The Journey Home – Chapters 16-18

Title: The Journey Home – Chapters 16-18
Author: Jilly James
Beta: Naelany & IcefallsTears
Return to main story page

– – – –

Chapter Sixteen

The meeting had barely started, and Blair was giving an overview of how Tony heard Jack calling, but he was so distracted by Major Carter, he could barely keep coherency. And Tony’s hand kept clenching in his lap, telegraphing how much the major was getting to him, too.

Blair conceded they couldn’t have a productive meeting this way, and nearly sighed. This meeting was never going to really get going. He stopped in the middle of his sentence and took a calming breath. “Major Carter, I need you to stop using your guide gifts. It’s causing us,” he gestured to himself and Tony, “distress, and it’s going to negatively affect this meeting.”

The woman reared back as if she’d been slapped. “Excuse me Guide Sandburg, but I made the decision years ago to not use my gifts, as you call them, and I’ve never wavered from that decision.”

Blair exchanged a look with Tony, then shifted tactics. “I see. Then you’re doing it unintentionally, but either way it needs to stop.”

General Hammond leaned forward. “What is the problem, Dr. Sandburg?”

Glancing back at Carter, Blair let his empathy play for a second. He detected no small amount of confusion plus a healthy dose of indignation as well as threads of panic. “General, I’m sorry to delay the start of the meeting again. I realize this is inconvenient, but I think I need a few moments alone with Major Carter to see if I can help her rein in a gift she’s not aware she’s using. Perhaps she and I can step out in the hallway?”

Carter looked like she wanted to strenuously object, but the general nodded, fixing his attention on the woman. “Major, please work with Dr. Sandburg, and if you’re unable to address whatever is troubling him, you’re excused from the meeting and we will brief you later.”

He let the major take the lead out to the hallway and across the hall into another empty conference room, this one rather ridiculously large. She turned to face him, and the hostility was oozing out of her, though her demeanor was calm and professional. “I chose not to be a guide a long time ago, Doctor. I don’t appreciated the accusation that I’m using my gifts and causing you distress.”

Part of Blair wanted to tell her to go back to wherever she came from, that she wasn’t needed at this meeting, but the larger part, the guide in him, recognized someone in pain and wanted to help. “Major, you are projecting your guide aura quite strongly. And if you’re doing it unintentionally, that’s a problem. I imagine you’ve done it before. So, you need to listen to me, and I’ll help you control it, or you can skip this meeting and stay far away from Tony.”

She clearly took a few steadying breaths. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“How much guide training have you had?”

“None,” she said defensively. “Why does a low-level guide need training if they’re not going to use their gifts?”

Blair blew out a breath, starting to get an inkling what the problem was based on the emotions that came out when she said ‘low-level’. “You’re not a low-level guide.”

She blinked a few times, looking confused.

“What do you know about how guides and sentinels are rated?” he prompted her carefully.

Frowning, she replied, “Sentinels are rated on the strength of their senses, and guides on empathic abilities.”

“That’s a very broad brush stroke, Major. If a sentinel is a level five, what does that mean?”

Now, she looked a little annoyed. “That his senses function at that level on an empirically objective scale.”

“No, it means his weakest sense functions at that level. A sentinel could have visual acuity at a level nine, but if his aural sensitivity is level five, he’s rated a level five. So, in some respects, he’s a powerful sentinel, in others he’s in the middle. Level does not mean low.”

Her hostility was bleeding away in the face of information and she cocked her head to the side. “What point are you trying to make?”

“I’ll get to that. For purposes of rating, guides are only rated on active empathy.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, the other guide gifts are tested and documented, but active empathy is what determines where they fall in the order and that’s why it’s the only number that carries in their rating.”

She looked confused again. “It sounds like you’re saying order and rating aren’t the same thing.”

“They’re not.” He rubbed his chin, thinking how to explain this most succinctly. “Order is how much rigidity a guide or sentinel needs in order to function to their fullest potential. If one is high-order, they require a bond with a specific partner. Mid-order, or sometimes called lower-order, may need a bond, but are not limited to a specific partner usually. Low-order require no bond to fully utilize their gift and some don’t even form bonds. As a low-order guide, you can use all of your gifts to their fullest potential without having to stabilize yourself with a sentinel, or build a connection to one. Even the gifts that would rate at level eight or nine.”

Her brow was furrowed, but she wasn’t questioning yet.

“The ratings are relevant to order because it was found that when a guide’s active empathy is at a level eight, they flip over to high order, regardless of where their other gifts fall. Conversely, when a sentinel’s lowest rated sense is at a level eight, sometimes seven, they become high order.”

“I…” she hesitated. “I think there are some things I clearly don’t understand. When I came online, I was told my gifts were weak and useful only if I wanted to be a therapist or a social worker.”

Blair blew out a breath. “I see. I assume you accept the basic truism that people are flawed?”

“Of course.”

“Then I ask that you accept that guides and sentinels are flawed, too. I don’t know who handled your intake when you came online, but they did you a disservice. I don’t say that to encourage you to use your guide gifts if you don’t want to. But you need training, even if it’s just so you can properly turn them off and stop effecting the people around you.”

He offered her an encouraging smile. “I’d really like to have a discussion with you. A real one about what guide gifts are and what they’re useful for and how they may have been already affecting you. We don’t have time for that discussion now, but I’d ask that you make time to have that discussion with me while I’m still here.”

Hesitantly, she nodded. “I think I’d appreciate that.”

“Okay. Let’s talk about guide aura projection.”

“What?” she asked, brow furrowed in confusion.

“It’s a guide’s ability to project a specific impression of emotion that anyone can feel to some degree. It’s not like directing an emotion at someone, it’s more like taking down a barrier and letting their aura out. With training, this can be done at varying levels and you can choose how your aura feels. So, trauma counselors often learn how to project a soothing and safe aura. It’s usually subtle, because it’s not projecting an emotion at a target.

“When people talk about a guide feeling soothing, it’s usually their aura. In fact, the natural state of a guide aura is comforting to most people. Many guides choose to keep their aura open, sort of like a low hum, to let the people around them feel good.” Blair had easily slipped into teacher mode.

“My best guess is that when your emotions run high, the barrier that shields your aura comes down at least part way. I would imagine when you’re having a really good day, it seems like everyone around you is a little happier, and when you’re having a bad day, you might notice that everyone seems a little cranky. Other guides will be able to read your aura projection much more acutely, but non-guides pick up on it to varying degrees.”

Carter blanched a little. “So you’re saying in there I was projecting…”

“Hostility and disdain. Everyone was sitting in the influence of your aura, and while Tony and I felt it intensely and knew what it was because we’re guides, everyone else could have started to feel hostile, though they might not have known why or been able to attribute it to you. I would guess your aura projection aptitude is around an eight, maybe a nine, since you’re doing this unconsciously and strongly. So, you need to either learn to use it properly or learn to lock it down.”

He felt genuine distress coming from her, and knew that whatever was going on with this woman in terms of her guide gifts was rooted in some seriously painful shit that wasn’t just an insensitive intake counselor. “What do I do?”

“It would take a couple hours to work with you to be able to feel what you’re doing and teach you rudimentary control, and we don’t have time for that now. It’s possible you’ll stop projecting if you stop feeling so hostile, but that’s problematic because if your emotions shift strongly, you could start again. I can, and I’d never do this without your permission, shield the gift for you temporarily. It’s sort of like putting a lock on it. I can release it later, though it will also release on its own when I leave.”

She looked torn, and he could tell she hated the idea of him using a guide gift on her. “Please do it. I should probably excuse myself from the meeting, but I think I need to be there, and this seems like the most expedient option.” She hesitated, and he felt uncertainty from her. “And then maybe we could have that conversation sometime?”

He gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m not sure how long we’ll be here, but I have time later today.” At her faint smile and nod, he added, “I could do this in the slow careful way that you wouldn’t even notice, or I can just do it quick and you’ll feel it. It’s not gonna hurt or anything, but it’ll feel odd. Possibly like you were suddenly muffled, but the sensation will pass in a couple minutes.”

Carter gave a decisive nod. “Let’s go with fast and efficient.”

Blair reached out empathically and slammed a shield over her aura, mentally locking it down.

Her eyes widened. “That does feel weird. I might call it feeling stifled.”

He gave her a half smile and headed for the door.

“Dr. Sandburg?”

Pausing, he looked back.

“I apologize. I would never have knowingly caused either of you discomfort.”

“Thank you. I realize I called you out really strongly, and I appreciate you taking it so well.” He hoped the major would let him help her, even if, at the end of the day, she decided to totally lock her gifts away.

~*~

After Carter and Sandburg left, everyone had refreshed their coffee, and idle chitchat had become the order of the day. Jack was grateful for Daniel because Danny could keep conversation going with someone who’d taken a vow of silence. Normally Jack would feel obligated to at least participate to some degree, but his senses were too focused on his guide to bother with anything peripheral.

His too-sensitive hearing zeroed in on a low steady thumping, and it took him a few seconds to realize it was his guide’s heartbeat. He let the steady rhythm ground and soothe him.

Fortunately, the other two guides returned in a little over ten minutes. He noted that Carter seemed a little more relaxed than she had been. He dismissed the major’s issue from his mind and turned his attention back to Tony and the comforting heartbeat.

As soon as Sandburg was seated, he immediately took the reins again. “Apologies for the delay.”

“Is everything all right?” Hammond asked.

Carter folded her hands on the table. “It was my fault, General. I was unaware of a guide ability that I had and wasn’t shielding, and it was affecting the other guides.”

The general nodded, but Jack could tell he’d have questions later. “Very well. Dr. Sandburg, I believe the most important question at this point is whether this connection between Colonel O’Neill and Agent DiNozzo can be reproduced reliably.”

“There are some variables in play. The colonel would have to effectively reach out to that spiritual connection in order for Tony to have something to grab on to. Jim and I have done some tests, and I can reliably connect with him on that plane.”

“And would he be able to have that connection with someone else?”

“Again, it’s not really a straightforward answer. Tony-“ Sandburg broke off and looked at Tony, who gave a subtle nod. “Tony can do some things many shamans haven’t ever tried. Myself and a few other shamans believe these are lost arts, if you will. We are learning as we go.

“One thing we can’t quantify yet is the impact bonding will have on Tony’s abilities. It could narrow them, it could sharpen them, make them easier to control, or completely blunt them. We just don’t know. And we can’t compare him to any other shaman at this time because all the rest of us are bonded. That said, I believe he will be able to connect on the spirit plane with any guide or sentinel that he had a tether with. So for instance, he would be able to connect with Major Carter if they were willing to build that connection.”

