Asheron waited in the sitting room, standing beside the window and looking out at the mountains that surrounded Baal's primary fortress. The pose was casual, but he was feeling anything but. In moments Baal was going to come back and he was going to want their agreement … consummated. Asheron had agreed and he intended to do it, but now that the moment was upon him, he was tense and nervous and ill.
*We don't have to go through with this,* Malek said. *Now that our friends are safe, we can refuse.*
*We can. He holds no hostages now, only us. We need not surrender to him.*
*So then we prove we have no honor?* Asheron returned. *We make ourselves just as bad?*
*We win no points for honor --"
*We win no points for pretending to a virtue I don't have, either,* Asheron told him sharply. *I've done this before. I can do it again." The flash of anger disappeared as quickly as it had come and he pulled in a deep breath, reaching for calm. *I know how to give him what he wants.*
Malek was doubtful. *To what end?*
*To get in his inner circle. Gather intelligence. Stop atrocities. I can have influence.*
Malek hesitated and Asheron had the vague sense of Malek closer, nosing around in his emotions at a level he usually preferred to stay back from. *There is a measure of self-justification in that,* he told Asheron eventually.
Asheron returned with weary frustration, *What do you want from me? I would much rather gain something by surrender, than have him take what he wants by force. And if he's really angered by my refusal, he might start in that same-old, boring cycle of torture and death and sarcophagus.* He was trying to keep his mental tone light, but both of them could feel the old terror beneath it, like a black tar bubbling closer to the surface and clinging to every thought.
It was far more subdued that he continued, *I can't go through that again. You know it, too. I don't think even you would be able to put all the pieces back together.*
Malek sent love and apologies to him, helping push the fear back down. But it was not gone, and both of them knew it. *I am sorry, beloved. You are right. I did not consider that.* He didn't verbalize the rest of his thoughts, but Asheron heard them anyway. Baal knew about that fault line in Asheron's mind, because he'd been the one to build a bridge across it. That 'bridge' was in fact part of the problem now, because it made Asheron less willing to see Baal for the evil he was. Intellectually he knew, but his heart remembered strong arms holding him and patient fingers caressing him to pleasure, reminding him that he was more than just a suffering animal.
Asheron felt Malek's revulsion at the thought of lying with the hated Goa'uld who had murdered the rest of his brothers and sisters of the Tok'ra. Surrendering to that enemy went against his every instinct, though he also knew Asheron was going to do it anyway.
*You should sleep,* Asheron suggested. *Then you don't have to watch.*
Malek was horrified. *And leave you alone with him? Never.*
Asheron was grateful for the support, but it didn't really make any sense. *Your hatred for him is going to make what I have to do even harder,* Asheron said. *I already feel enough like a whore. I don't need to struggle against your feelings, too.*
Malek paused and asked uncertainly, *Are you certain? I feel as though I should not leave you. You are in danger, beloved, whether you believe it or not. I should not abandon you while you are in danger.*
Asheron was a little amused by that. *It's not as though you're actually going anywhere, you know. You'll just be asleep. If I need you awake, I know what to do. Please, dear friend, sleep,* he requested. *I know you don't approve, but I have to do this.*
Malek gave in, as Asheron knew he would. *As you wish. But remember, if you need me -- at any moment -- wake me. I will stir myself in a little while to check on you.*
They bid each other good night and Asheron felt Malek's withdrawal and then the final absence as sharply as if a door had closed between them, leaving him outside and alone in the cold dark. He staggered forward into the window embrasure, clutching the sill with both hands.
It had been so long since they'd done this. He tried to remember back to the days before he had been blended, to find his own self again, but all he could think about was how alone he felt suddenly, as though the wind might pluck him from the window and dash him to the rocks below and there would be nothing to stop it.
He leaned forward, through the window into the chill air, fixing his gaze rather desperately on the surrounding mountains. I am not alone. Malek is still here, he's just sleeping, he tried to tell himself. But the lack of another presence made his spirit doubt it. He felt … empty.
An amused voice came from behind him, "If you throw yourself from the window, I'll have you put in a sarcophagus and brought back to me," Baal said, and Asheron didn't think he was kidding at all.
But neither was Asheron. His skin prickled at the word, and dark tendrils crept up into his chest. He stared at the high snow-covered peaks, pushing away the memories. "If you put me in a sarcophagus, I will see you dead," he said, in cold promise.
There was a pause behind him, and he heard Baal move closer to him across the porcelain tile. "You mean that," he observed, without surprise. "Even to save your life?"
His fingers tightened on the sill. "Never again."
"You have had more than your share," Baal observed with a touch of dry humor. "But I can't say I'm… displeased you're still alive."
His hand settled on Asheron's shoulder and slid down his arm. Asheron's shoulders twitched at the touch and a tingle ran through his torso, settling in the pit of his stomach.
He swallowed, took a deep breath and turned to face his… his mate. His stomach seized up on sight of the Goa'uld and the anticipatory gleam in his eyes.
"I wasn't going to throw myself from the window. Malek went… to sleep," he admitted.
