Trilogy 5: Raven’s Skin
Part 1 of 2
Summary: Another visit to Diné, but the visit is cut short by trouble at the SGC.
Author Note: There are deaths to minor and very minor characters.
“Knowing that you would have wanted it this way,
I do believe I’m feelin’ stronger every day.”
Daniel pushed away from his desk and stretched, adding a yawn for value. Absently tossing his glasses on the desk, he rubbed at his eyes while blindly touching a button on the monitor to dim the light.
“That bad?” Sam asked from the doorway.
Startled a bit, the instantaneous recognition of her voice kept him from jumping. He looked over, tilting his head. “No, not really, just incredibly monotonous.” He waved at the pictures of stone text taken from inside a few ruined buildings. “It didn’t take long to decipher the language. It’s just that in translating it, I found that the people who once inhabited P4X-259 had a bleak view of creative writing.”
“Again, that bad?” she grinned.
“Oh well, not really. I mean, it’s fascinating in a way.”
“But nothing of any real significance.” At her hopeful look he added, “or of any military value.”
“Ah,” he echoed, standing up and stretching some more. He finally caught on to her body language, screaming that she wanted to talk. “So, what’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing bad or anything. Just…”
“You wanna talk.”
“Is it disastrous?”
“I dunno yet.”
“Okay, then. Out with it.”
“Okay,” she said, taking a breath. “Two things. First thing, it’s something I wanna bounce off you and have you think about. Nothing we have to finish here but–“
“Um… okay, I um… need some advice.”
“About?” he asked, indicating that she sit in the chair next to his desk as he moved to close the bulkhead door.
She sat down with a thump, which told Daniel she was doing what he did when bothered a great deal and trying to hide it. Except he was better at it. “That bad?” he asked, shooting her a grin for repeating her question to him.
She smiled wanly, fiddling with her hands, and gave him such an imploring look that Daniel did a double-take as he sat back in his chair.
“Shit, it is bad. What’s wrong?”
“Daniel, how do you handle having a relationship with the Colonel?”
“I’m sorry?” he asked, thrown off.
“He’s your superior officer, your team leader. When you guys argue or fight, how do you handle working together during the difficult times?”
“You never ask the simple stuff, do you?” She looked embarrassed so Daniel took a hesitant, uncomfortable breath, figuring that what was troubling her had to do with Teal’c. Daniel had sensed them acting uncomfortably around each other for quite some time, but he’d been hoping it was just some sort of adjustment period, like Teal’c getting used to a Tau’ri woman.
Biting at his lip, he sat back, absently drumming his fingers on the desk. “I don’t exactly know what you want to hear, Sam. If I’m pissed off at him, I deal with it because I don’t have a choice. What’m I gonna do? Act like a teenage girl and stomp off in a huff, proclaiming in a whiny, screechy voice that I’m quitting because Jack’s being an asshole?”
She snorted, grinning because the image was so ludicrous, she couldn’t help but smile. “The only thing I can tell you,” he went on, “is that I concentrate on my job and try to move past it because that’s all I can do. Anything less and I disrespect myself. If we have a moment, I’ll go talk to Jack or, believe it or not, he’ll come talk to me. If we can’t do that, then when we get home, we try and resolve it–providing he hasn’t made it worse while we’re in the field.”
He furrowed his brow, staring back at her troubled expression. “I think your question has to do more with your relationship than mine. Did you two have a fight?” He drew out the words, waiting for her to contradict him because he wanted her to. He didn’t like his friends unhappy.
“No, not really,” she said heavily. “Teal’c’s been going through a kind of adjustment period, one where he’s feeling guilty about being with me because his culture’s different than ours.” She paused and made a face. “So he’s having a hard time, I’m having a hard time. It was okay at first, but he has these ideas that push me the wrong way. I’m not the way he wants me to be.”
Daniel’s brow line went up. “Macho man, Chulak-style?”
“Oh yeah.” Sam got up and began to pace, occasionally looking over to Daniel as she spoke. “He accepts my position, my knowledge, my expertise, but…” She chewed at her lip. “It’s just that he’s so wise about a lot of things but when it comes to women and sex, he’s…”
“Restrictive?” When she paused and looked at him, Daniel nodded. “Right.”
“I thought he’d be perfect,” she admitted, “until I got a good look at his culture and how he was raised. I love him dearly, Daniel, but it’s not working out and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” She sighed and crossed her arms. “I’m sorry to put you on the spot. I shouldn’t have.”
“No, really, Daniel. All I really wanted was to use you as a sounding board, have you tell me anything I might not be seeing.”
Daniel shook his head. “I can’t see anything. I know you don’t want to hurt his feelings, but frankly, Sam, I think he’ll be relieved that he’s not hurting you more than any possibility of you hurting him.”
Sam looked surprised, not having considered that fact about Teal’c and hating that she hadn’t. She’d been too angry at his sexism to see it. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll talk to him when we get back but I’m not looking forward to it.”
“No one ever does,” Daniel said glumly, and so solemnly that Sam stared at him, alarm written on her face. “What?” he asked.
“You’re not splitting up, are you?”
“What? Hell, no. Listen, when you talk to Teal’c, do everyone a favor and don’t tell him you were talking to me about your relationship unless he asks.”
“Way ahead of you, Daniel, don’t worry.”
“Great, okay. So, what’s the second thing you came to tell me?”
“Oh, right,” she said, frowning. “It’s our next mission. Hammond asked for an additional short briefing before we leave. About what, I don’t know. We’ll know in…” She looked at her watch. “55 minutes. Afterwards, we head off to the Tok’ra to pick up SG-2 on our way to the Beta Site.”
Just then, Jack opened the door, interrupting. “Hey there. You tell him, Carter?”
“Just did, sir.”
Jack made a face. “Sorry, wish I’d caught you first. Destination’s changed.”
“To where?” Daniel asked. His curiosity would’ve been tweaked had it not been for the dark vibe he was getting from Jack. Something bad.
“Diné?” Sam asked.
Daniel’s stomach seemed to fill with cold stone as an internal alarm went off. “What’s happened?”
“The shaman, Asatay, just contacted us on Lin’s behalf.”
“Not Lin himself?” Daniel said.
“No. And he’s asked for Jason to come ASAP.”
“Because?” Daniel pressed, unaware that he was holding his breath.
Jack swallowed. “Lin’s dying.”
The room went quiet and Daniel closed his eyes just as Jack looked at the floor. After a minute, he whispered, “I’m such an unfeeling asshole. I can’t believe I didn’t take him more seriously.”
“Who, Jason?” Sam asked.
“He’s been having strange dreams last few days,” Daniel told her. “He had a bad feeling. I kept trying to tell him it was probably nothing.”
“But why’s that make you an asshole?” Sam scowled in a reprimand. “You love him, Daniel. You just wanted to protect him.”
“Except we have an understanding to always tell the truth, no matter what. I didn’t want to believe anything bad would happen because I didn’t want it to. For him, for us, doesn’t matter.”
“Stop it, Daniel,” Jack scolded. “Now, what we have to do next is go to the briefing, then get geared up, grab Jason and his teammates, and proceed directly to Diné. We contact Hammond and let him know we arrived, then go see what’s what.”
“Does Hammond know that this is probably going to be religious so it may take a while?” Daniel asked.
“Given that Asatay mentioned some sort of thing, that’s a given.”
“He did?” Daniel asked.
“What’d he say, sir?”
Jack shrugged. “Some sort of spiritual transfer thing. I didn’t ask because I figured we’d be better off to find out in person, get all the details, then call Hammond for the update.”
Daniel and Sam nodded, not faulting the logic.
Jack looked at them both. “So what’s up? You two seemed intense when I walked in.”
Sam evaded his eyes as she got up and walked around him. “Nothing, sir, just getting some advice. See you at the briefing.” She beat a hasty retreat, shooting Daniel a pleading look that he fill Jack in so she wouldn’t have to.
Jack watched her retreating back, then looked at Daniel. “What?”
Daniel quickly looked up and down the corridor before closing the door. “Teal’c.”
“Shit,” Jack said, hissing inward. “I hate to say I saw that coming but…”
“Jack,” Daniel said.
Jack held up a finger. “Don’t say it, Daniel.” Daniel froze, except for the three rapid blinks of his eyelashes. Jack was going to alter the subject at that moment just to catch Daniel off-guard and tell him how sexy he thought those rapid blinks of his were. But the look on Daniel’s face also told him not to.
“Say what?” Jack didn’t elaborate, but Daniel had a feeling that Jack might have thought he was about to call him an ass. He smirked back at him. “Don’t interfere.”
Jack was caught off-guard instead and it annoyed the hell out of him. “Who’s interfering?”
“You are. Or you’re about to. Don’t. You want Teal’c to repay that so-called kindness when we fight?” Daniel finished the question with a rather smug rise of his brows.
Jack’s plans abruptly changed. “On second thought.”
“Exactly.” As he grabbed his keys and fatigue jacket and moved to pass Jack for the door, Jack laid a hand on his arm.
Daniel gave him a warm, if concerned, look. “What?”
“Did you have any nightmares last night?”
Daniel somehow managed not to flinch. “No,” he lied.
“Daniel, your eyes are red and there’re smudges. That tells me it’s lack of sleep.” Daniel sighed and Jack’s voice became softer. “I wish I could’ve been there.” Both he and Jason had had meetings till 2200 the previous night and neither had been in the mood to drive to Daniel’s. Just straight home and into bed. For all the good it had done either of them.
“Me, too, but it wouldn’t’ve changed anything,” Daniel answered.
“Would’ve made you feel better. All of us, for that matter.”
Daniel had to admit that one. “And you?” he asked.
“And me, what?”
“Nightmares?” Daniel asked, emphasis and reminder in the same tone.
Jack didn’t hide the fidgeting as he opened the door in his classic evasive manner. “Yeah, but so what? They’re expected right?” He walked out, expecting Daniel to follow. When Daniel didn’t, Jack turned in time to see Daniel disappearing from view. Jack sighed, hating that. “Daniel, now’s not the time for a shrink chat,” he said, going back in and shutting the door.
Daniel sat on the edge of his desk, fiddling with his keys. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna do the shrink thing.” Jack’s brow rose again and Daniel smirked. “That’s more Jace’s thing, anyway, and he’s been as tight-lipped about it as you. Or me. Except for those other dreams.”
Jack nodded as he sat on the edge next to him, rubbing his palms on his pants. “So what then? We don’t have a lot of time here.”
“Just… this,” Daniel said and boldly slipped his hand into Jack’s, twining their fingers together, needing the connection. He felt a warm shudder as Jack squeezed his fingers. “I’ve missed you. It’s only been two days, and we haven’t had any in a little longer than that but I’ve still missed you.”
“Me, too,” Jack said quietly.
“Maybe this visit to Diné will be good catch-up time for us.” He stared at their clasped hands and turned them over, caressing the back of Jack’s hand.
Jack wiggled his pinky against Daniel’s, touching the ring there. He didn’t have his on, but the action meant he wished he did. “They have that… what’s it called… the dream lodge or whatever?” Jack said, placing Daniel’s hand against his chest. “Could be what we need.”
Daniel felt the stirrings of desire and grew annoyed. Why couldn’t this happen at home? He stood up but didn’t walk away. Instead, he turned to Jack and stepped in front of him. Jack automatically parted his legs for him without any silent request from Daniel and it forced a tiny upward curve at the corners of Daniel’s mouth. “Remember what happened the last time we were there?”
“Vividly,” Jack said with a heated look in his eyes that had nothing to do with anger.
Daniel’s smile widened in knowing that Jack felt it, too. Their desire was still there, just handicapped by lack of opportunity. Suddenly Daniel threw regs and caution to the wind and went with the feelings generated by Jack’s return smile. He parted his lips and leaned in, snaking an arm around Jack’s neck.
Jack leaned away for a second, but when Daniel pursued, he stopped moving. Daniel snuck out his tongue, licking Jack’s upper lip, asking his tongue to come out and play. Jack complied, tongue playing slowly with Daniel’s until both had enough of the oral foreplay and clamped their lips passionately together. An imitation of the sexual act so arousing that both men felt each other harden. When Jack’s free arm went around his waist, pulling Daniel more firmly against him, Daniel moaned audibly and broke apart, letting out a shaky breath.
“This is getting so annoying. I hope we return to normal soon. Getting like this at work isn’t doing much for our sex life.”
“No argument here,” Jack answered, embracing him in a tight, all-consuming hug, nose nestled in his hair. “Hopefully, it’ll happen after Diné.”
Daniel shivered at the vibration against his skin as Jack’s voice stirred more attention in his cock. He turned his head and pressed his lips against Jack’s ear, whispering, “Maybe it will, considering that all I want right now is for you to fuck me into a mattress.”
Jack groaned, not bothering to ask which mattress because he knew it didn’t matter. Instead, he squeezed Daniel tighter and held him for as long as he could before they had to break apart and head for the briefing.
. . .
Walking through the violet crystal corridors of the new Tok’ra homeworld, Qalar, was a sight that should have brought amazement. But Jason was in no mood to be amazed. He had no desire to be there and wished fervently that someone else could have come to fetch his 2IC, Major Alex Wagner.
But he knew that wish was empty. He needed to be here, to see for himself just what help Alex had managed to be for Jalen. And vice-versa. It would have been easier for him had the Tok’ra not stared and gaped at him. Irritation climbed from the moment he stepped through the gate with his newly promoted Captain, Al Kaufman, and his Tech Sergeant, Connor McCaffrey. They seemed amused by it, and at another time, that would have tempered Jason’s mood, but not today.
“I wish they’d quit doing that,” he grumbled as they turned down a connecting passageway.
“If what I’ve heard is true, you can’t blame them,” Al said quietly, turning slightly to get out of the way of three passing Tok’ra. They looked over their shoulders as they passed and suddenly Al was empathetic to Jason’s mood. “On the other hand…” he started.
Jason shot him a glance, allowing a tiny smile which quickly vanished as the upcoming reunion renewed itself in his mind. He sighed heavily. “Trust me, it’s true,” he said.
Flanking Jason’s other side, Connor said, “I know about the alternate universes, but it’s still hard to believe that you have a twin.”
“He’s not my twin, Connor,” Jason sighed with resignation. Connor had kept referring to Jalen as Jason’s actual twin and it was starting to annoy him.
“You know what I mean, sir. He’s close enough. Neither of us saw that other Coburn that SG-1 had run into, so we don’t really have the experience to go by.”
“Judging from what Daniel told us,” Al put in, “I’m glad. Who knows what else happened?”
“I agree,” Connor went on. “I’m not sure I wanna know what happened to our alternates.”
Jason shot the man a warning look. “I’ll tell you one version. From Jalen’s world, you’re both dead.”
“You just had to tell us that, didn’t you?” Al snapped at him.
His grimace so transformed his face that Jason couldn’t help the snickering ‘I told you so’ that escaped. “Sorry, Al, but if you’re that curious, ask Jalen. I’m sure he could give you all the gory details.”
“Point, sir,” Al replied. Both he and Connor exchanged looks of agreement, thinking that perhaps their curiosity shouldn’t be satisfied. Neither really wanted to know and Jason’s form of sarcasm sort of brought it home rather well.
As they passed a group of Tok’ra, all of whom turned to stare at him, Jason made another growling sound and muttered, “If they keep doing that, I’m going to test the strength of our treaty.”
Al and Connor exchanged grins as the team rounded a corner and entered the community meeting place that the Tok’ra seemed to have on each planet they inhabited. Jason slowed as he approached the center of the large room, his emotions now catching up with him. On the other side of the room was the corridor that led to where Alex was. And to where Jalen now lived.
Hammond had given Alex permission to visit Jalen a few times over the last three weeks to help them both heal, and while Jason would have preferred him at home, he didn’t mind Alex’s absence. One disastrous night had confirmed Jason’s fear that their sexual relationship would be on hold for a while and dealing with it on his own was something Jason preferred so he’d all but pushed Alex through the wormhole.
He kept telling himself that he couldn’t run and hide from the emotional scars created almost month ago, that feeling guilty about what had happened would only make healing slower. At the same time, there was a tightness in his gut, the traumatic reaction that defied logic, that kept the guilt inside.
Jack and Daniel had tried to help, but the three of them had their own problems to sort out. At first, their sex lives hadn’t been affected, but the kidnapping and rapes had finally sunk in, exacerbated by nightmares. Memories conjured fear and that fear had taken over, bringing up guilt when any of them initiated sex or even thought about fucking. Erections tended to wilt. Now, all they could manage without stomach knots was kissing and jerking off. Jason and his lovers knew the problems wouldn’t last, but for how long was the question.
Now, Jason was about to come face to face with a reminder of his sexual dysfunction. The trauma of rape wasn’t Jalen’s doing, but Jason couldn’t help the feelings anyway. He didn’t want to see him, to be reminded of memories he’d been trying to delete like files from a hard drive. It pissed him off that the sexual thrill he got from bondage currently gave him the creeps instead of a hard-on.
When Al touched his shoulder, Jason flinched and gave his teammates a weak smile. “C’mon, let’s go see Selmak, then he’ll introduce you to the doppelganger, we’ll collect Alex, and then get on with business.”
“And the next mission is?” Al asked.
“Cake run?” Connor asked hopefully.
Jason shrugged. “Not a clue, but we can hope.”
They grumbled behind him as he walked on and Jason smiled to himself, feeling his heart lift yet again. Having Al and Connor with him felt like he had his anchors back. Jack and Daniel would always be part of him, but they were deeply intimate connections whereas Al and Connor were the platonic versions of that, something that Jason needed more of right now. It contributed to the reason Jason didn’t miss Alex that much, either, though that added yet another reason for his increasing guilt complex.
Jason was tired. He needed a place to center himself.
“You’re dwelling, Jason,” Al said paternally.
Jason looked over at him, startled out of his morose thoughts, then made a face. “Yeah, I am. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Connor put in. “It’s understandable. Don’t know how I’d be handling it all.”
“I need some time on Diné,” Jason suddenly said, surprising both himself and his teammates.
“We haven’t been there,” Al offered. “I’d like to see the place, meet your grandfather.”
Jason nodded absently as one of his recent dreams returned. The distant caw of a raven came with it. Jason slowed his step and shuddered.
“What’s the matter?” Al asked, eyes widening.
“Nothing,” Jason said reassuringly, “it was just that ‘walked over your grave’ thing.” His expression matched theirs and he nodded, “Exactly.”
“Bad or good?” Connor asked.
“I have no fucking idea,” Jason replied. “Probably some left over reaction to recent events. Pay no attention, boys.”
“Yeah, like we’d do that,” Al told him with a roll of his eyes.
Jason grinned to himself over their protectiveness. He’d been annoyed at first, but now, he only felt buoyed by it.
“I know I sound like a hen, but how’re you doing?” Connor asked.
Jason eyed him, knowing exactly what Connor meant; it had almost nothing to do with the traumatic experience. After all, they’d had a difficult revelation dumped in their laps a few weeks before so now Connor was doubly overprotective.
Jason had told them everything that had been left out of the report. Specifically, that they’d lied. He’d felt they’d needed to know so they could be prepared for the symptoms of the post-traumatic stress. Jason had informed them of what might happen, and that they should try not to take it too personally. If he snapped at them or grew suddenly melancholy, they needed to know it wasn’t them.
The information he’d confessed was on the QT, and he knew they weren’t about to tell anyone else. Jason’s faith in them was reaffirmed when they’d reacted with genuine concern, not disgust or horror at the homosexual nature of the rapes. Unfortunately or not, Jason had also felt it necessary to tell them he was gay. It was no longer a silently kept ‘suspicion’.
Jason had told them because his reaction wasn’t as traumatic as it should have been–for a straight man. Meaning there’d been no sexual identity collapse, no inner turmoil and outcry at having gotten hard over another guy. Jason had figured that they’d known–given their worrying over him at times–but they would also never ask. The only fear Jason had was their suspicions about the others. He couldn’t out any of them, so he’d had to tell one large encompassing lie, and mostly for the same reason he’d told them about himself. There might be more trauma responses to expect.
Their reactions were expected. While Al and Connor respected privacy and held the opinion that sexual matters were no one else’s business, they weren’t happy. They’d been honest, but they’d left Jason both relieved and disappointed. He’d hoped their attitudes would’ve been better, but he understood their point of view.
“We’d rather you were straight,” Al had said. “It would save us a lot of worrying.”
They’d discussed it a little more after that, but Jason had said what he’d needed to. That they hadn’t shown any hatred toward him, and only increased worry for him, had taken a great deal of stress off Jason’s shoulders.
“Sir?” Connor asked, bringing Jason back to the present.
“What?” Jason asked, then shook himself. “Sorry, just remembering our little convo a few weeks ago. And before you ask, yes, I’m fine, just thinking, that’s all.”
“Why the conversation?” Al asked.
“No reason, except that you’d reminded me about the conversation, plus other things I’ll not go into.” They exchanged looks Jason took for worrying about the nightmares he’d been having. It showed under his eyes. “Stop it, I’m fine.”
“But you’re still having nightmares,” Al stated, pointing at his face, indicating the shaded area under Jason’s eyes. It’d been there, off and on, for weeks.
“Not so many. Lately, I’ve been dreaming about my grandfather.”
“Bad or good?” Connor asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Jason mused. He’d have explained further but was interrupted.
“Colonel,” Selmak called from across the central circle. He nodded at Al and Connor as he closed in and shook hands. “When’s SG-1 coming? I’d like Sam to see some technology we’ve been examining.”
“Should be soon, sir,” Jason answered quickly. “They’ll be picking us up before we head off together for the Beta Site.”
Jacob raised his brows. “Beta site? Anything new I should know?”
“Nothing to worry about, General,” Jason said quickly. “Just some boring check-in work, I think, to make sure the new base has what it needs for the teams that’ll be stationed there. Security already has a detachment there and there’ll be an agricultural team moving in to set up a separate research and growing station.”
“Sounds like George has finally called in some favors,” Jacob answered, shaking hands with Al and Connor. “Nice to see you two back. Couldn’t stay away I take it?”
Al and Connor smiled back as they shook their heads. “No, sir,” they each answered.
“You’ll be wanting to know where your wandering second is,” Jacob sighed, “so I suppose we should go get him before Jack gets here.”
Jason caught a stress note in the words. “What’s happened, sir?” he asked with resignation in his own voice. “They get into a fight or something?”
It was Selmak who answered, and she was actually laughing. “Goodness no, Colonel. They have been the best of friends. However, Major Wagner has been forced into the role of intermediary.”
“Intermediary? Why?” Jason asked.
“It is has been very entertaining,” Selmak went on, looking smugly pleased and mischievous.
“Why?” Jason asked again more slowly.
“As you know,” Selmak explained, “Jalen and Camulus have been undergoing a long debrief over the weeks they’ve been here. Major Wagner has been helping to facilitate that as well as help Jalen and Camulus come to terms with the programming. Fortunately, that has not been too much of a problem. The problem has been the debrief.”