The general and Carter asked a series of situational questions about guides in general and how that compared to Tony’s and Sandburg’s gifts. Sandburg held the reins on the Cascade side of the table, batting around scenarios. Jack half paid attention, his mind spinning on something.

At a lull in the discussion, he addressed his question to his guide. “Tony, you’ve been online for what… six weeks?”

Tony nodded. “Six weeks last Friday.”

He forced himself to focus on his question and not his guide’s voice. “How is it that you have abilities that the other shamans aren’t familiar with?”

“First, I’d make a distinction that though I have the power level, I don’t have the training, so I don’t really consider myself in the same league as Blair and the others. As to your question…” he heaved a sigh and his heartbeat picked up a little. “We only have theories at this point and I’ll definitely explain it to you, Jack, but it’s probably best we not do it today.”

“And why’s that?”

Sandburg leaned forward and pinned Jack with his stare. “Because though I believe Tony’s abilities are going to help us learn some long forgotten spiritual arts, the cost of them was too high. It’s not a pretty story, and I believe that since you’re not bonded, your protective instincts would shoot so high you’d probably go feral and we’d have to lock the two of you in this conference room. If you decide to bond, someone will fill you in after the bond has settled some.”

Which meant someone had hurt Tony, and Jack already felt himself reacting.

No one had asked what had happened while he and Tony were alone in the room, and he decided to address it now, because he didn’t want there to be any doubts. “Not if. When. And when is later today.”

Blair smiled a bit and inclined his head in acknowledgment. Tony’s lips twitched, but he didn’t say anything.

The general looked contemplative, and his preoccupation was a clear signal for everyone to wait to hear what was on his mind. “I had initially thought we should try to replicate the connection between the Colonel and Agent DiNozzo, but in light of this recent revelation, I believe we may need to change course.” Hammond got up to pickup the phone on the side table. After a moment, he said, “If you could join us in the conference room now, Major Davis?”

Jack nearly groaned in dismay. He hadn’t been aware that the general had Paul on standby. Nor had he known Ellison and Sandburg were getting read in. At least, that seemed like what was going on. Which all meant this day was going to get longer, and he was running out of ability to stay on his side of the table.

Hammond resumed his seat. “Ahead of this meeting, I got permission to read the three of you in if I thought there was sufficient benefit. Major Davis is here with the non-disclosure forms you’ll need to sign. None of you are required to go any further. Though, we would be unable to consider bringing Agent DiNozzo into the program to work with the Colonel if he chose not to sign.

“If you do sign, the only obligation you have will be to never speak of what you learn here. You will in no way be bound to this program.”

“Well, I’m in,” Tony said readily enough. “I’ve certainly been curious about what’s really happening here. Because it sure isn’t radar telemetry… deep space or otherwise.” Which caused Jack to fight back a smile. Worst cover story ever.

Ellison exchanged a look with his guide before asking, “I assume there’s a reason you want us read in as well as Tony.”

“We’ve kept high-order sentinels and guides out of this program up until now. Jack will be our first, but I think the program could benefit, possibly in ways we haven’t thought of. You two already have high enough clearance for this. Also, your experience could be of benefit. I was thinking you might consult for us on occasion. I know you consult with various law enforcement agencies from time to time, and this would be in a similar vein.”

The pair exchanged another look, before they agreed to at least hear the spiel.

A couple minutes later, Major Davis entered with a stack of forms. The three obviously had experience with this type of paperwork because they all seemed to know what was boilerplate that could be skimmed and what needed to be carefully read. After much signing, initialing and dating, the general turned to Daniel to give the spiel.

Jack pretty much just watched Tony’s reactions. Tony’s gaze flicked back to Jack frequently, and he’d simply raise a brow, as if wanting confirmation that this was not a joke. Jack would just give a subtle head nod, and Tony would return his attention to Daniel.

As Daniel started to wind down, Tony looked like he was mentally chewing on something. Ellison and Sandburg were exchanging speaking looks, but hadn’t said anything thus far.

Tony suddenly leaned forward. “So, when you were in trouble on Saturday, you were on another planet?”

Jack nodded.

“Well, that’s… weird.” Tony looked to Blair. “Must be the inherent spiritual connection because he’s my sentinel.” He turned his attention back to the room. “The furthest ping I’d received thus far was the east coast. We figured Jack was somewhere overseas and my range was extending. We certainly didn’t think it had extended to other planets.” He rubbed his forehead. “Other planets. Jesus.”

“Too weird?” Jack asked, going for casual, but the answer meant a lot to him.

“Of course it’s too weird!” Tony rolled his shoulders a little and clearly forced himself to relax. “But I’m sure I’ll adjust. So, what’s the thought here, General? I’d come here as, what exactly?”

Hammond braced his arms on the table. “If you pass the field qualification, the expectation would be for you to join SG-1. Your role on the team beyond being Jack’s guide would need to be defined based on your aptitude.”

“And when not on missions? Because I assume you’re not in the field all the time.”

“Those details would need to be worked out.”

“Okay. Well, as much as I’d like to see the Stargate, because I really need a surreal cherry on my weirdo sundae, I have a hunch going further underground is not the best idea?” he questioned looking at Jim.

Ellison shook his head, but glanced at Jack. “You’re holding on pretty well, but you’d probably start feeling threatened if you were deep underground with no easy evacuation route for you and your unbonded guide. You’d see everyone between you and the door as a threat.”

“Safety tip,” Jack acknowledged a little jokingly, but he knew Ellison was right. He was feeling increasingly edgy as it was.

“Would you like to meet Teal’c?” Daniel asked, and then glanced at the general. “I assume it’s okay to call him up?” At Hammond’s nod, Daniel got up to have Teal’c paged.

Tony was watching Jack closely, then finally said, “We’ll have to go soon… maybe right after we meet your teammate. It’s getting a little intense and I don’t think we want to wait until it’s desperate.” He looked to his two companions. “What’s your plan considering how things have changed?”

Ellison replied, “We’ll stay here to finish this, find out if we can help, and then we’ll figure out if it’s what we want to do.”

Sandburg added, “Tony, call me tomorrow when it’s convenient. Maybe Daniel can help us get your stuff to Jack’s tonight?” When Daniel nodded, the guide continued, “Jack shouldn’t react too negatively to me approaching the house, and I’ll leave your stuff and anything you might need by the door, okay?”

Tony was nodding, and seemed okay on the surface, but his heartbeat sped up a little, and Jack wasn’t sure why.

Sandburg and Daniel had a brief logistical chat, while Ellison and Carter spoke casually about something, Davis and the general were reviewing something as well. Jack was focused on Tony, and desperately wishing there wasn’t a table between them.

Abruptly, Tony and Sandburg stiffened and their heads whipped toward the door. Jack and Jim both got to their feet, though Jack wasn’t sure what he was reacting to, just that his guide was unhappy about something.

“Do you feel that, Blair?” Tony asked.

“Yeah.”

“What’s going on, Chief?” Ellison growled out.

“I’d swear there’s someone with a severe megalomaniacal personality disorder nearby. And seriously emoting,” Blair commented, seemingly concentrating on whatever he was feeling.

“Yuck. That’s not healthy,” Tony muttered. He looked to Hammond. “I don’t want to think someone in your command is that messed up, but I’m certainly not wishing it on NORAD either.”

There was a quick rap at the door, then it opened. Jack was poised to go after whoever it was, but found himself facing Teal’c.

Jack had just started to relax when several things happened in quick succession; both guides reared back, nearly tipping themselves out of their chairs, Tony made a strangled sort of gagging sound, Ellison started growling, and Teal’c lifted an eyebrow.

To be safe, Jack checked the hall, but there wasn’t even anyone else in sight.

Daniel was staring at the Cascade folks with a contemplative expression and said, “This is Teal’c of Chulak.”

Tony and Sandburg had settled in to staring in the vicinity of Teal’c abdomen.

“You guys are feeling Junior?” Jack asked, startled. There were several guides in the program, and none of them had reacted to Junior in any way.

Both guides had their heads cocked to the side in a way that was reminiscent of the sentinel listening-pose. And they were both completely focused on whatever they were listening to. Jack felt like something was crawling along his spine, and he just wanted to grab his guide and get out of there.

“It doesn’t like us,” Tony murmured, seemingly far away.

“It’s definitely aware of us,” Sandburg said in the same soft tone.

“Surprised, I think,” Tony countered.

“Hm. A little afraid, maybe. Follow what I’m doing.”

The two went quiet and everyone was exchanging mystified looks, except Teal’c, who was just intently watching the two guides.

Suddenly, they both sat up normally, blinking like they’d come out of a trance. Tony shivered a little. “That little sucker is seriously nasty.”

“What just happened?” Jack asked, wondering if everyone else was just as confused as he was.

Sandburg was reassuringly patting his sentinel’s arm as he replied, “The alien symbiote was emoting like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And it was odd… like a different empathic wavelength. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising since it’s a different species. It could be that only a shaman would pick it up, but we should verify that.

“Because we’re not accustomed to it, we weren’t empathically shielded from it, so it took us a minute to block it out. It was a little overwhelming there for a minute. That said, it’s very nice to meet you, Teal’c. I’m Blair Sandburg, this is my sentinel, Jim Ellison, and Jack’s guide Tony DiNozzo.”

Teal’c inclined his head. “It is an honor to meet you.”

“I can’t wait to talk to you more, but first we need to get the new sentinel/guide pair on their way. Tony, be sure you empathically buffer Jack before you encounter a lot of people. It should help keep his senses on an even keel.” Sandburg came around the table, though his sentinel didn’t seem too thrilled, and started ushering Jack towards the door, passing him a card. “This is my cell. If Tony has any empathic issues, you call me ASAP.”

Jack let himself be steamrolled out of the meeting, because it was pretty much what he wanted to do anyway. His coat was downstairs, but he wasn’t going to leave his guide to get it, nor was he taking Tony further into the mountain right now. He could handle a little bit of cold.

And then it was just him and Tony in the hallway with nothing between them but four feet of air. “What just happened?” Jack asked, amused.

“Blair. He’s really laid back, until he’s not, and then you just do what he says.”

“Huh.”

“How are your senses?”

“A little all over the place,” Jack admitted truthfully.

“Mm. Well, just give me a second to…” he trailed off and closed his eyes.

