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28 July 2009 @ 07:24 pm
The Road to Tartarus - Chapter Twelve  
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Chapter Twelve


Earth was as confusing and overcrowded and noisy as Asheron had expected, but nestled in his cocoon of determination and calm, none of it seemed to matter.

Asheron left the airport terminal building and could feel the watchers. He felt an odd, grim amusement. He'd expected Landry to notify people, despite the agreement that Asheron would go on his own. They thought he was going to lead them to Baal.

My way, not yours. My hand, not yours.

He got on the airport shuttle instead of the waiting taxi cab, fearing that it was a plant. At the next terminal he got out and hopped into a taxi.

The driver turned around. He was bearded, wearing a turban, and his accent was unexpected, though not difficult to understand. "Where is it you want to go?"

Asheron had thought through his plan on the airplane carefully and had researched it online in the Colorado Springs airport. "The Grand Hyatt downtown."

The taxi pulled out, radioing their destination to his dispatcher as they left the airport.

The hotel had more than five hundred guest rooms. Even if they were pulling up its guest list right now, it would take them awhile to check every name, looking for something that didn't exist.

He added, "I'd like you to take Second Street when you get downtown."

The driver frowned at him and then shrugged. "Second, okay."

Asheron watched out the window, numb and tired. Malek, are you there? He called into the silence of his head. But there was no answer.

The taxi exited the freeway and Asheron removed the wad of money from his jacket with his good hand, removed several twenties, and held them up in front of the partition. He had no idea where Vala had gotten the money, but he felt a little less bad about stealing from her when she'd stolen it first. The credit card and false i.d. Landry had given him for boarding had been far too easy for the SGC to track, and he'd dumped them in the trash. "I need you to stop inside the tunnel and let me out. And then, this part is very important, continue on to the Hyatt."

The driver's eyes saw the money and widened. "You are in some kind of trouble?"

Asheron almost smiled, but just sighed. "Yes. I'm not a criminal, but yes, I'm being watched. If anyone asks you at the Hyatt what happened, you can tell them, it won't matter."

"So the tunnel..." the driver frowned, working it through, then his eyes flicked to the mirror to look at Asheron in astonishment, "you think this taxi, they are watching it from up above?"

"Maybe," Asheron answered. "I don't want to take the chance. Many lives may depend on my getting where I need to go without interference."

Because if they blunder in, all bold and Tau'ri, he'll set off a counter-measure, and it's liable to be very large and very deadly.

"Many lives?" the driver repeated. "You a spy or something?"

"Or something." Assassin. Alien. Collaborator. Lover. Slave. King. What haven't I been? "Please don't try to guess. Just drop me off in the tunnel and keep going to the Hyatt."

Teeth flashed in a grin. "No problem."

It worked as Asheron had planned. The light changed to red, leaving the taxi stuck in the tunnel. Asheron opened the door and climbed out, circling behind the car in the left hand lane, and walked swiftly down the narrow sidewalk like a businessman late for an appointment and fed up with traffic.

He watched the taxi move off when the light turned green and hoped the driver really would drive to the hotel. But in any case, he had to move. There was a parking garage entrance to one of the towers just ahead. He walked in and entered the elevators in the middle. He left his long coat in the elevator, and put his hand in his jacket pocket. He got out at the lobby, went out the front entrance and caught another taxi.

Fairly certain he'd eluded his surveillance, at least for awhile, he gave the taxi driver his destination to a suburban office park and leaned back to watch Earth pass by.

*Malek?* he tried again. There was only a vast emptiness and silence. *Soon. It'll be done soon, I promise. No more suffering, for either of us.*


* * *

Sam came through the Gate and knew something was wrong immediately. Landry seemed unwilling to meet her eyes. "Colonel. You're back early."

"Yes, sir. Prometheus dropped me off on a world with a Gate so I could come home quickly." Her eyes flicked around the room, curious that Asheron wasn't already here to meet her. "Is... Asheron all right?" she asked.

Landry flinched. "Well, colonel, I don't think so. Not really. He killed Nerus, shot him three times, to force him to tell us about the Ori weapon."

