For those of you who read The Journey Home on Rough Trade, you know there was more than what I published in the finished version. I had dived right into the sequel at that time, which I have now named Protecting Home. This is actually me being a nice author, because I’m truly not ready to get started on the sequel yet, but I’m posting those 3 chapters here today. Oh, and there’s a fourth chapter which is all new.
Please bear in mind these have not been through beta, and the fourth chapter is especially raw.
Title: Protecting Home (Home Verse, Book 2)
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Stargate SG-1, NCIS, The Sentinel
Pairing: Tony/Jack, Jim/Blair, Gibbs/Martin, Other M/M, M/F
Rating: M to Explicit
Disclaimer: I own nothing. All recognizable characters are the property of their respective creators.
Warnings: Possibly canon-level violence
Summary: Tony and Jack return from Peru, ready to start their new life, but someone is still after Tony, and strange things keep happening.
Jack followed Tony through the crush of people at the Denver airport. He was completely and utterly exhausted, but his senses hummed in a way he’d never thought possible. Three weeks in Peru had flown by and dragged on seemingly at the same time. The conditions were difficult, the privacy non-existent and the Chopec sentinels took their mission very seriously. The mission to make Jack a sentinel worthy to be called the bonded of a high level shaman.
For all that Jack’s training was difficult, he actually believed his guide had the worst of it, and knew he and Tony needed time to really talk about it. But they pretty much only had a day or two, because they were due to report at the SGC soon.
Tony had been inordinately quiet and it was concerning Jack. Their bond felt thin and strained, but there hadn’t been an opportunity since he’d noticed the change to deal with it.
They had to wait for a small bag that had to be checked because it contained some daggers that had been presented to them by Incacha and his sentinel Ederch. He kept emotional tabs on Tony, and pretty much only felt emotional exhaustion on top of the physical. Which meant, Tony was blocking the empathic element of their bond, because there was way more going on than a little fatigue.
Gathering up the bag and his guide, he headed for the parking garage. His truck was right where he left it, and even as he approached, he catalogued it with his senses finding nothing amiss.
“It’ll be a miracle if it starts,” he said absently as he unlocked the doors.
Tony shot him a look. “If you just jinxed us…” he let the threat hang in the air
Fortunately, the truck started. Jack turned sideways and leaned against the door while the engine warmed up. “How are you doing?”
Mirroring Jack’s position, Tony huddled into his coat and blew out a breath. “Tired.”
It had been a two-day trek through the jungle out of the Chopec village to the nearest town. Incacha, Ederch and several warriors had accompanied them to the edge of the jungle. They’d immediately checked into a hotel just long enough to buy a change of clothes and take a shower before catching a bus to a town with an airport, to then catch a flight to a bigger town with a real airport. They’d both slept a little on the plane, but it wasn’t enough to shake off the bone-deep fatigue of three weeks of hard work followed by a long trip home.
Jack rubbed his hand over his face. “What day is it?”
“I think it’s Friday the 21st.” Tony glanced at the clock in the truck’s dash. “Make that Saturday now. Do we really have to report to the mountain on Monday?”
“Yep. We’re lucky Doc Fraiser is giving us the weekend to recover before she starts with the penlights and needles.” The idle chitchat was ridiculous considering what they really needed to talk about, but they were both tired and the parking garage wasn’t the place for it.
He reached out and curled his fingers around his guide’s wrist, feeling the pulse he could hear so readily. The bond was strained, a product of the painful and difficult last week.
Tony’s empathy surged up so strongly that the awareness made Jack feel breathless. Abruptly, the ragged feel of his guide was pulled under control. “Sorry… sorry.”
Jack wanted to fix it, but there was nothing he could do right now. Reluctantly, he let go. “Don’t apologize. We need to bond. I don’t plan to apologize if my senses get spikey.” He was more than a little appalled at the feel of his guide. Tony had been resisting connecting too closely empathically the last week and now Jack knew why.
Tony snorted. “You haven’t spiked in two weeks.”
“Fear is a profound motivator. I didn’t want to deal with whatever Incacha would have Ederch put me through if my senses got out of control again.”
Looking away, Tony only muttered a soft, “Yeah.”
Wanting to swear, because what had gone on the last week in shaman school apparently sucked, Jack had to settle for fiddling with the heater vents which were finally producing some warm air.
They got on the road and the silence was stifling. Considering they hadn’t had any privacy, any real opportunity to talk, in over three weeks, it was kind of ridiculous. They had an hour and a half in the car, and they needed to clear the air.
“Tony…” he trailed off not sure what to ask. He wasn’t exactly known for his delicate approach, so he decided to just go for it. “What happened?”
Tony stared out the window for a long time before he finally replied. “Incacha wanted me to know how to adjust people’s emotions.”
Now Jack understood the problem. “And?”
“And I did it!” Tony said explosively. “And just like every other damn exercise, the Chopec lined up like it was some fucking honor to have me empathically rape them.”
Jack pulled to the side of the highway and slammed the truck into park, bracing his hands on the steering wheel. “Hey! That’s not what was going on!”
“You can’t know that!” Tony raked his fingers through his hair, fisting them tightly. “I feel sick. Physically ill over what I did.” As if something suddenly broke, Tony lunged from the truck.
By the time Jack made it around the front of the truck, his guide was on his knees in the snow, vomiting what little he’d eaten that day. He dropped down next to Tony, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close when the spasms stopped.
Tony’s breath came in shuddery gasps and he lay against Jack limply. Getting wet and cold wasn’t going to get them anywhere, so Jack hauled his now-docile guide to his feet. They had about a quarter bottle of water from the last airport purchase. He handed it to Tony, coaxing him through rinsing out his mouth.
Jack stood in the open door of the truck, the heat bleeding away into the cold air, feeling completely and utterly inadequate to make this better. “What Harris did to you isn’t the same thing.”
Head snapping up, Tony gave Jack a glare. “Of course it is. Same exact mechanism.”
“Stop it, Tony. It’s not the same. I know you well enough to know you pretty much left everyone you could feeling happy. And having someone’s permission to tweak their enjoyment dials so you can learn all the empathic skills is not the same thing as assaulting someone’s mind with the intention of driving them to suicide. I know you can see the difference.”
Tony collapsed forward, head resting on Jack’s chest. Eventually he said, “Let’s just get back to your place.”
Jack clearly heard Tony distancing himself in that seemingly innocuous sentence. Somewhat reluctantly, he disengaged from Tony and shut the passenger door, and returned to his side of the vehicle. Miles passed in silence and Jack let it be this time, stewing on the whole thing.
From both a strategic and tactical perspective, Jack could see why Incacha had pressed for this, but he really wished the elder shaman had let this sleeping dog lie for a little longer. Tony could have learned that skill later when he was better equipped to deal with the fallout. Though he suspected that Tony hadn’t let Incacha know how much the task bothered him. He wondered if Tony had even let himself know.
The sentinel in him pulled to imprint, to bond, to stabilize his connection to his guide. Privacy had been next to nothing, and they had been busy, making it hard to find opportunities to renew the bond. They’d stayed with Incacha and Ederch, and even if they’d had the privacy to bond, they were so exhausted at the end of each day, they just fell asleep curled around one another.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the trip was that Incacha had been able to help Tony build a shield to keep from getting tugged to the spirit plane by distressed sentinels. Tony could still feel the pull, but the other shamans were learning how to feel it as well, so Tony wasn’t alone in the ability.
When they were about twenty minutes out, Jack softly said, “Earlier you said this was my place. But this is your home, too, Tony.”
Tony seemed inordinately preoccupied with the landscape. Finally, he managed to whisper, “I know, Jack.”
“Know it, but don’t believe it?”
“More trying to let it sink in.”
Jack blew out a breath. “When we get home, while I’m checking for bugs, go ahead and get in the shower. I need to imprint again and I’ll join you as soon as I can. Then we can take care of the bond.”
Tony seemed to stiffen a little and looked over at Jack. “We’re both tired… let’s just get some sleep. And take care of it in the morning.”
“No. Not waiting any longer.”
Saying nothing, Tony returned to his contemplation of the apparently ever-fascinating landscape.
It was nearing 0300 when they arrived home. The house was pleasantly warm, and thank god for Daniel who knew they were due back sometime this weekend and had turned the heat back on. Jack waved his guide toward the bathroom, then turned his attention to running a sensory scan of his house.
A few minutes later, feeling very annoyed, Jack threw the four new bugs in the container in the refrigerator. Someone was a little too determined to keep tabs on them. Hopefully, they’d get the message that it wasn’t going to work and stop trying. He noted that Daniel had apparently left a little food for them, too. There was a note. –At least you’ll have breakfast before you have to endure the real world again. -D–
Jack entered the steamy bathroom, shucking the clothes he’d bought in Peru, perfectly happy to never see them again. He contemplated his guide through the shower door. Tony had his hands braced against the wall, letting the water run over his back.
Stepping into the shower, Jack reached for his guide, sliding his hands up the strong back, registering tension that wasn’t there even a week ago. He wanted to blame it on Peru, but really he had to blame it on events that took place before he even met Tony.
Without even meaning to, he began re-imprinting on his guide, cataloguing the changes brought by three weeks in a harsh, hot, and wet environment, being pushed to their physical limits. There were a few new scars, because the Chopec trained sentinels and guides to function while doing battle, and too much weight lost. Skin was more tanned and the sheer green scent of the jungle still fairly oozed from both of them.
Jack turned Tony, who was silent but compliant, shifting his focus to the front of the tall, strong body. His guide wasn’t opening up empathically to allow the bond to settle and Jack wasn’t ready to push yet. The scents of shampoo and soap tainted the imprint for the length of time it took to wash, then faded into sensory background noise.
He continued to catalogue and absorb his guide even as he dried them off and maneuvered them to the bedroom. He got them under the covers and began to imprint taste, registering the changes the time in the jungle had wrought to his guide’s skin.
Jack stroked Tony’s shoulder, then pressed a kiss to his temple. “Open the bond, Tony.”
For the first time, Tony reacted strongly, fingers clenching on Jack’s arm. “I don’t want to drag you into my head, Jack.”
He pulled back a bit, staring into sad green eyes. “Straining our bond isn’t the answer to getting through this.” Running a thumb over Tony’s cheekbone, he whispered, “For us… you have to connect with me.”
After several long moments, Tony’s empathy snapped open without subtlety, causing the bond to surge between them. The stabilizing and strengthening of the bond was what kept Jack from getting lost in the maelstrom of emotions. There was this self-disgust on the surface, but under it was anger and a lot of hurt that had been simmering, seemingly waiting for something to set it off.
Jack adjusted their positions so he was holding his guide. “You have to stop pushing this away, Tony. One person really fucked you over and a lot of people let you down. Catastrophically let you down, and you pretty much lost everything, even though you hadn’t done a damn thing to deserve it. I say go ahead and be royally fucking upset about it.”
Hands held onto Jack tightly, but Tony didn’t say anything.
The emotions continued to be turbulent as he waited out his guide’s resistance. “I’ll be home for you, Tony,” Jack whispered.
Tony turned his face into Jack’s neck, and Jack registered wetness as Tony’s pain seemed to hit a peak. The sentinel in him wanted to find the people who’d put his guide in this state, but all he did was focus on being there and allowing Tony to finally really react to what had happened to him.
Despite the pain that simmered in their empathic link, the bond was wide open and secure, eventually allowing them both to fall asleep after the storm had passed.
Awareness slammed into Jack at the same time he registered the growling of tigers. He reached out for his guide while throwing his senses wide open to catalog the threat.
Tony’s hand slid up his back, grounding him, but otherwise letting Jack concentrate.
“Ten men,” he whispered. “Coming through the trees and up the drive. Call the base. No lights.” It was barely five in the morning and still dark outside. No point in letting whoever was coming know they were awake. Tony was going to be hampered by the dark, and the first thing Jack was going to do when they got out of this was get night vision goggles for Tony’s bedside table.
Jack tugged on his clothes, keeping track of the men moving about his property, listening for any conversation between them, but despite hearing the faint hum of the electronics on the intruders, they seemed to be on radio silence. He heard Tony whispering into his cell while swiftly getting dressed. After entering the code into the gun safe, he handed off Tony’s weapon while securing his own, plus his knife.
He fought to keep the sentinel in him from completely taking over. If he and Tony were going to work in the field, he had to learn to deal with a certain amount of risk to his guide without going feral.
The men were getting too close to the house and they were pretty much fucked if they stayed inside the house. It was too easy to get in and there was really no place to barricade themselves.
“We’re going out the window in the room near the basement steps,” he whispered. The room had no real purpose, it was too small for a bedroom and wound up holding whatever Jack didn’t want to take downstairs. No one was approaching directly in line of that window and it let out into only a few bushes. It was their best avenue out of the house.
Tony was quick and quiet and stayed close to Jack as they made for the storage room. Jack paused at the window, checking his sensory map. There was one man in position that might see them, but they had to take the chance. It was only the work of a minute for them to get out the window, crouching low in the bushes to make sure they were unseen.
