The loft: #307, 852 Prospect, Cascade WA.
The door closed firmly behind the two men, James Ellison stopped a second to make sure it was firmly secured. In silence he and his roommate divested themselves of jackets and headed inside to the sanctuary of their apartment. The light on the answering machine blinked ominously and Jim heard the minute hitch in his partner's breath as he too noticed the light.
Ellison turned sorrowful eyes to meet his partner's. Was he ready for this? It wasn't going to be pretty.
Twelve messages later, Jim had to forcibly restrain himself from ripping the phone from its place and hurling it against the walls of the loft. The messages from the press, university colleagues, even so-called friends were cruel, insinuating and downright malicious.
Ellison had felt his heart break as he listened and had watched his already emotionally fragile partner hunch himself into a ball on the couch as he felt the brunt of the backlash from his press conference. Ellison closed his eyes.
What the kid had done... the selflessness of his actions... there was one detective, one man profoundly humbled by the unhesitating gesture of a devoted friend. Someone who knew that if he spent a lifetime trying he'd never be able to fully express his gratitude. He'd spend the rest of his life making sure that Sandburg knew that his continuing friendship was cherished, needed, counted on and that he had a friend - a Sentinel - that would never, ever leave him to face the world alone. Two souls forever bound.
Ellison's attention returned to the machine as it signalled the next of the messages. His eyes widened in astonishment as he heard a familiar voice. The sarcastic lilt was unmistakable.
"Hunter, this is Hawk. Saw the mess on the news. So you finally found your answers. Tell your friend he did the right thing. Keep yourself safe. Keep him safe. A friend like that you take care of. If you ever need anything I'm stationed at the Mountain. Get a message to me and I'll do whatever I can."
Blair Sandburg gave a faint but confused smile. He glanced at Jim and saw the wry grin on his Sentinel's face. There was a story there. In fact, so intrigued was he by the look on his partner's face that Blair paid only scant attention to the next two messages; messages that reverted back to the format of the earlier offerings.
Then came another message. A soft voice, thought Jim. There was the sound of character in it, though - and determination.
"Hey, B. It's D. I'm sorry I've been out of touch for so long. I've had my reasons. Saw the press conference. I'm so sorry. I understand why you did what you did and I hope he understands he how lucky he is to have you for a friend.
"Bad stuff aside, I'm happy for you, B. You found your dream. I wish you could tell me all about it. It sounds like your life has become as 'interesting' as mine over the past four years. I've re-opened my email account under the same alias. Contact me if you need anything."
The machine signalled the end of the message. Blair and Jim looked at each other.
In sync, they laughed. Tabling the conversation for the immediate future, they went about the routine of getting cleaned up and preparing their evening meal. Blair's chilli was easy, delicious and didn't involve having to call for take out.
After dinner, they cleaned up and moved to the couch, bottles of beer in hand. Blair assumed a lotus position on one end of the couch, Jim sprawled out at the other, long legs stretched out and relaxed. Both started to talk at the same time. Blair laughed and made a 'you first' gesture with the hand not holding his beer bottle.
"I only worked with Hawk twice. They were covert ops so I can't tell you much. I commanded a team he was temporarily assigned to and vice versa. He was a good man and a consummate soldier. Captain Jack O'Neill. Seems he stayed in the Air Force, so he's probably been promoted a couple of times since then.
"He commented on my 'abilities' to track when we worked together. I realise now I must have unconsciously been using my senses. Obviously he's made the connection too."
Jim saw Blair's concerned expression and gave his Guide a reassuring smile. "Jack's a good man, Blair. He'll never tell a soul about me. Not if I don't want him to."
Jim listened as his Guide's heartbeat resumed its normal steady rhythm and a tiny sigh of relief escaped from his lips. Blair met his Sentinel's eyes and saw the unasked question in them.
"D is Daniel. Dr. Daniel Jackson, to be precise. He's got a double doctorate in archaeology and linguistics. He's amazing! He gave a lecture on Mayan culture when I was studying for my Masters degree. He'd gone to university early too. We met after the lecture and got to talking. We became firm friends though I'd lost contact with him a couple of months before I met you.
"We talked a lot about my interest in Sentinel research. I was almost ready to give up on the idea at that point in my life but he encouraged me to reach for my dreams. How right he was..."
