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Aberrant: Stargate Universe - The Extra Man [FIN]

The Red Man

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Freshly showered. Clean clothing. BDU's neat and boots shined. And one fuckload of questions to answer thanks to you asshole.

*Bite me.*

Declan paused outside Caine's office as his alter-ego sullenly responded. Just remember...

*Yeah, yeah. Caine's on the team, so I'm not to tear his head off and shove it up his ass. Jeez, you think I'm the psycho? You're the fucker who talks to himself and has two pairs of hands grabbing for the wheel.*

Dec ignored that. He had delayed enough as it was: military protocol allowed him to spend some time getting presentable before facing disciplinary action, which is what he was facing here for certain. He knocked once, then entered.

"Major Caine. Sergeant Perault reporting as ordered, sir." The Ranger saluted Caine with parade-ground precision before the Major's desk before waiting at attention, his shaded gaze a foot above the head of his seated CO.

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Caine was busy - no ferverishly - typing away on something when Declan entered. He waited there for a moment before looking up and saying,

"At ease."

He went back to his reporting. Damien leaned back, stretched his back, and then rose. He came around the desk and leaned against it.

"Okay Sergeant, tell me what happened?"

"Check that."

"Tell me what happened in the debriefing room with the general. What was that outburst about? You know better."

Caine held up his hand. He still had more questions.

"What was it that Specialist Jenings-Izumi said to you, and what was the response she was looking for? What made both of you act so much out of character that I have to ask myself if I brought back the same two professionals I went to Abydos with."

"How this makes me look is my business. I'll handle this, because that is my job. I'm the team shit-magnet. Nothing gets past me if I do my job right. Please don't try to get around me and draw shit down on yourselves again. Now speak."

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"Sir." Declan was 'at ease', but was still standing and keeping his eyes slightly above Caine's head. "This is no fault of Specialist Jenings-Izumi, sir. She was trying to help me overcome a problem that would see this sergeant in a padded cell, sir." He swallowed and paused to consider his next words.

"Since the other night, during the aftermath of that fight when I lost control, I've been hearin' a voice, sir. Not voices. Just one voice. The voice you heard in the General's presence, sir." The sergeant was plainly finding this a struggle. "It turns out it isn't just a voice, Major. It's another personality grown from a part of me. A part that got split off and buried when I had my breakdown in the Middle East. Somehow the artifact did somethin' to make it a full and distinct entity." The sunglasses lowered slightly as Dec met his CO's eyes. "He's my violent side, sir. The killer, the survivor. Without him I'd be no good as a soldier, without me he'd be shot like a mad dog."

"The Specialist found out about this while trying to work on my control issues, sir. She had an idea to induce differing states of mind in me so that I wouldn't go berserk as easily. But somehow it let him out." Dec shrugged. "I don't feel the need to go berserk anymore, sir, if that helps. It was him, you see. Kinda asleep inside me and trying to wake up. Now he's awake."

"What she whispered to me was a conditioning phrase." He shook his head. "The sergeant would tell you sir, if you promise not to try to use it yourself. So far, it works for Liv- Uh, Specialist Jenings-Izumi. You saw it calm him down and let me re-emerge. I really don't know what would happen if someone else tried it, especially if he was already riled up."

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He said nothing for what seemed like a very long time. His eyes appeared to be studying a spot on the wall, but Declan could make out his eyes flickering rapidly in a very odd pattern. His right hand rubbed his chin while this transpired.

"You should have brought this matter to my attention when you first discovered this - you and Olivia."

Yes, he used her personal name. This interview had changed tone.

"We, as a team, need to need a way to make this hidden side of your personality see reason ESPECIALLY if something happens to Olivia. We can't lose both of you. The team falls apart and everybody dies. You know that."

"We need to leave base on a training op, or find a place off-hours to work on this. Everyone of us needs a contact point with this side of you. Otherwise we have a special relationship in the team and you know what problems that leads to."

"Now, I want to know why you didn't bring this to me. I want you to speculate why Olivia didn't bring this to my attention. I'm not blaming anyone, but I need to re-assess how information travels in my command."

"You have to be able to trust me implicitly, or I'm not doing my job leading the Team. I thought I had that trust. I've trusted you and I must say I'm dissappointed in this omission of pertanent information."

"Worse, I give a damn about all three of you. You need to give a damn about each other equally. When we start making exceptions ... been there, done that and it's not going to happen on this team."

"Don't get me wrong. You are my team - my family, and I'm not going to let anything happen to you that you don't see as fundementally important to the rest of the SGC. No one is putting you in a hole while I draw breath. You are MINE Sergeant, for good and bad. Now, tell me what I need to no. Speak freely."

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"Major..." Dec was at a loss at Caine's straightforward candidness. "It... We, that is, Livy and me... We thought that you'd do what you had to do - which is lock me up, sir. The other guy in me: he's reasonable like a damn tornado, if you see what I mean. He'll not let the team die though, at least if you take him at his word. But that doesn't mean he'll be nice about it. Or follow protocol." Dec looked at the floor.

"Thing is, he cares about the team because I do. If somethin' bad happened to one of you guys, he'd do what he does best, which is find those responsible and make them pay." Dec's tone was quiet. "That might even include fraggin' someone on our side if he sees them as a threat to SG21. I'm sorry to put it on you like that, Major, but that's how I read him. He's not great at compromises."

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"My problem, good or bad Sergeant. That's what I said and that's what I mean. Does this personality have a handle, or name? What brings him out? What did Livy do that allowed her to see this aspect of you? Did you percieve her as a possible threat? I need to know these things if I'm going to figure out a way for him to be on the team as well. One thing though, no secrets. I'm going to tell Jones as well. He deserves to know. As for the upper echeleon - that's my problem."

He sits back and rubs his chin again,

"This has something with you becoming special, doesn't it? Not that it didnt' exist before, but the changes in you somehow empowered this entity so that it has become a force in your life."

"Now, you've been dodging some of my other questions. Tell me what I asked. I need to know."