Suddenly, Jack felt like he was insulated from the world and his senses leveled out with just a little effort on his part. “What’d you do?”

“Empathic buffer. Do you want me to explain it now or in the car?”

Jack couldn’t resist a chuckle. “Let’s get out of here before someone changes their mind.” They walked together, and Jack kept fighting the urge to reach out for his guide.

His guide.

This morning he could barely get his head around that, and now he was fighting the impulse to grab the man and drag him into the nearest empty room.

~*~

Once they were in Jack’s truck, the guide in Tony was anxious to get to Jack’s place, but the rest of him was struggling with a battle of nerves. Oddly, he found himself thinking about Martin and Gibbs.

“Good thoughts?” Jack asked, and Tony realized he’d drifted off in his own head enough to miss that they’d cleared the security checkpoints and were turning onto the road.

Tony angled himself so he could watch Jack. “Thinking about my friend Martin. My brother in every way that matters. Back when this whole thing started, or ended depending upon how you look at it, I got clipped by a bullet and Martin came to help out with some problems that arose that night. He’d been an online guide for seven years. That night at the hospital, he met my boss of the last decade who’s also a sentinel. I didn’t actually see it, but he told me later they both knew instantly that the other was their bondmate.”

“I gather there’s more to the story.”

“Oh, a lot more. But the part I was thinking about was that when they met that night, they thought they were on opposite sides of the situation I was in, so they went their separate ways, pissed with the other, until the next morning. So Martin knew for a whole twelve hours who his sentinel was before they bonded.

“So I just got to wondering if he’d gotten an attack of nerves before he opened the door to the Center that day.”

“Come to any conclusions?” he noticed that Jack seemed a little tense.

“I’m not having second thoughts, Jack. It’s just strange. The guide part,” he touched his chest absently, “wants you to drive faster, the rest of me is wondering if you’re going to get annoyed by my wardrobe and movie collection.”

“Ah. Well, how many could there possibly be?” Jack asked rhetorically, so Tony just bit back a smile. “So, what do you think Martin was feeling?”

Tony blew out a breath. “I think he was probably pissed off actually. A bumpier start a high-order pair has probably rarely had. But I also know that he’d been online for seven years already. Gibbs even longer. And between seven years of aching, feeling like a vital piece was missing, and being angry, I doubt he had time for nerves.”

“There’s a lot more to this story,” Jack stated with certainty.

“Yep. And I promise to tell you the whole sordid tale. I’ll even tell you the next time you ask, just make sure you’re ready to hear it.”

“Just tell me if it has anything to do with why you have sentinels keeping an eye on you all the time.”

Tony considered that carefully. “Well, it’s certainly part of the same picture, but it has nothing to do with Martin or Gibbs.”

“Honestly, Tony, because I need to know, do you think you’re in danger?”

He wanted to deny that he was in any danger, and that everyone was being overly cautious, but he actually didn’t know that. “I really don’t know. I want to believe the Council when they say that the threat they’ve rooted out is the end of the problem, but for a lot of reasons my faith in the Sentinel and Guide hierarchy is shaky at best. Jim and Blair and the people they trust being notable exceptions.”

Jack actually bobbled the wheel a little, then straightened back out. “Wait, you’re saying the attempt to drug you came from the Sentinel Council?”

“Supposedly a shadow faction in the Council that has been dealt with, but, like I said, faith is in short supply right now.”

“I’ll wait a bit to get the whole story, but not too long. It’s got my instincts too revved up.”

Tony agreed, and they settled in to talking about sports the rest of the drive, which was certainly a safer topic.

“Wait a minute,” Tony said at one point. “Hockey and curling? What are you trying to do, become an honorary Canadian? I better not find a fridge full of Molson.”

Jack started laughing. “I prefer Moosehead. And what’s wrong with curling?”

“It’s a rock and two brooms. Enough said,” Tony intoned dryly.

“That’s a gross oversimplification,” Jack retorted.

“Oh, sell it to someone who hasn’t played an actual sport.”

“Ah yes, so says the Ohio State Buckeye.”

“Background checks are so passé,” Tony said with a sniff.

Jack grinned and turned onto a smaller street. “I’ve seen you play. I always preferred college ball to the NFL, but didn’t make the connection between you and Anthony DiNozzo, Ohio State quarterback until the background check. I think the last game I saw you in you got your leg hurt.”

“Ah yes, the infamous game against Michigan where Brad Pitt broke my leg.”

Looking at him askance, Jack said, “You’re not serious.”

“Oh yes. His name was Brad Pitt and he went on to become an infectious disease specialist working at Bethesda.”

“It’s a little odd to exchange Christmas cards with the guy who broke your leg, but if it’s the strangest thing about you, I can handle it.”

“Not even close. Someday I’ll tell you all about how I crossed paths with Dr. Brad a decade after he broke my leg, an event which ended my chances of going pro.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Jack said, turning onto a private drive. “But we do agree about hockey, yes?”

Tony thought about denying it and giving Jack a stroke, but he nodded instead. “Yes, we agree that hockey is an actual sport.”

Jack put the truck in park and shot Tony a look. “That wasn’t what I meant. You do like hockey, right?”

Smiling, Tony hopped out of the truck, a light coating of snow on the drive crunching underfoot. “I like your place, Jack.”

“Like it from inside. It’s cold and my jacket is at the base.”

Tony laughed and followed Jack into the house, which he found inviting and comfortable.

“Kitchen’s right there if you want something. I’ll be right back. Here… let me take your coat.” Jack took the garment, careful to not touch Tony.

As much as Tony was struggling with nerves, he would be glad when this awkward tap dance was over.

Jack disappeared for only about three minutes, returning quickly having changed into jeans and a t-shirt, and propped himself against the wall leading into the living room. “So how do we do this?”

Tony just had to laugh. “This is so bizarre. I feel like I’ve known you forever, and yet I… I guess I need to stop thinking so hard. What do your instincts say, Jack?”

Without warning, Jack stepped fully into the living room, grabbed Tony’s hand and yanked him close, so they were fully in contact, burying his face in Tony’s neck.

Tony’s breath stuttered out as something inside him shifted. “Oh,” he gasped and clutched instinctively at Jack’s strong back.

Jack nuzzled against his ear, breathing him in for several long moments. “Guide,” he whispered.

Whatever it was that was changing inside him shifted a little more at the soft word. “Sentinel,” he acknowledged as he slid his hands up to Jack’s shoulders.

He clutched at Jack, feeling a little dizzy. Nothing was said as Jack grabbed his hand and led him to the back of the house. Tony didn’t even pay attention to where in the house they were going. He found himself pressed up against a door in the bedroom with Jack’s face in his neck again, just breathing Tony in.

The part of Tony that was never passive about this kind of thing wanted to do something, push things along, but Blair had told him to follow the guide instinct, and the guide in him said to surrender to his sentinel.

Jack pulled back a bit, hands framing Tony’s face. Time seemed to slow as they stared at one another. Finally, Jack leaned forward and pressed his lips to Tony’s.

Their tongues tangled and Tony shuddered. Now that Jack had imprinted taste, more of the bond slid into place. Everything seemed to lose focus and the only thing he was aware of was the touch of his sentinel. Suddenly he became aware that the touch was on skin and not through clothes. Then skin on skin as Jack shucked his own garments.

Jack pressed Tony down into the bed, the sentinel’s weight pressing him further into soft bedding. Instinctively, Tony parted his legs, bracketing Jack’s hips as Jack began to taste and explore Tony’s collarbones.

Gasping, Tony started to reach for Jack, but the guide in him reared up and told him to be still, to let the sentinel complete the imprint. Despite the arousal burning in him, he felt himself go nearly boneless.

Sentinel-sensitive fingertips catalogued every inch of skin, drifting more carefully over the scars. When he got to Tony’s most recent wound on his upper left arm, the sentinel growled a little as his fingers drifted over the thick rope of maturing scar tissue. Tony sent a pulse of reassurance to his sentinel, and was rewarded by Jack coming in for another spine-tingling, toe-curling kiss.

Jack broke away from Tony’s lips, turning his attention to Tony’s chest, then eventually further. The thorough exploration of his cock and balls nearly caused Tony to come undone. If it weren’t for the guide instinct to surrender, he’d be attacking Jack right about now. When Jack mouthed the sensitive skin over his hipbone, he gasped and arched his back.

Eventually, Jack maneuvered him onto his stomach, and began the careful exploration of the back of his body. Tony had always had a particularly sensitive back, and found the sentinel-thorough investigation of his spine to be one of the most erotic tortures he could imagine.

When Jack began carefully mapping Tony’s buttocks, Tony groaned into the pillow, drowning in a sea of intense sensation.

Tony felt a tug on the essence of whatever it was that made him a guide. He let himself slip into that part of himself, letting his guide awareness of Jack permeate his being. While Jack imprinted on Tony’s body, Tony started imprinting on Jack’s emotional tone and his spirit, solidifying the connection between them, flooding his sentinel with his guide aura, reaching out with his empathy. He felt dark places in his sentinel, painful jagged places, and he smoothed them over.

He was distantly aware he was shifted onto his back, and offered no resistance or aid, letting his sentinel manipulate his body as he saw fit. Tony continued to focus on his empathic imprint, learning the essence of his sentinel, until he knew he’d be able to find Jack anywhere.

Just as he finished building the empathic connection, a slick finger slid into his body, causing him to suddenly come back to himself with the awareness that the imprints were over.

The promise of the completed bond tugged at them, and arousal became the only thing he could think about. The guide instinct receded some, allowing him to feel drunk on pleasure.

A second and third finger followed and Tony pulled Jack into a searching kiss, pulling his sentinel back to him when he tried to end the kiss. His legs were nudged further apart and Jack settled between them. Tony quickly wrapped his legs around his sentinel, aware of the blunt pressure of a thick cock at his entrance.

“Tony,” Jack whispered against his lips as he slowly breached Tony’s body.

Arching into his lover at the intoxicating sense of stretch and burn, Tony gasped, “Jack,” as they began to move together.

The sound of two tigers chuffing caused them to briefly still and tilt their heads to look over at the spirit guides facing off. Suddenly they leapt at each other and there was a blinding flash. The bond snapped into place between them so forcefully it bordered on pain. For a moment, the physical intimacy paled in comparison to the all-encompassing spiritual and emotional connection zinging between them.

The dizzying effects of the nascent bond began to settle, and pleasure came to the forefront once again. Tony tightened his legs around Jack as they surged against each other, striving to complete the physical joining. Climax was shattering in its intensity, and Tony clung to his sentinel, completely overwhelmed.