Baal smiled a little. "He abandoned you?" He had dropped the Goa'uld vibrato, but it made his voice sound more like a purr. "I'm not surprised."
"It was my idea," Asheron protested. "He hates you. It would get in the way."
"So you don't hate me? That's a good start." Baal asked and reached out to touch his face with both hands resting on his cheeks and then combed his fingers back through Asheron's hair slowly, as he moved forward. One hand curled around the back of Asheron's neck to hold him still. "You do not know how much I have wanted this," he murmured before his mouth touched Asheron's.
He couldn't help his reflexive stiffening; it felt so wrong. His traitorous mind flashed a memory of Sam's soft lips on his, not the touch of facial hair. Baal pulled back a little. "Relax," he coaxed. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"I know. Sorry," Asheron murmured. "It's been a long time."
"Not that long. I remember everything." Perhaps to prove that he really did, he moved in again but this time to the side and placed a soft kiss in exactly the right spot under Asheron's ear. He shivered, feeling it down to his feet. He could feel Baal smile against his neck, and his voice sent the tingle down his body again when he spoke, "You see? I remember."
The worst part was that Asheron was now remembering too. Whenever Ishtar let him go, he went eagerly, even knowing that she would punish him more harshly when he came back to her. But it didn't matter, because the time was always worth it. He had never been strong enough to resist the respite that Baal offered.
He had spent the last thirty years trying to forget what he had done, embracing his guilt and choosing a solitary life. Until Sam.
But with Baal's mouth on his again, he couldn't help but remember. It felt exactly the same.
The hand slid around his waist to his back and swiftly down. He flinched when Baal's hand rounded his ass, and gasped a little with surprise. Taking advantage of the opening, Baal deepened the kiss hungrily, pulling Asheron forward until their lower bodies came together.
Baal's tongue slipped past his lips and sought to re-learn his mouth. Asheron let him, not yet able to find the return feeling in himself. Baal's hands roamed freely over his clothes, but he soon pulled back with an irritated groan. "Too many clothes."
"You gave them to me."
"This suits you." His hands started working the front buttons. "But it would suit me better to have you wear nothing."
As he worked, he captured Asheron's mouth with his again, open and demanding, pulling back with Asheron's lower lip caught between his. He let go only to move in and kiss his neck, dragging his tongue across the sensitive spot to feel Asheron shiver.
He pushed the coat and opened tunic off his shoulders and down his arms. Asheron helped him, pulling his hands free so the whole thing could fall to the floor. This left him bare above the waist, and Baal took his time looking. The dark fire of his eyes and the damping of his lips with his tongue was enough to tell Asheron that he was still desirable. But Baal said, "You look stronger. More muscular. I like it." He ran approving fingers across the top of Asheron's shoulders and back in along his collarbone and then down the middle of his chest.
Asheron shrugged slightly, aware of the fingers now caressing down his belly to the top of his pants. His stomach muscles tightened and he couldn't help leaning into the touch. "I exercised whenever I was bored on Earth."
Baal smirked, his hands moving up again, across his ribs to trace the muscles of his chest. "Then I am grateful to the Tau'ri for wasting your talents."
Asheron tensed in anticipation as Baal brushed his nipples with his fingertips. His breath hitched, and Baal looked amused. "Not so long ago, I think," he murmured. "You still respond to my touch, even when your brain is trying to tell you not to."
He did it again, the touch was sending a little charge of excitement through him. Baal was right, he didn't want to be played so easily, but he couldn't help it. Asheron kissed him to shut him up, and still the hands remained.
He put his hands on Baal's shoulders, intending to push him back. He had forgotten what it felt like to touch the firm muscle, so unlike the more gracile and delicate feel he had grown used to. The touch sent a jolt straight to his groin, of surprise and pleasure as a more distant memory returned in all its glory, of this beautiful hard body on his.
He gasped into Baal's mouth and Baal took advantage, thrusting his tongue deep. This time Asheron answered, and felt Baal shudder when he probed Baal's mouth himself, even while his hands clutched at Baal's clothes, trying to get inside the openings.
He pulled the tunic open and shoved it out of the way, forcing Baal to let go so he could remove it. The Goa'uld smiled for that one moment they stood apart, half-clothed. "The bed is this way," he indicated with a graceful motion of his arm.
Bed. Last time, they'd noticed that Asheron also being a host gave him stamina equal to the Goa'uld's. There had been several nights of that week when they'd barely slept, taking delight in each other several times. Asheron shivered, reminded that this was what he had bargained for. He was quivering inside, with anticipation and fear all mixed together. Not that he was afraid that Baal would hurt him, but it had been so long…
In the bedroom, after the door closed, Baal slipped out of his boots, and when he straightened, he had a knife in his hand, which he set on the table. His glance at Asheron was challenging, so Asheron looked at it. The knife was long and narrow, with a black and silver hilt. His gaze flew up to meet Baal's, shocked by recognition. He'd been a little too busy being defiant to notice which knife had been at his throat before. "Is that--? You kept it?"