“They’re not able to remember?” Jason asked, “Or are they fighting it? I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to forget what they did.”
“It is not that,” Selmak said, a small grin forming.
“Then what?” Jason asked, growing impatient.
“Is it Anise?”
“God,” Jason replied, rolling his eyes. “She’s using that damn zatarc as part of the debrief?”
“It is not as bad as it sounds,” Selmak assured, then Jacob explained. “The machine is not the problem, Jason. It’s Anise’s questioning. You see, Camulus is refusing to cooperate with her. He wants others, and we’d give him Aldwin but he’s on assignment, gathering intel.”
Jason winced. “Alex isn’t able to help?”
“He’s tried, but he’s turned into a mediator instead. The problem is that Camulus is refusing to give her what she wants in the way she wants it. He gives her information on his own schedule, not hers, and in his own way. He’s recording it via data pads instead of allowing the zatarc machine to record his thoughts.”
“Can’t really blame him there,” Jason nodded.
“Despite his refusals, he’s proven himself adept at handling her. Come on.” Jacob grinned as he turned around and moved past the waist-high pool in the center of the room, exiting into the corridor Jason had been staring down. “You see,” he explained as they followed, “apart from Selmak and myself, and the other council members, not many Tok’ra will argue with Anise because it’s just not worth the hassle. It’s less stressful to just agree and go around her. Martouf and Lantash were the only ones who called her on her manners. Camulus–the old Camulus–was…” He paused to think of the most diplomatic way he could say it. “Well, they fought all the time. They acted like an old married couple.”
“What?” Jason laughed in astonishment.
“They were not married,” Selmak said hastily. “But their arguing could, as Jacob would say, peel paint off the walls.” He waved a hand at said walls, adding, “or in this case, shatter crystal.” Jason said nothing. “You behave as if I should have said something else.”
Pursing his lips wryly, Jason said, “Yeah, that’s a good assumption, Selmak. I don’t know about the old Camulus and Jalen, but the current two…” He eyed the man, thinking of Jacob’s rather prejudiced beliefs and was abruptly reminded of his talk with Al and Connor. For a moment, Jason wondered if Jacob could use a little chat then realized that Selmak had probably taken care of that.
“Prefer men?” Jacob finished, smirking ear to ear.
Jason held back the flush of surprise. From someone like Jacob, even if he was a lot more tolerant than he would have been ten years ago, it still sounded odd. “Yeah, men.”
Jacob shook his head and stopped walking. “Could I speak to you a moment, in private?” To Connor and Al, he said, “No offense, gentlemen.”
Al and Connor waited where they were, moving against the wall as other Tok’ra passed just then. Jacob took Jason back the way they came, stopping about ten yards away. Out of earshot. “I’m not as bad as I once was, considering what living with the Tok’ra has given me. I’ve had an abrupt education in the issue of tolerance and understanding. That said, I was somewhat surprised to learn that your 2IC…”
Jason’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly, trying to hold back the surprise. “My 2IC… Jacob,” he said, dropping formality immediately. Jacob may be a General but he was retired. Personal conversations didn’t hold the same protocol. Not with Jason, anyway. “If Alex has shown Jalen comfort, please tell me that it was… discreet.”
Jacob’s expression became a bit more guarded when Jason didn’t respond. “I don’t know if it’s my place, given the regs back home, and the SGC doesn’t exactly run under normal operations.”
Jason grit his teeth, trying to determine exactly what Jacob was trying to say. “What did you see?” he asked bluntly. To his surprise, Jacob relaxed, and suddenly Jason knew that Jacob had actually been worried about outing Alex. At that moment, Jason’s respect for Jacob increased ten-fold.
“I didn’t know what was my place to say. All that I saw was a hug, but I do know that they’ve stayed together in one of the private sleeping chambers,” Jacob said with a sigh. “It’s a place for intimacy, Jason, not just for getting rest.”
Jason’s jaw flexed then as his anger at Alex started to rise but Jacob seemed to sense what was on his mind and he held up a warning hand. “I’m not judging, and they were discreet, so calm down,” Jacob whispered quickly. “No one disturbed them, but… these walls aren’t exactly insulated from loud sounds.”
Jason winced. “I apologize for his actions, Jacob. It won’t happen again.”
Jacob gave him the look of an older and wiser man. “I hate to sound intrusive but frankly, Jalen and Camulus needed someone to keep them grounded. Circumstances warranted Alex’s presence with him. I remember what it was like to need someone who understood. I didn’t take you aside to complain, but more to tell you that I know. I’m glad that it turned out that I wasn’t outing him.”
Jason caught on to one phrase. “You remember what it was like? You’re not gay… are you?”
Jacob smiled. “No, that’s not what I meant. I meant that I’d been a POW and during my debriefing, I was with people who were judging my actions. No one around me understood and I blew my stack. I hit the interrogating officer and was put in the brig for a couple of weeks till I finally had someone to come to my aid that knew something about doing what was necessary to save lives and complete a mission. I think you know who I’m talking about?”
Jason blew out a slow breath and eyed Jacob carefully. “General Hammond.”
Jacob wanted to explain further, but chose to use discretion there as well. “Yes. It’s only one of the reasons we’re such good friends.” He took a breath, moving on. “So, back to the matter at hand. This Camulus is not exactly the same as the old one.”
“How are they different?” Jason asked, then remembered that the old Camulus had had a different host. He grimaced just as Jacob gave out a little laugh. “Right, sorry.”
Jacob set a hand on Jason’s elbow. “Before we continue, I’d like to know something else?”
“I hope I can tell you,” Jason answered diplomatically.
“Do they know?” Jacob asked, and Jason knew that he meant Al and Connor.
Jason shook his head. “If he wants to tell them, he will. Thanks for not outing him.” He let his worried feelings show and Jacob simply gestured ahead of them as they walked down the corridor and rejoined Al and Connor.
As they went on their way, Al and Connor gave him a queried look but Jason shook his head, a gesture they knew meant they weren’t going to know what that little meeting was about. But to make up for it, Jason redirected their attention by talking out loud about Camulus and Anise. “So… is this new Camulus the same as the old where Anise is concerned?”
Selmak was back, looking shockingly mischievous when she spoke. “Oh no. This one’s very quiet, very subdued, except when he’s around her. He does not tolerate her presence around him, nor put up with her bullying behavior. He can’t stand her and does everything he can to let her know. It has placed her off-balance, as Jacob would say, which is why it has been most entertaining, even better than the fights we witnessed before. The level of insults thrown back and forth has cured a lot of us of boredom. The only one who has not found it amusing, aside from Camulus and Anise, is Major Wagner. He is like Jalen. He finds her presence disruptive and offensive.”
“Has he said so?” Jason asked, surprised. Alex was usually more diplomatic.
“No. He has, instead, tried to find excuses for Camulus and Jalen not to participate in Anise’s attempted debriefings.”
“Is it working?” Connor asked.
“Sort of,” Jacob answered.
“He’s just looking out for Jalen, that’s all,” Jason said, feeling the sudden need to come to Alex’s defense.
“It is okay, Colonel. He has been a great help to Jalen and Camulus, there is no debating that issue. We have already told Anise that she cannot interfere with his recovery and Major Wagner is taking advantage of our decision.”
Jason grinned with relief. “He’s a quick study.”
Selmak’s eyes flashed as she shot him an encouraging look. They rounded a corner and entered another, this one much shorter. “I’d like to extend my appreciation for his training. The man has a lot of patience and good will.”
“Thank you,” Jason replied, catching his teammates beaming proudly. While Alex had a temper sometimes, he did have more patience than a lot of people.
Jacob moved to the right and into a large room. At a table to the far left sat Alex and Jalen. To the far right, behind the zatarc machine and next to another desk sat a scowling Anise with arms folded tightly. Jason couldn’t help but like that, influenced as he was by the woman’s behavior four years earlier.
Looking over at Alex, Jason felt a surge of protectiveness. But looking at Jalen, with his long hair and mustache-goatee, Jason felt the same thing he’d felt back in that room at Baal’s fortress: an unsettling darkness and fear. Daniel and Jack had been right about why he felt that way. Jason didn’t like the idea that he or someone like him could have lived the life he had. Jason couldn’t even conceive sharing his body with a Tok’ra.
Shaking it off, he said to the both of them, “I hear you haven’t been playing nice.”
“That’d be her doing,” Alex replied. At the sight of Jacob, he got up and shook his hand. “Good morning, sir, sleep well?”
“I did, thanks. And what about you two?”
Alex made a face. Which meant what? Jason asked himself, but he had a feeling he knew. “Nightmares?”
“Oh yeah.” Behind Jacob, Al and Connor entered the room and Alex smiled broadly and went over to them, giving them each a hug. “How’s things?” he asked. “Keeping an eye on our intrepid leader?”
“Which one?” Connor asked dryly, making Alex snigger when Jason shot him a mock-scowl.
Alex gently slapped Connor’s arm, gesturing at them both to come over to his side of the room. “Guys, this is Jalen and Camulus.” Al and Connor walked around Jason and Jacob, and finally got a good look at Jalen. He’d been sitting down, back partially to the door. But he stood up and faced them, holding out his hand.
Al and Connor shook it, gaping at him. Alex sucked in a breath and looked at the subject of their shock. “Jalen, these two idiots staring stupidly at you are really the very professional members of SG2, Al Kaufman and–“
“Connor McCaffrey. Yes, I know who they are, Alex.”
Alex winced. “Right. Sorry about that.”
“No, need, it’s easy to forget.”
“Not for you, so again, sorry.”
Jalen waved away the apology as unnecessary. He was suddenly unable to look at Al and Connor and he turned away from them, taking a few steps behind the desk, one hand shading his eyes.
Alex instantly moved to him, missing the look exchanged by Jacob and Jason, and placed a hand on Jalen’s shoulder. He said nothing, even though he wanted to apologize again. Jalen shook his head at him anyway, mumbling something to Alex that Jason couldn’t hear, but he could guess.
He gave Al and Connor a look of warning, silently reminding them of the private briefing he’d given them about Jalen’s history, not to mention reminding them about his words earlier. They didn’t want to know what happened to their counterparts. It was enough to know that they’d been important to Jalen and were now dead.
Before anyone could say anything, Jalen and turned around to face them, coming forward again. “Let’s try this again, shall we?”
Al stepped forward. “I’m sorry if we startled you.”
“No need to apologize,” Jalen answered.
“You knew us in the other universe?” Al asked.
“Obviously,” Jalen said, trying to give him a smile and failing.
Connor thumbed at Jason, his gaze still on Jalen. “We almost lost his ass, three times.”
Jalen nodded. “My brother was a risk-taker and a daredevil. Tried to be a hero and he succeeded.” At everyone’s perplexed expressions, Jalen suddenly blushed, then closed his eyes. When they opened, they flashed, and Camulus said, “What he meant was that in his opinion, heroes are only heroes when they’re dead.”
Unable to help it, Al and Connor flinched in shock. They sent immediate apologies to Camulus and Selmak, ignoring Anise completely. “Sorry, we forgot.”
“It’s okay,” Camulus told them.
“Believe it or not, we get it,” Jacob put in.
And they did. The sad fact was that the people of the Tau’ri had heard that resonance far more often from a Goa’uld than a Tok’ra, so it was hard not to associate that sound with the enemy.
“Still, we apologize,” Al said and sent Jason an imploring look for rescue from their abysmal mistake.
“You heard the men,” Jason told his teammates quietly and that was the end of that. He turned to Jalen and Alex, raising a brow at Alex and adding a specific look that pretty much said, What the hell have you been up to?
Alex had the grace to look abashed. “So, I take it you’re here to collect me?”
Jason thinned his lips and nodded, looking sympathetically at Jalen. “Got a mission at the Beta Site. Coffee and cake run.”
Alex dropped his mouth open, then clapped it shut. “But…” he started, and was going to say Jason’s name till he remembered that Jacob, Al and Connor were there. “Sir, couldn’t you do that without me?”
Jason was all for the empathy and help but his latitude was at an end. “Would you like to be permanently reassigned?”
Alex steeled himself against the stinging upbraid. “No, sir,” was all he said to Jason before turning to Jalen. “I’ll be back when I can.”
“I’ll be here,” Jalen said, and was about to ask Jason something when the forgotten person in the room finally spoke from her invisible corner.
Standing, with a tablet and stylus in hand, Anise said, “Perhaps now we can get something done.”
Jalen’s eyes became cold, filled with hatred as he slid them away from Jason and turned them upon Anise. His eyes flashed. “Trust me when I say that we are done, Anise,” Camulus told her in a voice that hinted something nasty would happen if contradicted.
“We shall see,” she sniffed and walked out of the room like a child running to a parent.
Jacob rolled his eyes. “I’d better follow. If I’m right, she’s heading for one of the council members.” At the door, he said, “If I don’t get to see you before you leave, stay safe and say hello to Sam.”
“Yes, sir, but she should be here soon,” Jason told him.
“I’ll try to catch her,” Jacob said, smiling, then lost that smile when he went after Anise.
“Foul bitch is nothing but trouble,” Camulus glowered, kicking at the zatarc machine and surprising everyone but Alex, who crossed his arms and looked on in an indulgent manner.
Oddly, his action made Jason annoyed, as if Alex hadn’t the right to feel anything for Jalen. Before he could dwell on it, however, Camulus turned to Al and Connor, staring at the look on their faces. While not as shocked at before, they were still a bit unnerved.
Crossing his hands behind his back in an unthreatening manner, it was Jalen who bolstered up a pained smile. “Takes a bit getting used to, I know. First time I heard one of my best friends with a Tok’ra resonance, I freaked.”
“We didn’t mean to–” Al started, gesturing at him.
Jalen held up a hand to forestall another apology. “What Jason said. No worries. Everything’s copasetic.” He was going to say something else but Jack appeared in the doorway, surprising him.
“Alright, who scared off Anise? I wanna give them a great big kiss.”
Smirking, everyone in the room pointed at Jalen.
Backpedaling, Jack cleared his throat. “Um, would you settle for a steak?”
Jalen suddenly smiled brightly, startling Alex. “I would kill for a steak. Smuggle one over and I’ll get you anything, Colonel.”
“Done,” Jack answered, grinning. For some reason, the small, friendly exchange immediately melted any residual resistance he’d had toward the man and his symbiote.
“Jacob wants to see Sam before we set off for the beta site,” Jason informed him. He expected Jack to nod and say something about making it quick. He did not expect Jack to turn to him with suddenly dark, troubled eyes. Hairs rose instantly on the back of Jason’s neck. “Fuck, what is it?”
“We’ve been diverted.” Jack paused, taking a moment to swallow, then touched Jason’s shoulder. “To Diné.”
Jason felt cold, then suddenly thought of Lysa, his sister, and how he’d tell her. He then wished he’d been ignorant of the dreams he’d been having, but perhaps it was better this way, having been forewarned. An ache began to take hold of his chest and behind his jaws as he fought back the emotion. “Is he…?”
“No,” Jack told him, watching Jason carefully, wishing he could hold him, comfort him. “Asatay said Lin asked for you to come, that there needs to be some sort of ceremony.”
Absently, Jason nodded. “For the ancestors. Probably need another liaison, too. Let me get things sorted here, let Sam see her dad, then we’ll head out.”
Jack nodded, and squeezed Jason’s shoulder again. “I’m so sorry, Jason,” he said, and pulled his lover into a hug, surprising the shit out of Al and Connor.
“Lin?” Jalen asked, interrupting. His eyes were wide and startled. “As in Grandfather?”
Pulling apart, Jason turned to… his twin. He realized that, for all intents and purposes, Jalen was family. It wasn’t just himself and Lysa anymore and the knowledge was weirdly… calming. “Yeah, as in Grandfather.” As the seconds passed, and reality set in that Lin was going to die soon, Jason felt as if a hole had opened up beneath him.
“Was he alive in your universe?” Jack asked Jalen, giving Jason a moment.
Jalen shook his head. “He died some years back, long before the alliance or the invasion. When you said Diné, you said it as if it were a planet.”
Jack and Jason quickly exchanged looks. Jalen didn’t know about his ancestry then. Or at least, half his ancestry. “Grandfather currently lives offworld, Jalen. On a planet we call Diné, but is more accurately called Land of the Diné. It’s the relocated ancestral home of the Anasazi. Our ancestors.”
Jalen frowned. “Our ancestors?”
“The Navajo, Jalen.”
Jalen frowned. “Don’t you mean the Apache?”
“No, I mean the Navajo. Diné’s the name they use for the Nation.”
“It’s also an Apache word, like the Sioux have a word for themselves, pe-el-oh, meaning human, so the Apache called themselves something similar. Diné. I thought the Navajo had adopted it.”
Jason shook his head. “I think it’s a shared name, Jalen. We’re the Navajo, ancestors of the Anasazi.”
Jalen finally shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I find it interesting. Grandfather always said we were related but since there was no proof, I paid little heed. They were just stories, and anthropologists figured the Anasazi moved off when the water resources went bad and were absorbed into the Hopi and Navajo.”
“They were here as well,” Jason told him, “but only a portion. Seems the Asgard thought more of the Anasazi then others did and for reasons of their own, relocated a large number of them to the planet later called Diné.”
“Which is what the Navajo have always called their people,” Jalen said.
Jason stuck out his chin. “Our people, Jalen. And still do.”
“Our people, yes, but we’re half-Scottish, too, Jason.”
“I know,” Jason said with disgust.
Jalen scowled at him. “There’s no dishonor in that, what’s the matter with you?”
“Coburn isn’t clan. They were nothing more than overseers, tax mongrels and spies for the English King.”
Jack turned to Jason, staring at him in shock. “You never mentioned that.”
“I did some homework. For that reason, I embraced my Navajo ancestry, not my Scottish.”
“Maybe your great grandfather was adopted,” Connor said dryly.
Jason and Jalen looked at each other as silence gripped the room, then smiled. “Maybe,” Jason said.
Jack touched his elbow, trying to be polite but there was little time for it. “We gotta go.”
“Right,” Jason replied, then turned to Alex. “Say your goodbyes. We’ll be in the community room.” With a glance at Jalen, he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t say it before but… you look better. I’ll try to get Alex to come back here as soon as mission time allows.”
Jalen nodded in understanding. “Take care of yourself. I’d ask you to say goodbye for me but… it might be a bit confusing.”
Jason grinned. “I told him about parallel universes once. I think he’d be disturbed by what’s happened, not confused.”
“Probably,” Jalen said sadly.
“I’ll still tell him, providing he doesn’t already know by those dreams of his.”
Jalen’s brow furrowed. “How did you? About him, I mean?”
Jason lifted his chin, an almost regal gesture. “Don’t you have message dreams?”
Jalen didn’t say yeah or nay. He looked, instead, as if the idea was troubling. “I used to, but it’s been a while. I purposely cut myself off from them.” With narrowed eyes, he added, “Where I came from and what I’ve been doing with my life, it was much better not to know.”
Jason could only nod in agreement, then he turned and left the room, Jack, Al, and Connor following. “Where’s Daniel?” he asked, suddenly alarmed that he hadn’t noticed that Daniel wasn’t there.
“With Carter and Teal’c in the Community room. A few Tok’ra stopped him to ask about those Atonique translations.”
Jason sighed with relief. For a moment, he’d thought something bad had happened, then realized that Jack would’ve told him first, then broken the news about Lin. It seemed the news about Lin had his rational thoughts in chaos. A few minutes later, they were back in the large Community room, and on seeing Daniel, Jason didn’t stand on protocol or ceremony. He went straight for him.
Daniel turned from Hen’ral, one of the Tok’ra scientists, and met Jason halfway. Jason stopped, abruptly, his eyes starting to mist, and Daniel frowned at him and gathered him in a hug.
“Don’t mist up, Jace. What will people think?” he joked. Pulling away, he met Jack’s eyes as he joined them, patting Jason on the back.
“We’ll wait on Carter, then go.”
“Right,” Jason said. Fifteen minutes later, Alex appeared, looking solemn. “He okay?”
“Yeah, he’s okay.”
Alex grinned. “Stop worrying.”
“Yeah, that’ll happen,” Jason said, and on the heels of his words, Sam appeared.
“Ready to go, Carter?” Jack asked, smirking at Jacob.
She looked at her father, then Jack. “Yes, sir, but I’d like to come back, do some proper research on the technology.”
“Weapons?” Jack asked Jacob hopefully.
“Don’t know yet, but it’s important enough to find out,” Jacob replied. “I’ll have a chat with George, get Sam cleared to come visit for two weeks.”
“Two?” Jack asked, brows rising in surprise.
“They won’t let it out of their sight, sir. So, yes, two weeks.”
“Then I guess we’ll be back.”
Sam gave her dad a hug and as they departed, Alex hung back, looking over his shoulder. At the last second, Jalen appeared in the community room. Alex gave him a wave and felt better when Jalen waved back.
When Jack gave him a curious look, Alex said, “He said he wasn’t going to say goodbye.”
“Guess he changed his mind,” Jason commented, thinking that Jalen had just done what he would have.
Exiting the wormhole, Jason blew out a breath to shake off the cold. The familiar platform and terrain sent chills up his spine and he tried to shake that off as well. The last time he’d been here, it had been under depressing circumstances. It was beginning to be a habit and he didn’t like it.
“You okay?” Daniel asked.
“Understatement of the year,” Jason replied. The group walked down the steps and headed over the scrub grass toward the high-walled cliffside that bordered and eventually led to the Diné home.
“What’re we going to be doing here?” Connor asked as they drew closer to the cliff face.
Jason sighed. “Honestly? I have no idea.”
“None?” Connor asked.
“Well, we’ll probably hang around for a few days and you’ll get to brush up on your anthropology.”
Connor nodded, trying to contain his excitement. “Don’t know if I should, though. Enjoying anything with tragedy in the air feels wrong.”
“Connor,” Jason chided. “How can you say that after all those Irish wakes?”
Looking suddenly sheepish, Connor grinned. “You have a point.”
“Good man,” Jason said and slapped him on the shoulder. “Lin would tell you that death is a part of life, and while we mourn, we also celebrate. The Diné won’t mind, Connor.”
Up ahead, Jack slowed down and waited for Jason and Connor to catch up. “Any idea what the ceremony will be?” he asked.
“What, is there an echo in here?” Jason asked rhetorically. “As I told Connor, I really don’t know, Jack. I think I have an idea, but I’m not sure, so,” Jason said. He really didn’t know for certain, but he had an idea, something from his dream having directed it.
“And the idea is?” Daniel asked.
Jason’s men had caught up with SG-1, and were now to Jason’s right with SG1 on his left. They walked in a single line and Jason bent his head forward, glancing at Sam and Teal’c, both of whom looked very nervous. “It won’t be what happened last time, I’ll tell you that right now.”
“What happened last time?” Al asked.
