Chapter 1: Egeria
Egeria was a minor queen. Thirty years in brood, five in host to recover her strength, and then back around again to make more symbiotes for the Jaffa to use and discard--for she was not among Ra's favorites, and her offspring were rarely selected for implantation.
It's a lonely thing, to spend years staring at the same four walls, trapped in a tank barely large enough for a mature queen to turn around. Many of the minor queens went mad from it, and it showed in their rest periods; all of the slaves knew that it was safer, far safer, to serve Ra or Hathor, who on occasion had reason to value the possibility of future devotion. But Egeria dreamed of being a Great Queen one day, and fought for her sanity, and used what chances she had to learn all she could about the Empire.
She was even willing to use her hosts for this; simple, stupid girls, soft and weak, but their opportunity to see the world had been much greater than that of their goddess. Of course, she also liked to make them squeal. Helplessness can easily breed anger, and so it was with Egeria. She loved best getting to know them, right down to their bones, so that she could choose the one wound that would make them howl the loudest: practice for the time when she would rise up and claim Ra for her own. She was fairly certain that once she walked out of the breeding palace into the light of the world, she would need to be able to find her enemies' weak points.
In her sixteenth cycle out of the tanks, she was put into a Nubian, a woman older than her usual fare. She was disappointed by this, as Ra did not like his women so dark, but she had taken ill in the tank and the implantation had been too rushed to allow a proper selection. At least she was alive, she thought, and there was time--there were always more hosts, after all.
Egeria was still too young to be permitted the sarcophagus, so she was not at her best when she began to dig down into the Nubian as she always did, trying to see and understand her new host.
She was, perhaps, a little sloppy in allowing the Nubian to see her as well.
The Nubian had served twenty-two of her thirty years in the palaces of Ra, mostly outside the confines of the breeding palace. She did not, Egeria was shocked to learn, believe that the goa'uld were gods, and she also very much did not want to be left for dead in a few short years in the wake of Egeria's return to the tank. I can help you, she said, as Egeria coiled more deeply into her mind. We could be allies, you and I. Why return to the tanks so soon?
An offer of alliance was absurd. Egeria could take everything she wanted from the Nubian's mind, use it as she saw fit. She ignored the voice within, stroked the soft places of her host's memory, searching for a way to make the woman react, make something yield to her power.
Two minds, the Nubian continued--calm, how could she be so calm?--are better than one, and knowing is not thinking. I could help you. Have you never wanted another to stand with you? I, of all people, cannot betray you.
Egeria flexed, reached out, drove the host to her knees with a gasp, and there, oh, there was fear at last, sweet in her gut. She had the power here. The Nubian, at least, had to serve her interests, rather than Ra's or Hathor's or the Empire's--that much of what she said was correct. So what harm in listening? What could the host do to her? After all, Egeria believed that if one was to achieve one's ambition, risktaking was required.
They lived much longer than five years together, and if they did not ever take their place at Ra's side, they were at least the mothers of what they hoped would one day become a great nation. It is because of the Nubian that the Tok'ra say they do not take hosts unwilling; and if they do not always live up to this principle, and if they speak of Egeria as the beginning of their movement without reference to her host, well, the Nubian would not be surprised.
The Nubian was called Pesehau, as it happens. She understood Egeria very well, and while by the end they came to love each other, she knew better than to expect her own name to be much remembered.
Chapter 2: Rosha
Rosha was the only one of Jolinar's many hosts who was a mother.
The Tok'ra do not parent. For a female host to complete a pregnancy requires the sealing away of the symbiote, and few Tok'ra are willing to put the required trust in the host's body to manage its own affairs. Besides, it distracts from the work, which is twisted tightly enough around the symbiote's soul that the host who can soften that dedication is rare indeed. So Tok'ra generally choose hosts without other responsibilities or commitments, and try to avoid developing new ties to those who are not of their kind.
Like many Tok'ra precepts, this preference is often honored as much in the breach as in its observance. Rosha had lost her husband and two younger children to the Jaffa when they came to conquer her world—or rather, to move it from one conqueror's domain to another's, for it was not a world that had known freedom from the goa'uld within living memory. She and her eldest, Sunar, were spotted in the ruins and taken into servitude by Jolinar-in-Tzerit, who liked to commit the occasional act of kindness while undercover, albeit only ever with the greatest of care.