I have an appointment with a lobotomy. Can't forget that.

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"He calls himself Red, sir." Declan sighed a little as he pondered his words. "Livy wasn't seen as a threat... she was tryin' to... uh... Find a way for me to be conditioned so that when I'm frightened or angry I don't go off like a bomb. It weren't nothin' bad, sir. Just relaxation stuff. Meditatin' and scalp and shoulder massage. It relaxed me, and Red decided to stick his head out and say 'hi'. He wanted to speak, I guess." Declan relaxed a little more. The Major was taking it awfully well considering he had a psychopath on his team.

"As to what brings him out... Well, he can technically surface anytime. But he seems to come out most when there's some sort of confrontation or he sees himself as being treated unfairly and he doesn't feel I'm doin' a good job on the wheel. Like with the General." Dec shrugged apologetically. "He wouldn't have attacked the General, sir. Red sees him as bein' on the same side as him, at least for now. I guess he's not a total psycho. But he's probably not the right guy to poke with a stick, either, if you catch my meanin'. Truth be told, I feel kinda weird talkin' about a part of myself like he's another guy entirely, but he's a seperate personality, no doubt."

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"He didn't attack the General, but he felt the need to speak out ... that means he can differentiate his responses - a brownie point in his favor. Naturally, I would prefer all you, but until we can find a way to merge you two together, I'll take you any way you come."

There was more rubbing of the chin and his eyes glowed brightly yet again. Things were so clear right now - he possessed an innate understanding of how he needed to proceed. Everything he saw and felt was taken in with so much more clarity.

"I'll need to see what she did. Where did you two partake of this excercise? Was it a public place?"

Public would be more good than bad. He could requisition the tapes and look over them. The difficult thing would be if they had been seen. Situations had to have explainations and Caine hated the idea of continuing to lie for any member of his team, no matter how poorly he knew they would be percieved.

Private places would have thier own problems, but he'd be damned if he would let jealously cloud his judgement now.

Save Declan now. Worry about damage control later.

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Another knock at the door announced Olivia, who slipped in after Damien called out to her. Shutting the door, the young woman considered both men and the mood in the room for a moment before saying, "You wanted to see me as well, Major?"

She didn't look afraid or concerned. There was an edge to her; she was preparing herself for a extreme ass-reaming. For once in her life, she wasn't happy to see Damien, not even deep in her heart where she thought of him as something other than her commanding officer.

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There was a moment there were he wanted to go off on her for not telling him what was going on. Damien stopped himself. Team came first and his hurt feeling had no place in the wellfare of the team.

"Okay," Caine said in a calm, even voice, "Olivia, I need you to explain to me the nature of your excercise with Declan. What were you trying to accomplish, what were your results, how did you handle the emergence of 'Red', and what is your assessment of your actions and how well Declan responded."

"Don't sugar-coat it. I want it all. We'll talk about your failure to tell me about this sooner later. What I care about is the two of you."

He sounded sincere, and more so, concerned.

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"I saw his eyes dilate at Kiki Nass," Olivia said smoothly, her voice calm as she began to talk. "Before, during combat, his pupils became pin-pricks. Also, when they were dilated, they lost that 'empty' look that unnerves the weak- er, unnerves some people. I wasn't sure, but I had a hunch that Declan has multiple heightened states.

"After the meeting with the General last night, I explained my suspicions and asked Declan to allow me to try something. He agreed, and we met in our usual exercise room to practice," she continued, making it sound so natural that even Declan could almost believe they'd done nothing unusual. "There, I was able to induce the dilation again by giving him a light scalp massage."

She gave Caine a second to react; when he didn't, she proceeded. "I showed him a picture of his dilated eyes and explained that we might be able to condition him to flip from the dangerous 'fighting' state to the safe 'arousal' state." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Declan turn red and shift his head up, away from Caine's gaze. Caine's expression remained stolid - too much so, Olivia noted. "We set a code phrase and I gave him a short scalp massage and a longer back rub to push him to the arousal state. And that was when Red came out."

Olivia paused, making sure she was composed before she continued. "I was scared, but I became convinced he meant me no ill will. He assured me that SG21 is his family, and he means to keep us safe. After that, he left. I must repeat, Major - I believe that his dedication to our team is real. But I'm just as sure he'll do unacceptable things to protect us. That's why I feel the conditioning is more important than before."

She paused but Caine was silent, so she moved on - right past her backrub. "I resumed the backrub, and we reached the Zone, what I've started to call that moment of heightened awareness. We talked about it, noted that Declan was in total control of himself and any desires he was feeling, and then took him out of the state and ended the exercise.

"Any questions, sir?"

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"I'll give you a chance to think this one over, Livy. Why didn't you bring this to my attention asap?"

He holds up his hand.

"Declan, is this how your remembered it? Is there anything that Livy ... forgot?"

Trust had been lost. Damien had to deal with that, but he knew it would be a while before either one of them had his total trust again.

Caine studied Perault, watching his reactions precisely, and hoping to find no signs of omission or deception. Socially speaking, Declan was the weak link in socially in this activity. If anyone could be led to the truth, it would be him.

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"It was pretty much as the Doc tells it, sir. After Red came out to say 'Hi', we carried on until my heartrate was up in the Zone." Declan shrugged, then moved his shrouded gaze back to Caine's face, his expression distant. "It felt good... peaceful. I've never felt that kind of peace, even before I fell apart. It was like all my anger and pain and violence was somewhere else. SomeONE else might be sayin' it better, thinkin' about it." His expression tightened again.

"As to why Livy didn't tell you, sir - I already said: she was worried that I'd be locked up. Or maybe even put down." The sergeant's tone was candid, matter of fact as he discussed the possibility of his imprisonment or destruction. "You told me to speak freely, so I will. You're a righteous CO, sir. A good man. But it's a push for us to expect you'd let someone like Red go out in the field or even walk around the base, you have to admit that, sir. Fine, so we assumed maybe. But we had no way of knowin', and I'm sorry for the assumption." He took a deep breath before continuing.