"Very sentimental, I know," he admitted, with a wry twist of his mouth. "I had intended to kill you with it." He deliberately stepped far enough away that Asheron could have picked it up.
But Asheron stayed where he was. "I'm not going to take it," he said. "As long as you keep your end of the agreement, I'll ..." he hesitated, his gaze slipping down the bare chest, and he had to swallow before finishing, "keep mine."
Baal raised a hand and beckoned him closer. "Good. Because I have only one desire right now, to make you forget how to say anything but my name."
Asheron shuddered and felt the heat in his cock grow until it was pressing uncomfortably against his pants.
Baal's quick eyes noted the shift of his stance and his hand slid down the front of Asheron's pants. "Yes," he murmured. "I remember this."
The touch was a maddening tease behind all the fabric. Asheron pulled backward, until his leg touched the edge of the bed, and then let himself fall backward, pulling Baal down on top of him.
As skin brushed skin, and knowing fingers found familiar pleasure points, Asheron shut out anything outside this moment. There was no past, only the present of slick sweat under his hands. The terrible emptiness inside him from Malek's absence was, for a moment, filled with an old-familiar surrender as the pleasure touched him deeply. When Baal brought him to the edge again and again, there was not even the present - his universe shrank to need and want and Baal's dark eyes flaring when they came together.
As his breathing and heart rate settled into a more normal rhythm and the fog of pleasure dissipated, he closed his eyes, savoring the feeling.
Even when he listened, focused all his attention, he heard nothing but himself and the quiet breathing beside him.
Baal ran a lazy hand up his leg to his hip. After a moment he said, "If you are still capable of such serious thought, then perhaps I should try again."
Lips twitching in amusement, Asheron answered, "I'm not thinking. Only enjoying the quiet."
"So Malek didn't wake for us?" Baal asked, adding sarcastically, "and I was so looking forward to his commentary."
Asheron nudged him with an elbow. He missed Malek, but the absence of Ishtar's malicious presence was a relief. "I'd forgotten," he said aloud, "how you make everything quiet."
The hand caressing his thigh paused briefly, and Asheron wondered if Baal understood what he meant. He'd witnessed nightmares about Ishtar before. But he didn't comment on that, rolling over onto Asheron, to look down into Asheron's face and said in a voice rich and deep with promise, "I forget nothing."
It was a sharp contrast with Asheron who wanted to forget so much. But as Baal's mouth returned to his again, Asheron thought that perhaps some of the past was worth remembering.
* * *
Asheron found himself circling the sitting room for a second time, and forced himself to stop at the window. It was raining outside, and the heavy clouds hid the mountains from view and made the valley look dark and foreboding. He leaned into the window to find out if he could see the Stargate hall, but it was out of sight around the corner. There were gardens down below, but he didn't want to get wet. It just emphasized that he had nowhere to go and nothing to do while Baal was gone.
Sure he had said he owed no obedience, but didn't he just fall in with whatever Baal wanted when he showed up anyway? At least bedding him was something to do, and lords knew, it felt good. Baal was never sparing in returning the favor.
But the situation was really no different from being at the SGC. He was still in a cage. A plush cage with pleasurable amenities, but a cage nonetheless.
He couldn't do this for two years. He wasn't even going to make it a fortnight unless he figured out some distractions. Already he wondered which of the lotars were wavering and which of the Jaffa were secretly with the rebellion. He would have to be extremely careful and slow, and let people come to him. But he would eventually be able to build a circle of contacts and from that he could build a network. When it grew strong enough, he could turn it into a weapon.
Let Baal think he was content as his zhi'lotar. Though he needed to get some occasional outside thing to do, since he knew Baal would never believe complete capitulation. Maybe he should ask Baal to play senet against him again. That would suggest he simply wanted Baal's company, even in a non-sexual way. It would feed Baal's ego, and might in turn let him relax the subtle watchers.
As if thinking about him had conjured his presence, the door opened and Baal entered. He saw Asheron by the window and he smiled slowly, his gaze leisurely and hot as he made Asheron all too aware that he hadn't bothered to put on a shirt earlier.
"I had intended to give you this," he held up a PTD and tossed it without looking on one of the couches. "But I find the view distracting."
Only a little dryly, Asheron answered, "I aim to please."
But the words seemed to catch something in Baal, who frowned and seemed to consider something. "You do, don't you? You were very firm in your determination to not be my zhi'lotar. Where did that go?"
Asheron raised his brows, smiling a little. "Good sex?"
"Yes, of course," Baal said, with that easy arrogance. "But you were not so taken before." He folded his arms and regarded Asheron with suspicion. "You are planning something."
Asheron rolled his eyes, to cover his flicker of guilt. "No, I can't be planning anything when I have nothing to do. Play senet with me? I miss a competent player."
Baal looked pleased. "Yes. You played well as I recall. But not now. I suspected you were growing bored, so I brought this." He picked up the PTD again and brought it over to Asheron. "You could use your Tok'ra intelligence analysis skills and determine which of these two conflicting reports I should believe. And you may also suggest a course of action."