“Getting stoned and having a dreamscape,” Jason smirked, “and that’s all you’re gonna know about it.”
Al groaned. “I’ll toss my breakfast, sir. I’m a lightweight on drugs, remember? I’ll sit it out if I’m required to eat or drink or smoke any hallucinogen.”
“Don’t worry, Al, you probably won’t. Funeral rites are family-centered. If anyone gets stoned, it’ll be me,” Jason told him.
“What will that entail?” Teal’c asked.
“I’m not sure, Teal’c. It’ll probably be something the military won’t like never mind give their permission for. But since this ceremony falls under religious freedom, they can’t throw the reg book at me.”
Jack frowned, hand on Jason’s arm as he paused and forced them all to stop. “I thought you said it was a simple lodge ceremony?”
“I didn’t say that,” Jason said, glancing not just at Jack but everyone else. “It might require that I get tattooed with my tribal totem.”
“Oy,” Jack said turning around in a circle, rubbing his eyes. Looking back at Jason, he asked, “Daniel was one thing. He’s civilian.” He sighed, knowing this was going to be inevitable and arguing with Jason, or the Diné, would be a waste of time. “At least promise me that it won’t be on a part of the body that’s visible?”
“It’ll be covered by my uniform, Jack, so don’t worry,” Jason replied, gesturing ahead of them to continue on toward the bend in the cliffside.
“So,” Daniel said, brows up, expression trying not to reveal much but Jason could see the curiosity–never mind the idea of Jason getting a tattoo.
“So?” Jason automatically echoed.
Daniel knew the tattoo ceremonies on other worlds were different. His own certainly was, considering that the ink used on his back had been a staining ink, not a branding one made by a needle. “How’re they going to do this?”
Jason shrugged. “Again, I have no idea. Asatay has tattoos but I never asked how he got them.” A double-take at Al and Connor’s rapt attention forced him to explain. “He had designs on his lower back.”
“And you know because…?” Connor asked.
“Because I spent time with him for four months, remember? I’ve seen him without his clothes on. Twice. And before you get your knickers in a knot, both times were for ceremonial reasons. And no, you’re not getting any further details on that.” Judging by the looks on their faces, they weren’t going to ask, but they looked as surprised as Jack and Daniel, even with the recent knowledge about Jason’s sexuality.
Jack stared at Jason, stopping again. “You told them?”
“I had to.”
When Al noticed that neither Sam nor Teal’c acted surprised, he got a little annoyed. “Major Carter and Teal’c know?”
“They’ve known for a long time, and I won’t explain how. I didn’t tell you because…” He let out an angry breath. “Well, you know why. What’s the reg, gentlemen?”
“But you told Major Carter?” Connor asked.
“No, I figured it out,” Sam answered. “I can appreciate that you feel left out, but this is one time where you shouldn’t. It’s information that can get him court martialed.” At the betrayed looks on Al and Connor’s faces, Sam moved over to them as their walk continued. “How many people react favorably when they’re told someone they know is gay, never mind a superior officer?”
Al and Connor had the appropriate looks of doom. “Exactly,” she said. “No matter how well you got along, you don’t really know a person until you’re told something deeply personal, like sexual preference. It so happens that the base has a lot of gays and bisexuals, but they’re not going to come out of the closet because they can’t. What’s that tell you?”
“Okay, Major, I see your point,” Al said, calming down, mostly because he didn’t want a lecture from her, too. Jason’s had been enough.
“Connor?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, I get it.” He and Al exchanged looks, then gave Jason an apologetic nod. “Sorry, sir.”
Jason abruptly stopped once more. “Listen up. I am damn lucky to have you three. I couldn’t get through any of this bad shit that happens without you. I have my best friends,” and he waved at Daniel and Jack, “and my friendship with Sam and Teal’c, but you guys are my ‘mates. We shed blood together, we look after each other. I can’t have that compromised. I was afraid to tell you because I didn’t want to lose you. Now that you know, and don’t hate or fear me, you have no idea how good and proud that makes me feel.”
“As if we’d hate or fear you,” Al told him sharply. “It’s for you, not at you. How long have we been worrying for you?”
Jason sighed. “You’re like a couple of old aunts, I swear.” He grinned at the annoyed looks on their faces. “That reg kept you from asking, just as it kept me from telling, but it was fear more than anything, so I appreciate this even more, comprende?”
“Comprende,” Connor replied.
They started walking again, thoughts of the ceremony back on their minds. And Lin’s impending demise.
“What else comprises this ceremony?” Teal’c asked, hoping it wasn’t going to be like the last time he’d been here. He needed no more revelations for a while.
“Probably a spiritual dreaming, like before,” Jason answered slowly. When Teal’c actually looked panicked, Jason quickly added, “For me, Teal’c, not you. This time, I’m the only one going on a trip through Wonderland.”
A shiver caught up his back as he remembered the dreamscape he’d had during that last ceremony. A crow had appeared, squawking up a storm. But… in thinking about it over the last couple of years, Jason now realized that the bird had been hawk-sized, which made it a raven. The bird of magic, sorcery, dreams. Portents and omens.
He mulled over the most recent dream he’d had as they rounded the cliffside and approached the waiting throng of greeters. Jack laid a hand on his shoulder, his brow furrowed with curiosity and worry.
“What’s wrong?” Daniel’s face mirrored the question.
“Just thinking about the dreams,” Jason told them vaguely as he approached Asatay, grasping his forearm in greeting.
The tall shaman’s hair was flowing freely from its usual silver neck clasp, and the long strands framing his face were now adorned with colored beads and leather ties. New swirling designs, made of ink presumably, decorated his hands, curling around the base of his index and ring fingers and meeting over the backs of his hands in a circular pattern. Instead of the colorful cloth he usually wore, he was dressed in a sleeveless leather jerkin and darker leather breeches. His feet were bare, but like his fingers, his toes were painted with black designs.
“Been decorating, I see,” Jason joked.
Meeting the warmth, Asatay nodded. “Preparation. My apologies for the sad need of this reunion.”
“No apologies necessary,” Jason greeted back, and gestured to his left. “You know Jack, Daniel, Sam, Teal’c. And these are my teammates, Alex, Al, and Connor.”
“Of course,” Asatay bowed and received one each in kind. “This way,” he said, gesturing behind him, but not at the entrance to the large cave dwelling within the circular cliff but at the outer dwellings. Jason had expected this and had told everyone to be prepared. They were led to a large stucco-plastered hogan that sat in the place of the one Jason and SG-1 had last seen and used. Smoke billowed up from its six-sided center and the scent on the breeze smelled faintly like pine.
“That’s new,” Jason said. “For the passing ceremony?” Asatay nodded and the group followed him. Stopping at the east-facing door, Asatay gestured at two smaller hogans to their north and rested his gaze on Jack. “Those are for you. Jason must meet with Lin alone and must remain alone for the next few hours.”
Jack wanted to argue but didn’t. “And we’ll be doing what?”
“The moment you stepped through the gate, your part in the ceremony began. The first part was to escort Jason to his hogan. You are to then change into ritual clothes and wait in your assigned hogans till called to complete the passing. Please forgive me for saying so, but you are considered outsiders and the council requires that you undergo purification before being granted access to Lin’s mandala.”
Jack assessed Asatay’s expression, and when finished, motioned at the large hogan. “This hogan is his mandala, is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes,” Asatay nodded, pleased that Jack understood. “You may cross its threshold after he has passed. For now, this is a time for Jason and Lin to share knowledge. I will conduct their own purification.”
Jason grinned at the man’s improved English. “Lin’s taught you well.” Asatay bowed his head in thanks.
“The smoke purification is for…?” Daniel asked.
Asatay inclined his head, eyes unfocused in the direction of the hogan. “Preparation of his body and mind for the totem rite.”
“I didn’t think it would be this soon,” Jason said, looking at the hogan. He took a step toward it, then turned back to everyone. “I guess I’ll see you when I see you.” They nodded in return, though they looked rather startled. Jason added quickly, softening the mood. “Don’t worry. Just don’t be surprised by anything you see.”
“If you get a tattoo, what kind will it be?” Connor asked.
“Remember those fish figures you saw on the smoked salmon boxes from the Northwest?”
Connor remembered the Chinook design. “Something like that?”
“Yeah, sort of. It’ll probably be a raven.” He looked at Asatay for confirmation and the man nodded once, then gestured at two tall women waiting by the smaller hogans, dressed and decorated exactly like Asatay. “Shalla and Coral will see to your two groups and show you what you need for your parts in the ceremony.”
Taking the hint, SG1 and Jason’s teammates moved toward the women, each having come forward to lead them silently to their assigned hogans. Jason reluctantly turned for his grandfather’s hogan, but he paused at the threshold, looking back. A combination of relief and love flooded him when he saw that Jack, Daniel, and Alex had remained outside their hogans, watching him till the last minute. Jason nodded at them with a confidence he didn’t feel, then disappeared inside.
. . .
Jack swallowed against the lump in his throat, wishing he could have walked over and kissed Jason, taking away the apprehension he could see in his eyes. While this wasn’t anything physically dangerous, Jack couldn’t shake the feeling that spiritually, there’d be a change in Jason after this. He took a breath and gestured at Alex to go inside while he placed his hand at the small of Daniel’s back and followed him inside their own hogan.
“Lin taught little,” said the woman before them. “I am Shalla,” and she placed her left hand over her chest.
“Do you understand what we’re saying?” Daniel asked.
She shook her head and instead moved to a squat shelf with a handful of folded white clothing that reminded Daniel of Egyptian cotton. “You,” she said, handing the entire bundle to Jack, then gestured at the central fire and the flat square cushions. She mimed eating and drinking, then said, “I return.” She bowed and left.
“Not much on small talk is she?” Jack quipped rhetorically as he looked over the bundle, then separated the clothing and handed them out. When he came to the thinnest set, he grinned and handed it to Sam. “Obviously, these are yours.”
“Not much on clothing, either,” Sam said as she took the two pieces she had and held them up in front of her. One was a sleeveless tunic, the other, loosely fitting slacks.
“There is something in the fire,” Teal’c said, eyebrow cocked, as he moved to it, sniffing the light smoke. It was then that the others smelled it, too.
“Smells like pot,” Jack said as he dropped his clothes and took off his gear. As he began to strip, he noticed Sam hesitating. Rolling his eyes, he said, “Carter, we’ve all been here before.”
“Yeah, but it’s been a while, sir.” She made a face as she tossed her field vest on the floor next to the cushion seat she planned to use. “Just the same, I’m keeping my underwear on unless they say otherwise.”
Daniel paused in the act of removing his boots. “Uh, Sam, this is a cleansing ceremony, which means we wear nothing else but these clothes.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine. But you three turn away.”
Teal’c’s brow rose. “I too have seen it before.”
“Yeah, I know, but not now, so…” and she made a shooing gesture.
With a grin, Teal’c turned away. The exchange left Daniel hoping that they’d already come to some sort of understanding. He glanced at Jack with admiration as they stripped down and pulled on the clothes. “You look good in white,” he said softly.
Jack grinned without looking at him. Instead, he smoothed down his front and looked himself over. “Not bad.” When he looked up, he froze for a moment, then reached out and squeezed Daniel’s right bicep. “Nice,” he said, achieving success as Daniel’s eyes darkened somewhat. “Think we can take these home?”
“We’d never wear them,” Daniel remarked softly, then chastised himself for his interest when he realized that the linen left nothing to the imagination where sexual endowment was concerned. “Jack, don’t start,” he said, clearing his throat meaningfully.
“What?” Jack asked, momentarily confused, then following Daniel’s line of sight, he cringed. “Gotcha.”
Pointedly ignoring him, Daniel asked, “Sam, you ready?”
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
They turned and found her sitting on one of the pillows that made a square around the fire. She was watching them with a satisfied smile on her face. As the three men exchanged looks, she asked innocently, “What?”
“You looked,” Jack leered.
“Peripherally, not directly,” Sam admitted with a casual smugness.
“Then what’s with the smirk?” Jack asked.
“You three look really good in those,” she said, not hiding her admiring gaze.
Daniel cleared his throat as he caught sight of the substantial package that filled out the crotch of Teal’c’s slacks. “Especially some of us,” he said, sitting down to her left and crossing his legs. Jack and Teal’c did the same, with Jack sitting across from her and Teal’c to her right.
Sam reached down and picked up one of the slices of fruit that sat in a prepared dish and munched on it, vowing to herself that she’d never tell them that she’d seen everything. She felt a slight pang of regret that both Jack and Daniel were spoken for, but the more she thought on it, she knew there was nothing sexual there, at least nothing comfortable.
She’d be blind not to be attracted to them, but sexually aroused was another thing entirely. Besides, there were other fine fish in the sea. While Teal’c was one of them, he simply wasn’t what she needed anymore. The pang of regret increased.
. . .
Just as Shalla had done, Coral gave Jason’s men clothing and gestured at the pillows and the food before departing. Reluctantly changing into the linen clothes provided, the men sat down.
Alex fidgeted with his pillow, his thoughts on Jason, knowing that he was needlessly worrying about him. The one thing that bothered Alex was just how much of a stink their superiors might make over Jason’s tattoo. While this was being done for religious purposes, Alex worried that the family ties might overshadow the needed ceremony. Maybe the herbs the Diné grew and traded to the SGC would make the bosses turn a blind eye. Or so Alex hoped.
“I have to admit, I’m a little jealous,” Connor said.
“Why?” Alex asked.
“Jason’s getting a tattoo the legal way.”
“Well, there’s talk that the regulation be removed,” Al put in, “but I don’t know how reliable the talk is.”
“Until it’s either deregulated or gotten rid of,” Alex told them, “we’re screwed. Only the Navy and Marines get their tats.”
“So unfair,” Connor complained.
“No argument here,” Alex told him.
“What did he say it was?” Al mused, furrowing his thick black brows together, thinking of what Jason said. “A bird?”
“A raven,” Alex added.
“Why?” Al and Connor asked, voices slightly off-set. They glanced at each other, smirking.
Alex stared at them in disbelief, then realized that Jason never told them about his dreams. “Because Jason has ravens in his dreams. He says they’re his totem animal.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t explain why that’d be his tattoo.”
Alex couldn’t answer that. “Well, there you got me ’cause I have no idea, either. He said he’s been dreaming of them for a while now and I’ve learned that sometimes a totem is an animal that consistently visits your dreams.”
“Did he say what the dreams were about exactly?” Connor asked.
Alex grimaced a bit. “Death.”
“Death?” Al and Connor echoed. This time, there was no smirking.
“He wouldn’t elaborate. He only said he knew something was going to happen with his grandfather and that there was something else going on but he couldn’t pin it down.”
“That’s fucking spooky,” Connor said, making an obvious shiver as he brought one knee up to his chest, clasping his hands over the shin. “But then, he’s always been like that.” The others nodded and they went silent for a few minutes, thinking over what the next day might be like and what their roles, if any, would be in the ceremony later on.
But as they thought things over, Connor’s thoughts kept returning to what Jason had confided. He wondered if Alex knew, and thinking about it, Alex had to.
“Alex,” he began, dropping formality and protocol.
Alex looked at him, slightly surprised. “Connor?”
“Has Jason talked to you?” he asked with a deep breath.
Puzzled, Alex asked, “About?” When Al and Connor exchanged looks, Alex started getting an uncomfortable feeling.
“Jason told us,” Connor said quickly.
Alex gave him an angry, Told you what? look.
“That he’s gay,” Connor finished, his expression clearly daring Alex to contradict him.
Alex stared at them both unblinkingly, unable to keep from feeling resentful. Jason had said he would tell them, but Alex had thought that maybe he’d wait, have him there with him. Apparently Jason had thought otherwise. Alex’s resentment started to build till he remembered that if he hadn’t been spending so much time with Jalen, he probably would have been there for him. Guilt replaced the resentment rather quickly, and trying to push it aside, he focused instead on why his teammates felt the need to bring it up.
“And you’re bringing this up because?”
“We wanted to talk about it, actually,” Al admitted, looking at Alex carefully. “So you know then?”
Alex sighed. “Obviously, Al. Jason said he’d tell you. When was that?”
“Two weeks ago,” Connor said.
Alex made a face. “I should’ve been there.”
“You seem disappointed. Do you think he shouldn’t have told us?” Connor asked indignantly.
Alex stared hard at him. “Frankly, I didn’t think you needed to know.”
Al and Connor’s mouths dropped open. “What?” Al sputtered. “We have a right to–“
“No you don’t. Jason told you because of what happened to us, and you had a right to know because of that, not because he’s gay.”
“That’s not fair,” Connor said angrily. “We already had our suspicions a long time ago and we never said anything because of the regs. That he told us at all tells me that he trusts us. Don’t you?”
Not entirely offended, Alex ground his jaw and pushed off the floor, not answering him. He knew their backgrounds, the prejudices and illogical hatreds they were raised with. What he’d been raised with.
“Alex, I didn’t mean anything,” Connor said, getting up and going over to him, trying to take the sting out of his words.
Alex folded his arms, turning away from him. “Doesn’t matter.”
“What are you getting upset for?” Al asked as he joined them, anger showing in his voice.
Staring at nothing in particular, Alex thought of the first time he’d kissed Jason, and denied feeling anything because he’d been too scared to admit his feelings. He wasn’t gay, he wasn’t bisexual. He just had those dreams, that’s all. They were reactions from stress, they didn’t mean anything.
Except they did. Alex knew exactly what Al and Connor were feeling and likely thinking and no matter how nice they acted, he knew they weren’t happy. Jason wasn’t one of the ‘normal’ guys anymore. And neither was he, and no matter how much he wanted to trust Al and Connor, he didn’t think he could tolerate seeing that alienating look on their faces. The look of disappointment and betrayal. Still, he had to give them something to think about.
“Ten years ago, I had this best friend named Earl. We were best buds, did everything together, including trolling for chicks.” He turned and faced his teammates. “Then one night, we got drunk and he told me that he’d broken up with his girlfriend. Or rather, she’d broken up with him. And the reason was because he wouldn’t have sex with her. He couldn’t tell her that it was because he was gay, that he couldn’t get it up for her. He’d tried, tried very hard, to play ‘straight’ with me, but in the end, he was tired of pretending, of keeping something so important from me, his best friend.”
Alex paused, looking down at the floor at their feet, unconsciously tightening his crossed arms in a protective gesture. “I tried to be understanding, but I was thrown. I didn’t get why he liked guys and I started making excuses not to be with him anymore because I kept thinking he was looking at me when we were in the showers, that he’d come touch me, unasked.” Alex deliberately looked into his teammates’ eyes.
“I treated my best friend like shit because I felt like he’d betrayed me. But the thing is, he hadn’t. He’d opened up to me, confided in me, and I broke his trust in me by turning my back on him. I never told anyone, never once thought of getting him in trouble, or being responsible for some bashers’ hatred, but what I did wasn’t that far off. I broke his heart when I turned away from him.”
“Why are you telling us this?” Al asked with shock. “You don’t seriously expect us to do the same, do you?”
“We won’t, you know,” Connor added. “Jason’s talked to us, went a little preachy, too, so don’t you dare start in on us. We’re not ignorant pricks. We’ve been through a lot, understand a lot more than we would have without having Jason as our C.O. We owe him, and it’s why we came back. We missed him, missed the job, even though we had a feeling he was gay. It doesn’t matter to us, Alex, and I think you’re being a bit too hard on us.”
“Am I?” Alex asked, knowing damn well he was but he didn’t care. “You should have just said what was on your mind, not toyed with me by asking me if Jason had talked to me.”
“Okay, you gotta point,” Connor admitted. “What I wanted to know was how long you’ve known?”
Alex wondered how much of the truth he could tell without giving himself away. Clearing his throat, he said, “The second day at Adriann’s, after we met him and his people.”
As expected, Al and Connor barked out noises of surprise. “What?” Connor asked.
“Did he tell you or did you find out?” Al asked.
How could Alex tell them that he’d found out because of his dream, because Jason had come to him? Technically, that had been when he’d found out. He hadn’t really let it sink in till he’d watched Jason and Daniel from his hiding place behind the wall. He’d come so hard from watching them that Alex had figured it had to have been a turning point for him.
“I… saw him with someone, and then told him what I saw. I can’t tell you anything else because I can’t betray a confidence, regardless of your knowing he’s gay.” When they nodded their acceptance, though with obvious disappointment, Alex hoped that’d be the end of it, but their fidgeting body language and expressions said it wasn’t.
Al and Connor exchanged a long look, then Connor looked Alex in the eyes and said, “Alex… we don’t wanna sound… offensive or presumptuous but we were wondering…”
“Spit it out,” Alex said, dread filling him.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Jalen,” Connor said slowly, clearing his throat. “We know he’s gay, Alex. We can’t help but wonder…” He left off the rest of what he was going to say, blushing furiously because he hoped he wasn’t making an ass out of himself.
Alex closed his eyes, turning away, that dread becoming like lead inside him. They were suspecting him, they’d hate him, no matter what they said, how much they liked Jason, they’d treat him differently. They always did, men like Al and Connor. To your face, they’d say all the right things, but the moment your back was turned…
Alex didn’t want to believe that Al and Connor were capable of backstabbing, but he couldn’t bring himself to take the risk. And he didn’t like lying to them, either, but he had to. Barely looking over his shoulder, he said, “He asked for my company, that’s all, to help him through his time with the Tok’ra.” Before they could respond, he went to the door. “I need some air,” he said, and left the hogan.
“But we’re supposed to wait here,” Al called after him.
“Alex, come back,” Connor said.
Alex ignored them. He headed for the flat scrubland and toward the boulders that were scattered past the village. His heart pounded wildly and he needed time to think.
“Well we fucked that up royally,” Al grumbled.
“We sure did,” Connor mused. “But what I wanna know is, is he mad because he thinks we’ll hate him if he’s gay, or is he mad because he thinks the very idea of being gay is offensive?”
“Connor, for Jason’s sake, I hope to fuck it’s the first one, because if it’s the latter, we’re in for some seriously choppy waters.”
“We’d have to tell Jason.”
“And Jason would have his ass,” Al finished, then met Connor’s grinning face and started to laugh at his own pun. “Er, so to speak.”
. . .
With a tight chest, Jason entered the hogan and found a few of the Elders seated parallel beside his grandfather. Lin lay in front of them, beside the central fire, cushioned on a thick pallet of blankets that Jason recognized as old Navajo weave. His hands were linked together over his stomach, his face an expression of peace as if nothing were wrong and he was preparing for a dreamscape.
There was a moment of panic when Jason thought he’d been too late, but when he saw his grandfather’s chest rise and fall, relief surged through him. The Elders spoke a few murmured words, then stood and approached him. One Elder handed Jason some garments, then all four bowed and left him alone.
Jason had only a vague idea what to do. First and foremost was the obvious. Change clothes. He silently set down his weapon, then removed his clothing. The garments were cotton and the color a reddish-brown, almost maroon. To Jason’s annoyance, he was reminded of the color of dried blood.
