Sleep was a nonissue. His mind refused to shut off and no matter how soft the bed was, no matter which way he turned in the darkness, he could not get comfortable.
Discouraged, he rolled out of bed and rummaged around in the dark for his shoes. Five minutes later, accompanied by Lieutenant Green, he found himself standing outside of the infirmary, arguing quietly for passage with a very assiduous nurse. She stood eye to eye with him and would not let him forget it. She had denied him access to the infirmary all day, stating in no uncertain terms that the patient he wished to see was in no condition for visitors. To further expound upon her point, she jabbed him, not so softly, in the chest with her index finger, giving him an indisputable no that left no room for discussion.
Exasperated, he resorted to begging, a feat that did not come easily.
She huffed at him, giving him a look that told him that one more word from him and he would end up in the infirmary as a patient himself instead of as a visitor.
He was about to admit defeat when a door clicked shut from somewhere behind him and Janet Frasier approached with a sympathetic smile. Unlike the large woman before him, Malek had to look down at the chief medical doctor. He had the upmost respect for the women, but at the moment, he could have shot them both with a zat for standing between him and his heart's desire.
"Malek, is there something I can help you with?" Her voice was gentle and even, questioning but not accusing as Patel's had been. It was obvious to Malek that she truly wished to help him, or, at the very least, placate him into silence somewhere far from her infirmary.
"Please, Doctor Frasier, there is someone I must see. I promise not to wake her. I just…I need to see her with my own two eyes. I need to know she is really here. Alive and whole. Surely you can understand that?"
Janet patted his arm lightly, like a petulant child being granted a reprieve, before giving him a small shove toward the door. Patel, the pitiless healer, still barred his way with a sneer on her face and her arms crossed across her chest in stark disapproval. He briefly wondered if the woman had a heart, and if she did, where did she keep it, but he dismissed the thought quickly, though it refused to die a quiet death.
"Doctor Frasier, I must disagree…"
"Disagree all you like, Patel, it won't do any harm to let him see her as long as he promises not to wake her."
Malek would have promised to the moon and back that he would be as quite as possible if it would have helped get him closer to his lover.
Janet grasped Malek's arm just above the elbow and he was surprised by the strength of her grip. She was very strong for such a small woman. Patel grudgingly stepped aside, and Janet guided him into the dimly lit infirmary where she pointed him toward the back wall. Another nurse stood beside a small cabinet with a clipboard and a broad range of sharp instruments that made him involuntarily cringe. She, too, shot him a disapproving look, but said nothing as he passed.
Walking through the maze of hospital beds and hastily assembled cots, he began to suspect that Jacob had been right when he said that the worst was not over. Many of the Tok'ra were hooked up to Tau'ri machines that beeped and whirled and flashed multicolored lights at him as he paused to take in faces and catalogue injuries. Here and there he spotted a familiar face that made his heart jump into his throat, and he said a whispered a hushed prayer to whatever deity would listen to spare their lives.
Eventually, he navigated his way to the back of the infirmary where the injured Tok'ra that had come through the gate with him from his small base were being kept as comfortable as possible while they waited...to live? To die? No one seemed to know for sure.
In the very back corner, in a cot pushed right up against the wall, a small figure, made even smaller by the vastness of the room surrounding her and the stark whiteness of the sheets pulled up to her chest, made his heart nearly stop in anticipation and trepidation. There were small tubes running from her hands to an unfamiliar machine beside her bed and another small tube ran across her face, under her nose, and was hooked behind her ears. She was alive, but not entirely whole.
Malek held his breath as he approached the bed, afraid for a moment to touch her, afraid that she might disappear if he did. His heart was pounding against his chest, his veins filling up with icy fear and uncertainty, and, just for a moment, he was sure that this was all a hallucination. He drank in her appearance with his eyes. Her left arm was bandaged and the bandage was slightly pink beneath the white dressing where the wound refused to staunch. A small cut ran the length of her left cheek, ending just below her ear, but it did nothing to detract from her beauty.
His eyes were drawn to her chest which rose and fell in a comfortingly normal rhythm and all of his momentary fear dissolved in a wild rush of relief. Reaching out, he brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and tucked it lovingly behind her ear, careful not to disturb the transparent little tube. Bending over, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. Her skin was warm and his heart leapt with joy and he was sure it would burst.
"Noelle." He whispered her name like a pray, his voice catching with emotion as the realization that she was alive finally sank in deep enough to hold meaning.