The rest of the evening passed in quiet conversation, there was the little matter of the rest of their lives to worry about. Blair was excited about the idea of becoming a cop but was full of concern about the ramifications of his 'I'm a fraud' speech. Would his word ever be trusted? How could he give evidence in a courtroom?
"Chief, anybody that knows you knows that you wouldn't lie under oath. We'll just make sure that every piece of evidence can speak for itself. That others can corroborate your evidence. Eventually, anyone with half a brain will let the past go.
"If a case is threatened and a piece of scum criminal might walk then I'll go public. You did what you did to protect me and I'll never be able to thank you enough for that. If I have to go public then I'll go all the way. Go national. If I end up with a high enough profile then no agency of the government will be able to touch me and it'd raise too many questions if I just disappeared."
His Guide stared at him with an absolutely horrified expression and Jim reached out to place one hand on Sandburg's shoulder and rested the other on the side of his face; locking their gazes together.
"Blair, it's all right. If you tell me here and now that you want me to resign and for us to leave Cascade and go start over somewhere else, I will. I'm ready to go. We'll find another way to protect and serve.
"Jim Ellison, Detective, is a huge part of who I am; I won't deny it. Far more important to me - essential to me - is Jim Ellison, Sentinel and Jim Ellison, friend of Blair.
"I'm ready to leave and start over, or, I'm ready to stay knowing the possible consequences. We decide together what is best for us."
Saying that, Jim tugged gently at his Guide and wrapped his arms round him in a firm embrace. Automatically, Blair's arms reached round his back and his hands held fast to his Sentinel's shirt. His young Guide rested a weary head against the solid support of his shoulder and muttered something softly to his Sentinel.
Jim closed his eyes, sighed, and dropped a kiss on the jumbled curls of Blair's hair. "I love you too, Blair. You're my best friend and the brother of my heart. Thank you for sticking with me, chief. I don't know what I did to deserve you in my life but I'm so glad you're here to share it with me."
Ten months later...
Daniel Jackson, rubbing at tired eyes, went to answer the door to his apartment. The racket of the pounding on his door would be enough to rouse some of the mummies he'd seen during his digs around the world on his early archaeological excursions.
Opening the door he came face to face with his closest friend - Colonel Jack O'Neill. Tired though he was, the observer in Daniel quickly noted a few things. Jack was in his rumpled, casual clothes and carrying a six-pack. His bearing was - what was that word that one of his earlier foster parents had used? Antsy. That was it. Jack was antsy. Daniel got the distinct impression that Jack was scared about something and ready to bolt if he felt the need and that worried him. Jack didn't like to run from problems.
He stepped aside and motioned Jack inside, something told him that this was going to be a long night. In the week since they had been cleared to return to duty after the incident with Freya/Anise and the armbands, Jack had been distracted, irritable and more sarcastic than usual. Daniel silently berated himself for not noticing the signs earlier. Something was definitely bothering his friend.
They sat in Daniel's living room, each absently holding a beer bottle in his hand. Daniel had only taken a few sips, he wanted to be clear headed and Jack was apparently too wound up to be much interested in the beer he was holding.
"What's wrong, Jack?" asked Daniel in a gentle voice.
"You know how we all told Frasier that we weren't experiencing any after-effects from those damn armbands?"
Daniel nodded, not liking the sound of where this was going. Jack confirmed his worst fears when he said, "Well, in my case that's not entirely true..."
"What do you--"
Jack interrupted, running a nervous hand through his hair, "Everything is out of control. Ever since that damn thing fell off my arm my senses seem to be going out of whack. I'm hearing things that I shouldn't, I nearly blinded myself when I turned on the TV this morning. I'm not even going to tell you my reaction to taking a bite of pepperoni pizza last night..."
"Your senses..." murmured Daniel, mind racing.
"It's getting worse." Jack gave an embarrassed sigh. "The only time things seem to calm down a bit is when I hear your voice. Danny, this is beginning to freak me out. Should I tell Frasier? She's gonna pull me off active duty if I do..."
Jack watched as Daniel stroked absently at his chin. The space monkey had that look again - his mind was racing with ideas. He might as well sit back and relax; this could take a while.
It was almost ten minutes before Daniel was ready to announce his thoughts and how did he know this? He heard the increase in Daniel's breathing and heartbeat indicating his excitement.
