– – – –
Tony smiled and made conversation, flirted when it seemed the time and tried to be charming, but he wasn’t really feeling it. Still, he kept up his front because it was Thanksgiving and he wasn’t going to do anything to upset anyone’s holiday.
Because of how things had changed, he’d wound up at Morgan’s for the day, because that’s where Vincent and Alex went and he didn’t want to put his hosts through having to transport him around on top of having to house him.
The last two days, he’d just shadowed Alex while they sorted out the issues. When Alex was doing an empathic healing session, Tony found something at the Center to keep himself occupied with, even if it was just meditating. He wondered if people really thought he hadn’t noticed the extra ration of sentinels keeping an eye on him?
When Alex was training baby guides, Tony went along, though again, more sentinels than usual. Morgan wasn’t exactly being subtle, and it was a little weird having sentinels sniffing everything he ate or drank. On one level, he hated it, but on another he was grateful he wasn’t going to be ingesting something that could bring his primary shield down.
He knew the senior guides and sentinels were trying to decide what to do with him, but in reality, the person who needed to make some decisions was Tony. He’d been going along with things thus far, but it was time for him to take control of his life again. He might have to make accommodations, but that was better than not knowing what he was doing from moment to moment.
Tony decided he’d tell everyone his plans during their meeting tomorrow. They were all getting together to discuss the situation with the Council. Sans Evan, of course, who had indeed been the right guide for Solon Asker, and was presently in a bonding suite at the Center.
Blair had talked with the Council several times already and had only reported back to Tony that the heads of the Council were furious and launching an investigation into what had happened and who was behind it. They had offered to send Council sentinels to protect Tony, but Tony had declined Council aid. So sentinels from the local Prides were apparently volunteering. Tony wished they had talked about everything, but he understood that there were only two days before a busy holiday, and had agreed to put it off till Friday.
He checked the time and it was almost four, seven on the east coast. He’d told Martin he’d call at seven east coast time. Finding his coat amongst the others was a challenge, but then it was easy enough to slip out on the back deck. It was chilly, but fortunately not wet.
Martin and Gibbs were supposed to be at a fairly early dinner at Ducky’s and expected to be home by six. “Tony,” Martin answered after five rings. “How’s your day going?”
“A little bittersweet, I guess. Everything here is fine, just feeling out of step. How was dinner?”
“Well, everyone came, much to my surprise, including Paul, the new SFA. So, things were a little tense a few times. But overall it was fine. Actually, we’re still here. I expected to be home long before now, so I’m hiding in Ducky’s study. How was dinner there?”
“Great. It was sort of buffet-style. There are about fifteen people here. Everyone’s mingling now.”
There was a brief pause. “You don’t sound good, Tony. What’s going on?”
“Just thinking I need to make some decisions about what’s next for me.”
“I can’t just stay in limbo like this. My healing is done in another week and I need to figure out what’s going to come after.”
“You still have, uh, your advanced training to do, right?” He knew Martin was alluding to his shaman training, and being vague meant he must be somewhat wary of people listening in.
“Yeah. I could do it here, or possibly go to Peru. There are even more options, but those two have the most appeal.”
“Peru?” Martin choked out. “For how long?”
“A couple months probably, but I’m not sure. I’m not making any decisions yet.”
“Has the other matter been resolved yet?” And that was code for the attempt at drugging Tony.
“No. The Powers That Be deny any knowledge, so I’m being watched carefully and everything is getting sniffed.”
Martin snorted. “Jethro wants to just take a leave of absence and come out there and personally keep an eye on you.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “No. I appreciate the thought, but, no.” He was pretty sure he’d emotionally combust living with Martin and Gibbs and feeling like a third wheel. The conversation lasted a couple more minutes before he said goodbye, promising to let Martin know if anything came of the latest investigation Tony was involved in.
He stayed on the deck, breathing the chilly November air. A few minutes later, he heard someone move out on to the deck and settle in the chair next to him. He glanced to his left. “Hey, Morgan.”
“Tony,” Morgan acknowledged. After a few minutes of silence, Morgan leaned forward a bit. “Is there something on your mind?”
