Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. Stargate SG-1 and its characters are completely the property of Showtime, MGM, and Double Secret Productions, and I suppose SciFi now, as well. We use them all out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.
Author's Notes: This story began as a round robin (based upon a true event) on the SGTS List, and when we realized the same folks were doing the writing, we took the story off-list for a while to made it 'legit.' Many, many thanks to Starfox and Suisan for their thorough and generous once-overs before posting.
Hephaistos, DawnC, Jmas, Jennifer Krall, and Sealie
Jim Ellison finally found a parking space in the third-to-last spot farthest from the hotel entrance. Grumbling about his partner, Mr. "I Can Find a Friend at the Drop of a Hat" Sandburg, he popped open the trunk of the rental car and grabbed two duffel bags, a garment bag, and Sandburg's backpack. He had only agreed to spending their week off in Chicago because of the basketball playoffs. Who knew the city had so much... culture?
Now Sandburg was off gallivanting around with some long-lost friend, and Jim was stuck carrying the bags. He was hungry, tired, and had exactly four minutes and fifty seconds to check in before their reservation would be released. With the Rotary convention scheduled over the weekend, the play-offs, and a Madonna concert on Tuesday, they wouldn't have a prayer of finding another room.
Jim arrived at the hotel entrance with just under a minute to spare. Blair's backpack started to slip off his shoulder, so he shrugged it back in place, then shifted his duffel bag to get a better grip. The doors opened and he walked through a first set, then a second before finally stepping into the faded posh lobby. He noticed with relief that no one was standing in line at the registration desk.
Jim stepped up to the only occupied station at the long counter. "I have a reservation"
"Excuse me, excuse me... sorry." A man elbowed past Jim, flashing him a brief and insincere smile, jostling Blair's backpack in the process. It slid from his shoulder down into the crook of his elbow, which in term caused him to lose his hold on one duffel bag.
Without noticing, the man squeezed ahead in line, juggling a large suitcase, and asked about his own reservation.
"Do you mind?" asked Jim, letting the rest of the bags drop and poking the guy on the back. "I was here first."
The man turned around. He was about five or six years older than Jim, with grey hair and brown eyes. Guy works out, Jim thought, sizing him up as if they were preparing for combat. They stared at each other for several long moments before a whiny, nasally voice piped up to Jim's left.
"May I help someone over here?"
"Yes!" The older man pumped a fist in victory and jogged over to the tall, snobby-looking guy who had suddenly appeared at the next station. Jim remained staring at the other man, annoyance oozing out of every pore.
The woman's voice broke through his haze. Sighing, he broke his gaze and he returned to the task at hand. "I have a reservation for a double room, name's Jim Ellison."
The woman, Jeanette, smiled mechanically and typed away on the computer. He'd already paid by credit card, but with all the events going on that week, even that wasn't sufficient to keep the reservation. After she typed long enough to have written War and Peace, the printer spit out a piece of paper. She retrieved a keycard from beneath the counter and handed him a copy of his bill.
"Room 619, 6th floor, take a left."
"Thank you," said Jim, rubbing his eyes.
"Room 382, 3rd floor, take a right," said the nasally voice next to him. Jim watched the grey-haired guy grab his own key and paper. Good, thought Jim. As far away from me as possible. He returned his attention to Jeanette.
"Look, I have a friend meeting me back here any time now, and he'll need to pick up his key. Name's Sandburg, Blair Sandburg."
"We'll be waiting for him." The woman tilted her head just so. "Thank you for staying at the Chicago Hilton."
"Right," sighed Jim. He picked up their bags and headed for the bank of elevators.
"Thank you for staying at the Chicago Hilton," said the man, whose nametag read Charles.
Jack raised his eyebrows. "What, no smile for me, Charles?"
Charles raised his own eyebrows. "I am smiling, sir."
"Ah." Jack stuffed the paper receipt into his pocket and tossed the keycard from one hand to the other. "Your last name wouldn't be Makepeace, by any chance, would it? Nah, didn't think so. Hey, a geeky guy wearing glasses should be arriving soon. Actually I thought he'd be here already. His name's Daniel Jackson, and he'll need to pick up his key. He's listed on the reservation."
"We shall have it waiting for him."
"Thanks." Jack grabbed his suitcase. He paused and appraised Charles carefully. "Still smiling?"
"Still smiling, sir." Charles' lip spasmed slightly.
Jack nodded. "Keep up the good work, Charles." He trotted off to the elevators.
"Well, that was fun." Daniel exited the taxi and walked into a glass wall. "Smoke, noise, fights, propositions. We hardly got to talk about the Incan exhibit at all."
"Door's two feet to your right," laughed Blair, getting out right behind him after paying the driver. "Man, you are blitzed."
"I only had three beers." Daniel pulled his glasses out of his pocket and put them on, squinting at the entrance to the hotel. "I don't even like beer."
"You liked this beer. I told you, microbreweries are the way to go." Blair's toe hit the electronic mat and he almost smacked into an elderly couple returning from something formal. Fortunately, Daniel grabbed him in time and they both sagged against the railing. "Whoa! Thanks, man."
"You had your share," Daniel said dryly. "Three? Four?"
"Four. Five?" Blair tried to remember. The smell of smoke was overwhelming. "Yeah, I guess the bar was a bad idea,"
The electronic door opened and closed as they stood on the mat and stepped off, then staggered back on, both men slightly confused about what to do next.
"The fact that it advertised 'coed mud wrestling' every Friday should have given us a clue."
Blair nodded seriously. "Bartender didn't even know there was an Incan exhibit in town. I know! Let's go to a nice restaurant for dinner tomorrow, after Jim and I do... well, whatever Jim and I do. We can talk then."
Daniel finally seemed to "get" the door. Grabbing Blair around the shoulders, they staggered through both sets and made it to the registration counter. "Sounds good. Jack and I should be finished with our meetings around 5:30."
"May I help you?" asked a woman named Jeanette.
Daniel blinked at her a few times. "Uh, yeah. We need to pick up our keys." He smiled slightly and waited.
The woman forced a smile. "Your name?"
"Name?" Daniel frowned.
Blair grinned and bounced back on his heels. He hadn't known Daniel very well way back when he was still on the lecture circuit, but he certainly had never seen him drunk. "Daniel Jackson," he prompted.
The woman nodded, head down, typing on the computer. "And your name?" she asked without looking up.
It was Blair's turn to stammer. "Uh..." All he could think of was Chief.
Daniel smiled himself and nodded his head at Blair. "Blair Sandburg," he answered for him. "We're the geeks who can't hold our liquor."
The woman's smile never wavered. "Here you go! Room 382, 3rd floor, take a right," she said to Blair, handing him a keycard. "And you're in Room 619, 6th floor, take a left." She handed Daniel a similar card.
"Thank you," said Daniel.
"Yeah, thanks." Blair smiled brilliantly and wondered if she were single. Kind of pretty, maybe a little old for him, but he was sure there was a sincere smile lurking beneath the tired employee facade. Maybe if he"Hey!"
Daniel had grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the bank of elevators. As Blair got off on the third floor, Daniel raised his hand and gave a slight wave. "Tomorrow, dinnermeet in the lobby at seven?"
"You've got it!" Blair bounced off down the corridor and hoped Jim had ordered something substantial yet healthy for dinner. Truth be known, he hoped Jim had ordered steaks.
Jim yawned, propped on the bed with two pillows supporting him, and flirted with sleep. His eyelids were closed and his hearing turned down, giving him much-needed peace from the chaos of the city he'd had to deal with all day.
He hadn't realized he'd actually fallen asleep until a noise intruded upon the silence, prodding him to consciousness. Footsteps. In the room. So Sandburg had finally decided to grace him with his presence. He opened his eyes, and his vision adjusted immediately to the darkness, spotting the too-tall figure with short hair and glasses towering over him. The smell of alcohol tickled his sensitive nose.
Blair staggered down the hallway, weaving to the left, then the right, then back to the left again. He squinted at the numbers on the door. 372... 376... 380... Aha! 382. Bingo. Looking down at his white keycard, he stopped in front of room 382 and eyed the computer panel that sported a small red light and a thin slot that just fit his keycard. Gripping his card with both hands, he aimed for the keycard... and missed, slamming the plastic into the wall.
Okay, he could do this. He tried again, biting his bottom lip as he focused. If the damn slot would just stop moving things would be so much easier.
Yes! The card slid easily into the slot, and he removed it quickly. The red light above the slot turned to green. He turned the knob and pushed the door inward, his stomach growling in anticipation of real food.
If Jim hadn't already ordered... Room service, here I come!
That sure as hell wasn't Sandburg. Instantly alert, he sprang from the bed, his right hand automatically grabbing the gun that lay on the table next to his bed. In one swift move, he had the guy pressed face-first against the wall next the bed, one arm bent behind him in what Jim knew to be a painful hold, and the barrel of the gun held firmly near the intruder's kidneys.
"Ah... Hello." The intruder swallowed, his voice much too calm for the situation.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my hotel room?" Jim asked politely.
"Uh... I think you have that reversed. This is my room." He held up the key clutched in his free hand. "It, uh, opened the door."
Jim frowned. The man smelled modestly of alcohol and his words were slightly slurred, consistent with someone who was only modestly intoxicated, but who had not indulged to excess. Pulling back, Jim released his captive, but kept the gun held firmly at his side, the barrel pointed to the floor.
"Thank you." The fair-skinned man turned to him, his back now pressed to the wall, and absently rubbed his arm. "I'm Daniel Jackson, peaceful... Uh..." He blinked. "I mean, uh... never mind. What are you doing in... Oh, wait a minute."