She was so beautiful. Her light brown hair fell haphazardly around her shoulders and was matted with dirt and dried blood near the nape of her neck. Her closed eyes were purple bruises in the dim light, and he half hoped that they would open and warm him like the morning sun inviting the dawn to break. He knew that they were as vibrant and green as the soft spring grasses on Noah's home world. He had never wanted her to open her eyes so badly and say his name before. He needed to talk to her, to confide in her all of his fear and misgivings, because he knew that she would know just what to say. She always did.
Quietly, so as not to wake her, he retrieved a short metal stool from a nearby bed and placed it right beside Noelle's bed, against the wall, and settled in for the night. He had no intention of leaving now that he was here. Nurse Patel would have to drag him from the room, kicking and screaming, fighting for every inch of floor space, if she wanted him gone.
He gently caressed Noelle's arm, the smooth skin as soft as butterfly wings, and he was forced to close his eyes against the stinging tears. If he could, he would trade places with her in a heartbeat. Less than a heartbeat. He would give his life, and Noah's, to save hers. Dying for the ones they loved was one thing that neither Malek nor Noah would ever hesitate to do.
His heart was heavy, his thoughts plagued with uncertainty and doubt. He wanted to protect his sleeping mate, to lie on the bed beside her and take her in his arms as she slept, oblivious to the tragedy their lives had become. He wanted to shelter her from the pain of lost friends, to guard her against an uncertain future, and tell her that everything would be alright.
Overcome by a sea of conflicting emotions, Malek allowed himself another cursory glance at the Tok'ra filled infirmary. The sight was enough to drive any man to grief.
Jacob believed that the Tau'ri government would grant their request for sanctuary but Malek was not as convinced as his friend. From what little he had seen of the Tau'ri, and from what little he had already gleaned from the few healers and soldiers he had come into contact with since their arrival on Earth, Malek was troubled about their acceptance. Tok'ra would adapt, but the Tau'ri harbored a deep and abiding distrust of his people, accentuated by countless incidents of conflicting agendas, ethics, and attitudes. The fact that his people often chose to sacrifice the few for the many did not win them any friends among the humans of Jacob's planet either. In fact, it was one of the main sticking points in their alliance, the elephant in the room as Jacob would say. Jack and his ilk believed in leaving no man behind, that one life was just as important as the next. They did not understand that sacrifices sometimes had to be made in order to ensure the survival of an entire race of people.
Then there was the problem of the System Lords. Even if the Tau'ri allowed them to stay for the time being, they would have to face the Goa'uld eventually. They could not hide here in shame and fear forever. Malek did not believe that the Goa'uld would try to follow them here and finish them off. It was enough for them that the movement was dead in the water and that the remaining Tok'ra had fled headily in the opposite direction with their tails between their legs. In their minds, they had won. It was over.
Malek was not sure what tomorrow would bring, a reality that he was used to, but in an entirely different situational state of being. Life among the Tok'ra had always been tumultuous and unpredictable, but he had always known that they could pick up the pieces and move on. Those days were over. As refugees he had no idea if the Tau'ri would throw them out and, if they did, what would become of the Tok'ra. He desperately wished he could tell Noelle that everything would be alright, but he couldn't, and he wasn't sure he would be able to for a very long time. The severity of their situation came crashing down on him in one massive deluge of clarity, and it was all he could do to stifle a choked sob. He felt inadequate and lost.
He had failed. He had failed the Tok'ra. He had failed his friends. He had failed Noah. He had failed himself. Worst of all, he had failed Noelle.
George Hammond was not pleased. That much was crystal clear and glaringly obvious to almost everyone present in the briefing room. It was past midnight and George had been fielding telephone calls and angry requests from members of the Tok'ra High Council for the past five hours. Now he was stuck in an emergency briefing and looking at a very, very long weekend.
The fact that he had made his weekend plans ages ago and was suddenly forced to cancel them because of the Tok'ra smacked of resentment. His grandchildren were visiting and he and his wife were supposed to take them to the zoo for some much needed downtime, but now he was back on the base, seething. His weekend was shot all to hell and his briefing room was overflowing with bickering Tok'ra. He wondered if they fought like this all the time, and how they ever got anything accomplished, and then he remembered that they had been fighting the Goa'uld for a millennium. The answer was disturbingly clear in his mind.
The volume of noise in the room was migraine inducing and was only escalating as members of the Tok'ra were trying to out shout one another in order to be heard. Tempers were beyond broken and nothing reasonable seemed to be able to dam them. Everyone had an opinion and everyone wanted to be heard. What had started as a civil discussion had disintegrated completely and in record time.
As much as he hated to jump into the middle of someone else's problem, his head could not take much more verbal abuse.
"Enough! That's enough, people!" he shouted over the din of flanged voices, hardly making a dent in the volume but getting the desired result all the same.