He felt like he’d finally come home.

– – – –

Chapter Seventeen

Jack was in that half awake, half asleep state. He was too fucked out to stay awake, and too happy being aware of his guide to go to sleep. He pulled Tony a little closer, though they were already as close as they could get.

Tony was completely zonked. Jack had a hunch that whatever Tony had to do for the bond was more tiring than the imprinting process had been for Jack.

After the initial imprint and bonding sex, they’d both slept for a bit, grabbed something quick to eat, wound up having sex again—and the sex was never going to get old—then Tony had really conked out. Jack could understand Tony’s fatigue, but he was happy to be a little alert so he could appreciate what he had in his arms.

Bonding hadn’t been at all what he’d expected. He’d thought there’d be the imprinting and some sex. He hadn’t been at all prepared for this intense connection, for feeling his guide in every corner of his being. It might be unsettling if it didn’t feel so damned good.

He now had more awareness of Tony than his senses could catalog, which could only be the spiritual connection. If that were the case, Jack could completely get with the spiritual portion of the program, because he wouldn’t give up that new sense of his guide. Not that he planned to tell Daniel that he was fine with having a spiritual connection to anything.

Suddenly, he jerked to full awareness with a growl. Someone was on his property. He was half out of bed before he could think.

A strong arm yanked him back to the mattress. “It’s Blair,” his guide said sleepily. “Open up your senses more, Jack. You can tell it’s a bonded guide.” Tony moved to sit behind him, arm around Jack’s waist, whispering instructions in his ear.

Tony was walking him through creating another set of dials. The set he had already visualized, Tony said, was for dialing up and down things everyone could perceive, and the second set were for the sentinel senses. “If you want to be able to hear the hum of a micro transmitter, you have to adjust your senses in a new way. You can’t just turn up regular hearing, or you’d go deaf from the ambient noise.”

His guide soothingly stroked his abdomen while continuing to murmur careful instructions for identifying the people on or around the property without overwhelming himself. Once the instructions clicked, he could easily tell that it was Sandburg situating things on the walk. He detected Ellison further out, near the street waiting in the car. He could hear Daniel talking to the other sentinel, asking about how territorial a newly bonded sentinel was.

Pretty damned territorial, Jack thought.

He continued extending his senses, cataloguing the land around the house, the homes of his neighbors.

“Pull back a little, Jack,” Tony whispered. “You’re still getting used to it, don’t stretch too far yet. It’s instinctive to keep that second set of dials up a little all the time; it’s a high-order sentinel’s situational awareness. Just don’t go too far until you’re used to it.”

Jack let these new dials slide back towards two or three, which let him hear more than he’d ever normally hear without amping up all the ambient noise. He squeezed the arm that Tony had wrapped around his waist. “Thanks. I feel like I need to catalogue everything here… my entire property and even beyond.”

“We can work on that. You’ll want an imprint of your home so you can tell if things change. It’s normal. You’ll find you’ll want to imprint on the people close to you, too. Not to mention our Pride. Just take it slow.”

That caused him to frown. “We don’t have a Pride.”

“Yeah we do. All alphas have a Pride. Every sentinel and guide in the mountain will react to you differently now that you’ve bonded.”

“You’re sure I’m an alpha sentinel?”

“Positive.”

“Well, that’ll shake things up at the base. How’d you know about the second set of dials?”

“I spent the last six weeks sort of in a de facto guide school. There was nothing to do with my time but heal and learn about being a guide.”

Jack considered that, knowing there was stuff unsaid in the simple statement. He turned, maneuvering Tony so they were lying face to face. He contemplated his guide for several seconds. “How’d you know it was Blair?”

“He sent an empathic touch when he arrived.”

Jack cupped Tony’s face, stroking his thumb along his guide’s cheekbone. “You doing okay?”

Tony’s lips quirked up. “Perfect. You?”

Mushy sentiments weren’t really Jack’s cup of tea, still, he found himself saying, “Better than I thought I ever had a chance of being. I’m not sure I deserve you, but I sure as hell am not going to be complaining. I’m selfish that way.”

“I fully support your motivated self-interest,” Tony replied with a smile.

“Decent of you.” He slid his hand down across Tony’s shoulder, to the thick rib of scar tissue. “You want to tell me how this happened?”

Tony’s brows shot up. “Pretty standard stuff. Bad guys shooting instead of surrendering.”

“And the rest of the stuff around that night? Why you needed six weeks to heal?”

“Ah.” Tony glanced away, chewing on his lower lip.

“I need to know, Tony. I’m being hyper vigilant, and I may not be able to help it considering the newness of our bond, but I’d like to know how much it’s warranted.”

Tony sighed and met Jack’s eyes. “I guess the real start of this whole mess was when I was a kid, but I’ll have to circle back to that. The more recent chapter started back in early August with Gibbs’ latest interim guide.”

Utterly perplexed, Jack waited for Tony to gather his thoughts and continue.

“Gibbs used to go through guides like you wouldn’t believe. It was almost embarrassing sometimes. I think the record for shortest lived was two hours. Although, to be fair, that was a particularly bad crime scene.

“Some of them aren’t cut out for our work, the realities of crime scenes just don’t sit well with a lot of civilian guides, and that’s when Gibbs needs the most help with his senses. I mean, it’s not like he needs help extending his senses when he’s in the office. He needs it when he was trying to find an elusive piece of evidence, or get a sensory profile of a killer. But, job difficulties aside, he’s still a class-A bastard, and some of them just didn’t want to put up with his Royal Grumpiness on a regular basis.

“Anyway, Nick Harris joins us, and he handles the work better than most, so it was almost a relief because it was a really stressful time. There was a cartel gunning for us, and… well, it was crazy for everyone. So, it’s hard to know exactly when the changes started or what the cause was, because things were so difficult at work when Harris joined.”

“What kind of changes?” Jack prompted when Tony seemed to stall out.

Tony took a breath and Jack could feel that Tony was trying to steady his emotions. He figured his new awareness had something to do with the bond. “Everyone started to really hate me, which sounds so fifth grade, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I take my work seriously, but I’ve seen so many people burn out on the job, so I’ve always tried to bring levity where I can. I play pranks when things get too serious, make inappropriate comments, whatever it took to keep my little family together, happy and sane. Including drawing Gibbs’ ire when he’d get too focused, because the junior agents don’t handle his temper well.”

Several things registered for Jack. He already thought he and Tony were kindred spirits, but now he had more proof in how they handled job stress. Plus they both had formed tight bonds with their teammates. He hoped it wouldn’t be too painful for Tony to give up his old team to come to Colorado.

“I’ve been working with Gibbs, Abby, our forensic specialist, and Ducky, the ME, for nearly a decade. There are two other field agents, Tim, who I’ve worked with for nearly eight, and Ziva who’s been there going on six.”

Jack was a little surprised that the shortest duration was six years. In any team that was a long time, and they tended to become very insular. He wouldn’t be surprised if any guide that came into that situation felt they couldn’t penetrate the family-like dynamics the team would have.

“I guess things started getting really bad in September. Everyone was annoyed with me constantly, no matter what I did. There was lots of pettiness, sometimes even hostility and anger. And it was obvious that it wasn’t jokes or anything, because I had pretty much lost my sense of humor by then. I didn’t know it at the time, but everyone was bitching about me to anyone who would listen.

“Well, except Ducky. I guess he had only one complaint, but he still took it to Gibbs rather than discussing it with me. I didn’t know about the complaining everyone was doing, all I knew was that it didn’t matter how well I did my job, Gibbs was always pissed at me.”

Jack was frowning, trying to put the pieces together. Clearly this had something to do with Harris, but he wondered how a tight-knit team could deteriorate so fast because an outsider sowed seeds of discontent.

“It was around early October when I noticed that Harris was sending me these emotion bombs. Trying to make me feel sad or angry or afraid. I went to the Center in DC twice to try to get some help. And believe me, it never occurred to me to talk to Gibbs. He was too angry with me and I didn’t feel like I could bitch to him about his guide considering the circumstances.”

The first thing that came to Jack’s mind was that Tony didn’t go to Gibbs because he was too accustomed to doing things on his own, too used to not relying on people. He wasn’t sure why he had that impression, but he’d be on the lookout for Tony keeping important things to himself.

“The Center dismissed my complaints out of hand, claiming one of their guides would never do that. So, all I could do was keep my head down and fight off the emotions that felt foreign. In the midst of this, we worked a double homicide that linked back to a domestic terrorist cell.” Tony was quiet for a few beats before explaining about how his back up had cut comms because they were annoyed.

“What the fuck?” Jack growled. Who the hell did that kind of thing? “Who was your backup?”

Tony patted his arm, then rubbed in soothing circles, trying to settle Jack down. “McGee and Ziva. Gibbs would have never done that, but that’s sort of incidental. We brought down the cell and immediately moved on to a kidnapping case. I was tired at that point. So fucking tired, Jack. I was hating every second of every day. I didn’t know what I was going to do about the dynamic duo, and I worried about being in the field with them ever again, plus we weren’t making progress on the kidnapping.

“I’d been at the office for three straight days and Harris was being relentless with this emotional attacks. Finally, Gibbs blamed me for the lack of progress on the case and I just snapped. I walked out, told him I was requesting a transfer.”

“Good,” Jack snapped, ready to fly to DC and knock some heads together.

“Well that never happened. They got a break in the case after I left and Gibbs called me in. Right before I was going to kick in the back door where our kidnap victim was being held, Harris sent me this crippling wave of fear. There was no time to do anything but stomp on it and finish the op. I got shot, but I didn’t even feel it. I was so angry at that point… as soon as I saw Harris, I slugged him.”

And that was the first good thing in the whole FUBAR situation that Jack had heard.

“He started braying for my arrest, and you know assaulting a guide is a big deal so I was pretty sure I was looking at the end of my career and jail time. With nothing to lose, I told Gibbs what Harris was doing. I mean, I know it was rotten timing. Harris is laid out on the ground, we’ve got one dead kidnapper, one injured kidnapper, a crime scene, I’ve been shot and the kidnap victim is crying outside with Ziva. It certainly wasn’t my finest moment.”

Jack was a little perplexed by the self-criticism, but let it go for the moment.

“So Gibbs questions Harris and finds out I’m telling the truth. I could tell Gibbs was just floored by it. I didn’t feel much of anything at the time, I couldn’t feel anything actually, but in hindsight, I can see that he looked like someone had just pulled the rug out from under him. Or killed his puppy.”