“Lots of things, actually. I’m percolating.”
“Sounds dreadful,” Morgan said offhandedly. “I find that doing what you believe to be right is usually the best course, even in the face of opposition from those you might trust or care for.”
Tony cocked a brow. “Something you’re trying to tell me?”
“Just that what I might say as the director of the Center could be different than what I’d say to you as your friend, but either way I’ll try to support you.”
That was practically a declaration of love coming from Morgan, and Tony blinked a few times trying to get his brain around it. Finally, he inclined his head in acknowledgement and offered, “Thanks. I want you to know that I’m aware of how lucky I was that you’re one of the people who stepped up to bat for me.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, then headed inside.
The next morning found the usual crew, sans Evan, in the small conference room that was pretty much reserved for Morgan’s use. The Center was pretty quiet, most people taking advantage of the long weekend, so the activity was pretty confined to those with urgent issues or the recently bonded.
“Okay, Tony,” Blair started, “the Council is busy tearing things apart to figure out how far this plot went. The heads of the Council were thoroughly horrified and repeatedly said this was not a sanctioned action. And I’m inclined to believe them. Though I know they’ve detained a couple people, they haven’t revealed to me yet what those people thought they were going to accomplish with this.
“All I know is the idea was to get legal custody of you. We’re not sure if it had to do with the shaman gifts, or if it was about you overcoming the GS-155, or something else entirely. The Council did express a desire to put you in protective custody in case they haven’t found all the players yet. I explained that you weren’t likely to trust anyone from the Council at this point in time.”
“No kidding,” Tony muttered.
“So, let’s talk about what’s next for you,” Blair began.
Tony held up a hand to stop anyone from starting that line of discussion. “I’d rather start with some decisions I’ve made, and see what can be worked around them.”
There were some looks exchanged, but Blair nodded.
“I think it’s best if I stay in Cascade for now. I trust everyone here, and I know I need to spend time with Blair in shaman school,” he said a bit teasingly, causing Blair to laugh. “That said, I’m going to rent a furnished place for a bit and see how things go, and then I’m probably going to take Incacha up on his offer to come to Peru and train. I haven’t figured out how to handle transportation, considering the getting yanked to the spirit plane issue, although that’s getting better. Worst case, I’ll get a driver.
“That said, I’m not trying to be unreasonable, I just need to be in my own space. Everyone has been really good to me, and I can’t express how much I appreciate it, but we don’t know how long I’m going to be here, and the lack of control is making me a little insane. If you feel you must, you can try to talk me out of it.”
Most of the room looked at Morgan, who threw down his pencil with a huff of exasperation, which caused Marcus to smile. Shaking his head, Morgan looked at Tony. “You know everyone looked at me because they’re expecting me to raise the big fuss, but I’m not going to.”
Alex actually physically jerked he was so surprised. Morgan glared at him for it.
Turning his attention back to Tony, Morgan replied, “What I am going to do is throw the problems over the wall into your lap, and hear your proposals on how to handle it.”
Tony nodded, that seemed fair.
“First, the issue of conservator. I’m fully cognizant that you are aware of the general guidelines we have for conservatorship for guides who have a major empathic event. They have to be solid for four weeks, and every time they have even a minor problem, the clock resets. In your case, I’d actually recommend a month after your healing is finished. Your healing will be done in another week. What’s your thought?”
Blowing out a breath, Tony considered for a second. Part of him wanted to demand there be no conservator, but he knew he’d have to bend a little. “I’m willing to get an apartment large enough for someone to stay with me. Are there conservators who are willing to do that? I don’t really know anything about it.”
“There’s a mix. We have conservators who prefer to have their clients stay with them, and others who don’t care. In your case, it’s a matter of finding someone empathically strong enough to be even marginally effective if you have an issue. I’ll have to discuss further with Marcus and Blair to see what options we can come up with. Next problem is the issue of protection. I realize you’ve been in law enforcement for many years, so you may find this abrasive, but the fact is that you cannot adequately guard yourself, by yourself.”