Stunned by the outburst, silence fell, and George Hammond suddenly wished he had kept his mouth shut as over a dozen sets of eyes turned to glare disbelievingly and contemptuously in his direction.
The general sat forward in his chair, lacing his fingers together on the smooth surface of the briefing room table, trying to stall for time to clear his head. He knew he would get nowhere with the Tok'ra by playing nice and being diplomatic so he took the direct approach. Straightforward was almost always the best approach in his opinion. There was no sense beating around the bush and hoping for the best. Might as well dive in head first and see what shook loose.
"I understand that this is a very difficult time for you all, but it does not help to fight over things that cannot be undone and cannot be changed. We want to help you. We do. I've spoken to the President and he's called an emergency meeting with the Joint Chiefs to discuss the possibility of your remaining on Earth for the foreseeable future. For now, we feel that the best course of action is to assess the situation on our end. I need to know how many Tok'ra survived, the number of wounded and dead, and how much of the council is still intact."
"We are still counting our losses, General Hammond, however, we do have a preliminary head count," said Martouf, sitting forward and proffering him a small gray data pad.
George nodded appreciatively and accepted the offered item. "Good. That's a start."
The other Tok'ra were returning to their seats, agitation etched upon their faces, and George wondered briefly how long it would take for the situation to blow up again. He glanced down at the numbers on the pad as Martouf began speaking once more.
"As of this moment there are roughly two hundred and thirty Tok'ra here. Fifty wounded – eighteen critical – and twenty dead. Over half of the Tok'ra council is unaccounted for," Martouf paused to glance around the room, "all of the council members that have been accounted for are currently before you."
"And Supreme High Councilor Per'sus?"
"Not before you."
George nodded and fought the childish urge to roll his eyes at Martouf's comment, "and you are sure these are the last refugees? There won't be anymore? What about your operatives aboard the Goa'uld Motherships? Do you know anything about them?"
Several of the Tok'ra around the table stiffened at the question, obviously uncomfortable with the idea of being refugees on such a technologically inferior planet with a group of people who detested the idea of blending.
Martouf, obviously sensing that the situation was quickly spiraling out of control again and hoping to smooth over the situation without further incident, dove back into the conversation.
Give the man credit, thought George somewhat ruefully; he's trying his damnedest to keep things together.
"Yes, General Hammond. As Jalem said earlier, the locations of all of our smaller cell bases were compromised and all of our Tok'ra operatives were forced to abandon them. Everyone fell back to Yerin to regroup just before the second wave of the Goa'uld attack. Those left behind on the planet when we fled through the chaapa-ai would have been killed by the Jaffa. As for our covert operatives, we have no way of knowing whether they were discovered. If they were, then they are decidedly dead."
George dropped his eyes back to the data pad in his hands to avoid the grim expressions and inquisitive eyes. This was bad news, but the SGC had prepared for the worst after the first wave of Tok'ra stumbled through their gate.
A few moments passed in silence and then a Tok'ra George did not know, but recalled as a member of the High Council named Feor, sat forward.
"I know that we have requested asylum on your planet, however, I think that it would be best if we were still allowed to travel through the gate in search of a suitable planet to establish a new base."
"What good would that do us?" Retorted another council member, "we have no crystals to create tunnels with and there are too few of us to risk open exposure."
Several other members spoke up and George was momentarily fearful that another row was about to commence, but the Tok'ra restrained themselves, choosing instead to air their disagreements with one another in a more civilized fashion this time around, and after a moment which Hammond could only describe as bizarre in which Martouf seemed to be silently conferring with his symbiote, Martouf explained that such a mission was futile but nonetheless worthy of investigation, if for no other reason than to give his people something productive to do. They were going stir crazy sitting on their hand and waiting for answers that would not come.
George was also inclined to agree because he had no idea where he was going to find room to accommodate such an overwhelming number of refugees. His base was simply not big enough to shelter them all and quarters on the surface were out of the question.
The nagging headache that tugged behind his eyes became a full blow migraine at the thought of trying to keep his people from starting trouble with the Tok'ra. He knew, without a doubt, that tempers were already running on a short fuse and that the SGC was inviting trouble from powerful outside foes by harboring the Tok'ra. However, at the moment it was not the outside forces beyond his control that worried him, but forces from inside the mountain itself. His people did not take kindly to the snake in the head concept and he was already afraid of what would happen if the President allowed them to stay. Too many people with too many conflicting agendas and morals all locked up beneath a mountain with heavy weapons. It was a recipe for disaster and there were enough explosives in the armory to blow a crater the size of Iceland straight through the middle of the Rockies.