Her brows went up but she wasn't that surprised. Asheron had a ruthless practical streak in him, and he'd just spent three months under torture, it was no wonder he had no patience and resorted to violence. "Where is he, sir?"

"He came to me this morning, he said he knew Baal was on Earth," Landry explained all in a rush. "He was determined to take the Tok'ra poison and go kill him, himself."

She stared at him, not comprehending for a very long time what the general was telling her. "Where did he go?" she asked, feeling very calm.

"He flew to Los Angeles. At the airport, Agent Barrett and his people were doing surveillance, but he, uh, slipped through."

"So, Asheron went off to kill Baal with the Tok'ra poison? You do realize that he's a host, too, don't you?" She saw in his face that he knew exactly what he had approved. Her calm deserted her and her hands tightened into fists against her thighs. "How could you?" she demanded furiously. "He's not well. And you let him go kill himself. Killing Baal isn't worth it, General. It's not worth it."

She hurried from the room before she said something that might get her court-martialed, though she wondered why that should matter. In the corridor she took a deep breath, trying to think through the fog in her brain.

She had to stop him. Where would he go? Well, that was obvious, he was going to Baal. So where was Baal?

She went to the infirmary first. There was a note on the table beside the bed, on top of the copy of Pride and Prejudice. Asheron had written her name on the envelope, and she opened it, her chest tight with anxiety.

She read:

"Sam, I am sorry. This was never my intention to leave while you were away. I never wanted to leave. But Malek is dying, and I cannot stay alone. The Tok'ra are dead. Turan will have to start over, without our failures and weakness."

Her hand spasmed shut, crumpling the note. Someone had told him. And he had taken it as well as she expected.

Then taking a breath, she smoothed the note out to finish reading it.

"I should never have been so selfish with you. You are so bright, so beautiful, and it seemed for a moment when we were here, before we went to Naritania that I could stay with you. But I can't. I should've known better and I should never have made promises to you I knew I couldn't keep. You should have someone whole. And that wasn't ever going to be me, even before we met. It's certainly not me now.

"You deserve someone not tainted by the things I've done. You shouldn't forgive me, but you do, and I can't bear it. It's not right. Not after everything.

"I have taken the poison with me, to take to Baal, and I am not coming back. I believe it's for the best. At least I can take him with me, so he will never harm anyone again. When you come back, I will be gone. That is the way it has to be.

"I love you. But that's not enough to stay. I hope someday you will forgive me.
"

Below that was the ornate sigil of the first letter of his name in his own language as his signature, and nothing more.

Sam stared at the letter, tears slowly falling down her cheeks.

She read and re-read the letter, until every broken word was engraved in her memory. She should never have left. She should never have believed that deceptively calm and reasoned face, which now, in hindsight, was so clearly a mask designed to make her think he was doing better and thereby push her away. Even his panic attack at the sight of Teal'c hadn't been warning enough that he'd shattered inside, and now he was dead, by his own hand.

Unless...

Her eyes fell on the words, "take to Baal", and she remembered that Landry had said Asheron had left on a plane, heading west. He didn't have too much of a head start. Probably he had thought she would come back with the Prometheus, not take the Gate. There might still be time to catch him.

She laid the letter on the table again and hurried to the computer terminal in the corner. With any luck she could back track how Asheron had found Baal.

She wasn't surprised to find that Asheron had reformatted the hard drive. He'd known to cover his tracks. That killed any attempt to check the cache or any other quick way to follow what he'd done.

But if he'd run any sort of internet search that record would still be in the mainframe. The SGC was a secret facility after all, and they kept logs of all communications and key strokes. Asheron wouldn't know how to destroy all of those records.

She hurried to her lab. She entered her clearance and passwords to access the central database, looking for Asheron's access. There was one, last night, but it was only a few minutes, and all he'd done was go to one of the web search engines, before logging out again. It looked like he hadn't even typed in a search.

Putting her chin to her fist, she stared at the single entry. He'd done it. Somehow he'd managed to tamper with the record. She was impressed, in spite of herself. Suicidal depression or no, he'd been thinking clearly enough to erase his tracks in the computer. It didn't seem possible. Asheron was smart but he didn't know the system that well and he didn't have Malek to help him.