Jack frowned. “What do you mean, you couldn’t feel anything?”

“I’ll get to that. It’s part of the drama,” Tony replied in a self-deprecating tone. “So, I texted Martin, who I had just told earlier in the evening what Harris had been doing, and Martin immediately came down from New York. The S&G Center was already demanding my arrest, and Gibbs felt the best way to handle it was to have me put in FBI custody.”

“How is that helpful?” Jack asked, feeling bewildered.

“I dunno. The FBI knocking down the metaphorical door has never been a good thing in my opinion. But the agent who came to the hospital is a friend of Gibbs’, and I guess he thought he could keep the Center from going before a judge immediately if they thought the FBI was on the case. Anyway, my doctor wanted to keep me overnight. Normally I’d be out AMA, but it kept me from having to deal with the FBI or the Center.

“Martin shows up in the middle of the night, faces off against Gibbs. Which, as you can imagine, is the worst possible time for them to realize they belong together. Martin’s furious with Gibbs for what I’d been going through, and Gibbs thinks Martin’s there to help the Center get me in jail.”

“What a clusterfuck,” Jack said, running his thumb gently over the fresh scar tissue that was no doubt a painful souvenir of a really screwed up time.

“It gets more fucked up… So, Martin knows Blair and calls him in at some point right at the beginning, all I know is they show up early the next morning and start tearing things up at the DC Center.

“Apparently there are two ways an empath can force someone to feel an emotion. The first, and most common, is to project an emotion at someone. Some poorly trained or new guides do this accidentally, and it doesn’t cause any lasting damage. The other is to reach out empathically to the other person and… well, it’s sort of like taking their empathic dial and turning it up. The latter is what Harris was doing to my team and to me. Everyone but Gibbs and Ducky. If you don’t fight the adjustment, you’ll eventually reset to normal. If you do fight, you can cause yourself damage.”

Jack felt himself getting really tense and really angry. He’d been angry through the whole story thus far, but he was bordering on homicidal rage now. He felt an aura of calmness suddenly around Tony and managed to relax a little. Tony’s guide aura was like a hot shower after a long day… it just took the edge off everything.

“What was his end game?” Jack prompted after he’d got his temper under control.

“He wanted Gibbs to be his sentinel, and for some reason saw me as competition. Which was stupid. I was never competition, but it didn’t matter because Gibbs is high-order, and Harris isn’t. They could never have formed the spiritual bond Gibbs requires.” Tony sighed. “When you do this dial thingy with someone’s emotions, which is considered empathic assault by the way, you can give it a trigger. So he was dialing up irritation in everyone but setting the trigger to be me. And then customizing some emotions to the person, like making Ziva feel angry when I was around, or making McGee feel jealous and insecure.”

“If you were able to fight off the emotions, why couldn’t they? Besides, I’m irritated at people all the time, Danny annoys me on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t sit back and refuse to protect him in a dangerous situation,” Jack nearly snarled.

Tony blew out a breath. “Well, the answer is long and complicated.” So he started explaining what Blair had found with his empathic scan, how Tony had been so damaged because he’d been able to fight Harris off, even though he shouldn’t have been able to, that he had almost no emotional range left. “I couldn’t feel anything most of the time, but it happened so gradually I didn’t realize what was going on.”

“Tony,” Jack whispered, not sure what to say. But he was pretty sure he was going to kill Harris.

“It’s okay, Jack. It’s done.”

“I’m not sure it is done, Tony. It still feels pretty raw from what I can tell.” That was the hard part, knowing just how Tony felt about this, which was in direct contradiction to his outward calm and the soothing aura he was putting out for Jack’s sake. Jack knew that Tony wasn’t over it.

“It’s as done as I can make it right now.”

“What’s being done about Harris?”

“Well, that’s sort of thorny…” So Tony explained that Harris had been actually trying to kill Tony, and why that couldn’t ever go before a court of law, and what the Sentinel Council would do about it.

“It’s not enough,” Jack growled. “Losing his abilities isn’t enough.”

“But it’s all we’re going to get. The Sentinel Council would never let that see the inside of a court of law, and for good reason. Plus there’s precedent that the loss of his guide gifts is considered more than adequate punishment for the multiple assault charges.”

Somehow Jack knew that wasn’t the end of the story, because it didn’t explain the present danger. “What else, Tony?”

After several moments, Tony asked, “What do you know about guide suppression drugs?”

Jack blinked in surprise. For all that he had not spent a lot of time learning about sentinels and guides, that’s one thing he did know about because they were a remnant of an ugly time in world history. And history was a hobby of Jack’s. “They’re the unfortunate consequence of the suppression of guide rights around World War II. The shortage of high-level guides caused some nasty laws to be passed that infringed on the civil rights of all guides, and contributed into them being perceived as lesser or inferior.

“It was all remedied during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, but there was a stigma that was now attached to being a guide in some people’s eyes. Kids were getting disowned by their families, guides were coming online but not registering and getting training for their gifts… it was ugly. Guide suppression drugs were always black market, but first started hitting the streets in the US in the 1950’s, but were largely unsuccessful in actually preventing a guide from coming online.”

He continued rattling off what he’d learned through his study of history. “There was a drug in the 1970s that worked, but it killed like half the people who it was administered to. The authorities cracked down on it hard in the early 80’s as I recall. Anti-guide sentiment was politically incorrect always, but at that point people who were anti-guide were socially flayed alive because of all the kids who died. The question is, Tony, why are you asking me that?”

“Because the drug, the one that worked, was called GS-155. I was given that drug when I was young. I should have been online by the time I was sixteen.”

Jack felt like someone had reached into his chest and squeezed his heart. “What? How…” he had to stop and get his bearings. “How is that possible?”

“We don’t know. Blair noticed the damage from the drug the day we met. He also noticed that I was on the cusp of coming online. It could be because of the damage I suffered because of Harris. It could be the shaman gifts. A combination of events, maybe? We’re not sure. But, as far as we know, I’m the only person ever to overcome the drug.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Jack pulled Tony close, and he stiffened a bit before relaxing into Jack’s hold. “So that’s why the Sentinel Council wants you.” There was no doubt in Jack’s mind that Tony was in danger. Tony was the strongest sort of guide plus he had overcome a drug that had previously been a death knell for guides. He started drawing connections in his mind. “How much of all that unique stuff that you can do relates to your situation with the drug and the assault?”

From his position with his head tucked under Jack’s chin, Tony replied, “We don’t know, but we think it’s all related. When I came online, because of the damage, I couldn’t get my primary shield up, which is automatic and instinctive for guides.

“The other shamans are inclined to think that I didn’t build any shields automatically, that I have to build them all manually. And that there are some shields that shamans have forgotten how to take down, such as what allows them to listen on the spirit plane, enabling them to connect to sentinels and guides in distress. So they need to learn to bring some shields down, and I have to learn first what the shield even is, and then build it deliberately.”

Jack was rapidly doing risk and threat assessments. The NID would be interested in Tony, too. Perhaps even had someone within the Council that had pulled those particular strings to get legal conservatorship of Tony. Damn and double damn. What was weird was that Tony wasn’t sure if he was in danger, because Jack was damn sure. He wondered if Tony was being willfully blind.

Even with his mind spinning on the problem, Jack continued to tease out the rest of the story, of everything that had happened since he’d gone to Cascade. Since Gibbs had apologized to Tony, Jack figured he could dial down his reaction to merely hostile toward the man, rather than planning to deck him at the earliest opportunity. Besides, with Martin and Tony being so close, Gibbs was practically his in-law.

Jack wasn’t sure how he felt about Tony getting tugged on all the time to help sentinels in distress. He’d already known about it obviously, but he hadn’t known how involuntary it could be for Tony. The shamans were apparently hopeful that the bond with Jack would give Tony more control. And Jack was rooting for that, too; primarily for Tony’s sake, but also because it would make it problematic for him to be on a field team.

Though apparently, the shamans had been making strides recently in learning how to listen on the spirit plane, so that would take some of the burden off Tony.

As much as Jack didn’t want to leave SG-1, Tony was his first priority. And how weird was it that he had no reservations about that? He had complete certainty that Tony was absolutely essential to him, and everything else would have to fall out however the chips landed. Still, he’d hope for the best.

Perhaps one of the most troubling things was how many loose threads there still were for Tony. The situation with Harris was unresolved, the situation with his father’s trial, his life in DC, his life in Cascade, the lingering strife with his old teammates. And Jack really wanted to deliver a smackdown to a couple of NCIS agents.

Jack pulled back a bit so he could look Tony in the eye. “Tony, I need you to let me brief Hammond about this situation with you. And preferably my team. It would be off the record, and none of them would talk about it to anyone.”

“Jack…” Tony sighed.

“Listen, I believe there’s a credible threat here, and I need to mitigate the risks. And we can’t set up contingencies for a situation no one knows about.”

“I’m not… I don’t…” he sighed, looking frustrated.

“Just tell me what’s on your mind.”

“I’m not sure about Carter,” Tony finally managed. “I just… The thing is, she doesn’t much care for me, and I’m not sure about putting my history out there to someone who clearly doesn’t want me around. I’m not trying to run her down, I know you trust her-”

Jack put his hand over Tony’s mouth. “I do trust Carter, but it’s your decision, and I’ll do what you want. Also I think Carter’s issue is with herself, not with you. She doesn’t even know you. By the way, what was that whole deal today?”

Tony pulled Jack’s hand away so he could speak. “She was emoting really strongly, the emotions were pretty negative. It wasn’t good for the meeting in general, but me in particular. But she wasn’t doing it on purpose, I get that. Still, she needs to learn some control. Hopefully Blair can talk her into it.”

“Huh,” Jack mused. “She and I had a run in right before the meeting, so that was probably about me. But if this emoting thingy is going to affect you negatively, she needs to let Blair help her.”

“Mm hm.” Tony looked torn, but eventually nodded. “I’ll call Blair in a bit to see if they’re staying or going back right away. If Jim and Blair are working with Hammond tomorrow, it would be best coming from them. Blair’s the most familiar with my issues and the ongoing problems, and Jim is the most objective.”

Jack rested his forehead against his guide’s. “Thank you.”

~*~

Blair followed Jim into their suite, shucking his jacket as they went. When they’d first come to Colorado Springs, they’d needed a suite so Tony wasn’t off by himself. Now that Tony was with Jack, they could move into a regular room tomorrow. They originally hadn’t planned to stay long, but this whole Stargate thing had them both a little thrown.