"Oh, really? You'll let me?" Asheron retorted sarcastically, not willing to let that condescension stand unchallenged. "How about you tell me what you already plan to do, so I don't waste my time giving you advice you won't hear?"
"I will hear you," Baal promised. "I do take advice, Asheron."
Asheron snorted skeptically, but he took the device and turned it on, curious in spite of himself. He settled into the armchair to read. There were, as Baal had said, two reports, which boiled down to a question of whether Yu had moved the bulk of his fleet toward a world called Eridai, which was located outside Baal's current territory, or the main part of Yu's fleet was already four light-years inside his territory, gathering at an unoccupied and valueless system.
There seemed no obvious way to authenticate either without scouting the systems in question. He raised his head to frown at Baal, who had taken up the couch, with a drink handed to him by one of his more circumspect lotars. "I wouldn't believe either. I'd send scouts to both places."
Baal snorted. "So like a Tok'ra. Give my enemy time to build up his fleet at either location? No." He leaned forward. "Stop thinking like a Tok'ra. What would Asheron do?"
"Send scouts," he retorted with a smile. When Baal shoved himself back with a frustrated groan, Asheron added, "I'm not suggesting you have to send a tel'tak. Send a ha'tak, fully shielded, to each place. You can spare two. If they find something they can destroy, then they can. If they don't find anything, then you know. If they find a large fleet, then they call for reinforcements."
"And I should answer this invasion of my territory with one ha'tak?" Baal demanded, in outrage, and narrowed his eyes, "Allow Yu to think that he intimidates me? No, that I will not do."
"If you want to send your whole fleet after a phantom, go ahead. But don't you think that will look even more foolish, chasing something that's not even there?" Asheron returned.
Baal drew himself up, angry and offended, "You dare --"
Asheron tossed the PTD on the floor, cutting him off. He was irritated too. "Fine, you don't want my advice, then I won't give it. I had to play these games with Ishtar, to find the right answer to please her. I'm not playing again. Do whatever the hell you want -- you will anyway."
His gaze met Baal's boldly, though not without an inward flutter of anxiety. He was provoking him deliberately, and he knew it, but he needed to draw a line somewhere. He had to find the boundaries to whatever this was.
At first, Baal was tense and angry, and Asheron could see the instinct to strike out at the offense roll through his whole body. Asheron waited, to see what would happen -- either they found a new boundary or Baal would retreat to the comfortable realm of zhi'lotar relations and put him back in his place.
Then Baal relaxed, letting out a breath as he eased back against the sofa.. "There you are," he raised his brows in sardonic amusement. "I had wondered where you'd gone in the last week."
Asheron didn't believe for a second that it had been a test. "Don't ask for my advice if you're just going to get angry at me. If I'm your mate, then I can argue without being afraid of you. If I'm your zhi'lotar then tell me that, and I know what to do."
"Afraid of me?" He repeated and frowned. Standing, he folded his arms, paced to the window and back to stand in front of Asheron's chair. "You are not afraid of me," he said, as though the idea was absurd. "Even when you thought I would kill you, you were not fearful."
Baal was really missing the point. "After two years of Ishtar, not to mention almost thirty as a Tok'ra, do you really think I'd show you that? Credit me with some self-control."
"What do you fear I would do to you? Have I ever hurt you?" he demanded.
Asheron shook his head once. "No."
"So then why would you believe that I would?" he asked, sounding truly frustrated and confused.
Asheron thought about that, deciding to give Baal an honest answer. "Because you can," he answered. "And I don't know how much I can -- how much I'm allowed to argue and fight -- before you take offense and turn on me. With Ishtar I knew, but with you, I don't."
"I am not Ishtar," Baal exclaimed. "I would never do to you what she did."
"Why not?" Asheron returned. "I know you've done it before. So it's not that you won't do it all."
"Tell me, Asheron, if I hurt you, will that break our agreement?"
Baal nodded as if that explained everything. "So then why would I do that? I have what I want. And I avoid what I don't want as well, which is you and Malek united in an effort to kill me." He laughed once, with a little bitterness. "You are more powerful than you think. Do you believe I have no concerns that either you or Malek are biding your time, waiting to betray me?"
Asheron lowered his head, frowning, thinking it through. Baal had an equal concern, didn't he? After all, what they'd shared had been a long time ago, and in the meantime Asheron had become a Tok'ra, and been friendly with the Tau'ri, who were both Baal's enemies. It came down to trust, really. They didn't, and maybe they couldn't fully trust each other, because of what they were.
"I gave you my word," he reminded Baal softly. "I meant it. Malek's not awake, but he went dormant because he knew I would abide by it."
"I believe you. That is the only reason you're here," Baal said. His hands covered Asheron's and pulled him to his feet, chest to chest with him. "I will send one ha'tak to each system to scout them," he murmured. Asheron knew that was as much apology as he was going to get, but he took it for the gift that it was.
"I have what I want," Baal murmured, his touch possessive as his hands stroked Asheron's shoulders and back. "You need not fear anything while I have you."