Her eyes traveled down the list of accesses, looking for another entry. Maybe he'd gone back in and she'd missed it.

She hadn't but she had missed something else. Not long after his first attempt, there was a log-on by Samantha Carter, when she had been a hundred light-years away. She had given him her basic log-on code early on, before he had one of his own.

She called up the entry. He'd first searched for Hammel Industries. From there he'd gone through that company's press releases, and then done a new search on the company in the database of the Financial News channel. Frowning, she followed his tracks, clicking through the webpages. Baal must somehow be involved in this company, but she couldn't find the connection. Nor, it seemed, could Asheron, considering how many pages he clicked through, searching for something.

"What were you looking for?" she murmured. "Come on. Show me what you found."

She clicked on the next link in the list, this one from a business blog all about Hammel's merger with another company, Farrow-Marshall. She almost went on to the next link in the list, but scrolled down to the bottom of the page, just in case.

"Oh my God," she whispered. There, in full color, was a picture of Baal. He was wearing a very incongruous pinstripe suit, but it was definitely the same person who had sent her that message three months ago. The label on the picture said he was "Nathaniel Newmark, CEO of Farrow-Marshall."

Asheron was right. Baal was here on Earth.

The next handful of links were Asheron's attempt to find the Farrow-Marshall homepage and contact information. Following in his steps, she wrote down the address and contact number for their headquarters in Southern California. That was where he was gone, she was sure.

Then she froze. What the hell was she going to do? Take this information to Landry? Have Landry pass it on to Barrett and whoever else he had in the area looking for Asheron? Get Barrett to go crash the place? Baal would retaliate, and he'd probably believe Asheron had brought them there. No, she wanted to save Asheron's life and that would kill him as surely as if she did nothing.

She remembered his face and his words, back on Saphon, "But he gave me back to myself when I didn't know who I was."

Her heart was heavy, but there wasn't much choice. She knew what she had to do. If only she had the time to do it.

* * *

Baal didn't believe what Charlotte told him, until he went through the door into the conference room and saw Asheron sitting on the couch.

His breath seemed to freeze for a moment in his chest and he had to stop moving. His gaze was fixed on the slumped form, and for a wild second, wondered if the humans had cloned him or something, because this couldn't be. He was dead. Baal had been plotting to punish the Tau'ri for their part in it for several months now.

Yet here he was. Alive. He was wearing Tau'ri clothes, including a rather unstylish blue jacket that hung limply off his narrow shoulders. So he had been on the planet, probably at the SGC, despite the intel from there that he'd been killed at Dakara. Or perhaps he had gone to Area 51 with Carter after all.

He looked up and saw Baal. He wasn't surprised, but Baal was. Asheron looked terrible, he was far too thin, with hollow cheeks and sunken, bruised eyes. There was no decipherable expression on his face: no smile, no concern, nothing. He didn't speak either.

"Asheron, it is you." Baal closed the door behind him. "Forgive my ... startlement, but I believed you dead. Have you been well?"

He answered, a clear and obvious lie, "I'm fine."

Abandoning that line of questioning for now, Baal asked, folding his arms, "So, how did you find me?"

"If you want to keep a low profile, you should stop giving media interviews," Asheron answered, the emotion stripped from his voice.

Of course, the point was to get the Tau'ri's attention, but Baal wasn't going to go into his plan, not until he knew why Asheron was here.

"You led them here? Are the Tau'ri going to invade the building soon?" he demanded.

"No. I tried not to let them follow."

Something warmed inside Baal, and he couldn't help a smile. "You've come back?"

Wordlessly, Asheron shook his head, but he wasn't looking away. There was a strange dark intensity in his gaze that made Baal wary. He'd seen Asheron in many moods, but not like this. Usually Asheron was at least somewhat predictable, but now Baal had no read on what he wanted or what he was thinking.

"If you haven't betrayed me with the Tau'ri, and you aren't coming back to me, then, why are you here?"

Asheron didn't answer the question. He asked instead, more to himself, whispering, "Why can't I do this?" His face tightened in pain, and Baal swallowed the angry demands that bubbled inside him. Something was wrong, that much was clear.