"Listen, Major. You've got a ton of shit comin' down on your head if you keep this secret. You can't. Sooner or later Red will come out in a way that people can't cover up. Hell, the General's already wonderin' what happened back there." He looked at Livy and smiled sadly, then back at Caine. "And if they try to lock me.. us up, I don't know if Red will let them. There might be another way though, if they don't want me walkin' around in SGC uniform and they sure as hell can't let me walk around out there in the Real World." This was a struggle for him, but he didn't falter. "Exile me someplace. Some world where there's food and water and no people, or at least few people. If the General doesn't want me, and I wouldn't blame him, sir, then I'd ask to be let go someplace where I could be alone."

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"In this room tonight, the name is Damien. This meeting isn't happening. When the time comes for you to go Dec, we are going to chip in and buy you a few hundred acres here out west. You will only have to interact with civilization once a month - and we can all come visit you. No hole. No shot to the back of the head - not on my team," he says adamantely.

He nods and puts his hand to his chin.

"I'll need to see this conditioning," he looks to Livy, "if that is at all possible. Next time out of base, we will tell Gywn. He deserves to have you two explain it to him the same way you explained it to me."

"We are going to have a conditioning excercise tonight, if you two are up to it. I'll observe and see if there is anything I can contribute."

"Anything else you feel the need to tell me?"

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"Yes, I have something to add," Olivia said softly. "I'm sorry I didn't realize your level of dedication to the team, Damien. This is our first real challenge. Declan and I may have flubbed it, but I made the best judgment I could, with what I had. I know better now."

She paused and looked at Declan, her expression appraising. "I'm not sure the conditioning sessions will work in your presence. Declan seems very embarrassed just discussing this with you; I can't imagine him relaxing enough for this to work around you. I recommend private sessions until the trigger word is secure, and then we expand to see if we can get it to work for you and Gwyn." She quirked an eyebrow and said, "Unless you think that you're sensual enough to arouse the Sargeant?"

She could almost feel the two men flinch.

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He hesitates for four or five seconds.

"If Declan trusts you then I'll trust you two to work it out. Keep me informed Olivia. Don't fall in too deep though. Declan is already somewhat of a pessemist about this. Keep an objective mind."

"I think this meeting is over. I'll put this over as first assignment jitters and the explosion of the Zat."

"Dec, you go get a physical and a CAT scan as if we were worried about your noggin. Understood?"

He almost asked them about the possibility of a sexual relationship, but he opted to trust them again. If things went that far, they would come to him and they would work through it. They were a family after all.

"I think we are done here. Any thing else to add? No? Keep it tight and remember that there is survaillence throughout the complex."

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"Sir." Dec saluted Caine and turned to go, a plain mixture of relief and concern warring on his face. He opened the door and held it for Olivia as she merely nodded to the Major and swept past him out into the corridor. The sergeant followed her out, falling in alongside her as she not-quite stalked away from their CO's office, his long strides managing to keep pace.

He felt awkward, embarassed. That much was obvious. He racked his mind for something to say to his friend, but sighed quietly as all he could come up with was "Sorry Livy. For all of this. I didn't mean..." He fell silent, feeling stupid. Of course he didn't mean to fuck up. She knew that.

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Olivia glanced up at him, her distant expression focusing on him suddenly. "I know," she said simply. "It's not... your fault. I need to talk to him. But first I need a shower... dinner... bit of downtime. Can we meet in three hours?" At his nod, she asked softly, "Your room or mine?"

He shot her a startled glance and the blush started to burn his face again. Swallowing, he mumbled, "Uh... Yours?"

"Ok," she said, nodding, her voice still soft enough that none of the non-Specialists could hear. "Just so long as you'll be comfortable there." She looked a bit awkward as she murmured, "Remember what Damien said? Surveillance?" She patted him on the arm. "See you in a few hours."

Turning, she walked away, already deep in thought.

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Three hours. Depending on ones state of mind, three hours can pass in an eyeblink or take forever. For Dec, it was a curious mixture as he got some chow, worked out in the gym and did some rifle-range work (being given a wide berth: bad news like Kiki Nass travels fast), and as the time approached, he grabbed a shower and changed into 'civvies': jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. He was so distracted that it was only after the fact that he realised he'd splashed on a little light cologne: nothing too overpowering, something woodsy that he'd once been told complemented his own scent. He stopped dead and looked at the bottle in his hand, then at himself in the mirror.

One silver eye winked.

*Okay, fuckin' cut that out!*

*I ain't doin' anything you don't secretly want to do, Dec ol' pal. Face it, you want to be purdy for the lady.*

*Fuck you, you cocksu-* he began vehemently, but was cut off.

*Lady's a-waitin', Romeo. Get out there and slay 'em. Only not literally. That'd be WRONG.*

Grumbling, he finished getting ready and, picking up a file folder filled with his field report as a pretext, he headed out. As the three hour mark ticked, he was outside Livy's door. Taking a deep breath and reminding himself to behave, raised his hand and knocked.

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Declan took some extra effort to look nice, but Olivia did not. She was wearing flannel pants and a spaghetti-strap tank top, neither of which matched. They didn't match the fuzzy green-froggie slippers she was wearing, either. Her eyes were a little red and her nose swollen. It wasn't a great look for her. Oddly, she even looked a little surprised to see him, though that surprise disappeared when she glanced at the clock on the wall. "Crap, lost track of time," she muttered, then smiled for him. Stepping back, she let him into the room. "Come on in."

Her table was piled with books and printouts, but they'd all been shoved aside to make room for a tray of dirty dishes. Her meal looked lightly picked at, but the bowl with remnants of ice cream was just short of licked clean. "Um, sorry," she mumbled and moved the tray so that they could sit at the table. "I... meant to straighten a bit."

She sank into a chair and pulled one of her legs up, hugging it to her chest. "How are you doing, Dec? Feeling better now?"