A soft whisper in the back of his mind wondered if it hadn't been a test after all. But Baal's mouth covered his, and Asheron kissed him back, and the whisper was overwhelmed by the sensation of the warm hands and the eager lips.
* * *
Malek stirred himself out of dormancy. It was a slow process, re-establishing and re-activating connections to Asheron's brain.
Asheron was deeply asleep, untroubled by bad dreams, and Malek was pleased that his host was sleeping peacefully.
But then he realized why Asheron was sleeping so well. His body was filled with the remnants of adrenaline and endorphins and other hormones, causing a relaxation and lassitude. That, combined with specific aches informed Malek of exactly what Asheron had been doing.
The feel of a leg on his and easily found memories of Baal and Asheron, were unnecessary and unwelcome confirmation.
Revulsion swept through Malek, especially the touch of Baal's skin touching his own. Malek twitched and wanted to jerk his leg out from under Baal's, but a quick glance showed him sleeping and Malek didn't want to wake him. He eased his leg free and then rolled on to his side.
Now was the perfect opportunity. Baal was asleep, right next to him. If he could find a weapon, he could finish what he had tried to do twenty years ago.
And there, on the bedside table was the very same knife that he had stabbed Baal with. He wondered why it was there, but a quick scan of Asheron's memory showed that it was a test -- Baal had left it there for Asheron to reject.
You should have taken his invitation, beloved, he thought to Asheron. But I will do what you cannot.
Lifting himself on one elbow, he grabbed for the hilt with his other hand. The moment his fingers wrapped it, a quiet voice at his back said, "Malek."
Malek's hand twitched and he froze, hand clenching on the knife.
Sounding neither sleepy nor angry, Baal went on, "I have wondered how long you would need to wake up and attack me, Tok'ra."
Malek imagined himself flipping over and stabbing Baal in the heart. If he was fast enough... But the fantasy dissolved against the reality that Baal, awake and prepared, would fight back and the outcome was not certain.
Sounding satisfied, Baal added, "You waited too long."
Malek frowned and his shoulder-blades twitched, feeling Baal's eyes willing him to turn and look at him. So Malek refused, staring at the knife still fixed in his hand.
But he had to respond, "Any time is a good time to kill you."
"Is it?" Baal retorted. "Would Asheron agree? He told me he didn't approve when you tried it before."
"He's confused," Malek answered, tightly. "But he would understand."
"Really." The bed shifted as Baal moved and Malek refused to turn and see what he was doing. His voice sounded as if he was sitting up, "Tell me, Malek -- which one of us gives him peace? Which one of us keeps the memory of Ishtar at bay?"
The implication infuriated Malek. Asheron didn't have nightmares about Ishtar here, because this creature had twisted him up inside, pretending to an affection he didn't -- couldn't -- feel.
Malek got to his knees and turned, knife in his hand. "Because you led him into a lie," he hissed, "manipulating him, trying to possess him. It's nothing but a power game to you -- you want to destroy him as surely as Ishtar did, in a different way."
Baal was already upright, but he straightened and his dark eyes burned. "Never."
"He's too trapped in the past to see, but I do. I always have, from the days when I watched him disappear into your chambers. Twisting him around -- making him dependent -- "
"I gave him what he needed!" Baal exclaimed, and for an instant Malek thought he might be sincere.
Then he laughed once. ""Gave"?" he repeated with harsh sarcasm. "You don't give anything."
"Who was it who taught him how to bear someone else's touch? Who was it who showed him pleasure again?" he returned sharply. "Not you."
Baal chuckled scornfully. "I have twenty lotars who would throw themselves in my bed if I wished it. You overestimate his appeal."
"Exactly. We're here, because we escaped from you last time and you can't endure having one of your possessions leave you. Don't pretend you were doing Asheron a favor or you were giving him anything. Because you didn't. I have been here, night after night, for the past twenty years trying to undo what you and Ishtar did to him. A task made all the more difficult by the bounty you put on our head, that made it all but impossible to leave the tunnels."
"You tried to kill me!" Baal protested.
Malek pointed the knife and had the pleasure of seeing Baal jerk backward, even though he recovered quickly. "You broke your promise and tried to keep us prisoner -- and you know being captive again would destroy him. You enjoy breaking him to your will, when Ishtar could not. There is no other reason he's in your bed."
Baal opened his mouth to continue to argue, but snapped it closed again, reconsidering. His eyes stayed fixed on Malek, chin up slightly, proud and insufferable. Finally he spoke, "You see only what you want to see. Very well. Here's something you can understand: Asheron is mine. You are an inconvenience and a threat. But for some incomprehensible reason, he likes you, so I won't rip you out of his brain. But," he paused and leaned forward slightly, tone dark with warning, "if you attack me, you had best be sure that you succeed in my death, because if you fail, our bargain is void. The first thing I will do is capture Samantha Carter and kill the symbiote she carries. And then I will destroy Earth."
He meant it, Malek knew. This was the Baal he expected. "Asheron would never forgive that."
Baal sneered, "If I'm what you believe, then why should that matter? He'll still be mine."