Knowing Tony could barely see, Jack took his arm and led him away from the house, aware that they could be spotted at any second. They’d almost made it to the trees that led to the road when noise erupted because they’d been seen, and silence was no longer necessary.
With one half of their pair unable to see against men with night vision gear, running was the best option. They’d barely made it a few steps when Tony dropped to his knees, clutching his arm, a large dart protruding from his bicep.
Jack could smell the drug changing his guide’s scent and the sentinel reared up, all focus on the threat to his guide. They were being rushed, but the guide lashed out empathically with the last of his strength, and the men staggered, some dropping to their knees.
The guide faded from their bond, and the sentinel struck out without mercy.
Daniel slammed on his brakes and threw the car in park as he pulled up behind one of the many military vehicles leading up to Jack’s property. He easily spotted Teal’c on the driveway, who must have come with the response from the base, though he wasn’t sure why everyone was out on the street or on the driveway. The atmosphere was tense, but not much seemed to be happening.
“Teal’c… what’s going on?”
“The threat appears to have been neutralized. Two men were detained by Major Miller’s men while attempting to retreat. The number of dead is uncertain.”
“So why is everyone standing around?”
“We are unable to approach O’Neill. He is very protective of his guide who Major Miller believes to be unconscious.”
“Where are they?”
“The rear of the dwelling.”
Daniel went up to Miller. “What are we doing?”
Miller gave him a nod, the big Marine clearly coolly in command. “We’re in a bit of a standoff. The Colonel gets… I can only describe it as growly when anyone approaches. I thought he might shoot at us, but two big ass tigers appeared out of nowhere and are between us and the Colonel and Agent DiNozzo. DiNozzo wasn’t moving when I was last back there.”
Tony’s transfer in as Agent Afloat, an odd title if Daniel ever heard one considering they were landlocked, had been announced already, and the Marines were well aware of his status as Jack’s guide.
The Major continued, “There was a breach of the house before the real action went down outside. We have two men in custody, another injured on the way to the base under guard, and have pulled out three bodies that were furthest from the Colonel’s position. There are four more bodies back there. I personally got close enough to confirm they’re DOA, but the tiger was getting antsy. We’re keeping eyes on from a distance, but had put in a call to the base that we need sentinel/guide expertise out here.”
“Well I’m neither a sentinel or guide, but I know as much as anyone and I’m going back there,” Daniel announced.
“Doctor J, that might not be–“
“I trust that Jack won’t shoot me,” Daniel interrupted.
The Major passed him a radio rather than argue further.
Daniel headed around the house, bypassing the ten-or-so Marines spaced about the front of the house. With the ones on the street and whoever was in back, Daniel guessed there were at least twenty Marines on property.
He started speaking low and slow even before he was in line of sight. “Jack, it’s Daniel. I’m coming to see you. I know you’re freaked and may not even be all there yet, but I can help.”
He rounded to the rear or the house, the half-foot of snow making it a little slower going. The first thing that caught his attention was the carnage away from house. Blood seemed to be everywhere and four bodies in black were heaps in the snow. The red and black were stark contrasts in the white of the snowy landscape. It made Daniel feel a little ill.
There were Marines at a distance by the trees but Daniel couldn’t easily spot Jack. He followed the walk and drag marks in the snow further around the house, realizing that Jack must be up against the far side of the house where the outside of the fireplace created a small niche.
“Jack, I’m almost to your position. I just now see Gretzky, and I think it’s encouraging that he’s not growling at me. I can tell that Gattino is lying down, but can’t see all of him yet.”
Gretzky was watching him closely, but wasn’t doing anything. Daniel could see Tony’s legs, and the lower half of Gattino stretched out by Tony, but not much else around the bigger Siberian.
“Jack, I’m almost to your position. I just want to be sure you guys are okay.” He stopped several feet from the guarding tiger, dropping to his knees, ignoring the snow melting and soaking his pants. “Hey Gretzky, when it’s okay, why don’t you let me know and I’ll come closer.”
Gretzky had been watching, but swung his big head to presumably look at Jack. A moment later, the tiger adjusted his position so Daniel could see Jack on his knees, half holding Tony up, who was clearly unconscious. Jack had his Beretta in one hand, but at least it wasn’t pointed Daniel’s direction.
“Hey, Jack. This is clearly someone’s idea of a really shitty welcome home.” He paused but didn’t get much reaction from his friend. “Can I come a little closer?”
Jack eventually nodded. It took a couple minutes, but Daniel inched closer. To his surprise, as soon as he was close, Jack handed his gun over, then reached into his back waistband and pulled out a Sig, passing that over as well. Then a knife that still had blood on it, and Daniel thought probably had a lot to do with the amount of red out on the snow.
The fact that Jack handed over his weapons told him that the sentinel in him wasn’t quite as large and in charge at the moment, and Jack didn’t want to hurt anyone, even if he was having a hard time letting people approach. “What do you want me to do, Jack? I can’t leave you here in the snow, so tell me how I can help.”
Clearly struggling, Jack finally said, “We need go to the mountain, but they can’t take him from me.”
Daniel knew that meant here or when they arrived at the SGC. “I’ll be with you the whole way and we’ll make sure you stay together. Do you want to go in your truck or one of the Hummers?”
“You okay with Teal’c helping?”
Jack nodded tersely.
Daniel radioed for them to send Teal’c around and to clear a wide path between them and the truck. There was chatter about finding the keys, but Daniel told them exactly where they’d be in the house.
Teal’c appeared quickly, but took measured deliberate steps as he approached their position. Gretzky gave the Jaffa a friendly head-butt as he passed.
“I think Jack would like you to help him get Tony to his truck. I’ll drive us back to the mountain.”
Inclining his head, Teal’c asked, “May I aid you and your guide?”
Jack nodded and between the two, they got Tony up, arms slung over their shoulders. Daniel winced at the pop of Jack’s knee, but the sentinel didn’t react in any way. The tigers vanished at some point, but Daniel wasn’t sure when.
Miller had done his job and the path to the truck was clear. Teal’c and Jack got Tony in the back seat of the king cab, Jack climbing in with his guide, before Teal’c took the passenger seat. Daniel handed off the weapons to the Major, along with his own car keys so someone could drive his car back to the base.
Carter arrived just as he was about to hop in to drive them back. He asked her to pack something for Jack and Tony before she followed them. They were escorted back to the Mountain by two military Hummers.
Janet was waiting for them and tried to get insistent about taking Tony to be examined. Daniel had to pull her aside and remind her about handling a sentinel like Jack before she prompted him to violence.
Everything sort of became a blur after that. Daniel felt like he was constantly running interference, and he definitely had an inside view into how the medical staff needed another briefing on how to deal with a distressed bonded sentinel. Particularly in Jack’s situation. Apparently hearing the theory from Blair wasn’t quite enough to break ingrained medical procedure.
Jack didn’t respond well to the injured man who’d tried to take Tony being there, so they’d had to move the man elsewhere. Getting blood drawn form the guide was particularly challenging, and Daniel thought it would help in the future if one of the nurses were a guide.
He was keenly aware that the general was in the mountain, and wanted updates, but was keeping his distance in deference to Jack’s protectiveness. One of the Marines brought in the dart Tony was tranq’d with, so Janet was able to test for whatever they’d used to drug Tony. Jack had growled when he’d seen the dart.
By the time Carter arrived, Jack and Tony had been moved into the isolation room. Jack had quarters on base, but Janet wasn’t going to release them until Tony was awake. Teal’c was practically standing guard, which seemed to settle Jack’s mind quite a bit.
The most they’d been able to do for Jack was get him to change into scrubs standing right next to Tony’s bed, because he wouldn’t let his guide out of his sight.
“How are they?” Sam asked as soon as she set the duffle bags down by the door into the iso room. She was still in her civilian clothes, though had shed her coat along the way.
“Better I think,” Daniel replied from where he was propping up the wall by Teal’c. “Jack’s sentinel has receded a lot, but won’t completely settle until Tony wakes and they can reset their bond. How were things at Jack’s?”
“Not as bad as they could be. Once the colonel was gone, it was pretty quick to remove the bodies. Miller is wrapping up and will be back shortly, though he’s leaving men on Jack’s house until the front door gets repaired.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to give a preliminary report to the general.”
Before she could go, Daniel laid a hand on her arm. “Any word on who they were?”
She shook her head. “Nothing yet. Last I heard, prints were running. No one had ID on them. Two vehicles were found, some surveillance photos that we think were taken in DC, only Tony or O’Neill could say for sure, but there were definitely photos of both. Nothing identifying.”
“Who would have the most to gain from such an action, Major Carter?” Teal’c asked, arms crossed over his chest.
“I don’t know. Whenever anything bad happens around here, we tend to assume the NID, but it’s not clear they’d have anything to gain from this. I have no idea who would. The Sentinel Council has the most reason to be interested in Tony, but Blair’s sure they’ve cleaned house.”
“Will you be contacting Guide Sandburg?” Teal’c inquired, not surprising Daniel at all. Blair and Teal’c had spent a good deal of time together during the Alpha pair’s two trips. Especially the one right after New Years when Jack and Tony were in Peru.
“The general will have to decide. I think it’s a good idea, simply because we could use some input on what’s going on with the colonel, and they’re read in.”
Daniel sighed and let her go to talk to Hammond. He slid down the wall and sat on the floor.
“Are you unwell, Daniel Jackson?”
“Yeah, Teal’c. Though not in the way that you mean.”
“The situation is indeed upsetting.”
“You are the master of understatement,” Daniel said, blowing out a breath. What a mess.
Tony felt like he was in a fog. He was lying on his side on what felt like a bed with someone pressed close, and a hand was running through his hair. Both the bond and his touch empathy told him it was his sentinel. He was getting a lot of worry from Jack and underneath that the sentinel had a feral edge.
Suddenly, he remembered what had happened. His eyes shot open to find himself in a dim room with Jack lying behind him on the bed.
“You’re okay,” Jack murmured reassuringly.
Tony twisted, or tried to. His limbs felt like lead. He eventually got onto his back, looking up at Jack. “Are you?”
“Yeah. We’re at the SGC. Everything’s fine. Do you remember what happened?”
“Last thing I remember we were running for the trees… something hit me in the arm.” His upper arm ached where he’s been hit, and he felt hungover, headache and all.
“You were hit with a tranquilizer dart.”
“That was… rude. And annoyingly cliché.”
Jack’s lips twitched a bit. “Very. How are you feeling?”
“Headache, tired, hungry,” he outlined succinctly, leaving out that he was a little nauseated, too. Hunger and nausea were an odd mix in his mind. “Where are we exactly?” His sentinel was in white scrubs, which was a little weird. Tony was in basically the same thing, so this must be their version of the hospital gown.
“The sentinel iso room near medical.”
Tony frowned at that, feeling concerned. “Are your senses spiking?”
“Not really, but I’m dialed up. Doc Fraiser wants to keep an eye on you, and this was the best compromise. Your breathing was a little funny for a while. Whoever drugged you misjudged the dose. According to the doc, it was off by about how much weight you lost in Peru.”
Easily hearing and feeling the threads of worry and fear, Tony reached out for his sentinel. “I’m fine,” he reassured. “Do we have any actual privacy in here?”
“There’s no audio surveillance, but there are cameras.”
Damn. No wonder Jack was content with just this level of touch. “Tell me why I’m smelling blood, and if I can smell it, it must be driving you crazy.”
“I couldn’t leave you long enough to shower,” Jack replied with more than a little edge in his voice, and Tony knew the sentinel in him was working overtime.
“Well let’s take care of that now, because you’re not going to settle down completely until you stop smelling that.” Tony assumed it was the blood of their attackers, but taking care of his sentinel was more important than getting answers right now. He moved to sit up, fighting off the dizziness.
“There’s no shower in here.” Jack helped him sit, adjusting his position so he was sitting next to Tony.
Tony scowled. What kind of isolation room didn’t have a way for the sentinel to get clean? “Then let’s get out of here and back to your room.”
“It’s not going to be that easy,” Jack commented, looking a little tired and more than a little frustrated.
“Watch me,” Tony said stubbornly. He got to his feet, and Jack had to help keep him stable while he got the world to make sense from the fully upright position.
Jack stepped ahead of him and opened the door to find Daniel and Teal’c practically in the doorway.
“How’s Tony?” Daniel asked immediately.
“I’m fine,” Tony replied for himself, moving up next to his sentinel. “We need to get out of here, though.”
“I’ll get Janet,” Daniel said and disappeared.
They managed to get through vitals check and stuff, and Tony accepted the shot for the lingering nausea, but in the end, Faiser wanted to keep him in the infirmary.
“With all due respect, Dr. Fraiser, I’m not staying. I agreed to let you check me over, but frankly, no one can or will monitor me as closely as my sentinel. Stop growling, Jack,” he finished in an aside to his sentinel.
The doctor spared a glance for Jack, then turned back to Tony. “Agent DiNozzo, your blood pressure is too low for me to let you out of medical at this time,” she insisted.
Tony blew out a breath, trying to be patient. “Severe empathic stress or trauma can have a physical affect, Doctor. The same thing happened when I was shot in the arm three months ago. I didn’t know about the empathic factor then and had to stay in the hospital, but I know this time, and I’m not staying.”