Malek watched as the temperature in the briefing room dropped several degrees. Tensions were riding high as emotions boiled just beneath the surface. Sooner or later, the peace that General Hammond had managed to broker between the opposing sides of the council was going to shatter and they would take a huge step back. Nothing would be accomplished. It had not always been this way, but in recent years the council had fractured and the conflicting sides could not find a steady middle ground. Outbursts like the one he had just witnessed were occurring with more frequency and Malek tried to stay out of them as much as possible. Jacob called him a fence sitter, but Malek preferred to think of himself as one rational mind among many irrational ones. Such a position made it difficult to accomplish anything when no one wanted to hear reason.
A feeling of cold dread settled in the pit of his stomach as he eyed each of the other council members in turn. He could not put his finger on what was bothering him, couldn't name the feeling that was squeezing his heart too tightly. The air in the room seemed too hot, too thick. It wasn't the inappropriate explosion of emotions; it was something much more troubling than the unbecoming behavior of his friends.
Looking around at the sea of faces, he saw that he was not the only one who felt a disturbance in the air. He caught Martouf's eye, only for a moment, but what he saw there amplified the nauseous feeling, turning it into a seething Gordian knot of jumbled emotions and doubts. The same thought whispered through the air between them. Martouf gave a brief, barely discernible nod which Malek reluctantly returned before swiftly averting his gaze, intent on focusing on anything except what had just passed between himself and the other Tok'ra.
All around him he saw signs of defeat and exhaustion. The Tok'ra were weary. Battle worn to the point where they could hardly be bothered to care anymore. He could see it in their eyes, in the way they presented themselves, in the way they moved and spoke and slouched forward in their chairs. The Tok'ra were a proud people but there was not a speck of pride to be found just then. There were no smiles and no laughter. Both had died on the Tok'ra home world.
In his mind there was nothing left to say. Standing abruptly, Malek headed for the door and, to his surprise, no one called him back.
He wandered aimlessly through the corridors of the base, his mind curiously blank for the first time in days. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and shortly after his hasty exit from the briefing room, Malek found himself in the commissary.
The commissary was usually dead at this time of night. Occasionally, a scientist or two, having lost track of time working on some fantastic new piece of alien technology, wandered into the mess hall in search of sustenance. The less extraordinary and most common reason to be in the mess hall at two in the morning was insomnia. Lately, there had been a lot of that going around on both sides of the divide.
Sam, one of the aforementioned scientists, kicked the vending machine in frustration as it ate her dollar without recompense. Her stomach rumbled in protest and Malek could not help but smile. He had never been around Jacob's daughter much, and never for an extended period of time, but he felt like he knew her very well. Jacob talked about her constantly, as any proud father would, and Malek had heard more than a few stories that he was sure Sam would have committed murder over rather have them told to a complete stranger such as himself.
"Hey kid, what are you doing up at this time of night?" Asked Jacob suddenly from behind Malek.
Malek inhaled in frustration, fully aware that Jacob had followed him on purpose.
Jacob's daughter turned around with a bright smile. "Dad. Malek. Hey. I was just getting a midnight snack."
Jacob dropped into an empty chair. "Forgot to stop working again, huh?"
"Dad," said Sam, her tone exasperated as she pulled a few coins out of her pocket. "I don't forget…"
Jacob shook his head and held his hands up in mock defeat. "Okay, okay."
"Either of you want anything?" Sam asked, holding out her hand to show them the coins.
"Yeah, how about one of those Hersey bars," Jacob said with a mischievous grin. "Malek, you want one, too? Malek wants one, too."
Typical Jacob. He didn't even wait for a response before plowing ahead with an answer. Malek had no idea what a Hersey Bar was, and he wasn't sure he would enjoy it, but he knew that Jacob would not take no for an answer. He lowered himself into a chair adjacent to Jacob as Sam indulged her father and bought three chocolate bars. She handed one to Malek and sat down across the table from him.
Malek turned the short brown package over and over in his hands before ripping it open down the seam. There were several rows of chocolate, further sectioned off into small bricks that could be eaten one at a time. He broke off the first row of bricks and then snapped off an individual brick from the row. It was sweet, infernally so, and it melted slowly and delightfully in his mouth. He decided that he liked it almost instantly. He broke off another brick, savoring the smooth texture and rich chocolate taste.
Jacob and Sam were deep in conversation beside him and he listened absently.
"Have you spoken to Mark?"
Jacob shook his head, but remained silent. That was a sore topic of conversation. Though he had made amends with his son, the relationship remained rocky. Sam, obviously wanting to keep her father in a good mood, did not press the matter and began talking about his grandchildren instead.
"Emily started kindergarten last week. She was so excited. Mark said she refused to take her backpack off after they bought. He said she wore it at the dinner table and practically tried to sleep with it on."