"He will never be yours," Malek retorted. "He'll kill you, as he did Ishtar."
But Baal didn't appear worried about that and answered with perfect confidence. "No. He won't."
Malek feared Baal might be right about that. Asheron hadn't wanted Malek to try to kill him all those years ago and he'd be less willing today. Malek figured his only hope was if Baal would betray Asheron personally -- but surely with a Goa'uld that would be only a matter of time.
Baal continued, "We have an agreement, and we will both keep it, so long as you don't interfere. It's your choice, Tok'ra."
Then with a casualness that Malek was sure had to be feigned, yet seemed real enough, Baal rose from the bed and began to dress.
Malek turned his eyes away, staring at the knife he was still holding in his hand. There was Baal's bare back, not far away, ripe for a knife to go into it. He couldn't possibly have a personal shield when he had no clothes on, and therefore was a perfect target. But Malek didn't throw. It felt like a betrayal of his people to sit there and do nothing, but he held back. He knew what Asheron would say: better to save the living than avenge the dead. If he failed, all the good of this bargain would be undone, and if he succeeded, he would have rid the galaxy of one Goa'uld but also broken his own host's trust.
With a heavy breath, he set the knife back on the far bedside table. "All right," he said in answer to Baal's inquisitive look. Just as Baal was starting to look very pleased with himself, Malek said flatly, "I still want you dead. But not today."
"Well, at least that's something," Baal muttered, as if Malek were finally being reasonable. "In the meantime, you can make yourself useful, Tok'ra, and figure out a way to cure the roshna dependency from the Tellians."
Malek stared at him. "You were serious about that?"
"Of course. I gave my word," Baal stated simply. "I acquired Nurrti's data, and if you are the biochemist I believe you to be, you can use that to solve the problem. You have clearance for the lab in the tech building. Tell Asheron I will see him at mid-day."
He left, leaving Malek feeling unsettled by the encounter. His desire for revenge had been short-circuited and he felt off-balance and dissatisfied. Baal had dropped the bomb that he was genuinely trying to cure the Tellians and he wanted Malek's help with it. He wanted to believe that Baal was doing it merely to manipulate him, but it seemed unlikely - not to mention overly arrogant - to suppose Baal was sacrificing the servitude of an entire race for such a vague gain.
And even if he would, Malek could certainly not going to give up the opportunity to help the Tellians. Korra had given his own promise of Tok'ra help to Aris Boch, and Malek had tried to help, but been stymied by the complexity of the problem. With Nurrti's notes, however, it might be possible.
He flopped back in the bed, disgruntled, and thought at his sleeping host, *We should have killed him, beloved. We still should.*
But he knew they would not, not soon.
* * *
Asheron woke up, aware immediately that Malek was awake and, more importantly, had been awake when Baal had been there, too. He made a show of checking the bed for a dead body. *You didn't try to kill him, I'm impressed by your restraint.*
Malek was not amused. *I can't kill him when he's going to give me Nurrti's notes about the Tellians. I still think it's a ploy, but I must take the opportunity he presents to cure them.*
*He does enjoy getting his own way,* Asheron observed.
*And you encourage him, by giving it to him,* Malek answered, with a strong current of distaste and memory of waking up next to Baal.
Asheron couldn't defend against that, because he knew Malek was right. He swallowed and stared up at the ceiling. *I don't feel her. There is nothing about him that reminds me of her. He makes me feel safe. And I know that's stupid, that he's a Goa'uld and he has thousands of years of hurting other people, I know that.* His hands were clenched tightly into the coverlet, and his heart was beating too fast because he felt queasy with guilt and fear of Malek's condemnation. *But it doesn't change anything.*
Malek hesitated, nosed around in Asheron's memories of the last few weeks, and gave in with a mental sigh. *Beloved, he manipulated me into not killing him, using something he has been planning since Kilchor brought us here. So how can I blame you when he gives you something more important, something even I could not?*
*You hate him,* Asheron said.
*Of course I do. But you do not. You tried to, for my sake, but I understand why you cannot. And I will grant that he seems to be willing to make grand gestures of concession, such as the Tellians and releasing Teal'c. But still, I think you should test his commitment. The Tellians are nothing to him; they were easily sacrificed. What can you ask for that would be more difficult for him to give up?"*
Asheron didn't take long to decide; it had been preying on him since he'd been at the SGC.
At lunch, after the lotars had taken away their plates, Asheron asked, "What do you know of Moloc?"
Baal frowned a little and gave a careless shrug. "He has always done what Ishtar and I required of him. He has little ambition, and keeps to his territory otherwise. Why?"
Asheron drew one finger along the glossy wood of the table then raised his gaze to Baal. "I want him dead."
Baal's eyebrows flared in surprise, but he said only, "I don't make a habit of killing my loyal servants. What did he do?"
"He's been murdering the girl babies born to the Jaffa." Asheron left it at that. He could tell Baal about the Hak'tyl and their connections to the rebel Jaffa, because even a Goa'uld less clever than Baal could see the strategic problem there, but he wanted to hear what Baal would say first.