Tony could admit he was stumped by that one. “I don’t really know what to say. The cop in me wants to insist that I can take care of myself, but considering the GHB issue, I’m willing to admit I’m out of my depth. Are you thinking I should hire a bodyguard?”
Morgan tapped his pencil on the table rhythmically, clearly thinking the issue through. “How do you feel about a three bedroom?”
“Security during the day is fairly easy to arrange, but night security is a little more complicated. Sentinels by nature are very attuned to their environment even at night, so if you had a sentinel living with you, the issue would be resolved, and we could set up a schedule for day time.”
“And you think this is necessary?”
“All of you?” Tony asked, looking around the room. He was a little disheartened by the unanimous nods.
“Tony,” Alex said, “I understand where you’re coming from, and I respect it. Still, there’s a real danger here and if you don’t want to live in someone else’s house, this is the best option.”
“Okay,” Tony conceded.
“Then, unless you object, I’ll have my assistant start looking at options for you,” Morgan stated, making a couple quick notes. “There are several primarily sentinel/guide buildings in the area, and if we can get you in there, it’s an added layer of security for you to be basically surrounded by sentinels.”
Blinking in surprise, he could only nod. “I… yeah, that’d be great.”
Three weeks later, Tony trudged into his apartment, completely exhausted, with his new conservator trailing behind him. It had been a miserable day. A guide at the Center had an empathic event after an assault and had projected her emotions all over everyone nearby. Tony had been there training with Alex when it happened, and while Alex had rushed to shield the woman’s emotions and try to help her shore up her own shields, Tony had reacted like a cop and instinctively tried to protect innocent bystanders.
And wasn’t that hard to explain later. Without thinking, he’d thrown an empathic buffer around everyone nearby. Later when everyone involved had said they didn’t feel anything because someone was buffering them, Tony had fessed up to his instinctive reaction, which had caused Morgan and Alex to just stare at him. Their stupefaction had given Blair a bad case of the giggles.
Consciously, he actually did know that he should have just shielded the guide in distress, but he’d felt this wave of emotion coming and had reacted a little differently. Everything was fine in the end, but it had made Tony a little tired and made getting through the rest of the day difficult. Plus he’d gotten a sentinel spiritual summons today, which just added to the day.
Fortunately, he was getting much better at controlling the tether to the spirit plane, and was slowly teaching the other shaman how to listen for sentinels in distress. Hopefully soon they’d be able to set up a rotation and Tony could work on completely shutting down the link when it wasn’t his turn.
He was also emotionally worn out. Christmas was in a week, and he was torn about where to go and what to do. Added to that, just last week, he’d given the go ahead for McGee, Ziva and Abby to get in touch and that mostly hadn’t gone well. He was still angry about it.
McGee was the best of the bunch, said he wanted to talk, but still clearly wasn’t taking responsibility for his own actions. Ziva was just hostile, and he told her not to contact him again unless she had something constructive to say. Abby was just venting her emotions left right and center, with very little coherent thought. He hadn’t yet decided what to do about McGee and Abby.
Last weekend, he’d gone down to Seattle to see Sean and his mother. Sean had a guide come work with him on his senses a couple days a week, and went to the Center whenever he needed to. He was so happy to see Tony, and the visit had been good for Tony’s spirits, too. He’d left Christmas presents with Sean’s mom to hold on to for Christmas Day.
Tonight, he’d planned to have dinner with Solon and Evan, but he was just too drained and had asked if they could reschedule for tomorrow. Plus, he was just feeling off today. He could barely manage polite greetings to the two men who lived with him.
He made dinner as quickly as he could and ate standing up in the kitchen. All he wanted was a hot shower and to go to bed early. Then veg out for the weekend. Maybe he’d veg out all the way through Christmas and not have to deal with any more difficult decisions.
Jack O’Neill was pretty sure they were going to die. Not that they hadn’t been in dire circumstances before, but this time seemed different for some reason. He wasn’t sure what they’d done to offend the seemingly nice villagers, though Daniel would know, Daniel always knew what cultural gaffe they’d made and was happy to explain it to Jack in mind-numbing detail. And Jack would happily listen this time… if they managed to survive this.