He asked the question as patiently as he could, "Asheron, where have you been the last four months?"

"It doesn't matter."

"You look ill. Is something wrong with Malek?" he asked, having a sudden idea of the problem. Perhaps Asheron was here to learn if there was a sarcophagus he could use. He'd been resistant to using it before, but perhaps he had reconsidered.

"Just stop it," Asheron flared, but wearily. "Stop making this hard!" He dropped his head and put his free hand, the one not buried in his jacket pocket, up to his head.

"Stop doing what?" Baal asked in confusion since he hadn't been doing anything. He moved closer. "There is clearly something wrong with you. If I am to help, I need to know what it is."

"You can't help," Asheron murmured. "Nobody can." He raised his head, found Baal in front of him, and his eyes widened in fear, as he jerked back against the sofa, away.

Hurt and surprised, Baal raised his hands and backed off a step. "Asheron, I would never harm you. Even if you are provoking and frustrating."

"I -- I was just surprised," Asheron answered. He looked down again, at his right hand on his knee. His left hand was still in his jacket pocket. "I'm so tired," he murmured, and that sounded like the truth. "I don't know what I'm doing any more. I was a fool to come here."

"No. I am pleased to see you and know you're alive. What happened on Dakara? Did you go with the Tau'ri?"

Asheron shook his head slightly, eyes on his knees. "No."

A terrible suspicion crept through Baal. Asheron had been somewhere the last few months, and it was likely an unpleasant place given his appearance and reluctance to speak. Perhaps the Tau'ri – some group of them apart from the SGC - had captured him at Dakara. Yet that would most likely be the Trust, and he couldn't believe any of them would have kept Asheron's presence a secret from him.

But before he could try and figure it out, the door opened again and Charlotte put her head through the opening. "Sir, forgive me, but there is an urgent telephone call for you."

"If it's business -- " he started dismissively.

She interrupted, unusually so, and her gaze flicked to Asheron meaningfully. "Sir, you need to take it."

"Very well. Asheron, stay here," he ordered. "Do not go anywhere. I'll return immediately."

* * *

Sam waited for the company operator to transfer the call as the other end began to ring. She tapped her fingers restlessly on the steering wheel and checked her mirrors in paranoid thought that someone might already know she was making this call.

Finally someone picked up, a female voice. "Farrow-Marshall. Charlotte Mayfield."

Sam's hand clutched the phone to her ear, and spoke very precisely. "Listen to me very carefully. My name is Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter of the US Air Force. Perhaps you know the name?" she asked but didn't wait for an answer. "It is urgent that I talk to Baal. Right now."

"You want to talk to -- Who?" Mayfield started to say in what sounded like pretended confusion to Sam.

"Baal," Sam repeated shortly. "Your boss: dark hair, beard, rather arrogant? He's calling himself Nathaniel Newmark. I know he's there, and I know he'll want to talk to me. So go find him, right now. It's urgent."

There was a brief pause and Mayfield said, "I'll see if he's available."

Sam waited impatiently, shifting in her seat. "Come on, Baal. Come to the phone," she urged in a whisper. "Please don't let me be too late."

She squeezed her eyes shut against the memory of Asheron's hastily scrawled farewell note.

There was a soft click and a vaguely English-sounding accented voice came on the line. It was a human tone, but she recognized it anyway, just by the smug condescension. "Well, Colonel Carter, this is a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

She licked her lips and asked, "Is Asheron there?"

He paused a moment and answered, "He is, as I'm sure you know very well, having sent him. But I must say he seems reluctant to do anything but sit on my couch and lie to me."

Her fingers tightened. "We didn't send him; it's his idea. That's why I'm calling you, so you can stop him."

His voice lost some of its urbane calm, and he snapped, "Explain."

"When we thought he was dead, obviously he wasn't," she told him. "He was a prisoner of a faction of the rebel Jaffa."

"He was captive?" he said, sounding more disturbed than surprised. "What happened? Something did."

"He was … tortured," she answered, trying to shove away the memory of what he had looked like that first time she had seen him. "Teal'c only found him two weeks ago and brought him to us. Physically he's better now, but … mentally, he's not at all."