She was frowning in confusion. “What kind of effects? And why were you under empathic stress?”
He slid off the bed. “I’d be happy to discuss this with you at a time when my sentinel isn’t in distress. For now, you’ll just have to trust that Jack will bring me back if there’s an issue.”
She looked to Jack again. “How much distress is he in?”
Tony tried to hold on to his temper. Blair had said that the base CMO had only known the very basics about sentinels and guides, but had been receptive to the changes that needed to be made. But apparently getting through her SOP would take more time.
He thought about explaining that Jack needed to shower ASAP, but he knew she’d counter that there was one in the infirmary, to which he’d have to counter that it wasn’t private enough for a distressed sentinel, nor was it an environment Jack was in control of. And she’d no doubt have a counter to that, too.
“You’re going to have to trust me to that I know what’s best for my sentinel, just like you need to believe that Jack can monitor my vitals better than any machine. And unless you’re going to bring in the SFs to confine us to medical, we’re leaving.”
“I think Agent DiNozzo and Colonel O’Neill can be trusted in this instance, Doctor,” Hammond said from the doorway, causing Jack to give another little growl at the new person near his guide. Tony not-so-subtly elbowed his sentinel.
The good doctor seemed set to argue, but Tony grabbed his sentinel and turned to Daniel and Teal’c who were waiting nearby. Jack had seemed more settled with people he trusted between his guide and the rest of the base, so Tony hadn’t made a stink about them being there while he got poked and prodded. “Would you two take the lead, please?”
Teal’c inclined his head, grabbed two duffle bags, and moved to the door. Daniel hesitated briefly, but followed.
Tony got hopelessly lost as they made their way through the base. The only thing he remembered was that the infirmary was on level twenty-one, and their quarters were on twenty-five. He’d also managed to deduce, by cleverly looking at the elevator buttons, that there were twenty-eight floors total.
As soon as they were at their rooms, he turned to Daniel and Teal’c, thanking them profusely and promising to keep them posted. Daniel offered to get them something to eat, which Tony readily accepted, because he was starving, but asked if he wouldn’t mind waiting a half hour to deliver it.
The minute the door was shut and locked, Jack pulled Tony close, burying his face in his guide’s neck. Tony surrendered to the hold easily, opening up the empathic connection between them; more so he could calm his sentinel down. Jack’s tension gradually started to fade.
Once Jack was a little more relaxed, Tony herded him into the shower. Though generously sized for a shower on a military base, it was still a little tight for the two of them, but they managed because there wasn’t really another option. Tony spent a long time washing his sentinel’s arms and hands until the blood scent was just background noise.
They were barely dressed in sweats when Daniel and Teal’c both came back with food. They didn’t try to stay, for which Tony was grateful. Tony’s sense of time was fucked up, so the breakfast foods twigged him into the fact that it was still morning. What a long fucking day it had already been.
Poking at the eggs a little suspiciously, he remarked, “What did we get, like a whole hour of sleep last night?” So much had happened yesterday and today, though Tony tried not to dwell on his meltdown in the middle of the night.
“If that,” Jack replied, having no hesitation about the eggs. “The food won’t bite, Tony, it’s pretty decent here.”
Tony wanted to ask what had happened, but instinctively knew Jack would need to be in physical contact to relive the situation. At least for the moment. Once the sentinel in him settled down, he’d be able to discuss it without needing Tony safe and in close contact.
After breakfast, Tony climbed into bed, pulling off his t-shirt, knowing Jack would be skin hungry. “Do you need to call anyone first?”
Jack looked torn. “I should talk to the general.”
“Go for it,” Tony encouraged, trying to get things feeling normal quickly so they could get past the trauma the sentinel part of Jack was focused on.
Jack sat on the bed and dialed swiftly, then wrapped his free hand around Tony’s wrist, rubbing slowly over the pulse point. Tony listened intently as Jack gave Hammond a verbal report on what had happened, wincing at hearing the entire story. He knew Jack had killed as many with his hands as he could… it was in a sentinel’s nature when feral to go for the personal kill over something like firing a gun.
After Jack hung up, he flashed Tony a look. “You know I don’t usually let anyone handle me, right?”
Tony snorted in amusement, despite his fatigue. “I should hope not. There should be some perks for me. You know, besides the great sex. But that’s about handling you, too, now that I think about it,” he waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “And despite what you may think, your Simpson’s collection is not a perk.”
Jack laughed, though it sounded a little strained, then got up to hit the lights before sliding under the covers, t-shirt flying across the room to land on the chair.
They lay facing each other, Tony resting a hand on his sentinel’s chest, while Jack slowly ran his hand from Tony’s shoulder to hip. “You okay?” Tony finally asked.
Brow furrowed, Jack replied, “I’m not going to feel any regret about killing those… human rejects.”
“I know.” That wasn’t in a sentinel’s nature either. “I meant in practically every other respect. How are your senses? I can still feel that you’re on edge. Are you okay here on base?”
Jack cupped Tony’s cheek. “You’re still here, so I’m fucking perfect. I promise we can have an emotional bloodletting after we get some sleep.”
Tony found himself smiling. “And here’s my enthusiastic Yay! in celebration of manly avoidance.”
His sentinel just adjusted their positions until he was happy with his guide’s placement, meaning as much skin contact as possible, then said, “Go to sleep, Guide.”
But Tony knew Jack was really keyed up still and likely would have a hard time falling asleep, so Tony opened up the empathic link between them enough that Jack would be affected by his guide’s exhaustion. It was a dirty trick, but he was just as driven to care for his sentinel.
“That’s completely unfair,” Jack muttered through a yawn.
“You can sue me,” Tony muttered sleepily, “after you get some sleep.” Exhaustion easily pulled him under.
The phone ringing jolted Tony awake and he groaned, burying his head under the pillow. “Why doesn’t anyone want us to get some sleep?” he muttered into the bedding.
“Actually, we slept about five hours,” Jack said, sounding half asleep, while sitting up to reach for the phone. “Calls to my extension are supposed to be blocked right now, so it must be important.” As soon as Tony heard the, “Yes, Sir?” he knew it was Hammond. He tried to pay attention to see if he could figure out what was going on, but found himself drifting back to sleep.
“Wake up, Tony. There’s someone coming to see you,” Jack said, pulling back the covers.
“Me?” Tony got in a tug-of-war with his sentinel over the blankets. “You’re crazy.”
Tony glared. “Who could possibly be coming to see me?”
“General said someone was here to evaluate you for empathic stress, and it’s pretty much the only reason why I’d let someone in here, so up!”
He groaned and buried his head in the covers. “I should never have mentioned that to Fraiser. I can’t believe she’s fucking with my sleep, which is the best way to get over empathic strain, by the way.”
Jack tossed him his t-shirt then pulled on his own. “It’ll probably be a few minutes before he gets here.” That was good, because it gave him time to brush his teeth.
He was unsurprised that his sentinel followed him to the bathroom. He had a hunch he’d be glued to Jack’s side for a day or two. At the least.
The knock on the door came five minutes later, and from Jack’s head cocked to the side, he was hearing something. “Bonded sentinel and guide.” His brow furrowed and he glanced a Tony, and then seemed to make a decision about something. He put Tony in the corner of the room furthest from the door, then opened it to admit two men.
“So, just how much did you empathically strain yourself?” one man asked as soon as the door was closed.
Tony was busy gaping. Finally, he managed to get it together. “Alex? Vincent? What the hell…”
Jack cocked a brow at Tony, clearly waiting for an introduction.
“Uh, Alex Joyce, Vincent Lain, this is Jack O’Neill. Jack, Alex is the senior healer in Cascade and trains the baby guides, and Vincent is their lead sentinel wrangler.”
“Colonel,” they both greeted.
“Jack is fine,” he said shaking their hands, but pretty much staying between them and Tony.
“Probably not, sir,” Vincent replied. “Since we’re in your command now.”
“Wait, what?” Tony stuttered.
Alex made an impatient gesture. “So much has gone on while you were away, Tony. But I’m more concerned about this empathic strain the general mentioned. What did you do exactly? Or were you attacked again?”
Jack was relaxing fairly quickly at the familiarity between Tony and the visitors, no doubt aided by the fact that they were a bonded pair, and were there to help Jack’s guide.
“Uh, I was drugged and lashed out empathically to try to stall the men, but it didn’t work all that well.”
“Not true, Tony,” Jack interjected. “You stalled all ten and brought most of them to their knees.”
Alex looked thoughtful. “I got all the details from Fraiser when we arrived, and that kind of empathic load probably accounts for why the drug hit you so fast. Plus, they were drugging you off of your photos in DC, and you’ve lost at least twenty pounds while you were in the jungle.” He gestured to the bed. “Well, lie down… I need to do a scan.”
“Alex, seriously, I’m fine.”
“So you’re not experiencing physical side effects of empathic strain?” Alex asked, clearly knowing the answer already.
Tony glared. Alex glared back. Jack pushed Tony toward the bed. Rolling his eyes, he lay down while Alex settled himself in a chair by the bed.
The healer glanced to Jack. “It’s easiest if I’m in physical contact.”
Jack nodded tightly.
Both of Alex’s hands settled on Tony’s arm. After a minute, he muttered, “Jesus, it’s worse than scanning Blair. I need you to relax your shields a bit, Tony.”
Oh yeah. He hadn’t thought about that. Incacha’s notion of strong shielding was a little different from anything he’d been taught in Cascade. He relaxed a bit and Alex made the empathic connection.
After a few minutes, Alex sat back. “No damage, but you’re definitely overloaded, so I wouldn’t try to read anyone but your sentinel for another day. Meaning, no overt empathy except what you get through your bond.”
Tony swung to a seated position. “Told you I was fine. Now, what the hell is going on?”
Before anything could get started, Jack pulled the other chair over for Vincent, then sat by Tony on the bed.
“Well,” Alex began, “right after the new year, Blair and Jim were here to make their test run through the Stargate. They went somewhere called the Alpha Site, and within minutes Jim detected several problems including hearing something wrong in some piece of equipment that could blow the whole site. Plus found something that wasn’t supposed to be there that also could have blown up the site. Basically averted major destruction.”
Jack’s hand clenched on Tony’s leg, and Tony absently patted his sentinel reassuringly.
“Anyway, the Powers That Be around here made some calls and whoever has been pulling the strings from behind the scenes to keep high-order sentinels out was summarily overruled. Hammond got the go ahead from the President to immediately start recruiting a few high-order bonded sentinels.
“Blair and Jim are going to be available to consult, but felt that the first recruit needed to be someone who could put together the training and field requirements, and aid with candidate assessment. They suggested us because we have extensive combat experience working together, plus already train sentinels and guides.”
Tony was floored. “And you’ll be able to direct some of the medical issues for sentinels and guides, which is not working well.”
Alex grimaced. “Yeah, I read Blair’s report. So, we got read-in as a no-strings kind of proposition, and weren’t expecting to accept, but we barely had to talk about it before we were agreeing.” He looked to his sentinel.
Vincent leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees. “I seriously doubt many sentinels who are asked to be part of this program would say no. The instant awareness of the threat to the tribe is… well, it’s almost compulsory to want to be involved.
“So, aside from the basic qualifications, we’re high-order, but not alpha, so we won’t be stepping on Jack’s toes. Also, the general was more comfortable if we reactivated in the Navy, so we’ll be in Jack’s command, as well as in your Pride. Plus, I hear you’re our Agent Afloat,” Vincent ended with a smirk.
Smiling a little, Tony nodded. They were actually letting him cover the whole base and liaise with AFOSI, so he’d have the Air Force, too. Glancing at Jack, Tony asked, “You okay with this?”
Jack held up his hands. “I sure as hell don’t want the job. And you knowing and trusting them… bonus.”
Looking back at Alex, Tony picked up the threads of the story. “So, were you already here?”
“No. We were due in tomorrow and were going to meet with you two at some point on Monday, then report for duty on Thursday, but the general called Blair. He was going to come himself, but we decided to leave a day early instead. He wants a shaman meeting when you’re up for it, by the way.”
“Sure. I’ll ping him later.” He rubbed his hand over his face, still incredibly exhausted, but suddenly feeling a little lighter. “I’m seriously glad to see the two of you. Really, you have no idea.”
Alex’s lips quirked up and Vincent shot him a quick smile.
“How’d Morgan take it?”
“About like you’d expect. He’s annoyed, and doesn’t like not knowing what we’re working on that was compelling enough to get us back in the Navy. Really, he’s gonna miss us, even if he won’t say it. And the feeling’s mutual. Although, he’s even more annoyed now that Evan dropped his future plans bomb.”
“Do tell,” Tony prompted.
“He’s joining the Air Force rather than Solon leaving it. I mentioned them to Hammond, and he’s going to keep an eye on how Evan does. Solon already has a great record, so if Evan makes it, they might be a good fit for the program.”
“Holy shit,” Tony muttered. “That’s… so surreal.”
They talked for a few minutes before Alex asked, “What do you think we need to focus on first?”
Tony blinked. “I’ve barely been in the mountain. Blair’s assessment would be much better than anything I’ve got to offer.”
