by Judith Proctor
This is a follow-on to 'The Moons of Endymion'. It takes place immediately after the late 4th season episode 'The Entity'
The moon was in its last quarter, fading towards extinction as O'Neill walked along the leaf-covered streets. A corner of his mind noticed the phase automatically and also the lack of cloud cover. It was a cold clear night, ideal for star-gazing if he had felt that way inclined. Sometimes, it could be relaxing to wrap up warm and spend a few hours studying the heavens. Tonight, though, he had a restless energy burning in him; it demanded that he keep walking, heading out of town with no real feeling for where he was going or what he would do if he got there. If he walked long enough, maybe he could walk away from the nightmare, or at least bury it for a while in exhaustion.
The stars were too damn close these days.
The empty night soaked up sound. Every footfall was muffled by the carpet of leaves and the few tattered leaves still clinging to the barren branches hung lifeless in the still air. He was alone with the earth smell of the damp leaves and the pin-prick lights of the distant alien stars.
Maybe too alone. You could lose touch with humanity on a night like this.
His ears filtered out the familiar sound of a motor, but as the car pulled up alongside him, he turned automatically, reacting to the possible threat. Too dark to see who the driver was, but as the passenger door opened, his mind rapidly trimmed down the possibilities.
"Get in, Jack. I'm not going to stay here all night."
Okay, that was one he hadn't expected. "Fuck off, Maybourne. Go and get yourself arrested."
"Now, Jack, is that anyway to talk to someone who's come to take you for a drink?"
"Strychnine or prussic acid?"
"Jack-" God, he hated that lecturing tone "-is that anyway to talk to someone who's trying to help you? Right now, you need to get drunk."
O'Neill leaned down to peer into the car. "And that's the point where I'm supposed to spill my guts to you, is it?"
"I still have some sources for what's going on in the SGC. I heard what happened today. Now, do you want that drink or not?"
Sometimes it didn't pay to analyse things too closely. It was either carry on walking until his legs gave out, or else try to drink himself into oblivion. It wouldn't help in the long term - he'd tried that briefly after Charlie died, but for one night, the prospect of forgetfulness suddenly seemed very appealing. He climbed into the car before his rational mind managed to come up with an excuse.
"Lead on, Mcduff."
The motel room was comfortable as far as these things went. The generic decoration of a large chain, a couple of bland Impressionist paintings carefully designed to offend no one and to blend tastefully with the bland colouring of the walls and furnishings.
Maybourne tossed him a bottle from a cooler, closely followed by a bottle opener.
"Don't bother memorising where we are," Maybourne said. "I'll be gone by tomorrow."
"Different car too?"
"Of course - I'd be disappointed if you hadn't memorised the licence plate."
O'Neill flipped the top off the bottle, listening for the sound of the seal breaking. Okay, the bottle hadn't been tampered with, which was probably why Maybourne had gone through the charade of letting him open it himself. He sprawled in an armchair and took a long swallow while Maybourne opened another bottle.
"Why?" O'Neill asked bluntly.
"Do I need a reason to spend an evening with an old friend?"
"I'm not your friend."
Maybourne settled himself in the other chair, feet resting on one of the beds. "All right. Let's just say that I'm glad Major Carter made it."
"What's Carter to you?"
"Jack, there's no need to be so defensive. I admire her. She's a genius-level scientist and a good officer to boot. Do you know how just rare a combination that is?"
O'Neill snorted. "Tell me. I know exactly two scientists who can take orders, and even Daniel sometimes forgets who's in command. Actually, delete the 'sometimes'. He did finally learn how to shoot straight, though."
"Carter can think on her feet as well. I underestimated her once - badly."
"Any particular occasion?"
"About a year ago; you were having one of your regular alien incursions at SGC."
"I could take exception to that."
Maybourne grinned and took a long swallow of his beer. "You could, but as I recall you were immobilised and being impersonated by an alien at the time. It was very convincing too - had all your natural bad manners. Fooled me totally; even Carter was starting to have doubts."
A shrug. "The illusion flickered, just for a fraction of a second. She grabbed my gun and shot you. No hesitation at all. She's good."
The world was starting to close in on him. O'Neill helped himself to another beer and drank deep.
"So," Maybourne continued cheerfully, as though O'Neill wasn't ignoring him, "how was it for you? Killing Carter, I mean."
The flung bottle missed Maybourne by a whisker and smashed on the wall behind his head.
"Keep Carter out of this."
"Why? I'm not the one in love with her. I take it you are in love with her? Otherwise your performance this afternoon was worthy of an Oscar."
"My relationship with Major Carter is strictly professional."
Maybourne stretched out his legs and leaned back in the chair in apparent relaxation. "Whatever you say, Jack."
"What in Hell's name is it to you anyway? You don't work for the government now."
That infuriating smile. "Put it down to curiosity. Or maybe I thought you might want to get drunk with someone who wasn't working for Uncle Sam."
"You mean I just gaze into your bonny blue eyes and pour out the secrets of a lifetime? Then you sell them on to the highest bidder. Dream on, Harry."
"You're too well trained for that. Besides, I've already got enough on you and Kinsey to blackmail you, if I needed more money."
Another bottle beckoned, so too for a brief moment did the broken glass on the floor. But Carter was alive against all the odds and oblivion no longer sang its siren song so sweetly. Fencing with Maybourne was better than walking the streets. You couldn't trust him, but at least you knew you couldn't trust him. That in turn allowed a small degree of relaxation.
It struck him as mildly amusing that Maybourne was in the same boat. Couldn't talk to his old pals at NID because they'd probably shoot him on sight. Couldn't talk to strangers about anything connected to his life before he went on the run. Couldn't really feel safe talking to Colonel Jack O'Neill of the SGC, but took the gamble for the sake of human company and the possibility of information.
He caught hold of another bottle for himself and tossed one to Maybourne. "Sl˘inte."
Maybourne was dangerous, but at least it was a different danger from talking to anyone else. Friends were the worst at such times. Sympathy could draw you out, extract confessions that you couldn't afford to make. I shot Carter. Killed her to destroy the machine intelligence inside her that wanted to destroy the entire base. I killed her, and I almost left it too late. I hesitated, but I did it.
Is that a pass or a fail?
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