Elizabeth Weir heard the distinctive whine of the Daedalus transporter and turned in surprise. Caldwell hadn't notified her of any transports, especially not directly to the control room.
Two men beamed in, not ten feet from her. The darker haired, bearded one in the gray dress shirt was holding the other against him.
But she knew that face. She had seen it in the first briefing she'd ever seen on the Stargate Program, and continued to see it in reports.
He glanced around at the control room, lifted his brows in what might have been curious interest at the technology, but then his gaze found hers, recognizing her. "Elizabeth Weir? This is not exactly how I planned this to happen," he said, with a touch of wry humor in his human-tone and an odd accent she tried to place automatically. "But I have run out of time and choices."
She glanced around, glad to see that Sheppard had gotten the security team's guns out and pointed at Baal, who ignored them.
Ignoring the lump of fear in her chest, she ordered, "Release your hostage, or we don't talk."
"He is not my hostage!" Baal snapped irritably. "Besides, if I let him go, he'll fall. He needs your help."
Now that he had pointed it out, she could see that the other man didn't look well. He was standing, but only was upright because of Baal's grip. His lotar? His prisoner? Either way, she had to get him away from Baal.
Without taking her eyes off Baal, she activated her commlink. "Weir to Beckett. We have a medical emergency in the control room."
She heard him acknowledge and then, distracting her, the man Baal was holding stirred. His head, which had been lolling on Baal's shoulder, lifted.
The security twitched imagining that Baal was doing something and she ordered, "Hold!"
He turned his head and Weir could see his face for the first time. His face looked far too thin and his eyes were sunken. He looked confused and maybe even frightened when he saw all the men with guns turned on him, and drew closer to Baal. "What -- " he started to speak.
Baal changed his grip, the hand he had around the back shifted to support him. "Hush," he murmured. "You're safe. You are safe, I promise."
She blinked in surprise at the gentle tone, and then shook it off as some sort of mind-game. If Baal thought a show of sympathy was going to get her to lower her guard, he was wrong.
But there was no doubt that the other man closed his eyes and seemed to relax. There was a stand-off then: everyone was still, waiting for the moment to break.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded. "What do you want?"
He glanced down at the man leaning against him. "As I said, I came for your help. Asheron has not eaten in five days. Not that I can blame him entirely, since the food on the Daedalus is terrible."
Someone behind her snickered, and she knew that someone had no idea who they were dealing with. Baal was one of the most dangerous of the Goa'uld, precisely because he was one of the least Goa'uld-like.
A clatter announced Carson's arrival. He and one of the nurses came forward. Carson also started to approach carelessly until she warned him, "Doctor. He's a Goa'uld."
Carson hesitated briefly.
Baal flicked a glance upward, rolling his eyes. "Please. I am unarmed. And I intend no one harm, least of all the doctor."
Carson moved forward, apparently taking Baal at his word. "How is he injured?"
"He's not. Not anymore. But he's growing weaker. He barely ate our journey here."
"May I?" Carson asked perfunctorily and touched Asheron's back. Asheron jerked as though he'd been struck, and Carson's gaze snapped up to Baal's. "That's not all that's wrong, is it?"
"No," Baal answered. "You must be ... careful, doctor. He is in a fragile state."
Asheron stirred again, but only to raise his chin this time. "I'm right here," he muttered. "Stop talking about me like I'm not here."
"Lad, how do you feel?" Carson asked, leaning near him.
Elizabeth's heart was in her throat. Baal could easily trade hostages if he wanted to -- he could have his hand around Carson's throat before any of them could do anything to stop him.
But Baal did nothing, still clasping Asheron to his chest.
"Dizzy," Asheron answered faintly. "Sick. And I can't think. I keep remembering and I can't stop -- "
She had rarely heard Carson sound so gentle and soft, and he put a hand on Asheron's arm. "Well, lad, can you come with me? Let's get you tucked up in bed and start getting you fixed up. All right? Can ye let go and come with me?"
"It's all right," Baal reassured him, "The doctor will help you." He helped transfer Asheron to the gurney the assistant pulled close. "Lie down," he urged and got him down on its surface, even though Asheron seemed resistant.
He grabbed Baal's hand. "You'll come?"
"Of course I will, zhir'santh." he promised. She wondered what the Goa'uld term meant and resolved to look it up as soon as she had a moment. She felt briefly sorry that he wasn't going to make able to keep that promise. But there was something very horrible going on here and she had no doubt whatsoever that Baal was at fault for it.
The medical team started to push the gurney away. Baal started after it, until the muzzles of the guns came up, stopping him. "I see," he said and folded his arms. "Very well."
"Colonel Sheppard, take Baal to Steve's holding cell. If he tries to escape, kill him," she ordered. She heard a few people draw in a shocked breath, finally realizing who this was.