Aliens. Seriously? It was too weird. He could barely wrap his brain around it. But if there was ever a program that needed every sentinel and guide it could get, it was this one. He wondered who had made the decision not to include high-order sentinels and why? It was pretty idiotic in his opinion.

Jim was prowling around the suite, checking to make sure there were no listening devices and that no one had been there. They’d been here an hour and a half ago picking up Tony’s stuff, so there wasn’t much time for anything to have happened since Jim’s last sensory scan.

Blair plopped on the couch. He was tired, not so much physically as empathically. The base had a lot of people on high alert and the stress levels of the soldiers would take some getting used to for him.

Jim sat next to him, slinging an arm over his shoulder and pulling him close. “You okay, Chief?”

“Lots of stress emotions at that base.”

“You need to shield more. I know you wanted to get the empathic pulse of that command, but it was too much.”

Blair leaned into his sentinel. “Yeah, man, it was too much. But it’s mostly good people there, so that makes me feel a little better.”

“You could put off this thing with Carter until tomorrow since we’re going to be here a few more days.”

“Nah. That won’t be tiring. Plus, I think I need to strike while the iron’s hot. She’s receptive right now, and might not be if she has time to stew about it.”

“You overextend yourself, Blair,” Jim chided.

“I’m not the only one, big guy. You were so overusing your senses in there.”

“Hn,” Jim grunted noncommittally.

“By the way, did you feel anything funny when we were in the gateroom?”

“I did feel something sort of weird, but it was through our bond, so I didn’t think much more about it. What was it?”

“That was Tony and Jack’s bond clicking into place. I’m pretty sure all the shamans felt the bond complete, and you got a remnant of it through me. I’ll have to remember to ask Incacha or Emiliano later. It’s a little awe inspiring how open to the spirit plane Tony is.”

Jim sighed. “I’m now sure awe inspiring is how I’d put it. I doubt Jack’s going to be happy about it.”

Blair frowned. “Are you implying you wouldn’t like it if it were me?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

He wanted to be annoyed, but he couldn’t muster the indignation. Besides, his sentinel was entitled to his opinion. “You know we’re trying to learn how Tony listens to the spirit plane, and we’re making good progress.”

“I know. And if it’s deliberate and you’re not being forced against your will, I’m fine with it.” Meaning, he was as fine with it as he ever was with the spiritual aspect of what Blair did.

Blair stayed cuddled up to Jim, happy with the silence for the moment. Finally, he asked, “How involved do you want to be in this, Jim?”

Jim blew out a breath. “I want to be involved until my sentinel isn’t screaming about danger to the tribe.”

“Bad?”

“Oh yeah. I think they’ve made several mistakes in how they handle this, but all we can do is try to make a difference now.”

“Yeah. I need to talk to Hammond about how they’re taking care of the sentinels and guides they already have. There’s only one iso room, there’s no group meditation space, no bonding rooms. If a couple’s bond is strained, they have to wait until they’re off base, and that’s not right. It takes forever to get out of that mountain and clear the checkpoints. I wouldn’t be surprised if couples were doing some touch bonding in their cars,” Blair concluded.

Blair was able to find his previously missing indignation at the thought of a distressed couple having to ground each other in their vehicle for lack of any facilities. “Although I suppose some of them could have quarters on base,” he mused. “But even if that’s the case, bonding rooms are created with sentinel senses in mind, and general base quarters are not.”

“I’m sure Hammond will make whatever changes you suggest, Chief. He seems to care about the people in his command, and I doubt anyone’s ever told him what guides and sentinels need.”

“Part of the problem is they had no alpha. The setup here wouldn’t have made it past Pride leadership. But since they chose to exclude high-order pairs, they made it hard on all the rest.”

Jim kissed his head, murmuring, “It’ll all get fixed.”

Blair continued absently musing out loud, verbalizing his to do list, which Jim was pretty accustomed to, so didn’t say anything. The ringing of his cell phone stopped the litany of action items. “It’s Tony,” he muttered in surprise as he glanced at the display. “Hey, Tony. Everything okay?”

Yeah. Wondering how long you’re going to be staying, and possibly a favor.”

“We’ll be here for a few days. What’s up?”

Jack’s pretty convinced that the situation with the rogue Council folks isn’t over with. He thinks they might make another attempt, so he wants to brief Hammond and the rest of his field team on it. He also wants to get some GHB so he can sniff it and see what he should be looking for.”

“Jack would be right,” Jim muttered.

Blair brows shot toward his hairline. “You okay with all of that?”

Tony huffed a little. “Not so much, but my sentinel is stuck in hyper vigilance mode and feels there’s a credible threat here. He rightly pointed out he can’t make contingency plans to mitigate the risk if no one knows.”

“And again, Jack would be right,” Jim whispered.

Tell Jim I can hear him just fine,” Tony said with amusement.

Ignoring his sentinel, Blair asked, “What do you want me to tell them?”

Well, first I want their agreement that this is off the record and stays out of official reports. If it’s not in the Center’s final report on the matter, I don’t want the Air Force to have any different documentation. And finally, that it stays amongst the team.”

“Everyone on the team?” Blair hedged, wondering if there might be one problem.

If you think she’s gonna be okay, then yeah. I trust your judgment, Blair.”

“All right, Tony. I’ll give ‘em the unedited version of events, and I’ll decide about her after I talk to her tonight.”

Thanks, Blair. And thanks to you, Jim and Daniel for everything you dropped off.”

“Daniel thought of the food, said he knew the state of Jack’s cupboards, and I knew you only had a couple days worth of clothes, so we just grabbed you a few things. Though, if there’s anyone ever who doesn’t need more clothes, it’s you,” Blair teased, which got a real laugh out of Tony.

Just how many clothes do you have?” Blair heard Jack distantly in the background.

You don’t want to know,” Tony called out to his sentinel. “Listen, Blair, thanks for everything. And I don’t mean the food and clothes.”

Blair found himself smiling. Responding to Martin’s call all those weeks ago was easily one of the better decisions he’d ever made. “You’re welcome, Tony.”

– – – –

Chapter Eighteen

Monday evening after dinner, Blair was starting to think this was the longest day he’d had since his first day with Tony, and it wasn’t near over with yet. There was a sharp knock on the suite door that should be the Major. Jim’s nod confirmed it.

Blair opened the door, offering a smile to the woman he could feel was slightly nervous. “Good evening, Major Carter.”

“Please call me Sam,” she replied as she entered the suite, slipping off her coat. “Nice room,” she commented, looking around, and nodding to Jim.

“It’s more than we need, and we’ll be moving tomorrow, but while Tony was staying here, it was important that we at least have adjoining rooms.”

Frowning in confusion, she asked, “Why’s that?”

“It’s a bit of a story, actually. Perhaps we’ll get to that later. But in the mean time, Jim’s going to watch the Jags game, and I thought we could use Tony’s room, if you’re agreeable?”

“Sure.”

Blair gestured for Sam to take the one chair, while he sat cross-legged on the corner of the bed. He easily noticed she was a little uncomfortable. “I’ll need to do a light empathic scan to see how all your shields are, and figure out what we need to do. From there I can make some recommendations about training, whether you want to learn to use your gifts, or just make sure you know how to properly lock them down.

“We can just jump right in, or if you want to talk a little about your experience, I’m willing to listen. I would certainly like to know what happened with your intake that you were left so uninformed.”

She fidgeted a little. “I… it’s a bit complicated. I’m not sure I can even fully blame the Center.”

“I’m not so concerned with figuring out who’s at fault. My priority would be to help you, and also if there’s a problem with a Center’s intake process, I’d like to look into it. How about I do the scan, and you can decide where you want to go from there?”

“Sure.”

“All right, it’s easiest if I’m in contact, so I’m going to sit on the floor by your chair and touch your hand. It’ll only take a few minutes.”

She nodded, so Blair shifted position, then rested his hand on the back of hers. He reached out empathically, checking shields and getting a sense of her abilities. The whole thing only took a few minutes. Most scans were quick, Tony being a notable exception.

He withdrew carefully, then offered her a reassuring smile and a pat on the hand before resuming his seat on the bed. “Do you want me to tell you what I found, or would you rather not know?”

“I’d prefer to know,” she said with some outward bravado that she didn’t really feel.

“Okay, I don’t want to make a bad assumption, but how much do you know about the different types of guide gifts?”

“Not much. I had my empathy levels tested, and… Well, there were issues with my family around that, and some things were said by the Center. It just wasn’t something I was going to pursue.”

“Hmm. Well, there’s a variety of empathic gifts, and at first blush, I’d say I disagree with your rating. The foundation of empathic gifts is passive and active empathy. As I mentioned, the overall rating is based on active empathy, but you have an interesting issue in that I believe your active empathy is fairly high, but your passive empathy is unusually low, which makes testing active empathy harder and could lead to a false rating.”

She frowned. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“Active empathy is the ability to reach out and find something. It’s searching for an emotion, reading people, if you will. Passive empathy is the ability to read what’s basically ambient emotional noise. People emote all the time, but still instinctively keep some emotions inside, you’d only need passive empathy to read what they emote, but active to seek out what they’re keeping hidden, or to get a more complete empathic picture.”

“Okay, got it.”

“When we test active empathy, passive empathy is like a segue. You feel for the ambient emotions and let them guide you into finding what’s hidden, or seek what you’re looking for. We’d have to run formal tests on you, but I’d put your passive empathy at around one or two, it’s really barely there. But your active empathy is probably closer to a six or seven, but it’s hard to test because that natural flow is missing. You’d have to build more skill to utilize the empathy to its potential.”

“So, I’m not a weak guide,” she said with no amount of confusion.

“You were never a weak guide,” Blair retorted a little hotly. “I don’t know who put that idea in your head, Sam, but it’s not right. The different levels of empathy lend themselves to different things. That’s probably a discussion for a different day. Did someone at the Center tell you that you were a weak guide?”

“Not exactly, though I inferred it as such. It was a little more like the woman was dismissive and told me my career options were limited. I was at the Air Force Academy, and working on my Ph.D. in Astrophysics, and I, well, I didn’t take it well when someone suggested that I was best suited to a career in psychotherapy.”