Alex gave him a look. “You just went through a traumatic experience with a distressed sentinel. I’m sure you’ve picked up on a few things.”
“Oh! Well, several problems with the handling, care and facilities. It’s like they’ve read sentinel & guide 101, but haven’t really absorbed it. They have an isolation room off the infirmary and it has no shower, so Jack had to just wipe down and stay in there with me unconscious smelling like blood. Also, I noticed they kept trying to separate us when I was getting checked over after I woke.”
Jack growled a bit, then added, “They tried that when you first arrived, too.”
Alex blinked in shock. “They tried to separate a sentinel from his unconscious guide? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Like I said, it’s like they’ve read it, but don’t get it. I think Fraiser is trying, but she’s stuck in her SOP.”
Vincent looked like he wanted to growl at the very thought of a guide and sentinel being separated. “Blair said his impression was that they barely let the sentinels and guides in the program function as sentinels and guides.”
Jack nodded. “I’d agree. The teams with sentinels are considered to have better eyes and ears, but there’s not much else put into it.”
“Well, that’s gonna change first,” Alex said, crossing his arms. “We need to train all the sentinels and guides to function at their best, regardless of rating, but we can’t bring high-order pairs into an environment that won’t do what’s necessary to enable them to function. People might not like it, but it’s like we always say, high-order is the polite way of saying,”
“High-maintenance,” Tony finished with a grin.
Jack laughed and Tony was encouraged by the sound.
“Damn straight,” Vincent said. “So, first order of business is making sure we can get sentinel and guide 101 off paper and into practice.”
Tony suddenly had a thought. “Hey, did you ever meet Teal’c?”
“Yep,” Alex replied. “That was one of the top things on the general’s mind… could I detect his symbiote empathically. And the answer is barely, but I have to be really looking for it. It’s not the weird nearly communing thing Blair described. Considering the difficulty, I’d guess no one below an eight, maybe seven, could do it. And probably only bonded guides, because I couldn’t do it until Vincent stabilized me.
“It’s like they emote on a different empathic wavelength or something, and it didn’t register for me easily. The general wants you and I both to meet something called a Tok’ra sometime soon to see what we get from them. Apparently the ability to detect a Goa’uld when in a host could be a big deal.”
“You have no idea,” Jack said emphatically.
They talked for a little while longer, and Tony was relieved to see that Jack was relaxed with Tony’s friends. There was a brief discussion of rank, Jack musing on where they’d fit in the command structure. Vincent was a commander, and Alex a first lieutenant, which would put Vincent amongst the senior officers.
Tony could tell that Alex wanted to talk to him, but they both knew there wasn’t going to be any privacy for Tony for a while yet. As soon as Jack was less protective, he’d find some time to talk to Alex alone.
He realized he was feeling differently towards Alex and Vincent… it was territorial and protective. It suddenly dawned on him that this was the first time he’d seen them since he’d bonded with Jack and become alpha. He felt much the same way toward Sam, and thought it likely he’d be feeling this way towards every sentinel and guide in the mountain. He wondered if that’s why Jack was relatively relaxed with the duo… the instant connection to them as Pride. For Alex and Vincent to feel that way already, they had to have broken their empathic tethers to Morgan’s Pride already.
About the time Tony was becoming very aware of the need to eat again, Alex and Vincent left, stating they could come back at any time if they were needed. Tony hoped that wouldn’t be necessary and the pair could get settled in without yet another Tony-emergency.
Jack still wasn’t ready to leave their room, so he called for an Airman to bring lunch down. Tony wasn’t really surprised that lunch came with a side of Daniel Jackson. He didn’t know Daniel well, but what he did know, he rather liked. In a funny way, Tony felt rather territorial about Daniel, too. It seemed his inner guide was seeing Daniel as Pride, too, and Tony wasn’t sure why. He’d have to ask Blair about it.
“Carter’s on her way, if you two are feeling up to an update on the investigation?” Daniel asked as soon as everyone was situated.
“Hell yes,” Jack responded immediately.
Daniel looked to Tony. “She’s also bringing one of the spare laptops in case you need to make contact with anyone, or just want something to do.”
“That’ll be great. I’m assuming my laptop is still at the house, and hopefully we’ll get it soon?” he ended on a question, looking to Jack.
Jack got a hard glint in his eye. “We’ll be staying here until this situation is resolved.”
Tony countered with a glare. “We need to get some stuff from the house.”
They faced off for several moments before Jack threw up his hands. “Fine. Tomorrow we’ll go.” He took another bite of us his lunch, muttering, “With an entire squad of Marines.”
Jack might be happy to live in BDUs, but Tony wasn’t even officially on SG1, so wasn’t prepared to dress like he was on a field team. It felt like he might jinx it. For now, he was just an NCIS agent, and he’d dress like a civilian.
He noticed Jack listening to something. “Carter’s here,” he said as he got up to answer the door, pulling it open just as she raised her hand to knock. “Come on in, Major. Where’s T?”
“He’s working with Major Miller on the interrogations.”
“The intimidation factor,” Jack said with a nod. “Bonus.”
Once everyone was situated, and really, the room was too small for this many people, Carter fidgeted a little, and something seemed off with her. “We confirmed the target was Tony. They were instructed not to kill you, Colonel, unless they couldn’t avoid it.”
Jack’s hand clenched on Tony’s thigh. “And who is they exactly?” he asked in a dangerous tone.
“Most seem to be mercenaries, but we’re still confirming as there were some convincing cover identities, but two were NID agents, and it took me a while to get the results on their prints because there was a high-level block in the system.”
Tony glanced around at the grim faces. “Why the hell is the NID interested in me?”
“That’s the million dollar question. And I’m damn well going to get an answer,” Jack said grimly. “Of the three survivors, any of them NID?”
Carter nodded. “Both of the NID agents were picked up by Major Miller’s team uninjured.” She hesitated. “Though, the general has left orders that you’re not permitted on level sixteen.”
Jack growled, but Tony was confused. “What’s on sixteen?”
Daniel was giving Jack a funny look, but replied, “Several things, but the issue is that’s where the stockade is located.”
“Ah.” Tony wanted to do something to help Jack, but he knew he just needed to let his sentinel get through this. Instead he tried to direct the conversation toward practical matters. “So, what are we going to do?” As Jack was about to reply, Tony added, “Besides you sneaking up to the stockade.” He got a mild glare for the comment.
When Jack didn’t say anything, Carter replied, “We’ll investigate, but you’ll be primarily confined to base until we figure out why they were after you.”
And Tony really found that frustrating and decided he didn’t want to talk it to death. Instead, he wanted to direct the conversation away from himself and the fucked up day he’d had. “You doing okay, Sam?”
Her brows shot up in surprise. “Of course.” She paused. “Why?”
“You seem kind of off to me, actually, but I’m not having the best day ever, so I wouldn’t put much stock in my perceptions at the moment.”
Carter glanced away for a few seconds. “I know you’re okay, and I know the colonel is okay, but I…” she trailed off, then met Tony’s gaze again. “I can’t seem to convince myself of what I know.” She sounded really frustrated.
Tony suddenly got it. “I think I might know what’s up. Even though we haven’t formally acknowledged each other, the guide in you recognizes Jack and me as the Pride alphas. We were attacked today, and it’s going to feel like an attack on the Pride, and you by extension. You had enough contact with us after we bonded to start to form a connection to us.”
She looked startled. “I’ve been doing my training exercises and everything that Blair suggested, but I confess that I don’t know much about sentinel and guide culture or customs. I… What do I need to do?”
“Normally when there’s a trauma in a Pride, there’s a need to know, at a spiritual level, that the Pride is okay. And that’s my responsibility to provide that assurance. And we can do it now, if you want,” he said, almost surprising himself at the offer.
Eyes wide, she asked, “And what does that entail?”
“We need to connect empathically. You’ll feel that I’m okay, and through my bond with Jack, that he’s okay, too. You’ll know it at the level you need in order to let go of your anxiety. And it would be ideal if your spirit animal connected with me as well.”
That seemed to make her a little uncomfortable. “I haven’t seen my spirit animal since I came online.”
“Do you want to see her? I can call her.” One of the things Incacha had taught him early on was that as a shaman, he could call any spirit animal, but unless the circumstances were dire, he’d never do it without permission. It seemed intrusive to summon the spiritual essence of a person without their consent.
Looking a little reluctant, Carter eventually nodded, and Tony gestured for her to have a seat on the floor. He could practically see Daniel mentally taking notes about what was going on.
Jack seemed relaxed enough, so Tony didn’t hesitate to sit opposite Sam and extend his hands for her to take. He was glad Jack wasn’t fighting him on this, because it definitely qualified as using his empathy, which Alex wouldn’t like, but Tony had a need to take care of Sam, and suspected Jack did, too.
As soon as Sam’s hands were enfolded in his, he said, “I’m going to reach out empathically. I won’t force it, and when you feel it, just latch on and reach for me in the same way.”
She looked concerned. “I don’t think I’m trained enough.”
“You’ll instinctively know how to mimic what I’m doing. Just let your instinct guide you as soon as you feel me, okay?”
“Yes,” she replied decisively, seemingly having made up her mind about the whole thing.
In one way, this was so weird for Tony to be in this role, but it felt so completely right and natural. It was like this was the way he was meant to be. It was at odds with the way he’d been most of his life, hiding away any part of himself that made him vulnerable. But he didn’t feel any weakness in being vulnerable to his Pride.
He closed his eyes and let his empathy reach out for Sam. He registered that he didn’t meet that sense of guide immediately, and thought that was likely the missing passive empathy. She wasn’t as there in an empathic sense as most guides, there wasn’t much playing instinctively on those empathic wavelengths.
He pushed at her empathically a little, wanting her to find her way, but needing to give her a bridge. Suddenly, she gasped and he felt her empathy latch on to him, and it wasn’t subtle. It was blunt and a little aggressive, but there was an instant sense of connection and he felt the anxiety she was holding start to bleed away. He let his connection to Jack seep into the empathic tether so she knew at a profound level that the Pride was okay, that her alphas were whole and intact.
After a bit, he slowly started pulling back, and she gave chase, but he gently and insistently made her let go of the link. He opened his eyes, and a few seconds later she blinked and fixed her bright blue eyes on him.
Smiling, she pulled her hands away. “Thank you. That feels so much better, it’s hard to even put in words.”
He nodded. “I’m going to summon Gattino first–“ he broke off because the white tiger was abruptly there. Tony petted the soft fur for a few seconds. “Lie down, you great big beast, there’s no room for prowling.”
Gattino dropped onto his belly, head on Tony’s thigh. Tony concentrated, focusing on the spiritual essence that made up Sam, and requested her spirit animal come. A blink of the eyes and there was a raccoon in his lap.
He smiled down at the little thing. Well, little compared to Gattino. “Hello there,” he greeted, letting himself be receptive to the spiritual reach of Sam’s spirit guide.
While he was petting the raccoon, he realized Sam was getting more relaxed by the second. “Your spirit guide will only be around as much as you want her to be. If you want her to be a part of your life, Sam, you just have to issue the invitation. They can’t be around all the time. But certainly a lot of it.” Glancing down at the raccoon, who was watching Sam intently, he added, “If you want to call her, it might help to name her. It gives focus to the summons.”
Sam’s eyes flicked back to Tony. “Can I hold her?”
Tony passed the raccoon over to her human. Sam was instantly fixated on the animal in her arms. He let her be and got to his feet, feeling incredibly, unbelievably worn out.
Gattino rose as well and Tony gave him a pat. “Go introduce yourself to Daniel.”
Daniel gave a start and looked at Tony wide-eyed. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Tony said, sitting on the bed next to Jack who seemed much more mellow than Tony thought he would be. The sentinel’s strong hand settled on Tony’s thigh, giving it a squeeze. To Daniel, he added, “They’re all an odd mix of human-like awareness and animal-like behavior. Just don’t imply that there’s anything canine about my cat.”
Even though he was now engrossed in petting the big tiger, who was chuffing happily, Daniel still turned his attention to Jack and gave him a glare, apparently instantly aware of who’d done it previously. That got Tony laughing.
Jack and Daniel had a weird little argument that fueled Tony’s amusement and he realized he felt better than he thought he should. Something about the whole experience with Sam and her spirit guide, and getting to know this new team a little more, seemed to soothe some of the sharp edges he felt around his time in Peru. And even some of the lingering hurt over the way things had ended with his old team. He found himself wishing that Teal’c had been here, and told himself to be sure to connect with him soon.
“You okay,” Jack asked softly, taking a break from his Daniel-baiting.
Tony thought about that for a second. “Yeah,” he said, smiling at his sentinel. “I really think I am.”
AN: For those of you not familiar with American officer military rank equivalencies…
Navy Rank vs. Air Force/Army/Marines
Lieutenant = Captain
Commander = Lieutenant Colonel
CMO – Chief Medical Officer
SF – Special Forces
SOP – Standard Operating Procedure
AFOSI – Air Force Office of Special Investigations
BDU – Basic Dress Uniform
NID – National Intelligence Department (Fictional)
Tony settled in the spirit plane, taking a few minutes to just listen. He tried to do this every time he came, and it seemed like he was learning to hear more each time. It was almost like he could sense all the guides and sentinels in some way. At least, that was his impression, but it was faint, and he was perhaps imagining it. When he was with Gattino, his impressions felt stronger, but he’d left the tiger with Jack to help ground his sentinel.