Baal raised his hands in an overly dramatic gesture of surrender, and followed Sheppard tamely enough. But when he passed, he gave her a rather mocking smile that suggested it was just a matter of time before he made a move and revealed his true agenda.
First she needed to know whether Asheron was a willing accomplice or a victim.
* * *
By the time she arrived at the infirmary, Carson's patient was in a bed and one of the nurses was helping him take off his shirt.
Carson beckoned her to his side of the room where he was watching and he spoke to her softly, not taking his eyes away from the scene before them, "Did you see his hand, Elizabeth?"
She hadn't until he pointed it out, but she saw that his hand was -- twisted. Two of the fingers were bony claws, resting loosely on the top of the sheet.
Carson went on, "Either nerve damage or bad arthritis, I'm not sure without an x-ray. And that," he jerked his chin at the direction of the bed, "isn't the result of only two weeks of poor eating."
She was no doctor but she had to agree. Now that his shirt was off, she could count ribs all the way up.
The nurse's gaze flared with shock as she got a good look at his back. "Doctor!"
Carson hurried over to see what she was looking at. "Oh, dear Lord, who did this to you? That Goa'uld?"
"No," Asheron protested. "Not Baal."
At Carson's crooked finger she drew nearer to see. His back was a mass of scarring, but worse, she could see he was twitching with small tremors that reminded her strongly of a beaten dog.
She started to ask who, but Carson held up a finger to stop her. "Let's not worry about that right now," Carson said. "Asheron, is that your name?"
He nodded once.
"That's good. Is it a common name where you're from?" Carson asked, making conversation but interrupted himself, "Oh, now, what's this?" He peered intently at Asheron's upper spine and prodded at something on the back of his neck. "That's not just scar tissue, that's more of a -- There's something in there -- " Then his eyes widened and he pulled back. "You have a Goa'uld."
"I'm not a-- " he started but stopped, no doubt realizing that protests would be futile.
She waited, holding her breath for him to do something, for his eyes to flash, or for him to attack. But he didn't move.
Carson had taken two steps back, but he stopped and frowned at the Goa'uld on the bed. "Asheron?" he asked.
"Carson!" she protested as he moved back to the side of the bed.
"It's okay, Elizabeth," he murmured, leaning down to look in the Goa'uld's face. "Nobody's home." He pushed lightly on his patient's shoulder, and Asheron tipped backward to slump against the raised head half of the bed.
"Restraints," she suggested. "He may look harmless, but he's not. He's as strong as a Wraith."
Carson shook his head. "Elizabeth, look at him. He's been through -- "
"He came here with Baal," she reminded him sharply. "They're both Goa'uld, that makes them liars."
Carson nodded, reluctant to do it, but she knew he would. He signaled two of the guards to help him.
But the moment Asheron was flat on his back and one of the guards grabbed his wrist to fit it into the restraints, he went berserk.
"No!" he screamed and yanked free, rolling over and off the bed. A cart toppled over with a crash, and he tripped on it, falling to his hands and knees.
One of the guards pulled a gun.
"No, don't," Carson yelled. "Just hold him."
That was easier said than done. He fought with flailing arms and kicking legs, like a man possessed. But it was all unthinking panic and he wasn't so strong that two big men couldn't subdue him in a few minutes.
His eyes were wild, darting around, as his body heaved continuing to try to free himself, despite the guards' grip on his limbs.
It took her a moment to understand what he was whispering in his harsh, panting voice, "Please, no, no, no more, no more -- "
A cold shiver of horror spread across her skin. Begging for mercy. Since she couldn't imagine a Goa'uld begging like that, this had to be the host... She was glad when Carson gave him a needle full of something that knocked him out. They put him in the bed and fastened the wrist restraints. Carson continued his treatment, putting in an i.v. line, drawing a blood sample and running the medical scanner over him.
Then Carson came to talk to her.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Panic attack," he answered. "I'll have to talk to Kate, but I'm quite sure he was tortured. Extensively," Carson added, with his gentle eyes reflecting the horror. "Both host and parasite. Those marks on the back of his neck are burns from some sort of electrode applied to the Goa'uld directly. Its life signs appear to be weak."
"Will it die?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I've got no idea. I need to consult with the SGC, I didn't expect to have to deal with a Goa'uld out here. But y'have a Goa'uld -- I should consult with him as well."
"Carson, it's Baal. We can't trust anything he says," she said.
Beckett shrugged. "His own kind, and he seems to want him to live. I think he'll help."
"Let me find out why he's here first," she said. "Meanwhile, keep this one restrained or drugged until we know what's going on."
"He's not going anywhere," Carson confirmed.
* * *
The guard area outside the holding room had Sheppard, Ronon, Rodney and three marines. They were all watching the monitors, but turned when she came in.
"I see he didn't try to escape," she said. Baal was inside the clear-composite-and-metal cube in the middle of the other room. He was standing there, with his arms folded, looking bored. He wasn't trying to engage the two guards outside his cell in conversation.