"What?" Jim eyed the man skeptically, his hearing now turned up to listen to the stranger's slightly elevated heart rate.
"Oh damn. Blair."
Jim stiffened. "How do you know Sandburg?"
Jim's ears picked up a faint, familiar voice, and he tuned into it. His stomach twisted when he heard Sandburg give a surprised yelp. Then a thud indicated a struggle or a fall of some kind. Forgetting about the intruder, he bolted, flinging the door open and tracking the sounds of distress to the third floor.
Daniel stood silent and confused in the wake of the human tank he assumed was the friend Blair had mentioned. He certainly hoped so, otherwise the young anthropologist was going to be in a lot of trouble when the big man reached...
"Jack..." Daniel moaned; if Jack woke to a stranger in their room, Daniel knew his team leader would make Sandburg's pal look like a pussycat by comparison.
Skittering of the room and down the corridor, Sandburg's friend already out of sight, Daniel strained his muddled thoughts trying to recall the room number the clerk had given Blair. Three, threesomething. Sliding to a stop in front of the elevators and jabbing the DOWN button, Daniel decided it didn't really matter. He had a really bad feeling Sandburg's irresistible force was about to meet SG1's very own immovable object. An explosion was inevitable.
Blair was sure he would remember how to breatheeventuallyas soon as the silver-haired tornado decided to let him get his feet back on the ground. Somewhere between the telephone he'd been attempting to use to call room service and the bathroom he really, really needed about now, he'd felt himself hauled up onto his tiptoes, with barely enough time to yelp, and being slammed against the wall with something he was qualified to judge as excessive force, Blair had realized the mistake with the keycards. A mistake that meant Daniel was very likely playing out an all too similar scenario upstairs with Jim.
Blair wasn't sure who he felt sorrier for.
As a rough shake threatened to make the bathroom a moot point, Blair decided. Me, definitely me.
The grey-haired man was studying Blair with the focused concentration and detached anger the anthropologist had previously only observed in Jim. "Where the hell is Daniel? What have you done with him?"
Blair mouthed a few words, something approximating the words 'upstairs' and 'mistake', and the older man eased his grip and finally let Blair's feet touch the ground. He was just about to launch into his explanation of what must have happened when the door exploded inward with a familiar-sounding crash. Blair didn't have to look to know Jim had arrived.
Guess Daniel talked faster than I did, he mused as he watched the two big men lock gazes, bodies tensing as they clearly squared off for combat.
Daniel's friend released his hold on Blair, reaching toward his hip as if expecting to find a weapon there and Blair realized the man wasor at least recently had beenmilitary. Funny Daniel hadn't mentioned that. What the hell had his colleague been up to in the five years since he'd disappeared from the archaeological scene?
Messaging his not quite bruised throatyeah, the big, lean, military machine knew exactly how much pressure to use to incapacitate without inflicting permanent damageBlair started to pipe up with his accustomed 'chill out' routine when the sound of skidding leather soles precipitated the arrival of a barely-mussed Daniel Jackson.
Talked way faster, Blair grumbled to himself, unsure whether to be annoyed or pleased the other man was obviously a competitor for his title of fastest mouth in the west. Seeing the too recognizable long-suffering look on Daniel's face, Blair decided on sympathetic annoyance. It was patently obvious Daniel had been here beforeor somewhere similar in any case.
His thoughts were confirmed as Daniel moved to his side, rubbing his own throat in a mirror of Blair's gesture, and sighed audibly. "Jack? What the hell are you doing?"
"What the hell am I doing? Don't you mean what is he doing?" Jack gestured behind him to Blair, who was still massaging his throat and smiling at Jim. "Or maybe you meant to ask what he's doing." Jack pointed behind Daniel, to where Jim still stood amid the wreckage that used to be the hotel door. "Surely you didn't mean to ask me what I'm doing, right Daniel?"
"Uh, Jack. I can see how this was maybe a surprise."
"Ya think? I was sleeping, snug as a bug, when Curly here broke in. What exactly did you expect me to do? Scoot over?"
Jack decided to ignore the giggle he heard from the drunk man behind him.
"What exactly did you do to him?"
Jack turned his attention to the man that had broken down his door, and was now standing guard over Curly. He didn't know how or why Daniel would know this man, but he was beginning to suspect the mop top was the friend Daniel had disappeared with. "I didn't do anything to him. Look, he's still standing and everything. Which is more than I can say for my door."
Jack noticed that the man ignored him and focussed on his friend. "Aw, come on, he's fine! I hardly even touched him. Daniel, care to explain what the hell's going on?"
"Blair, I'd like to introduce you to Colonel Jack O'Neill. Um, you are okay, right?"
"For crying out loud! He's just drunk. "
Blair grinned. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'll bet he didn't even leave a mark."
Jack was convinced that the mystery man growled. Hmph, like that's going to scare me.
"And I'd guess this is Jim?"
"Oh, yeah, man, sorry. Jim, this is Daniel Jackson. He's my friend from a long time ago. I haven't seen him in ages. He's an archaelololgist... an archaelogispist, he studies old things. And he's a linglist... a lungwist... he knows lots of languages."
Jack muttered something about Daniel not speaking Drunkese right before Daniel collapsed in laughter. Okay, so maybe he does.
"You are so drunk, Blair."
"Sure am, Daniel. But I'm not the only one."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Apparently whatever he mumbled was enough because Jim left his side long enough to stalk up to Jack. "Is it your normal reaction to attack someone who's had too much to drink and can't even defend himself?"
"If he breaks in? I'm going to go with 'yeah.'"
"It was an honest mistake and he could have been hurt, Colonel. I thought the military taught restraint."
"Am I the only one that remembers that the kid doesn't have a scratch on him?"
"In all fairness, Jim, your reaction to me being in your room wasn't much different."
"Jack, don't be an ass."
Sandburg suddenly stumbled over to Jim. "Just forget it, Jim. Let's go back to the room. This was just a stupid misunderstanding. No harm, no foul. Let's go."
Jim stayed where he was, giving Jack his most intimidating glare, which was promptly ruined when Blair interrupted. "Jim, come on man. I've gotta pee!"
Jack smirked as Jim was pulled urgently out the door by Blair. "I'll have the hotel contact you about the door!"
"Hey, Blair. Don't forget about dinner!"
"Yeah, yeah. Come on, Jim. I really gotta go!"
"Uh, Jack. Are we going to sleep with the door on the floor like that?"
"Great, that's just great. We'll probably have to change rooms. At least we're still packed." Jack threw Daniel's duffel toward him and grabbed his own. "Come on, let's go down to the front desk."
"I don't know, Jack. I thought it was full. I don't think we're going to get another room."
"Sure we are, Danny. Even if they have to throw Jimmy boy out on the streets. After all, I didn't break down the door. I showed restraint. It's the military way."
"Oh man, that guy did a number on my throat," Blair commented, then looked up at Jim when he realized the older man was walking into him. "Hey, watch it."
"Sandburg," Jim's hand wrapped around Blair's arm, "you're the one herding me into the wall. How much did you have to drink?"
They stopped at the elevator and Jim punched the call button.
Blair leaned against the wall. "Two... uh, maybe three beers. No, two. I'm sure. Or... maybe three."
"But I haven't eaten yet. Starving man." He fidgeted, his thighs pressing together. "And I'm about to have a bladder emergency if these damn elevator doors don't open soon!"
Jim smirked and pressed the already-lit button again. Seconds later, the DING signaled the elevator's arrival, and the doors slid open. Blair fled inside, then looked in bewilderment at the panel. "Uh... I forgot what floor the clerk told Daniel"
With a long-suffering sigh, Jim pushed the button for the sixth floor. "He still has your keycard, by the way."
Blair's eyebrows rose. "S'okay." He grinned, reaching into his pocket and waving the white plastic card. "I still got his. Maybe we should just switch rooms, huh? Seems only fair since you broke down their door."
Jim did not look amused. "I thought I was going to rescue you. My mistake. Next time you can fend for yourself, and if you get killed, it'll just mean less hair in my bathroom drain from then on."
"You're all heart man," Blair muttered, doing a little jig to appease his bladder.
"You know, Daniel, I never figured you'd hang with the free-love crowd."
Daniel's brow crinkled as he walked along side Jack, heading toward the front desk. "What do you mean?"
"Mr. Loreal. Curly. The hippie with the yahoo cop friend."
"Oh." Daniel frowned, focusing on navigating a straight path. Those beers had really gone to his head. "Not very politically correct, Jack. Blair Sandburg happens to be an anthropomorphist... Uh, I mean an anthropologist."
"Daniel, watch it!" Jack nudged an elbow into Daniel's ribs. "Walk a straight line, for crying out loud."
They stopped at the front desk, and Jack slapped his keycard on the counter in front of Charles and flashed a brilliant smile. "Hello, Charles."
"We'd like another room, please."
Charles' face remained impassive. "Is there something wrong with the one you currently have?"
"Yeah, uh, the door's kind of not attached at the moment."
Charles quirked one eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
Daniel leaned forward, resting his arms on the counter to keep himself upright. "There was a little misunderstanding. One of the clerks switched the keycards for Blair Sandburg and myself and we ended up going to one another's room... and, well, my friend's friend thought something was wrong and..." His brow crinkled and he looked at Jack. "Hey, how did he know you were beating up Blair? And how'd he find him?"
Charles' eyebrows both rose to his hairline.
Jack slapped a palm on the counter. "I was NOT beating him up, for crying out loud!"
"Well, at least you didn't put a gun in his ribs."
"He held a gun on you?"