Jacob grinned, "How does she like it?"
"Mark said she loves it. Her favorite part is riding the bus back and forth."
"Like father like daughter," said Jacob, happier than Malek had seen him in quite some time. Talk of his grandchildren always perked him up.
"Oh, Kyle is learning to play hockey. He tells me that he likes it, except for all the equipment they have to wear. I think he has the most penalty minutes of any kid on the team." She laughed at the thought, "I guess hot tempers run in the family. Somehow I missed out on that."
"Thank God for small favors," Jacob chuckled in agreement.
Malek listened to their happy chatter for some time. Jacob inquired about whether Mark and the family were planning on celebrating Thanksgiving in Colorado with Sam. Sam said no, she was going to California to see them. She glanced in Malek's direction with a curious expression on her face.
"Perhaps the General would be able to get permission for you and a few of the other Tok'ra to join us. It would be a great opportunity for you guys to see a little bit of our world and learn about some of our more important traditions."
Malek was about to tell her that he would relish the prospect of meeting the rest of Jacob's family when a small group of Tok'ra entered the mess hall.
Martouf slid innocently into the chair next to Sam as if he belonged there and Sam blushed in spite of herself as a small smile crept across her features. Peering up from the remainder of his chocolate bar, Malek caught the shadow that descended briefly across Jacob's face, though it was so fleeting that Malek was almost convinced that it had been a trick of the light.
There it was again, and this time there was no mistaking the frown that darkened his eyes and pinched his face. Glancing sideways, he noticed that Martouf wore a similar expression of displeasure.
When Jacob next spoke, it was with the distinct voice of Selmak. "What has happened?"
Martouf shook his head slightly, maintaining an air of silence. It seemed to Malek that the temperature in the room seemed to plunge with each empty second that passed. Malek glanced at the clock on the wall. Two thirty. Across the room, a small crowd of Tau'ri soldiers had gathered at an empty table for a small snack.
Eventually, Martouf sat forward, his gaze intent on the small group of base personnel a few tables away. "There was an incident earlier this afternoon." He nondescriptly inclined his head in the general direction of the small assemblage, "a minor fight broke out."
Malek's ears perked up. He swallowed the last of the chocolate and turned to face Martouf. From the rigidity of his spine, he was willing to bet that it was more than just a minor fight.
Sam was starting at Martouf, clearly concerned. "A fight? What happened? Please tell me that no one was injured."
Martouf placed his hand on Sam's arm. "It was merely a verbal confrontation, Samantha. However, there were several bruised egos."
Malek had known Martouf a long time, long enough to know that the man was not telling them everything he knew, and he tried to catch his eye but the other man was steadily avoiding looking at him.
Malek crushed the empty chocolate wrapper in his hand. This was exactly what he was afraid would happen. He had to find a way to keep the Tok'ra and the Tau'ri from lashing out at one another in their frustration, but between the disapproving look on Selmak's face and the sadness on Martouf's, Malek knew that this was only the beginning. Too many people on the base shared Jack's view of the Tok'ra. They were sitting on a powder keg. All they needed was a spark.
Malek was dead tired. He had spent half the night staring at the ceiling, tying himself in knots; the other half was spent sitting beside Noelle's bedside with sporadic bursts of sleep overtaking him every now and then.
His back ached from lying bend over the edge of her bed half the night and his head throbbed slightly from the lack of food. Feeling sick, he had chosen to forgo Jacob's invitation to join him at breakfast, deciding instead to spend the quite time desperately trying to put his finger on where this feeling of foreboding was originating from and why. Obviously, the verbal scuffle the day before was weighing heavily on his mind, but that was not what was troubling him the most.
If the Tau'ri kicked them out on their asses, he knew they would pick up the pieces and make it all work somehow. It would be difficult but they would not just lie down and die. The dilemma wasn't where they would sleep tonight, but who would be sleeping with them.
It had started as a small itch at the back of his mind and had grown into a sneaking suspicion which, after the last seventy two hours or so, had blossomed into a full blown conviction that there was indeed a spy within the Tok'ra ranks.
Whoever it was had access to some pretty top-secret-high-level-need-to-know-council- clearance-only kind of information. The kind that would, and had, brought the Tok'ra to their knees and crawling to their nearest allies for asylum.
Which meant one thing: whoever the spy was, Malek knew him. Interacted with him on a daily basis, most likely exchanged pleasantries with him, and, quite possibly the most horrifying thought of all, might even call him friend.
It was enough to make him feel physically sick.