Focusing back on the present, he gently tugged at his tether to Blair. He’d seen Blair several times while in Peru. In part because Blair wanted updates, but also because anytime Tony had gotten a pull from a distressed sentinel, all Tony could do was summon Blair and let him handle it. At least, after weeks of work, Tony was no longer getting zapped to the spirit plane against his will. Having more control over it made him feel more secure as his training progressed.
Blair appeared and immediately pulled Tony into a hug, and spirit hugs always felt so strangely intimate. “Are you okay? Is Jack okay? All I heard was that someone tried to abduct you guys and that you were in isolation after Jack had gone feral, and you were suffering from empathic strain.”
“We’re both okay. Just insanely tired, and a lot frustrated. From what they’ve pieced together so far, they were after me, and no one knows why.”
Pulling back, Blair scowled. “Who was after you? If this is the Council again…”
“If you weren’t already read in, I couldn’t tell you this, so only Jim can know, but it was the NID. Whether it was sanctioned or not, we don’t know.”
Brows furrowed, Blair was quiet for a several seconds. “There was someone high up in the Sentinel Council research department with ties to the intelligence community. It was to him that the GHB plot was traced. And now I’m wondering if that intelligence connection was NID.”
Tony blew out a breath. “Well, hell. You don’t make things easy, Blair.”
“Me?” Blair said, giving Tony a speaking look.
“I’d like to say that weird things just happen when I’m around, but I guess it’s a little more than that.”
“Please don’t say that, because I’m clinging to the belief that you have some grasp of reality.”
Snorting in amusement, Tony made himself get back to the subject at hand. “So, the Sentinel Council has information we need, but they don’t like to share. And we certainly have information, but are definitely not going to share.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “What would a smart man do in this situation? Hmm. I guess I’ll just have to let you and the general sort it out.”
“Well, I guess I can reassure everyone that you’re okay if you’re able to throw the unpleasantness over the wall and right at me,” he observed with a mock scowl. Tilting his head to the side, he gave Tony a considering look. “You seem different… more settled, I guess, which sort of surprises me considering the day you’ve had.”
“Ah, well…” he trailed off, not sure what to say. “I guess I had a hard time with some of the last phase of training in Peru and had a serious meltdown as soon as we got back. And though it sucked, especially when you add on the discourteous kidnapping attempt an hour later, I feel a little more… well, settled is as good a word as any.”
Blair looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then nodded. “I sort of want to know what the problem was, but I also don’t want to dredge up more shit for you to deal with when you’ve already had a rough time of it. So, I’ll just say that I’m available any time you need to talk.”
Tony just nodded his thanks.
Bouncing a little, Blair asked, “So were you surprised about Alex and Vincent?”
“Yeah, like you wouldn’t believe. Couldn’t have come at a better time, too. I think having them around is going to help Jack lose this faintly feral edge a little easier.”
“I know he’s going to be fretting if you stay too long, so get back, but ping me any time you need me.”
“Would you mind calling Martin for me? Tell him what you can and that I’m under guard on base, so not in any danger, and I’ll call him tomorrow? Jack and I are trying to stay awake for the rest of the day so we can sleep normally tonight, but back in the real world, I’m too tired for much coherency. And, of course, he won’t be able to reach me via cell when I’m on base. As soon as I figure out phones and email, I’ll give him a call or write. ”
“Sure. Anything else?”
“No. Oh, yes.” The Daniel question just occurred to him. “Question, under what circumstances would a mundane feel like Pride?”
“There are a few things. Someone who’s latent, who’s on the cusp of coming online might feel that way. Also, close family can give a sort of false read.”
“Well, let’s say Evan had a child… that child might feel like Pride to me if I’m especially close to Evan. You could liken it to extended-Pride. Why? Who feels like Pride who shouldn’t?”
Blair nodded. “Well, I didn’t sense him on the cusp of coming online, and I never asked him if he were latent. Are you recognizing Sam as Pride yet?”
“My observation is that the team is really tightly bound, and if Jack is as close to Daniel as Sam is, then you might be getting it from both of them.”
“Jack and Daniel are really tight.”
“Well that’s probably it. If someone is Pride to Jack, they definitely will be to you. Also, with the alphas registering him as Pride, the rest of the sentinels and guides likely will, too. Plus, Daniel has a very guide-like vibe about him. What about Teal’c?”
“I haven’t spent much time alone with Teal’c, and this observation about Daniel was recent and happened when I had my empathy pretty open. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get that read on him with that… guest of his.”
“Yeah.” Blair scrunched up his nose. “On the bright side, since we seem to need an extra shield to block them out, you might be able to open up your empathy and still keep that shield up.” He shivered. “Talk about someone in dire need of Megalomaniacs’ Anonymous.”
Tony laughed. “Yeah, there’s personality disorders, and then there’s that.” He felt a little tug on his link to Jack, which he didn’t think his sentinel was doing on purpose, which must mean Jack was getting agitated. “I better get back. I think he’s fretting. I’ll talk to you soon.” They said their goodbyes and he focused on returning.
Jack was sitting by the bed, watching him intently. “Everything okay?”
Tony nodded, reaching out and snagging Jack’s hand, pulling him toward the bed. He got them both in the position he wanted, then relaxed against his sentinel.
“Am I arranged to your satisfaction?” Jack asked with amusement.
“Yes. You’re very comfortable.”
“Live to serve.” Strong fingers carded through Tony’s hair. “Thought we were staying awake.”
“We are. But the rest of that feral edge will bleed off faster if we’re in physical contact and keep the bond open. I’m sure you’ll survive.” He ran his hand up Jack’s chest, keeping a soothing rhythm. “Listen, I know you’re going to be weird about my safety for a little bit, and I’ll put up with it for a while, but if it goes on too long, I’m gonna confiscate your game controllers and your Simpsons’ tapes.”
Surprised, Jack gave a short laugh. “Fair enough.”
“And just so my preferences are clearly stated,” Tony said a little teasingly, “I would prefer that you not hover on Monday when I run through the program’s physical evaluation. But if you’re legitimately still unable to let me out of your sight by then, I’ll somehow live with it.”
With a sigh, Jack pulled Tony a little closer. “I’ll try. Because it’s certainly in our best interests to get you qualified for a field duty ASAP, and I don’t want to make you nervous.”
Tony snorted. “You won’t make me nervous. Gibbs hovering over my shoulder and threatening to use my favorite hat as a target makes me nervous. No, having my sentinel walk me to school would just be embarrassing.”
“I’ll try to contain myself.” Jack rolled them so Tony was under him, pressed into the mattress, clearly amused. “So, this physical contact that we need to have…”
“What’d you have in mind?”
Jack lowered his head, lips hovering just above Tony’s. “I think it’s been way to long since we just made out.” With that, he claimed his guide’s lips, tongue snaking out to re-learn the taste of his bonded.
Tony arched up into his sentinel, happy to indulge in this for as long as they could. It had been too long… Making out was a luxury they didn’t have in Peru, a few kisses had been the extent of their contact other than just holding each other at night. Even though it had been years since he’d felt as close to someone as he had to Jack in just those few short weeks before Peru, he still managed to miss this those weeks in the jungle.
They were both too exhausted to really take it anywhere, and Tony was getting really fed up with the lack of sex, but he also knew they had time. And for now, this was perfect.
Sunday morning, Tony woke on his own, with no alarm, no emergency, no drugs, no crazy shaman teacher dragging him out of bed to practice flinging emotions around. His sentinel was pressed against his back, but the bond told him Jack was awake. Or dreaming about something that made him happy. The feral edge was gone, and Tony smiled into his pillow, glad his sentinel had bounced back from yesterday.
“What’s making you happy?” Tony asked, voice still raspy from sleep.
Lips pressed against the back of his neck, and there was silence for a long time. “You make me happy, Tony.”
The Tony who wasn’t comfortable with emotions wanted to deflect, but perhaps that Tony had been left behind in Peru. He squeezed the arm that Jack had wrapped around his waist. “You make me pretty damned happy, too, Jack.”
He felt Jack’s hot breath at the nape of his neck and strong arms tightened around him. Then the sentinel’s hands began to roam, caressing and stroking slowly. At first it was soothing, almost hypnotic, but then the touch became more purposeful, easily arousing Tony, and as Jack’s intense desire seeped into the bond, Tony began to writhe, seeking more contact, more touch, more Jack.
Hands traveled over Tony’s body slowly, thoroughly, and there wasn’t much Tony could do but react. Every time he reached back to touch, the sentinel pulled Tony’s hands back to the front.
When his sentinel’s fingers began to carefully prepare him, Tony groaned. “Fuck, it’s been too long since I’ve had you in me.” It was so fucking good, so right, and how the hell had they made it over three weeks without this?
Jack bit at the back of his neck, causing Tony to tremble even as he thrust back, chasing the feeling of being penetrated, the wonderful sense of stretch and burn and toe-curling pleasure.
Finally, the feel of Jack sinking fully into him completely took his breath away. He reached back and grabbed his sentinel’s hip, pulling them tightly together. Suddenly, everything was right and whole and them again.
He got so lost in their bond, in the perfect awareness of his sentinel, it took another sharp nip from Jack’s teeth to bring him back to the physical pleasure. He slammed open their empathic connection just before he reached his peak, creating the pleasure feedback loop that took them both away for long minutes, completely lost to anything but pleasure and each other.
Eventually, Tony managed to muster the energy to pull away a bit and turn over, resting his head on his sentinel’s shoulder and wrapping his arms tight around Jack. There were things they weren’t saying, but they weren’t unknown. The bond was too open for them to hide from each other, even if that might be more comfortable sometimes. The reality of Jack’s feelings, and the feelings Tony had in return, would have to be talked about some other time.
They stayed close for a long time, then by mutual agreement, got up to get ready to face the day. After showering, they had breakfast in their room, the last meal they planned to take in isolation, then Jack played some video games while Tony took Sam’s loaner laptop to check his email.
He checked his new account first, finding a note from Evan about his decision to go into the Air Force to try to work with Solon as a military guide. Evan started basic back on the ninth, so was already out of pocket and wouldn’t be able to read responses for a while. Regardless, Tony sent him an email to catch up.
He worried a little about Evan being a bonded guide in basic training. The military had to make some accommodation for the sentinels, otherwise they’d lose it. Typical protocol was to allow the sentinel and guide a couple hours a day together. Unfortunately, recruits sometimes saw this as favoritism and took it out on the guide, which in some severe cases had triggered feral episodes in sentinels. Tony was pretty sure the Air Force had the lowest instance of these types of issues. For good measure, he sent Solon an email as well.
With some reluctance, he checked his old personal account. The one he’d stopped using because he didn’t want to deal with the Ziva, McGee and Abby.
He stared at his email inbox, a little disheartened to see that he had emails from McGee and Ziva. Both were sent on December 28, which was the day he was in transit to Colorado and then Peru. They were supposed to be waiting for him to reach out, but the flaw in that plan was that Tony wasn’t sure he’d have ever done it.
Assuming this was fallout from the Abby debacle, he decided to read Ziva’s first. It was vitriolic, which he expected and there was really nothing to say in response. Since she was using her personal email to his personal email, there really wasn’t anything to do but ignore her. There was a more recent email in the same vein, also accusing him of being cowardly by not responding. Whatever.
Reluctantly, he clicked on McGee’s email next. He read it, then re-read it. After a brief hesitation, he picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hello?” was said after three rings.
“Tony! I… I can’t believe you called. When you didn’t reply to my email, I thought you were still angry.”
“I just read your email. I’ve been in Peru without access to any communication services until yesterday.” Which wasn’t completely true. In the event of an emergency, they’d had a sat phone they kept turned off to preserve the battery life.
“Peru? What were you doing there?”
“It was a training exercise, and I can’t really discuss it beyond that.”
“Oh, okay. I saw the announcement that you’re afloat again. You okay with that?”
Tony was a little heartened by the concern. “Yeah, McGee. I’m good with it. It’s a classified project, so there’s really not much I can say about it.”
“I won’t pry.” There was a brief pause. “Listen, Tony. I meant what I said in the email. Part of me wanted to be mad at you because Abby was upset, but for the rest of me it was a real wakeup call.”
“Why’s that?” he asked cautiously.
“Some of her anger toward you in the weeks after Harris… well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly make sense, but it was close enough to something I wanted to believe that I tried to make it make sense. Did that make sense?”
“Well, it really shouldn’t because that was far from coherent, McNonsense, but I actually understand what you meant.”
McGee laughed in a way that sounded a little self-deprecating. “Yeah. I wanted to believe it so I didn’t have to look too hard at my mistakes. But when she called me after you were here during the holidays… Tony, she was so far off that it was like I couldn’t not see the situation clearly. She’s so stuck in this skewed view of our team that she can’t even hear how illogical she’s being.”