"Uh, excuse me sirs." Charles looked a shade paler as he typed furiously at the keyboard. "Uh, Blair Sandburg. Yes, I see it here. Room"
"I don't care what room he's in!" Jack huffed, leaning closer to Charles. "Look, can you please, pretty please get us another room? Send the bill for the door to Sandburg's room." He grinned happily at that thought.
Charles pursed his lips. "I'm sorry, sir, but all rooms are occupied."
"Yes, sir, I believe that's what I said."
Jack glared at the man. "You're not smiling anymore, Charles."
"I assure you, I am."
"Come on, Jack." Daniel grabbed Jack's elbow and tugged. "Let's just go prop the door closed and get to sleep. We'll deal with this in the morning."
"Aaaah..." Relief. Blair zipped up his fly and walked out of the bathroom to the small sink. He washed his hands, then dried them on a towel, and shuffled into the main room.
He almost bumped into Jim, who was standing at the foot of the bed.
"Ah, hi there." Blair looked up at his friend. "Did you call room service?"
Jim cocked his head. He reached one hand out, grabbed Blair's head, and tilted it back.
"Uh, Jim, man," Blair began, staring at the ceiling, "what're you doing?"
"He did do a number on your throat. You'll have bruises there in the morning."
Blair slapped Jim's hand away and staggered around him, then fell face first onto the bed. "Cut it out, Jim. I'm fine. You didn't hurt Daniel, by the way, did you?"
"Not a scratch."
Blair rolled on his back and glared up at Jim. "That's what that Jack guy said about me. So let me clarify. Did you bruise him? Pull a gun on him? Slam him against a wall?"
Jim looked away. "Uh, possibly."
"Oh man!" Blair flung an arm across his eyes.
"I simply incapacitated him until he was able to explain what he was doing in my room."
"Great. Just great."
"How the hell was I supposed to know who he was?"
Blair sighed and uncovered his eyes, his arm flopping to the mattress. "Okay, I'll give ya that, but still..."
"Look, if it makes you feel better, we'll pack up our stuff, and I'll offer to switch rooms with them, though, I can't say that Jack guy doesn't deserve it. He had you by the throat, if you remember. He's lucky he just lost a door. I ought to call the local cops and have him arrested for assault..."
"Jim, uh, have you forgotten that I was in his hotel room uninvited?"
"That still doesn't merit an assault. You were no threat."
"And what if Daniel presses charges against you for assault?"
Jim just glared at Blair.
"So, which is it? We order room service and enjoy our nice quiet hotel room, or we pack up and go switch rooms with that flyboy."
Blair pondered that for a moment, then grinned. "We stay here. It's their door, their problem."
Jim smiled triumphantly and headed to the phone. "Now, how 'bout we forget room service and just order a pizza."
"I'm down with that, man."
The Chicago Hilton was known for its superior buffet breakfasts. By the time Jack and Daniel arrived, the room was full to capacity and they had to wait twenty minutes in line.
"Ow," Jack grumbled as he finally set his overflowing plate down on a table and dropped into a chair. He rubbed his shoulder and winced a few more times.
Daniel wasn't impressed. "If you're trying to make me feel guilty," he said, "it's not working."
"No, huh? Well you should."
"Why? Jack, once we set the door into its frame, you could hardly tell it wasn't attached. And with the chain set, anyone who tried to get through would have made enough noise to wake you. Floppy doors are not quiet."
Jack scowled and dug into his hash-browned potatoes. "Your point being?"
"My point being that you didn't have to move that wardrobe all the way across the room to block the door."
"Well, it wouldn't have been a big deal if I'd had some help."
"Well, I would have helped you if you'd just asked."
"Which I did, but you were passed out and drooling on the bed, as I recall."
Daniel flushed at that. He really didn't remember much after returning to the room.
When Daniel didn't answer, Jack grinned triumphantly and gulped down his orange juice. "Ha! Point to Colonel O'Neill." His grin suddenly faded and he glared menacingly over Daniel's left shoulder. "Oh for the love of..."
"What?" Daniel turned around. Sitting several tables away were a very grumpy looking Jim Ellison and a very animated Blair Sandburg. He sighed. "Give it a rest, Jack. You know, you and Ellison are actually a lot a"
"Stop! Stop right there, Daniel!" Jack pointed his fork at Daniel's chest. "Don't you dare finish that sentence."
Daniel sat back and sipped his coffee. "Apparently I don't need to. It's obvious you already know."
Jack didn't answer, he just scowled and concentrated on destroying a blueberry muffin.
"Ha!" Daniel said, using Jack's tone of voice a few minutes ago. "Point, set, and match to Dr. Jackson."
"Yeah, well Ellison just better keep the hell away from me. If I never see him again, it will be too soon."
"... and if I never see him again, Chief, it will be too soon."
Blair groaned. "Man, give it a rest. Geez. If you keep consuming all that bacon and sausage while obsessing over this colonel guy, your arteries are going to explode." Blair puffed out his cheeks and waved his arms, indicating just how bad the explosion would be.
Jim glared over Blair's shoulder for a few more seconds, then sighed and returned his attention to his partner. "You're right. Odds are the guy doesn't even like sports, so we won't run into him tomorrow night at the game. And while you and James Spader over there"
"His name is Daniel."
"Whatever. While you're out to dinner tonight, I'll hang out in the room."
"You sure you don't mind me ditching you for the evening?"
Jim smiled sarcastically. "I think I can manage, Sandburg. I'll get a nice big meal from Room Service and watch the Sox or Cubs on TV. Looking forward to it, actually."
Blair was relieved. "Good. Thanks. So, your choice today. What do you want to do? Visit the Sears Tower? Take a tour of Lake Michigan? Roam through the Stock Yards? Hey, you want to go see Oprah?" Blair grinned at that.
Uh oh. Jim didn't grin back. "We could see Oprah?" Jim asked, perking up.
"Uh..." Blair blinked.
Jim smirked and tossed a muffin at him. "Gotcha."
The restaurant Daniel chose that evening was a far cry from the noisy, obnoxious bar the night before. Located in Glencoe, a suburb of Chicago, the place was high-quality, quiet, and elegant, the Mid-Eastern cuisine exceptional. Both men ordered the lentil soup and shared an appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables. For dinner, Daniel chose curried lamb, while Blair decided on bagaghannonj, an eggplant dish. By mutual agreement, they both drank sparkling water.
"... so after a cursory glance at the outside of the Sears Tower, Jim decides we should hang out at the police station for a few hours."
"Sounds like fun," Daniel said, though he didn't sound convinced.
"It was fun watching Jim in his natural element. And yeah, it was kind of fun watching the social dynamics of another department, too, noting the similarities and differences between here and Cascade."
"You're really focusing your doctorate on the thin blue line?" Daniel asked, his expression unreadable.
Blair felt his cheeks coloring. "Yeah."
"Right." Daniel smiled that barely-smile of his. "I never figured you'd be one at home in a police station. Or with an ex-Army guy."
The best defense is a good offense. Blair grinned. "Well, man, I never figured you'd be working for the militarykind of overqualified for translating Russian and Chinese science manuals, aren't you? Never mind hanging out with a overly testosteroned colonel!"
"Jack is... an acquired taste." Daniel paused a moment and studied his almost-empty plate. "You know, Blair, I never thanked you for continuing to attend my lectures, even after... well, you might not have agreed with some of my more out-there theories, but you always listened, and... well, you always respected those theories."
Blair's face flushed again, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Hey man, I was chasing after Sentinels. Believe me, I understood what you were going throughwell, maybe not on the same public level." He swallowed some sparkling water and wiped his mouth. "So, do you still get a chance to study archeology? Do you still believe that the pyramids might have been built by an advanced race?" His tone was one of genuine interest, not in the least judgmental or mocking.
Daniel looked away and stabbed absently at a tiny piece of lettuce, his face flushing to match Blair's. "Are you still looking for a Sentinel, or have you given that up for 'the thin blue line'?"
A moment passed, then another. Blair swallowed hard and looked uneasily around the restaurant. When Daniel finally looked up and caught his gaze, Blair found the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in Daniel's eyes as he suspected were in his own.
"Jim?" Daniel asked hesitantly, his eyebrows raised.
"The Air Force project you're working on?" Blair guessed.
Neither man answered. When the waiter stopped by moments later to take their dessert orders, they were still grinning like fools.
It was after ten o'clock by the time Daniel and Blair finished dessert. The rest of the evening had consisted of a breezy discussion concerning the cultural attributes of Chicago, and a brief argument over the bill. They settled the argument by comparing bruises from the night beforeBlair's, though slight, were still visible beneath the collar of his shirt. Therefore Daniel picked up the tab.
Thank you, Colonel O'Neill, Blair thought. The place was way out of his league financially.
The expansive parking lot was almost deserted. Jim's metallic blue Ford Bronco rental car sat alone in the back row, and only ten or twelve cars remained at all. The night was chilly and a light rain saturated the air. Blair huddled in his jacket and groped for the keys.
"Yo, dudes," came an unfamiliar, young, male voice.
Blair slowly turned around. Six young men surrounded them in a semi-circle, using the Ford as the final barrier to prevent escape. While no weapons were immediately visible, Blair didn't have to be a psychic to know they were there.
Oh, this is so not good.
Abraham Iskandar, head chef and owner of The Fruit of the Nile, left the evening's final clean-up to his crew and stepped outside for a badly needed breath of fresh air and solitude. A light rain was falling so he remained under the lip of the roof, leaning against the side of the building.
The night sky in Chicago, Illinois, America was so different from the night sky he'd known as a child in Egypt. In Egypt, the stars seemed brighter, the sky darker, the air spicier, and the heat was all encompassing. He loved sitting outside during the warm nights with his father and brother in companionable silence.