"Jack! Do you realise... Do you have any idea what this could mean? This is amazing--"
"Daniel!" cut in Jack in his most commanding tone. It stopped Daniel's ramblings in an instant.
Daniel made an apologetic face at him and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I think you're experiencing incidents of enhanced sensory awareness."
Jack blinked and said, "What?! You mean like a Sentinel?"
Daniel gazed at him in amazement. "How do you know about Sentinels, Jack? They are a rather obscure anthropological subject, although they were in the news about ten months ago when a grad student announced that his thesis on them was a fraud."
Daniel noticed Jack's mouth twitch at his announcement. He frowned for a moment and then gave a half-smile. "Oh, I get it. You know Ellison. Would it surprise you to learn that I know Sandburg?"
Jack stared at Daniel in astonishment. The archaeologist gave a wry grin and shrugged. Getting down to business, Daniel said, "Okay then. We both know that Sentinels exist and we both know two men who know more about the subject than anybody else in the world.
"Obviously what we have to do is talk to them and get their help. We need to figure out if these enhancements are permanent or temporary as well as how many of your senses are affected, and what we do to help you control the sensory spikes.
"We're going to have to call them, and since that entire press conference of Blair's was given with the sole intention of giving his friend back his privacy, I sincerely doubt that they'll want to come to the Mountain. We're going to have to go to them. How are we going to get permission to do that and what do you want to tell General Hammond and the others?"
Jack sighed and rubbed tiredly at the back of his neck. In a resigned tone, he said, "We've got about six weeks of accumulated leave that we need to use up. As you know, it keeps getting interrupted by the little matter of saving the world."
Daniel snorted a reaction to that comment. It was all too true. SG-1 was getting a reputation for being like the crew of the bloody Starship Enterprise! They didn't get 'normal' assignments - they got the 'fate of the world rests in your hands' assignments.
"I'll call Blair in the morning. You talk to the General."
Jack nodded. He made to get up to leave but stopped as Daniel levelled a glare at him and said, "Oh no you don't. You're staying here tonight and in the morning I'll drive us to the base. You are not going to do anything that aggravates your senses more than is absolutely necessary."
The relief of the tension that he had been living under all week made Jack too tired to argue. He spent a restless night at Daniel's apartment, stretched out on the sofa bed.
The next morning - while Jack took a shower - Daniel placed the call to Cascade. To say Blair was surprised to hear from him was an understatement. Daniel's news did something he had considered impossible; it rendered Blair Sandburg speechless.
His announcement that his friend was O'Neill was greeted with a gasp and a yelled, 'Jim!'
By the end of the conversation, things were settled. Ellison and Sandburg were due for leave themselves. They had cancelled their vacation and worked double shifts when a vicious flu bug hit the Cascade police department. The extra shifts they had worked had accrued them several extra days entitlement. They'd talk to their Captain - he knew the truth - he'd agree the time off. All O'Neill and Jackson had to do was get to Cascade.
It proved surprisingly easy to get the leave they needed. General Hammond had taken one look at the harried expression in O'Neill eyes and the concern in Dr. Jackson's and had quickly given his permission. Jacob Carter/Selmac had requested Major Carter and the rest of SG-1 come for a visit in an effort to repair the damage to relations caused by the incident with Anise. Carter and Teal'c could go by themselves.
Carrying beepers that could be used to issue orders for an immediate recall, Daniel and Jack set off for Cascade the next day.
One week later...
Daniel and Blair had wandered off to explore and were somewhere in the general vicinity of the caves near the river; probably caught up in some misadventure. Two trouble magnets in one place - cosmic balance demanded something go wrong soon.
Jim and Jack stood further down the bank of the river, peaceful expressions on their faces - fishing. They were alike in so many ways. Jack turned to look at the other man and wondered how to ask what he wanted to, no, needed to know.
Ellison solved the problem for him. Eyes gazing out across the river, the other man spoke quietly but every word echoed through his companion's heart and soul.
"It does get easier, Jack. I promise you that. The exercises Blair is putting you through will help. Control will come. He's giving Daniel copies of all his research and a copy of his dissertation. Everything Daniel needs to help you is in there.