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"Yeah. A bit." He said almost on autopilot as he took in her red eyes and nose. He glanced around her quarters with a sergeant's eye. Okay, I ain't a Cosmo reader but... Main meal barely touched, ice cream gone, crying signs...

He regarded her over his shades for a long moment, then without a word tossed the file onto the table, pulled over a chair near to hers, reversing it and sitting down with his powerful arms folded on its back as he gave her a Look that was equal parts compassion and "don't-even-try-to-bullshit-me."

"What's the matter, Livy?"

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She studied him for a moment, then sighed. "You probably don't want to hear about it... but the Cliff Notes version is that I went back after my shower to talk to Damien. About... Him. And me. Together. Between the bet with Vinny, and what I had to tell him today... I just had to know. How he felt." She sniffled a little, then dropped her leg and sat straighter, trying to gain some composure. "It's me or the team. He made the right choice, but... it still hurt."

She looked like she was going to say more, but she fell silent. In her experience, guys didn't like to talk about this stuff much. If talk about their sessions in front of Caine nearly had him tinting the room red with the glow from his cheeks, she couldn't imagine how much worse hearing about his commanding officer's love life would be. Especially hearing it from a woman who was about to try to arouse him. "But... that's not important. Not right now. Can you give me a moment to, uh... freshen up?"

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"Sure. Take as many moments as you need." Dec smiled faintly at her and nodded, and Olivia gave him a little smile in return as she started to get up to go to the bathroom. His voice made her pause. "Oh, and for future reference, anythin' that hurts you is somethin' I want to hear about. Sure, you can skip gory details if it makes you feel better, but you're my friend. And you would be there for me if the tables were turned." He gave a short chuckle. "Not that I'm likely to fall in love with the Major. He's a cool CO, best I've had, but he just ain't my type."

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He actually saw her skin darken, which meant that Olivia had a lot of blood rushing to her face. "I-I-I, uh, I um, I'm not in love with him! I like him, but..." She sounded shocked. "He's... um, he's nice and a good k- commanding officer! I love him, like I love you and Gwyn, but not like that! He deserves lots-" She bit off whatever she was going to say and he could almost feel heat radiating from her face. "'scuse me."

She fled to her bedroom; there was no other word for it. It was a full-on retreat, and she sagged with relief when the door closed between them. She was hiding. She admitted it. She hoped he would miss the start of that self-slam, but he was a sharp cookie, and she doubted he would.

She went into her bathroom and splashed some cold water on her face, taking away the puffiness. Ugh. I look awful, she sighed, contemplating a bit of makeup. That'll just confuse the entire situation. Just... go au natural.

She considered what to wear, trying to decide if she should be prudent and change into a less showy shirt, or show a bit of skin and change pants. Ha, you should go out there just wearing underwear and the strappy top.

"Ha, ha, no," she said firmly, ignoring that stupid urge. Declan needed arousing, not taunting with what he couldn't have. That thought made up her mind, and she selected a black standard-issue SGU tank top to go with the flannel pajama bottoms. And she remembered to add a bra, too. That would have been awkward when you got all nipply.

There is little about this that isn't awkward, she noted to herself before opening the door and returning to the room. "Ok," she said simply. "I'm ready. How about you?"

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He deserves lots... better than me? Better than I can give him? Jeezus. Dec mulled over Olivia's words, he face somber as he waited for her to compose herself and get ready. Yeah, she loves him. Or at least wants to. He felt a dull ache in his heart and wondered what the hell THAT meant.

*Oh, man up. So she's gooey over the CO and sees you as a friend. Like you ain't been THERE before. You and every other dong-dangler on the planet. It's like a universal rule of Man: 'Thou shalt develop feelings for a chick who shall invariably want to get to grips with someone else, usually your best friend or your boss.'*

*Not like that. She's a friend. I'm not exactly relationship material here, thanks to someone not a million fuckin' miles away.*

*Well, boo hoo. Who's talkin' about "relationships", fag? You HAVE a relationship with her. Trust, loyalty, raw animal attraction... She'd dig you if Caine and that baccy-chewin' chimp Wright weren't around. You're just too nice a guy for her. She wants either the unnattainable or the assholes, probably because THAT'S more 'romantic'. And that's another rule of Male/Female relationships: women are as stupid about men as we are about them.* A pause, then: *And SPEAKIN' of Wright, what are WE gonna do about him. You think the General's gonna take the word of a crazy man over a valuable combat engineer like Wright? We heard the cocksmoker LIE to Livy before the mission. I TOLD you we shoulda jumped over there and decorated his guts with his teeth.*

*He'll get what's comin' to him. And it'll be fair, you'll see.*

*Fair my ass. He lied to a teammate. He's leadin' her on and abusin' her trust in him, and you know she's gonna get hurt by his fuckery. We should mess him up so bad he's on a liquid diet for the next three months, and still pissin' blood three months after THAT!* Dec was spared having to respond by Olivia's return, her question jolting him out of his reverie.

"Uh..! Yeah. I'm ready." He hesitated, then removed his shades, keeping his eyes on her mouth rather than meeting her gaze. "So how do you want to start?"

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He’d been deep in thought about something, Olivia noted as she smiled a little and walked to him. Offering him a hand, she said, “I have a bit of business first, but let’s get comfortable.” He figured out what she meant quickly; she had mentioned needing to talk to Red earlier. Olivia saw the distress on his face and smiled to try to ease it a little. She picked up one of his hands and tugged on it gently.

The big man followed her, a killer as docile as a puppy at her touch. She sat down on the couch and pulled him down next to her, her expression gentle. “I just want to discuss types of harm with him. I don't think he understands them, and he has to, or he risks his own life and welfare,” she said, keeping his hand in hers, her thumb rubbing the hardened calluses on his knuckles. Knowing that he was listening, she offered to sweeten the pot. “And I want to apologize to him.”

“Apologize?” Declan asked, frowning.

“I didn’t want to have to use that so fast, and I hate that I did it on instinct because it was more convenient than letting him talk.” Olivia shook her head. “That isn’t fair to him. And I need to tell him that.” She looked at Declan and bit her lip a moment. “Unless you want to work on conditioning before I speak with Red?”