"Nope," Sheppard said, sounding disappointed.
"He doesn't look dangerous," Ronon said.
She chuckled. "That Goa'uld had about a third of our galaxy under his thumb last year."
"The Jaffa kicked his ass," Sheppard reminded her, making her smile.
She nodded and didn't add that the only reason the rebel Jaffa had succeeded was because Baal's forces had been spread thin against Anubis and the Replicators. He probably didn't have too many warm fuzzy feelings for Earth after losing his empire.
But what the hell was he doing here? She was sure he was playing some kind of game, but what? And to what end?
"I'm going to speak to him.'
"Elizabeth, it's Baal," Rodney objected
"He's in a cell that can hold a Wraith," she said. "Goa'uld are strong, but not that strong. He's in there until we let him out. I'll be fine."
He had let himself be captured, that was plain. He had beamed into the control room, right into the middle of the highest permanent security in the entire city.
She went through the door, waved the two guards out and she was alone with the Goa'uld. He looked up and the mildly irritated expression faded to a polite smile. "Doctor Weir."
How was it that he was behind two inches of unbreakable plastic and a forcefield, and her heart was suddenly thumping with fear? She forced herself to breathe slowly and not lick her dry lips, trying to hide how much his presence unnerved her.
"Baal," she answered.
"How is Asheron?" he asked, with what seemed to be genuine concern.
"He's in the infirmary, under Doctor Beckett's care," she answered and gave a little smile. "I assume Asheron is the name of his symbiote?"
She'd thought he might be disappointed to know they had so quickly figured out that his companion was also a Goa'uld, but he answered without his expression flickering, "Asheron is the name of the host, Malek is his symbiote. But Malek is Egeria's offspring - he would insist strongly on being called a Tok'ra."
At first, she thought he had to be lying. The man in the infirmary had to be a Goa'uld, not a Tok'ra. "I thought the Tok'ra were extinct."
"They are. Except for Malek and the symbiote that Colonel Carter has," Baal answered.
Suddenly everything seemed to make more sense and she nodded. "You went through a great deal of trouble to hide on the Daedalus, just to have a private place to torture him?"
He took a sudden step forward, the amiable mask dropping away for pure dangerous anger, "I have never hurt him. The Jaffa did. They held him for almost four months, torturing him and Malek to the edge of death."
"The Jaffa did that? she asked, dismayed, remembering the scars and the mangled hand and the look of empty terror in his eyes.
"You see what they do with freedom," he sneered.
"All right, you've explained why he's in such terrible shape. But not your interest. If he's a Tok'ra, isn't he your enemy?"
The dark flame of anger in his eyes banked and the amiable smile returned, "No. We are not enemies. Asheron and I are mates."
She knew she was staring, knew he was amused by her shock, but she couldn't help it. "Mates? You mean - as in - ?"
"Mates," he answered with gleaming satisfaction. "Yes. Asheron is the only thing that matters to me right now. I came here to find refuge for us. He needs time and safety to heal, and he will not find that in our own galaxy where the Jaffa can find us."
She felt as though she was reeling. Picking out the most important part of what he said, she asked, "Refuge? Why would I consider -- for an instant -- giving you refuge on Atlantis? The first thing I'm going to do is throw you through the wormhole back to Earth, and let General O'Neill deal with you."
He didn't appear disturbed by the threat, or the least repentant over the reminder of what he had done to O'Neill. If anything his smirk widened, "You could, of course. But I think you would be unwise to do that."
He waited, and she knew she was going to have to ask. There was another shoe waiting to drop, and she had to find it. "Okay, what's going to happen if I send you through the gate?"
She expected a threat, but his answer was a surprise.
He cocked his head slightly to one side, regarding her. "I am no threat to you. I come to you with no weapons, no power base. Nothing but what I'm wearing and my mate. But I can offer you much more."
"Oh?" she folded her arms and waited. "Like what?"
"You are fighting the Wraith, a very old race far in advance of you technologically. Do you have anyone on your staff with four thousand years of experience in warfare?" he asked pointedly. "Or, like Malek, with two thousand or so years as a member of a galactic intelligence gathering network? No, you do not."
She looked at him, feeling suddenly intrigued. Because he was right, though she would never have considered it. From what she'd read, Baal was and always had been a competent Goa'uld warlord, and that was saying something. And the Tok'ra were very able infiltrators and spies.
He went on, "Not to mention we both have extensive knowledge of Ancient technology. And when he is well, Asheron is a highly capable administrator -- he ran most of my empire last year. We have a great deal of expertise we could offer. In exchange for a place here."
