smile. "Thanks again."
As soon as Megan closed the door, Simon headed into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and withdrawing two beers. "So, how's the kid. Really?" He handed one of the bottles to Jim.
Shrugging, Jim twisted off the cap and set it on the table. "The doctor said he should be okay. Apparently, he'll have the ability to sense these things in other people now. She did mention there might be some psychological problems. Flashbacks, and stuff." He took a sip of the cold liquid, then added, "Unfortunately, he can't see a shrink about them, at least not one without top-level military security clearance."
Simon sighed and slid his fingers beneath his glasses to rub at his eyes. "Look, Jim, maybe Sandburg shouldn't be out in the field with you for awhile, at least until we see how this thing's going to affect him."
Jim frowned, glancing toward the bathroom. He set the beer on the table and crossed his arms, leaning against the countertop as he met Simon's dark gaze. "That could take a while. This is all new territory, sir. We don't know what to expect. Samantha Carter had one of those things inside her, and she was back on active duty soon afterward. I talked this over with the doc, and with all due respect, sir, I don't think yanking Blair's pass is the best thing to do right now. He might need some time off, sure, but I don't think giving him too much time to himself is the best thing to do."
"Look, I'll put him on leave for two weeks. Let's just see how he does. He'll probably be working at the university, so this'll give him a chance to catch up on any school work."
"Can we make this unofficial? I mean, what if I need him, and he's doing okay otherwise? Something comes up with my senses, and--"
"Considering you and he are official kidnap victims," Simon interrupted, "I think you can get away with two weeks leave. I'll start the paperwork. That'll give you an opportunity to keep an eye on Sandburg."
Blair braced himself with one arm against the tile wall beneath the shower head. He kept his head bowed, letting the water pelt him, sending his hair forward to cover his face. He closed his eyes and focused on the sensation of the hot, pounding water on his head and shoulders.
Water was highly underrated. It held the power of life and the ability to cleanse wounds. Tarrera had loved the water at the foot of the hill, and he'd often caught her bathing herself near the small stream, the water sliding over the bare flesh of her back and arms, soaking her long, dark hair...
Blair straightened, almost loosing his balance. His eyes shot open and he caught himself on the side wall. He blinked at the tile that filled his vision, so different from the green hill and bubbling stream and the beautiful, naked woman in his...
His what? Vision? Flashback? It had seemed so real. So peaceful. He closed his eyes again, focusing on the thing that felt like a memory. The sky was a pale violet, different enough from Earth's blue to make its alien-ness obvious. He was standing at the top of a small hill, looking down at a woman. Tarrera. She was a minor healer, knowledgeable in plants, aware that some could heal, others kill. He was... his name was....? Caben. Caben of Donaten. He'd know Tarrera since they were children. She had chosen him.
The women chose the men. The man could accept or decline, but Caben had accepted right away. He'd loved her.
Then the Goa'uld had come, and the sky turned to fire, and he saw a vision of Tarrera, running, a ball of fire striking her in the back, sending her flying forward. She lay still on the grass, her flesh smoking.
He screamed, running toward her, but he never made it....
Shit! He was jolted out of the memory by a pain in his head and right elbow as his body jerked. He opened his eyes, realized he was on his back in the tub, the shower water assaulting him mercilessly, and he was gasping, taking in lungful after lungful of moist air. His eyes caught a swirl of red, and he reached one hand up to feel the back of his skull, wincing when a sharp pain flared at his touch.
"Chief?" Jim pounded at the closed door. "Are you okay? Let me in."
Blair closed his eyes and worked on controlling his breathing. "I'm fine. Just slipped. I'll be out in a minute."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. Now go away and let a man take a shower in peace."
"You've been in there for over half an hour."
Blair opened his eyes again. Half an hour? Wow, he must have been really out of it. He'd have sworn to no more than ten minutes. A moment later, he heard Jim's footsteps retreat, and he breathed a relieved sigh.
God, if Jim knew what he had in his head.... It was like he was living with thousands of other people, but he could only access bits and pieces of their lives. Cabel... No Caben, wasn't it? Even now, the memory was fading, but there were some things he still remembered clearly. In that society, whatever it was, tradition mandated that the woman choose her mate. Once joined, the pair were mated for life. That culture, he somehow knew, presumably from Caben, who must have been one of Serapis' hosts, had no concept of divorce. Only death could separate a joined couple.
From an anthropological standpoint, what was in his head was a goldmine. It would almost be worth living through those horrible memories, and he knew each one would end badly, with the person who's memories he was living falling victim to Serapis, if he could only get them down on paper, write about them, record the thousands of years of history in his brain....but he couldn't. It was all top secret, and he wouldn't risk Jim or Simon's safety by putting anything down on paper about the SGC or other worlds, even though, he'd take the risk for himself in a heartbeat. The world should know the truth. The government had no right to keep the Stargate secret. It didn't belong to them. It, and the knowledge that came from it, belonged to humanity.
It was all a moot point. The lives and memories of the people Serapis had taken as host would have to die with him. At least he could take comfort in knowing they were all at rest now, free from Serapis. Maybe, if there was an afterlife, their spirits -- or essences, or whatever -- were somewhere, watching him -- the latest, and last, of Serapis' hosts.
Deciding he'd indulged in his morose thoughts too long, and if he didn't get out soon, Jim might decide to kick the door down, he turned off the shower, realizing only then that the water had turned lukewarm.
Oops. Jim wasn't going to be happy. Wincing at that thought, he reached out and grabbed a towel and vigorously worked his hair, soaping up the loose water. Then he gave his body a once-over with the wet cotton and finally wrapped it around his waist before stepping out.
