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Strange Bedfellows


" Who can say where the road goes
Where the day flows, only time...
And who can say if your love grows
As your heart chose, only time..."
"Only Time" by Enya


Chapter 1

She felt a bit guilty as she walked down the corridor. She should have come here sooner. Granted, she'd been...off-world...for almost three months; her 'absence' occurring just a matter of weeks after defeating Tem, sending him slithering for what had once been his home planet. Still was, apparently, if intel reports were accurate.

Casey sighed. She hated hospitals. Hated the smells. The sounds. Hated the pain and the anguish that assailed her from all sides. She buried her nose in the fragrant flowers she carried. Bright colors always cheered patients up, the helpful woman in the gift shop had assured her. And the lovely plastic vase couldn't be broken, making it safe for those who resided on the fifth floor.

Being a member of the elite team known as SG-1 came with perks. Such as being admitted to visit a patient who wasn't allowed to see anyone not family. She owed her this much. Daniel insisted that she shouldn't feel liable. She'd had nothing to do with the woman accepting a job out of the country...had no way of knowing that Tem had managed to find the daughter of one of his runaway 'pets'. Nor could she have known the connection between the two...and her.

The orderly on duty granted her access to the anteroom, read her pass tag, watched as she wrote her name on the sign-in sheet. Then led her down a narrow corridor, further into the most tightly secured area of the military hospital. Where those whose very souls had been wounded now resided, struggling to find their way back to reality...back home.

The room was small, painted bright yellow. So bright it was depressing. The bed was a single, and had a nice wooden headboard with cut-out hearts. A floral comforter topped it. Supposed to feel more like home that way, you know. Don't want the patient to remember they're institutionalized. Behind a locked door. In a room with iron grating over the windows.

Shannon Ballard was sitting in one of the two plastic chairs beside a small table, staring out the window just above the wood-laminate tabletop. Her dark hair had been cut short. Easier to take care of. No need to worry about style. Not here. Her brown eyes stared dully for a moment, before recognition set in. "I know you," she said slowly.

"Hello, Shannon," Casey said softly. She nodded at the orderly, who retreated, locking the door behind him. The click of the tumblers falling into place echoed loudly, had an ominous sound to it. She crossed the beige linoleum-tiled floor, put the vase and the colorful bouquet in the middle of the table. "May I sit down?" she asked, motioning to the only other chair in the room.

An indifferent shrug was the only response.

"I'm sorry I haven't visited before now. I...we've been...busy," Casey said, sitting slowly, crossing her arms and resting them on the surface in front of her.

"I hate it here."

She cringed. "It's not the greatest place to be," she acknowledged.

"They won't let me leave. Not until the nightmares stop. They never will, you know," Shannon said, her voice low...flat.

"In time they will," Casey replied. Her own nightmares about Ba'al, about Dartal, about how dangerously close to the edge Daniel had walked as he tried to find her, still haunted her at night. She'd become quite adept at slipping from the bed without waking him. Sitting on the floor in the bathroom, shaking and crying, waiting for the horrible images to fade.

"They hurt me. Every night they hurt me. I never...I never did those things before. Now, I do them every night," the woman said, nodding sadly.

"I'm so sorry," Casey whispered. Tears filled her eyes. She damned her gift for not alerting her to the danger that Shannon had been in. For not being able to free the young woman before her mind had been as abused as her body.

"He put things in me. It hurt."

The piercings, Casey thought. Tem's way of 'tagging' his 'pets'. Janet had assured her that all of the holes had healed nicely. There was no way to tell the piercings had ever existed. "I know," she said.

"Have you ever been fucked by three men at once?"

The abrupt question made her shudder. She was certain that while she'd been Ba'al's prisoner the first time, such a thing had happened to her. But she had no memory of the event to haunt her. Couldn't empathize with the woman sitting across from her. She shook her head. "No."

"Sometimes it feels so good," Shannon said, smiling slyly. "Makes my pussy tingle to think about it. But if they don't wait for me to get horny enough, it hurts really bad. Especially in my ass. They like to fuck asses, you know."

Her stomach began to churn. "Do you talk to Doctor Mackenzie about what they do to you?"