He put on the sleeveless tunic and loose-fitting slacks and moved over to where the Elders had been sitting. It was then Jason realized that Lin wasn’t just lying on blankets but that underneath those was a large, rectangular sand painting. He could make out the classic Navajo designs but the central image was covered by Lin’s body. It seemed to Jason to be a thunderbird.
He sat down cross-legged at Lin’s side, by his right shoulder, and took several breaths to calm himself. On a small straw mat behind him sat a mug and clay pot filled with water. Jason filled the mug with water, drank, then set it back on the mat. Staring back down at Lin, he couldn’t get over how old his grandfather looked. While he wasn’t surprised, it was dismaying.
Not wanting to bother him, Jason remained still and quiet and stared into the fire. A few minutes later, he happened to look down and was somewhat startled to find his grandfather staring up at him.
Lin raised his hand to touch Jason’s chest. “You look weary and troubled, Kit.”
A tear fell from Jason’s eye as he laughed and immediately copied what Jack would say. “Ya think?” he asked, looking down at the hand on his chest and covering it with his own.
“I think,” Lin echoed. His voice was gravelly, tired, and Jason recognized the pain that Lin was fighting. Something was killing him and Jason wanted to stop it.
“Grandfather, I could–“
Lin cut him off as he reached up to cup Jason’s face, peering intently into his eyes. “I don’t have much time. I am sorry, Kit. I should have called for you earlier.”
More tears fell from Jason’s eyes as he whispered, “Please don’t leave me.”
Lin smiled indulgently. “Shh, selfish boy.”
Jason laughed sadly, rolling his eyes. “Sue me. I want you here.”
Lin brushed away some of the wetness on Jason’s cheek. “We are both so stubborn,” he coughed. “It is the way of things. You cannot change what has to be.” Jason opened his mouth to interrupt but Lin covered his mouth with his fingers. “Shh, time to stop arguing with your grandfather, little black bird.”
Jason blinked at him. “What did you say?”
Lin grinned at him. “It suits you,” he said, then shuddered.
“Grandfather?” Jason panicked, voice rising.
Lin opened his eyes. “You trust Asatay, yes?”
Jason laughed again, sniffing away the tears that kept falling. “I was bonded to him, Grandfather.”
Lin smiled weakly, then took Jason’s hand in a deceptively strong grip. “I will always be with you. The great father left me blessed and I have been lucky to have been able to end my days here. I want to pass my gifts to you, and you must do what you can.”
Jason shook his head, confused. “Grandfather, I can’t, I have duties and obligations with–“
“Yes, yes, protecting Earth,” Lin coughed, “and it is a noble obligation, but that is not what I mean. Asatay will be a worthy replacement for me. What I am speaking of is passing on the knowledge given to me by my ancestors, which I must now give to you.”
“Oh,” Jason whispered, understanding. “The spirit ceremony. I dreamt about it.”
“I know,” Lin told him, releasing his hand, and pointed to a wooden tray filled with dried resin. “In the fire,” he said. Jason reached over to the tray that sat between Lin and the fire and took a large pinch of the dried, sticky herb. He tossed it into the fire in front of them and a violet and orange smoke puffed from the heat and flames. Jason coughed from the pungent fumes and waved it out of his face.
“Damn, grandfather, what the hell is that?”
“Breathe,” Lin said, voice flattened, as if in trance.
Jason complied, and automatically began coughing. “God,” he gasped. “What is that?”
“The guide to the dream time. Kit, soon you will call for your husbands.”
Jason’s head felt dizzy but he didn’t mistake those words. “My…” Fresh tears sprang up before he registered they were there, still too stunned. While Lin had never spoken badly of his sexuality, Jason had always had the sense that he’d never approved. Just like with his choice of career.
Lin made a tsking sound and groped for Jason’s left hand, grasping his pinky. And the ring there. “Would I have made these if I had not approved?”
Jason sniffed back his clogging sinus and tried to smile. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“Have faith in your elders, Kit.”
“I have faith in you, grandfather, and one other elder. No more have earned it.”
Lin laughed, but it quickly turned into a wheezy cough and Jason rubbed his chest as if that would soothe him. “You doubt me yet you have faith?” he asked gruffly.
“I’m sorry–” Jason began but Lin let go of his hand and placed it on his heart.
“I know it was hard for you, Kit.”
Those few words were a balm. They’d never really talked about it. Why now? Jason asked himself with deep regret. “Being gay is who I am, grandfather. I couldn’t have been anything else.” The implication was there. He’d never shown he approved.
“And you need my approval for this?” Lin said, irritation in his voice despite its weakness.
Jason argued with himself, then admitted, “I always wanted it, even if I didn’t think I needed it.”
“I approve that you are who you are without reservation. I could not be prouder of you.”
“Even as a member of the military?” Jason asked, brow arched.
Lin smiled, finding it funny. “It is ironic that the thing I hated in your life brought me here.”
Jason said nothing, but he mirrored his grandfather’s ironic smile.
“No doubts have I,” Lin said. “True to yourself you are.”
Jason couldn’t help it and laughed outright.
“This is funny?” Lin asked, his own brow arching.
“You sound like Yoda.”
Making Jason laugh further, and more like the little boy he used to be, Lin mimicked the little green character. “Much like him do I sound?”
“Much,” Jason replied.
Lin’s next words turned to the past, the tone laced with the worry of a parent. “You lost a few fights.”
Jason knew what he meant, referring to the fights he’d had in his teens. A few had been about the usual bully hierarchy, others because he hadn’t bothered hiding he was gay. “Only two.”
“Yes, only two. Took five of them to take you down.”
Jason grimaced at the memories, telling himself that it was wrong to hold on to revenge. But those beatings long ago still burned bright. If they’d been ordinary bullies, Jason could have dismissed them and let them go, but a gay bashing he couldn’t forgive. He knew he should let it go, be the better man, but it wasn’t who he was. Jason simply did not have what it took to forgive people like that. That was more Daniel’s strength.
“Thinking about it will poison your mind,” Lin suddenly warned.
“Too late for that, grandfather,” Jason said with a sad smile.
Lin read the words for the meaning they encompassed. “You’re a crusader, Kit. Be more careful.”
“I’m 43, grandfather,” Jason answered with a grin. “I think I’ve learned to be careful.” Other memories surfaced then, of times his grandfather had patched up his bloody cuts or rubbed herbal salves over bruised ribs. Jason’s smile faded. “I’m glad it was you who saw those things, not mom or dad.”
“They would have done the same,” Lin told him.
“I don’t know,” Jason sighed.
“Faith, Kit,” Lin admonished gently.
“I’m trying, grandfather.”
Lin suddenly wheezed into a coughing spasm and Jason rubbed his chest again. “I wish you’d let me bring Dr. Fraiser here. She might be able to–“
“It’s nothing she can fix, Kit. There is cancer within, somewhere.”
Jason’s eyes widened. “But… but you never said–why didn’t you tell me, dammit? I could get a Tok’ra healing device, Sam could–“
“Shh,” Lin said, reaching up again to stifle his words. “No, Kit. I’m tired. It’s time for me to go.” Jason gave him a pained, argumentative look. “And you have to let me go.” Jason thought he’d been prepared, but he shook his head, refusing the inevitable. “Listen to me,” Lin said, his hawk-like gaze piercing into Jason’s, as if peering into his soul.
“I am so proud of you, as a man, as my grandson. You have chosen good partners, Kit. I leave you knowing they will always be there for you.” He suddenly wheezed and gripped Jason’s hand again, the one dirty from the resin. Grit rubbed between them and Jason couldn’t help comparing it to a blessing.
“Call them,” Lin said, voice growing faint. As if on cue, an elder entered, nodded, and left again.
Jason didn’t even notice. He grew dizzy again and only marginally recognized that the trance had begun. “Grandfather…”
“Shh,” Lin said, coughing once. “It is time to dream.”
. . .
Daniel suddenly looked at Jack in alarm as he felt Jason’s anguish. Though his link was less strong, Jack felt it too. As one, they rose and stared at the door.
“What’s goin’ on?” Sam asked, alarmed by their behavior.
“Something has transpired,” Teal’c said, getting to his feet and pulling her up.
Shalla appeared in the doorway. “Daniel and Jack please,” she said, voice thick with accent.
“Not us, too?” Sam asked.
“No, stay,” Shalla said and gestured hurriedly to Jack and Daniel. With a backward look at Sam and Teal’c, they followed the woman out of the hogan.
. . .
“I’m not leaving,” Jason whispered, fighting the trance. Without giving a damn, he bent over and slid his arms around his grandfather, dropping his head to his chest like he used to do when he was a little boy. Before his parents had died.
Lin stroked his hair, then whispered, “My little boy. Remember. Raven will wear you if you let it.”
Jason frowned and raised his head in alarm. “What?” Smoke swirled around them like mist and Jason felt himself sway. He fought for control but Lin’s voice told him to let go. Jason still resisted, but eventually, he had no choice but to obey. The smoke’s effects made sure of it.
Asatay entered the hogan, dressed only in shaman’s breeches with his darkly tanned skin painted in stripes that ran from his jawline down the length of his arms. Behind him were two young men, dressed as he was, carrying bowls and knives made of bone. At least, Jason thought they were knives.
The only thing Jason was sure of was that everything he saw became fuzzy dream images. He was no longer sure what was real and what wasn’t. In the back of his mind, he knew he wasn’t completely conscious any more. The smoke from the resin was doing its job. Jason refocused on his grandfather, wanting more from him, for him to suddenly and miraculously stand and say it wasn’t his time yet. He was so rapt on his wishes, his gaze on his grandfather, that he jumped when he heard the throaty call of a raven. He wondered where it came from and said, “Who are you?”
His answer never came. Instead, hands were suddenly touching him, removing his tunic, baring his chest, and Jason wasn’t sure if that was real, either. His grandfather’s voice suddenly asked, “Does it matter?” but it seemed to come from inside Jason’s mind. Mentally, as if talking to himself, Jason answered that he didn’t know. He was going to question this whole mental exchange just as something both icy and burning touched his left shoulder and pectoral muscle. His logical mind said it was only wet cloth, but still, he shuddered and flinched, wanting to tell whoever it was, “Not now, go away,” but he couldn’t speak.
His grandfather’s voice spoke to him again, keeping him both focused and distracted.
“All will be well,” Lin said, and Jason felt his hand once more cupping his cheek. “Receive my knowledge and use it well, my beloved one, my raven child.”
“But my name is Little River Fox, Grandfather,” Jason reminded him.
“But it is Raven that calls you now and you know this.”
“Yes,” Jason answered. “I know.”
Lin’s palm moved to Jason’s forehead and pressed on the third eye chakra. The skin felt as if burned and Jason sucked in a breath as both cold and hot flashes rush over his body. Just as abruptly, Lin dropped his hand down over Jason’s heart and whispered words Jason couldn’t understand. They were too faint, too unfamiliar. Still, it didn’t matter and Jason whispered, “I love you, Grandfather.”
It was then that the dream came to him once more. It seemed more real than it ever had but instead of a mist of fog and the bird’s call, he stood in an empty corridor at the SGC and a few feet before him was a raven. “What is it?” he asked and the black bird made a throaty croak, following it with several clicks of its beak.
Without warning, it flew off and somehow, Jason flew behind it. He was now a raven. They flew down the empty corridor and veered into another that was far from empty. As if by a mad painter using a large brush, the walls and floor were marked with wide swaths of dark, thick blood. The sweet, metallic tang of it filled his nostrils and Jason back-winged, then dropped from the air, onto his belly, knocking the wind out of himself as he became human again.
“What’s going on?” he choked. Materializing out of thin air came a few uniformed men and women, dead. Their bodies were scattered, eyes staring with frightened looks on their faces; their throats had been slit.
Jason cried out, heart wrenching. One of the slain was Alex, but he wasn’t exactly dead. He reached out for Jason. “Beware of him, Jason. Beware.”
Jason knelt down and tried to stop the bleeding, but blood poured from Alex’s throat, staining Jason’s hands and clothes. Behind him, the raven croaked, as if in equal warning, and Jason looked up. Down the corridor stood Jack and Daniel, waving at him, as if in farewell. “No!” Jason screamed, launching forward and slipping in the blood. “No!”
A burning touched his skin and Jason’s left fist went to his chest to try to ease the ache he knew wouldn’t go away. Yet somehow, doing so allowed him to stand and as he stumbled toward Jack and Daniel, he heard his grandfather’s voice. “Listen to your feelings, Kit.”
“I always have, Grandfather,” Jason replied, turning toward the voice. The blood was gone, the bodies were gone, and there was nothing but the raven in the mist that now filled the SGC.
“Listen and remember,” Lin’s voice whispered. “My powers will always be with you.”
“Powers?” Jason frowned. “What are you talking about, Grandfather?”
“Goodbye, Little River Fox.”
Jason reached out into the fog, as if to grab and hold on, but there was nothing for him to grab on to. “Goodbye, Grandfather.” Voices and images passed before him, blurred somewhere in the fog and just barely within hearing. Jason knew them for memories, perhaps his grandfather’s, he didn’t know. They kept coming and passing and Jason tried to catch each one to look and listen but there were too many.
He ran into the fog, desperate to catch them all, and suddenly a pressure wrapped around his knees and he fell. Jason twisted around to see what was wrong and found a rope, but it was tied around his ankles, not his knees. A resonating, throaty voice whispered, “You cannot defeat me,” and his leg were pulled apart.
Fear gripped Jason that he’d be raped and he screamed, “No!” and yanked, hard. The rope snapped free and came into his hands, but he wasn’t free by any means. On its own volition, the rope began twining itself about his arms, his hips, his knees.
He fought against it, struggling to free himself, but it gained him nothing. He felt tired and had no idea why. He’d only just started fighting, hadn’t he?
“Are you afraid?” a voice asked. Jalen walked out of the mist like a specter. Without realizing it, Jason flinched and tensed his body, readying himself for an attack. Jalen squatted at his feet, arms crossed lazily over his knees. “Why do you fear me so?”
“You’re a rapist,” Jason said tightly.
“Am I?” Jalen asked, placing his hands on Jason’s ankles. “Could it be that you fear me because I am what could happen… to you?”
“No!” Jason protested, squeezing his eyes shut, raising his knees, trying to pull away.
“Jason!” Jalen shouted. “Look at me!”
Jason opened his eyes, readying himself for the attack he’d expected before but again, nothing happened. Jalen’s hands were on his ankles, but he was untying the ropes. They fell away and disappeared, then Jalen stood and offered his hand. Jason slowly reached up and took it, and felt a peculiar strength when he was pulled to his feet. He stared at the man before him, seeing two people in that bearded face. A bearded face that no longer belonged to Jalen, but to himself.
“It is not Jalen that you fear,” said his double before he slowly thinned and became part of the fog.
“It is me,” Jason said. In the distance, raven cawed.
. . .
Jack and Daniel entered the hogan and found Asatay, with his two young shamans, standing by the door. They seemed to be waiting. Across the room, Jason sat cross-legged, hands clenched into fists and resting on his knees. His head had fallen back and his breathing was rapid, shallow. He seemed to be talking, responding to something, but neither Daniel nor Jack could make it out.
Asatay wordlessly gestured for them to be quiet and guided them over to Jason, pushing them down to sit on either side of him. Jack stared at the tear-streaked face of his lover and began to worry. Jason wasn’t registering his presence and his skin was glistening with a sheen of sweat. Daniel mouthed ‘trance’ to Asatay and the shaman nodded. Then Jason made a horrible gasping sound, like one of pain, and not bothering to ask if it was okay, Jack and Daniel put their arms firmly around him.
Before them, it was obvious that Lin was dead. His eyes were closed but he was no longer breathing. Asatay and his two assistants moved swiftly, picking him up. Blindly, Jason reached out in front of him but just as quickly dropped his hand in his lap as the three men moved away, reverently carrying Lin from the hogan.
Daniel looked down, eyes widening, as he noticed that in Jason’s palm lay a small black feather. He knew it was a raven’s only because of Jason’s dreams. It couldn’t be anything else. Sitting there, doing nothing but needlessly holding Jason, he wondered what else they could do and transmitted that question with a look to Jack. Jack shook his head.
They sat for a while, saying nothing, waiting for Asatay to return. When he finally did, with his helpers, Sam, Teal’c, Al and Connor followed him. Alex wasn’t with them. When Daniel’s gaze found Asatay’s, the man nodded. “He is coming.”
. . .
Alex sat watching the land and its creatures. The sun shone down but was filtered by the leaves of a tree whose shelter he had found. With his back braced against the trunk, he let his mind wander. Though his intention had been to think, he ended up not wanting to think about anything. Not Al and Connor, not Jason or Jalen.
He closed his eyes, letting the soft breeze wash over him, to soothe him. Minutes ran together and he began to doze.
Alex raised his head sleepily, eyes still closed. “Hmmm?”
Alex’s eyes suddenly shot open. Asatay’s voice, and yet, it wasn’t. “Jason?” he asked, looking around, then getting to his feet. “Jason?” There was no one there but Alex knew he hadn’t imagined hearing his voice. Jason was calling him. How or why didn’t matter. Alex got up and raced for the hogan.
. . .
At the door, Shalla held her hand up, stalling Alex. She made a quieting gesture, then opened the flap and waved him inside.
Alex’s vision adjusted slowly to the firelight, eyes catching sight of his teammates first, looking at him expectantly. They sat next to Sam and Teal’c on the right side of the room, framing the fire, and with a touch of guilt, Alex moved over and sat down, last in line and closest to the door. He crossed his legs like the others, then looked across to his right, to Jack and Daniel framing Jason.
Alex couldn’t see him clearly, but he saw enough to tell him that Jason was either asleep or in a trance, that his face and torso were bare and glossy with sweat. Blocking his view was Asatay, who was kneeling in front of Jason, bowl in one hand, fingertips painting stripes of red and yellow color over Jason’s cheeks. A white stripe had already been placed down the center of his chin, accenting the dimple there.
Movement had Alex looking up past the line to watch Asatay’s assistants settle on their knees to their shaman’s right. In their hands were things Alex assumed had to do with the tattoo but he couldn’t see exactly what they were. Craning his neck, he caught flashes of a bowl, something needle-sharp the color of bone.
At Jason’s right, Jack could see just fine, and he watched with protective interest as Asatay’s fingers finished painting his lover’s face. He clenched his jaw, wishing to christ that Al and Connor weren’t there because he desperately wanted to hold Jason’s hand. Not as his friend, either. He reached out carefully to touch Jason’s chest but Asatay’s hand blocked him.
“He needs to be clean,” Asatay whispered, and redirected Jack’s hand, placing it firmly on Jason’s shoulder.
Jason surprised them all, murmuring, “Jack,” and Jack’s eyes widened.
“He knows you are here,” Asatay whispered.
Daniel met Jack’s gaze and without asking, placed his hand on the other shoulder. “Daniel,” Jason slowly pronounced, the sound more of a moan than a murmur and it sent a chill through Daniel’s body. Whether inappropriate or not, it also sent signals to every erogenous zone he had.
The smoke in the room was slightly tangy, its sweet scent not overpowering but one no one could ignore. Whatever it was, Daniel knew it was having a profound effect on Jason as a hypnotic. However, Jason wasn’t completely unaware of what was happening because the moment Asatay began to whisper ceremonial words, Jason’s breath quickened.
“Take his hands and arms. Hold him,” one of Asatay’s assistants told Jack and Daniel.
Grateful to keep in contact with him, to let Jason know they were there, Jack and Daniel quickly complied. In response, Jason gripped them tightly. He swayed but remained upright, his words sounding slurred, drunken. When Asatay picked up a curved, hollow bone implement and filled its cavity with a black substance similar to ink, Jason began to mutter. Sweat beaded on his upper lip and the words he whispered were Diné. Daniel wished he could understand them all, though he picked up a few he thought he understood.
Then Asatay began to speak faster. His whispers seemed harsher but his voice didn’t rise. He raised the bone implement and his nearest assistant sprinkled something into its open end. Then Asatay touched the sharp tip to Jason’s chest, just above his heart and a hissing sound emerged and thick, yellow, acrid smoke appeared.
Jason gasped and squeezed his lovers’ hands tightly as his lips continued to move, speaking the unfamiliar words. Daniel stared with alarm and fascination as the tool began to mark Jason’s skin, searing the ink into him. Jason’s hands tightened painfully but Daniel and Jack squeezed back, taking the punishing grip as some sort of shared compensation.
Daniel felt Jack mirrored his own feelings as they both watched the bone implement burn ink into Jason’s skin. They could do nothing to interfere, not that they would, but neither liked seeing Jason in pain. Jack wished he could soothe it, take it away. The emotional, telepathic bond they shared, thanks to Adriann, allowed him to feel a little bit of what Jason was going through, but the essence of it was lost to him.
He knew he’d understand later, after Jason explained, but it didn’t stop him from wanting there to be a point to the ritual that wasn’t simply symbolic. It might be disrespectful, and Jack was sorry for that, but he wanted something tangible for Jason, for there to be a greater reason for having his skin burned into a tattoo. He tried to silently communicate his wishes and concerns to Daniel and Daniel stared back, as if assessing, then suddenly nodded with apparent understanding.
Asatay’s hand moved surely, methodically, his eyes riveted to what he was doing, and he continued to speak rapidly, pausing occasionally to swallow a liquid placed to his mouth by one of his assistants. Daniel wondered if it was too wet his throat or enhance his mind like a drug.
Minutes passed with aching slowness and Daniel looked over at Sam, Teal’c, and the others, all watching what was going on, though Asatay’s body partially obscured some of them from viewing the ritual tattoo. Daniel couldn’t help but wonder whether that was good or bad, because none of them would like the up close and personal smell of the yellow smoke wafting into his face. It was caused by burning skin, except it wasn’t really burning. Daniel couldn’t explain it to himself properly. The ink was seared into the skin, but the skin was also being burned.
Closest to Jason was Sam, who could smell the tell-tale singe of skin and wrinkled her nose with comprehension and active dislike. She caught Daniel’s gaze and half-smiled at him in sympathy. Looking at Teal’c, sitting to her right, for confirmation, she found him sitting stone-faced. He glanced back at her but didn’t speak or indicate any emotion. His mind was whirling with memories of painful tattoos given elsewhere, a long, long time ago.
But with those tattoos, there were the screams of agony as molten gold flooded the wounds made. He was glad that Jason’s tattoo wasn’t as painful. While it obviously caused him discomfort, its placement wasn’t as severe, disfiguring the face. Teal’c was glad, and more so that this tattoo was spiritually significant, holding better meaning and purpose than the one he himself wore upon his brow.