They did not reveal themselves to their new slaves as anything more than a typical low-ranking goa'uld, of course, though they were as kind as was practical. Over time, Jolinar came to admire Rosha's courage and quick wit as much as she had at first admired the sweep of her hair and the curve of her breast, and when Tzerit began the rapid aging that was the harbinger of the end of every Tok'ra host's life, the two of them agreed to tell Rosha the truth, hoping she would agree to become Jolinar's new partner.
Jolinar believed in telling her prospective hosts the truth. In this case, part of that truth was that she and Tzerit had to leave very soon, and that they would have to abandon anyone who had not committed to an alliance with the Tok'ra. She was sorry, she said, it was regrettable, but also necessary.
Rosha wanted revenge, and did not want to be abandoned to the goa'uld, and most of all she wanted to protect Sunar, who was fourteen and a beauty and eyed by many when she went out alone. So they agreed to accept symbiotes, she and her daughter, who had always been a dutiful, obedient girl.
Three months later, soon after their return to the Tok'ra, Jolinar and Rosha became one. A few months after that they left again, continuing their work for the cause, because Jolinar had that fire even more strongly than most of her compatriots and after the blending Rosha burned with it as well. They embraced Sunar when they left, and told her they loved her, and hoped to see her well when they returned. "And if you have blended by then," Jolinar said, "we will be even more pleased to see you."
They never saw that planet again. They rejoined the Tok'ra at a new base, the one they had removed to after Sunar fled through the chappa'ai to points unknown, terrified of losing herself to a blending. Rosha grieved her, of course; but there was the work, and later Lantash and Martouf, and Jolinar, always Jolinar, who mourned her host's loss and who was, after all, uniquely qualified to help Rosha forget.
Chapter 3: Lantash
Lantash was one of the quiet ones. Lazy, some thought, or weak-minded; his hosts did most of the talking, and so each of his incarnations was quite different from the one before, which many found disconcerting.
He had friends on the Council, though, and no one could speak poorly of his efficacy, so he was often entrusted with difficult missions. The journey to try to re-establish contact with the long-overdue Jolinar and Rosha was expected to be even more difficult than most, since he and Rosha had never actually met. But the Tok'ra were stretched thin, and so Lantash and Martouf were sent out with only their charm--well, mostly Lantash's, inasmuch as one can describe a spot-on imitation of a minor goa'uld as charming--a single zat'nikatel, and a carefully memorized image of Rosha.
Martouf liked the look of her from the start, but then Martouf had always been attracted to blondes.
Lantash and Jolinar had known each other for more than a millennium, of course; they were both Egeria's children, though Jolinar was the elder by many years. Lantash had been amused, if not surprised, to hear that Jolinar had taken another blonde host. Some of us like variety, he'd told Martouf, just to make him start his usual earnest defense of individual lifestyle choices among the Tok'ra and see how long it took him to realize Lantash was snickering.
It wasn't that he disliked the earnest defense. As it happened, he was rather fond of it, so long as it was delivered by Martouf. Lantash's most recent partner was brave and good-hearted and still endearingly naive for a host of more than a decade, and he didn't mind that Lantash thought of himself as the brains of the outfit. I can do all of these difficult things because I trust you to prevent any errors on my part, he'd said more than once, all seriousness. Lantash’s previous host had been a woman he'd chosen for her brashness and fine grasp of sarcasm; Martouf was a nice change after a couple of centuries of living with that kind of personality day in and day out. (The Tok'ra as a whole agreed that the change had been for the best, but then the Tok'ra as a whole had little patience for brashness.)
For as long as Lantash had known him, Martouf had never reacted to anyone the way he reacted to Jolinar. Well, to Jolinar-in-Rosha, to be specific; but Lantash had felt safe in assuming that Jolinar-in-Rosha would be much like Jolinar-in-Tzerit who had been much like Jolinar-in-Lashidi who had been much like... well, the thing was that Jolinar was consistent, and not one to let her host's personality influence her overmuch.