It should have been a milk run of a mission. Make contact with villagers, negotiate for medicinal plants, go home, and stand down for two weeks because the team was overworked. End of report.
Medicinal plants. Wasn’t it always medicinal plants? They got in more trouble over trying to do something good than they did in their search for big ass guns. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t true, but it sure stuck in Jack’s craw more. The trouble they found searching for killer weaponry seemed comparable to what they were seeking. But every time they got in trouble looking for plants it just seemed blatantly unfair.
Still, whatever they had done was sort of immaterial at this point, what mattered was that they were all being executed in the morning, which he thought was just a couple hours away, and Jack’s gut was saying they weren’t getting out of it. For all their surface affability, once the villagers were upset, they were quick, brutal and smart. The smart was the hard thing to overcome.
First, they’d separated everyone. Jack had no idea where the rest of the team was. Second, they’d removed every single thing that could be remotely useful to him; all he was left with was his t-shirt and pants. Third, the guards were always in sufficient numbers to ensure that if you got the better of one or two or even three, there was always another willing to bash you in the back of the skull. He gingerly rubbed the back of his head in recollection. And finally, the room he was being held in was simple, bare and had bars on the door. It was chillingly effective for its simplicity. There were no high tech panels or doohickeys for Carter to do magic with, just bars and locks.
They weren’t even due to check-in until tomorrow night, and heads could have rolled by then. He winced, hoping that wasn’t going to be literal.
Damn. They were gonna die.
Several times in the past, when their chances of escape or survival seemed low, Jack had wondered if his sentinel abilities would have helped. A few times, he’d even been so desperate as to reach for them, but he hadn’t been able to connect with that part of himself he’d shut off so many years before. All for the sake of his marriage.
He’d been in the Middle East when he’d come online, a critical mission with no time to report to a Center for testing and training. The Air Force had assigned him a military interim guide to help him get control of his senses enough to complete his mission. He’d come home to see his pregnant wife before reporting to the S&G Center, only to have his wife turn into a harpy he didn’t even know. She’d thrown down an ultimatum that if Jack wanted to stay married and ever have contact with his child, he could forget ever having a guide in her home.
They’d fought about it, rather extensively, but as she was packing her bags, Jack had agreed to not have a guide. They’d talked about it after the divorce and she’d apologized for being so unreasonable, though she still wouldn’t talk about her motivations.
For good or for bad, Jack had chosen to not use his senses. It had taken weeks of wrestling with them to get them suppressed. The Center had called frequently, even sent people to try to get him to come in, but Jack had ignored them and eventually they’d given up.
After Charlie died, there was the suicide mission to Abydos, and Jack never had reason to try to turn his sentinel gifts back on. When the Stargate program had really gotten started, they had made a preliminary decision not to use strong sentinels because of secrecy issues. Jack had questioned that decision because any strong sentinels they brought into the program would be on gate teams and theoretically highly trusted, but ultimately the decision was made above his pay grade. They did have some sentinels and guides on gate teams, though they were all below level six, whatever that meant, and all the guides had to be military. Because Jack’s file noted him as an inactive sentinel, who’d never been rated, he hadn’t been prevented from joining the SGC.
While Jack didn’t know what his rating was, the temp guide he’d worked with had said there was no doubt he was a high level sentinel. Ultimately, that would have precluded Jack from joining the SGC, and the SGC was a decision Jack had never regretted.
Despite everything, several times Jack had thought if the senses could save them, it would be worth it, but he’d never been able to get them back. And here they were again in desperate circumstances and Jack would do anything, take any advantage, to get them out of this. He didn’t know for sure that super senses would help in this situation, but they couldn’t hurt. Well, they could hurt in a physical way, but he didn’t think they’d make the situation any worse!
Jack stopped pacing and sat on the long wooden bench that was the only furnishing in the small room. Resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, he concentrated on what it had been like to be a sentinel. What it had felt like when he’d come online. He remembered thinking he’d seen a tiger right before there was a blinding flash, and then everything had been different.