"Ah, it's about time," Jim grumbled good-naturedly, giving a faint smile as Blair padded out of the bathroom, naked except for a towel, his arms filled with a bundle of clothes. Jim happily noted that Blair looked a little better since his shower, but his expressive eyes still betrayed his fatigue, and a haunted sadness seemed to hang heavy within them.
"Uh, sorry." Blair ducked his head as he hurried toward his room. "I sort of used all the hot water."
Jim shrugged. "Don't worry about it. I can wait a little while." He raised the bottle of beer in his hand. "Besides, I still have to finish this."
"Oh, and Sandburg," Simon began, taking a few steps forward.
Blair stopped and looked at him, raising his eyebrows quizzically. "Yeah, Simon?"
"You and Jim have the next two weeks off. Put them to good use."
Blair nodded, forcing a smile. "Thanks. I'm gonna hit the sack, so I'll say goodbye now, Simon, and thanks for everything." The past few days were making themselves felt, and he wanted to fall face-forward onto his bed and sleep for the next week.
"What's a stunningly resourceful, handsome captain good for, anyway?"
Jim snorted. As Blair shut the bedroom French doors behind him, Jim swallowed the last of his beer and tossed the bottle in the trash. "So, you want to stay for something to eat? We can order pizza or Chinese food?"
"Nah." Simon set his beer on the table and moved to the coat rack, grabbing his jacket and overnight bag and slipping into it. "I'm going to head home, give Daryl a call, microwave some dinner, and head to bed. Unlike some people, I don't have two weeks of vacation coming up." He rolled his eyes in mock-disgust, then chuckled softly. "Goodbye, Jim. Take care of the kid, and call me if you need anything."
"Thank you, sir, but Connor was our ride. You need me to--?"
"Nope. She's the one that drove me to the airport. I left my car parked in your lot."
"Well, goodnight, sir, and thanks again." Jim followed Simon to the door, let him out, then locked the chain.
He turned back to the kitchen, his eyes darting briefly to Blair's closed bedroom door, and decided to make something fast and easy for dinner. Blair needed food in his stomach, but Jim's ears told him the anthropologist was already asleep, snoring softly. He'd let the kid rest for now and wake him later for a meal.
Blair woke to the enticing aroma of eggs and sausage. Giving into a yawn, he rolled out of bed and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. A chill tickled his skin, and he looked down and realized he was naked. The towel lay crumpled on the floor, and he scrunched his nose as he picked it up. It was still damp, and it didn't smell too good, either. He remembered dropping the towel last night and dropping into bed. He must have fallen asleep instantly, because he didn't remember anything after that.
He yanked a pair of sweat pants from his drawer and slid into them, then shuffled out of his room. Jim stood by the stove, the table already set with plates and cups.
"Morning, Chief," Jim called over his shoulder as he turned the flame off and carried the pan to the table. "Sleep okay?"
"Yeah." Blair glanced down at the foul-smelling towel in his arms. "I'm gonna do laundry. You got anything?"
"Yeah, but I'll do it. Later. Toss that in the bathroom and come on. I made a mean set of eggs, cooked in that stuff you've been hounding me to try in place of oil, and the sausage is turkey. Just for you. There are also hashbrowns and a couple of muffins from the bakery downstairs." He smiled. "Oh, yeah, and the most important part. Fresh coffee."
Blair smiled, blinking. "Wow. You did all that? Thanks."
"Yeah, now dump the towel and get your ass over here before this stuff gets cold."
"Aye-aye, sir. Far be it from me to look a gift-breakfast in the mouth."
"You know," Jim called after him, "I have made breakfast before. Many times."
"Yeah, yeah," Blair replied as he draped the towel over the rim of the tub. "Your idea of breakfast is fried eggs and bacon or a bear claw from the bakery." He grinned as he headed out of the bathroom and took a seat at the table. "So, this is a nice a surprise."
"Bear claws go great with coffee. Admit it." Jim smiled as he poured Blair a cup of coffee, then one for himself, and sat down opposite his partner.
"Okay, I'll grant you that." Blair looked down at his full, steaming plate. He inhaled the aroma, and his stomach grumbled eagerly. "Man, oh man, this smells great. Thanks again." Picking up his fork, he dug in zealously.
"So, we've got two weeks off. Interested in going fishing?"
Blair swallowed his mouthful. "I don't know. After all the traveling we've done, do you really want to do more? I'm kind of enjoying the feeling of home."
Jim pursed his lips and nodded. "Yeah, you're right."
Despite Jim's seeming nonchalance, Blair heard the disappointment in his voice. "Well, on the other hand, two weeks here will probably drive us crazy. How 'bout we rest up for a few days until we're numb with boredom, then head out. Maybe that little place that's an hour away?"
Jim's face brightened. "That sounds like a plan. And we can rent a room in the lodge. No camping this time. Strictly indoor amenities. That sound okay with you?"
Blair grinned. "No, it sounds great. Room service. Yeah, I can dig that."
Jim let some more slack out on his line, his gaze drifting to Blair, knee deep in the water. It had been four days since they'd returned from Colorado, and finally, the weary, haunted expression had begun to fade from Blair's eyes. He'd gained a little weight, and the nightmares that had plagued him the first couple of nights had dwindled.
But Blair still had a problem with the apartment lobby. Not that he blamed the kid. Every time he walked in and out of the building, his eyes would stray to that spot, and he'd remember....
Jim would probably remember it for the rest of his life, every day he left for work, every evening he returned home. For Blair, it was probably ten times worse. Eventually, though, he knew the vividness of the memories would diminish. The pain would dull. And the scar on the back of Blair's neck would fade.
They'd faced the Goa'uld demon and won. They would face the inner demons plaguing their memories together.