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"Okay..." Dec nodded, his hand squeezing hers very gently as he relished the feel of her smooth touch on his roughened skin. "You'd better speak to him first. Get it outta the way." He gave Livy a smile, trying not to show how hard it was for him to actually let Red out, to invite him to take over. Dec didn't do a good job of that, and he closed his eyes and let his head sink down as he turned his attention inwards.

*Is she...?*

*Yeah, she wants to talk to you.*

*And apologise...?*

*What part of what she said wasn't in English, asshole?*

*And warn me? Heh. Big bad O'Neill is gonna put ME in the slam? I don't THINK so... Not unless we get cable and hookers on call in there.*

*Just hear her out... She might know somethin' we don't. Like a LOT.*

*Yeah... Okay then. It feels kinda weird not having to fight you for control this time.*

*Tell me about it...*

To the watching Olivia, it was Dec who closed his eyes, but there was no mistaking who it was that opened them again.

"So... Dec said ya wanted to speak to me?" Red grinned at her, the quicksilver shimmer of his eyes terrible and vibrant as he raised the back of her hand to his mouth and gave it a small kiss before letting go. "How's it goin' with you anyway, Livy?"

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She blinked at him once, her brain racing as it always did in his presence. He’d surprised her, both with the quick kiss and his asking after her. She wondered if that was because he’d appreciated her attempt to talk to him, or if he cared. “You know how I’m doing,” she told him with a little smile. “You can hear what I say.” She stopped, remembering what he’d said about second-hand life, and realized that he wanted to hear it from her. “Well, I’m… I’ve been better. Had a bit of an emotional evening, between the debriefing and two fantastic meetings with Caine.” She briefly debated what to tell him, but decided he was her Declan, albeit through a dark mirror. “I laid things out, and he choose the team, not me. About what I expected, but it was still hard to hear him say it. At least I can move on now.”

The glittering eyes considered her. “To that as-er, Wright? He lied to ya, before the mission,” Red said, in a tone that said he was dying to get this grievance off his chest. “He started that fuckin’ brawl.”

“I believe you,” Olivia said soothingly. Eyewitness accounts were notoriously subjective, she knew.

Red’s eyes narrowed at her. “No, you don’t,” he grumbled.

She was a little surprised that he didn’t get angry. “Yes, I believe that’s what you saw,” she said, taking his hand again and rubbing her thumb over his knuckles. Same hand, different dude… I’ll never look at SSDD the same way again. Time to get away from this subject. “At this point, I’m waiting for the general’s ruling on discipline and whatever. And that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The danger in coming out with those who don’t know you, speaking to them. You could get yourself in trouble, and while you don’t care, you share with Declan, and he does care. If you get the two of you hunted, you’ll have to leave the team… and I couldn’t see you anymore.” The topic made her sad. She didn’t want Declan to go away, and she’d endure Red to keep her friend.

“That’s what I meant by types of harm,” Olivia pressed. “There’s physical harm, which you are suited for, like a mountain goat to the cliffs. And there’s a time when your talent at hurting something, at… breaking bones, will save the entire team. And when that’s appropriate, you’re a hero.

“There’s mental harm, which you do to Declan when you fight with him. You’re both in there, you both have to live here, so you should have some way to compromise,” she added, hoping that he was getting it. “I’d like you to stop fighting with him and start working on compromises.” Hopefully, that would facilitate integration, down the road.

“And there’s social harm, which you did to Declan, myself, Damien and somewhat to Gwyn today in front of the General.” She let a bit of the fear she’d felt at that moment shine through, as she confessed, “I was really, really scared for you and Declan when you came out like that. So just as Declan defers to you and your skills on fighting physical threats, I’m asking you to defer to him on social threats. He’s built for this, after a lifetime of conditioning and socialization. He knows what to do in these situations, just as you know sixty-seven hundred ways to strangle someone.”

Her dark eyes studied his silver ones as she tried to see if she was getting through; had she really ever been afraid of those glittering orbs? She could remember it, but it seemed silly now. She smiled as she realized that she’d finally found the cure to her memory problem – overriding older memories with newer; enough new, good ones would blunt and dull even the worst of the older ones. Grasping at another tool to help herself cope in this world, she quickly added, “Am I asking too much? Talk to me, Red.”

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*There, what'd I say?

*Laugh it up, so yer right about her bein' right.*

"Well... shit. Ya had to go and be reasonable." Olivia was treated to the sight of Red looking, well, bamboozled would be a good word, if one could apply it to possibly the most personally lethal man in existence. He actually looked a little downcast that there was no opportunity to argue rationally here. It was almost comical. Almost.

"Can't fault yer logic." he said in a surly growl that put her in mind of a sulky tiger. "But yer off a teensy bit: we both know what to do: he knows how to handle combat and I know how to handle kissin' the ass of a CO. But yeah... he's better suited to makin' nice, and I'm better at makin' nasty. He hates killing, I hate puttin' up with needless shit from meatsacks." The broad shoulders shrugged.

*C'mon, man. What can it hurt to try? We'd be better working together, right?*

"Alright, fine, we'll try to divide the labour and cooperate on steering. But I ain't by nature a compromising man, Livy. If I see Dec gettin' treated like shit, I will yank that wheel hard and run whoever the fucker is over." He grinned, an expression that was almost boyish but for the strangely sinister light in his eyes. "Think of me as part of Dec that comes out when he's angry. "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" and all that? That's me, baby."

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Baby steps, baby steps, she reminded herself. "Please don't call me 'baby' Red, the last person who did was an ex-boyfriend, and he let... he was not a good person," she said softly. "You can call me other terms of endearment, if you want." A killer, and he's using terms of endearment on me. The Artifact has messed my life up so much.