Noah, ever a comforting presence within their shared mind, tried to point out all the flaws in this thought pattern. He punched as many holes as he could in Malek's theory, stating that if a spy could infiltrate their ranks, he or she wouldn't necessarily have to be a member of the council. The Goa'uld were sneaky little bastards, they could just as easily obtain information by skulking around and tapping into data pads when no one was looking, as to sitting on the council day after day and hoping that the councilors would actually stop their petty bickering over trivial matter and get down to business. In fact, in Noah's opinion, his theory was much more sophisticated than Malek's. Plus, it sounded cooler, too.
- You brood too much, my friend.-
Malek took Noah's gentle chiding in stride, knowing that he was grateful for the help, and the distraction. He was trying to see the situation from every conceivable angle. No variable was allowed to escape his scientific evaluation and he had to admit that Noah had a point.
His mind ran full speed ahead, tossing about names of suspected spies and just as quickly tossing them aside as improbable.
- You worry about the spy - Noah said as Malek splashed water on their face from the sink in their small bathroom. - I'll worry about Noelle. -
Malek wrapped his host in a mental hug, his gratitude filling the moment. It was impossible for him not to worry, but Noah's offer was touching and well-intended.
- I can't help but worry about them. They're all we have left. If something were to happen… -
He didn't finish the thought. He didn't have to. Both he and Noah felt exactly the same way.
A soft knock at the door startled him from his reverie and Noah pulled back once more, leaving Malek alone to face the day and their visitor.
He heard Noah laugh, a sweet sound that had been absent for too many days. Truth be told, Malek hadn't realized just how much he missed their playful banter until now. He gave his host a playful push, but Noah held tight to the proverbial doorframe, refusing to be pushed fore.
Casting a last desperate glance at the mirror, Malek ran his fingers through his hair as he strode slowly toward the door.
- Let's just get this day over with. -
His friend nodded and gestured for Malek to follow him.
They walked toward the briefing room in companionable silence, two uniformed guards with identical blank expressions bringing up the rear. He had promised himself that he was going to do everything in his power to keep the peace between his people and the Tau'ri. He knew that they could live together and work together as friends. It would take work but Malek was prepared to put in the effort. He only hoped that the council would listen to what he had to say and act upon it before the situation was too far gone to be salvaged. As the elevator closed shut with a tiny metallic click, he inhaled slowly and looked deep inside for the strength to make it through the day.
He only hoped it was deep enough.
The briefing room was mostly empty as Malek and Jacob entered. General Hammond and SG-1 were already seated along with Martouf, Delek, and Jalem.
As Malek and Jacob settled into the two remaining chairs, General Hammond wasted no time in getting right down to business.
"I just got off the phone with the President." He announced. "The good news is that he has made the necessary arrangements for you to stay on Earth until a suitable new home world can be found. The bad news is that you will not be permitted, under any circumstances, to leave the confines of this base. I know that this is not an ideal situation for anyone. We are doing our best to locate somewhere safe to send you, but in the meantime I need the full cooperation of your people. I can promise mine. I've spoken to my people and there will be no more incidents like the one that occurred yesterday."
Everyone sitting at the table nodded in agreement that this was acceptable news.
Satisfied, General Hammond turned his attention to Malek. "Son, I've been watching and the way you interact with your people. They all seem to trust you to make the right decisions for them and you are the one person that all of the Tok'ra seem to listen to the most. I'm going to need your help here to ensure everyone is on the same page or this whole situation is going to blow up in our faces."
Malek shifted uncomfortably in his seat and his mind involuntarily flashed back to the confrontation that had occurred on the Alpha site. He was not the highest ranking member of the council currently residing at the SGC, but he was a competent leader and it was true that many, if not all, of the Tok'ra had looked to him for assurances and his leadership in the past few days.
"I have already spoken with many of them, General Hammond, and I can assure you that everyone is in agreement. We will make the most of our situation here and there will be no more incidents."
Malek relaxed, happy to have put the altercation behind them and relieved that the President had granted their request for sanctuary. They could finally begin to assess the damage to the movement in earnest and begin the process of healing. It would not be easy but his people were a resilient group and they were used to adversity.
"We have utilized as much empty space as possible to accommodate the large number of Tok'ra refugees on this base. Two of our smaller empty labs have been converted into barrack like sleeping quarters and everyone has been provided with the basic essentials: clean clothes, personal hygiene items, and blankets. Is there anything that your people need that we have not thought of, Malek?"
Malek was thoughtful for a moment. He frowned at his hands, sifting through the numerous amounts of complaints that he had heard over the past few days. He decided that none of them seemed worthy of repeating at this juncture.
"No, General, we are grateful for your continued hospitality."