The dark head moved up and down. Feverish light filled the brown eyes. "He likes it when I talk about it. He likes to play with his cock when I tell him what they do to me at night. He lets me play with my pussy when I tell him," Shannon said, then giggled madly. "They love to fuck me. I'm a pet. Just a slave. I'm nothing," she sighed. "Until they want to fuck me."

She was shocked at what the woman told her. Was certain that head of psychiatry for the base hospital most certainly did not masturbate while in session with the woman. Whether or not Shannon actually did, well, only Dr. Mackenzie would know that for sure.

Casey brushed a tear from her cheek. Shannon hadn't actually been Tem's prisoner, his slave, for more than a few days. Apparently it had been long enough to cause a complete mental break. The brutality, the drugs, the shock of finding herself in such a position had no doubt worked together to cause her mind to shatter. Finding herself nothing more than a naked 'pet' on an honest-to-god alien spaceship couldn't have been easy to process, either. "You're a beautiful woman, Shannon. You're not a slave. Not now. Never a pet, never!"

Shannon shook her head. Tapped a finger against her temple. "I hear them. They talk to me every night."

Casey frowned. Something was wrong...was it possible that a device of some type had been implanted, something that allowed Tem to retain control of his 'pet'? It would certainly seem a way to control Dennis...perhaps force him back into the fold. Had anyone ever run and MRI or CT scan on her?

"Mark loved you better," Shannon said suddenly.

"I never loved him," Casey said softly. What was one little white lie, if it would offer this woman just a bit of peace?

"I told him that. He wouldn't believe me."

"I love Daniel now. Very much," Casey said softly.

"I don't know Daniel. I could take him from you, too, you know." Shannon gave a haughty toss of her head, as if the dark tresses still swept her shoulders.

"I doubt it," Casey replied automatically. "Your father comes to visit you, doesn't he?"

"My daddy ran away from home a long time ago. He liked fucking little girls. My mommy told me that."

Casey closed her eyes. Dennis had admitted his...inclination...for young girls. How his 'appetites' had cost him everything. Including his soul.

"He never touched me, though."

"Shannon, do you remember being taken off of Tem's ship?"

Brown eyes stared blankly at her.

"Your father was there, Shannon. He comes to visit you every day," Casey said softly. "He loves you very much."

Tears filled the woman's eyes, and she turned to look out the window. The only thing visible was a parking lot. "You should go now. They'll be here soon. And they'll hurt you, too, if you're here."

Casey stood to her feet. "I'll try to come visit you again," she said softly. She'd never liked Shannon Ballard. Now her heart ached for the woman.

"They're coming! They're coming!" Shannon clapped her hands excitedly. Then one hand disappeared beneath the sun dress she wore. "They're coming! We'll all be coming!"

Casey darted across the room, pounded on the door as Shannon giggled hysterically, chanting about coming...

The orderly opened the door. Glanced over at Shannon. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "Usually during the afternoon she's lucid...as much as she ever is."

"Is Doctor Mackenzie in his office?"

"I believe so."

Casey nodded. "She won't try to hurt herself, will she?"

"No. She's not suicidal, hasn't shown any tendencies toward self-mutilation," the man replied.

"Good. Thank you," she said, as she stepped into the anteroom that was situated between the corridor, and the rooms occupied by the mentally ill.

"Have a pleasant afternoon," the man said, pushing the buzzer that unlocked the main door.

She wondered briefly if it ever bothered him to be locked in the tiny room. He had a key, of course. He could leave anytime he wanted to do so. She nodded, escaped into a wider corridor. Took the elevator to the lobby, and searched the directory for the location of Dr. Mackenzie's office. She had to know...for her own peace of mind.




He stood to his feet when his secretary ushered the woman into the room. "Mrs. Jackson! I didn't think I'd ever see you here," Dr. Mackenzie said warmly.

She smiled. "I suppose that's a fair assumption. I...I wanted to thank you for allowing me to visit Shannon. Shannon Ballard," she clarified.

"Ah. Yes. Am I to assume that you've just come from there?"

Casey nodded.