She cleared her throat and continued, "So anyway, I understand your point. You're protective of Declan. That's good, very good. But I'm going to ask that you defer to him on social matters. If Dec's taking crap from someone, like the general, there's probably a very good reason he's taking it. He's not a child to be protected, he's a grown man, and you invalidate him when you take his right to choose his path." Seeing Red starting to argue, she held up a hand. "Just think about it, please. I know you don't agree. But give it consideration, real consideration.

"And now..." She drew in a deep breath and released it. "I'm sorry I shut you down in front of the General. That wasn't fair of me, and I reacted out of fear. I hope you can forgive me for that." She gave him a hopeful smile and squeezed his hand. Knowing if Red had the capacity for forgiveness would help her formulate plans for the future.

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"Right... No 'baby'." Red's smile took on a fiercer edge as she mentioned the ex, and he nodded once to let her know the message was received, loud and clear.

*One day, if there's any fuckin' justice to the universe, we're goin' to find Hatchins and this ex, Bill. And we're gonna make sure they ain't interested in hurting women for their jollies... Ever. Again.*

Dec was silent, but Red could feel his lighter side's tacit agreement with the sentiment, if not total support for the specifics of the plan.

Then Olivia went on to talk about how he'd 'invalidate' Dec if he took over. He frowned a bit at that. Declan without him wasn't the piss-and-vinegar sergeant he'd been back before Afghanistan. That Declan got noticed when he walked into a room, was one competent, confident motherfucker who radiated that mentality hard enough to register on a geiger counter. Since the separation, HE was that Dec.

*Sure, but that Dec knew how to keep his mouth shut too. She's right, Red. It'd be coolest if you advise me, y'know, act as morale support. But you're the mean-as-fuck part of the old me without any brakes on, and that's bad news.*

*Fine... I'll try to shut my mouth and let you handle that shit. No promises that I'll succeed, but yeah. I'll try.*

Then Olivia apologised, squeezing his hand and smiling. Red blinked slowly, then shrugged, smiling a little.

"Yeah... well. You had yer reasons. And it might even have been for the best." Red cocked his ear as though listening. Olivia could guess well enough who to. "We trust you, Livy." Red said simply with a shrug. "Sure, I was put out, felt like I was being shooed into my cage, but I ain't mad at you. You weren't abusin' me or anything, just tryin' to look out for everyone, us included." He grinned at her. He meant it to be friendly, but coming from Red bared teeth looked threatening: there was no way around that.

"So yeah, apology accepted. Cuz it's you, sweetheart."

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Olivia felt pure relief as Red forgave her. Having half of Declan mad at her, particularly the part she was working to control, would make her job intolerably difficult. Aware that he shared feelings with Declan, she leaned forward and gave him a friendly hug. "Thank you," she said, smiling widely. "I appreciate that."

Red stiffened before tentatively putting his arms around her. "What is this?" he grumbled, feigning displeasure. "I'm the bad one, not Mr. Huggy."

"What?" Olivia chuckled, pulling back since he didn't appear to be comfortable. "Am I supposed to punch you in the nose?"

"Ohhh," he sneered, unaware of how his expression appeared to be less-than-friendly, "now you're talkin' dirty."

Olivia grinned playfully and did something unremarkable; she very slowly and very playfully mock-punched his nose. Her fingers barely touched him before she drew back, still laughing, and completely unaware of the portent of what had just happened. Red didn't play with violence, not unless it was 'play' on his own terms. For him to allow that, and to just grin at her with that unsettling smile after, was a sign of how deeply she'd touched both Man and Beast.

"I'm glad we talked," she said, settling back on the couch. "I'm sorry to say it, but Dec and I have work to do, so I'm going to have to say good night to you, Red. But I really appreciate your willingness to listen."

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"You kids play nice now." Red's grin faded, his eyes losing their terrible mirthful sparkle as Dec returned, looking at Olivia as though she had sprouted antlers.

"Livy, you got more balls than the Marine Corps. You hugged him? Jeezus." Dec got that strange inward look in his gaze, then smiled at her. It was his normal smile for her, warm and slightly shy. "He's confused as hell right now, and totally quiet." Dec chuckled and shook his head, then settled down, relaxing.

"Okay, Doc. I guess I'm ready as ever." He seemed a little tense, but not as bad as before as he looked at her expectantly.

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"Ok," Olivia said, standing and moving to the kitchette. She drew out a box of matches and went to the candles on the shelf by the door. As she lit them, she said, "I have a question for you, first. Honestly, are the backrubs working for you? Are they getting the result we need?" Wow, girl... can you make that more clinical and impersonal? Still, she needed to maintain a certain distance, or this was going to get ugly.

Declan was silent, his eyes on her as she shut off the lights, and using the lit candles, walked to the other set of tapers, lighting them. "I'd say that it was the overall experience," he said softly, his eyes almost a weight on her. "The feeling of being close, the sense of connection that stemmed from the back and scalp rub, that... you were nearby." He paused and cleared his throat, as she lit the fat candle on the coffee table in front of them. "Giving you a backrub also helped me, too."

The rosy glow of the candles was the only light in the room as Olivia nodded. "Ok, that's good," she said, smiling. And it was very good. When he'd peaked into the Zone, she hadn't been rubbing his back. But if it had helped, then there was no need to escalate to more vigorous activities at this time. That was the thing that worried Olivia the most - the race to get him successfully triggering before what she did for him became jaded. "So let's start with me, then."

She pulled the straps of the tank top down her arms and slipped her hands through them. The dangling straps got tucked into the strapless bra she wore, which kept the tank top from sliding down her body. She sat back down next to Declan, her back to him. "Whenever you're ready, Declan."

Last time hadn't gone so well, but she was ready this time. Her thoughts were under control, and she was ready for a nice backrub.

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Dec breathed on his hands to warm them up a bit, then gently rested them on Olivia's shoulders, starting at the outside and moving inwards towards the base of her neck before sliding down and then outwards again. His palms were rough surfaced, but incredibly gentle against the dark satin of her skin, as though he were touching thin porcelain. The strangeness of it wasn't lost on Livy, who had seen one strike of these same hands pulverise a twelve foot thick wall on an alien world earlier today. She shivered lightly as he seemed to touch just the right spot, his fingertips applying just a fraction more pressure as he kneaded away a knot of tension she had barely been aware of herself.