Blair sighed, he saw that more often than he would like. Centers often just saw the guide rating and not the person. Still he thought there was more than just an insensitive coordinator. “That was insensitive, and she clearly wasn’t seeing you beyond your guide gifts. But whatever field you go into, there are ways you can incorporate your gifts into your life. You don’t have to shut them off just because you choose not to be a guide.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, guide aura for starters. Learn how to use that, let it out during sex, and you’ll treat your partner to a wild ride they’ll never forget.”

Sam busted out laughing. “That’s… I’m not sure what to think of that. It’s certainly not how I’d ever thought of using guide gifts.”

“They’re your gifts. You aren’t under obligation to make the world a better place with them. You’re already making the world a better place with what you do every day. If you want to keep your gifts for your own pleasure, or to benefit your lovers, that’s your choice.”

She looked thoughtful. “I don’t see empathic gifts being terribly useful in physics or engineering, but they could be useful in the work with my team, couldn’t they?”

“Of course,” Blair asserted, because really, the woman was robbing her team of a huge advantage. “If you were strong with your passive empathy, you’d be able to get the emotional pulse of a situation easily, but with that not being your strength, you’d have to deliberately check the emotional tone of the people you encounter. And that could be quite useful to you, I’d imagine.”

She sighed. “I’d occasionally thought a stronger guide could help the team. I just didn’t think that could be me.”

“I’ll be honest that your gifts are a little all over the place, and some gifts segue into each other, so you’ll need to work a little harder to make the gifts workable. Passive empathy is like the transitional medium for some of the other skills, and with yours being low, you’d need more precise skills than some guides ever have to develop.”

Nodding, she seemed to be thinking on something. “What other gifts or skills are there?”

“There’s emotional projection and emotional adjustment. They’re similar but one is a little uglier and I don’t care for it. Anyway, emotional projection is the ability to blast an emotion out. It can be generally directed out, or directed at one person. The directing requires empathic gifts to connect directly to someone. So, if you wanted to make someone specific feel cheerful, the limit to how strong that targeted emotion can be is defined by the strength of your active empathy.

“Emotional adjustment… well, that’s literally modifying the emotions of another person. Imagine that emotions have dials, just like a sentinel’s senses, you would be reaching out and grabbing a dial and turning it. Except in cases of self-defense, or with consent, it’s considered empathic assault, and we only offer training to people in that skill under specific circumstances.

“Considering the work you do, you’d qualify to be taught that if you wanted to pursue it. Again, it’s limited by the strength of your active empathy.”

She looked unsettled, but cautiously asked, “So, if someone were threatening us, I could turn up their dial for fear or something?”

“Yes, but you need to carefully consider first, and part of why training is so important. Sometimes making someone afraid can cause them to lash out rather than drop to their knees and cry. Strong emotions can have unexpected consequences. Also, when you turn that knob manually, you affect the person’s ability to self-regulate that emotion for a time. Usually for a day or two, but with repeated reinforcement of the adjustment, it could last a few weeks.

“There’s a lot more to that, but it’s probably not worth getting into right now. We could discuss it more if you wanted to learn it. You’d need someone to sign off on the training, which I could do, and it would have to be logged in the sentinel guide registry.” With everything that had happened with Tony, he wasn’t thrilled about going down this path, but considering how on the front lines this woman was, he’d be willing to teach her.

“I find the idea a little appalling, but I’ll think about it. Is that the end of the gifts?”

“No. The ability to do empathic scans is an extension of active empathy and is a skill that can be learned by level six and above. Empathic touch sensitivity is a form of passive empathy and you typically have it or you don’t, though some people have an extreme form of it, like Tony.

“Also, we’ve talked about aura projection, and yours is quite high. Like I said earlier, probably an eight. And, if nothing else, that’s the skill we need to work the most on, so you can at least lock it down if you don’t want to use it.”

“What good is that?”

“Good? You know, the best experience I ever had with music was this Australian violinist who was also a guide. She chose to go into music but learned how to use her aura projection along with her performance. She’d saturate her aura with her love of music, and the emotion behind the song, then let her shield down when she started to play. No one was forced to feel anything, it didn’t change their emotions, but it was like sitting in pure love of music. It was beyond anything I can even describe to you.”

Carter stared at her hands in silence for a long time, and he waited patiently until she was ready to speak. “I think I’ve unintentionally done that when I get really excited about something I’m working on. You don’t think of it as emotional manipulation?”

“No. You’re not forcing anyone to feel it, you’re just letting them feel how good you feel. But it’s better to be able to choose when you’re doing it, because conversely you can have people sitting in your negative emotions, and guides and sentinels are sensitive to it.”

She winced a little. “The guides and sentinels in the program pretty much avoid me. I thought they disdained me for choosing not to be a guide, or looked down on me because of my rating.”

Blair blew out a breath. “I can’t speak to what they were feeling with certainty, because some guides and sentinels have misconceptions of what rating means and do use it as a status. However, I’d like to believe they’re in the minority. I think it’s more likely that your aura projection was unstable and you make the others, particularly the guides, uncomfortable, so they avoided you to not be caught in it.”

Sighing, Sam clenched her hands a little. “I feel like an idiot.”

“There’s no point in that. Some people said things that you took badly and you made choices. You’re not right or wrong for doing that. And I’d venture to say that one or more of those people were family members, and those are particularly hard voices to get out of our heads.”

This time, she openly flinched.

He hurried to reassure. “You don’t have to talk about it, Sam. I’m just saying it to reassure you that you may have done the best you could at the time.”

She was quiet for a long time. “It was my dad. He was, well, I guess unimpressed would be a good word, with my guide rating. My relationship with my dad is really complicated, but his disdain for my rating was hard to handle. He didn’t feel I should waste time on something that was just a minor gift. Plus I…” she trailed off, then took a deep breath. “I’ve always been good at whatever I did. I wasn’t… I didn’t take it well being low at something.”

Blair cast her a sympathetic look. This was why the intake of low-order guides was important. The wrong words in the wrong way could bruise an ego, and they lost people. “Sam, a lot of people in that situation did you a disservice, not the least of which was you. I’d encourage you to think about what you want. Don’t decide tonight whether you want to train your gifts or suppress them. Take some time to think it over. No matter what, I’ll help you get your aura projection under control while I’m here.”

Sam looked a thoughtful and not a little overwhelmed. “Based on what you said about my active empathy level, you think my rating is wrong?”

He frowned a little, worried they were still stuck on the issue of rating. “Yes. I think if your empathy were measured correctly—you’d need to be walked through how to use it without the aid of passive empathy—you’d be a six or so.”

“So, all along I could have been working with sentinels. I’m capable of forming bonds and stuff?”

“Oh.” And suddenly, he felt really sad for her. “Yes. And if you’ve felt the absence of that, it was a strong indicator that you’re not low-order. Low-order guides don’t have that yearning. It seems to begin somewhere around an active empathy rating of four or five.”

She looked away, blinking rapidly. “I definitely need some time to think through all of this.”

“That’s fine. I know the nearest Center is in Denver. When you’ve made your decision, if you’d like to get tested, I’ll go with you and make sure you get assessed correctly considering the peculiarities of your empathic situation.”

“I appreciate that. My team is off rotation for two weeks, but I know you won’t be here the whole time, so I’ll try to make up my mind quickly.” She clearly had more to say, but seemed to be hesitating. Finally, she asked, “What’s DiNozzo like?”

Blair smiled. “Tony is probably one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever met. I think your program will be lucky to have him. Also, you don’t need to worry about Tony judging you, whatever decision you make. And whether you like it or not, he and Jack will consider you part of their Pride.”

Sam frowned. “I thought Prides were archaic.”

Blair huffed a little, continually annoyed that the Council had let this perception become so pervasive. It was probably accidental, but they could try to do something to actively counter it if they wanted to. “No. The decision was made to remove them from the formal governing hierarchy, but they’re still vital. Instinctually we form Prides. They’re part of our sense of safety and wellbeing, and even another sense of family. The connection formed in a Pride is profound.

“The folks at the mountain are sort of adrift without that. They might be seeking that structure from the one alpha here in Colorado Springs, but having an alpha pair in the program will immediately form a Pride around them. And even if you never choose to be a guide, they’ll still want to imprint on you as part of their Pride.”

He could tell she had questions about that, but held up a hand. “That’s probably a topic for another day, just know that Tony is a good man, a strong guide, and he’ll happily help you in whatever way you need. For tonight, I’d like to do some meditation exercises with you to help you begin to learn how to sense your shields. Feeling them is the first step to learning to manage them.”

He worked with Carter for an hour, and by the end, she was able to at least visualize her various empathic shields. He knew she was technically off duty until after Christmas, so he encouraged her to keep working on it daily, and he’d meet with her again privately the day after tomorrow to work on the shielding.

As she was getting ready to go, he asked, “Sam, question before you leave. Are you going to be there tomorrow for the follow-up meeting with General Hammond? I know you’re off-duty, but I know Daniel’s coming, and I wasn’t sure where you stood.”

She nodded. “I’ll be there. I’m curious to hear your and Jim’s recommendations.”

“Great. There’s something I’d like to bring up with SG-1 and it’s easiest to just do it once.

~*~

The next day was long for Blair. He had a lengthy meeting with Dr. Fraiser about the care and feeding of guides and sentinels. She was a little appalled that it had all been overlooked to such a degree. Since she didn’t have a lot of familiarity with caring for sentinels and guides, he wasn’t sure how quickly the information would really sink in, but they had to start somewhere. He still planned to talk to the general about it, but getting the CMO on board could only help.

He also spent time talking to whichever guides and sentinels were in the mountain that day to get their read on how their skills were utilized, how they thought they could be better put to use, etcetera. Blair also put together some suggestions for advanced training the guides and sentinels could use considering the position they were in. Normally they’d have a hard time getting that by the Center without a description of the command they worked in, but with Blair read-in on the SGC, he could give the authorization.

Midday he pulled all the Stargate sentinel and guide files from the registry to get a picture of aptitude within the program so he could make recommendations of what skillsets they might be weakest in. He thought it might be a good idea to double-check the skill ratings for as many as he had time for.

Right after lunch, he watched as Jim and Teal’c sparred with a rather large crowd watching. Apparently Teal’c had never been beaten in hand-to-hand, so Blair wasn’t expecting any different with Jim, but he was happy that his sentinel went longer against the big Jaffa than anyone previously. Highly trained sentinels could process the most minute changes in muscle tension or position, making it harder to get the drop on them. He had a feeling that once Jack was fully in charge of his senses, he’d be going longer against Teal’c.