Sam had told him once that the tattoo could be removed, and Teal’c had seriously considered it. But in the end, he’d said no. Until all Jaffa were free, he’d told her, he would wear the symbol of oppression just as they did. He redirected his gaze to the firelight, noting in his peripheral vision that Sam was watching him, her green eyes blinking from the unpleasant smoke and pungent scent drawn from Jason’s skin.
He wondered what she was thinking, whether she was really okay that their intimacy was at an end. For himself, he was disappointed, but not overly bothered. They still had their friendship and their bond as warriors, and for him, that was far more important. The only thing that was foremost on his mind was getting through this ritual without embarrassing Jason’s people by showing any signs of weakness.
Daniel saw the expression on Teal’c’s face and reached out with his mind. He suddenly wished Teal’c could’ve been spared this ritual, though he knew he would have demanded to be included, despite his own discomfort. Speaking of discomfort, Daniel’s eyes were starting to water and his nose was beginning to run from the effects of the smoke. He kept distracting himself with holding onto Jason, helping Jack to keep him still, but when his nose began to itch and run, he drew his mouth down over his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut.
Startling him with a hand on his arm, Daniel opened his eyes to find the young assistant closest to him offering him a scrap of soft cloth for his nose–a sympathetic look on his face. Daniel nodded and took it, wiping at his nose and eyes. Everyone else’s faces showed their noses weren’t all that dry either and just as he hoped for a cloth to hand to Jack, the assistant rose and moved around the room with effortless grace, handing out the strips of cloth. He returned to his place next to his colleague, body language unchanged, as if this had been expected. It probably was, Daniel thought, and started to wonder how many people had received these tattoos.
Jason’s sudden tightening of muscles brought Daniel out of his ruminations and he glanced over at Jack who’d noticed it, too. They held Jason more firmly, thinking it was something inside their lover’s mind. When the assistant who’d passed around the cloth suddenly reached out and covered Jason’s groin with a larger cloth, Daniel and Jack found out otherwise.
From what they’d briefly seen, Jason was intensely aroused. Daniel had no idea what was going on, but when Jason flinched and shuddered, Daniel took a look over his shoulder to see if Asatay was doing something to cause this reaction. He was, at the bottom part of the design, just under the nipple. The nub was red and hard, and both Jack and Daniel knew from experience that Jason’s nipples were very sensitive to pain, and he could be easily aroused by direct pinching, twisting, or biting or teasing around them. Apparently, this applied.
What Daniel didn’t get was why this was arousing Jason because he normally didn’t get off on this kind of pain. Something was going on in Jason’s mind other than murder warnings and subconscious mind exams. So what the hell was it?
“It is me.”
Right after the words were out of Jason’s mouth, and the raven had made its exclamation point, voices came out of the mist, emotional and filled with hate and anger. Voices from the past, from his teen years, from the academy years, from past missions. Some of the memory voices belonged to his enemies, some belonged to him.
Jason had wondered why his grandfather had chosen, of all the things to talk about on his deathbed, to bring up those fights, those beatings suffered at the hands of homophobes. It couldn’t have been as a warning not to dwell in the house of hatred. Jason had been there and he’d left.
After the second beating he’d gotten at age 16, Jason developed a determination to never be at the hands of those people again–and lose. He’d learned to defend himself as well as others from the bad guys, and he’d learned to do it without emotion, without anger and hatred fueling him.
But. Jalen was an example of what could happen to him when victimized to the point of becoming the perpetrator–something Jason had fought all his life to avoid. And there it stood, staring him in the face. And all Jason had been able to feel was active hatred, which only made things worse.
It had taken weeks for him to get rid of the anger and hate, weeks to separate it from his sexual drive, so that having sex was fun and passionate, not tinged with images of Jalen and Baal.
So Jason understood part of what Lin had somehow known about. And the calm came, the realization and the peace. But now the focus had shifted to homophobia, the one thing that threatened Jason’s peace, regardless of when and where. No matter what was going on in his life, any confrontation with homophobes drove Jason’s peace of mind straight to hell. Anger flared in zero to three seconds. Anger so deep, it became the killing emotion. Hate.
Homophobia was the only thing left that made Jason angry enough to kill without too much provocation. Self-defense from the Goa’uld and their brainwashed Jaffa was different. Coming across phobes in the military and elsewhere was something else entirely, and Lin had brought it to Jason’s consciousness for a reason. Which meant what?
The only thing Jason could think of: bigotry was about to be front and center in his future.
Anger and resentment filled him. “Enough already!” he screamed into the mist. The moment that thought finished cementing itself in his mind, the mist around Jason began to swirl into a few tiny funnels that reminded him of dust devils. He stared at them skating across the strange colorless ground he stood on, and as he watched their perfect chaos, a peace began to fill him.
Everything would be okay, it told him. There was no point in hating something that was conditioned to do harm. His only job was to bring order to chaos, peace from war, love from hate. Although that last one…
Pain suddenly bloomed from nowhere, dancing across his chest, leaving heat in its wake. Jason hissed and massaged his left pec and looking down, he saw the beginnings of a tattoo. It looked weird, like watching an artist’s work performed without the artist.
Did the pain come because he’d resisted peace, resisted love. Did he want to hate? No, he didn’t. But Jason was a realist. He knew that you couldn’t make love from hate any more than you could reform a violent homophobe or a religious fanatic. One could try, but it was like repeatedly bashing your own head into a wall. All you did was make yourself bleed and give yourself one hell of a concussion. What was the point?
What was the point. Because to give up was to admit that darkness had won.
Laughter suddenly erupted from the mist. Soft, gentle, sensuous laughter. It was Daniel’s voice.
“Daniel?” he asked, turning to his right, toward the voice. He walked into the mist, hand on his chest, rubbing absently, feeling the skin burn. “Where are you?”
A figure appeared in the distance, grey and featureless, and came walking toward him. The stride was Daniel’s and Jason walked toward him, then began to run. Yes, it was Daniel, dressed in the ritual clothes Jason wore, only they were white. When Jason reached him, Daniel grabbed him by the hair–only instead of kissing him as Jason expected, he pulled his head backward. Jason’s breathing instantly quickened and his dick began to harden. His hands slid under the tunic to find Daniel’s warm skin. “Daniel,” he whispered.
“Time for some distraction,” Daniel said with a seductive smile.
“Yes,” he breathed just before the pain intensified in his chest and his breath was sucked out of him. “Oh god,” he choked.
“Jason, look at me,” Daniel said, gripping hard, tightening his fist. “Look at me!”
Jason looked at him, but the pain was too much, too…
Daniel kissed him then, hard, and Jason tried to concentrate but the pain was too much…
“Look,” Daniel said, breathing the word as he whispered it. It sounded odd but captivating and it did catch Jason’s attention. Daniel opened his mouth for a smile, baring his teeth. Then his sharp little canines began to grow. Jason’s eyes widened as he watch the teeth lengthen into fangs, the tips elongating to needle-sharp points just like Adriann’s.
“Oh my god, Daniel,” Jason whispered.
Daniel licked his fangs, seemingly testing them, then his eyes rested on eyes… then his throat. He murmured, “I think I’ll keep them, most because you look so good.”
New heat spread everywhere in Jason’s body as he realized how fucking sexy Daniel appeared. He was properly distracted now as Daniel took control, hands sliding up the back of his legs…
He was on his back? Jason wondered when he’d gotten there, or where his clothes had gone, where Daniel’s were, but the questions were absently asked because he didn’t really care. Daniel was hovering over him, placing his legs around his waist. Jason lifted his knees and tried to lock his ankles together, gasping when Daniel slid his cock deep inside him. “Yes, yes,” Jason repeated, then yelled with orgasmic pleasure when Daniel’s teeth sliced deep into his neck. He hadn’t come–not really–but the pleasure was exactly the same.
Beyond them, in the mist, Jason heard Asatay’s voice, whispering, chanting, and Jason began to do the same, speaking words he’d never heard, feeling a power fill his body and mind as surely as Daniel’s body did the same…
Minutes blurred by. No one was aware of what was transpiring inside Jason’s mind–no one but Daniel, though he knew only the emotions, not the content. For good or bad, they were transferring straight to his cock, making him hard, and his emotions were then projected onto Jack, making him hard, too. If anyone looked at their crotches, they’d know what their bodies were thinking and it would be problematic for Jack because Al and Connor had no clue about him. This was becoming a dilemma.
Until they were rescued by the assistant who’d covered Jason; he came around and placed long decorative plaits of cotton over their groins, making them look as if they were part of the ritual clothing, and Daniel vowed to give that young man anything he wanted. Mind back on what was happening, he looked down and saw that the tattoo was finished, but that Asatay’s hands were now pressed over Jason’s ribs. His eyes were closed and he was speaking very fast in that harsh whisper.
Then all of a sudden, he stopped. Jason fell silent, too, and his head lolled back, body no longer in a trance but unconscious. He started to fall backward but Jack and Daniel caught him quickly, though not quite so easily. Jason’s wasn’t exactly a lightweight.
“Please lay him down and stay with him,” Asatay commanded quietly as one of his assistants placed blankets down behind Jason. Daniel and Jack complied, laying him carefully atop the soft blue cotton. Sam, Teal’c, Alex, Al and Connor got to their feet, concerned as well as curious. Jack and Daniel scanned Jason’s face for signs of stress, looked over his body, his chest, checking out more than just the tattoo, but his breathing.
Everything seemed to be fine, so they allowed themselves a bit more of a look at the tattoo that now adorned the left pectoral muscle of their lover’s chest. It was quite obviously a raven, though Daniel was confused because the design was very similar to native British Columbian.
“Where’d you get the idea for that?” he asked Asatay.
“From his mind,” Asatay answered.
“His mind? How?”
Asatay grinned enigmatically. “Through an ability I possess, aided by the resin.”
“But it’s not part of his ancestors’ mythology,” Daniel went on.
“All animals on your planet bear the same mythology but moved into different circles of life. This one spoke to Jason and whether it was part of his ancestors’ culture or not, it has claimed him as his spirit guide.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, then finally shrugged. It wasn’t something to argue about, just accept. “Now what?” he asked softly, glancing up as Alex came around and knelt by Jason’s head, hand going immediately to his head. Daniel couldn’t tell if Alex was comforting Jason or himself, but most likely the latter. He knew he’d be doing the same thing soon enough.
“Everyone must leave now,” Asatay said, “except for you and Jack, as you are his… closest friends.”
“But what about us?” Alex asked in half-protest.
“I am sorry,” Asatay said kindly. “They are the only ones to remain.” He looked at Jack and Daniel and added further instruction. “It is up to you to watch over him, tend to him when he awakes because he will be… disoriented.”
“How long will he be out?” Jack asked.
“That is entirely up to Jason,” Asatay said, then held his hand out, gesturing at the door. Alex didn’t want to go, but he followed Sam and Teal’c anyway. Behind him were Al and Connor, their expressions of concern reminding Alex not to give anything away.
“Where do we go?” Sam asked, stopping at the door.
“You may return to your hogan and wait, or to pass the time, you may come to the great hall and help us prepare for the feast we will have, in our celebration of Lin’s final spirit walk.” He pointed to his assistants, who handed Jack and Daniel six small ceramic jars. “These balms will soothe the pain and encourage the skin to heal quickly. Treat him now, and several times during the day, now and after you return home.”
“For how long?” Jack asked, taking three of the jars.
“Two Earth weeks,” Asatay said simply.
Jack noticed how no one wanted to leave. “We’ll be fine. Asatay, can you give us an idea of how long we’ll be in here? When Jason wakes up, do we bring him to the hall immediately or wait a certain period of time?”
Asatay looked down at Jason’s sleeping form and peaceful but fevered appearance. “Perhaps an hour, probably a little more than that. It is up to Jason when he is ready to leave the hogan. When he is ready, he is to come to the feast.”
Jack nodded, satisfied with the answer. “Well, folks, you heard the man. If you don’t wanna wait and want to keep busy, go to the great hall. We’ll join you when we can.”
“As you wish,” Teal’c said, nodding once. He looked at Jason, raised a brow, then left the hogan. Sam followed with a final look over her shoulder, then Alex, Al and Connor right behind.
Asatay remained behind, but indicated his assistants should leave. When they did, he walked over and knelt to the right of Jason’s head, where Alex had been minutes before. Daniel knelt across from him and touched Jason’s cheek with the backs of his fingers. With an alarmed expression, he said, “He’s very warm.”
“The sleep trance,” Asatay said soothingly. “Do not worry. It is normal.” He stared admiringly down at the mark decorating Jason’s skin. “It is a beautiful tattoo.”
“It is,” Jack agreed.
Asatay rose then, bowed to them, then promptly left the hogan, leaving them alone. Jack immediately knelt in his place, and since they were now alone, he took advantage of the fact and bent over, kissing Jason’s forehead, his palm over the crown of his head. Leaning back up, Jack ran his hand over his lover’s head, petting damp hair strands away from his face.
Daniel took that moment to copy him and bent over, kissing Jason’s eyebrow, then temple. “Wake up, Jason.”
Jack looked startled. “Should you do that?”
“Why not?” Daniel asked. “Asatay said it’s up to Jason. I say we encourage him.”
Jack agreed, and kept up the petting of his hair. “Did you notice how Asatay carefully avoided calling us Jason’s husbands?”
“I noticed. He did that because of Al and Connor, which means that Lin had probably reminded him.” Daniel took a deep breath and continued to stare down into Jason’s face.
“It’ll be fine, Daniel,” Jack said, finally moving his hand away from Jason’s hair.
“I know, but you know me,” Daniel said, taking Jack’s place and threading his fingers through Jason’s hair.
Jack smiled lovingly. “I know you.”
They were both startled when Jason released a sudden inhale-exhale and Daniel pulled his hand back as if he’d done something wrong.
From Jason’s experience, it was like being woken out of an erotic dream. Disoriented, he took a quick breath and fought against consciousness, not wanting to leave the dream… unfinished. But it was too late. He was awake, for the most part. He opened his eyes, blinking rapidly, and stared up at the ceiling, sight out of focus.
“Hey there, Sleeping Beauty,” Daniel said with a relieved smile.
Hearing that voice, Jason rested his eyes on the real thing and reached up, hand on Daniel’s throat, thumb stroking his chin. He was in the real world now, he told himself. But just to make sure, he said, “Do me a favor and let me see your teeth.”
With an amused smile and a look at Jack, Daniel did as asked. “Well?” he asked, smiling widely. “What’re you looking for? Green teeth?”
Jason slid his hand down Daniel’s chest, caressing him. “You had fangs. They felt very real.”
“Fangs?” Daniel asked, eyes almost as wide as Jack’s.
“Fangs?” Jack repeated. His dick did a little interested twitch at the idea.
They felt very real. “Did I…?” Daniel asked.
“You did,” Jason nodded, pushing up so he could sit. He winced and hissed at the stinging soreness of his chest.
“Shit, I forgot,” Daniel said, pushing away the erotic idea of being a vampire as he opened one of the jars and began to spread the ointment on Jason’s chest. It was ironic, he thought. Once upon a time, the idea of being a vampire scared the shit out of him.
Jason breathed a sigh of relief as the salve was applied, soothing his skin. He tried to watch Daniel apply the honey-colored paste but his head kept getting in the way.
Jack picked up a jar and helped, and when Jason looked down at his fingers, then up into his eyes, Jack asked, “Where was I in this dream?”
“I don’t know,” Jason answered, confused and disappointed. “You weren’t there.”
“That’s not unusual,” Jack said, not hurt by it. Sometimes he dreamed about Jason alone, sometimes it was Daniel.
“Yeah, well…” Jason said, looking at him curiously.
“During the last part of the procedure, you got hard,” Daniel told him as casually as he could.
“I’m not surprised,” Jason answered as he lost focus and thought about the dream.
“Wanna talk about what happened?” Daniel asked as he put the lid back on the jar and set it behind him with the others. Jack did the same.
Turning away from the dream images, Jason slid his arm smoothly and quickly around Daniel’s neck and said, “Later,” before pulling him into a deep, passionate kiss.
Daniel had no trouble returning it with equal fervor, but when Jason’s hand moved down his body in a way he knew intimately well, Daniel pulled back from the kiss. “Jason, this isn’t the time.”
“It isn’t?” Jason asked, smiling, but his mood was broken by the pain that suddenly spread over his chest when Jack pushed two fingers over the skin outside of the tattoo.
“It isn’t,” Jack told him unnecessarily.
Jason made a groaning sound, his eyes hungrily moving over Jack’s body. “You look so good in white,” he said with both admiration and regret.
“Do I?” Jack asked, half-kidding but fishing for more compliments as he looked down at himself.
Jason made another sound, this one a growl, and with his good side, wrapped his arm quickly about Jack’s neck and did the same thing he’d done for Daniel. Kissed him without restraint.
Jack returned it, but broke apart regretfully, licking at his lips. “When we get home, I’ll gladly fuck you into a coma, but right now? Um, no, don’t think so. If it were just the three of us here, no problem.”
Jason had forgotten but Jack’s subtle reminder returned his memory to him and Jason let out another groan, this one filled with dissatisfaction and annoyance. “Goddamn it.” He began to stand and winced so much so that Jack and Daniel ended up helping him to his feet. His nose itched and he rubbed it, the heel of his hand coming away with a yellow smear. He stared at it, then snorted. “Oh, don’t tell me. I have paint on my face?”
Daniel blinked at him, incredulous. “Weren’t you aware of that part?”
“I guess not,” he said, then stopped and abruptly started to snigger, looking back and forth at Jack and Daniel. He picked up the cloth that had been over his lap and went before Daniel, rubbing the cloth over his face. “And now, you two have paint on your faces.”
Daniel smirked as Jason rubbed it off. “Hmm, wonder where that came from.”
Jason smiled. “I don’t.” Moving to Jack, he said, making tsking sounds. “Look at this mess. What would Al and Connor say?”
“If they’re smart, the only thing they could say,” Jack rebutted, taking the cloth from Jason so he could wipe the paint from his face. He paused, giving Jason a wink. “I think it’d be better to take the paint off you, too.”
The paint removed, Jason looked down at his chest, grimacing.
“No… well, yes, but that’s not it. It’s just… this thing is big. I expected something… shit, I don’t know what I expected.”
“What happened with Lin?” Daniel asked.
“I… right now, whatever he put in my head, it’s a jumbled mess. Let me sort it out, then I’ll explain.”
“Are you saying that Lin shared his knowledge with you telepathically?” Jack asked.
“I guess,” Jason answered, wincing again.
Jack shrugged. “Beats the old-fashioned way, I suppose.”
“Except I have no idea what he did,” Jason said, rubbing at his brow. He suddenly groaned as a wave of nausea hit him. He started to sway unsteadily and Jack and Daniel helped him to sit back down.
“Here,” Daniel said, filling a mug with some juice that sat on a small, squat table behind them. “They probably prepared this for you, so drink up. Headache?”
“Yeah,” Jason said, taking the cup from him. “Thanks.”
Jack knelt in front of him, worried eyes looking over him, then spied a tunic vest nearby, sitting folded next to the fire. He picked it up and handed it to Daniel. “Here, put this on him. He might get chilled next.”
“You sound like my mother when I was little,” Jason snapped with annoyance. “And what fever?”
“You feel a bit warm,” Daniel told him, sliding the open garment over Jason’s arms and onto his shoulders, but the moment it went over his left shoulder, it stung against the tattoo and Jason irritably threw it off.
“Forget it. And I’m not going to get chilled, not in this dry weather,” Jason said, as he drained the cup of what he assumed was juice. Holding it out to Daniel, he asked, “Could you get me some more, please?”
“Sure,” he said, refilling it and handing it back.
Jason drank half of it, then satisfied, let out a breath of exhaustion. Deep down, he knew this day had been coming but it was something he kept pushing into the back of his mind. His grandfather couldn’t live forever, he knew that. Still…
Daniel squatted next to Jack, giving him a puzzled look as he carefully scrutinized Jason’s expression and body language. There was something different about him but he didn’t know if it was real or his imagination. Jack shot back a silent puzzled query, asking what was up but Daniel shook his head.
Jason caught the exchange. “What?”
“That was my question,” Jack said to Daniel.
“Daniel?” Jason arched a brow at him and Daniel shook his head.
“It’s that annoying sense that Adriann gave me.” Jason’s brow went up further. “I don’t…” Daniel paused, furrowing his brows as he squinted at Jason in concentration. “Jace, how’re you feeling? Is there anything different, other than the tattoo?”
Jason thought about it but he didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. “If so, I don’t have a clue yet. I got all this stuff in my head that I can’t make sense of because it went by too fast for me to grab it.”
“That was part of the dream?” Jack asked.
“No, no, it was before the dream… I think.” Jason rubbed his brow again, trying to make sense of it. “Before Daniel appeared, before… other stuff happened. I think it was before Grandfather died. He was talking to me, in my mind. He said he gave me his gifts, some sort of powers, but I never saw him use anything other than enhanced intuition–what some might call lucky or spooky guesses–so if that’s what he meant, then only time will tell. When I asked Grandfather, he told me to ask Asatay.”
“Meaning they’d already spoken,” Jack surmised.
“I guess,” Jason shrugged. “I’ll have to ask him regardless.” He drained his second cup and set it down. “Okay, help me up.” Jack and Daniel did and soon found it wasn’t necessary. The headache was mild now, with no dizziness or nausea.
“Okay?” Daniel asked.
“Okay,” Jason replied. “Let’s go see our people.”
“They’re probably in the great hall, assisting with the feast.”
“Really?” Jason asked. “Huh. I’d like to see that. Let’s go.”
“Um, hang on,” Jack said, hand on Jason’s arm. “Do you think we have to show up wearing these?”
Jason pursed his lips. “No. You can change. The others probably have. I’ll probably have to wear this for a bit, then change before we go back home. I have no idea if that’ll be today or tomorrow.”
“I’ll change, then head back to the gate, give Hammond an update,” Jack told him as they left the hogan.
The cooler air hit Jason like a balm. The sun was just setting and Jason stopped and breathed in slowly. He looked around, then saw a short straw bench sitting alongside SG-1’s assigned hogan. “Tell you what, you go make your call and I’ll wait here.”
Jack grinned indulgently. “Fine. Daniel? You stay with him, make sure he’s okay?”
Rolling his eyes, Jason pointed behind him. “Stop worrying and go change. I’m fine. Just don’t take too long. I’m not walking into the great hall without my husbands.” Jack and Daniel froze, staring at him, then Daniel slowly sat down next to him. “What?” Jason asked.
“Husbands,” Jack repeated, a small smile on his lips.
Jason grinned, shrugging with just a tilt of his head. “Grandfather called you that, actually. It really never occurs to me, being stuck into the hetero world of laws and rules.”
“I like it,” Daniel said, a pleased smile spreading across his face.
Jason felt flustered suddenly. “I said it because that’s what I meant.” He paused, then reached out and took Jack’s hand, lifting it to his mouth. “I may not be able to do anything with Al and Connor hanging around, but I just wanted you to know that the thought’s there.”