She caught herself nodding and wondered what the hell she was thinking. She was insane. She was actually considering this. Letting him stay here would be having a war criminal on staff. He had countless deaths on his hands and no remorse. He had tortured people, probably for no better reason than boredom or pleasure. The fact that he seemed to be showing some caring for his lover meant nothing -- didn't the phrase go that even Hitler had loved someone?
And that was the realpolitik of her position raising that little "but". But could she afford to throw away a resource like this? In the war against the Wraith they really were outmanned and outgunned. Baal had nearly conquered the galaxy, and not all of it by force of arms. Some of it had been political cunning and strategic alliances as well. She could use that sort of ability.
No. She couldn't do it. Even if it would be practical, she couldn't do it.
Looking at him, she had to swallow hard. He was perfectly composed, with an air about him that suggested he was the one in control. He was weaponless, defenseless, and she could have him killed, but he stood there in his cell, at ease.
And wasn't that what she needed? her ruthless side asked quietly. Sheppard tried, and Caldwell helped, but neither of them had the military knowledge, especially of fighting wars in space, that the … creature in front of her did.
He must have realized she was in a quandary and decided to put his last card on the table. His mouth tightened in a little grimace. "I will give you a guarantee for my good behavior, Doctor Weir. Your guards took from me a small vial with a green liquid inside." She frowned, wondering if Baal was now getting to the threat. He explained, "It contains the symbiote poison. I assure you, if you break the seal in here, I will die. Instantly. Depending on the filtration systems of the city, Asheron and Malek may also die."
He still seemed to be calm, but she noticed his jaw was clenched.
When he saw that he had her attention, he said, "Do with it what you will. I would ask you not punish Asheron for my deeds, however. He has suffered quite enough on my behalf already."
She watched him, unblinking for a long moment, wondering if he was serious. He endured her regard without flinching. "You mean that, don't you?" she asked finally. "He means that much to you?"
"He means everything to me," he answered simply.
"And power doesn't?" she asked, still skeptical. If only she could trust that he wouldn't go behind her back and make alliances with the Genii or something -- the poison was a valuable indicator, if it was what he claimed, but she had to make sure.
He gave a rueful smile. "I had a great deal of power, not long ago. I lost it, in part because I didn't listen to him as I should have. You can ask Colonel Carter -- she can confirm much of what I have said. Right now, my only goal is to get him well again. If I must offer my assistance and follow the orders of another to achieve it, then I will."
That surprised her. "You'd follow my orders?" she asked. "My leadership?"
He nodded. "If we come to an arrangement, yes." His lips twitched in another smile. "I was general to Ishtar for a longer time than you can imagine. I can do so again." The smile vanished as if it had never been. "So long as our presence here is protected."
"I can't guarantee safety when there's a war -- "
He waved a hand, flicking his fingers sharply. "Not from threats in this galaxy. From the Jaffa and overzealous Tau'ri who will order you to put us through the Stargate, when they learn of our presence."
Oh my God, she murmured internally, and felt her palms begin to sweat. She could do this. Her own pet Goa'uld advisor… Her gaze collided with his -- those dark, sharp eyes of a panther -- and she reconsidered. No, he would never be tame, and she couldn't fool herself to think so. But she did believe he was defanged.
She nodded slowly. "Earth is going to find out. I'll need to get the president and the international committee's support, since I bet O'Neill's going to advise your removal."
She knew why, and so did he, but when she looked at him, she saw nothing of being disturbed by the memory of what he'd done.
He merely smiled faintly. "You need more bargaining leverage?" He tilted his head, thinking. "I can give you the Trust," he offered. "Many of their symbiotes came under my control on Earth."
She leaned back, watching him in sheer appreciation. He shouldn't have any cards at all, and yet everything he played turned into an ace. No wonder he was dangerous. She shook her head a little, smiling, "President Hayes will give you anything you want to be able to shut down the Trust for good. But you'll really sell them out to us?"
"They're a disgrace," he answered shortly. "Stupid and weak, the lot of them. The humans were far more useful. But I owe them nothing."
She nodded then and took a deep breath. "All right. I can't make any promises about what's going to happen - but I think I can make the argument that sending you through the wormhole to get executed by the Jaffa is a waste of your knowledge. So until I hear otherwise, here's what we'll do. You will stay in a secure place, on your parole. If we catch you doing anything suspicious - anything at all that suggests you're lying to me or plotting against the city or me, I'll kick you through the gate."
Baal clasped his hands together at the small of his back. "Understood. And Asheron?"
She was about to threaten him that Asheron would go through the Gate, too, a hostage for Baal's behavior, but bit her tongue, remembering those scars on his back and the vacant terror in his face. She couldn't do it. "Doctor Beckett and Doctor Heightmeyer, our psychologist, will help him. I won't punish a victim."
Baal nodded to her. "You will not regret your decision."
She chuckled once. "I already do. But in for a penny..." she gave a tight shrug of her shoulders. "While I figure out how to word this agreement to the IOA and not sound completely insane, Doctor Beckett wants to speak to you about his patient."