But it wasn’t just the senses. Jack hated to admit it, because he really loathed that kind of crap, but he remembered feeling connected to something, grounded in an odd way, like Jack had suddenly become something more.
This time, instead of trying to pull at his senses, which never responded, he concentrated on that feeling, on what it had been like to feel that. He wrapped his brain around that memory, around that feeling, and yanked on it, trying to pull it forward, trying to remember what it was to be a sentinel.
“Seriously, couldn’t you have done that a little more subtly?” a man’s voice asked irritably.
Jack jerked to a standing position, finding himself somewhere new. A jungle. A blue jungle. Okay, he was dreaming, because there wasn’t any other explanation for blue jungle. Great he’d fallen asleep right before his own execution. And he was apparently conjuring up attractive men in nothing but drawstring pants and what looked like some kind of dog tag, though not in the shape of anything military.
The man in question was rubbing at his upper abdomen and looking at Jack with a cranky expression.
“What the hell?” Jack finally managed.
The man sighed, now just looking tired. “This isn’t a dream, I’m not imaginary. This is the spirit plane, sentinel. So, since I’m now awake thanks to your rather brutal summons, why don’t you tell me your name, where you are, and the nature of your distress.”
“Wait… what?” Jack stammered. “What are you, like the sentinel AAA?”
“Oh, ha ha. Compare me to $49.95 road service again and you can try your hand at summoning someone else!” The man took a deep breath and was obviously trying to relax. “Look, I’ve had a rough day, but I’m not in the habit of taking it out on sentinels in trouble, so if you’ll just tell me what help you need, I’ll try to get it to you.”
Jack just stared, his mind working overdrive. If this wasn’t a dream, and he was starting to think it was real, the most logical explanation was that this was an Ancient, because another plane of existence screamed ascended being to him, but what Ancient understood US cultural references? “Where are you from?”
The man blinked. “Well, no one has asked that question so early in the relationship before, but okay, I’m open to new experiences. Are you asking where am I right now, or where I was born, or where I call home?”
“Oh, I’m flexible, how about all three.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Fine. And then can we get on with it?”
“Yeah, sure, you betcha,” Jack agreed, but not really.
“Presently I am in Cascade, I was born in Long Island and I don’t have a home at the moment. Now would you tell me what help you need, or I’m going back to bed. Because even though it’s never actually cold here, I find it psychologically chilly to be standing around without a shirt.”
“Cascade, Washington? In the USA?” Jack was forcing himself not to gape.
“Oh for heaven’s sake!” The man threw up his hands. “What is the problem, sentinel? And for the love of god, would you tell me your name?”
“My name is Jack.”
“Well, that’s progress. I’m Tony. Now. What. Help. Do. You. Need?”
“How are you supposed to help me from wherever this is?”
“I usually pull someone else here, who runs back to the tangible world and makes a phone call, after which, people are rescued from military bases, closets, the bad guys, basically whatever dire predicament they’re in. But I’m not summoning someone else until I know what’s up, because it’s the middle of the night, and even the strongest shaman needs his sleep! If the situation isn’t perilous, I’ll go back and make the calls on my own.”
“Well, none of that’s going to work, because there’s no way for you to arrange help for me.”
Tony blew out a breath. “Well, that’s new. And may I say, you picked a terrible time to be original. You clearly need help though, or you wouldn’t have yanked me here. So just tell me what’s going on. Why did you call?”
“I can promise you, when I was wishing for help, I didn’t think I’d get a half naked man on another plane of existence. That’s way outside of my frame of… imagining. I just wanted to see if I could get my senses working, see if they’d help get us out of this clusterfuck before someone tries to chop off my head.”
Brows shooting up in surprise, Tony asked, “What do you mean get your senses working?”
Jack really didn’t want to spill his life story to some stranger in a strange land, but if he was serious about getting his senses working, maybe he needed to give this a try. “Look, a long time ago I chose not to use my senses, and after more than a decade, I tried one time when things were fairly grim, but it didn’t work. And tonight, I was hoping that they might help us out of the situation we’re in. I’m not sure how, but it’s better than nothing. Because nothing is what I have left.”