Tony wasn’t sure what to say to that. He also wasn’t sure how McGee was in contact with Abby since she was still on suspension, but decided not to ask, because it really wasn’t his business anymore. Besides, if he raised the red flag, Jack would be on it like a dog with a bone.
“And it made me realize that it was easier to be angry at you than see I’d seriously messed up. The reason I sent the email is because I really just wanted to apologize. I realize nothing makes up for it, not what we did or what we said after, but it still needed to be said. I needed to say it.”
He hesitated for a few seconds, making sue he was being honest with how he felt. “I appreciate it McGee.” He wasn’t sure he was all the way to forgiveness yet, but he was close.
There was a bit of an awkward pause, before McGee asked, “Abby said you’re a guide now?”
“Yeah. I came online about a week after I left DC.”
“Aren’t you a little old for coming online?”
Tony pulled the phone away to glare at it for a second. “Thanks, McGoo. I’m only above the upper age for a new guide by about two years, so it’s not that shocking.”
“And you already have a sentinel… are you happy about everything?”
“Yeah… I really am. Things turned out for the best, I think. Even if it didn’t seem like it when I left DC.” And wasn’t that the truth. There was no way he could have seen that this is what would become of the wreckage of his life.
“I’m happy for you, Tony. Things aren’t the same here without you… I just… I miss having you around.”
Letting go of the melancholy feelings this call had stirred up, Tony found himself smiling. “Are we gonna express sentiments here, McEmo?”
McGee laughed. “I never thought I’d be happy to hear you mangling my name.”
Jack’s hand slid around the back of his neck and gave it a squeeze. Tony relaxed back in his chair, appreciating the contact, and continued his discussion with McGee. The talk was a bit of tap dance because they avoided talking about what happened before he left, or Ziva or Abby, but Tony felt a little better about things by the time he hung up. At least his probie was going to pull out of this situation okay.
“You all right?” Jack asked, taking a seat on the bed.
“Yeah, I’m good. Better, even.”
Tony laughed. “I’ve been abusing McGee’s last name since I met him, he wouldn’t know what to do if I stopped.”
Smirking, Jack asked, “So, you want to go back to whatever you were doing, or talk about some logistical crap?”
Tony laughed. “How can I turn down something as scintillating as ‘logistical crap’?”
Jack chuckled as he held out a piece of paper for Tony to review. It was a summary of the functions of every floor of the complex, including some things on the surface that they shared with NORAD. Several levels were highlighted and one level was circled in red.
“Uh, thank you?” Tony said flashing his sentinel a look.
“NCIS sent all the standard gear for setting up a small field office. We need to decide where to put it. The highlighted floors are ones that have space you could occupy for the NCIS/AFOSI office. The floor circled is where the Pride space will be.”
“Oh.” Tony looked through things more closely. They were converting space for the Pride on seventeen, which was primarily open and used for storage or converted for other purposes as needed. There was going to be a meditation room slash lounge area, and up to three bonding suites, though they were starting with just one. Actually, if he read these notes right, the Pride rooms were already available.
On the topic of his office, Tony quickly contemplated the pros and cons of where to put the NCIS office and quickly made a decision. “Twenty-two,” he said decisively.
Jack blinked, then grinned. “If you’re trying to get me hot and bothered by your ability to not dither, mission accomplished.”
Laughing, Tony set the list aside then tackled his sentinel onto the bed. His lips settled over Jack’s, kissing until they were breathless. “Now that I know you get turned on by decisiveness, I’ll be sure to make lots of decisions.”
His sentinel was busy getting them undressed again. “Less talking, more deciding.”
Tony was laughing so hard Jack had to do most of the disrobing effort.
Later, they met up with the rest of SG-1 for lunch in the officer’s mess, which was a little less crowded than the main dining area, so was easier on Jack. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, though Teal’c was pretty much the same as always. Toward the end of the meal, they decided to try a trial separation, so Tony stayed with the other team members while Jack went to meet with General Hammond for a few minutes.
Then the whole team, plus eight Marines, went to Jack’s house. Whatever damage there had been was cleared up and the front door repaired. Tony half expected a bloody back yard, but a couple inches of snow had fallen and wiped away the evidence of the morning before.
His sentinel’s tension mounted the longer they stayed there, which made Tony want to hit something. They were going to find who was behind this and why, and then Tony was kicking someone’s ass, because Jack should not be feeling this way about his own home!
Jack was clearly ready to let Tony have as much time as he wanted to get things together, but Tony hustled them through, delegating work to everyone including a couple Marines, then got them out of there.
Jack stared at the Airman standing at attention across from his desk and tried to hold on to his temper. “I seem to recall a memo stating that spirit animals might on occasion be seen on base. Do you not see that memo, Airman?”
“Yes, sir, but-“
“And if memory serves,” Jack continued, ignoring the Airman’s attempt to communicate, “that memo clearly said that they would always be in the company of a sentinel or guide, and that there was no way for wild animals to get in the mountain. Do you remember that part of the memo?”
Airman Tucker stared straight ahead. “Yes, sir.”
Bracing his hands on his desk, Jack leaned forward and yelled, “So what would possess you to open fire in a science lab and shoot a raccoon?”
“It was a raccoon, sir!” Tucker said imploringly, seeming a little freaked.
“Exactly! A raccoon. And a small one at that!” Jack mentally summoned Gretzky, hoping the tiger would choose to be visible. When the Airman nearly leapt out of his skin, Jack considered it a win. “If you’d shot at my nearly half-ton tiger, it would have at least made sense! Not that you are ever allowed to shoot my tiger,” he ended on a growl which was echoed much more loudly by the tiger in question.
When the Airman started to say something, Jack held up a hand. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t know if you’re raccoon phobic, or if you’re just anti-raccoon, or maybe you just want Major Carter pissed at you, but it’s never acceptable to open fire on this base unless there’s a clear and present danger. And a small mammal in a science lab does not qualify!”
Jack really didn’t want to hear anything else. He wasn’t sure if Tucker was going to survive at the SGC with these kinds of decision-making skills. “Restricted to limits for two weeks, plus extra duties as assigned by Major Carter. And I think it’s safe to assume that she’s going to be holding a bit of a grudge. Dismissed.”
Once he was alone, except for Gretzky, Jack flopped back in his chair and scrubbed his hands over his face. What a fucked up day. First, it was a Monday, and Mondays just sucked. Second, he was trying to get back into the swing of things after weeks away, plus the holidays, plus his week of nesting. Third, he was struggling with not having his guide in his line of sight because Tony was off working on his field qualifications. Fourth, he had an upset teammate to deal with whose spirit guide had vanished after being shot, and the two people best suited to help her, Alex and Tony, were both in the same place running obstacle courses and shooting guns.
He was pretty sure spirit animals didn’t actually die, but had no idea what to say to Carter to reassure her. In the end, he’d called Blair and made a run for it in case things got more emotional. Daniel was there, too, so Jack didn’t feel like he could help the situation at all. Teal’c was involved with assessing the incoming candidates, so he wouldn’t be back until Tony was back.
Reluctantly, he headed to see Hammond. The general’s aide just waved Jack through to Hammond’s office. They had many things to review and the situation with the spirit animals was just a small part of it.
When they got to that portion of the conversation, Hammond looked thoughtful. “We knew if they decided to be visible that there might be some complications.”
Jack nodded. “Agreed, sir, but I’m not sure how I feel about people in this program who will fly off the handle in panic at the sight of a raccoon.”
“I can’t argue with that. I’m going to speak to Airman Tucker personally, but he might be a better fit at Area 51. But I’d also like to speak to Agent DiNozzo and you about common sense guidelines for spirit guides on base.”
“Yes, sir.” That they were having this conversation seemed surreal to Jack.
“In regards to the events on Saturday, I spoke with Dr. Sandburg first thing this morning in regards to the potential correlation between the NID and the rogue faction of the Council. I then spoke with the President directly, because if there’s another plot in the NID, he needs to get ahead of it. He was clear that this was not a sanctioned effort and that he’d make sure the NID was emphatically informed.”
Jack sighed. “Officially warning the NID to police a faction they don’t officially acknowledge sounds about as useful as warning a crocodile not to eat the family pets.” When the general just gave him a look, Jack held up his hands in surrender. “I get it. It’s the best we can do.”
They talked about a few other issues, before the general tapped a folder on his desk. “I have the results of this mornings’ firearms qualification tests,” Hammond offered blandly.
“That kind of tease is beneath you, sir,” Jack commented and succeeded in getting a small quirk of the lips from the general.
Instead of replying, the general just passed over the folder. Jack tried to hide his eagerness, but promptly forgot why as soon as he started scanning the results. They tested recruits with three weapons, handgun, a sniper rifle and a PDW, typically the P90.
Jack’s brows shot up. Tony tested fourth out of his group of eighteen with the P90, he was first in his group with a handgun, even out shooting Vincent. But the real surprise was that Tony came in second with a sniper rifle, this time coming in right behind the sentinel.
“Whoa,” Jack commented, feeling inordinately proud of his guide.
“If he continues to perform to this level, I’ll authorize Gate travel immediately, and I’d like to get SG-1 back into rotation as soon as you feel the team is ready. I spoke with Commander Lain and he feels that with the training you’ve undergone in Peru, that the two of you should only need a trial-run to the alpha site to ensure that your senses can handle the, as he termed it ‘overwhelming input’ that comes with going through the Stargate. I’d prefer you try to make that trip happen this week.”
Jack nodded, feeling anxious to get back to business as usual, but a little trepidation about taking his guide out to face the typical mayhem of SG-1.
He wrapped the meeting with Hammond and headed back to Carter’s lab, to see how things were going, forcing himself not to think about Tony going through hand-to-hand evaluations. The thought of someone beating up his guide made him a little crazy. He had to carefully keep himself from trying to track Tony with his senses, because Tony was up on the surface, and he could only safely try to hear through that much concrete with his guide to ground him.
Carter was working furiously on some gizmo and Daniel was hovering. Though he wasn’t actually close to her, his whole attitude had ‘hovering’ all over it. “What’d Blair have to say?”
Quickly getting up, Daniel pulled Jack out in to the hall. “He said that it’s something he and Tony have discussed a few times… that when the animals are at their most visible, they’re also the most tangible. So, if they want to feel like living breathing animals, they become visible to everyone. If they’re visible only to the sentinel or guide, they don’t have as much tangible substance except on the spirit plane.”
Jack vaguely remembered Tony talking about something like that, but when Tony got his shaman stuff going, Jack sort of tuned out, sort of like when Carter was talked about corona mass emissions – and he would never have remembered those words if he hadn’t had to live that day over and over!
“So, does that mean her little buddy is… actually I don’t even know what to ask.”
Daniel gave him the patented exasperated-with-Jack look. “Blair theorized that if a spirit animal has become fully tangible, probably for the benefit of their human, that if they were to sustain damage, they’d have to go back to the spirit plane to reenergize.”
“So, not dead?” Jack asked, trying to get Daniel to the point.
“No, Jack,” Daniel said on a sigh, “it’s highly unlikely a spirit animal can die. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Gretzky doesn’t spend all his time here. Blair and Tony think that there’s a finite amount of time they can spend here, and the more tangible, the less time.”
“And again with the, ‘so, not dead?’”
Giving Jack the hairy eyeball, Daniel said, “I don’t think so. But when Tony gets back, he should be able to confirm.”
Jack leaned to the side to peer into he lab where Carter was banging things around more than getting anything done. “I have Airman Tucker reporting for extra duties, but I think that may need to wait a day.”
“Yeah. I think she might hurl things at his head. She’s still getting used to being a guide, Jack, but I have no doubt the best part for her was the spirit animal. Sam’s really attached already.”
He didn’t really want to talk about Carter’s attachments, but he recognized that sending Airman Tucker her way right now wasn’t the best idea. “Maybe sending Tucker now would be therapeutic for Carter,” he mused out loud.
“Not funny, Jack.”
Jack just shrugged, because he found the idea kind of amusing.
A few hours later, while he was buried in a sea of never-ending paperwork, his senses were suddenly easily able to track his guide, who was nearing Jack’s position. His whole being seemed to relax as his guide drew closer. There was a tap at the door a few seconds later.
“Come on in, Tony,” he called out as he started shuffling things into some sort of order so he could end this day. When he looked up, he blinked and started to jump up, but Tony was already waving him down.
“I’m fine. It’s just a black eye. Zigged when I should have zagged.” Tony looked tired, but then again, he’d looked tired since before they returned from Peru. He was actually looking much better than two days ago, black eye and all.
Jack growled a little, but subsided when Tony stared him down.
“I’m gonna get banged up sometimes, Jack.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Something suddenly occurred to him. “Sit. Let me just look up something real quick and we can go.” He looked through his email, finding the final standings for the physical qualifications in his inbox. “You want to know how you did?”
Tony’s brows shot up. “You can tell me that?”
“Anyone who wants to know their results can find out, but not usually the first day,” Jack replied with a grin.
Settling back in his chair, Tony smirked. “Perks of my sentinel being the boss.”
Jack just shook his head. “Okay, so you placed second in firearms.”