Baal moved near the door of his cell promptly. "Certainly."
The escort took only a moment to arrange, and Ronon was at her side, hand on his gun, when Baal came out of the cell. "Try anything and you die."
He towered over Baal, but the Goa'uld glanced up at him, with an unimpressed smirk. "How fortunate for you that I have no intention of 'trying anything.'" He swept past, ignoring Ronon's growl, to join her. "If you are ready, Doctor Weir?"
"This way," she led, with Ronon and John following.
They went to the infirmary. The door slid open and she let Baal go first. Carson looked startled to see him, but moved quickly back away from his patient when she gestured.
Baal's gaze went straight to the bed. "What have you done?" he snapped, his jaw clenched, and he radiated fury in every line of his body as he stalked to the bed. He started opening the restraints with quick, angry gestures. "Did the words 'captive and tortured' escape your understanding? The last thing he needs is more restraints. Through your stupidity, you may have undone all the progress I made on the ship with him."
He loosened the last strap, and ran his hand down Asheron's arms and the back of his hand. Without looking at her, he demanded, "A room with a window to the outside. You can lock us in, I do not care, but he cannot wake in this small space where you strapped him down."
Carson exchanged a look with her and objected, "He needs intravenous fluids."
Baal shot him a glare. "And I am to believe that can only be done here?"
Weir realized that Baal hadn't stopped caressing his fingers lightly across the back of Asheron's near hand. It couldn't have any effect on Asheron, who was drugged to the gills, but it was a gentle gesture, at odds with the harshness of his words.
And it decided her. "All right," she agreed. "There's a large room in the tower above. It even has a balcony."
"That sounds sufficient for our needs." Baal said, staring down at Asheron's unconscious face.
Weir exchanged a glance with Sheppard, whose expression held the same curious amazement that she felt. While she wouldn't put it past a Goa'uld to fake an emotional attachment if he felt it would get him what he wanted, she also thought it was unlikely they would allow themselves to be so vulnerable, unless it was true.
"Doctor," she ordered, "do whatever you need to, to help your patient. Move him to the tower room as soon as it's safe to do so. Colonel," she addressed Sheppard, "keep an eye on our 'guest'. I'm going to contact the SGC and talk to Colonel Carter and General Landry to confirm what he's told us."
John nodded briskly, and behind him Ronon also looked willing and eager to take up guard duty.
At the door, she turned back to see a Goa'uld bent over the unconscious body of a Tok'ra, hand on his chest as if trying to will him back to life, and she shook her head in rueful amazement.
Only on Atlantis.
* * *
Asheron stirred, aware that he felt comfortable and warm. He didn't really want to wake up, but something was drawing him up and he followed.
*Malek?* He felt the other presence curled up in his thoughts, like puppies nestled in a blanket. *You're back! I feel you again.*
*Yes, Asheron. I am here with you; I am much recovered, as are you.* Malek's love spread through him, glowing strongly as it should, and Asheron basked in the renewal of their bond. Malek enjoyed it as well, before coaxing him, *You should open your eyes. There is another who anxiously awaits you.*
So he opened his eyes, already knowing who he would see. Baal sat beside him on the bed, watching him with a faint frown between his brows that cleared to a small smile as he saw that Asheron was awake. "Good morning," he said and the back of his fingers lightly traced Asheron's cheek. "How do you feel?"
Asheron had to think about it for a moment. "Tired," he offered and had to frown. "My mind's sort of fuzzy." He tried to think back through the fog, and had the distinct impression of random flashes of something and Baal's face, all of it mixed with fear and darkness that he didn't want to remember, so he gave up the effort. "I feel like I've had a lot of bad dreams. Have I been sick?"
Baal nodded slowly, watching his face. "Yes, you have been quite ill. But you seem much improved this morning."
"Yes, I think I'm better," Asheron agreed. He wasn't sure what he'd been sick with, but he had the feeling he hadn't been able to string two coherent thoughts together for quite awhile, so he was definitely better.
Malek said, *And you may tell him that I feel better as well.*
Asheron passed the message along, getting him another of Baal's little smiles. "I was intending to ask about Malek next," he said, a little defensively. "But it is good to know."
Asheron looked around, at the high grey ceiling with the graceful arch supports and the wide window on the other side, with a view straight out to blue sky. He didn't remember ever seeing the place before. He turned back to face Baal. "Where are we?"
Baal's smile widened, and he answered, "Atlantis."
Neither Asheron or Malek could believe it. Asheron stared at him then looked at the room again in wonder, noting that the architecture was unfamiliar, yet pleasing. It was Atlantis? Home of the Ancients? Could it be?
He looked back to Baal, who was smirking now, enjoying their confusion. He nodded once. "We are on Atlantis, under the special protection of the Tau'ri expedition."