Tony blinked a few times and stared at Jack for several beats. “So you chose not to be a sentinel.” He sighed. “I’m not the expert on this, but I’ve heard of it. You sort of forced your sentinel to be dormant. Tell me this, if you could get your senses back, would you turn them off again until the next time you were in dire need?”
He had to consider that for a bit. “I don’t know.”
“Well, you have to figure that out first. A sentinel has to choose it. You either are or you aren’t. You can’t put it in a box and take it out when you need it. And from what I see, you’re on the front lines anyway, protecting the tribe, so I don’t understand why you’d reject the sentinel in you.”
“It’s a complicated situation,” Jack said a little defensively.
“I’m sure you think I couldn’t possibly understand, but my situation is such a morass of complicated that a large group of people struggle to get their heads around it.” He huffed a little. “Look, I think you can still choose to be a sentinel, but you have to mean it all the time, not just when it’s convenient. It’s a calling, and believe me, I hate having to use language like that, but it’s the truth.”
“So, how do I do it?” Jack asked, not sure if he would try or not.
“I’m not entirely sure, but we could start by seeing if your spirit guide will even acknowledge you.”
“Oh, fuck. I’m not comfortable with this kind of… thing.”
“Well, it’s a rare sentinel that is, but it’s still part of you, so suck it up, Colonel.”
“How the hell did you know that?” Jack barked, suddenly wondering if this was some kind of set up.
“My wonderful powers of deduction. Your age, your attitude, your bearing, your,” he made wiggly fingers towards Jack’s head, “haircut. You’re still serving on the front lines, so you’re not a general. Also, you don’t strike me as Navy. I figured major or colonel, and thought colonel was more likely.”
Jack dragged his hand down his face, blowing out a breath. “Fine. How do we do this?”
“Well, I’ll start by introducing you to my spirit animal, because sometimes that helps the sentinels here get a feel for what they’re trying to call.” Tony hesitated. “He’s big, so don’t flip out.”
Jack just rolled his eyes, then promptly jumped when an enormous white Siberian tiger appeared next to Tony. “Damn,” he muttered.
“This is Gattino. And he’s generally friendly. Pet him a little and we’ll see if you can call your spirit animal. If you can’t, I can try to do it, but it’s better coming from you.”
The tiger prowled closer to Jack, who held himself pretty stiffly, then the tiger nudged his hand. Jack noticed that Tony stiffened and his expression became kind of frozen. He petted the tiger’s head, thinking this was one of the most surreal things he’d ever been through, and that was saying a lot. “I saw a tiger the day I became a sentinel,” Jack murmured, a little lost in thought.
“Really?” Tony asked, sounding a little strangled, rubbing absently at the center of his chest.
“Something wrong?” He pulled his focus from the tiger, which had grabbed his attention more than it should have.
Tony looked at the ground and was quiet for bit. Finally, he looked up. “No. Everything is fine. Look, you may hate it, but focus on what Gattino feels like… on what this place feels like, and ask your spirit guide to come.”
Jack turned his attention from the tiger that he just wanted to keep petting, and tried to do what Tony had said. Nothing seemed to be happening, no matter how hard he tried. Practically of its own volition, his hand reached for Gattino and he reached for that part of himself.
A growl off to his right caught his attention.
If Gattino was enormous, then this tiger was gargantuan. It was more like a small horse. It was the normal orangish coloring of a Siberian and it seemed annoyed. Annoyed with Jack, because it kept growling lowly his direction.
“I don’t think he likes me much,” Jack muttered.
“I’m not sure I blame him,” Tony snapped as he held out his hand. The new Jack assumed was his own spirit guide stopped snarling and darted to Tony, making a weird noise.
As soon as Tony touched the tiger, Jack felt this odd wave of contentment and peace. He felt whole in a way he never knew he needed. And it kind of freaked him out. “What’s that noise he’s making?” he asked, as much to take his mind off this weird contentment as any form of real curiosity.