“Not necessary,” Jack told him, “but this is.” He shot a quick look around, and seeing no one, bent over and kissed him. It wasn’t long enough as he’d like and this wasn’t the time and place, but he needed to do it just the same. “I’ll be back asap.”
. . .
With his lovers flanking him, Jason stepped through the stone doorway and proceeded into the large community hall. It had changed slightly since the last time he’d been there, but there were still the same decorations of color, by paint or weaving, on the walls and floors. The same scents pleasantly filled the room with smells of incense, cooking and oil lamps. The long rectangular tables, however, were gone, and in their place were three large round ones, sectional curved benches fitted for the seats. They were placed where the other ones had been and nearby, smaller versions had also replaced the children’s tables.
At the far end, in the center, sat the immense hearth fire, but in addition was a new central circle in the middle of the room. The preparation tables were still to the far left and the dining to the right, but where there’d been other prep tables, the fire now stood. An immense circle of stones, twenty feet wide, Jason guessed, was filled with glowing coals and flames at their center.
“Over here,” Alex called out.
Several small children ran up to Jason then and he thought he recognized a few. They were quickly rattling off their ancient tongue as they took his hands and led him across the room to the round table closest to the rear hearth where Alex was standing, with the rest of their teammates sitting at the table.
As they walked over, Jason spoke to the children in their language, asking how they were. One girl, about 8, made him laugh by immediately launching into a complaint about him being late.
“My apologies,” he said in Diné. He caught Jack and Daniel staring at him, strange looks on their faces. “What?” he asked.
“You’re good with children,” Jack observed.
“Only because they’re not mine,” Jason warned him, “so don’t get any ideas.”
“Who me? Not a chance, it was just an observation.” Jack winked at Daniel and they both smiled, having had their little tease.
“Sorry for being late,” Jason said to Asatay, clasping his arm when the man left the table and approached them.
“No one faults you,” Asatay said as he looked over the tattoo. “How does it feel?”
“It hurts,” Jason mock-scolded, but with a smile following. “It’s beautiful work.” He didn’t need to ask Asatay where the design came from. As shaman, the man would have discovered that through their mystic connection earlier.
As they approached the table, several Elders to his left moved away from the central hearth, and only then did Jason see the additional decoration. His grandfather had been placed to the left of the hearth, laid out on a pallet held three feet off the ground by several very sturdy-looking square baskets. His body was in his shaman’s robes, decorated in rich colors, beads, feathers, metals, all symbols of the four elements. On his head was a band of leather but Jason was too far away to see what the center decoration was. It looked like a white stone symbolizing either the moon or the sun.
Jason started to say something complimentary to Asatay about the way Lin was presented but found his throat constricted. He didn’t fight it, and instead nodded at Asatay to show his appreciation.
“Come, sit,” Asatay said, rescuing him, and Jason gave him a grateful smile as he sat down in a seat that faced the hearth, and his grandfather’s funerary stand. Jack and Daniel sat down to his left, with Asatay to his right. Jason nodded to everyone, swallowing hard, and was grateful they didn’t ask for him to speak just then. Dishes were set on the table around him, serving him, Daniel, and Jack what the others had already been eating.
“So, what’s next after the meal?” he asked Asatay.
“After we celebrate his life in this feast tonight, myself and a few of the elder shamans will wrap his body and take him to the small house for his morning pyre.”
“Why the morning?” Jason asked.
“To greet the sun as it rises, Jason. The gods will greet him with the morning rays and take him on his next journey.
Jason frowned as he stared at his friend’s dark eyes. “But… his spirit’s already departed, Asatay. Shouldn’t the pyre be now?”
Asatay grinned at him. “The departed souls go with the rising sun, not the setting one.”
Jason nodded, sort of seeing the logic. He stared across at Lin’s body, then was suddenly aware of everyone’s eyes on him. It made him shiver. “Stop staring, folks,” he said. “I’m fine.”
Looking around, and smiling at a woman who set a large platter on the table amongst all the others, Daniel asked Asatay, “So, what happens after the funeral pyre?”
“Nothing. The ceremony is complete.”
“For everyone?” Jack asked pointedly. He thought there’d be more to it than that, especially for Jason.
“Jason’s role with our people will never be finished, but the ceremony itself will be concluded and he will no longer be required to stay. He is now our link to the outside world as I am to your people.”
“Except you won’t get me when you deal with our people, Asatay, unless you ask for me specifically. If I’m not available, then it’ll take time.”
“Of that I am aware,” Asatay answered, reminding Jason that he had already been in on all transactions made between the SGC and the Diné.
“Of course,” Jason said by way of apology.
“You are still our link, Jason. It matters not if we trade directly with you. We would prefer to deal with others so that we may get a better understanding of your world.”
Jason groaned, as did everyone else from Earth.
“What is it?” Asatay asked.
“You already have a basic understanding of my world. You don’t need to be subjected to the darker side of it.”
Asatay took a breath, struggling for the words, but when he found them inadequate, he began to talk to Jason in the Diné language instead. “You and your people here, as well as those we have traded with, are proof that not all within your world are evil. Though we may wish that evil not exist, it is not the order of things. Good cannot exist without evil just as light cannot exist without dark. There must be balance or the world falls into chaos.”
Jason gave Asatay a slow grin of understanding. “You’re quite right.” Without being asked, he turned to Daniel, Jack and the others and told them what Asatay had said.
“You’ll find that’s a common theme among many religions on Earth,” Daniel told Asatay.
“And on Chulak,” Teal’c informed them. “It is universal.”
“So it is,” Asatay said raising his mug to salute Teal’c, who returned the gesture and drank from his glass.
Sam grabbed a biscuit from a basket in front of her and offered the basket to Al, who declined.
“Haven’t you been eating anything?” Jason asked.
“No, sir,” Al replied, though his stomach was growling as he looked over the leaf-wrapped meat rolls. “None of its kosher.”
“You’ve eaten non-kosher stuff before,” Connor said, confused.
“Yeah, but that’s when I don’t have a choice. When I do, I’ll have to refrain.”
“Except when it’s politic not to refuse, Al,” Connor reminded him. “Pick something marginally inoffensive and eat, or they’ll think something is wrong.”
“There is no offense taken,” Asatay pronounced, looking at Al and nodding to give his permission to abstain from the meal.
“Thank you,” Al replied, looking relieved. Instead, he refilled his mug with juice, having decided that was acceptable.
“Do you often find problems when you go on these missions of yours to strange cultures?” Asatay asked.
Jason gave his sheepish-looking men a smirk before answering. “Sometimes. Earth has a great many cultures that are vastly different to the one that operates overall at the SGC. Al’s family and ancestors, for example, have rituals for preparing and blessing their foods and they can’t eat anything that isn’t approved.
“However,” he went on, “since Al joined a military that does not follow those strictures, he has to break the rules. When he’s at home, he follows his religious custom. When he’s at the SGC, he tries to as much as he can. But when we’re offworld, he has to eat what we have.” Jason then gave Al a stern look–a reminder of their early days as a team. “He knows I won’t allow any member of my team to starve themselves. An empty stomach is a body undernourished as well as unfit for duty.”
Before Al could come up with something sarcastic, Asatay abandoned the subject and asked Jason, “How do you feel?”
Jason swallowed the small mouthful of food, aware of his people’s eyes on him as well as the sudden absence of noise, waiting to hear his answer. “I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. At Al and Connor’s concerned expressions, he rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not gonna sprout fangs and howl at the moon.”
While Jack, Daniel and the others found that amusing, Asatay and the other Diné at the table did not and they exchanged concerned looks.
Jason noticed. “What? Has anyone ever done that?”
After an uncomfortable silence, Asatay said, “Not in my lifetime, but it is possible to be possessed by an animal.”
“You’re right,” Jason answered. He thought of Adriann’s people and the time he was infected by the bite from Tam. For a while afterwards, Jason’s senses had been hyper-alert. He still wasn’t sure if that had been from the bonding with Adriann or leftover symptoms from the poison. “It is possible,” he said, catching the looks of comprehension on his teammates’ faces.
Daniel winked at Sam, “Though we have a scientific reason for it.”
“Sometimes there is no explanation,” Asatay replied grimly.
Jason wanted to ask what that meant because Asatay’s tone meant there was a story there, but he had a feeling the subject was off-limits. Instead, he asked the question Lin had instructed. “Grandfather said I now had his gifts. I have no idea what he was talking about. He said you would know.”
Asatay looked surprised. He wondered why Jason didn’t know, but Lin must’ve had his reasons for not sharing the knowledge before now. “You have no idea? He never shared that with you?”
“No, he had no reason to,” Jason assumed. “I know he was intuitive. I know he had healing abilities. When I was living with him, he could figure out what was wrong whenever I got sick and how to cure it, whether it meant going to the doctor or something he could do himself.”
“It was more than what you call intuition,” Asatay said slowly, believing that Jason didn’t understand. “What do you believe he meant by gifts?”
“I don’t have a clue, Asatay. Whatever his shamanic abilities were, I never saw anything… out of the ordinary,” Jason answered promptly.
“And it bothers you to have something you do not understand?”
“No,” Jason said, shaking his head emphatically. “It bothers me not knowing what it is. In knowing what it is, I can’t be surprised, taken off-guard. If I begin to experience one of these gifts when I’m around an enemy, and I have no idea what’s happening, it may cost me my life.”
“I understand,” Asatay said solemnly. “The gifts he spoke of are instinctual, part of nature. What you assumed about intuition is correct, though his senses were further enhanced by them.”
“I said something funny?” Asatay asked.
“It’s just that a friend of ours gave me a gift that can be described in exactly the same way and it isn’t what I would call a gift. A useful tool, perhaps, but I would rather have lived without it.”
“May I ask what it is?” Asatay said, curious.
“Empathy,” Daniel replied with a short sigh.
Asatay’s frown now turned to one of confusion. “I do not understand. We can all sense what others are feeling.”
Daniel made a face, almost a grimace. “This is different. I can feel what you’re feeling.”
Asatay stared at him, eyes widening, as were the eyes of the Elders at the table. “You feel what we feel?”
“Yes, and most of the time, it’s not a strong feeling. I can’t read your mind, but I can tell if someone is directing hatred toward me and I know when someone’s lying. I also receive messages that tell me when something or someone is in danger.”
“How?” Asatay asked.
“I don’t know how.”
“My apologies,” Asatay said, embarrassed. “I mean to ask, what happens when you know this?”
“Oh, right. Well, a voice inside my head tells me, only it’s not exactly in words. More like the feeling of a word. I think my brain translates the warning into words so I’ll understand.” Jack gave Daniel such an admiring look that Daniel gently stepped on his toe. “Stop it,” he whispered.
Not a bit bothered, Jack said, “Sue me.”
Asatay finally heaved a sigh of frustration, eyeing Jason with regret. “I see. Jason, this is not what Lin experienced.”
“I didn’t think it was.”
“Lin mentioned feelings, but he said he could feel it if something bad was going to happen. Or something good. If I was supposed to divine what he meant, I failed.”
“What would you have thought?” Jason pressed.
“I do not like to guess–“
“I know that, but I need some idea.”
“I believe you already know,” Asatay told him.
“He didn’t tell me–“
“Did he tell you to listen to your dreams? To Raven?” Jason blinked at him, surprised, and Asatay nodded as if Jason had said yes. In a way, he had. “Use that as your guide.”
Jason gave in, deciding he knew all he was going to. He looked down and edged the tattoo with the tips of his fingers. “Thank you for the salve.”
“You are welcome. Remember, two weeks. Or until the paste is gone. Use many times every day.”
Jack’s radio abruptly startled everyone when it clicked several times. He turned on the button for full receive and pressed send. “O’Neill.”
“This is General Hammond, Colonel.”
All SG team members went tense. “Sir, is there a problem?” Jack knew Hammond would not be calling for an update.
“I’m ordering all off-world teams to stay where they are, with the exception of SG-1 and 2. We need you back here as soon possible.”
Jason felt a sudden chill run down his spine and cutting in, he asked, “General, this is Coburn. Has something bad happened?”
Daniel felt a similar chill, surprised by the question. “You know something?”
Jason didn’t answer but held up a hand, waiting for Hammond to answer.
“Yes, Colonel, something’s happened. I’m recalling you because I need yours and Doctor Jackson’s assistance.”
“We’ll be there in fifteen, General,” Jack told him.
“We’ll be standing by to receive. Hammond out.”
Jason rose, giving Asatay a sad look. “I’m sorry.”
“As am I, but we know your life, Jason. We were prepared for this. I hope you will come back to us soon.”
Jason took Asatay’s forearm. “I will try but I can’t make promises.”
Ten minutes later, Jason was back in uniform–though he had a soft damp cloth wrapped over his shoulder and chest like a bandage. He was thankful for that because the ointment or salve would’ve just stained his shirt and the shirt would have done nothing more than irritate the tattoo. Jason had a feeling he’d be wearing a large cotton bandage like this until the pain subsided. At least he had plenty of salve to help with that, and he had them tucked away in his trousers’ side pockets.
The others had already stepped through the gate and Jason was left to say his goodbyes alone. He stood on the platform with the gate’s open wormhole glowing behind him and gave Asatay a hug. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he said, “Say another goodbye for me, and thank you and everyone for all they’ve done for him.”
“There is no need,” Asatay said.
“I wish I knew what he gave me,” he said, feeling nervous.
“Blessings, Jason. Blessings,” Asatay said, then kissed him on the cheek and pushed Jason toward the gate. “Go. Fix what is wrong, and take care of yourself.”
“You, too,” Jason said, back-stepping to the gate, regret and guilt in his steps, and with a final turn, disappeared into the blue.
Hammond hadn’t explained anything as yet, deciding to wait until both teams finished their post-mission check-ups. He followed them to the infirmary, however, making sure that no one else told the two teams what was going on.
Jack found it annoying. “Sir, any light to shed?”
“After the infirmary, Colonel,” Hammond said, tight-lipped as ever.
Whatever else Jack had been about to say was cut off by Janet’s voice as she ordered Jason to remove his shirt. She didn’t trust other healing methods until she saw for herself. Hissing between clenched teeth, she examined the ‘wound,’ forcing Jason to leave off his shirt and let the skin get some air.
“Moisture may feel better, but it’s not a good idea. Now, where’s the salve?” Jason handed her a jar of the substance, which Janet reapplied to his tattoo. Keeping the jar to run tests on it, she nodded with satisfaction as she examined the tattoo more thoroughly. “I’ll apply a dry dressing over the salve but no more damp cloths, Jason. I’m surprised at you, you should’ve known better.”
It wouldn’t have been for very long anyway, Jason told himself as he stayed silent, giving Janet no argument. She walked away, sending her corpsman and nurses in to take blood.
Satisfied that the medical staff was finished taking vitals, Hammond stepped forward.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Colonel Coburn,” he told Jason.
“Thank you, sir.”
“How’d it go?”
“As expected, sir,” Jason said shortly, knowing what was coming. Thankfully, there were only a few other people in the ward besides the two teams and the attending staff of nurses and corpsmen.
“How’s that tattoo feeling?” Hammond asked.
Jason could see that the General wished it hadn’t happened. “Sore, sir.”
“It looks it,” he said. “I’m in no hurry for the report, Colonel. Tomorrow or the next day will be sufficient.”
Jason sensed it was because there were larger issues at stake. Before he could ask, Jack–sitting on a bed behind Jason–practically yelled when he raised his voice and asked, “You wanna take picture, Sergeant?” He was speaking to the corpsman supposedly taking Jason’s blood but was staring at his tattoo.
“Sorry, sir,” the corpsman said to Jason.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jason whispered conspiratorially. “How’s it look?”
The corpsman smiled. “It looks really cool, sir.”
Jason looked down. “Yeah, it does, but truthfully, I’d rather have gone without.” He looked up and winked at the corpsman. “I’m more a jewelry kind of guy.”
“Which, if you’ll pardon the comment, is also against regulations,” Hammond told him.
“Is it, sir?” Jason asked, not being serious. “Seems I don’t remember the regulation saying anything about navels.” Or cocks, for that matter, but Jason wasn’t going to say that one out loud.
“Careful, Colonel,” Hammond warned, containing his amusement. Barely.
“Verdict about the tattoo, Doctor Fraiser?” Hammond asked finally.
She walked over with a collection tray for the blood samples and placed Jason’s four test tubes inside. “It’s cleanly done, there’re no signs of infection, and it won’t interfere with his duties.”
“Do you want our reports in a few days too, sir?” Daniel asked.
“That’ll be fine, Doctor.”
Hammond looked at Jack, his expression grave. It was then that Jack realized how somber everyone else was, too. There wasn’t the usual chit-chat between the nurses or Janet’s sarcastic quips about not having anyone to sew up. The pit in Jack’s stomach grew.
“What’s happened, sir?” he asked.
Hammond’s hands fidgeted, which only made the tension worse because it meant that he had troubling news, not just bad. Not that bad was troubling, but it meant something unusual.
He was interrupted by the arrival of two people from Security, Sergeant First Class Cari Carmichael and Lieutenant Adam Pederson. They were also Jason’s friends, especially Cari–whom he’d introduced to Alex a few years before. Jack knew that Jason was still disappointed their relationship hadn’t worked. As much as he liked being with Alex, he would have liked them both happy and together, too.
“Cari, Adam,” Jason greeted as his body tensed by the appearance of the top two security people.
“Colonel,” she greeted formally in front of Hammond.
“Tell them what’s happened,” Hammond told her.
She took a deep breath as she and Adam exchanged glances. “Okay. Three hours ago, Lieutenant Pederson and I were making our usual security checks before starting our overnight shift. You know how that works,” she said, eyes falling on Jack, who nodded. “We stay in the security room and call up the monitors for the appropriate floors as the teams radio in.”
She paused, and shifted a little. The glare of the overhead lights moved off her face and it was then that Jason could see how pale she looked. Like she’d had a fright.
Pederson took up where she left off. “We’d gone through all our team checkpoints, leaving the personnel floors for last. Team Seven, comprised of eight men, is assigned to those floors, levels 12 through 15, and they sent in their reports floor by floor, starting with the 12th. They were part of the way through level 15 when the two men who’d been checking C Wing radioed in that there was a problem.”
Adam remembered the words used by Lieutenants Paul Gibbs and Travis Buchanan. They hadn’t said there was a problem but had yelled into their radios.
“They found a man dead,” Cari said, showing a strained smirk. “We called General Hammond and requested lockdown. Adam and I then went up to 15 to investigate.” Cari visibly shuddered. “We don’t have a sophisticated Crime Scene Unit so Doctor Fraiser assigned her pathologists and one forensics man up there to get all the evidence they can while our own people take the usual fingerprints and photographs. It’s a slow process and they’re still working at it. Should be done in a few more hours.”
“Who was it and what happened?” Daniel asked. He didn’t need logic to tell him she’d been scared shitless. He could feel it coming off both her and Adam.
“Lieutenant David Hill, second in command of the armory, was murdered in his room approximately eight hours ago,” Janet told them. “I was here already so I did a cursory judgment, but I called the base hospital’s forensic pathologist, Major Twyla Randolph, to double-check the findings and do an autopsy once the body was photographed. She’s worked on homicides before so she knows what to look for outside of the usual.”
Daniel knew Janet was leaving out details. “Janet, how’d he die?”
Before she answered, Jason’s hand went to his temple, fingers pressing hard, then rubbing slowly. She stared at him and instantly went into Doctor mode.
“Jason?” she started but he cut her off.
“He was nearly decapitated, wasn’t he?” he asked. Janet’s face blanched, as did Cari’s and Adam’s. Hammond’s just went blank.
“How’d you know that, Colonel?” Hammond asked.
“I…” Jason started, then looked around the room at the faces of people he didn’t know. What he was going to say would spread faster through the base than a virus would. He gave Hammond a look and the General got the point.
“Doctor Fraiser, I’m going to have to ask all medical personnel to leave the immediate area, excluding yourself.”
She nodded and waved her staff out of the ward. Making sure the doors were closed, she returned, hands in the pockets of her doctor’s coat.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Hammond said, then turned his attention back on Jason. “Continue, Colonel.”
Jason sighed, giving everyone a look in the eye before he explained. “I’ve been having dreams, sir.” At his words, Jason could see that Hammond didn’t want to believe that mumbo jumbo, regardless of the other strange things he’s seen.
“I can confirm that, sir,” Daniel put in. “Because we spend a lot of time together, sleeping over at his house or mine, I’ve been around during a few of these dreams he’s had. They wake him up in the middle of the night.”
“Are you sure it isn’t just the post-traumatic stress from Baal’s kidnapping?” Hammond asked.
Jason sighed. He’d wanted to tell his dream to Daniel and Jack in private, get their opinions on what it meant, hoping that they’d see something and tell him it wasn’t what he thought it meant. He’d had no intention of telling Alex he was in the dream, but considering what had happened…
“Sir, it goes like this,” and he explained everything, from the raven to Alex’s warning.
“How long ago did you have this dream?” Hammond asked.
“Today, sir,” Jason said quickly. “During my dream vision. But sir, this is the sixth time I’ve had this dream.”
“Has it changed?” Teal’c asked.
Jason didn’t understand why Teal’c was asking. “Why?”
“The mind works in mysterious ways and sometimes lets us know things in advance. It rarely tells us all the facts we need or in the way events would occur in real time.”
“Oh, I gotcha. No, Teal’c, the dream hasn’t changed at all. It’s always the same.”
Hammond just shook his head. “This is…”
“Weird?” Jack finished.
“That’s one word for it, Colonel,” Hammond replied. He didn’t know what to make of it, frankly, but he wasn’t about to ignore it, not after all the other weird shit he’d seen in the last eight years. “Then my asking for your assistance is doubly important, since you seem to have extra insight.”
“About that, sir,” Jason said. “What could I possibly do? I don’t know anything apart from that dream and I can’t think of any way I’d be able to help.”
“Dr. Greta Larsen, our new Base Psychologist, reminded me of your doctorate in criminal psychology.”
“Yes, sir,” Jason drew out, waiting.
“You might be able to help us determine what kind of person we’re dealing with and where to look, so I want you to collaborate with security on what to look for. In short, create a working profile.”
“After one death?” Jason sputtered. “There’s no way.” At Hammond’s stare, he immediately backtracked. “Sorry, sir, but it requires a painstaking analysis of evidence, finding patterns, and one murder leaves damn few–“
Hammond held up a hand, stalling Jason’s reply. “Any help would be good, Colonel.”
“In the meantime, I want you to go with Doctor Jackson.” He turned to Daniel. “I asked for your help, Doctor, because of your empathic ability. I’d like you to go through the area with Coburn and Carmichael. If there is anything useful that you can learn to help us track down this person, I’d like to know. We need all the help we can get.”
“I’d like to go with him, sir,” Jack said quickly, and Sam and Teal’c looked expectantly.
Hammond sighed. “Very well.”