Though he knew the general and Teal’c had some questions about Tony and Blair’s reaction to Junior – and what kind of name was that for a megalomaniacal parasitical alien? – Blair wanted to hold off on that until they had another high-order guide around to test against the goa’uld. There was no telling if what happened had been a high empathy thing, or a shaman thing.

Towards the end of the day, everyone met in the briefing room overlooking the Stargate to review and discuss Jim and Blair’s findings. They were joined by the CMO, fortunately Blair had given Hammond a heads up earlier in the day that he needed to speak with the general and SG-1 privately at the end of the meeting.

As everyone was getting seated, Jim was listening intently. The base was riddled with listening devices, so everywhere Jim went, he checked for bugs. So far, they’d removed sixteen of the damned things from key areas. Blair wondered if that wasn’t why the powers that be had originally decided no high-order sentinels. Finally, Jim nodded at the general and gestured to the SGC logo plaque on the wall and the light fixture.

The general maintained his composure but he practically radiated frustration to Blair. Teal’c took care of the one in the light, Carter grabbed the one behind the plaque and Daniel called for pickup. Dr. Fraiser just looked annoyed, no doubt still pissed about the two bugs they’d found in medical earlier in the day.

As soon as the bugs were gone, Carter took the reins of the briefing. “Sir, it’s unlikely that any of the surveillance devices are actually working at this point. Earlier today we determined that the range was too short for such a small device and there had to be an on-base receiver. With sentinel Ellison’s aid, we found the receiver in a storage room on level seventeen. From there, I believe I’ve located a backdoor in our supply order program that would send the compressed audio signals every time we used the software, which is pretty much on a daily basis.”

“How long before that backdoor is closed, Major?”

“It will be done today, sir.”

Daniel propped his arms on the table and looked around. “Am I alone in thinking that perhaps one of the reasons why highly rated sentinels were kept out of the program is because they could keep people from spying on us?”

Teal’c inclined his head in agreement. “An observation, Daniel Jackson, that I agree has merit.”

Everyone pretty much concurred, so they got started with the meeting. First they went over what he’d discussed with Dr. Fraiser, and the general agreed to make the necessary changes whether or not they brought more sentinels and guides into the program, which was really all Blair could ask for. If nothing else, he’d leave the sentinels and guides already here in a better place.

After that, there was a long list of things to review; Jim and Blair’s observations and recommendations, then a lengthy Q&A about the information presented. Eventually, the general dismissed Doctor Fraiser and turned the meeting back over to Blair.

“I spoke with Tony last night, and he’s asked, at Jack’s behest, to impart some information about his situation over the last few months. Jack believes, and Jim and I concur, that there’s a real threat to Tony that’s not going away easily. Jack would like to work on some risk mitigation, but you all need to be briefed first.

“The only issue is that though he’s asked me to give you the whole story, I need your word that it won’t go beyond you folks without Tony’s permission, and that you never put anything into writing. There will be an official report eventually that will cover some of this, but the rest will need to be treated as strictly confidential. I’ll forward the report when the Council has finished their investigation, so you’ll know what’s in the official record.”

He loosened his empathy up to be able to read everyone, and knew Jim was checking for deceptiveness as well, though neither expected anything of the sort from this group.

Daniel and Teal’c agreed immediately, Carter a few seconds behind, only the general seemed to be seriously thinking it over. “My reservation is that if there’s something in there that would affect his fitness to work in the field, I can’t pretend to not be aware of it.”

Blair nodded. “Then discuss it with Tony, get disclosure through some other method than what I’m telling you today, document it and then take action. Tony knows you’re being briefed, so if something gives you pause, tell him and then he can work with whomever to get it remediated in whatever way is required.”

The general thought for a bit longer, then inclined his head. “That is something I can agree to.”

Blair started the explanation, trying to keep it as clinical as possible. Though he gave an overview of what happened at NCIS with regards to Harris, he kept his opinions out of it. Tony didn’t usually directly discuss the time at NCIS with Blair, though there had been a couple of late night conversations where Tony asked if he was being unreasonable with his old teammates.

Since the sticking point with his old coworkers was that they seemed to want Tony to apologize for reporting them, no, Blair didn’t think Tony was being unreasonable. But Blair left all of the emotional aspects out of the discussion with the SGC folks, because they didn’t need to know about Tony’s angst over the loss of his ersatz family.

When Blair got to the part about him detecting that Tony had damage from GS-155, Daniel had to interject. “Wait a minute, I’m a little fuzzy. I didn’t think anyone had ever come online after being given that drug.”

“No one ever has.”

Carter leaned forward, looking at Blair intently. “Are you sure that’s what he was given?”

“Yes. And even if I didn’t recognize the damage the drug does, his father admitted it.”

Daniel flopped back in his seat, blowing out a breath. “Oh boy.”

“Dr. Jackson?” the general prompted.

“The drug has thus far proven insurmountable. You add that with the shaman gifts and being bonded to Jack and able to make a connection on the spirit plane to distressed sentinels… The NID is going to be interested. Probably more than just the NID.”

“So we believe there’s a compelling threat here?” the general clarified.

“I do,” Daniel said.

Teal’c added, “I am not familiar with this drug or the cultural significance, however I believe that being unique in these ways would prove tempting to some.”

Blair noticed Carter was quiet, and he gently empathically checked her over. She was feeling appalled and there was almost a visceral sense of violation, as if she were over-empathizing with Tony. Eventually, she glanced over at Blair. “You told me that this isn’t a skill that’s readily taught. How did Harris know how to do this so masterfully?”

“Well, some guides have more aptitude for this than others and can teach themselves to some degree. However, Harris was trained as part of a clinical trial of a special treatment for certain types of severe addiction. Sort of an aversion therapy where there’s a trigger to have a negative reaction when confronted with the addictive substance.

“It’s privately funded research and the participants are fully informed about what they’re getting into, though I admit I’m not a proponent of it. Harris had the aptitude and received training, then washed out of the program. He was supposed to be closely monitored by his home Center, and that didn’t happen considering the issues around the DC Center, which I still need to explain, but that’s coming up next.”

Carter nodded for him to continue, but Blair had a hunch the two of them would be talking about it more later, having no doubt the story had stirred up some issues.

He went on to explain what they’d found at the DC Center, then how Tony had come back to Cascade for healing. When he got to the part about Tony coming online, and the empathic meltdown, Hammond was concerned.

“Is that something we’d have to worry about if his empathic shields were to waver here? Could he affect the entire base?”

“I think it’s a minor concern for several reasons. The first is that once Tony learns to put a shield up, it’s rock solid. Second, Tony was only a week into his healing when he came online. He was an empathic mess and was in no way even capable of handling that influx of emotions. And finally, after an event that I still need to tell you about, we worked on bringing Tony’s shields down incrementally and seeing if he could stay in control. It’s difficult and what he basically has to do is shut off his emotions to keep from creating that feedback loop, but he’s capable and has practiced it.”

“What prompted that?” Hammond inquired.

“The last piece I needed to tell you, and what you are partially aware of already, General, is that someone made an attempt to bring Tony’s shields down a little over three weeks ago. The plan was to cause another empathic event, declare him an unstable guide and get legal conservatorship over him. Then transfer him into the custody of the Council. This plot was not sanctioned officially by the Council and they say they’ve rooted out the problem, but no one’s feeling cavalier about Tony’s safety at this point. He’s been under 24/7 sentinel guard since it happened.”

Blair let that sink in for a few moments before he continued. “Not wanting to be a source of distress for others, Tony wanted to practice functioning with his shield down. I’ll be honest that, in my opinion, what he did was sort of like empathic torture, but I respected his intentions and I believe he’s capable of managing with his shield down.”

He leaned forward, looking intently at General Hammond. “This is the reality of dealing with shamans. The empathic power we have is phenomenal and potentially of huge benefit, but there’s more risk, too. If someone brought my shields down, I’d be just as much a risk as Tony. I don’t believe that the empathic abuse Tony suffered at Harris’ hands makes him any more of a problem than any other shaman.”

The general nodded, but looked thoughtful.

Blair could tell Carter was disturbed by what she’d heard, and he’d have to talk to her about it later. Daniel was seriously indignant about the whole situation, and Teal’c seemed rather approving of Tony’s decisions around training his ability to be without his shield.

Hammond eventually asked, “I realize the nesting period is about a week, but how long before I can discuss this with Colonel O’Neill?”

“If you want to do it in person, sometimes a sentinel will let trusted people in after only a few days. You could try to see him now, and considering the topic, he’d say yes. But he’d likely get really growly with you, so I wouldn’t recommend it. If you just want to discuss it with him via phone, you could make that call anytime.”

“Very well. I’ll call the colonel shortly. Major, I’d like you to take the lead on a security plan. Perhaps discuss it with Teal’c and Sentinel Ellison.” Hammond looked to Jim for confirmation, and he nodded his agreement. “Dr. Jackson, please continue to work with Dr. Sandburg. I realize you’re all due to be on leave now, I’ll arrange to have your leave extended a few days. Please keep me posted.”

With that, the general left the conference room, leaving Blair to answer the questions of the rest of SG-1.

~*~

Jack reached for the remote and hit pause. “Was that a giggle?” he asked, hiding his smile against the back of Tony’s head.

“Absolutely not!” Tony replied from his position lounging on the couch with his back against Jack’s chest. “I do not giggle.”

“I’m pretty sure that was a giggle,” Jack insisted, glad he’d talked Tony into watching The Simpsons with him. He’d been kind of shocked that Tony had never seen an episode. That was something that he’d had to rectify immediately.

“And I’m pretty sure that if you ever want another blow job you’ll recall that there was no giggle,” Tony said dryly.

“What giggle are you talking about?”

“Smart man.”

– – – –

Chapters 13-15  |  Main Story Page | Chapters 19-22 (End)

3 Comments:

  1. Just want you to know, I stayed up until two am last night and still hadn’t finished this, you awful, horrible, no good person, you! You, my dear, are a life ruiner. Love you! *smooches*

    This story is awesome, btw. 😀 😀 I didn’t actually get to read it when you were writing it on RT, because my brain was too engaged with that monster fic of mine I was writing. You should know. You beta read the monster, lol. So I am thoroughly enjoying this story. 😀

    • LOL.

      There’s the concerned, decent person in me who says, “no missed sleep!”

      Then there’s the cackling, evil author who revels in drawing the unsuspecting into her web.

      Never any telling which personality is going to win 😀

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Man oh Man this was an intense chapter, Exceptionally well written, definitely left me wanting more.,

no matter where you go, there you are...