At first Baal said nothing at all. He regarded Asheron for a moment. "He is not."
*He doesn't know,* Malek realized with surprise.
Asheron was briefly glad. "He is. He's been doing it since Ishtar died."
Baal didn't argue, taking Asheron's source of intelligence for the truth. He shook his head once, looking annoyed. "Where are we supposed to get the next generation of Jaffa if he kills all the females?" he demanded rhetorically. "Fine. Request granted, Asheron. Such stupidity shouldn't live."
Asheron clenched his jaw, angered that Baal didn't seem to think about the morality of Moloc's actions at all.
*You expected something else?* Malek asked.
*I'm an idiot,* Asheron snapped back at him and nodded to Baal, taking what he could get. He stood and started away, but Baal's hand caught his shoulder.
"I know why this is important to you, Asheron."
Asheron didn't look at Baal and said flatly, "Do you."
Startled that Baal knew about Jisa, Asheron pulled free and stalked to the window. His stomach knotted up and he had to swallow to find his voice. "Teal'c and I had planned to go kill him ourselves, after O'Neill refused Tau'ri resources." He gripped the window frame with his fingers and repeated, "I want him dead. Just bring him to me, and I'll do it myself."
"You would?" Baal asked.
Asheron's lips lifted in a cold smile. Killing Moloc wouldn't be hard. He could use a staff weapon or even a knife if he had to. "He wouldn't be the first, would he?"
After a moment, Baal answered, "I think we're better off letting the Jaffa execute him in my name. But," he moved up behind Asheron, arms sliding around him and breath hot on his neck, murmuring, "the idea of watching you kill him is very tempting. I'd like to see that." His hands held Asheron in place as he pressed up snugly into him, making it clear how much he wanted to see it.
*I know where this is going. I'll be sleeping if you need me,* Malek said, and abruptly disappeared. To compensate for the sudden abandonment, Asheron held still in Baal's embrace, focusing on the touch of his hands and his body.
"That's ... disturbing," Asheron murmured. "You're stirred up by imagining me kill someone."
"No," Baal corrected, nipping the line of his neck, "by you being dangerous. You so rarely admit it."
Asheron couldn't quite argue that he wasn't dangerous, since that would be absurd. But he couldn't let it lie either. As goosebumps broke across his skin at the determined assault on his earlobe, he protested, "I'm not that dangerous. I'm here, aren't I?"
"Oh, but that makes you even more dangerous," Baal murmured, opening Asheron's belt and pants and slipping his fingers inside to touch his lower belly. "You stay here, with me, when you don't have to. You save the lives of useless humans, not with insipid pleas, but with ruthless strategy. You ask me for the head of one my most loyal servants, and I give it to you. I wonder sometimes if you plan to kill me and take over my empire for yourself."
Asheron snorted a laugh. "That's a good plan; I should've thought of it." He took the window frame in one hand to brace himself. He knew where the groping hand was going, and he certainly wasn't going to stop it. "I'll let you finish conquering our enemies for me first."
Baal chuckled lowly. "You see? I have a cobra in my bed. A very beautiful, sleeping cobra. Cobras can't be tamed, only coaxed." One of his hands slid between Asheron's legs to cup his genitals, and Asheron shuddered. He didn't feel very cobra-like at all as closed his eyes to enjoy the feel of the fingers petting his balls and the palm pressed firmly into his stirring cock.
Trapped between Baal's body and his hand, Asheron tried to rub himself on the still hand without much success. Instead the light fondling of his balls was sparking all through his groin, a nerve-wracking touch that he couldn't do anything about.
He tilted his head back, "Coax me some more, and stop being such a tease."
"So impatient," Baal chided. "If I'm not in a hurry, you shouldn't be either."
"You're not the one with the hand inside his pants," Asheron complained. "Shouldn't we move to the bed if you're intent on being so slow?" he asked.
"Oh no. No bed. Right here in front the window. It's a lovely day."
Asheron looked out the window, up to the sky and down to the city below the palace. He shuddered on a surge of hot desire and he felt himself stiffen at the idea. Baal chuckled, and licked his outer ear curve. "You like the idea," he murmured and pushed Asheron's pants down to finally close his hand around Asheron's erection.
Asheron couldn't disagree. Baal continued to purr in his ear, "And after I get you off, I'm going to take you in front of this window where anyone can see."
Asheron's blood seemed to turn to fire at the promise and he pushed his hips into the grip, groaning. "Yes, oh yes. Don't stop."
He didn't. They ended up on the rug in front of the window, tangled together. Asheron lay there, heart beat slowing, enjoying the sweet lassitude in his muscles and the heat of the sun on his skin.
Baal's fingers caressed slowly down his spine. "Tell me what more you want," he requested in a low voice. "I will give it to you, Asheron. I have servants-- that's not what I want from you. I want you with me."
Asheron could hear a note of confusion, as if Baal too was feeling his way in this strange thing they were trying to make. That gave him the confidence to ask the only question which mattered.
"Tell me about your host," he requested.