Martouf caught his eye across the table and Malek was startled to note that it was Lantash who was in control. Lantash was staring at him intently and, for a moment, it seemed that Lantash would speak to him, but he changed his mind. Malek shot him a questioning look and Lantash shook his head. Whatever it was, it could wait.
General Hammond did not notice the subtle exchange between the two men. "There is another matter which we need to discuss."
Malek returned his attention to the General, distracted by Lantash's actions, disturbed by his unspoken words.
"Several of your scientists have requested the use of one of our empty labs for research purposes. I'm inclined to grant their request but I insist on full disclosure. This is my base and I run a tight ship. Were our positions reversed I am sure you would do the same."
Malek nodded, already expecting this. "Of course, General Hammond. We understand that this is your base and we will abide by your rules. I am aware that Aldwin and Anise have requested a space to continue their research and I will inform them that they are to keep me apprised of their activities and findings."
General Hammond seemed satisfied with his answer. "In that case, I'll authorize my people to allow your scientists access to the empty lab. I will expect daily reports from you."
Malek allowed himself a tired smile. "That will not be a problem, General Hammond. We are most grateful for everything that your people have done to aid us."
"That's what friends are for," said Jack, speaking for the first time and giving Malek a wry smile.
Malek felt his spine straighten involuntarily. The sincerity in Jack's voice was matched by his displeasure that Malek and the Tok'ra would be staying at the SGC for the foreseeable future. Malek returned Jack's wry smile with one of his own, refusing to allow the man to get under his skin. He knew first hand Jack's contempt for the Tok'ra, and he knew that he would never be friends with the man. Somehow that did not bother him. After the misfortunate incident on the Alpha site and the trouble on Pangar, Malek was resigned to the fact that Jack mostly hated him.
- "He is not a happy camper." - Said Noah, far too amused for his own good.
- "Well, he can pitch his tent right next to mine." - Retorted Malek in a slightly more acidic voice than he had intended.
Noah laughed. - "I think we've been around Jacob too long, Mal, we're picking up his terminology."
Malek turned to scrutinize Jacob's profile. They were indeed picking up on his lingo, and perhaps some of his attitude, though they that had far too much of their own to need any more.
- "At least we're in good company,"- said Noah approvingly.
- "Indeed." -
The conversation was flowing around them but Malek did not find it particularly interesting. Trivial matters were discussed and he offered his opinion at all of the appropriate times. After what seemed like an eternity, the General stood.
"Jack, my office, the rest of you are dismissed."
Malek stood, too, and tried to catch Lantash's eye again but he was already engaged in a conversation with Major Carter. He watched as Lantash placed his hand on her arm and whispered something in her ear. Sam nodded and started for the door, Lantash right behind her. Malek watched them leave with a bemused expression on his face. He knew from passed conversations with Lantash that Jacob's daughter had always been somewhat reluctant to form any sort of relationship with him and Martouf beyond the formal bounds of friendship because of her mixed emotions toward them. However, it looked to Malek that change was in the air.
Janet Frasier had allowed Malek to haunt the infirmary for the last few days without question, but her curiosity had finally gotten the best of her. It was clear that the woman in the corner bed was important to him, most likely his mate.
She approached him quietly, under the pretense of offering him a bottle of water and maybe a little comfort. Pathetic, she knew, but she wasn't sure how to approach the man otherwise. He seemed distant and unapproachable, and her memories of him from the Alpha site were not the most positive. However, she refused to judge him based on one meeting. Malek was truly an enigma and she wasn't sure what to make of him from one moment to the next. It was hard to reconcile this Malek with the Malek from the Alpha site. Everyone deserved a second chance and she was determined that this was his.
She had been watching him come in and out of her infirmary, always with the same look of grim determination. It broke her heart a little every time she saw him leave in defeat but she did not want him to see how much his hopeful vigil tore at her heartstrings. Still, some patients were different; some drew her in from the get-go and made her care no matter how much she tried to distance herself from her work, such involvement only made it more difficult when she lost them. Unfortunately, this was one of those times when she found it particularly difficult to remain distant and detached.
Malek was hunched over the edge of the bed, eyes closed, breathing slow and deep. The fingers of his left hand were loosely entwined with the woman's. Janet hated to wake him but she was looking for answers that only he could provide her.
She spoke quietly, "Malek?" When he did not respond she gave his shoulders a gentle shake.
He sat up slowly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and his hands roughly over his face. "Is something wrong, Dr. Frasier?"
Janet paused, momentarily shocked by the sound of the man's voice. It was soft. Pleasant. Human.
She inclined her head to the side and watched as Malek's host blushed as he realized his mistake too late. "And you are?"
The man cleared his throat. "Noah."
Janet gave him a pleasant and reassuring smile as she offered him the cool bottle. "Here, Noah, drink some water. You need to stay hydrated."