Dr. Mackenzie waved a hand toward the sofa on the other side of the room. "Let's sit comfortably, shall we?" He lowered himself on one end, watched as the slender blonde perched nervously on the other. "What did she say that has you so upset?"

Her smile was automatic. "Why, Doctor Mackenzie, are you psychic now as well?"

He chuckled. "No. But it's easy enough to deduce that if you visited Shannon, and then came directly to my office, something was said that disturbed you."

"Will she ever...heal?"

"I don't know," the doctor replied honestly. "We're doing all that we can to help her find her way back."

Another nod. "She said...she um..."

"If I don't miss my guess, she said something about masturbation, during her sessions."

"Yes," Casey sighed.

"Her father had the same concerns. She apparently tells the nurses the same story," he told her. "I can assure you that it doesn't happen. She answers my questions. She tells me about her dreams. But neither of us are touching ourselves, or each other, sexually or otherwise, during that time.

"Have you checked to see if anything was implanted in her?"

Mackenzie sat upright. "No, why?"

"There's just something...odd...about her dreams...the way she described them. When I left...well, she told me I should leave...that 'they were coming'," Casey replied. "It occurred to me that maybe Tem had done something...intending to use her as a way to get Dennis back."

"I'll order a full body x-ray immediately," the doctor promised.

She let out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. "Thank you. It might be nothing...but..." She shrugged slightly.

"I should have thought of that possibility sooner!"

"Dr. Mackenzie, I doubt that you've worked often with patients who have been infected by or implanted with alien devices."

He winced visibly. "More often that you might think. I was rather slow in believing the first time it happened. I should have been more aware of the possibility of something similar occurring again."

Daniel...he's talking about Daniel! She'd completely forgotten about that! Daniel had never said much about the incident that had left him locked in a padded room for days; he didn't like talking about it. She'd learned more about the incident from Sam and Teal'c than from her Husband. "We're still getting used to the idea of what's really out there," Casey said softly. "All of the implications have yet to set in."

"You have a very forgiving nature," Dr. Mackenzie smiled.

"Forgiveness is the first step to moving forward," she said, shrugging again. She forced back the thought that she'd have to forgive Helen Webster before true healing could begin in her soul. Some things are more easily forgiven than others, she argued silently. There are things I might never be able to forgive.

"Very wise philosophy."

She smiled. Stood to her feet. "I just wanted to ask about the implant possibility."

"Of course," he said, standing as well. "Mrs. Jackson, don't allow misplaced guilt to weigh you down. Shannon Ballard wasn't, and isn't, your responsibility."

"I should have known," she whispered.


Once again those slender shoulders moved up, and then back down. "What good is a gift that doesn't work when it should?"

"What a miracle it is that you have the gift that you do, one that works as well as it does. I believe you've saved many lives, using that gift," the doctor said gently.

"Would it have been so hard to send me a warning, to keep her from going through...that?"

"Perhaps there was a reason."

"Do you believe that?"

"I think you'd be surprised at what I believe," he smiled. He'd learned during their first...stressful...meeting, that Casey Jackson was indeed a seer. He'd heard about the progression of her gift. He doubted that there was a seer as powerful as she anywhere else in the world.

She offered her hand. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. And if you ever need to talk...about anything, I'm only a phone call away."

 "I'll remember," she promised. She left the office feeling much better than she had when she'd entered it.


A  A  A  A  A  A


Daniel was leaning against the jeep when she made her way to the parking lot. "Hey, gorgeous," he said softly. She was so damned beautiful; downright sexy with the breeze teasing the ends of that long blonde silk the way it was.

"Hey, handsome," she replied. Her heart was beating faster at the sight of him standing there, waiting for her. His eyes moving over her with love...appreciation...desire flickering in those blue depths before he clamped it down and under control. "I thought you were busy with all of those artifacts."

He pushed his fingers into his jean pockets, an attempt to keep from reaching for her. Since her return, he worried about hovering...about needing her too much...driving her away with his obsession...at the very least irritating her with his need to touch her constantly. Let his gaze wander over the parked vehicles around them. "When I went to the gym to find you, Teal'c said that you were going to visit a sick friend today. Only one person I know of who fits that description."

"She's not really a friend," Casey admitted.