Baal's hand paused and he let out a short breath, as if he'd expected this question and yet hoped it would never come up. "There are some who resist joining," he started, slowly. "Or who are too afraid, or too worshipful. They must be suppressed and locked away. But sometimes, host and symbiote are compatible, with similar desires and similar thoughts. So it was with me. We merged, over the years, long ago. There is no separation in our thoughts or memories. We are one being."
"Truly?" Asheron asked, intrigued, and watching Baal's eyes closely for the lie. "Are you telling me what you think I want to hear? Because you don't have to. I made my peace with the possibility when I agreed to this. I just want to know the truth."
"I don't expect you to believe it, but it is true." Baal added, "I could still acquire another host if necessary - it's still physically possible, but it would feel very strange, I think."
"And what would be left in this body?" Asheron asked curiously.
"I'd rather not find out," Baal answered, with a frown. "I think I would still be me, but ..." he pauses to consider the right word, "incomplete. Damaged, perhaps."
Reassured by the words and hopeful that they were actually true, Asheron teased him, "You've blended. Like a Tok'ra."
Baal wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Never."
Asheron was still smiling as he leaned forward to touch lips again, pleased with the effectiveness of his plan. Baal might disdain becoming a Tok'ra, but he was getting drawn in that direction anyway.
* * *
The young woman came into camp, straight up to Ishta and Ke'lal, bent between the two women and whispered urgently to them.
Sam looked on, curious, about the news, especially when both of the older priestesses looked shocked. Ishta demanded, "Are you certain?"
"That is what he said? Exactly?" Ke'lal asked.
The younger nodded once, very seriously, and straightened. "Yes."
Ishta and Ke'lal exchanged a glance and Ke'lal nodded once. Ishta stood and faced the gathering. "My sisters and honored guests," the later directed at Jacob, Teal'c, and Daniel sitting by Sam. "Your attention."
Everyone fell silent and turned to Ishta expectantly. "Jen'el has brought us great news," Ishta said. "Moloc is dead!"
There was cheering and applause among the Hak'tyl, that lasted for a moment, until Ishta raised a hand and quieted everyone.
"Yes, this is news to celebrate," she agreed, "but there is more. For it wasn't by our hands that he has fallen. Jen'el, speak the same words to your sisters."
The dark-haired girl nodded to Ishta and faced the group. "I saw it. Two al'kesh descended on Moloc's palace. Many of Moloc's Jaffa surrendered to those on the al'kesh instead of engaging them. Those who resisted were quickly defeated. The invading Jaffa then dragged Moloc into the square in front of the crowd and beheaded him. The lead Jaffa, marked as a First Prime, said this, 'The daughters of this land need never fear this vermin again. Moloc's lands and life are forfeit to his master High Lord Baal, but he says to the people that their lives are their own, and they should appoint one or a council among them to lead and bring their needs to him. Any actions taken in rebellion to Moloc are forgotten as long as the people's loyalty is given to him.'" The girl stopped and took a deep breath. "Those were his words," she confirmed. "After he spoke them, Lord Baal's Jaffa returned to their al'kesh and left."
The Hak'tyl all began to talk, some rather excitedly. Sam smiled, a little uncertainly. She knew why Moloc's death was a good thing for the Hak'tyl, but this wasn't the original celebration of the announcement, but something different.
She glanced at her dad, to see if he understood. He met her eyes and explained in a low voice, "Moloc served Ishtar for a long time and transferred his loyalty to Baal on her death. They're wondering what Moloc did to get punished."
She nodded, understanding what he was suggesting. "You think this is Malek?" she asked.
He answered, "Baal couldn't care less about the Hak'tyl, I'm sure. But Asheron... he did."
She had to agree with that.
But her dad went on, "But really, that's not the interesting part, Sam. What's got Ke'lal -- and Selmak too -- all excited, is that the Jaffa said "High Lord Baal."" When she looked confused, he explained, with brows up, "Not god. Not even pharaoh. Emperor. They're trying to figure out what he means by it," he added with a jerk of his head toward the Hak'tyl.
"Maybe he doesn't mean anything by it," she suggested with a smile. "Like you said, maybe he doesn't even know. If Asheron and Malek ran this op, they might have told the Jaffa what to say."
"A First Prime?" Jacob wondered, frowned, and shook his head. "Hard to believe he wouldn't call his god a god on the word of a zhi'lotar."
Sam flinched, realizing that she'd forgotten for a moment what Asheron was doing. He wasn't in a position to order around the Jaffa.
Her dad continued, with a thoughtful look, "But then again, maybe Asheron's got more influence than I thought. We need to get someone in there, to see him. Find out what's going on."
Sam's looked across at Ishta and Ke'lal. "One of the Hak'tyl?"
Jacob shook his head. "Someone Asheron knows. And not you, Sam," he said quickly, even though she had barely considered the idea.
"It'll have to be a Jaffa, then," she said. "Not Teal'c obviously. Or Bra'tac. But maybe Rak'nor would be willing?"
"We'll talk with Teal'c. Baal's been on the move lately, so this'll have to be planned out carefully."
Go on to Chapter Six