After moving to America to attend culinary school, Abe discovered that he loved the evenings in Chicago just as much. He found the cool crisp air, the ever-present breeze slipping over his skin and around his clothes, to be refreshing, and the stars, while not as bright, were the same familiar patterns he'd enjoyed as a boy.
The sound of a stack of plates crashing to the floor caught his attention. Sighing, he stepped away from the wall and was about to return inside when he noticed movement at the far end of the parking lot. Squinting, he could distinguish several figures surrounding a large blue car.
He recognized the yellow headbands of the Wildcats, a local gang whose violent acts had escalated over the past several months. Without second thought, Abe grabbed a metal pipe lying near the trash bin and headed toward the young men. He would not allow the selfishness of undisciplined children spoil the beauty of the night.
Daniel crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows. "Yo, dudes? You must be joking."
Apparently Daniel had been hanging around that colonel too long. Blair shot him a brief look and raised his hands in supplication. "Uh, can we help you?" he asked, directing his question to the obvious leader of the group. All six boys wore yellow bandanas around their heads and Blair tried to remember everything Jim had ever told him about street gangs.
The leader grinned and looked at the other five. "Looky here, kids. We got us a couple of yuppies."
Blair looked at his and Daniel's chino-style slacks and their Oxford-styled shirts. Daniel wore an informal corduroy blazer and Blair was wearing a heavy sweater and a leather jacket. Okay, they did look kind of like yuppies. He hoped that didn't demand the death penalty in their little world of justice.
"I dunno, Trey," said one. "They look kind of like geeks to me."
Blair felt Daniel stiffen beside him.
A tall, skinny kid with long greasy hair spat on the ground. "I think they're homos."
"Well, shit, Rizzo," the leader said, "they could be all three. A couple of yuppie, homo geeks."
Blair smiled benevolently. "Look, man, we don't want any trouble. Obviously you're not fond of us, so we'll just get out of your territory right now."
Following some unseen command, the six gang members stepped closer, crowding them.
"Yuppies and homos and geeks usually got money," the leader said, still speaking conversationally to his cohorts.
"And if they're all three, they should be loaded," a little guy at the end of the semi-circle said.
Blair was getting tired of smiling, but he tried again. "You want money, man? Our wallets? Fine." He reached for his wallet. "We'll"
"No!" The leader finally addressed Blair directly. "Keep your hands where we can see 'em."
"Fine, man, whatever you say." Blair held his hands up, shoulder height, and leaned against the car. Daniel hadn't moved from his arms-crossed position.
The leader, Trey, stepped closer. "We have a lot more fun taking what we want, capice?"
Suddenly the kids attacked, three against one, simple weapons suddenly appearing in their hands. Blair rolled vertically to his left and avoided having a baton crack his skull. Dodging again he missed getting kicked in the groin, but the third attacker whipped his arm with a heavy chain. Kicking out, Blair couldn't help but glance to his rightjust in time to see Daniel take a heavy punch to his left eye by a guy wearing brass knuckles.
Something slammed into his side and threw him face-first against the car; his leather jacket yanked brutally off his shoulders and back. There was a brief scuffle over who would keep the jacket and the losers decided to take it out on him. Somewhere behind him he heard Daniel cry out, then one of the gang members screamed in painextreme pain, from the sounds of it. Buoyed by the thought that Daniel had scored a hit, Blair lashed back with a heavy boot and an elbow. Someone grunted and swore, and before he could turn around to face them head-on, a sharp pain sliced across his back and then again on his upper right arm. Crying out involuntarily, Blair was thrown to the ground and kicked brutally in the side.
"Stop! Stop this fighting immediately!"
Blair felt his attackers move away. Opening his eyes cautiously, he saw a dark-skinned, very large, very determined man in a white apron holding a metal pipe. There were five gang members still standing, and he now had their full attention.
"Go on, old man," crowed Trey. "Give us your best shot."
The man did. With a very precise and practiced move, he had one kid out cold and another holding a broken arm before Trey had even finished speaking. The other three were on him in an instant.
Somehow, the man remained standing. His eyes caught Blair's. "Go!" he shouted, backhanding one of the kids, causing his head to snap back. "Now! I will be all right!" and then he was down.
Blair knew it was their only chance and he didn't want to waste the selflessness of this heroic stranger. He pulled himself to his feet and snatched the keys out of the pocket of his slacks, grateful he hadn't put them in his jacket.
Only after the door was open did he dare look behind him. Daniel was on the ground, writhing silently in pain, holding his left eye with both hands. Near him, the sixth gang member lay curled into a ball, not moving.
The sounds of flesh on flesh and sharper thuds filled the air behind him. Blair grabbed Daniel's arm. "C'mon," he whispered urgently.
Daniel was aware enough to know the situation. He clung to Blair's sweater with one arm but never took his left arm away from his eye. Blood was trickling down his face from beneath his hand. Limping, Blair led Daniel to the car and helped him climb in and slide over. Blair quickly followed, ignoring the intense pain in his back and arm, and trying not to think about how wet and sticky his sweater was becoming.
He twisted the key in the ignition, threw the car into drive, and floored the accelerator . Only then did he glance in the rearview mirror. "Oh, God," he whispered softly. The man who had saved their lives was on the ground, not moving. Four of the gang members seemed to be running toward one of the other cars in the parking lot? Was it theirs? Would they hot wire it? Were they going to try to pursue them?
"Drive like Jim, drive like Jim," Blair used as a mantra. He couldn't seem to concentrate on what he was doing, and the car swerved dangerously into the other lane. Blair blinked several times and looked in the rearview mirror again. Headlights looked back. Was it them? Or another, innocent car?
"I can do this," Blair said with determination. He once again thought of their unknown savior, and took a left at the next intersection; this road seemed to head away from the traffic. The car followed. He accelerated harder and poured every ounce of awareness he had left into staying on the road. Buildings became more scarce and the trees more plentiful. He caught a glimpse of water to his right. The lights on the car behind him became more distant, but still, Blair didn't dare slow down.
Every human being has his breaking point. Blair's head dropped against the steering wheel as he fought against unconsciousness and lost. Momentum continued to move the Ford forward in a straight line, and when the road turned sharply to the right, the Ford arced gracefully off the road, over the ditch, and down the side of a softly sloping hill before it sideswiped a tree and tipped over. The wheels spun soundlessly beneath the starlit sky, and nothing moved from within.
Jack jumped as a loud banging sounded from the still half-mended door.
"Daniel! You're going to break the door down again!"
Almost before the words left his mouth, the door pulled slowly away from the frame and flopped down, forcing Jack to jump out of it's way. "Geez, Dani ugh, it's you."
Jim stepped through the doorway into the hotel room. "Daniel's not back?"
"Got it in one, Ellison."
"Blair's not back either. Do you know where they went?"
"Uh, I might. I think Daniel said something about writing down the name of restaurant somewhere." Jack turned away and began rummaging through drawers and shifting through leaflets and papers on the nightstand. "Why do you want it? Something wrong?"
When he didn't get an answer from Jim, Jack looked up and was struck at how stiff Jim looked. His jaw was clenched, his stance was ramrod straight, despite the fact that he was still balanced on a door laying on the middle of the floor, even his hands were in white-knuckled fists. "What? What's wrong?"
"I don't know anything for sure. I just think something's wrong."
"You think something's wrong. It's not even, what? 11:30? It's not that late."
"Do you have the name of the restaurant or not?"
"Yeah, yeah. Here it is. You still haven't told me why you're in such a hurry to find them."
"Look, I don't have time to explain this to you. They're in trouble." Jack handed the slip of paper over, not entirely surprised when Jim quickly turned and started out of the room.
"How are you going to get there?"
Jim stopped and turned to look at Jack. "I know Daniel didn't take our car, so I'm going to assume they took yours, right? If you're going there, you'll need a ride. If Daniel's in some kind of trouble, I'm coming with you." Jack grabbed his keys, briefly considered the door, before shrugging and walking past Jim towards the elevator. "I'll drive."
"Ya think? Whose car is it again? Oh, right, mine."
Jim's jaw ticked as he swallowed his next comment.
Blair groaned as more water dripped onto his face. At some time during the night, the roof to the loft had developed a leak. Make that leaks. Drops dripped incessantly in his face and hair. He could feel his clothes getting wet too. It was really starting to get on his nerves.
"Jim. The roof's leaking."
Blair heard Jim mumble something, clearly still asleep and loathe to get up and protect Blair from the Chinese water torture. "Come on, man. I'm getting wet."
Jim didn't say anything this time, but thunder rumbled ominously loud and the drips suddenly came down faster and harder. Blair opened his eyes and saw the black, tree filled sky and rain pelting straight down at him, quickly making his eyes burn. Blair let his eyes drift shut again, prepared to sleep for a while longer now that he was assured that the roof wasn't leaking. After all, there was no roof.
Lightning flashed behind his eyes and thunder shook the ground, causing Blair's eyes to flash open with sudden clarity. He rolled over with a groan, various pains trying to make themselves known, Blair trying just as hard to ignore them. He finally got himself on all fours and saw the remains of the vehicle. Somehow, he'd been thrown clear, but he could see Daniel where he lay unmoving on the roof of the passenger side.
Blair scurried over to the door and pulled it open, surprised when it offered little resistance. He leaned in and paused with his arms folded against the bottom of the doorway as his ears roared and the ground shifted. After several deep breaths, he leaned once again into the vehicle and grimaced at the damage done to Daniel's eye. It was still leaking blood in a steady stream from a cut just above his eyebrow that slashed down almost to his cheek. The area around the cut was a sickening purple-black and angrily swollen.