"The Jaffa did this?" Baal asked, his tone growing cold and dangerous, silently suggesting that he was planning to exterminate every single Jaffa.

"That's not the point!" she exclaimed in frustration. "Please, listen to me. Teal'c took care of it. But Malek's in a coma, and nobody can fix him. He could die, like Selmak and my father did. Worse, Asheron left me a note: he feels helpless and trapped between us. He wants to kill himself and take you with him."

"He wants to kill -- " he repeated slowly, in shock.

"With the symbiote poison. He has some with him," she told him, feeling that niggling sense of betrayal. The military officer part of her knew she should just let it play out, but the Tok'ra part of her, the human part, couldn't bear Baal's death to come at the price of Asheron's. Especially when he was acting out of depression and trauma and not rational thought. "That you're both still alive means he's hesitating, but I don't think it's enough."

More to himself, Baal murmured, "Asheron…" She didn't think it was her imagination that Baal sounded stricken by what she'd said. It made her feel slightly better about what she was about to say.

"So here's my deal," she said, trying to strengthen her voice. "You win. He's yours. Take him with you. But you have to leave Earth. I'm going to tell Agent Barrett of the NID where you are in twenty minutes, that should be long enough for you to get away."

"You would do this?" Baal asked skeptical of her promise. "Why?"

"Because I'd rather have him alive, than you dead," she answered honestly. "And …" she almost couldn't bring herself to say the words, "because you know how to help him. I don't." Sam had tried her best, but it wasn't enough.

She drew in a shaky breath and could barely whisper as she added, "Please just… just… love him. If you can."

He took a moment to answer and when he did, it was in the most honest, naked tone she had ever heard a Goa'uld use -- somewhat bitter, somewhat amused, and very pained. "Oh, we love. We try to eliminate it as a weakness, but sometimes, no matter what we do, it never leaves us. I first saw Asheron of Naritania thirty-four years ago and not a day has passed that I did not wish him beside me."

She nodded, feeling a little reassured, if not really better. "Good. "

After a moment, he continued, in a more thoughtful tone, "This explains much. He really does look terrible, and he refused to explain why."

"They almost killed him," she said, unable to help herself. Odd, but Baal was the only truly sympathetic ear she had for this, because at least they both seemed to share the same feelings. "I had to use the healing device three times and he still took two days to open his eyes."

"You are certain Teal'c took care of it?" he demanded.

"Gerak's still alive," Sam offered, knowing exactly what she was doing. Baal killed over an insult -- what could he do to the person responsible for torturing his lover? "Teal'c kicked him off the council and took most of his power base but he's still alive. Gerak was the one who ordered the torture and refused to believe anything Asheron told him."

She could imagine the chilling smile on Baal's face as he murmured, "Did he? I will have to find out how far my reach still extends."

"But not here, not from Earth," she said. "Take your operation someplace else. Now that you have him back, you have to go away. Someplace where neither of you can be found for awhile, because I can promise the Jaffa are still looking. So, go."

"I will, Samantha. I… thank you," he said, as though surprised to be saying those words. "I thought he was dead and now you have found him and given him back to me."

She gave a bitter laugh. "It's not like I want to. I want him with me. Don't make me more noble than I am. I thought he was dead, too, and I can't bear the thought of it coming true. Just take care of him. And hurry back before he talks himself into breaking the seal."

After a moment, he added, "This I give you, Samantha. You are Tok'ra now, too, and you can wait if you wish. When he is well, he will have his choice of where to go. I will not keep him against his will, never again."

Sam chose to believe him, because it was too late to have second thoughts anyway. "You think you can help Malek?" she asked.

"Certainly," he answered with reassuring confidence, which Sam hoped was more than Goa'uld arrogance. "Asheron will come to no harm, I promise you."

Then without farewell, the connection closed and Sam shut her phone.

Fifteen minutes was just enough time to get back to the mountain, get checked in again, and then go tell Landry what she had learned.

She hoped Baal could stop Asheron from opening the poison, and that he could do as he said and help Malek, but even if he couldn't, she believed he would try.

Within, though, Turan mourned, still echoing the grief and fear from before.