“Really?” Tony looked shocked.
“Yup. And in H2H you ranked seventh.”
Tony looked surprised again. “I didn’t think I’d done that well. Teal’c is… well, let’s just stay I only last about five minutes.”
“You lasted five minutes? That’s… impressive, actually.”
Tony frowned. “You don’t think he was taking it easy on me, do you?”
Jack shook his head. “Teal’c doesn’t have it in him.” He went back to his email to look for some more specifics. “Huh. Teal’c ranked you third, but he doesn’t make the final call. The evaluator ranked you seventh because of lack of technique.” He shot Tony an inquiring look.
“Hey, I’m scrappy not a kung fu master,” hands up to ward off the question.
Nodding absently, Jack made a mental note to check into how they were evaluating candidates, not because he thought Tony’s rating was unfair, but because scrappy kept you alive when you were off planet, while perfect technique did not.
He looked back at his guide. “There are several fitness criteria you’re rated on, but we care most about weapons and unarmed combat. When everything was put together, you ranked fourth.”
Tony nearly choked. “Really? Huh. All that time running around in the jungle was good for something besides empathic Olympics. Come on, let’s get out of here. I’m still psyching myself up for tomorrow’s psych evaluation and the aptitude testing, and I want to get you alone so we can engage in some classic avoidance behaviors,” he said, getting to his feet.
Jack suddenly remembered the drama of the day. “We need to track down Carter. One of the SFs passing her lab saw her raccoon and shot at it.”
“What?” Tony exclaimed, plopping back in the chair.
“He apparently has some sort of raging hatred of raccoons, or maybe all small mammals, I don’t know, but Carter reported seeing the animal obviously wounded right before it disappeared.”
“Let me guess, she’s worried that her spirit guide is dead?”
“Jesus,” he said, getting back to his feet. “Let’s go. Or do you want me to meet you back in our room?”
Jack really wanted to avoid the sentimentality that was about to happen, but now that he had his guide in his sights, he really didn’t want Tony going away again. And he really did want to make sure Carter was okay.
Tony came around the desk and leaned down to give Jack a kiss. “How about you give me a ten minute head start, then come find me. That way you can miss most of the rampant emotionalism.”
Laughing, Jack managed to pull Tony down for another kiss before shooing him away. “You’re the best guide ever.”
“You’re not going to think that for long. I set up our first Pride gathering, including the empathic linking, for tomorrow night, and you have to be there.”
Jack dropped his head on his desk and groaned.
NID – National Intelligence Department (Fictional)
PDW – Personal Defense Weapon
H2H – Hand to Hand
Tony paced around the Pride area, trying to get his agitation under control. He had to be calm before people started arriving. “I feel like Tony Curtis in The Great Impostor.”
“You’re actually a shaman and an alpha, Tony. Ferdinand Demara wasn’t any of the things he pretended to be,” Alex commented wryly from where he was lounging on one of the sofas.
He halted in his orbit and blinked at Alex. It was rare that someone got his movie references. “I’ve been an alpha for barely a month!”
“That’s not all that uncommon. Many alphas want to link to their Pride quickly, then expand as time moves on. Even Martin and Gibbs are linking Pride members, albeit a bit slowly. You just happen to have a readymade Pride.”
“Are you okay with this? If you want to link later, I’m fine with that.”
Alex’s brows shot up in surprise.
“I mean, I know you and Morgan are close, and this can’t be the easiest thing…”
“Tony, sit down before you wear a hole in the carpet.” After Tony sat, Alex leaned forward and gave him a searching look. “It’s in our nature to want to be part of a Pride and linked to an alpha pair. You’re at a bit of a disadvantage because you came online as a shaman, and so obviously a future alpha, plus you weren’t unbonded long enough to feel a strong need to link into a Pride.
“The sentinels and guides here have been without an alpha. Many of them for several years. Some carry weak tethers to their prior alpha, but it’s not the same. I think the fact that you’re doing this so soon is a good thing. And Vincent and I have no reservations about linking to you. None. Nothing about this changes my friendship with Morgan, so stop worrying about it.”
“Gah!” Tony pulled at his hair. “I haven’t even met all my Pride yet.”
“Well, that’s why we’re having a meet and greet ahead of time. Your shaman aura is compelling, Tony. As soon as these people meet you, they’re going to be fine. And you know anyone who’d rather link later can choose to leave.”
Tony closed his eyes and tried to center himself. People would start arriving soon and he didn’t want to be agitated and freaked out. “Maybe scheduling this on the same day I had to do his psych eval wasn’t the best idea ever,” Tony mumbled.
“Ouch,” Alex commented wryly. “I noticed these guys are really thorough in prepping for these evals. My examiner knew everything about my time in the military.”
“Yeah. Clearly my NCIS file was an open book to these folks. Though they had less information about what’s gone on since I came online, because they didn’t ask too many questions about how things went down in DC. The S&G Center and the Council were not as forthcoming as NCIS, I guess.”
Alex got to his feet. “We’ve got ten minutes or so before people start arriving. Let’s meditate and get you in the right headspace for this.”
A few minutes later, Tony was feeling more centered and ready to meet his Pride. He’d met a few people already, but of the twenty-nine people in his Pride, including Vincent, Alex and Sam, he’d met maybe seven. There were six bonded pairs, plus Vincent and Alex, twelve unbonded guides, and three unbonded sentinels.
“Better?” Alex asked.
Tony opened his eyes and gave a half smile. “Yeah. I still feel under qualified for this, but I’m gonna give it my best shot.” He got to his feet and surveyed the room. The space was large, with lots of places to sit and a huge open area. It wasn’t what he’d call perfect, but it was a good start.
Before he could get worked up again, the first couple people arrived, and Tony let himself get immersed in meeting the sentinels and guides who would be linked to him and Jack before the end of the night.
Sam and Jack arrived together. She seemed in better spirits, and Tony assumed that her spirit guide had made an appearance at some point. Tony had gone to the spirit plane the night before and confirmed that the little raccoon was there. She’d been quite affectionate with Tony, and he could only conclude that he and Blair were correct that spirit animals re-charged on the spirit plane, as weird as that seemed.
Jack pulled him aside. “You okay?”
Tony blinked at his sentinel in surprise. He was pretty sure he was containing all his anxiety. “Yeah. Just a little nervous.”
“That’s not what I meant. You got really angry about the time you were in with the shrink today.”
Glancing away, Tony forced himself not to get angry again. “He got pretty invasive, and knew entirely too much about me. I’ll get over it.”
Jack gave him a look.
“Seriously, I need it out of my head if I’m going to do this tonight. We can talk about it later.” Maybe he should have re-scheduled the link for another time, but he also felt strongly that he needed to start drawing their Pride together.
Looking a little dubious, Jack replied, “Yeah, okay.” The sentinel looked like he was going to say something else, but Vincent arrived, followed by about a dozen more people.
Tony was good with people, so it was easy to get in the groove of chatting with people, dragging his snarky sentinel along as he worked the room. Alex’s prediction was pretty much spot on that people seemed to relax quickly after they met him, and no one seemed inclined to leave. His passive empathy was wide open, and he didn’t detect any discomfort from anyone.
After Tony had met everyone, and the atmosphere had settled into something comfortable, Tony excused himself for a few minutes to get ready for the Pride link. He went next door to the bonding suite, and was immediately back to pacing again, as he tried to get himself centered.
The last few days had been extremely difficult, and he could justifiably put off setting up the Pride’s empathic links, but he knew that the sentinels and guides at the SGC were already feeling adrift, and it didn’t help that their new alphas had been attacked a few days before and the Pride link wasn’t really there to reassure them. Knowing and feeling were really two different things.
Jack would have been happy to keep Tony company, mostly to get out of having to socialize in the Pride space, but Tony needed the few minutes alone to get his nerves under control. He knew the theory of what he was about to do, but he’d never experienced it in any way. Hell, he’d only been a guide for three months!
Ruthlessly, he pushed down any feelings of inadequacy or nerves. When he built the empathic web for the Pride to connect to, he didn’t want to be broadcasting neurotic insecure feelings at everyone.
Gattino appeared in front of him and almost caused him to trip. Tony smiled and dropped to one knee, hugging the tiger. “Hey, boy,” he whispered. The tiger chuffed at him and nuzzled against his neck. “I guess if you’re back, then Maggie’s back?”
When he’d trekked to the spirit plane last night to check on the raccoon, he’d asked Gattino to stay with her until she could return. It was probably silly, but it made Sam feel better. And in the interim, Sam had decided to name the little critter Maggie.
Gattino’s presence was what Tony needed to settle his mind down. There were thirty people in the next room, and it was time for him to step up to the plate. With the same kind of focus Tony had at the start of an undercover assignment, he took a deep breath and directed his mind toward work. Gattino disappeared, seemingly knowing that Tony wasn’t ready to introduce him yet.
Just as Tony was reaching for the door, Jack stepped into the room. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I just needed to clear my head. I don’t want to broadcast nerves all over everyone.”
Jack ran his fingers through his hair. “And all I have to do is stay in contact?”
Tony fought off a smile. “Just keep your hand on my back or something. But remember that our bond is the anchor, so just stay relaxed when you suddenly become aware of everyone else in the room. It won’t last long.”
“I still have no idea what any of that means,” Jack muttered with a touch of petulance.
Tony gave a wry laugh. “Me either, Jack. I’ve never done this before. Did the sentinels get enough time to get a basic sensory imprint?” Part of the purpose of the socializing, other than just getting to know each other, was that the sentinels would automatically catalogue Pride members, and the quickest way was when they were all together.
Jack nodded, then hedged a bit. “Two of the sentinels didn’t get to you yet, because they just arrived, but they’ll no doubt do it while you’re doing your shaman mojo.”
They headed back to the Pride space, and everyone got quiet and turned to face him. Tony just offered a grin and rubbed his hands together. “Shall we get this show on the road?”
He directed his sentinel toward the center of the room. Tony’s new Pride consisted of seven bonded pairs, twelve unbonded guides and three unbonded sentinels, for a total of twenty-nine, thirty-one with him and Jack.
He could tell which guides and sentinels had prior contact with a strong Pride because they immediately got into comfortable positions, most of them choosing to sit in the open space on the floor.
To those who looked less certain, Tony made a vague gesture around the room. “Sit wherever you’re comfortable.” Tony dropped down on the floor. He needed to be in the center of the room and sitting on a chair in an open space was a little weird.
Alex had been pretty adamant that he and Vincent were going to sit near the perimeter of the room, even though Tony had wanted them nearby in case Tony started to screw up. Alex had just given Tony a look and reiterated that he’d sit on the perimeter.
While everyone got comfortable, Tony focused on infusing his aura with calming soothing feelings, then let the barrier down slowly. They’d discovered on a particularly memorable training session in Cascade that Tony could only thin his aura shield by about a third or it was overwhelming and the affect went further than he wanted. Needless to say, Morgan had not been happy when Tony had gotten the entire Center mellow and happy accidentally.
Eyes closed, he grounded himself in his bond with Jack and let his empathy out enough to keep tabs on the room. As soon as the room was settled, he withdrew his aura slowly. He could feel the anticipation and sense of expectation from the people in the room.
He only had a vague idea of what he was doing. Blair had given him some basic instruction, but said it was mostly instinctual and the method varied a bit from alpha to alpha. Slowly, he let his empathy out to begin getting an empathic impression of everyone in the room, one person at a time. He needed his empathy to be strong enough to build the connections, but not so strong that he’d start reading everyone in the mountain.
In his mind, he began to build an empathic map of his Pride that looked a lot like a web. He visualized building connections from every person to every person, so each of them would always recognize the others as Pride. At first it was slow going, but then the connections began to build faster and faster until he had every one set in his mind. Finally, he made sure to infuse Jack into the web, building a strong connection between the Pride and the alpha sentinel.
When he was sure he had built the links to the best of his ability, he visualized lowering the web over his Pride. The rest was up to the individuals, they could acknowledge the links and grab on to them, or push them away.
Those who were bonded latched on first, followed by the unbonded guides, and finally the unbonded sentinels, who had to work the hardest to grab onto an empathic link.
He wasn’t exactly surprised that everyone accepted the linking, but he still felt startled that it happened so quickly. Everyone’s emotions were wide open to him in this process, but he tried not to examine them, or zero in on anyone. He felt a lot of astonishment, but didn’t try to track it to the source or figure out why. No doubt suddenly feeling connected to thirty other people would create a reaction. The only person’s emotions he let himself read were Jack’s, but his sentinel was so focused on grounding Tony, that the emotional tone was steady and even.
Slowly, he pulled his empathy back, noting that a few of the guides held on like Sam had. He gently, but insistently disengaged and gradually put all his barriers back in place.
Tony blinked, the room swimming into focus, then he was grateful he was seated because he was suddenly so fucking tired.
“Whoa,” Jack said, bracing him as he started tilting. “What’s going on?”
Alex hunkered down in front of him. “I’m sure you’re wiped. Let’s get you back to your quarters. The rest of the Pride will probably want to hang out for a bit.”