Asheron felt as though he had woken up in a strange alternate universe and nothing made sense. He blinked, trying to figure it out. They were under the protection of the Atlantis expedition…? "How the hell did that happen?"
"We stowed away aboard the Daedalus," he answered, "and I bargained for refuge with Doctor Weir."
Asheron had a vague impression of being on a ship, probably the Daedalus, and he didn't think it had been just a matter of 'stowing away'. He was embarrassed to realize how out of his head he must have been, since he couldn't find a coherent memory of the trip at all.
Malek comforted, *Neither of us were doing well, Asheron. But Baal protected us, that much I remember. It was very strange to see his devotion. I presume that is what truly won Doctor Weir's approval as well.*
Asheron had never met Weir, but he had heard about her from Sam and Daniel. He agreed that Weir's permission for a former Goa'uld system lord find refuge on Atlantis hadn't been as easy as Baal implied. He snorted. "I bet that was an interesting session."
Baal chuckled. "Oh yes. But she realized that she really could ill-afford to waste our knowledge while they are embroiled in a war far from home. She seems to be an intelligent and practical woman."
"So we're on Atlantis? Really?" Asheron asked and tried to sit up. Baal had to help him, as he discovered he was much weaker than he had thought. His muscles felt like water, and he leaned back against the pillows with relief.
"Yes. In another galaxy." Baal grew very serious and their eyes met. "The Jaffa cannot come here, Asheron. Our enemies cannot reach us."
Dark images tumbled through his head at the reminder, and panic rose up like a suffocating wave. Baal pulled him into a tight embrace, his body a warm, strong anchor that Asheron clung to, trying to keep himself from drowning again.
Baal was whispering in his ear urgently, "We have sanctuary. Do you understand? You are safe. We have found our place."
Asheron put his head down on Baal's shoulder, calming his racing heartbeat and taking comfort in the familiar feel and scent of the body next to him and the strong arms around his back. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, he remained himself in the present, not swept away into nightmares.
When he felt capable again, he lifted his head. Baal asked, "Better?" Asheron nodded. Baal leaned forward and very gently touched their lips together. "Good. Then come," he urged. "I want to show you something."
Baal helped him stand, and he found the smooth floor was warm on his bare feet. Wrapping him in the blanket, Baal put his arm around Asheron's shoulders and guided him toward the wall of windows that stretched from floor to ceiling.
Panels slid aside at their approach and they went through onto the balcony and outside. The wind, tangy with salt spray, tugged at his hair and the blanket.
Blue sky dotted with a few white clouds stretched overhead, meeting the sea far below at the distant horizon. The sun was bright and yellow and warm on his skin, much like Earth's.
He turned and looked up, and he truly believed that they were in Atlantis. High towers stretched up toward the sky, shining crystalline in the sunlight. It looked like no other city he or Malek had ever seen. Alien yet compellingly beautiful.
Looking again at the ocean, he raised his face to the sun and closed his eyes. Baal's arms circled him from behind, to offer warmth and support, and Asheron leaned back into him. Strange, how he could stand on the balcony of an ancient city in another galaxy, wrapped in a Goa'uld's embrace, and it felt right.
Something in his heart eased. The terror that had trapped him in a small, dark space was melting away in the light of the sun, and hope was filtering in to take its place. He was not yet free of his demons, but for the first time, he thought that he could be.
* * *
Six weeks after Asheron had left the SGC and unexpectedly turned up on Atlantis, Sam followed him there. She and Daniel (with Vala in tow) were there to look through the Atlantis records for information about the Ori, particularly weapons to use against them.
She saw Baal before Asheron, when he attended their briefing for the staff. He left, while she was catching up with McKay and Lorne, but when she finished, she found Baal outside, at the railing overlooking the main control room.
It was odd seeing the familiar face in ordinary clothes, but he didn't seem uncomfortable in his black t-shirt and BDU pants, rather than the fancy clothes he'd worn as a system lord. Hell, it was odd seeing a Goa'uld at all, in this place, and especially one with whom she shared so much, even if she didn't want to really think about it. She wanted to hate him, and if she thought about what he'd done to O'Neill she could hold onto that, but really, he didn't seem much like a Goa'uld at all. He hadn't even sneered at anyone during the briefing, though he had rolled his eyes at McKay twice and pointed out an error in his calculations before Sam had a chance, much to Rodney's embarrassment and Sam's amusement.
"Colonel Carter," he greeted but without the disdain he might have had before.
Within, Turan seemed excited, maybe even pleased - she must sense the naquadah in him and recognize the feel of it, as being near one of her own.
"Baal. Is Asheron here?"
"In our quarters," he answered, and smiled faintly. "He is avoiding you."
"Figures," she muttered. After giving her that note, of course he would. "How's he doing?"
"Malek is awake," he answered. "It irks to be grateful to the Tok'ra, but he helps," he admitted. "Physically Asheron is well. Beyond that... it is slow."