Any further inspection was halted as Blair heard sounds from the road above. He instinctively ducked over Daniel and peered through the cracked windshield to see lights hovering over them. Blair struggled to think. How long had he been unconscious? Had their assailants been following them? Could that be them looking to finish the job? Or was it help?
Deciding that it wouldn't be a good idea to wait and see, Blair shook Daniel's shoulder, trying to get him awake. When Daniel moaned, Blair leaned over and whispered urgently. "Daniel! You have to wake up, we need to go!"
"Daniel, please open your eyes. We have to leave. I think they found us!"
Daniel opened his eyes slowly. "Foun' us?"
Instead of answering, Blair pulled on Daniel's arm, trying to drag him from the Ford, ignoring the pain that screamed through his arm and back. "I can't carry you. We have to get out of here. Now!"
Daniel shifted towards Blair, grunting with each movement, before he finally fell against Blair and they both tumbled to the ground.
It was a few moments before Blair came back from his pain-induced twilight.
"Daniel, come on, man. I know you're hurting, but we're not safe here. We have to hide in the trees."
Blair struggled to his knees and together, he and Daniel shifted until they were marginally upright and stumbled into the trees.
As he pulled into The Fruit of the Nile parking lot, Jack's hands clinched the steering wheel and he accelerated as he registered the lights of a police car and an ambulance pulling away.
He watched the ambulance drive past and contemplated following, but Jim quickly vetoed the idea before it was even voiced. "They aren't in there."
"And you would know this because..."
"I just do."
"Right." Nothing wrong with getting information from the scene. Maybe Daniel and Blair weren't even involved.
And maybe Teal'c would start performing stand up on his days off.
Before he'd put the car into park, Jim was out and running. Jack quickly followed.
As the men approached the officers, Jim held out his badge. "Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade Police. Can you tell me what's going on?"
The officer glanced at the badge before commenting. "An employee got beat up trying to break up a fight."
"A couple of the cooks came out in time to see someone in a metallic blue Ford Bronco drive away and the head chef, Abraham Iskandar getting beat up. Apparently, when the first vehicle drove off, they stopped their attack and drove away."
Jim's heart sank as he heard the description.
Jack knew from Jim's expression that Daniel and his friend Blair were right in the middle of this.
"Let me guess, your rental was a metallic blue Ford Bronco."
"Where can I find Abraham Iskandar?"
"He's in the ambulance on his way to the hospital. He was unconscious when he left. I take it you're somehow involved in this?"
"Yeah, the car you mentioned is my rental car. My partner and his friend were using it. It sounds like they may be in trouble. I need to talk to Iskandar. See if he knows where they went. Meanwhile, put out an APB on the car."
"Already done. No sign of it yet. If you guys want to follow me, I'm going to the hospital to try to get a statement."
Jim nodded and turned toward the car, with Jack following quickly behind.
Daniel woke to wetness and pain. His left eye ached and his efforts to open it only resulted in sparks of radiating pain, the right was slightly more cooperative but attempting to look beyond his nose caused his head to throb. Concussion, he'd had enough of them in his time with the SGC to be sure of it. He was somewhere dark, soaked to the skin and at the moment couldn't recall how he'd come to be in this statewherever he was.
Letting his eye close again, Daniel dropped his head back to the rocky ground and listened. Water was dripping somewhere nearby, rain, but the sound seemed to echo all around him in a pattern that should have been easy to identify if not for the persistent fog in his brain. He remembered the sound from somewhereanother time, another place, another planet. Hiding from Jaffa with his team in a... a cave?
Slitting his eye open again, Daniel realized he could make out a dim light several feet in front of him, a light which outlined a rough, narrow crack that might be worthy of the distinction of 'cave mouth'. Without his glasses and with the added handicap of having only one functioningsort ofeye, Daniel could only guess at the dimensions of the cave, but from the echoes he was sure it was deep but not very large. Blair might be able to stand up in it but Daniel would never make it....
In a rush, Daniel remembered everything: the dinner, the gang in the parking lot, the fight, the awful pain of the crash, running through the darkness and raineach of them trying to support the other and neither of them succeeding very wellbefore finally spotting the cave thanks to a well-timed flash of lightning.
And blood, Daniel remembered blood. Blair had been covered in it from the two knife wounds. Daniel had ripped up his oxford shirt, with help from Blair's pocketknife, and bandaged the other man's sliced arm and back as best he could by the occasional illumination of lightning. There'd been enough cloth left over to bandage Daniel's head; he remembered Blair joking about matching bumps on both sides of his head, one from the fight, the other from the crash. He knew he was bruised all over and suspected at least one cracked rib from where one of the thugs had kicked him, but all in all he knew they were both damn lucky to have been able to walk awayin a manner of speaking.
Daniel started to call out for Blair, then remembered his friend had said something about the gang finding them. Best to keep quiet, at least until they could better assess their situation together. Gingerly raising himself to all fours, Daniel swept his hands all around him, finally touching hair. Crawling closer, he felt Blair's forehead, noting heat that immediately concerned him. Between the wetness, the blood loss and the possibility of contamination on the knife, Daniel knew infection was almost a certainty. With a sigh of regret, he shook the younger man. It was time to wake up, time to act.
Jack watched Ellison pace the hospital corridor like a caged animal as they waited for the doctor's okay to visit the man who had obviously been hurt trying to help Daniel and Blair. The big cop had barely spoken a word on the drive over except to say it was Blair and Daniel's blood on the ground around the area where the Bronco had been parked. Jack was burning with questions. Questions like how the man knew their friends were in trouble in the first place, like how he'd been able to reconstruct the fight as if he'd been an eyewitness.
According to Ellison, both their friends were hurt badly... badly enough that neither of them should have been able to get into the large vehicle much less drive it away. Chicago PD had a search on for the Bronco, but the patrolman who was waiting with them for Mr. Iskandar's statement reported no sign of the two men or the vehicle had been found yet.
Ellison was just turning for another round of the corridor when the doctor finally came out of the exam room. Jack reached the doctor's side only a breath behind Ellison.
The doctora kindly man who rather resembled Dr. Warner from the SGClooked up at them with worried eyes. "Mr. Iskandar is a very lucky man. He has a long spell of rehabilitation ahead of him, but I have no doubt he'll recover."
"Can we speak with him?" Surprisingly Ellison's voice was quite gentle, as if out of respect for the man who had risked his own life for the sake of two strangers. Jack had to admit his own surprise at the man's courage, and resolved to see that the medical bills were covered at the government's expense.
The doctor studied them both for long moments before finally nodding. "A few minutes only. He's been sedated and we'll be moving him to a room shortly." When Ellison started to protest the doctor raised a finger. "Ah. If it weren't for your missing friends I wouldn't allow it at all."
Jack grabbed onto Ellison's arm and pulled the man into the room with a grateful nod to the doctor. The big cop glared at him, but nodded and moved.
The man on the exam table could easily have been Kasuf; the resemblance was so strong it was almost eerie. No beard, but Jack was sure the same blood ran through the veins of both men. Mr. Iskandar was broader across the chest and thicker around the arms, but could easily have been an older brother. It seemed the blood of Egypt continued to look after Daniel.
Jack realized Ellison had moved forward while he'd been lost in the shock of almost-recognition and was already speaking in a voice softer than Jack would have credited him with possessing. Iskandar had to struggle for breath to answer but valiantly struggled to do so, obviously determined to help. In fits and starts they soon had a picture of what had happened in the parking lot of the Fruit of the Nile and Jack wasn't really surprised at all to find Ellison had called it pretty closely. Iskandar described both their friends as fighting valiantly against overwhelming odds, but being beaten under by the gang members. The old man had jumped into the fray with a spirit that also reminded Jack of Daniel's father in law, downplaying his own bravery with the same matter-of-fact tone Jack had heard often on Abydos. Iskandar told them how he'd urged the two young friends to run, how Daniel had been barely conscious and Blair had obviously struggled with his conscience to be able to leave, how the gang had lost all interest in one old man when their chosen prey had driven away.
Ellison had been nodding encouragingly throughout the old man's statement, jaw muscle working so hard Jack was sure the man had molars of steel, but now he moved closer to lay a hand on the man's shoulder and whisper a thank you as he walked away. Jack nodded his own thanks and turned to follow the big cop when Iskandar's voice called out once more.
"They were driving very fast when they left, but they will not have made it far," he stated sympathetically. "The Wildcats will not give up the hunt."
Jack knew the pain in Ellison's eyes was a mirror for his own as he acknowledged a fact both of them already knew. The gang wouldn't give up, and the longer it took them to find Daniel and Blair, the more likely were the chances it was already too late.
Pain throbbed across his back and through his right arm. Blair groaned, and a hand quickly clamped over his mouth.
"Shhh. I think I hear someone coming. It might be one of those gang members."
Blair opened his eyes to see a dimmed face leaning over him. Daniel. His face appeared much too pale, and Blair could just make out the dark shape of what could be either blood or bruising along Daniel's head.
" 'Kay," Blair whispered, closing his eyes. He was sweating and trembling. The cold dug into his back, and each shiver aggravated the pains in his body.
Voices drifted on the wind, barely audible beneath the storm. The gang members had been right behind them. They probably found the wreckage, and it wouldn't take them long to check out the rumpled metal catastrophe and then begin their search.
"Make a left at the next intersection."
Jack felt a headache blossoming behind his eyes. "Why?" He'd spent the last few minutes taking directions from Ellison, who seemed to know where he was going but didn't seem inclined to say how.
"Just do it."
"Look, why don't you tell whatever little voices you're hearing to can it. So far, there's been no sign of them, and you're just leading us on a wild goose chase." He stopped the car at the light and Ellison popped the lock on his seat belt and opened the door, sliding out.