They'd known Jolinar-in-Tzerit, and Lantash had certainly never had to spend time and energy tamping down his host's physical responses to that pairing. Now, though, he was required to rein in Martouf's hormones as if he were an adolescent, despite the fact that it made no sense to Lantash that Martouf saw something in Rosha that he hadn't in Tzerit. The temptation to tamp down Martouf's emotional responses as well flitted across his mind and away; beyond keeping a wandering mind on course when necessary, he preferred a bright line between his own consciousness and that of his host, and if Martouf wanted to nurse a crush at his age that was his own business.
Two days later--six hours after Jolinar had finally convinced them that she was staying in place until her mission was complete, despite rising suspicion and several close calls--they were together in what was really a very nice bed. (The opportunity for self-indulgence had always been one of Lantash's favorite things about undercover missions. Martouf usually felt guilty about it, but apparently that wasn't a problem when it came to indulging himself with Jolinar, or Rosha, or whichever one of them he'd conceived this passion for—Lantash wasn't yet entirely clear on the question.) The next morning, Martouf refused point-blank to return to the Council. They need our help, he told Lantash privately, as he ran his fingertips down one slim arm, pressing himself more firmly into his bedmate's back. Their mission is much more likely to be completed successfully if we stay, and that will be good for the Tok'ra cause, will it not?
So the only question you're considering is what's best for the cause, then? Lantash asked, amused. Martouf didn't answer, but then he didn't have to.
They did pull it off in the end, leaving Ra one ha'tak short and returning home unlooked-for and only slightly singed. Lantash still considered Jolinar hidebound and controlling; he guessed that she still thought him weak-minded and inconsistent. But somewhere in there he'd let Martouf's feelings bleed through into his own, and it looked like they were stuck for the duration.
He wondered, sometimes, whether Rosha had pushed Jolinar over that same line or whether it had been the other way around.
Chapter 4: Freya
Freya didn't understand what her symbiote saw in Dr. Jackson—or Daniel, as Anise always referred to him in private, with a warmth in her voice that Freya had noticed some time before Anise herself had verbalized her interest. He was attractive enough, she supposed, and bright for a human, but there was nothing visceral about him, nothing that made sense to Freya as a reason for attraction. Anise had always been one for enthusiasms, though, and frankly as her enthusiasms went desire for one of the Tau'ri was less potentially troublesome than most. It wasn't as if he was repulsive, after all. So Freya was willing to put up with a certain amount of Daniel-watching if it made Anise happy, which it did.
Actually, that was how she first really noticed Colonel O'Neill—because while Anise was watching Daniel, Daniel was watching Jack.
Jack, now, Jack had visceral in spades. He was good-looking, and funny, and she'd been assured by people who should know that he was very good at his profession, though she'd thought at first that there was a good chance they were pulling her leg about that. He was suspicious of the Tok'ra, admittedly, but as far as Freya was concerned that was just a refreshing challenge.
Anise was uninterested, but tolerant. Daniel finds him fascinating, she said. So there must be something there, even if it's just that he's odd. We should ask them about it sometime; perhaps they would be more amenable if they could share us? Surely they'd both be less nervous if they had a trusted friend in the room.
Thankfully, they happened to mention that idea to Selmak before actually doing anything about it, and he—well, Selmak thought the suggestion was pretty funny, but Jacob coughed and spluttered and warned them off, even more strongly than people usually warned Anise against implementing her ideas. Also, the Tau'ri all seemed much more upset about the armband incident than was reasonable considering the excellent tactical results and the clearly-stated experimental nature of the project, and so Freya and Anise were forced to abandon their hopes for quick success. Obviously, patience would be required.
Working together with Anise toward a satisfactory resolution of the situation brought back pleasant memories of adolescence, long afternoons spent in the company of close girlfriends trying to Figure Out Boys before any of them had had the confidence to simply let the boys in question know what they should think. In the throes of sympathy for her symbiote, Freya quite generously pushed for the Council to request Daniel specifically for their annual (if heavily edited) briefing on the state of the SGC, just so that Anise could enjoy the view and pull him aside for a private conversation later. She even listened—very patiently—to the briefing, so that Anise would know what she was talking about during their rendezvous.
They thought that went quite well, and started getting their hopes up again until Tanith's implantation. The most important thing to do in the wake of that situation was obviously to hold the Tau'ri and their Jaffa to a sensible, productive course of action, and they did it gladly, but it certainly didn't help Freya's case with Jack.