He gave up, gave in to the need, held his hand out, his heart pounding against his ribs when she stepped closer, wrapped her arms around his waist, put her cheek against his shoulder. As if touching him was as...necessary...as he found touching her. His arms closed around her, hugged her tightly. "Are you all right?"

She nodded. "I think so. I can't even begin to imagine what she's gone through. I talked to Doctor Mackenzie. There's the possibility that Tem implanted something...a device of some sort that allows him to continue tormenting her, controlling her."

"A way to draw Dennis back," Daniel said immediately. He remained silent on the fact that Casey had probably suffered as much, or worse, at Ba'al's whim, as he drugged her and trained her to become a mindless slave. And thanked every true god there might be for the miracle that prevented her from ever remembering those horrors.

She nodded. "Doctor Mackenzie was going to order a full body x-ray right away."

"And if he doesn't find anything?" he asked softly.

Tear-filled green eyes looked up into the face of the man she loved, the man from whom she drew her strength...and the comfort she needed. "Then I doubt her mind will ever return from whatever hell she's residing in."

"That's not your fault, Casey."

"Feels that way."

"Only because you let it. You had no idea who Shannon was going to work for, who her father was. Would you be feeling this guilty if the woman in question hadn't been a college adversary?"

She thought about the question for a few seconds. "I don't know. I hope I would."

He smiled. That was his Casey. Bound and determined to carry the weight of the world on her slender shoulders. "How about a walk? Grant Park?"

"Sounds wonderful," she sighed. Walking often helped her to deal with whatever was troubling her. When they fought, seldom as it was, they'd walk the neighborhood until they were both satisfied that the issue had been settled completely. She loved to run, but Daniel refused to do so. Running, he had informed her, was what he did when his ass was being shot at. Not something he did for 'fun'.

"So who gave you a ride here?"

"Jack. He's going to pick up a pizza and try to lure Sam away from her 'doohickeys'," Daniel replied.

She was halfway into the car seat when she froze, stood back up. "Tem!"


"The village we protected? Those were Tem's Jaffa!"

Daniel nodded slowly. That would explain why they'd been so ill-prepared for battle. They'd hesitated...panicked. Which had allowed five people to easily take out nearly fifty. Only eight of those very young Jaffa had survived, escaping through the 'gate with their terrified leader, a First Prime too young and inexperienced to lead boys into battle. "Anything else?"

She shook her head. "Not right now."

Another nod. "Let's go for a walk," he said softly.


A  A  A  A  A  A


The gardens that lined the brick walkways in Grant Park were a riot of color. Flowers dressed in bold yellow and bright red and deep pink and soft orange seemed to be in bloom everywhere. Deciduous trees...oak, birch, maple, elm; and coniferous trees...white pine, spruce, hemlock, juniper...all added their hues and shades of green to the palette. The air was filled with the mixed bouquet of aromas, and the symphony of birdsong from the many species of birds that called Grant Park their home. A peaceful composition that did much to comfort her troubled mind.

His fingers laced with hers, they walked slowly along the path, neither of them speaking, both wrapped up in their own thoughts.



"Would you be upset if I started seeing Doctor Mackenzie...just for awhile?"

The softly spoken question set off numerous alarms in his head. He'd awakened several times, to find her side of the bed empty, and cold. Each time he'd started to go into the bathroom, where he'd find her sitting on the floor, crying silently, her sobs shaking her slender frame, he'd hesitated. As much as he longed to comfort her, he was terrified of smothering her...pushing her away with unbridled hovering. If she'd wanted to talk to him, she would have, he continued to tell himself. "If you want to talk to him, that's up to you," he replied quietly. "You don't need my permission."

"Maybe not your permission, but I'd like to have your...understanding," Casey admitted.

Daniel stopped, put his hands on her shoulders, turned her to face him. When a group of kids on roller blades whizzed by and around them, he tugged her to the side of the path. "What's bothering you so much that you feel a need to talk to a psychiatrist?"

She worried her lower lip with her teeth, gazed down the path. "Just a few things I'm having trouble working out for myself," she said, her voice so low he barely heard her.

"Like what?"

Slender shoulders moved up and then back down.