"Hey!" Jack leaned over. "Where the hell are you going?"
"You're wasting my time... and Sandburg's. I'll find them on my own."
"Oh, for crying out loud. Get back in the damn car. Left is as good a way to go as any, I suppose."
Jim hesitated a moment, straightening, his head cocked. After a few seconds, he leapt back into the seat and slammed the door closed. "Step on it."
A bolt of lightning touched the night, illuminating the cave. Daniel gasped. Had he seen a figure standing at the cave entrance?
He stopped breathing and listened. A single footstep crunched the dirt. Daniel remained as still and quiet as he could, praying Blair would as well. Had the person spotted them?
Another flash of lightning revealed the figure again, closer this time, and in that millisecond when night turned to day, their eyes met. Then blackness descended, and Daniel heard the man shout.
"Aqui! Aqui!" His frantic footsteps bid a fast retreat and were soon swallowed by the thunder and rain.
Jim clenched his jaw and tried to concentrate, a job made difficult by the constant mumblings and rantings of O'Neill. At least when Blair wouldn't shut up he was saying something. He took a deep breath of the moist night air and closed his eyes.
Yes! There it was again.
"Right," Jim said.
O'Neill looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Right what? I'm right?"
Jim growled and pointed out the window. "Go right, damnit! Here!"
"All right already." O'Neill spun the wheel clockwise, barely making the turn, and they sped down a well-maintained back road leaving the populated part of town behind. "What makes you so sure, anyway?"
"Vanilla." Offering no other explanation, Jim continued to stare out the windshield. He was piggybacking sight to smell, straining to get a glimpse of the Bronco he was certain was ahead of them somewhere. When he and Blair had first taken possession of the rental car, a gaudy cardboard pineapple hung from the rearview mirror, disguising, Jim soon learned, the smell of mildew. Knowing how much Jim hated pineapple, Blair had bought some vanilla beans at a local food coop and had whipped up an incredible-smelling car deodorizer in no time. Unfortunately, even the pure vanilla hadn't been enough to overwhelm the unpleasant odors, though Jim never had the heart to tell him. Now he was grateful for the strange mixture.
The scent was getting stronger. "Slow down!"
O'Neill slowed down. "What? You getting some hot fudge sauce vibes now or something?
"Just keep driving slowly."
For once, O'Neill did so without comment.
Daniel figured they had about thirty seconds before the kid got back with the others, so he considered their options. One, they could stay right where they were and get captured. Two, they could retreat further back into the cave and hope that there was another way out or that the gang would get tired of the chase and leave them alone. Three, they could wait for Zeus to descend from the heavens and save their butts.
Shit, thought Daniel. Option Two it was.
Wasting no time, he grabbed Blair's good arm and heaved him into an upright position. "We were spotted," he whispered. "We've got to retreat so that we can live to fight another day."
"Okay." Blair blinked the sweat out of his eyes and gamely scrambled to his feet. His skin was far too warm and he was shivering constantly, but Daniel was grateful Blair was still with him in mind and spirit. They wouldn't stand much of a chance if one of them became incapacitated.
They stumbled in the dark over rocks, around rocks, and at times, under rocks for what seemed like hours, though it had probably been mere minutes. Daniel was too tall to walk upright in the cramped tunnel, so he had to perform his best Chaka imitation to get by. Blair led the way silently, only letting out a quiet gasp now and then. Daniel knew that the crawling around had to be aggravating the slashes on his arm and back and he cringed in sympathy. His own head was pounding unmercifully, and his ribs were on fire.
Hello... Daniel felt cool air on his face as they suddenly blundered their way into a wider cavern, falling over each other with the unexpected spaciousness. The air was coming from the far left corner.
"Blair," said Daniel. "Do you feel the air over... hey, Blair? You with me?"
Apparently not. Blair had collapsed, exhausted, to the stone cold floor and lay there face down, mumbling something over and over into the rock. Daniel reached out a hand and gently felt Blair's skin and sweater; he was burning up, the sweater sticky-soaked with blood.
"Oh, God. Blair? Come on, please! We don't have much farther to go."
But Blair remained unresponsive and unmovable. Daniel blew out a breath of frustration and leaned back against the wall, listening to the mantra Blair's subconscious was chanting in an infinite loop. Come on, Jim. Come on, Jim. Come on, Jim...
Jack sighed. Again.
"Trust me, we're close," Ellison said. He seemed on full alert, like a hound dog with his head out the window searching for rabbits. Except Ellison didn't bother with rabbits. Oh no. He searched for vanilla.
Vanilla. Right. Jack eased his car around yet another curve and was about to tell Ellison just what he could do with his vanilla when a spectacular bolt of lightning split the black of the night several yards ahead.
Ellison's hands suddenly flew to cover his face. He screamed harshly, rocking back hard and writhing in his seat.
Jack watched, bewildered and helpless. "Ellison? You okay?" God, the poor guy was in some serious pain. What the hell just happened?
Jim could hear O'Neill bellowing at him, but between the thoughts screaming through his head and the blinding pain, he couldn't really make out the words, nor was that his priority. Over and over in his head he kept hearing the same two things in succession. I can't help Blair if I can't see. Underlying that was the voice of his missing Guide breathing out a constant mantra: "Come on, Jim. Come on, Jim." Even knowing that Blair's voice was just in his imagination, he still allowed the steadying sound wash over him; drowning out O'Neill, Jim's own concerns and eventually his pain. His entire body relaxed and he finally felt safe enough to open his eyes.
"Ellison? You okay?"
Jim looked over at O'Neill. His vision wasn't nearly as bad as he'd feared. He could make out the concern in O'Neill's face despite the dimness in the vehicle. There were flashes of light and hazy second images, but at least the lightning hadn't blinded him.
"Yeah. I'm okay, now. Keep driving."
"Whoa, wait a minute. First I need to know what happened. Do you need medical attention?"
"I told you I'm fine."
"Look, I understand you don't want to stop. I don't either. But if there's something wrong..." Jack let the sentence hang there. He really, really didn't want to stop. But if Ellison ended up slowing him down even more by hanging around, he'd make time to take him to the ER. It wasn't like he was exactly helping out. But following vanilla, of all things, was doing something.
"Just drive, O'Neill."
Jack pulled back onto the road and hit the gas a bit harder than he probably should in the rain, causing the wheels to slip a bit in the mud before finally gaining purchase and hurtling them further into the darkness.
"Can't say I didn't try."
Daniel knelt next to Blair and gently rolled him onto his back so that he wasn't face first on the ground anymore. He debated briefly with taking the sweater off, but even with the dampness of the blood, Blair would be warmer with it on. Besides, he really didn't have any alternative clothing. At some point, Blair had stopped his mutterings and slipped into unconsciousness or sleep, Daniel wasn't sure which. With Blair almost silent, Daniel closed his eyes and held his breath as he listed to the sounds around him. He couldn't hear their pursuers, so either they were really quiet or maybe they could remain here until Blair recovered enough to move on without being discovered.
To the left Daniel could feel the cooler air that intimated another tunnel, perhaps a tunnel out. But to the right, he could hear the sounds of water. Water was something they could definitely use. Daniel held one arm straight in front of him and held the other at a right angle in front of his body in an effort to protect himself from running into something in the dark. After a few paces, he found a small body of slowly moving water; probably run-off from the storm violently raging outside. He cupped a bit in his hands and sniffed it but smelled no odd odor. He then tasted a bit with the tip of his tongue. Daniel knew there was plenty that could hurt him that he wouldn't smell or taste, but he and Blair both needed to drink, Blair in particular. Also, they stood a better chance of avoiding infection if they cleaned their wounds. Deciding that the water was worth the risk, Daniel leaned over and drank.
As gently as he could, Daniel shifted Blair closer to the water and positioned him on his side, with his back toward Daniel. Wishing for the bandana he usually had on missions, Daniel tore the bottom of his undershirt and soaked it in the water. As he repeatedly dripped the water across Blair's back and arm, cleaning the blood, mud and who knew what else, he found himself wishing Blair would wake up. He didn't want to have his friend suffer anymore than he was and knew that cleaning the wounds would hurt, but sitting in the dark with only the sounds of trickling water, Daniel found himself feeling more alone and helpless than he ever had.
Daniel looked around the darkness of the cave and wondered if this dank place was going to be the place where he died.
Jim stalked forward, as poised as a hunting dog, between dripping, wet conifers. He barely made a sound as he snaked through the thick undergrowth. Jack trailed in his wake, half exasperated and half concerned at his reluctant partner's antics.
They had had to leave the car in a cul-de-sac, alone in a muddy logging park. A single abandoned tractor its only company. Ellison had simply checked his service weapon and then strode into the encompassing darkness. Jack had had no choice but to follow.
"Vanilla?" he hissed.
Ellison froze, cocked his head to the side and his mouth dropped open, making him lookto Jack's sarcastic eyesingularly dumb.
"What now, Lone Ranger?"
Ellison's hand moved in a cutting motion.
That was the straw that broke the camel's back. This madman, this supposedly premier detective of Cascade, Washington, was scenting out vanilla in search of their lost friends. Daniel was probably off in the other direction and he was followingsomething that he didn't do very wella lunatic.
"Ellison, time out." He held his hands in the classic 'T'. "I get enough of tramping through wet forests at work. You've got us following vanilla, for fuck's sake."
Ellison pursed his lips. "Trust me," he said belligerently.
"This much." O'Neill moved his fingers to a hairsbreadth apart.
The detective's eyes flashed icy fire. Jack met his glare one-on-one; he wasn't going to look away. Jim matched his determination. Reluctantly, the colonel realised that they could spend all night glaring, each refusing to stand down.