Noah gratefully accepted and obeyed. He took several long swallows before acknowledging her presence once more.
In the intervening moments, Janet sat down on the edge of the bed, her eyes drifting momentarily over the attractive features of the female. She looked so peaceful and yet beneath the surface Janet knew that she was fighting for survival. She didn't need to be a doctor to know that her chances of waking up were becoming more and more bleak with each passing day. Even the Tok'ra had their limits.
"What is her name," she asked softly, never taking her eyes from the woman's face.
Noah sat forward, his hand ghosting absently across the woman's arm. "Noelle. Her symbiote is called Pan."
"She is very special to you." It was not a question.
Noah swallowed hard, clearly struggling with something, before divulging what Janet had already guessed. "Yes. She is my mate."
Janet had had more than one conversation with Sam regarding the concept of love and mating among the Tok'ra, but she still could not quite fathom all the intricacies of such a relationship. Love was complicated enough with only two hearts involved.
Before she could get herself into trouble with her inherent bias, Janet steered the topic to safer ground. Janet considered herself open-minded and the last thing she wanted to do was offend Noah by accidently saying the wrong thing because she did not fully understand his relationship with, well, anyone.
"What is she like," she asked in an attempt to keep the conversation as light as possible and still satisfy her own bubbling curiosity.
A grin tugged at the corners of Noah's lips when he thought about his mate. Janet could tell that he loved her very much and she wondered, not for the first time, how it all worked.
"Noelle is quite and kind of shy, but she can always see the good in people, even when they can't see it in themselves. She's got this infectious smile. It's impossible to envision that anything could possibly be wrong with the world when she smiles. And when she laughs…"
Noah trailed off and Janet looked from Noelle to Noah. Noah's face was pinched, his eyebrows drawn tightly together and his lips pressed into a thin, hard line. There were copious amounts of love and heartbreak etched in every line of his youthful face. It was written in the sadness of his deep blue eyes and in the way he slumped forward in his chair, his hand holding on to hers so tightly, like his last anchor to Earth.
"I'm sorry, Noah." She reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder, willing him some of her strength.
He didn't smile, didn't look her way, but he mumbled a soft thank you that nearly broke her heart. She found that couldn't stand to see him like this, and she did something she had never done before. She broke the number one rule of medicine, at least in her eyes, and she lied.
"Noelle and Pan are going to be just fine."
Her words lacked the necessary conviction and they both knew that it was a lie. Only time would tell whether or not Noah and Malek would be saying goodbye to their better half.
Janet wanted to say something encouraging, something that would ease the pain, but she didn't know where to begin. She had seen her share of loss in the past. From a professional viewpoint, it was inevitable. People died everyday despite the nearly heroic efforts of doctors and nurses everywhere. From a person viewpoint, it was devastating.
She thought of all the Tok'ra who had died and those still clinging to life with every ounce of willpower they possessed. Then there were those Tok'ra, like Noah and Malek, who were alive and left with the waiting. It had to be nerve wracking. Noah wasn't just mourning the deaths of friends; he was mourning the likely loss of his mate, too.
A thought hit her then about a story she had learned in elementary school. It felt like a lifetime ago when she had sat crosslegged on the floor and listen to her teacher tell her and her classmates all the different stories about the Native Americans who had inhabited this land long before the white man. Some of the stories were good, and some of the stories, like this one, were sad but spoke of hope and new beginnings. It seemed oddly appropriate and she did not hesitate to give it voice.
"You know, Noah, there is a story here on Earth about this beautiful flower. It's an evergreen with the purest snow white petals and a golden center. It's called the Cherokee Rose. You see, the Cherokee are a race of indigenous people who lived on this land long before it became the United States. Legend has it that when American soldiers began moving the Cherokee people off their ancestral homelands, on what became known as the Trail of Tears, over a hundred years ago to make way for white settlers, the Cherokee mothers were distraught over the deaths of their children who died from disease and exposure and starvation along the way. The mothers languished so much that the tribal elders prayed for a sign that would raise their spirits and give them hope for the future. The next day, where the mother's tears had fallen, there was this rose, this beautiful white rose blooming and it was the sign that the elders had prayed for."
Janet took a moment to gauge Noah's reaction to the story. He seemed thoughtful as he turned the story over in his mind, no doubt trying to discern its significance. She sighed and squeezed his free hand with hers.
"I don't know what you believe, Noah, about life and death and life after death, but I will tell you what I know. I know that somewhere there is a rose blooming for your Noelle."
Janet stood up and, as she turned to leave, she could have sworn she saw tears in his eyes and, maybe, the smallest glimmer of hope.