It had started by accident. Dec had been concentrating on Olivia's back, luxuriating in the feel of her skin, enjoying the quiet intimacy of the candlelight as he felt himself relaxing further. He'd been intent on giving her a good backrub, one that would show her that he cared and was grateful for all she had done and...

-The world became crystalline patterns overlaying Livy's back and it was SO easy to get this right after all he just needed to move his hands a little slower and press a little harder she wouldn't break and right THERE was a spot that she needed to be touched and THERE and THERE and THERE-

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It had started well. There had been only the tension of the day, not the unsettling feeling of a man being behind her. His hands were gentle, and she knew that they didn't have to be. The first roll of pleasure caused her shoulders to curve down, releasing the tension in them. As his fingers followed the motion, she sighed deeply, unaware of how much like a moan it sounded.

His strong hands hit just the right spot and Olivia did moan that time. She sagged forward slightly, her muscles demanding full relaxation. She could hardly blame them; Declan's fingers were giving her muscles no recourse other than to turn into putty. Liquid meat, she thought, struggling not to giggle - and then his fingers found another spot and the giggles were gone.

This back rub was too good, but by the time she realized that, all she could do was murmur, "Dec..." and slump forward more. All too soon, she was lying across her crossed legs, folded like lawn furniture. Declan had to rise to his knees and kneel over her to reach her shoulders - not that he ignored the rest of her back. Oh no, the crystal patterns covered her, and he could see places all over her body that could be touched, if he dared.

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-she shifted and slumped and he moved to follow her arching over and stroking the tension down her back towards her hips where he could feel it building there as her body started to warm under his touch-

He smoothed his fingertips down her sides, sweeping them inwards and over the exposed skin between her tank top and the waistband of her flannels before moving them upwards once more. The hem of her top rose a little higher under the pressure as his hands seemed to move from point to point as though each were a brightly coloured button. Dec's fingers trailed up to the nape of her neck and further up still, climbing over her scalp under her long dark hair as she sighed, then moaned again as he brushed over behind her ears and down the sides of her neck. Relaxation was giving way to pleasure, a slow lingering heat that began to build as Dec unknowingly explored this facet of his awareness, fascinated by the effect he was having.

He slid from the couch to kneel beside it, his hands easing her into a laying position, face up. She was very malleable by this point, her dark eyes hazy as she stared at him in dull shock, trying to collect her thoughts enough to stop this, stop it now before-

His hands came down on her again and her eyes half-closed as he ran them up the sides of her arms, across her shoulders and down over the very top of her collarbone before lightly climbing up along the sides of her face to the edge of her hairline, a tingle running through her scalp and down her spine like a shiver of pleasant electricity. They lingered there for a while, seeming to knead away every knot of tension in her head and leaving her in a pink-fogged daze as Dec's touch moved back downwards, back over her shoulders and down her arms to her hands, stroking and soothing. He paused while teasing the ends of her fingers, his hands working in perfect coordination with one another as though seperate entities controlled by one mind. Then his hands left her again, and she felt the fuzzy green froggie slipper being tugged off her right foot.

"Dec..." she started to tell him to stop, that she was relaxed enough dammit (but she wasn't relaxed anymore, was she. Relaxation was the border she had crossed about five minutes ago, and now she was in other territory altogether), but his hands captured her foot and started to gently knead it, and her voice trailed off in another moan.

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Olivia moaned as his thumbs found the perfect spot on the arch of her foot, and persuaded a small muscle there to release its tightness. She probably should be protesting; this wasn't her back anymore, and it wasn't close enough to her back to ignore either. But the words that would stop him weren't able to come out, and Olivia realized that she had put herself in a position where she couldn't - no, she didn't want to stop him. Right now, she was completely relaxed and protesting would have spoiled it. She also had another foot for him to finish first.

His fingers found and treated each toe to personal attention, drawing another soft sigh from her. Slowly, he worked down the foot, his rough skin providing a counterpoint to the infinite tenderness he used. Olivia expected him to stop there, but he kept the same delicate balance of pressure and gentleness on her ankle. She was sure he'd stop there, too, but instead his hands went ever higher, sliding her pajamas up her legs to the swell of her calves. She should have exploded into giggles at this point, but his fingers somehow avoided every ticklish spot and caressed every pleasurable spot.

And his face... the expression on his face was so relaxed, so content that she wondered if someone was hiding behind him, giving him a back rub as he rubbed her feet. But she knew that there wasn't another person here, so the only thing she could deduce was that he enjoyed what he was doing to her. There was somewhere her brain should go with that, but thinking was a bit hard right now, and she gave up, letting her brain shut down for a while.

She folded her hands over her stomach as he laid that foot down and pulled the other one over. Her slipper came off, her foot awash in cool air for a moment before his warm hands closed around it. Olivia moaned again as he started in on the arch, soothing the tensions of that foot with his gentle hands. He was once again meticulous and accurate, his fingers striking perfectly each spot that needed his attention. She murmured his name again as he found and soothed a tight spot on her heel and slipped up higher.

Hands that could kill with a half-hearted strike turned her muscles into putty as they marched up her other leg. His fingers grazed the edge of her knee, then laid her leg down, almost reverently. As she lifted her head - through a supreme force of will that probably had to do with the fact that he'd stopped what he was doing - he asked, "How was that?"

There were these things called words. On more normal days than this, she even knew these words. She just nodded for now, because every sound that she managed to draw upon didn't sound like a word. Olivia, writer and librarian, was speechless with pleasure. Oh, this wasn't the see-a-million-stars-as-your-teeth-rattled-together-in-a-mind-blowing-orgasm pleasure, this was simple feel-good-all-over warmth.