"Ellison..." he couldn't even being to verbalise the frustration, anger, worry he felt for Daniel. Chasing after vanilla meant that they were clutching at straws. The police back at the restaurant might know the gang members' hangout or even if they had cell phones. Then he could call Sam and get her to track the bastards by satellites or something.
Jim looked away, his laser eyes slicing to stare at the dark woods around them. "Blair is out there. I know he is."
"Yeah," Jack snorted. "Vanilla."
"We don't have time for this," Ellison said, abstracted. He inhaled, flaring his nostrils. "Fresh blood. It was at the scene. It wasn't Blair's, I don't think it's Daniel's. It's the gang members. We're getting close. In fact..."
Jack rolled his eyes skyward as the detective repeated his dumb impression.
"There." Ellison pointed, and Jack leaned forwards to peer at a dark splodge of a handprint on the bark of a rain slicked tree.
"How did you see that? Smell that?"
"Later." And Ellison bounded off into the undergrowth.
The world hung in grey shadows. Jim moved easily, mapping the environment around him. A deer with a fawn froze in the undergrowth to his left. Ahead of him, a deepening in the shadows spoke of a cave. Warmth at its entrance told him that several men had paused at the mouth before venturing inside.
"Oh, fuck." O'Neill tripped and fell flat on his face.
Jim sighed deeply; heand their friendsdidn't have time for this. "Stay here, O'Neill."
"Like..." O'Neill struggled to his feet and brushed the accumulated leaves and sticks off his civvies.
"You can't see what you're doing. And we can't risk a light."
"And you can..." O'Neill challenged, but his face showed confusion.
"Carrots. There's a cave up aheadtwelve o'clock. Blair and Daniel are holed up inside but the gang have gone in ahead of us."
"What are you waiting for?"
"You're a liability, O'Neill. I can move faster without you."
The grey-headed colonel bristled.
Jim simply drew out his back-up weapon and handed it across before O'Neill vented his spleen. "I'm going in, Colonel. If anyone gets by me, deal with them."
Jim left O'Neill spluttering, knowing that he had probably made an enemy for life.
The sentinel ran, crouched low into the gaping cavern. He held his Sig Sauer clasped in both hands. The passage floor was damp and musty, an animal had nested here. He could smell smokeit wreathed the low ceiling, trailing like snakes or ghosts.
A parade of footsteps led him along the passage. Two sets were distinct from the othersclose together as if they walked hand in glove. Daniel helped Blair and Blair helped Daniel. The gang members ranged back and forth.
"Got you, you homo freaks." The voice rolled through the cavern.
The sentinel ran in earnest, hurtling over rocks and ducking under overhangs, arrowing towards his goal. A kidtall and greasy rose up before him, blinking in the poor lighthe clutched an obviously broken arm to his chest. In his other hand he held a tiny penlight, its pinprick light gleaming brightly to sentinel eyes. Jim didn't hesitate, mowing him over before he could yell a warning, leaving him sprawled unconscious on the earth to continue unerringly onwards.
"Don't come any closer," Daniel threatened, his tone reedy with pain.
Jim clearly heard the rattle of a metal chain. They were playing with Blair and Daniel. Jim grinned ghoulishly; their cruelty would be their downfall.
The sentinel burst into a dank cavern. Daniel was tucked up against the back, standing over Blair's prone body.
As one, the five gang members span around. They held a mix of flashlights and hastily constructed flaming torches.
"Trey, he's got a gun," a pimply faced kid blurted.
The walls of the cavern were solid granite. Any shots would ricochet madly, threatening both Blair and Daniel. Jim raised his weapon higher, threateningly.
"Up against the wall."
Trey stood tall.
The smaller gang member at Trey's side quivered. "He's got a gun," he repeated.
"Yeah, but it's five against one," Trey drawled.
"Two against five," Daniel coughed, and drew himself upright.
As Trey turned to face the archaeologist, the sentinel struck. Spinning on one foot, he drop kicked one chain wielding thug, smacking him against the jaw. The kid stumbled backwards and Jim followed through, double kicking the side of his head. His eyes rolled up in his head and he toppled back like a felled tree into a fellow gang member. A torch dropped, flames coruscating on the floor. Two accounted for, Jim knew he needed to neutralise the others, before Blair or Daniel were hurt worse.
A manbuilt like a brick shithousetackled the sentinel. A gleam of gold heralded a set of brass knuckles. Stars filled Jim's vision as he felt the skin over his cheekbone split. The thug flattened him on the cold earth as a fist drove downwards.
"NO!" Daniel yelled. "I'll..."
Galvanised, Jim brought his knee up, bringing it between them. With a massive kick, he thrust the body builder away. Trey had Daniel by the front of his shirt and was shaking him like a dog.
"Homo freak." The leader slapped Daniel across the cheeks again and again. "Geek."
Weakly, Daniel drew a fist and punched him in the gut.
Jim wrenched Trey away flinging him to the side. He moved to follow through with a kick to the ribs.
"Stop," came a tremulous voice. "Stop or I'll shoot."
Jim froze and slowly turned. Somehow the little skinny kid had his gun and he didn't even remember dropping it. Sandburg would never let him forget this.
"Get away from my brother." The kid was snot-nosed with fear.
"You don't want to do this," Jim said evenly and took a slow measured step forwards.
"I'll shoot, I swear I will."
Jim advanced another step. "You don't want to do that," he said into the face of a wavering barrel.
The skinny kid didn't utter a word, just stood, his hands clenching convulsively around the gun.
"If the gun goes off the round could go anywhere, you might even hit your brother." Jim reached out enfolding the smaller hands in his larger ones. Pointing the barrel at the floor, he gently removed it from the kid's grip.
Before the kid could utter a word, Jim had him face against the wall and was reaching to secure him with handcuffs.
A sudden shot reverberated through the cavern. The deafening echo threatened to send the sentinel to his knees.
"Bet you're glad I followed you, eh Ellison?" Jack said mock-lugubriously.
Heart hammering against his ribs, Jim turned. O'Neill was framed in the entrance to the cavern, his face luminous against the darkness. And Trey lay face down in the earth at Jim's feet. A bullet hole burned dead centre in the middle of his back.
Jack sauntered into the cavern proper. He toed the leader of the gang in the ribs turning him over. The gang member rolled limply, no man alive could move in such a disconnected manner. A gun fell from his lifeless hand.
His expression closed, Jim regarded the older man. Then he nodded once. "Keep a bead on them," he gestured with his Sig Sauer at the gang members sprawled on the earth floor groaning. Without waiting to see if the colonel was following his orders he darted across the cavern.
Daniel was folded over Blair's body, half-concussed and bleeding freely, he clung to consciousness with his fingernails. He glared blearily through a veil of blood and tears at the approaching sentinel.
"Don't come any closer," he grated.
"It's me, Daniel." Jim held his hands out as he dropped to his knees beside the two friends. "I'm a trained medic, let me check you out."
"How are they?" Jack demanded from where he watched over the gang members. "Danny?"
"Jack?" Daniel squinted, trying to see through the flickering shadows. "Is that you?" he half sobbed.
"I'm here, Daniel. Just keeping an eye on the trash." Jack moved a fraction so he could watch his prisoners and oversee Jim's actions. "How are they, Ellison?"
Jim didn't answer, too engrossed in checking his charges. Daniel was conscious but Blair... Forcing his hand to be rock steady, he reached out and set his fingers against Blair's throat. The pulse beat unevenly. His skin was cold and clammy; obviously shocky. The student's back was awash with blood, but the bleeding had stopped. There was a strange scent in the air.
"What happened?" Jim demanded, as he slipped a hand beneath Blair's cheek in preparation to turn him over.
"We were attacked," Daniel began, blinking furiously.
Jim shot him a dark glance but allowed the concussed man to fumble out their account. "Blair was sliced, but... the... the infection took him too fast... infections don't work that fast. The knife must have been really dirty or dipped in LSD or something. Or he hit his head... I don't know..."
Jim caught Daniel by the chin, tilting his head upwards. In the flickering torch light, sentinel eyes could see that both pupils were even, but widely dilated; Daniel would bear watching.
"You got your cell phone, O'Neill?"
"Get out of here, get high enough to get a signal out and call us a medi-vac a.s.a.p."
"You up to watching these guys?" Jack rejoined.
"Yes!" Jim snarled.
Jack fiddled with the winding, rollercoaster-like puzzle contraption in the hospital waiting room. Bringing one of the ringed blocks up to the top of the "mountain," he released it, watching as it sailed down and hit the other wooden ring, causing a chain reaction of sound and motion.
Well, that was fun.
He hated waiting. Daniel and Blair had arrived at the hospital over an hour and a half ago, and Jack hadn't been able to get a word out of anybody about their conditions. With a sigh, he spun one of the rings with his finger and absently watched it twirl around the straw-like metal track. How the hell had Daniel found trouble on what was supposed to be an uneventful trip? They weren't on some other, unknown planet. No Goa'uld were around... that he knew of. Nothing bad should have happened. Damnit. He spun the ring again. Then again. And again. And...
"Do you mind?" Jim asked.
Jack spun the ring harder. "Nope."
"Of course." Jim sighed.
Jack finally stopped his tinkering and looked up at Jim. The detective sat slouched in one of the cushioned chairs, rubbing his temple with his fingers. Feeling a twinge of guilt, Jack rose from his crouched position and sank into the chair next to Jim. "Headache?"
"You know, uh... You were pretty good back there."
"No. No. Please, no need to thank me for saving your life."
Jim shot him a look, his lips twitching upward. "As I recall, you fell flat on your face."
Jack threw him a scowl. "Yeah, well, I guess I don't eat as many carrots as you do."