"I'd like to see him," she said.
"I presumed as much, so I was waiting to show you the way."
She regarded him in surprise at the invitation, that he would be willing to bring her to Asheron. Noticing her surprise, his lips turned up in a rueful smile, as he folded his arms. "Your visit does not threaten me. In fact, if I thought you would accept, I would invite you to stay with us, Samantha," he said and chuckled at whatever incredulous face she was making.
"You -- you're suggesting...?" she managed to spit out.
There was a smirk on his lips as he turned away, "This way."
She followed him, still stunned by the idea of the three of them. "That's... ridiculous," she said, falling into step beside him. "I don't even like you. I'm certainly not entering into some kind of kinky threesome with you."
"Your loss." He shrugged, with that old casual arrogance. "You're attractive, and it would be the logical solution."
She snorted, not deigning to respond to that. But she found her eyes lingering on the pull of the t-shirt across his shoulders and the muscles of his bare arms, until she pulled her gaze away and faced the doors of the lift. She was not thinking about his suggestion, because his host might be well-maintained but he was still a hateful Goa'uld who had done terrible things. She couldn't forget that, or she'd be as lost as Asheron.
She was glad when the doors finally opened. She hurried out, into a short corridor. Then she had to stop and let him show her the way.
Baal stopped at one of the doors and held his hand over the small sensor plate. The door opened, but Baal moved aside instead of going in. "He was on the balcony when I left earlier. Take whatever time you wish," he invited. "I will go amuse myself at McKay's expense until Asheron calls me back."
She couldn't help smiling at that. Poor Rodney. "Thank you," Sam told him, begrudging the words but not willing to let them be unspoken. She watched Baal go back down the corridor, but it wasn't until he'd passed from sight, that she inhaled a long, slow breath and entered.
The room was spacious, with sparse furniture, a twelve foot ceiling, and a panoramic window that took up one wall. The bed was made and tidy, flanked by small end tables, and otherwise there was only a pair of arm chairs and a table by the window. There were two connecting doors presumably for the restroom and a closet of some kind since there didn't seem to be a place for clothes.
There was little personal in the room, only a wooden box with a checkerboard pattern on top that she recognized as senet on the larger table. But no pictures, no plants, nothing. Of course both he and Baal had fled with nothing, but she had thought they might acquire things here on Atlantis. She smiled, glad she had brought the tea set on Daedalus. At least she could give him that back.
Baal had said Asheron was on the balcony, so she walked across the smooth floor and the glass panels slid aside to let her out. The breeze brushed into her hair, tinged with salt, instantly refreshing. The view seemed infinite, looking out to the ocean and the deep blue sky. No wonder he liked to come out here.
He was sitting in a cushioned chair with his feet up on a short table. A blanket was tucked around his shoulders, and he looked asleep.
In the bright Atlantean sunlight, his face still looked thin, emphasizing sharp cheekbones and deep-set eyes. His damaged left hand, limp atop the blanket in his lap, drew her gaze. She had thought it would be better, or fixed altogether by now, but the first two fingers remained the bony twisted claws they'd been before.
He smiled and said without opening his eyes. "I didn't expect you back so soon."
He thought she was Baal coming back in and he was smiling. Suddenly the reality of what was before her sunk in. Asheron was still unwell, and yet Baal had stayed. Her mind couldn't quite grasp that a Goa'uld - one who done such cruelty, at that -- had stayed with a damaged lover, instead of throwing him aside.
"Hi," she said, feeling suddenly awkward. "It's me."
His eyes popped open and his gaze snapped to find hers. His good hand clutched the arm of his chair as if he might get to his feet, but settled back in the chair. "Sam. It's good to see you."
"Is it?" she challenged mildly, sliding into the opposite chair. "You've been avoiding me."
He gave a small shrug. "I thought I should give you space, if you didn't want to see me."
She shook her head. "I'm not mad at you. I do understand," she added more softly when his lips parted to speak but he said nothing. "I wanted to see you. How are you feeling?"
"Better," he answered.
"And?" she prompted. "Asheron, last I saw you, you were about to open the symbiote poison on yourself. I can see you're better than that, but how are you?" she insisted.
"I'm all right. I have feeling in my fingers now," he raised his damaged hand, and wiggled his fingers, "and Malek is slowly fixing it. I've been working out with Teyla to get back my strength."
"I'm glad," she answered. But she didn't miss that he was talking only about his physical health. "You still look tired. Are you sleeping?"
"Not well," he admitted. "Unless Malek helps." His lips twisted in a self-deprecating grimace. "I've picked up the rather lazy habit of napping in the afternoon."
She reflexively smiled back, a bit amused, until she realized what he was really saying. "Nightmares?"
