AUTHOR'S NOTE: ##this## indicates the symbiont's thoughts, and this indicates the host's thoughts. Minor edit 10/04/04.
"... and Mary's a bit shy, so you'll have to let her warm up to you."
"Jake," Lee'al interrupted him gently, "we've been over all this a dozen times. Nelaris and I have been fully briefed on your world and your family, just as if this were a real mission. And she's infiltrated hundreds of worlds on less intelligence than this, as you well know. You can relax, I'm not going to mess this up." She pulled his head down for a gentle kiss. "I know how important it is to you."
"I know, honey." Jacob pulled her closer to him, tucking her head under his chin. "Sorry. I just know how much stuff there is that could go wrong."
Lee'al could tell from his body that he hadn't relaxed, though he had tried. She snuggled in closer, enjoying feeling shorter than her mate, even if only while they were lying down. She always felt so awkward and ungainly, despite the training her mother had given her to move gracefully; she was far too tall to be truly attractive, but like all her sisters she had been expected to be a properly alluring ornament to some rich man's harem. But that was all behind her. Nelaris had rescued her from that life, brought her here to the Tok'ra, and shown her there was far more to the world than she had ever imagined. She was determined to enjoy this, their last night in the Tok'ra tunnels that were the closest thing either had to a home these days. They'd be back in a week or so, but it promised to be a long week. And if Jacob (who was not noted for pre-mission jitters) was this nervous now, Lee'al didn't even want to think about what he'd be like for the next week. Honestly, you'd think he was going to infiltrate Ba'al's stronghold, not visit his children and grandchildren!
##You know how rocky Jacob's relationship with Mark is,## Nelaris whispered in her ear. ##Introducing a new ... what do the Tau'ri call it ... "girlfriend" to one's children can be a difficult thing to do at the best of times. You share, in some fashion, the same relationship with Jacob that his wife, Mark's mother did. True, she has been dead for some decades, but you have taken her place. It is a sensitive matter, especially given that Mark and Jacob are used to being at odds, and that so much of Jacob's life now must be hidden from his son. And that includes myself, Selmak, and the true basis of our relationship. Given the differences between Tau'ri society and most societies either of us are familiar with, and given that you have never had first-hand experience with the kind of delicate family dynamics we will be facing, Jacob has every reason to be nervous. It is nothing personal, nor any lack of trust in either of us. It is simply inherent in the situation.##
Lee'al gave a mental nod to her symbiote, and settled back in beside her mate on the pallet they shared. She was very aware of her youth and lack of experience, and she was grateful for Nelaris's counsel and wisdom. Certainly, the relationship between Jake and his children was far different from the one she shared with her own father. But still, Jacob's nervousness bothered her. "Jake?"
"I understand that you're worried about Mark's reaction to me. What, in particular, will be a problem?"
Jake tensed up again, and seemed to be considering his words carefully. Which was alarming, given his usual bluntness. "Well, there's two things, Lee'al, your age and your ethnic background."
"Ethnic background was part of my briefing, but I was given to understand that your son was extremely liberal about such things?"
Jacob shrugged. "Yeah, well, it's one thing to work with a minority person, or champion affirmative action around the coffee table, and it's a whole 'nother thing to have your Dad show up with one on his arm and announce that she's your new stepmom. Particularly given your age. And it's not just Mark."
"And what does age have to do with it?" Lee'al asked. She wasn't yet twenty. On her homeworld, men would have been congratulating Jacob on such a fine young prize.
"Well, that's one of the big differences between my world and yours, honey," Jacob said. "See, we expect a couple to get married and stay married. One man, one woman, or at least that's the ideal. Having a relationship on the side is really frowned upon. If a couple gets divorced,"
"Divorce. That's when a marriage is legally dissolved through the mutual consent of both parties?" It was not a term found on Lee'al's home world. If a man tired of a wife or concubine, he either set her aside or traded her to someone else.
"Yes. If a couple gets divorce or one of them dies, they're usually expected to get together with someone from the same stage in life—in other words, someone their own age. The term for a man who gets involved with a younger woman is "sugar daddy," and the connotations aren't nice. And you're still jailbait, which makes it worse. People—especially girls—under the age of eighteen aren't considered emotionally or intellectually mature enough to consent to a sexual relationship; the legal term for any sexual relationship between someone younger than eighteen and someone older than eighteen is "statutory rape." It's a felony. Hell," he shook his head, "if Sam had had a relationship with a guy my age when she was your age, I'd have been pulling out the shotgun. And then you add in the fact that it wasn't all that long ago when it was a routine problem for women of color—that is, one with a darker skin color—that white men could pressure them into a sexual relationship with few consequences."