Tony thought to protest, but he was pretty sure if he didn’t find his bed soon, he was going to fall asleep right there, sprawled out on the carpet.
Jack was concerned as he helped Tony stagger to his feet. No one had warned him that this was going to drive his guide to exhaustion. He let Joyce and Lain help him get Tony back to their room. He was pretty sure Tony actually fell asleep against him on the eight-floor ride down to their quarters.
He shot Joyce a look and whispered, “Do we need to be stopping by the infirmary?”
The other guide shook his head, but whispered sentinel-soft, “No, but we should talk after he’s asleep.”
Jack frowned, but nodded. Once they were at Jack’s quarters, Joyce quickly helped Jack wrestle Tony out of his clothes, down to his boxers, and into bed. Jack was a little alarmed because he’d never seen Tony this tired. If the Goa’uld invaded, he was pretty sure Tony would sleep through it.
They moved as far form the bed as they could and the other sentinel and guide were exchanging a look. Jack arched a brow, waiting for an explanation.
Very softly, Joyce began with, “One thing we noticed shortly into Tony’s guide training was that it’s best not to tell him specifically how to do something. He instinctively seems to know how to do certain things, or would naturally do them differently than is customary. Sometimes trying to get him to do things in the ‘customary’ way was counterproductive. We settled into a method of giving him general direction and letting him feel his way through. Often, he does things instinctively no one’s ever thought to try; at least, that we know of.”
“And that relates to tonight, how?”
“Most alphas link to a few people at a time, and the tether to the alpha allows the guides to build connections to the rest of the Pride. Tony dropped an empathic web over the entire Pride, all at once, with everyone connected to everyone else.” Joyce paused, and rubbed his hand over his face. “Frankly, I’ve never heard of anything like it. Only a shaman would even have a chance of doing it, from a strength perspective. I’d have to ask Blair, but I’m not even sure it would occur to him to try it. But there’s no doubt it would exhaust him.”
Jack blew out a breath, not sure what to make of it. He didn’t really get the intricacies of what guides were capable of, much less shamans, despite being there for some of Tony’s training. “Just tell me if he’s okay.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine after some sleep. I’d like to do an empathic scan in the morning to make sure.”
“You can’t do it tonight?”
“Unless it were an emergency, I wouldn’t scan Tony without his permission. Also, since his shaman training, he’s hard to scan unless he relaxes his shields.”
Fighting the urge to keep his guide under lock and key, Jack tried to remember what Tony was doing tomorrow. “He’s setting up his office tomorrow, I think. So if he needs extra rest, it shouldn’t be a problem. We’re scheduled for the alpha site on Thursday, so I need to know ASAP if we need to push it.” The alpha site trip was contingent on Tony’s clearance for Gate travel, but Jack should know that first thing tomorrow as well.
Lain nodded, accepting this was a command issue and not just a Pride concern. “We’ll make sure you know as early as possible.”
Jack had a few more question, then the other pair left to return to the Pride to handle anything that came up in Tony and Jack’s stead. Jack got ready for bed, then climbed in with his guide, pulling Tony close. “You can’t do anything the easy way, can you?” he whispered against Tony’s hair.
The next morning, Tony was still zonked when Jack was ready to leave. He sat on the bed and watched his guide sleep. Tony was sprawled out on his stomach, face half buried in the pillows. The bond was quiet and peaceful. He trailed his fingers down the sensitive spine, a little surprised when Tony arched into his touch and let out a little moan.
“If you’re doing that and you’re already dressed and ready to leave, I’m going to hurt you,” Tony grumbled.
Jack laughed, but continued teasing the soft skin of his guide’s back. “I was just about to go.”
“You prick.” Belying the words, Tony moved into Jack’s hand like a cat being petted. “What time is it?”
“Damn.” Tony struggled to a seated position, scrubbing his hands over his face. “I need to get up.” He suddenly paused and blinked a few times. “Wait. I don’t even remember getting back here last night. Did I finish the Pride linking?”
“Yeah. Made you tired.”
Tony frowned, biting his lip. “Blair said it could be a little fatiguing, but he didn’t say it would drop me. Did I screw up?”
Jack instantly decided to let Joyce handle how to broach this. “You did good, Tony. But Joyce is going to be by in a bit to make sure you’re okay.”
After a moment of apparent confusion, Tony rolled his eyes. “I think you missed the chapter in the man code where when a guy has a girl’s last name, you’re obligated to call him by his given name. That said, I’m fine. No need for Alex to babysit.”
Grinning, Jack replied, “I’ll let you pass that message along.”
Jack reeled his guide in for a quick kiss, then nuzzled his neck briefly, getting as much of Tony’s scent as possible, before forcing himself to leave.
Tony surveyed the chaos that would be his new office. He had two Airmen helping him get some stuff sorted out, but Tony was too particular about his work space to delegate most of the tasks. After they wrapped up what Tony was willing to accept help on, his two helpers left, leaving Tony with hours of organizing still to do.
Deciding to put off the rest until the afternoon, Tony headed out to get some caffeine and check on Carter. She’d been through a lot of changes lately and he wanted to ensure that she was all right. He should probably also check in on some of the other members of his Pride and see how they were adjusting after the Pride link.
Two cups of coffee in hand, he cautiously peered into a lab that made Abby’s workspace seem simple. Carter had her back to the door, working on something, with Maggie perched at the end of the worktable. There was an Airman standing at attention at the edge of the room.
“Hey, Sam,” Tony said cautiously. “This a bad time?”
Carter turned and gave him a big smile. “Hi, Tony.” She immediately crossed to him, taking note of the coffee. “I’m so hoping one of those is for me.”
“Yep.” He passed her one of the cups. “Wasn’t sure if you allow liquids in your lab or not.”
“Only on this table, but I couldn’t make it without caffeine.” She took a sip, giving him a contemplative look. “Are you all right?”
“Me?” he asked with some incredulity. “I’m fine. I came to check on you, actually, but since you have company maybe I could stop by later?”
Carter shot a dark look over her shoulder at the Airman still standing at attention. “Airman Tucker is just waiting for me to decide what his extra duties will be for the next two weeks.”
Tony straightened up abruptly and set his coffee down before advancing into the lab. “You’re the one who shot a spirit guide?” he asked, trying to keep his calm.
“Yes, sir. It won’t happen again,” Tucker replied woodenly.
“It better not,” Tony nearly growled. Wanting some reassurance of the man’s sincerity, Tony let his empathy out and gave a quick scan. Something wasn’t right, but the investigator in Tony knew better than to react. He gave the Airman a stiff nod and returned to Carter.
“Hey, let me write down my schedule for the rest of the day and you can come find me when you have time,” he said nonchalantly.
Giving him a slightly perplexed look, she handed him a piece of paper and he scribbled out a note. –Keep him here, no matter what. Don’t act any differently. I need to call Jack.–
Taking the note, she glanced at it, then tucked it in her pocket with out any outward reaction. “All right. I’ll catch up with you later. I need to finish a small project and then sort out Airman Tucker’s duties.”
A few minutes later, Tony found a phone and asked to be transferred to Jack.
“O’Neill,” Jack answered brusquely.
“Jack, I need you to come up to Sam Carter’s lab, stat. And if Vincent is around, bring him, too. Just act like nothing’s up.”
“On my way,” Jack said quickly and hung up. Tony was a little gratified that Jack hadn’t asked him for any justification, just done what Tony asked. He leaned back against the wall down a ways from Carter’s domain, and drank his coffee while waiting for the two sentinels. He focused on trying to get his impressions in order so he could brief
It was a little over five minutes before Jack came around the corner with both Vincent and Alex. Tony guided them a little further away.
“What’s going on, Tony?”
“Airman Tucker,” Tony said baldly. “Something’s not right there.”
Frowning, Jack glanced down the hall towards Carter’s lab. “In what way?”
“His emotional tone is all wrong. He’s so freaked out by raccoons that he opens fire in a lab, yet he’s not displaying any nerves toward Maggie sitting ten feet from him? His emotional landscape has some trepidation, but also a lot of annoyance. The only fear or nerves were directed at me. Jack, the investigator in me says something isn’t right about this situation. For him to go off the rails to such a degree, he should be terrified or freaked out by having to be in there right now. And–”
Jack held up a hand. “You don’t have to convince me, Tony. If you tell me there’s a problem, we’ll take care of it.”
Tony blinked, not used to not having to work harder to sell his theories.
“Why’d you want me to bring Commander Lain?”
Staying on task, Tony quickly replied, “Despite our intensive in the jungle, you’re pretty new to reading deception markers, thought we might need another impression.”
Jack nodded looking thoughtful. “Let’s go put an Airman on the spot and see what he lets slip.”
Jack and Vincent led the way and Tony glanced at Alex, who nodded. Tony knew he’d be scanning Tucker as well.
When the four of them entered Carter’s lab, Carter just stepped back, but Tucker panicked. Outwardly he was stoic, but his emotions left no doubt that he was freaking out about the four of them.
“So,” Jack said casually, leaning against one of the tables, arms crossed over his chest, “when I questioned you about discharging your firearm you were genuinely anxious and nervous. It didn’t occur to me to question what you were anxious about.”
“Sir?” Tucker said stiffly, displaying no outward reaction.
“You want to tell me why it is that you weren’t even a little bothered by the presence of Major Carter’s spirit guide earlier when Agent DiNozzo was here?”
Tony felt the anxiety spike at the question, but Tucker was staying cool outwardly.
Jack shook his head, making a tsk’ing sound. “The thing is, Airman, I can smell the nerves on you, but you’re not reacting physically. Remarkable restraint for a man who can’t stop himself from shooting into a lab.”
The Airman didn’t reply.
Straightening up, Jack leaned forward a touch, making his posture more aggressive. “Tell me why you shot Major Carter’s spirit guide.”
“I told you, sir, it startled me.”
Tony could feel the lie, but kept quiet, letting Jack handle it. Jack exchanged a quick look with Vincent, who nodded.
“The thing, Airman,” Jack said tightly, “is that we can smell the lie on you. So, again, why did you shoot at a spirit guide?”
The Airman continued to deny, no matter how hard Jack pressed. Suddenly Tony made one of his intuitive leaps and said, “Were you ordered to shoot a spirit animal?”
The emotional spike told Tony the answer was yes, and apparently the sentinels could smell it. Tucker shot Maggie on someone’s order.
“Someone in this command make that order?” Jack asked in a dangerous tone.
The lessening of Tucker’s anxiety said that, no, it wasn’t someone in the SGC command.
Jack nearly growled as he looked over at Carter, who was looking homicidal. “Major, please call the SF’s. Airman Tucker is going to be waiting in the stockade while we find out everything there is to know about him and everyone he’s ever known.”
Jack and Vincent kept the Airman corralled to the back of the lab while they were waiting for the SF’s. Tony kept his empathy open, wanting a heads up if Tucker started to feel more desperate.
Half an hour later, Tucker was gone and Jack was just finishing a quick call to General Hammond. He rejoined the rest of them, looking frustrated. “I need to report to the general in person. This is a complication we don’t need.” He gave Tony a speculative look. “What made you think it was an order?”
“I was just noodling on his motivation and couldn’t come up with anything that fit with his level of restraint. I mean, no matter how panicked he was as you were asking him questions, he never flinched. Which means his act for you over the shooting was totally affected.”
Jack considered for a moment before replying, “I’d have said his nerves were real.”
“Oh, I think they probably were. Nerves over being discovered, in all likelihood. But acting nervous? That’s the part I think was affected.”
“Fair enough. And so you leapt to an order?”
“Well, what would be the motivation for shooting a spirit guide? If not fear, then it would have to be to see if they can be damaged in a tangible way. I can’t think of any other reason. If he’s not the sort with impulse control issues, that means it wasn’t his own curiosity being satisfied.”
Jack just nodded, clearly mulling over the problem. “Okay. I need to talk to the general. I know you’ve got things to do today, but can you work with Carter to look into Tucker’s history and associates.”
Tony’s brows shot up. “Um, you do know that a mole in your command would come under the purview of Special Investigations, so it’s sort of my job.”
Jack perked up a bit and flashed Tony a grin. “Right. We have an investigator now. Good. Great.” He made a shooing motion. “Go investigate. Carter can help you.”
Alex offered to stay and help, even if he didn’t have much investigative background, but Vincent went with Jack.
Tony took a moment to take stock of the situation. “Hmm…” he mused. “It’s my first real day as Agent Afloat and I have a major investigation to deal with. I can tell this isn’t going to be boring.” He didn’t even bring up the worrying implications about someone using said mole to poke into sentinel and guide matters. He had to treat this like a case.
Alex gave him an amused look. “Maybe we should call you Agent Under the Mountain?”
Snorting in amusement, Tony looked to Carter, who had her arm around her raccoon. “My office is not set up,” he began.
Carter held up a hand. “Plenty of space here.” She pointed him to one of her computers.
“All righty,” Tony said wiggling his fingers over the keyboard. He felt himself slipping into investigator mode. “Let’s see if we can’t figure out who’s pulling the strings of this particular puppet.”
NID – National Intelligence Department (Fictional)
PDW – Personal Defense Weapon
H2H – Hand to Hand