"Something you can't talk to me about, but you can discuss with a total stranger?"

The hurt in his voice brought her head up, her eyes met his. "You have your own problems, you don't need mine on top of them."

"Casey, anything that bothers you, bothers me. Because I love you. Let me be there for you, let me help you," he pleaded softly.

Once again her gaze moved around them. She spotted a bench, noted that the occupants were preparing to leave. "Let's sit down."

He allowed her to lead him. Sat down beside her, settled his arm around her shoulders.

"I don't even know where to begin," she confessed.

"Just start talking, honey," he encouraged. "We'll sort it out, I promise."

She nodded. Drew a pattern on his jean-covered thigh with one fingernail. Took a deep breath. "I was so frightened...but I was angry, too."

"At me?"

"No. Me. I should have known! I caused you so much worry, and pain...Janet said that she, and Jack, and Sam, and Teal'c...everyone was worried about you...concerned by the fact that you were...slipping away from them, is how Sam described it. When those goons grabbed me..." She closed her eyes. Tried to fight down the rush of terror, just as strong sitting on the park bench as it had been when those arms had locked around her, one hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming...acknowledged the frustration she had felt...still felt...over the entire situation. Struggled to control the irritation...the anger in his name...that tried to raise its head. "Why didn't you let us leave the first time Jack suggested it?"

There it was. It all of its ugly glory. Her anger at him. Acknowledgement that her imprisonment, by Ba'al at the very least, was his fault. He'd screwed up once before...hadn't been in the pyramid temple to protect Sha're when Apophis came through the 'gate. She'd been taken because of his failure. He'd allowed Casey to leave his side, when the entire team should have been on their way back to the SGC...together. He'd screwed up again, thinking that all he needed was a few more minutes to convince Gandalf, to secure that mining agreement. She'd been taken because of his arrogance. Would he ever quit fucking up, and putting the women...the woman...he loved in danger? "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

She shook her head. "I love you, so very much. I can't even put into words...I...I was so damned pissed...how dare they think they could saddle you with a child bride...just for the sake of some damned treaty? I knew what, um, Gan...Gandalf had planned. He was going to send the rest of the team home...force us to leave if necessary...he was going to see to it that you stayed in the village and married his daughter...and he was going to make damned certain that it was consummated. He knew...well, he was pretty sure, that if you had sex with her, you'd feel responsible for her."

Daniel blanched at the thought. The idea of being forced to marry a child, for Nanna had been just a child, barely past thirteen, turned his stomach. To know that he'd have been forced to sleep with her...with a child...he shuddered. "I'm sorry, Casey. I shouldn't have tried to get through to Gandalf. You have every right to be angry with me."

"No, I don't! It wasn't your fault! I should have seen it!" Casey declared, wiping a stray tear from her cheek. "It's all my fault, and I have no idea how to make it up to you...how to ease the pain you suffered while I was...gone!"

"Casey Renee!" Daniel shook his head. He was the guilty party...his screw-up had resulted in his Wife being in the hands of a Goa'uld for three long, agonizing weeks. "How in the world do you manage to twist things so? C'mere." He drew her close to his side, gently pushed her head to his shoulder, rested his cheek against her hair. "You've told me that you don't always get the entire 'picture'. A few images, or sounds. And you have to interpret what you're seeing."

"And hope I get it right," she murmured.

"You can't see anything directly connected to you. It's like...you can see everything around you, but not the spot where you're standing."

"But I should have been able to sense at least the danger!" she protested. "I should have been more alert-"

"Have you ever been able to sense danger, or trouble, that involves you, and only you directly?"

She shook her head. "Only in a general sense. But I should have known...it involved you...you suffered because of what happened! I should have seen that!"

He sighed. Pressed his lips to her forehead. Her guilt ran so deep, the scars that embraced that guilt were so old, so ingrained in her, he doubted she'd ever heal completely. "Let's compromise on the guilt thing. I'm guilty for not remembering that whole exchanging of brides thing. I'm guilty of not listening when Jack said it was time to leave. Which makes you guilty of...hmm...not one damned thing."