Jim gave a short chuckle. "Nice shot, though."
"Thank you." Jack said with exaggerated enthusiasm.
"Detective Ellison? Colonel O'Neill?"
Both men looked up and rose from their chairs. A man in aqua scrubs approached, his graying hair and deep wrinkles giving him a worn, tired appearance.
"Yeah?" Jack took a step forward.
"I'm Doctor Cochran." The doctor stopped in front of them. "You're here for Blair Sandburg and Daniel Jackson, right?"
"Right." Jim nodded impatiently. "How are they?"
"Well, Mr. Sandburg has some spectacular bruises on his ribs. More seriously, he was stabbed twice, once in the back and once in the right arm. The one on his arm wasn't bad, but the one in his back went fairly deep. It nicked one of his kidneys, but fortunately, didn't do much damage. Our biggest concern is infection. The wounds weren't exactly kept clean. And, uh... Well, maybe you had better sit down."
Ouch. Jack threw Jim a sympathetic look
Jim remained standing. "Just tell me."
"Doctor Jackson told us he suspected the knife might have been contaminated, so we ran a tox screen."
Shit. Jack glanced again at Jim, watching the man's jaw twitch in reaction.
"You found something," Jim stated flatly.
Dr. Cochran nodded. "Yeah," he sighed. "I'm afraid so. There are traces of LSD in his system."
Jim went rigid. "Traces?"
"That's the good news. I don't think it'll pose too much of a problem. However, he has been somewhat delusional, in and out. With his prior medical history, this could pose... complications."
Jack frowned. What prior medical history?
Jim finally sank into the chair. He sighed heavily and ran a hand over his face before looking up at the doctor. "Delusional how?"
"Golden fire people. From reading his medical"
"Flashbacks." Jim leaned back and tilted his head against the wall.
"Yes. The good news is that he is lucid more frequently than not. With his minimal exposure to the LSD, I'm optimistic that, once the traces leave his system, he'll likely have no further problems."
Jack frowned. What flashbacks? What kind of guy was this Sandburg kid? Someone should have told him the sixties were over.
Jim looked to Jack. "He was dosed with the stuff while working on a case with me. We were tracking drug dealers. They sent a Trojan horse to the precinctpizza laced with the stuff. Sandburg had a slice."
"Oh." Jack felt suddenly guilty for his assumption and looked away, wondering if mind-reading was also one of the detective's skills.
"As for Doctor Jackson..."
Jack's head snapped up. "Yeah?"
"A mild concussion and an eye that's going to get very big and very black. In fact, it's already starting to swell shut. He also has a cervical strain, and I think that happened when he took the punch. I've fitted him with a collar just to be safe, but he shouldn't have to wear it long."
Jack breathed a sigh of relief, sinking into the chair next to Jim. "Thank you."
"Can we see them now?" Jim asked.
"As a matter of fact, yes. They've both been asking about you." He jerked his head toward a pair of double doors. "Follow me."
"Cant. S'not gonna work, man. Ashes..."
"It's okay, Blair. Hey, c'mon..."
Jim broke into a run down the corridor, leaving Jack and the doctor behind. He followed Blair's tearful mumblings and flew through an open doorway into a room crowded with machines. Two beds occupied the room. Daniel lay in one, propped up on pillows, a cervical collar around his neck. His one wide eye snapped to Jim, worry creasing his brow, and a hint of relief softened his blue eyes, even the one that was swelling closed.
"He's been in and out like this." Daniel sank back against the pillow and closed his eyes. "The doc said the knife was laced with LSD."
"What theHey, Danny."
Jim barely glanced at Jack before heading to Blair's side.
"I'm sorry, man. It's not gonna work..."
"Chief? Hey, there, buddy." Jim leaned against the bed and placed his hand on Blair's arm. "Can you open your eyes for me?"
"How is he?"
Jim looked up to see Jack standing inches from him, looking at Blair with eyes crinkled with concern. "You heard the doc."
"Yeah," Jack sighed.
"Jim?" Blair's trembling voice inquired.
"Hey." Jim gave a big smile as he looked down at Sandburg. "What did I tell you about playing with sharp objects, Chief?"
Blair's brow crinkled. "They here?" He raised his head, his eyes darting around the room.
"No. Shhhh." Jim placed his palm on Blair's forehead and pushed. "Lay back. Just relax. They're not here." He wasn't sure if Blair was asking about the Golden Fire people or the gangsters, but it really didn't matter. "You're safe."
Blair didn't look appeased. "Daniel?"
"I'm okay, Blair."
Jack sauntered over to Daniel's bed and propped himself on the edge of the mattress. "Wow. Some shiner you got there."
Daniel blinked at him. "Jack?"
"I'm really glad to see you."
Jack smiled. "Ditto," he said softly, giving Daniel's arm a gentle pat.
"I can't believe they don't serve french fries," Jim mumbled as he eyed some of that humus stuff on Blair's bread plate. It wasn't half bad on crackers.
Blair scowled and slapped Jim's hand away. "Will you be quiet?" he whispered, looking over his shoulder. "Abe's gonna hear you!"
Jim sighed. "I still don't understand why he's giving us this free dinner. You and Harry Potter over there should be buying him dinner."
"Uh, that's Daniel," said Jackson. "And for Abe, having us enjoy a meal he's created with his own hands is the greatest thanks we could offer."
"Now see, Daniel, that's a problem." O'Neill was staring in disgust at his plate. "I still can't understand why you told me to order this stuff."
"I never said you should order it, Jack. I said it was something you could use.'"
"Why? What is it?"
"Bulkh. Uh, brains."
O'Neill turned a distinctive shade of green and Jim almost snorted beer through his nose. He was beginning to like this Jackson kid. Good thing, too, since Blair told him that Jackson had all but figured out he was a Sentinel.
"Laugh it up, Ellison. I don't see you scarfing down your baba la goop there."
Okay, the guy had a point. Mushy eggplant was not what he'd expected, and the falafel was... well, chalk balls stuffed into pita bread.
In the end, Blair shared his lamb shish kabobs with Jim, O'Neill ate Jim's falafel, and Jackson, much to the disgust of everyone, savored every bite of the bulkh. Dessert was a much happier occasion; a beaming Abe presented them with kanafi, a shredded dough filled with sweet cheese, and topped with syrup and pistachio nuts. Jim ate his and half of Blair's before noticing that Daniel's remained untouched.
"You gonna eat that?" he asked.
"You gonna eat that?" O'Neill echoed.
The two stared at each other. O'Neill was the first to crack. "Look, you already had half of Frodo's. Daniel's mine."
Jackson leaned forward and frowned. "Excuse me?"
"For Pete's sake, you know what I mean. Look, Ellison, I'll arm wrestle you for it."
Blair stood up and reached for his coat on the back of the chair, wincing at the movement it caused to his upper back and arm. "Ask Abe for more, he'd probably be thrilled you liked it that much."
Jackson stood as well, holding himself stiffly as he pulled on his own jacket.
"Hey, where're you going?" Jim's and Jack's respective arms remained poised in mid-air, the wrestling match forgotten.
Daniel glanced quickly at Blair before answering. "Uh, there's a seminar being offered in conjunction with an exhibit we'd like to see at the museum."
Jim frowned, taking in Blair's ashen features and the heavy sling tightly strapped to his body, and Jackson's spectacularly bruised face and slow movements. "You two just got out of the hospital this morning."
Blair grinned and wiggled the fingers on his sore arm. "We're fine, Jim. That's why they let us out."
"Well, wait just a darn minute." O'Neill glanced uncomfortably in Jim's direction. "Maybe we'd like to go to this exhibit and seminar. Huh? Did you ever think of that?"
Sandburg's face exploded into enthusiasm. "Hey, that would be great! It's all about the history of paper, how the Chinese used bamboo and the Greeks used papaya, and there's a demonstration involving different types of bark"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" O'Neill held up both hands in surrender. "Okay, I think I'll pass. I'm allergic to... you know... papaya."
"Oh." Blair looked crestfallen. "Hey, wait! Jim, maybe you can exchange those playoff tickets from last week and take Jack! They're still playing, right?" He and Daniel edged away toward the door. "You guys would have a great time."
The playoffs. Hell, Jim had forgotten all about basketball.
"You've got playoff tickets?" For the first time, O'Neill looked at him with a friendly, almost admiring expression.
"That's the reason I came to Chicago with Sandburg to begin with."
"Well I'll be damned. I was hoping to catch a game myself. Who you rootin' for?"
O'Neill's eyes narrowed. "Are you messing with me Ellison? Don't tell me you came here for basketball when two of the greatest hockey teams of all time are in the conference finals?"
"Hockey? I should have known."
"Oh, please." O'Neill threw up his hands in disgust. "You can't compare a bunch of tall, gangly guys stuffing a big orange ball through string to the sharp-edged speed and skill of..."
Jim held his lukewarm coffee cup in his hand and tuned O'Neill out. He really wasn't sure Jackson and Sandburg should be going out so soon, especially considering the extent of their injuries. Then again, they were big boys. And visiting a museum wasn't exactly stressful.
"So, were you able to get Cubs tickets?" Jackson's voice floated in.
Jim realized that in tuning O'Neill out, he had actually honed in on the two men in question.
"Shh!" Blair hissed. "He'll hear you!"
"What? I just wanted... oh. Oh! Right. Right. I'll shut up now."
That little shit! Jim almost grinned. So, the walking wounded were really going off to a baseball game. Sometimes you just had to hand it to Sandburg. King of the Obfuscaters.
"and then there was Gordie Howe, he was"
"So how about we comprise, O'Neill," Jim interrupted, "and go to a ballgame instead?"
~ End ~
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