“Tigers don’t purr, they chuff.”
“So all those funny noises mean he’s happy?”
“Well he’s happy with me!” Tony half snarled, dropping to one knee to be closer to the spirit guide.
Jack held up both hands in a surrender gesture. “Whoa… I’m not sure what I did to deserve that. Not that it’s not easy for me to piss people off, but I wasn’t even trying this time,” Jack said wryly, trying to lighten the mood.
Tony had his arms around the tiger, face buried in its neck. After a bit, he finally pulled away and looked back at Jack. “You have to choose this, Jack. You have to choose him. Choose to be a sentinel. Or don’t. But it’s not a matter of convenience. You can’t put it away when you don’t want to deal with it.”
“I…” he wasn’t sure what to say. There was no doubt he could use the senses sometimes, maybe most of the time, but he wasn’t sure about the other stuff… about taking on a calling. Or maybe it was taking on another calling, because the SGC sure felt like that already. “Why do I feel something when you touch him?” he asked, trying to deflect the conversation a little.
“Because connections here are spiritual.”
“Oh, well, glad we cleared that up,” Jack snarked.
Tony sighed and pulled his hand away from the tiger, leaving Jack feeling a little lost. The tiger made a clearly unhappy sound and moved back into Tony. “Look, are you sure I can’t call you some help? If you just tell me where you are, or who your CO is, I could tell them you’re in trouble.” He hesitated. “Please, Jack, let me help.”
He was surprised at how much this seemed to mean to Tony. “I honestly don’t think I have the time. It would take half a day for reinforcements to get here, and we have a couple hours at most. But…” maybe he could stall, or something. Maybe getting reinforcements on the way was the best option. Even if they only got there in time to bring his body home. “General George Hammond, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs.”
“NORAD?” Tony asked, looking startled.
“Not exactly. We share facilities. I can’t tell you anything else. I’ll give you the general’s number right before you go, so you don’t have to try to remember it.” Jack still wasn’t one hundred percent certain this was all happening, but he was really short on options right now.
Tony pulled his hand away from Jack’s tiger again, which caused the tiger to make another unhappy noise, which Jack could totally understand. With seeming reluctance, Tony stepped close to him, placed a hand on Jack’s chest, and closed his eyes. The touch was just like what he felt when Tony touched the tiger, only more intense. He wasn’t sure he wanted it to end.
Looking a little bereft, Tony stepped back, leaving Jack feeling much the same way and he didn’t understand why. “There’s still a sentinel in you, Jack. I’ll call your general, and I’ll be hoping you return safely. Want to give me your last name, or should I just tell him ‘Jack’s in trouble’?”
“I’m sure he won’t have to question who if you say that. He certainly hears it enough. But my name is Colonel Jonathan J. O’Neill. Two L’s.” He held up three fingers. “Everyone calls me Jack.”
Tony nodded and looked to Jack’s tiger. “Try naming him. Sometimes it’s easier for sentinels to call their spirit guides if they have a focal point. And I think, just maybe, Gattino might come to you if the sentinel in you asked.”
Jack could tell Tony was leaving and he really didn’t want him to go, but he knew he couldn’t just stay here either. “Maybe I’ll name him Gretzky. Greatest player ever in the NHL.”
That managed to get a faint smile out of Tony. “Good name. For myself, I liked Bobby Orr. But I was always partial to defenseman.”
And Jack loved Tony just a little bit for that comment.
Tony hesitated a second. “Jack… if you make it out, will you let me know?”
“Sure, Tony. Just tell me how.”
“You can reach me through the S&G Center in Cascade. Name’s Tony DiNozzo. Now give me this General Hammond’s phone number and get back to figuring out how to get out of whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Jack rattled off the general’s cell, then added, “What makes you think this mess is my fault?”
Tony smiled a little and it made Jack’s stomach clench. “Because I’ve met you, Jack.” With those words, the air seemed to shimmer and Jack was sitting in his cell again.
– – – –
CO – Commanding Officer
NORAD – North American Aerospace Defense Command