She sat straight, looked into determined blue eyes. "I'm guilty of so many things," she said softly. "What good is my 'sight' when I can't see enough to protect you from being so badly hurt?"

He didn't know that she was voicing her frustrations for the second time in less than an hour. He did know that she was suffering from what she considered her failures. Which were nothing compared to his monumental screw-ups. "You have an amazing gift, Casey. One that I can't even pretend to understand. A gift that's saved so many lives, I can't count them all. I can't imagine what you go through every time you get an 'information dump'. I can see how much it bothers you, how much it weighs on you. Tell me how to help...how to ease the burden you have to carry...let me help you," he begged softly.

Another tear made its way down her cheek. How like him to see only what he wanted to see, ignoring her faults and shortcomings...her failures. Her guilt. "I love you," she sighed.

"I love you, too, Angel. Now...how can I help you?"

"Forgive me, for what you went through because of me."

He shook his head stubbornly. "Nothing to forgive."

"Too much to forgive," she contradicted.

He took her chin in his hand, held her firmly, locked his gaze with hers, his eyes staring into hers. "Nothing to forgive. Nothing. If forgiveness is needed, then it's me who should be asking you. My failures...my stubbornness, that's what caused you to be captured by Ba'al's goons. I was too damned stubborn to admit that Gandalf wasn't going to change his mind. Too damned arrogant to admit that I couldn't make him change."

For the first time she understood that part of Daniel's pain was caused by the guilt he carried...convinced that he alone was to blame for her capture. "Oh, Daniel," she said softly. "You didn't do anything wrong! You were doing what you thought was right, what was best for everyone involved. You were being the amazing man that you are!"

"I was being a jerk...a fool," he spat.

"Never! Don't you ever say that about yourself! Never!" she said vehemently, her green eyes blazing.

He couldn't help but smile at the anger in her voice...and her eyes. Her love for him, her belief in him, was more than he could fathom. It burned in her eyes for the entire world to see. "What you do to me, woman," he said softly.

"Maybe we should see if Teal'c is interested in meditating," she suggested. They hadn't re-established their Thursday night meditation sessions with the Jaffa since her return. "He's always good for a few words of wisdom."

"Good idea. And if you want to talk to Doctor Mackenzie...well, I have no problem with it."

Casey caressed his cheek, his jaw...smiled when he turned his head and gently kissed her palm. "Thank you. We'll see if a bit of meditation will help before I go running to the psychiatrist."

"Whatever you want to do, Casey, we'll do," he replied sincerely. "Now...let go of all of that guilt over Shannon Ballard. You had nothing to do with that situation. To be honest, I think she set herself up for her capture. Most people wouldn't believe a company they'd never heard of had solicited them specifically for a position. Not without suspecting that something was up."

"You know this how?"

Daniel shrugged. "Standard procedure. Her place was searched the minute we knew that Tem had her. The correspondence between her and some guy named Taylor was found."

She pondered this new tidbit of information. She certainly wouldn't have believed that a company from South America wanted to hire her. If she received a letter such as that, it would go into the trash, and she'd never even think about it again. Granted, had Shannon reacted in such a manner, no doubt Tem would have simply had her kidnapped. But..."I suppose she should have been more suspicious. Although Tem still would have taken her, one way or another."

"True. But that still wouldn't have been your fault," Daniel replied. He could see the implications setting in, the understanding filling her eyes. "You're an amazing woman, Casey Jackson. Don't you ever forget that. And stop blaming yourself for things you have no control over."

"Easier said than done."

"Then let me help you. I'll do whatever I can," he promised softly. And in that moment, he made up his mind that the next time he awoke to find her sitting on the bathroom floor crying, he wouldn't quietly go back to bed and wait for her to rejoin him. He'd do his best to help her through whatever was troubling her...as he should have been all along.

She smiled. "Just love me, Daniel. That's all I'll ever need."

"Done deal, babe," he smiled.

They sat together, watching the people who mingled about around them, the joggers and bikers and walkers who crowded the brick walkway...the families with children who were taking advantage of the wide expanses of thick grass to play catch and Frisbee, or simply frolic on the ground. "You know what would be nice?" she asked, after nearly twenty minutes of comfortable silence.