*Hush, little one. I've done all I can to save them both. It's in other hands now.*

She soothed Turan back to quiet, and even though she'd just sent someone she cared about to a notorious Goa'uld, she had the peace of feeling she had made the right decision.

* * *

Baal entered his sitting room, and as he shut the door behind him, he announced, "I had the most interesting telephone call --"

But the words dried in his mouth as he caught sight of Asheron, who was huddled on the couch where he'd left him, staring vaguely down at his knees. His left hand was still tucked into his jacket pocket, where Baal was now sure he was holding the poison.

In that moment when Asheron was distracted, Baal knew Carter was right. His mate was diminished now, shrunken in on himself, as though all his hope and strength had been pulled from him, leaving only a battered shell.

*Oh, zhir'an, what am I to do with you?* he wondered silently and strode forward. Aloud, he called, "Asheron? Are you well?"

Asheron jerked and his head flew upward, terror flashing through his eyes until he realized where he was. Baal resolved to kill Gerak very slowly at least twice.

"Oh, yes, sorry, what were you saying?" Asheron asked, trying to cover his lapse with a painful effort.

Baal held out his hand. "Give it to me."

Asheron blinked, in apparently honest confusion, and leaned away from his hand. "What?"

"The poison."

That earned a wide-eyed shocked stare. "The… what?" he asked, now trying to dissemble. But his hand did not come out of his pocket.

Gently, Baal explained, "Samantha Carter just spoke to me. She is going to inform the government about my presence in fifteen minutes, and we must be gone by then. But before we escape, I must insist that you give me the poison. Now."

The hand came out of his pocket slowly. At first, Baal didn't even see the small plastic vial filled with a virulent green liquid, cradled in his palm. He could see only the hand, and its first two fingers turned to bony claws. "Asheron…" he murmured in dismay, "your hand… what happened to your hand?" He sank to one knee, reaching out to the mangled fingers as if he might be able to heal them with only his touch. Only one quarter of a year ago, a span of hardly any time at all, this hand had been warm and whole and touching him in pleasure.

It also was proof that Malek was badly injured, as Carter had said. Baal could not find it in himself to be glad about that, not when his mate was in such a precarious mental state.

Carter's words seemed to echo in his memory and acquire new meaning: Asheron had been tortured. The Jaffa had tortured him. They had hurt him and he was still hurt. If Malek died, Asheron would, too. That knowledge pierced through him like nothing ever had, not the sharpest knife or the hottest staff blast had ever hurt him more.

His promise to Carter likewise seemed to take on new strength, warming him, sealed in his blood: Asheron would come to no more harm.

Asheron drew back from him, and his hand closed around it again. Baal couldn't help tensing at the sight, knowing that little liquid was enough to kill both of them immediately, even if they were on the opposite end of the building.

"There's no place for us," Asheron whispered, ignoring the question. "Our time is done. We should end it."

Baal lifted his gaze from Asheron's hand, knowing he would never be able to stop even those fingers from breaking the seal in time. Instead he watched Asheron's face and spoke swiftly, "We are together, Asheron. Together we cannot be defeated."

"We were defeated," Asheron reminded him, in a low, dead voice. "Everything we built is destroyed. Every place we could go is gone. All of our people are dead. There's nothing left."

"There are new things to build. New places to find." He tried a small smile to cajole Asheron. "The galaxy is very large. Surely we two -- we three --" he added, for Malek's benefit, if the Tok'ra was still aware, "can find a place to be."

Asheron shook his head once in the negative. But Baal paid little attention, turning the thought over in his mind. Where could they go, really? The Jaffa would continue to pursue him if he returned to any of the Goa'uld worlds, which would put Asheron at risk again of captivity. That was unacceptable.

Then a bold idea struck. He straightened, wondering if it would possibly work. It might, he decided. But only if he moved quickly.

"We're leaving," he announced and stood up again. "I am sorry, Asheron, but your plan will have to wait. We are not dying today."

Asheron whispered with disturbing intensity, "It has to end. I feel that place, I can't go back there. It's all around me…" He gestured vaguely with the hand holding the poison vial, fingers loosening, and Baal took his chance, darting forward to pluck it from his palm.