Nelaris, interested, took over. "So the two factors combine to form a distasteful whole, is that it? One that operates on both a conscious and subconscious level?"
"Exactly," Jacob said with some relief. "Now, the racial prejudices are better than they were when I was younger, but still."
"Now that you have warned us, Lee'al and I will be ready to deal with any unpleasant things we come across. Relax, and rest, Jacob." ##And you, as well, Lee'al.## A surge of warmth, the equivalent of a tight hug, flowed across their bond, and Lee'al closed her eyes to sleep.
Jacob took a deep breath as he sent the iris code through the newly-opened gate. Selmak was controlling his adrenaline and hormones, which helped, but deep breathing was still effective at quelling the nerves.
##Relax. Lee'al was right last night, you know,## Selmak said gently. ##Nelaris is quite experienced at infiltration. She will do well. And Mark is as anxious to avoid another open breach as you are; the two of you are more alike than either of you like to admit.##
Yeah, but I don't like the idea that visiting my son has to be classed as "an infiltration."
##It's not my fault. It's your own people's fault. The whole thing is ridiculous, anyway; given the amount of Goa'uld, Asgard, and other extra-terrestrial activity around your planet in recent years—oh, they've sent the come-ahead signal; the iris is open—they can't possibly keep it a secret for long.## Jacob walked up the stairs, Lee'al at his side. ##Besides,## Selmak continued, ##hundreds of other worlds have had to adapt to the knowledge that there was life on other planets, and aliens, and interstellar travel, and that the galaxy is a dangerous place. They survived. Why should your people be any different?##
Jacob didn't bother to reply. They'd been over this many times in the years they'd been blended, and undoubtedly would argue the subject many times in the future. And much as he hated to admit it, Jake agreed with Selmak's appraisal of the situation. But he'd been a soldier in the service of his country for too long to take "classified" lightly, no matter what he thought of it.
As they stepped through the wormhole, Lee'al took a curious look around. And was disappointed. These were, after all, the people who had defeated Ra, Anubis, and a host of lesser system lords. Jacob had warned her that his people's military was not given to frivolous decoration, but she had not been prepared for such ... drabness. And gray. Lots, and lots, of gray.
The soldiers pointing primitive chemical-propelled projectile weapons at them, were, on the other hand, just as she had imagined them.
Lee'al focused on the blond, tall woman at the foot of the ramp. It was Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, whom she had only met once before, and then only briefly. Jacob was already at the foot of the ramp giving his daughter a large hug; Lee'al followed him down and waited.
"Sammie, you remember Lee'al, don't you?" Jake said as he released his daughter.
"Of course," Colonel Carter said, with a smile that only seemed a little forced. Which, Lee'al thought as she shook her hand, was a dramatic improvement over the mixture of shock and disbelief that had been the other woman's main reaction during their brief, unexpected meeting.
"It is a pleasure to meet you again, Colonel," Lee'al said politely, hitching the strap of her bag up her shoulder. Jacob had said she wouldn't need anything, that the Air Force would be providing appropriate clothes and accessories to fit their cover story, but Lee'al had insisted. If the week was as tense as it had the potential to be, she wanted a few familiar things around her, at least.
"Please, call me Sam. If you'll follow me, I'll get you your things and we can change."
Lee'al sat back in her chair and tucked her "carry-on" under the seat in front of her, as she had been instructed. After taking a look at the majority of the seats in the aircraft, she was glad Jacob had chosen to upgrade them to "first class." She had the aisle; after all, the small window held little allure after seeing planets from space through the window of a tel'tak, and her legs were longer than Jake's were. Sam sat in front of her, and she was already digging work out of her bag, some technical report or other. Lee'al presumed she would put the work away and relax once they reached their destination, although from what little she'd seen of the older woman—not to mention what Jacob had told her of "his Sammy"—the Colonel was nothing if not focused on her job.
A middle-aged woman, a brunette wearing a dark pantsuit, hoisted a piece of luggage into the overhead compartments and took a seat across the aisle from Lee'al. Her skin was fair, if not quite as fair as Jacob or Sam, and her nails were manicured. It was a deep burgundy, similar to the shade Lee'al's mother had worn, though her nails had been (and presumably still were) longer. This woman's nails were much more practical.