"I know the zone-outs worry you. I understand that you can't talk about the work you do; though knowing you, I'm sure it's in the field somewhere and not in an office. You'll cope. Daniel will be there to pull you out of any zones that you fall into."
Ellison turned to look at his friend and fellow Sentinel.
"This gift is a mixed blessing, I won't deny that. The good that you'll be able to do will far outweigh the problems that enhanced senses will cause.
"On the other hand, I'd never go back to the way I was before because now I have Sandburg in my life. You and Daniel were already close friends before this happened - this will only make the bond stronger. As Blair has told me often enough, 'Every Sentinel needs a Guide. A partner to watch his back.'
"That's what you've got, Jack. That's why he can bring you out of the zones; that's why he can use his voice, or you can use his presence to anchor you as you use your senses. As much metaphysical nonsense as it sounds to the military mind, your soul recognises it's other half.
"You can't do this alone. That's the voice of experience talking. Push him away and you'll feel like the heart has been ripped from you. The urge to protect him will grow stronger but remember - he's your equal, your partner. Together you will make up more than the some of your parts."
The rough emotion in Ellison's voice and the frank honesty did a great deal to reassure O'Neill. This path could be travelled and the difficulties weathered, Jim and Blair had done it. Their example was there to follow.
The solitude was disturbed by the arrival of the two boisterous Guides. They bustled off to the campfire and made coffee, calling out when it was ready. Blair lay lounged against one of the logs that they had dragged over as temporary seats and Daniel relaxed against the other.
Jack and Jim sat beside their friends, taking the proffered coffee cups with a smile. The afternoon drew towards a close and a tired Blair drifted off to sleep; he and Daniel had been exploring the nearby caves since early morning. Completely unselfconscious, he rolled over to the warmth provided by Jim. Sleepily, he shifted his Sentinel's arm so that he could lie with his head resting against his friend's shoulder. Smiling indulgently, Jim lowered his arm again and cradled his Guide close.
He looked over to the other two men to see that Daniel had finally given up the fight and joined Blair in falling asleep. His head had fallen against Jack's shoulder. Expression one of fond indulgence, Jack had waited till he was sure that Daniel was asleep before moving him to mirror Blair's position.
He looked up at Jim, eyes peaceful. Jim smiled and gave a soft whisper, just loud enough for Jack but too quiet for normal ears. "Do you feel that? The echo of his heartbeat as it reverberates against you? It'll become the most precious sound in the world to you. The sound that keeps you sane; the sound that keeps you whole."
They had another week before the beepers Jack and Daniel wore issued a summons back to their world. Jack and Jim were busy packing up the jeeps while Daniel and Blair made a last survey of the campsite to make sure that nothing had been left behind.
Ellison gave the new Sentinel some final pieces of advice.
"You say you work as part of a team of four and that you trust your team with your life. If that's true then tell them. It makes things easier if you don't have to hide what you are.
"You say that you report to one doctor. You might want to consider telling them. Your reactions to pain, stimuli and drugs are going to change. I never really needed to worry about that too much; so many different doctors have treated Sandburg and me that I've lost track. He has my Power of Attorney and final say on medical matters concerning me; it's made it easier to deal with the medical profession. Blair's word is final. He knows my limits better than anyone else.
"If you trust your CO, then tell him. Keep the circle tight, though. I've had to do a dance to keep from disappearing as a governmental research subject. You're in more immediate danger of that as a serving military officer. Be careful."
Blair and Daniel returned just then, so Jack didn't get the chance to say anything. For a moment there was silence between the four before there was a friendly round of hugs and backslapping. Jack and Daniel piled into their jeep. Ellison placed his arm around his Guide's shoulders and addressed the other pair.
"Remember, if you ever need anything - call us."
Jack drove the jeep to the nearest air force base. One phone call quickly had a jet prepped and ready to go as he and Daniel jumped to top priority on the transport manifest.
On board the jet, Jack ignored the curious glances of the crew assigned to take them to Colorado. He closed his eyes and focused his hearing... there it was... Daniel's heartbeat. Jim and Blair had been right. He could pick it out anywhere; the noise of the crew, the noise of the engines - none of it mattered - he listened and the heartbeat was there.
Jack relaxed. They'd be at the SGC soon enough and they'd find out what the fuss was all about. Then he and Daniel needed to have a private chat with a few people. They had something remarkable to tell them...