He's really extremely irrational, Anise told her, with just a tinge of condescension in her voice.
Please keep in mind that I don't want to have intellectual discussions about the future of the Tok'ra movement with him, Anise. And don't pretend you've never had a taste for the primitive, either, because I know better.
A ripple of acquiescence was all Freya got in reply; a win, and she let herself enjoy it for a moment before letting it go. They'd just have to wait for a vulnerable moment, one when Jack could be caught off guard. She knew Anise would support her, so long as she wanted Jack, and because of Anise she had plenty of time to spend on getting him. Jacob or no Jacob, she still thought Daniel was a possible route in, for one thing. And even if they failed, Freya supposed that would be all right. If it was a matter of sexual intercourse, there were always plenty of other Tok'ra available, and when it came to more... well, men came and went, but it wasn't as if any of them could ever mean a tenth as much to her as Anise did.
Chapter 5: Jacob
Soon after his wife's death, Jacob decided that he should remarry.
It was practicality, not sentiment; he had two teenage children, and he figured kids needed a mother. He dated a little, as discreetly as possible--the betrayal on Mark's face the one time he'd seen his father out on the town had been hard to deal with--but somehow it never quite worked out. It wasn't that he thought Linda would have minded, but eventually he had to admit to himself that he minded, that he wasn't willing to move from the sixteen-year partnership he'd had to something that was only good enough. Besides, Sammy stepped so smoothly into her mother's shoes that the house still ran like clockwork, so what was the point? It wasn't like Jacob couldn't admit to himself that he'd been wrong.
When he was first trying to make sense of the whirlwind of events that ended with him living on another planet with an alien symbiote in his head, what he remembered was that brief determination to forge a lifelong relationship for practical rather than emotional reasons. A few days in, he actually went so far as to tell Selmak that he felt like they were in the early stages of an arranged marriage. She—Selmak still had enough of Saroosh in her then to think of herself as 'she,' though as far as he could tell that wasn't actually a very good description—must have already known that, but she pretended that she hadn't, which he appreciated. The thought of someone actually reading his mind... well, he felt more comfortable when she acted like she couldn't.
I do see the similarities, she admitted, though you were not a child, and you did make your own choice. Also it seems less than traditional for a daughter to play matchmaker. She paused. At some point I should transform from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, correct? I fear I am going to have to ask you to begin an exercise regime. Or at least purchase a toupee.
"If you can cure cancer, you can grow me some hair."
But I thought marriage was a two-way street!
He couldn't help it—he had to smile.
Jacob called Selmak "the little woman" in private for months, until she didn't feel female anymore, and every year they celebrated an anniversary. The other Tok'ra thought that was a little weird; they blamed his increasing distance from the rest of the Council on Jacob, which frankly kind of pissed Jacob off, seeing as he'd changed his stances a hell of a lot more than Selmak had. With some of them, like Delek, he could even see it in their smiles, the polite expression of someone thinking that Jacob had better shape up before they stopped thinking of him as a credit to his race.
Selmak never thought about him that way. Selmak listened to him, and argued with him, and trusted him. That was why it was such a shock to learn that Selmak had been dying for some time before deciding to mention it to Jacob, who had the distinct impression that he'd missed being put to sleep one night and waking up without a symbiote the next morning by only the narrowest of margins. I knew you'd argue, Selmak said, but really there is no other choice. I am going to die. If I remain within you, you will die as well. And that is not an attractive outcome, not for either of us.
At first, he hoped that maybe Selmak was wrong—it had happened before, after all, if rarely. When the diagnosis was confirmed… God, it hurt. Jacob had always wondered whether it would have been better if Linda had gone slowly, given them all time to say goodbye, but it looked like losing Selmak was going to teach him that it just would've been a different kind of horribly painful.
Pain or no pain, Jacob meant to keep Selmak with him for as long as he could. They really were needed in the fight against Anubis and the Replicators, so long as the other Tok'ra weren't willing to pull their heads out of their asses and pitch in, and Selmak couldn't argue with that. Jacob's logic was sound, and his arguments were no less true just because Selmak could tell that it was all about love in the end.