“Sir, could we–” Alex began.
Hammond held up a hand. “They beat you to it, son. You and the rest of SG-2 can help by assisting Pederson and the rest of security in doing a search of all offices and quarters. The other SG teams that are currently on base are already helping in that regard.”
“Sir,” Jack started. “I hate to say this but…” Jason was nodding, knowing what he was gonna say.
“What if the killer is one of us?” Hammond asked, having thought of that already. The room went quiet as astonished stares greeted him and Hammond again shook his head, unable to give Jack a good answer. “For now, we have to go on the assumption that it isn’t. Suspecting everyone isn’t a tactically sound move but we will all be vigilant and alert.”
As if on cue, the double doors behind them opened quickly and three SFs came striding in. The man in the center had a pale look and Daniel could feel the emotional let-down from everyone. They might be guessing, however, what the man was there to say, but Daniel didn’t have to. He felt the horror from the man’s mind and groaned out loud.
“There’s been another one,” he said quietly.
Hammond turned his head swiftly from Daniel to the SF, Lieutenant Bridges. “Lieutenant?” he asked.
Bridges had heard Daniel and he nodded. “Sir, he’s right. There’s been another. Level 12, room C212. Civilian. Doctor Michael Wiseman, physics assistant.”
Daniel blanched, but attention on him was diverted when Sam groaned, hand over her brow. Teal’c put a hand on her shoulder.
“Cause?” Jason asked, his spine growing rigid.
Bridges swallowed. “Same as the first one, sir.”
Jason sighed, copying Sam as he placed a hand over his brows. “Christ.”
“Colonel?” Hammond asked.
Letting down his hand, Jason was hoping his dream was an exaggeration but it didn’t seem as if it was. “We might have a pattern killer. They repeat their kills to meet whatever psychotic needs they have. Revenge is usually the motive, but it doesn’t need to be anything tangible. It could be motivated by simple hatreds. If he’s out to get rid of one group, then when that group’s gone, he’ll probably stop.”
“Probably?” Hammond challenged.
“Probably. Hopefully,” Jason mused. “We just have to figure out what the men have in common so we can try to head off the next kill.”
Hammond nodded grimly as he waved the nurses back in to finish taking the samples. Cari and Adam waited by the doors, taking the opportunity to issue orders to the other security men, directing them to ask if Mark or David had any enemies, if anyone had heard anything troubling.
Finished with the nurses, Alex, Al and Connor went off with Pederson and two SFs while Jason, SG-1, and Cari boarded the elevator for the personnel levels. When the door closed and the elevator began to move, Daniel stepped in front of the doors and cleared his throat. “There’s a commonality,” he said solemnly.
Jason had been lost in thought and his head whipped up, eyes wide. “What?”
Jack’s belly felt like lead. Daniel’s expression said he knew something none of them would like. “What is it?”
“They were both gay.”
. . .
Too stunned to have said anything, no one had a chance to ask Daniel how he knew that before the elevator opened up on Level 15. They got out and made their way down the hall, and as they moved, Daniel put his senses on alert. It was difficult to filter out the background noise from the emotions of his lovers and friends. Everything was as tightly strung as a piano wire.
Rounding the corner and entering the C-wing corridor, foot traffic cleared. Jack seized the opportunity. “How do you know they were gay?”
“They’ve both been here a while,” Daniel explained, voice low. “Before Sam got her promotion. When I had the time, I’d go to this club outside the ‘Springs called Arkadia.” At Jack and Jason’s significant looks, which Cari missed, Daniel added, “No, we never hooked up. Just shared some drinks and talked.”
Sam pursed her lips, thinking over what Daniel said. “So, if it’s not a coincidence, then the man who killed them is… what? A homophobe?”
“Is it likely to be a man?” Teal’c interjected.
“Yes,” Jason replied tightly, controlling his emotions very carefully so Daniel wouldn’t pick up on the extreme anger rising inside him. “Women tend to kill at home, or on home turf.” At Sam and Cari’s slightly indignant looks, he shrugged and raised his hands. “Don’t kill me for quoting statistics. If you’d like this to be an equal opportunity part of life, you’re in for a disappointment.”
“Don’t go there,” Cari warned him. “This killer is very likely a man, but I’ll concede that it could just as well be a woman. Either way, what we know so far, or rather, what I know, is that these killings are passionate.”
“Isn’t all killing passionate?” Sam asked, frowning.
“She’s right,” Jason said quickly. “And no, all methods of killing vary and some are very cold-blooded, almost clinical. This doesn’t feel like that. It feels up close and personal. Not like an executioner who’s putting bullets in people’s heads and crotches like that Son of Sam bastard. Doing something by hand, whether slitting a throat or by strangulation, is considered a passion crime, apart from motivations and signature response.”
“So that might mean that the killer is deep in the closet,” Daniel added, thinking mostly out loud.
Surprised, Jason said, “It’s plausible that this could be someone who’s repressed his homosexuality, but I doubt it.” He paused, giving Daniel an admiring look.
“What?” Daniel asked.
“Look at you, thinking like a detective. Are you sure you’re not Agatha Christie under that geek suit?”
Rolling his eyes, Daniel said, “Speak for yourself, mister. Besides, it’s not a long stretch between science and detective work because they both employ the same methods to get a result.”
“Touché,” Jason answered with a grin. He was about to discuss the subject of the murderer’s identity when Daniel stopped suddenly, forcing Jack, Sam, and Teal’c to step around him. “Daniel?”
“What’s wrong?” Cari asked, looking up and down the corridor as if she’d missed something other than the SFs stationed there. Seeing her look, the men closest to them at both ends of the corridor went on alert. She waved them down, then turned her gaze expectantly back to Daniel.
“Jus’ sec,” he said almost too low for them to hear and placed his hand on the wall, sliding it along as he began to walk again. Slowly, cautiously. “Anger,” he said, but he wasn’t talking to her. He glanced at Jason, then Jack. “You can’t feel it?”
They didn’t, but Jason was glad Daniel had distracted him from his own feelings or he would have picked up on him, not someone else. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, extending out his feelings, opening himself, and… There. He felt something, then like a sudden attack, his head was lanced with pain. He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut and groaned, fingers going to his temples to rub the pain away.
“Jason?” Daniel and Jack asked.
“Headache,” Jason said, waiting. A few moments later, the pain subsided, leaving behind a thumping as his pulse quickened. “Damn that was weird.”
“What the hell just happened?” Jack asked.
“Knife in the temple. Been getting them since we came back from Baal, but more often since the ceremony earlier. I thought it was a bad reaction to the resin incense or maybe the salve.”
“Did you tell Janet?” Daniel asked.
“Yes, I told Janet. She told me to take some ibuprofen or aspirin and to let someone know if they continue or if the pain gets worse.”
“Well… they’re continuing,” Daniel said, worried.
“No, not really, Daniel. I think she meant in frequency or over a period of time, like a couple of days.” He shook his head, wishing the weird sound echo in his ears would go away. It was as if someone had turned on a microphone to pick up all sounds and amplify them. This was new, and if it didn’t go away, he’d have to go back to the infirmary.
Daniel said something, then Jack, Teal’c, and Cari, and their voices seemed to grow distorted, as if their sounds reverberated back and forth from the others. Jason moved his hands from his temples to his ears and caught the concerned looks as he tried to make the weird echo stop. They went quiet, looking worried and expectant, and the noise stopped.
Jack opened his mouth to speak but Jason held up a finger to his lips, wincing beforehand, preparing for the near-painful sounds to start up again. He began to wonder if this was some sort of gift, and if so, was it designed to test his hearing or make it more acute. He hoped neither because he didn’t see the usefulness of having sounds echo as if bouncing off walls.
Testing, he tapped the wall beside Daniel. It made a rat-a-tat sound that repeated and faded. Sighing, he closed his eyes and tapped again. The sound was fainter now, to his relief. He tapped several fingers now and the repeating nearly stopped. With even more relief that he wasn’t suffering something debilitating, he knocked with his knuckles.
Expecting to get nothing, he was surprised when a door opened ten feet in front of the group. A blonde head stuck out. Airman McPherson narrowed her eyes at them. “What’s going on, sir?” she asked Jason.
“Investigating a crime, airman, go back inside,” Jason said tersely.
“Sir,” she said and disappeared quickly.
“You’re so charming,” Daniel quipped.
“Well, you try behaving normally after suddenly feeling like a bat.”
“A bat?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Jason nodded, looking around. “Sounds were bouncing off everything, giving a weird echo and it reminded me of the echo relocation bats use. It’s died down but my head is still thrumming.”
Jack sighed. “Time to go back and see, Janet, Jason.”
Jason wanted to shake his head no, but didn’t dare. Not because he didn’t want to contradict Jack in front of Cari but because he was afraid the movement would cause that weird echo again. He felt… weird was the word. “Jack, if it persists, I’ll go. Let’s just get this done because this is more important, okay?”
With another sigh, Jack turned to Daniel. “So, what were you feeling?”
Daniel was more concerned with what was up with Jason than the feelings of residual anger he’d picked up from the wall. He knew what Jason was talking about; he could feel the impact of it from Jason’s mind, from thought and emotion. He also picked up a warning, but with no voice this time. Danger. Well, no shit, he thought. The feelings weren’t telling him anything he didn’t already know.
“Just anger,” he said, carefully looking at Jason’s face, gauging his wellness. “A lot of it, I don’t know why.” He paused, looking at them all singly, then said, “I’m getting warning, redundant as it is.”
“Referring to what?” Teal’c asked.
“Just a warning, Teal’c, like I’ve gotten before. Just telling me there’s danger.” He put on a face of frustration. “Like we didn’t already know that.”
“Maybe it’s not that,” Sam said, brows wrinkled in concentration.
“I agree,” Cari chipped in. “Maybe it’s the location. Danger meaning that we’re close to the killer.”
“I don’t see that as a problem,” Daniel said, shaking his head, even though he felt they made sense. “If the killer were close by, they wouldn’t strike at any of us because we’re not alone and they’d get caught easily.”
Cari pursed her lips, then called out to the SF who stood guard some thirty yards to their right. West, she thought, since the main corridor for C Wing ran East-West. “Sergeant Devine? Were all these rooms searched?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he called back.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” she dismissed. “Well, there goes that theory.”
“What?” Jack asked.
“Thought maybe the danger signal Daniel felt was that one more body was left undiscovered.”
Jack sighed, becoming increasingly impatient. Whoever was lurking about killing gays–supposedly, he corrected himself, because it was a theory only, even if it was a plausible one–standing around like a mob wasn’t doing them any good. They were close the central intersection, so here was as good a spot as any to split up.
“Alright, no sense in us staying within the group. It’s taking too long.”
“So we split up,” Cari said, nodding.
“Exactly,” Jack replied. He narrowed his eyes at Jason, whose brow was also lifted in query. “If Lin gave you any sort of empathic traits, let’s take advantage. You and Daniel should split up, widen the scope of these… feelings or whatever. You and I and Teal’c will head down the west end of the corridors on this level and the next two up. Daniel, you, Carter and Carmichael will do the same for the east.” He looked at his watch. “We’ll meet back at the security office in… thirty.”
“Agreed,” Carmichael answered and the group split up.
As Jack, Jason and Teal’c headed down the west end of the corridor, Jack found Jason looking at him. “What?” he asked.
“Keeping an eye on me?” Jason asked, lips twitching as he geared up for a mock-argument.
“No, I meant what I said. Though you do need supervision,” Jack said, catching on quickly.
Jason thought up a nasty reply when there came a strange sound, like the tinkling of water one hears when a fountain is running, or when near a small brook. He slowed his step, forcing Jack and Teal’c to do the same.
“Do you sense something, Colonel Coburn?” Teal’c asked.
“Didn’t you hear that?” Jason asked. The sound was there, but fading now.
“No,” Jack drawled, quickly exchanging looks with Teal’c. “What’d you hear?”
Jason’s mouth dropped open slightly as he started to speak, then simply shook his head. More from disbelief than anything, Jason strained his ears for more, but there was nothing. He was starting to get an idea of what was happening, but he had to wait to be sure.
“Jason?” Jack said, backhanding his shoulder. The left one.
Jason winced and brought his hand there. “Jeez, Jack.”
“Sorry,” Jack said guiltily. “But you weren’t answering. What’d you hear?”
The twinges of pain were receding quickly and Jason dropped his hand, sliding it into his pocket. He cocked his head slightly, listening again. “Water. Running water. Not like a faucet or water through pipes but more like a fountain or brook.”
“Do you still hear it?” Teal’c asked.
“No, it’s gone.”
“Let’s keep going,” Jack suggested. “Nothing we can do about your hearing.”
. . .
Thirty minutes later, the two teams regrouped in the security office. Nothing more had been gleaned.
“Aren’t we supposed to have a crime scene unit taking care of this? Something from the Judge Advocate’s office, for instance?” Daniel asked as he sat down at the security console left of the door.
Cari made a face of disgust. “We’re on our own because of the top secret nature of the Stargate Program. It was decided that we could handle the crime internally because there wasn’t enough time to do fuller background checks on the JAG department.”
“In other words,” Jack elaborated, “the brass didn’t want anyone from the law offices having a peek down here.”
Cari pointed a trigger finger at him. “Got it in one, sir.”
“So what do we do with the guy once he’s caught?” Daniel asked.
“That’s a different story,” Jack said, experienced already in knowing what would happen. “It’ll be exactly like Makepeace and others. The guy will have a closed trial and the transcripts will be kept secret. The lawyer they choose for him will be someone handpicked to represent his interests. All evidence will be collected and shipped out, taken to the appropriate vault and sealed until such time as the Stargate Program is made public. If then.”
“So… now what? We go write up our reports?” Jason asked.
“Yeah,” Jack replied with a nod, heading for the door. “I’ll give Hammond an update, then we’ll meet up upstairs for chow. After that, I suppose the only thing we can do is wait.” He paused, giving the airman manning the security monitors a thorough look, then pointed at Cari. “Carmichael, I don’t want anyone going anywhere alone. That includes you and your teams. I’ll have ours double up as well as all the support personnel. Pass the word. No one, and I mean no one, goes anywhere alone. Even into the next room.”
“Good idea, sir,” she replied.
After they left, Sam and Teal’c separated from them at the elevator, getting off at Level 21 to check in with Janet. They’d use the stairwell to get to Sam’s second lab on level 20. When Daniel didn’t press the button for level 18, Jack lifted an eyebrow.
“We’ll escort you to Hammond’s office,” Daniel told him, reminding Jack that none of them were to be alone.
Jack nodded, thinking about how best to communicate. “Fine. I’ll inform Hammond of my order so he can make it more official, then I’ll ask that we gear up with weapons and radios so that no one is out of touch.”
“And what if the killer is a member of security?” Daniel asked.
“Then he’s already armed,” Jack reminded him.
“Oh, right,” Daniel said, feeling stupid.
“I’ll locate my team to pass the word,” Jason said. “Have them pair off, Alex with me. Till then, you two are stuck with me.”
“Jason,” Daniel said as the elevator doors opened.
“What?” Jason asked as they exited.
Daniel waited until they entered the briefing room. Eyeing the security guard at the other doorway, he lowered his voice. “What’s with the anger?”
“What anger?” Jack asked, giving Jason a long look.
Jason cringed. “I’ll talk to you about it later. It’s just my reaction to the men being murdered because they were gay.”
“But we don’t know that for sure.”
“I’m sure,” Jason whispered back. “And whoever it is had better be caught soon.”
Daniel said nothing because Hammond appeared at that moment. He and Jason waited through Jack’s oral report, but Daniel had half his attention on Jason. His lover’s tone had been a warning, not just a hope to catch the killer before another man died. Daniel made a note to find out when they had some time alone.
. . .
Jason sighed tiredly and closed the door to his quarters, locking it automatically. He started to say something as he unbuttoned his fatigue shirt but yawned widely.
“I take it you’re tired?” Alex said. Jason eyed him, sitting in the chair by the desk, bare ankle propped on a knee, one arm lazily draped over the desktop. The man looked good sitting there in his t-shirt and shorts, but he looked just as tired as Jason felt.
“You set the alarm?” Jason asked, bypassing the usual answer and stating the obvious in return.
“Done,” Alex grinned.
“Sleeping is gonna be challenging, if we don’t end up bruising each other by morning,” Jason told him, gesturing at the full-sized bed as he shrugged out of his shirt and carefully hung it up in the small closet. Alex smiled, not looking at him and Jason swatted his knee. “By elbow, not sex, filthy mind.”
Alex snickered. “Sorry, couldn’t help it. You open that door wide sometimes.”
“I really do,” Jason admitted as he took another blanket out of the closet and laid it on top of Alex’s pillow. He then moved the blanket currently on the bed over so it covered only his half. Smirking at Alex, Jason laid the second blanket on his half. “This’ll keep you from stealing.”
“If we had a nicer chair, we could take turns sleeping on,” Alex suggested, ignoring the blanket comment.
Jason smirked as he unbuttoned his trousers. “Forget it. Get in bed, Alex.”
Alex pulled down his side of the blankets. There was… no sheet. “Jason, where’s the sheet?”
“I don’t have another one so I removed it. If poor baby can’t sleep without a sheet, you’ll find it in the bottom drawer of the dresser.”
Alex was going to get the sheet out of spite, but decided that since Jason didn’t have those Army wool blankets, but Air Force cotton instead, he’d be fine. Besides, the room was warm enough.
“Alex, get your ass in bed,” Jason repeated.
Smiling mischievously, Alex said, “I love it when you order me.”
Jason knew he was joking, but Alex’s tone wasn’t altogether innocent of innuendo. He crawled into bed, bumping Alex in the chest with his elbow. “Sorry,” Jason replied, but added, “Watch it,” when Alex slapped at his arm, too close to his tattoo. Jason turned on his right side so his tattoo wouldn’t get rubbed on and dropped his left arm on his waist. It felt weird; he was used to dropping his arm in front of him, but that would wrinkle the tattooed skin, and at the moment, that would hurt.
He closed his eyes, listening and feeling Alex shift around behind him. He knew without looking that Alex was also lying on his right side, because Alex’s breath now hit the back of his neck. He focused on his own breathing, trying to let the images behind his mind come unfocused.
He’d fallen asleep to images of Jack and Daniel but woke abruptly, roused by a scent, sharp and musky–the unmistakable smell of a man’s underarm scent. Jason’s body warmed with the beginnings of arousal and he opened his eyes. He’d moved partially onto his back and Alex now lay fully on his, but with his right arm up and over his head, exposing his armpit. He was still asleep, his breathing deep and even, if a little loud.
Jason began to roll on his left side, but the soreness from his tattoo took care of that idea. Instead, he compromised. He turned onto his side, but propped himself up on his elbow. He couldn’t stay like that for very long, but long enough to indulge in a little Alex watching. And smelling.
Jason inhaled again and couldn’t get over how strong the smell was. It wasn’t stale or rank, it was his sense of smell. Somehow, it had intensified. It was then that Jason realized it wasn’t just his nose, but his hearing as well since Alex’s breathing shouldn’t have been so abnormally loud. He hoped it was his grandfather’s ‘gifts’ manifesting themselves, otherwise it was off to the infirmary.
Jason looked around, at the walls and the ceiling, listening for other sounds. He could hear footfalls outside, just a little too sharp against the concrete, as if the walls were thinner than they actually were. Jason wondered how he could use this so-called gift–if that’s what it was–because if it didn’t subside or he didn’t learn how to mute it, the loudness of everything would drive him to wear earplugs all the time.
He wondered then if he could hear the killer through the walls. The walls weren’t insulated enough and the concrete and fiberglass didn’t absorb noise very well. Not necessarily a good thing for a killer because screams were easily heard, he mused.
Jason sat up at the thought. The screams would be easily heard. So the killer had to have a jump on his victims beforehand. Which meant that he was either waiting for them and took them by surprise, or he was able to subdue them because they knew their killer.
That didn’t make sense, given the new parameters of the victims’ commonalities. The killer wouldn’t be entertaining notions of having sex, even as a ruse. They wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Which meant that the killer had access to the rooms. So the killer was either a member of security or someone with easy enough access to key cards that over-rode the ports.
Both scenarios of possible suspects were plausible. It wasn’t a civilian, Jason knew that already. There was no rational reason for his knowledge, either. He just… knew. Another part of his gift, he assumed. So why couldn’t his gift just lead him to the killer like a bloodhound on a scent trail?
And speaking of scents… Alex’s scent once more distracted him, pulling him from his examinations, and Jason looked into Alex’s face, finding him staring back at him. He grinned. “How long you been watching me?”
“A minute or so. How long have you been awake?”
“A few more.”
Alex reached up with his right hand, the backs of his fingers touching Jason’s lips. He looked wistful and Jason felt a surge of guilt. They didn’t have much time left for this affair they enjoyed, though Jason didn’t have a rational reason for thinking that, either. It wasn’t that he sensed danger. Just that it was going to be over. The fact that he’d been thinking of it already probably had a lot to do with these thoughts.
Alex dropped his hand and pushed up on his elbow, his face nearing Jason as he moved. Without pausing or slowing down, Alex brought their lips together, and the kiss shocked Jason. Tastes and flavors were intensified. He was both sweet and savory and Jason suddenly ignored his sore tattoo as he leaned in and kissed Alex harder, pushing him onto his back, pressing him into the pillow, swallowing their combined spit and tongue-wrestling for more.
His arm shot out and landed his hand on the bed by Alex’s shoulder so Jason could use that for leverage and keep his tattoo from touching Alex’s warm skin. Mostly so he could concentrate more on the taste of him. He pulled back to breathe, to listen to Alex pant, then kissed him again, swiftly, deeply.
Jason had thought these heightened senses unbelievable… till Alex’s fingers touched the waistband of his boxers. He couldn’t describe the sensation of heat caused by Alex’s fingers against the skin of his abdomen, or explain how it sounded to both hear and feel the brush of fingers against cotton.
Jason broke the kiss again and stared down into Alex’s face.
“What’s wrong?” Alex asked, brows knotting with worry. Jason looked alarmed.
“My senses, they’re hyper-alert.” He stared hard into Alex’s eyes, then said, “Touch me.”
As curious as Jason, though for different reasons, Alex slid his fingers under the elastic and took hold of Jason’s half-hard cock.
Jason hissed inward and choked, “Stop!” Alex’s hand was hot and electric and Jason’s right hand gripped the bedsheet in a tight fist. “Shit,” he whispered, eyes half-lidded as he fought the urge to groan. Loudly.
“That’s amazing,” Alex whispered back, and just as much as Jason was controlling himself, Alex was too, and again, for different reasons. He wanted to see Jason lose it. Just fucking lose it. And he would–if he could take steps to ensure mostly silence. He let go very, very slowly, then said, “Lie back.”