"Hello," Lee'al said, curious; it would be her first conversation with a Tau'ri who was unaware of the larger world beyond their planet.
"Hello," the woman replied with a polite smile. "Going on vacation?"
"Yes." Beside her, Jacob stilled, turning slightly towards her.
"I wish I was. Business conference—there's a meeting of independent clothing boutiques, and I'm the representative for several stores in the Denver area. Three days of nonstop meetings, and then a direct flight back. I get in at nine o'clock p.m." She paused as someone lugging a large case crossed between them. "I don't even get a day off to take care of jet-lag and get unpacked. Why are you travelling?" The woman reached down to her bag, searching through one of the pockets.
Lee'al smiled. "Jacob is taking me to meet his son and grandchildren. They live in San Diego."
"And Jacob is?" She extracted a water bag and sat back up.
"My boyfriend." Lee'al gestured to Jacob, who was now studiously reading the magazine he'd picked up in a newsstand while waiting for their flight.
The woman's smile froze. "I ... see," she said, glancing between the two of them pointedly before turning forward and settling in her seat with a decisive air.
Although she kept sneaking glances at them, she did not speak to either of them during the entire flight.
As they drove through the streets of San Diego, Jacob was glad they'd turned down Mark's offer to pick them up. Both Nelaris and Lee'al had many questions about the city and other aspects of the Tau'ri as they drove through it; thorough as her briefing had been, there was no substitute for actual hands-on experience and this gave him a chance to answer any questions that had come up. Besides, it put off the actual meeting for another hour, almost. Jake hadn't realized how nervous he was until this moment, as they pulled up to a medium-sized house in the suburbs.
Nelaris squeezed his hand. "Relax, Jacob," she said. "Everything will be well. I will not disappoint you."
Jacob released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Yeah. All right; let's do it." He reached over and opened the car door.
As Jacob went around to the trunk to get their luggage, Brian burst out the front door. "Hi, Granddad!"
"Hello to you to, kiddo." Jacob grabbed the twelve year old in a bear hug. "Mark," he said, nodding to his son, who had followed Brian more sedately outside.
"Dad. You look well," Mark said. "It's nice to see you again, Sam."
"You, too," Sam said, smiling at him. And if things weren't as relaxed between the three of them as Jacob could hope, they were still infinitely better than they'd been just five years earlier. He hoped that wasn't about to change, and from the look Sam shot him, she was thinking the same thing. Selmak sent reassuring thoughts, and Jacob felt that relaxation that meant Selmak was tinkering with their adrenaline levels. Thanks.
"Did you bring me something?" Brian demanded.
"Of course," Jake said, though his attention was still on Mark. Lee'al had yet to emerge, and he wanted to gauge Mark's reaction when she did.
As if on cue, her door swung open and Lee'al stepped out, swinging a bag over her shoulder. Disentangling himself from Brian, Jacob took a step towards Mark. "Mark, I'd like you to meet Lee'al. Lee'al, this is my son Mark."
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Lee'al said warmly as she came around the car. "Jacob has told me so much about you all." No, it wasn't Lee'al; that flick of the head was pure Nelaris.
Mark's jaw dropped. "This is your girlfriend?" The words were directed at Jacob, but his attention was focused on Lee'al. "Sam said she was young, but I thought she'd at least be as old as I am. I never figured you for a cradle-robber, Dad." By this time Mark's wife Alyson had joined him on the lawn, and she put a warning hand on his arm. He shook it off, but took the hint and said nothing more.
"Hi, I'm Alyson," his wife introduced herself, stepping forward and extending her hand. "I see you've met Brian already. Mary's at a dance class; she should be home in about half an hour."
"Lee'al." The two women shook hands, and Alyson began leading her guest into the house.
"You must be tired after your journey. I'll give you a tour of the house, then let you freshen up. Mark, help your father with the luggage."
Mark's mouth twisted at his wife's command, and he transferred his glare to Jacob, but he said nothing further as he stepped around him to get the suitcases out of the trunk.
##Well. That was interesting,## Selmak observed mildly. ##It's a good thing he wasn't upset.## Jacob choked back a laugh; he'd had a lot of practice at doing that since he'd blended with Selmak. Laughing or otherwise responding to comments from someone nobody else could hear was common among the Tok'ra, but outsiders tended to regard it as odd. Still, Jacob was glad of Selmak's wry humor; he had a feeling he would need it to get through the week ahead.