"Grabbing something to eat, and driving up to Adams' Bluff."

He smiled. The dirt road that led to the bluff was rarely used. He'd found it one day, three years earlier, when he'd left the mountain, just needing to get away from all things SGC. When what he dealt with on a daily basis became too much, he'd drive up the side of the mountain, sit and watch the clouds, the valley below. He'd taken Casey to that bluff several times...and they'd made love every time. "I think that sounds like a great idea."

Arm in arm, they walked back to the Jeep. A quick stop at Piggly Wiggly, and they were on their way. They ate and talked, watched the sun go down, and made love as the first stars began appearing in the sky.


A  A  A  A  A  A


Ren Au read the report carefully. Winced visibly at the list of names. Names of friends, of Tok'ra she'd fought beside, worked with, some of them for centuries. "Thanks to Osiris, we have lost nearly half of our agents."

"It is indeed a dark time for the Tok'ra," Selmak agreed. "However, we have been able to find seven new hosts. Karinda reports that Lorraine and her people are most eager to join with the Tok'ra in our battle against the Goa'uld. She has hope that those symbiotes waiting for a permanent host will not do so for much longer."

"This is good news," Ren Au replied. "In the meantime, we have a new threat to worry about. A Goa'uld who has not been heard from in this sector for five millennia."

"If we encourage this particular Goa'uld to become more...aggressive, it would focus attention on him, for a time," Delek mused. "Ba'al will no doubt view him as a possible threat to the precarious advantage to which he clings."

"Yes, it would," Malek said. "However, we have no agents available for such a mission."

Selmak drummed Jacob's fingers slowly against the stone top of the conference table. "There may be a way to focus Ba'al on him."

Three faces stared at the Tau'ri host. "Surely you aren't suggesting..." Ren Au shook her head. "That the Tau'ri have maintained communication with us is more than I'd dared hope for!"

Jacob shook his head. "Let me talk to them. I know that they don't blame the Tok'ra for what happened."

"Three months, Jacob," Malek said quietly. "She was missing for nearly three months. Samantha told you that they were concerned for Doctor Jackson's well-being also."

"Yes, they were. It seems that he'd nearly stopped speaking to anyone," Jacob admitted. "But we know that Ba'al did not hold her captive for that entire time...merely three weeks."

Ren Au frowned. "Perhaps we should once again pass along the information, and hope that General Hammond will see the importance of learning about this Goa'uld...and focusing attention on him."

"I'll go and talk to George," Jacob offered. "And to SG-1."

The three Tok'ra leaders - Ren Au, Malek, and Delek - exchanged worried glances. Ren Au nodded. "Do so, as soon as possible."




Jacob sat in his quarters, discussing the situation with Selmak. 'I know that there's a chance they'll refuse. But there's as much of a chance that they won't.'

'You believe that our efforts to...appease...them, have made them more aware of our appreciation for their continued assistance.'

'Yes, I do,' Jacob admitted. 'I also believe that the award ceremony gave them a greater understanding of our lives...the way we live, our way of viewing...things.'

Selmak 'smiled'. More and more Jacob referred to the Tok'ra as 'our people'. He was still a hardheaded, irritating Tau'ri at times. But his unique perspective and experiences had been a boon to the Tok'ra time and again. 'I can only hope that you aren't looking at the situation through flower-colored glasses.'

'Rose-colored glasses,' Jacob corrected with a chuckle. 'Somebody has to be an optimist around here! I don't think I'm being overly optimistic.'

'We should be prepared to stay for a day or so,' Selmak said.

'I agree. Maybe I'll get a chance to go topside and have a plate of real spaghetti and meatballs.'

'Jacob, your dietary preferences concern me,' the symbiote sighed.

'Hey, given half a chance, I could show you what real food tasted like!'

Selmak refused to laugh. Jacob could be difficult enough to live with at times, she didn't need to encourage his stubborn, sometimes exasperating behavior.

'I heard that!' Jacob grumbled.

The Tok'ra gave in to the urge and began to laugh. 'I will agree to the spaghetti and meatballs, only if we locate more of those chocolate candies.'

'Deal,' Jacob chuckled.

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