Jason swallowed, heart racing as he fell back. “Fuckin’ A.” Alex sat up, staring down at him. Jason shook his head, not knowing exactly what to say. If Alex stroked him again, even once, Jason knew he’d have one of those rare spontaneous climaxes. He let out a short laugh, thinking how absurd that sounded. It had never happened to him. Four or five strokes, and after some seriously erotic foreplay, but one?
“Jason?” Alex asked. “Describe it for me.”
“Everything is weird. All my senses are heightened. Hearing, scent, taste, touch.”
“So you don’t want me to touch you, is that it?” Alex asked.
Jason picked up something in his tone and studied Alex’s eyes. They still seemed their usual hazel brown, though Jason thought he could detect a flew gold flecks in there, but he knew that they were there already so it was probably his imagination. Which told him that his sight hadn’t been affected. Yet. He had a feeling that whatever was happening was cumulative.
“I can’t,” Jason told him. “I’ll let everyone within hearing range–“
“Not if you bite into the pillow.” Alex’s pupils dilated at the sudden idea he had.
“Maybe,” Jason answered quietly. For the first time in a while, the idea of being restrained, however mildly, didn’t send fear through him. Had the dreamscape helped him in some way? Perhaps. His only regret–which added more guilt–was that Alex wasn’t Daniel or Jack. He swallowed quickly, looking up at the ceiling. The heightened senses hadn’t muted any and there was a foolish fear that Alex could hear his thinking.
“Jason,” Alex said in a low tone reserved only for sex. “Let me do something for you while this is going on. Clap your hands over your mouth, stuff a pillow in there, I don’t care. Just let me.”
Like Alex, Jason was inspired by an intensely erotic idea, only Jason was going to have his first. He pushed up and with both hands on Alex’s shoulders, pushed him backward, head toward the foot of the bed. He dropped down to claim his mouth, moaning as softly as he could at the tastes that grabbed his senses.
Making it worse–or better–were Alex’s responses; hands on his back, his abdomen, tweaking the right nipple and staying away from the left.
But those came in second to Jason’s sense of taste. Sexual hunger took over and he hiked up Alex’s shirt as he moved down his body. By the time he had Alex’s shorts down his hips and his cock in his mouth, Alex was doing what he’d advised Jason to do: clamping his hands over his mouth. Jason was sucking his balls dry, torturing him with his mouth, causing an endless flow of pre-come till Jason finally let him come.
Jason couldn’t believe the taste of him as Alex shot his load into his mouth. He drank, licked, and sucked and was so involved with it that he wondered why Alex was pulling at his hair, his arms.
“Stop,” Alex rasped, then sat up sharply and knocked Jason onto his back. From their crosswise place in the middle of the bed, Jason’s legs were now over the side, feet touching the floor. Alex pulled up his shorts and flung off his tee, leaving it on the floor where it landed. It was soaked with sweat anyway. He wasn’t going back to sleep with that on.
He swung a leg over, then purposely shimmied down Jason’s hips and thighs as he straddled him and pulled down his shorts. “My turn,” Alex told him, before sliding completely off Jason’s legs so that he could kneel between them and give him back what he’d just gotten.
In minutes, he had Jason sweating, panting, biting on his pillow using his right hand while his left fisted the bedcovers. Alex then took his balls into his mouth and twisted his dick in just the right way, the right strength, bringing him right to the edge. What made Jason come, and come hard, was when Alex pulled away from his balls, jacking his hand faster and faster, whispering, “I want you up the ass, Jason, hard, on one of those rickety tables in mess hall.”
“Oh you bast–” Jason whispered gruffly before the pillow corner went back into his mouth.
It was several long seconds before Jason came back to himself. His hand groped for Alex, and he sucked in a breath when Alex kissed his way up his body before lying down beside him. “I really hope there’s a use for these senses other than sex,” Jason told him, “but right now, I’m so not complaining.”
“And I’m so kinda jealous,” Alex replied.
“Alex,” Jason scolded mildly.
Alex sighed and got up off the bed to visit the john that Jason was lucky enough to have in his room. Not all quarters had them.
“Think that now that I’m a Major, I can get quarters with a bathroom?” he called out while he took a piss.
“I dunno,” Jason answered, sitting up to check out his tattoo. The sweat made it sting so with a sigh, he got up and went into the bathroom. Sneaking behind Alex, he turned on the shower, making sure the water wasn’t too warm. The water hit his fingers and made a little tingling sensation, but nothing to pause at so Jason ignored it. “Ask Jack. I suppose he might be able to bribe the supply officer with something.”
He heard Alex snicker as he stepped into the open, walk-in shower, but forgot all about responding to it when the water hit his body. “Jesus Christ!” he yelled and jumped back, hitting the tile wall.
“What’s wrong?” Alex asked, then remembered Jason’s sense of touch. He cringed in sympathy, much as he could anyway, and pulled Jason out of the shower. “C’mon. I’ll wipe you down instead.”
“No, no, that’ll be worse,” Jason breathed. “Just… dial down the shower head, could you?”
As soon as it was turned to a small, soft spray, Jason moved back under, gritting his teeth as he rinsed off the salt from his sweat. His tattoo was especially sensitive and he quietly cursed his grandfather while the water rinsed it clean of grit. Stepping from the shower, he gestured Alex in after him.
Jason padded out of the bathroom to retrieve a jar of ointment from the dresser where he’d stashed it. “May as well take your time, Alex,” he called out, “since I plan to air dry.” He heard Alex snicker again and added, “Payback’s a bitch, Alex.”
“Hey, I couldn’t help it,” Alex defended. “What you said was funny.”
“Yeah, well, when you find yo’ ass naked in the middle of nowhere, we’ll see what’s funny,” Jason grumbled, formulating a plan for some time in the future.
“What?” Alex asked, not having heard.
Jason grinned to himself, then lied through his teeth.
. . .
In Jack’s quarters, Daniel and Jack lay spooned together, wearing nothing but their boxers and dog tags. Jack shifted until his right arm rested under his head and over the pillow and his left arm draped over Daniel’s waist. Like Jason’s bed as well as others, the full size bed wasn’t big enough but it would have to do.
The soft light of the small lamp was still on, and both men were thinking of the day’s crisis, the unknown killer, and whether they’d find him before he killed again.
Daniel sighed again and Jack knew he was disappointed that his empathy hadn’t picked up more than anger. “It’ll work one way or the other, Daniel,” he said quietly. Daniel made a non-committal noise, mostly to acknowledge Jack had said something. Knowing better than to argue with him, Jack moved past it.
“We should try to sleep,” he said, voice rumbling and vibrating behind Daniel’s left ear. Except Jack’s mind wasn’t on sleep, nor was it on anything else but the man in front of him.
“I guess,” Daniel answered finally, then reached up and stretched across the table to turn off the lamp.
Once he was resettled and the warmth returned, Jack asked, “You tired?”
“Yeah, but my mind won’t settle,” Daniel answered.
Jack nodded, nuzzling Daniel’s hair as he tightened his hold, hugging himself closer. Daniel’s body was hot and firm, yet his ass was quite giving against his groin where Jack’s cock nestled and began to stiffen.
Daniel grinned wistfully. “Funny how we can get it up here but not at home.”
“We’ll get there, Daniel. Just takes time.”
Daniel sighed. “Was hoping we’d have that sorted on Diné.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
Daniel sensed Jack’s mood and grinned because it matched his own–though Daniel was a little more specific with what he wanted and he could sense that Jack might be thinking of a slow wind-up. Fat chance. Daniel moved around till he was on his back, knowing that it wouldn’t annoy Jack too much, then reached up and caressed his handsome face. “Fuck me,” he whispered.
Jack stared down at him, startled at the abruptness of it. But it made him hard and like a viper, he struck, capturing Daniel’s mouth, tongue diving in with ease, meeting its match. He took Daniel’s hand and slid it down his body to his dick.
Daniel smiled through the kiss. Jack, man of few words, and sometimes, none at all. Copying him, Daniel moved Jack’s hand to his own cock, then returned to Jack’s. With comfortable familiarity and an urgent need, they stroked each other, and somewhere along the line, the passion increased and lust ignited, burning brain cells and conservative common sense.
Jack broke the kiss and nuzzled Daniel’s ear, licking the shell.
“I have no lube,” Daniel confessed.
Jack pulled his hand upward and squeezed. “I have a condom in my trousers.”
The nice surprise made Daniel stroke Jack more firmly. “I love you.”
Jack chuckled. “And I need to fuck you,” he whispered gruffly, hips making his point as he rubbed his erection against Daniel’s hip.
Daniel let out a heavy breath, the sound all the answer he would give Jack. “Who gets to–” he began, but Jack was out of bed like a lightning strike. Amused and excited, Daniel counted the seconds before Jack was back in bed. Shorts off. Daniel promptly removed his and took the condom from Jack’s hand as he shoved Jack onto his back, covering him with his body, kissing him as he teased Jack’s cock with his own, rubbing rhythmically.
Jack made a breathy, airy sound in place of a groan and wrapped his legs around Daniel’s, then deftly turned them both over. Daniel laughed quietly against his lips, kiss broken. Having adjusted to the dark, he looked up into Jack’s face and pushed him up, then slid the condom down over his cock.
Jack balanced his weight on his hands, looking into Daniel’s face and loving the firm touch of his fingers as they teased and caressed circles around his balls before sliding up the shaft.
“Keep doing that and this’ll be…” His words abruptly faded when Daniel leaned up and kissed him, licking over his lips before putting on a knowing smile and turning over. Jack’s mouth hung open, excitement soaring as he watched Daniel rest on his forearms and spread his legs, ass muscles twitching in a ‘come get it’ attitude. He groaned, then spat into his hand and used it as prep over the puckered hole.
Daniel hugged the pillow to his chest and raised his ass, seductively purring, “Yes,” at Jack’s touch, repeating it when Jack guided his cockhead against the opening and pushed inside. Tight, Jack thought, and with hungry need, bit at the nape of Daniel’s neck as he drove in deep.
Daniel moaned into the pillow, opening himself, slowly adjusting to Jack and Jack adjusting to him. When Jack began to move again, and pleasure swarmed through them both, he knew the adjustment time was over. There was no time for finesse, for special movements and long, teasing strides. And sometimes, even when they did have the time, all Daniel wanted was Jack to fuck him, hard and quick. Which was what he got just then.
Jack might not have Daniel’s empathy, but he knew what he wanted. With his cock sheathed in Daniel’s hot, tight body, he laid over him and wrapped his arms around Daniel’s and the pillow. He snapped his hips forward in hard, short thrusts against Daniel’s ass, establishing a ceaseless, deep rhythm, wishing he could do this forever. But they didn’t have the time, especially not with the lack of lube. More than that, Daniel’s body was drawing him in and bringing him close.
Jack felt his balls tighten, his body shudder, and with a harsh whisper said, “I love you,” once more before thrusting extra hard and sharp, burrowing his face in the crook of Daniel’s neck as he came. Pleasure shot through his body and he waited until most of the spurts had passed. With an extra shudder of pleasure, he withdrew and quickly removed and tied off the condom, dropping it to the floor before he turned Daniel over.
Jack knew he hadn’t come yet and it’s what he’d hoped for. Shaking with fading tremors, he quickly slid down his body, grabbing Daniel’s hips and holding him down as he swallowed Daniel’s cock and went to work driving him over the edge.
Daniel gasped, “Yes, Jack,” and clutched the pillow under him. Jack’s mouth was heaven and when he sucked and bobbed, Daniel rode with him, wanting so desperately to thrust, to fuck that gorgeous mouth. When Jack relaxed his throat and swallowed him, Daniel got his wish. Except it took only three thrusts. Three. Then his body was arching off the bed, Jack going with him, sucking hard and quick as he pulled the orgasm out of him.
Shaking from the pleasure, Daniel grasped at Jack’s shoulders, wanting to kiss him, feel his body everywhere. Jack made it better as he moved up and settled between Daniel’s spread legs, then attacked his mouth, dueling hungrily for his tongue.
Several long minutes passed before Daniel slowly broke away and rolled them over, resting his head close to Jack’s, nuzzling his face. “Thanks.”
They were quiet for a bit, with Daniel happy and satisfied. And thinking how he’d just cleared a troublesome hurdle. “This is the first time in two weeks that I didn’t think of…”
Jack smiled and looked into his eyes, giving him a single nod. “Same here.”
“I think we’re finally getting over that bastard.”
Jack nodded solemnly, thinking of Jason. “I hope Jace is, too.”
Daniel sighed. “It’s harder for him, having to deal with Alex seeing Jalen.” Jack made a growling sound. “What?”
“We need to find him someone.”
“Jason?” Daniel asked, brows raised high. He knew who Jack meant though and Jack leered at him because of the tease.
“You know perfectly well.”
Caught out, Daniel stuck his tongue between his teeth and grinned like a kid caught in the cookie jar. “I know.” His expression changed, however, quickly matching Jack’s. “And I agree with you. Those diversionary fucks you set up were helpful but… Alex loves Jason, Jack. It’s gonna be hard to find someone to take his place.”
“I don’t want someone to take Jason’s place,” Jack corrected. “I want someone to love Alex who can completely love him back.”
Daniel smiled at the protective feelings Jack had for Alex, feelings he shared. “Agreed.”
. . .
The next day, Jason took his team to the armory for what his men were starting to think of as Jason’s favorite on-world activity: Weapons inventory and inspection.
Jack had decided to pull Daniel in to help him with paperwork, while Teal’c and Sam decided to help rearrange her lab to a more efficient working environment before they settled down to Sam’s latest piece of research.
Al thought they had the better deal. He hated the smell of gun oil. Connor didn’t mind it, but after a few hours, it made even his strong stomach a bit queasy.
As they worked, counting off serial numbers, checking cleanliness of both the real weapons as well as the working order of the Intars, Connor kept trading looks with Al as they watched Alex work next to Jason. They’d been wondering when would be the time to bring up their worries because eventually, that worry was going to give them both serious heartburn.
“You two going to spill it or do I need to test one of these Intars on you to make you talk?”
Connor cringed. Jason had noticed. He swore nothing got by the man. Clearing his throat, he looked at Alex, who’d taken that moment to stop and look over at him. Connor couldn’t read the look in his eyes, but it was guarded, careful. Maybe even fearful.
Jason growled with impatience when no one spoke so he got up and shut the door to the armory. “Alright, it hasn’t escaped me that something’s wrong with our little quartet, so since we have the time and the privacy, we’ll have this out. Right now.” He sat on one of the stacks of P90 boxes and crossed his arms, staring at his three men. Alex was in the back row, Al and Connor in the front, both ends of which faced Jason’s open part of the room. When his men didn’t make any attempt to sit down, Jason snapped his fingers. “Now! Stop what you’re doing, get your asses over here and pull up a seat, on the floor if necessary.”
Reluctantly, they sat down, and at the end of their rows. Alex made no effort to join Al and Connor, which increased Jason’s concern further because he’d been doing that since returning from Diné. It was time for Jason to find out why.
When Al said nothing, only giving him this cowardly look, Connor gave him a look of disgust. It seemed Al was leaving it up to him, so he cleared his throat and started.
“I wanna first apologize to Alex for what I’m about to say.”
“What?” Alex said, panicking for no reason he could think of. Except what had happened on Diné. Was that it?
“Jason,” Connor began, dropping the protocol. “We talked to Alex about what you told us.”
“I figured you would,” Jason said, waiting for more.
“And… we thought that maybe it would be okay if we asked him about…” Connor started.
“His relationship with Jalen,” Al finished quickly.
“Then he got mad at us for it and stormed off,” Connor followed.
“So we figured he couldn’t be mad that you’d talked to us,” Al went on, “so there were only two other reasons he could be mad.”
“Either he thought we’d hate him for being gay, which would be totally unfair…”
“Or…” Al said, hesitating. “Or he hated the very idea of being suspected as gay, which would mean something worse in our book.”
They’d rattled that off extremely fast and left Jason gaping at them. To his surprise, Alex was blushing but with fury, not embarrassment. He said nothing about that conversation and now Jason was growing angry. But something Connor said made Jason think. He should have seen this coming, but hadn’t.
Alex’s experiences pretty much forced him to think the worst. He wouldn’t trust that Al and Connor would be okay with his being gay or bisexual simply because they were okay about himself being gay. He’d be wrong of course, but fear made people think the stupidest of things. Jason sighed, staring at Alex, then looked at Al and Connor. “Would you two do me a favor?”
“Anything,” Connor said.
“Go grab us some sodas from the machine down the hall?”
Surprised, they got to their feet. “Do we take our time?” Al asked as they opened the door.
“No, I only need a minute.”
When they were gone and the door shut again, Jason stared coldly at Alex. “What the fuck is the matter with you?”
Surprised and angry, Alex barked out, “Excuse me?”
“They’ve shown how trustworthy they are. Couldn’t you take a leap of faith that they wouldn’t shit on you?”
“It’s none of their business.”
“You lied to two of your closest friends, Alex. You should know they won’t turn their backs on you.”
“No, I shouldn’t! I’ve had good friends like them before, Jason, but the moment they find out one of their friends is gay, then suddenly, everything is forgotten, including trust and respect. I can’t stand the thought of seeing that look in their eyes every time they look at me. I can’t.”
“So my conversation with them didn’t matter, I suppose?” Jason spat angrily.
“They weren’t happy about being preached at, if that’s what you mean.”
“No one is,” Jason ground out.
“You’re different, anyway! You’re not just their friend, Jason. You’re their superior officer.”
“It’s the same fucking thing,” Jason snarled at him. “They aren’t two-faced people and you fucking know that! But you, you’re making it worse.”
“How? Are you on drugs or something? They know you’re mad and you’re distancing yourself from them. You, not them. If they hadn’t trusted you, they would never have brought it up in the first fucking place. What’s that tell you?”
“I don’t mean the same to them as you do. It won’t be the same when they find out.”
“And what the fuck ever gave you that idea? What?” Alex didn’t have an answer, which bothered Jason more because it meant he was caving in to irrational fears. “For fuck’s sake,” he sighed and he ordered himself to remember patience. “Aside from the reasons regarding that Baal business, I told them because they came back. They wanted to serve with me. I had to tell them the truth because I respect them. Besides, we’re a tight-knit team, so they know me. They’ve been suspecting my being gay since before that masquerade ball we had. They’ve been worried about me, remember? Trying to protect me, and not just because I’m their team leader.”
Alex had actually forgotten about that masquerade ball. He’d thought that because they knew about Jason, everyone else was suddenly suspect. It hadn’t occurred to him that he’d given himself away. “How’d they even know I was sharing a room with Jalen?”
“Probably because they saw it or heard Jacob talking. I haven’t told them anything. But if you don’t explain why you got mad at them, things will get worse. Don’t do that, Alex. Don’t shut them out.”
“Yes you can.”
“They’ll look at me different!” Alex shouted in panic. “I can’t deal with that!”
“No, they won’t! God, Alex, think! Would they act like they have toward me, all that protective shit, if they had any of that turnabout hatred you’re talking about?”
Alex didn’t have time to answer. The door hissed open after the beeping from the key card access and Al and Connor returned. They handed out sodas and the sound of fizz filled the room for a few seconds.
“Well?” Jason said to Alex but he didn’t speak. When Al and Connor said nothing as well, Jason made an angry growling sound. “Fine. Al, you’re bunking with Alex. Connor, you’re bunking with me.”
“But…” Connor started to protest. They had a championship game of Doom going on, having made up their own rules of competition.
“But?” Jason asked.
“Nothing, sir. Never mind.”
“Then let’s get back to work,” Jason said, picking up his clipboard.
Al and Connor stood up and started down their row again. Jason didn’t even look his direction when he rolled his eyes. Would the man never admit who he was to his friends, even now? Looking down at his clipboard, Jason sighed and went back to checking off inventory.
Alex, however, wasn’t concentrating on his work, despite how it looked. He was currently battling himself over what to say. He didn’t need to say a goddamn word, but something in Jason’s scolding, honest words brought him up short, made him think. He too wanted to be honest, to test the mettle of his teammates, to challenge them, dare them to confront him.
With a vow to remind Jason at every opportunity about the wisdom in being honest after Al and Connor rejected him, Alex readied himself for the verbal assault he fully expected. He cleared his throat and said in a voice dripping with bitter sarcasm, “You want to know the truth? Fine, here it is. I’m not gay, but I am bisexual. So, still respect me, like me, want to be on the team?”
Alex’s gaze remained on the weapons above his head as he was supposedly checking off serial numbers. However, the florescent lighting let Jason see that his cheeks were dark pink. Jason wanted to go to him, put his arms around him, reassure him. Then slap him upside his stupid, stubborn head.
Al and Connor exchanged looks of surprise and anger, then set down their inventory and rounded the row. When Jason looked over, he caught the expressions and knew they were pissed. Moving over quickly, he stepped between them before they reached Alex, his clipboard held out and blocking Connor’s way.
With resolute insubordination, Connor shocked Jason by slapping the clipboard away from him. “I don’t need to be held back, sir! What do you think’s going to happen here, anyway?” His glaring gaze then went to Alex. “And you! Just… What the fuck!” and he backhanded Alex in the left shoulder. “After having Jason tell us, our superior officer, you thought we’d treat you differently? What the fuck’s wrong with you? Are you that big an idiot?”
“Apparently he is,” Al said, having hung back to let Connor have a go, but now he came up to stand next to him. He held out his hand. Alex stared at it, then took it and Al squeezed it strongly, like he would shaking any man’s hand, and let go. “My respect for both of you countermands any of my personal beliefs. I can’t do that and believe the rampant propaganda. So my question to you, Alex, is do you actually think so fucking little of us?”
He surprised Alex, and Jason, because Al didn’t swear that often. Alex couldn’t think of anything to say at first. He was literally speechless and if he tried to talk, he’d choke up and act like pansy. He had no wish to perpetuate a stereotype–even if he was thinking he was one. He shook his head, answering Al’s question.
“So, to answer you,” Connor said, gripping Alex’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze before he let go. “Yes, we still respect you and like you. Want to be on the team? Fuckin’ A, Alex.”
Alex blushed again, and it made his teammates grin their heads off. “We okay now?” Connor asked.
Alex could only nod.
“You okay?” Al asked. Again, Alex nodded.
“Well, I’m glad someone around here is okay,” Jason said dryly as he rolled his left shoulder. His teammates grinned at him before he turned away and went back to his work.
“Er… sir, could we keep our bunk arrangements?” Connor asked.
“Sure you don’t wanna sleep with the new gay guy?” Jason asked, teasing Alex severely and on purpose.
“Don’t be mean,” Al said crossly.
Jason lifted an eyebrow, his eyes on Alex, not Al. “Am I being mean?”
Alex sighed. “Yes, you are. But I get why. Now, enough already, please?”
Jason desisted, and decided to go one further by spending the night with Daniel instead. Jack could calm Alex down better than he could anyway. Or at least distract him for a while.
Song quote at the top is from “Feeling Stronger Every Day” by Chicago.