His gaze went out to sea, as if he couldn't bear to look at her and admit the truth. His voice grew soft and he answered, "I'm all right during the day unless something reminds me, but at night.... Baal and Malek do their best to help, but they can't stop my mind from going through it again and again." He swallowed hard and licked his lips. "Doctor Heightmeyer tells me I'm getting better."
"Good. I'm glad you're seeing her," Sam said. "She's the best we've got to help you."
He shrugged off the comfort and the subject, and returned his attention to her, "And you? How have you been?"
"Fine," she answered. "Trying to deal with the Ori. Since we stopped them at Kellana, we know they're going to try again. We're trying to keep an eye out, but it's chaos out there with the Jaffa split, minor Goa'uld being trouble, crime lords...." She shrugged, trying not to think about how likely it was that they were going to miss the Ori's next attempt. At least Earth wasn't going to be suckered into giving them all the energy they needed - but that didn't mean someone else wouldn't.
"Makes you wish for someone to be in charge, doesn't it?" Asheron asked dryly.
She laughed and shook her head at him, teasing back, "Says the former monarch. But yes, we're going to have a problem if the Ori manage to raise an army. Hell, we have enough of a problem with one prior at a time. That's why we're here. We know so little, just what Daniel and Vala learned that first time."
"I've been in the database quite frequently in the past few weeks; I can help you with where not to look," he offered with a sigh. "The Ancients remain annoying and unhelpful in this galaxy as well."
"Somehow I'm not surprised."
A silence fell between them, and while it wasn't exactly comfortable, Sam didn't mind it either. Asheron's eyes turned to follow a high flying bird, darting among the towers of the city above them.
"I wanted to tell you," she broke the silence first. "I don't know if it'll help or not - but Teal'c told us Gerak's dead. He turned up at Dakara in the same cell he'd held you. No one knows who brought him or how long he'd been there, but it was awhile before he died."
His gaze snapped to her as if to check she was telling the truth. His jaw twitched, but that was the only sign of upset as he said, with a biting satisfaction, "Justice."
"That's what Bra'tac said," she said, wanting him to know that there were Jaffa who thought Gerak's acts were wrong.
He fell quiet for a moment and then asked suddenly, as if he'd been prompted, "Turan's well?"
Sam smiled. "She got all excited when she felt Baal. I think she missed sensing other symbiotes."
He flinched, as if taking that as criticism, pulled in a deep breath and turned to her. "Sam-- "
She held up a hand to cut him off. "No. I don't want to hear it. I don't want you to be sorry. How many times do I have to say it? I understand. I wouldn't have called Baal to warn him about the poison, if I didn't. I knew he was the one who could help you. And he did. So I would make that choice again. You're alive and you're getting better, and that's what's important."
"I wish -- " he started, looking at her intently. Then he stopped and looked down at his hands. "I wish things were different," he finished, quietly. "I wish I was strong enough to not need him so damn much. I don't even know why, when it should have been you."
But she'd thought about that. She reached between them and deliberately curled her fingers over his left hand, feeling the thin, bony fingers beneath her touch. She tried to smile. "I know why. I told you I understand. Because he knows you, all of you, even the bits you think are horrible and ugly and you won't tell me, and he loves you anyway. He's willing to adapt his behavior to your needs, and that... well, that's got to be pretty damn appealing."
He looked down at their joined hands in silent confirmation, and then up at her face.
But she wasn't finished. "I don't hate you; I'm not angry. I know you think I should, but how can I? I miss you. And I wish things were different, too. But you know what? We have time. We can wait. We're Tok'ra, you and me, and no matter what else happens, we'll always have that bond."
Asheron nodded and turned over his hand to clasp hers as best he could. "Yes, we will," he promised. "Malek still wants to be there for Turan."
"I hope so. In the meantime, we have enemies to fight. When the wars are over and you have your head back together, then we can figure out where we go next. All three of us."
Asheron smiled, bright and amused, and corrected her, "Five. And a partial sixth has come to the fore lately. It's not as simple as only three."
She realized Baal's proposed threesome was more like a ... sixsome? A hexsome? She laughed, shaking her head in delight at the complexity that was her life. "We'll figure it out. Even if we need a diagram."
The silence this time was easier, as it fell between them. It was no longer pressured by the weight of what they hadn't said, and she felt more comfortable with their new understanding. In her head, Turan was also radiating peace, reflecting her mood and perhaps rejoicing in being near her own kind again.
The towers of an alien city stretched overhead, beneath a sky where none of the stars were the ones she knew, but that didn't matter. The future was wide open again, and whether they came back together as lovers or stayed Tok'ra family, she and Asheron would walk that road together.
I hope you enjoyed it! I'd love to know what people thought. If you need to catch up, you can go to the FRONT PAGE for the index of chapters.
Stay tuned! stargate_summer is doing an hodgepodge amnesty week in September. I'm planning some commentary and some deleted scenes.