Holding the vial securely in one hand, he closed the other around Asheron's thin wrist and lifted him to his feet. "Come. We must hurry." Asheron allowed him to pull him from the room, unresisting. It was very strange and ominous that Asheron was so compliant, but Baal had to put that problem aside for more urgent concerns. He considered all the steps he was going to have to take to make this hasty plan work and made a disgruntled sound, muttering. "Perhaps the cloning program was something I should have initiated, after all."

He found Nerkan, one of the most useful of the Trust's infiltrated Goa'uld, and the one who'd found the most attractive host in Charlotte Mayfield. "Evacuate the facility immediately," he ordered. "And set the detonators for ten minutes. I want nothing salvageable from this location at all."

"Yes, sir," she answered and hustled away to see to it, whipping out her cell phone.

They took the car out to the desert where his cloaked al'kesh rested, and he was pleased to see it remained untouched. He put Asheron in the co-pilot's seat and piloted them away from the Earth. He felt a small amount of regret for his abandoned plans as he parked the ship beyond the lunar orbit to wait, but when he glanced to the side at Asheron's blank, thin face, he knew he could do nothing else.

They had to escape and they had to find safety. And where would be safer from the Jaffa than another galaxy entirely?

* * *

He followed in Baal's wake, pulled along irresistibly. He couldn't seem to focus on what was happening, continually losing the thread of where they were and what they were doing. They were moving a lot, but to what purpose he didn't know, from car to ship to another ship. They were on one of the ships for what seemed like days, and then he was sure he was hallucinating the cold tingle of a transport beam.

He was, however, certain that at some point Baal used both the healing device and the ribbon device on the back of his neck, muttering Goa'uld oaths at Malek under his breath. Asheron liked the feel of both together; there was no pain, only warmth passing through his body like a tropical rain across his skin, and he was completely aware again. Best of all, there was an ember of life in the back of his mind that hadn't been there in an eternity.

He smiled at Baal and brushed a hand across the grey button-down shirt, with its collar open and sleeves rolled up, to wrap his fingers around the sinewy muscles of Baal's forearm. "I feel him again. Thank you."

"The things I do for you," Baal teased softly, and leaned forward slowly, giving Asheron plenty of time to move back or resist. But he didn't want to do either, and joined their mouths eagerly.

The kiss lasted until Baal's hand slid up his left arm to rest on his shoulder, and something slipped inside his head. He yanked himself back, away, pressing against the wall, panicked pants torn from his lungs.

"Asheron?" Baal asked in concern.

Asheron shook his head. The room where they were hiding was too small. It was brightly lit, but Asheron felt the shadows pressing in on him, from all sides. Distant voices were saying something, but he couldn't hear the words.

He closed his eyes, but the dark made it worse. His hand ached, throbbing, and caused sympathetic pains to pass through him. When he opened his eyes again, Gerak was there, holding the sha'nik prongs again, and Asheron hit his head on the wall, trying to jerk backward.

It wasn't Gerak, it was Baal, with his hand raised toward him. "Asheron?" he repeated.

"I can't -- " he tried to explain what was happening, halting and less coherent than he meant. "I can't make it stop anymore. Malek can't help, and I can't stop them from coming back. I can't hold on…"

A strong arm was around him suddenly, and gentle fingers brushed the hair back from his face. "I am here, and you are safe now. They are memories, no more. Let them out and ease their hold on you."

Asheron shook his head, trembling, clutching Baal's shoulders and trying to focus very intently on the line of the collar bone in front of him.. "No, no. I can't. I can feel -- it's going to take over - I don't think I'll come back."

"Stop fighting so hard, zhir'santh," Baal murmured. "Let go. I am here, and I will not leave you. Tell me about how they captured you."

"They, they killed Tel'nor," he started, shivering and trying not to remember, just speak the words. "And I fell unconscious. When I woke up, we were in a room underground. It was dark - and he came in with the sha'nik prongs..."

He saw them again, right before his eyes, shining. His rescue, his recovery, everything that happened afterward was wiped out in an instant, because he was there again, as if he'd never left.

The world dissolved into pain and fear.






CHAPTER THIRTEEN .
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