She lifted a hand to him, and he took it and pulled her upright. To his surprise, she didn't stay upright; she kept on coming, moving onto his lap with a liquid grace that she didn't normally possess. She twisted as she settled, turning as he caught her, so that she was curled in the crook of his arm. Her head flopped onto his shoulder as that much-watched ass found a comfortable spot on his legs.

Olivia had just meant to get comfortable against him, but once she was there, she decided that a good cuddle was fine, too. Almost purring, she pressed her face into the side of his neck. There was an interesting scent there, once she hadn't noticed before. She inhaled deeply as she wound an arm around his shoulder and neck on the other side. 'Pinning herself to him' was not quite the way to describe it, but it did have certain quality of clinging to the action. "Mmm," she sighed. "Smell good." She wiggled her face in a bit deeper, her nose following his neck up to the point just behind his jaw. "Smell really good."

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Dec's eyeballs nearly dropped out of his head as Livy got very comfortable on him. His heartrate had been chugging along nicely at a comfortable 60 beats per minute as his own arousal at her reaction to his touch had raised his pulse. He'd expected her to enjoy it, just like last time. He'd been prepared for her to smile warmly at him and tell him that it had been an excellent rubdown, and then he'd tell her he'd used one of the talents the artifact had given him to seek out stress points in her muscles and tendons, but in order to soothe rather than make worse. He considered that to be progess: taking something he thought was purely for destroying and using it so positively. He was quite proud of that.

Now, however, the woman he had a secret (or so he thought) crush on and had wanted to show his gratitude towards was positively kittenish, pressing her body to his and nuzzling his neck just under the ear, and her perfect ass was resting mostly on his leg but also, and more importantly, against his groin. Needless to say, that wasn't exactly the reaction he'd been shooting for. Not that he felt the urge to protest...

*Damn right you don't. I'd kill ya myself.*

*But I just wanted to please her, take her mind off her troubles like she does for me.*

*You did that alright. Looks like she has her mind on somethin' else now.*


Thoughts of his intentions dissolved as his body reacted appropriately. The powerful heart sped up further as blood flowed to the relevant areas. Livy's breath was hot on his sensitive skin as she took deep, slow lungfuls of his scent with a dreamy intensity before letting her breath out slowly. Her arms tightened a little more around his neck and she murmured as she wiggled on his lap. Dec felt the pressure of her against his excitement and expected her to jolt awake and pull away, but she didn't. Instead the dark-skinned woman sighed against him and snuggled a little tighter, totally trusting.

He couldn't help it. His heart pounding, Dec's arms returned the embrace, slipping around and encircling Livy's waist and holding her gently. His pupils were dilated, wide and dark as he lowered his head and nuzzled her hair, breathing in her scent in turn. He wanted to kiss her, but he couldn't do, mustn't do that. It'd be the wrong thing to do. She wouldn't be able to be his teammate anymore. He wouldn't be able to see as much of her. She'd be going into danger without him. He HAD to protect her, had to make sure she survived. He'd promised.

But he wanted to show her what he felt, how she made him feel. It would be so easy... One kiss, just one. It could be passed off as a mistake, and they'd be a little awkward around each other and he'd never let his feelings slip again, but at least she would know. His face dipped closer to hers as though drawn magnetically. It would be so right...

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Another reality was born in that moment, a reality in which Declan's head continued its slow creep, and his lips caught hers in a gentle kiss. Olivia's eyes flew open wide in shock, his embrace penetrating her fog. In a heartbeat, she made another reality, in which she pulled back, awkward and embarrassed and vowing that Declan would never again give her a back rub-

While in another reality, Olivia's eyes drifted shut almost as soon as they opened and she gave herself over to the sweet kiss, surprising Declan by joining him. The kiss quickly become more than sweet, until Olivia wiggled around to face him, her lips finding another spot on him to kiss, lost in a wild tangle of pleasure until she managed to regain control of her senses-

While yet another Olivia's phone rang, jarring Declan to a stop as Olivia snapped out of her fugue. And in that reality, Wakiki called his sister to check on her, and saved her from near-disaster, or even the knowledge of Declan's feelings for her-

But this reality wasn't any of those. No one knew if this reality was the prime reality or a spinoff, but it was the one that this Olivia and this Declan were in, and so it was the one that mattered. And in this reality, Declan's head dipped low, and he gently pressed his lips to Olivia's own.

Her eyes widened in surprise; Declan's broad hands kneaded her back just a little, and she relaxed. Her brain flipped onto autopilot, defiantly refusing any attempt to shut this down. Why she did that was unknown; perhaps her irritation at being denied access to a man who she was comfortable with played a part, or maybe she really was that far lost in sensations that had been denied to her for so long. Maybe the part of her that was truly hurt by Caine's denial had something to prove. For whatever reason, her eyes drifted shut and Declan felt her answer his kiss with a soft return pressure of her own. She changed the tilt of her head and parted her lips, inviting him to deepen the kiss.

He took that offer eagerly, never expecting this response. His friend was surprising him all over the place tonight, but Declan couldn't complain at this moment. Their lips and tongues mingled, exploring new territory and pleasures. Olivia was making soft, happy noises in the back of her throat, as she was quite unable to speak. Wiggling, she turned on his lap, coming perilously close to planting her knee in his groin and ending this immediately - which was another reality all on its own - before he helped, saving himself a lot of pain but creating a whole new set of problems when she straddled his legs.

Her lips left his, but only to kiss her way across his jaw before nibbling on his earlobe. More of that delicious scent of his flooded her nose and she didn't hesitate to inhale as she tasted his skin. Her hands trailed over his body, exploring his skin through his shirt, something she'd thought about a little since last night. He had a perfect physique, and the part of her that had repressed such thoughts for seven years was delighting in this exploration. She was a passionate, fiery woman by nature, but those fires had been banked for years. The Artifact had awoken her mind and senses and Caine and Vinny had started to dig back the ashes that had buried her passions. And now Declan stood to reap their work.

Lower and lower her hands trailed, until her fingers brushed over and curled around his belt. Her lips returned to his, as if to stifle any protest as she struggled to get the sliding latch loosened. Stupid military belts!

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