Every morning when Thellas woke, she stretched her body, wriggled in her space, reached out and brushed the faintest tendrils against Evan’s consciousness. He had an impeccable internal clock, came awake mere instants before his alarm went off. Then he rolled out of bed, dressed, and went running with Ronon.
It was during the morning run that Thellas settled into her shared body with Evan, feeling herself sink into his nerves and veins and muscle and bones. Evan was flexible and strong, steady. With Thellas, he was stronger, had more endurance, faster. When Thellas and Evan were truly one in their body, they were - alive.
No wonder the goa’uld felt like gods.
Have you always enjoyed running? Thellas realized she’d never asked before. She had access to all of Evan’s thoughts and memories, had been immersed in them on their initial blending, but as a matter of propriety she didn’t go rummaging through his brain whenever she wanted.
Pretty much, Evan said. Since I was a kid. It was always part of my morning routine, even before I went to the Academy and started in Basic.
None of my previous hosts engaged in running as exercise, but this is pleasant. Thellas liked the way Evan viewed the world. The way he noticed the colors, the air - he was very aware of his surroundings, beyond soldier alertness.
That awareness had been dimmed, muted for a while. Thellas hadn’t even noticed when the world around her had started to leach of color, of life. But ever since Evan had broken down and cried in Kate’s office, his world had been coming back to life. Thellas wondered what else she had missed in Evan’s slow journey downward, what else she had to look out for in the future. If this had happened to him once, it could happen again, and Thellas had to be ready.
None of your previous hosts really had to run to stay in shape, did they? Evan asked.
Not really, Thellas admitted. Why do you keep running? As we no longer need it to stay fit.
It’s just - routine. And the endorphins are good for me. I think it makes Heightmeyer feel better, that I have something to ‘do’ with Ronon. Evan shrugged.
It’s not your job to make Kate happy, Thellas said.
I don’t really remember how to be happy, but if I can make others happy, it’s a start. And running is - good. For both of us. Evan smiled for her.
“What are you smiling about?” Ronon asked.
“Running,” Evan said. “I like running.”
Ronon shrugged. “Running is survival.”
Evan winced. “Sorry. I didn’t mean -”
“I get it, though. I feel - wrong. If I don’t run every day.” Ronon glanced at him. “You held out on me and Teyla. For a really long time.”
“I like it when people think of me as human,” Evan drawled.
“You are human,” Ronon said.
Evan said, “I’m Tok’ra.”
Thellas had never heard him say that before. She should have been happy, but he still sounded defeated.
Then Evan said, “It’s cool. I’m learning to own it.”
“Being a Tok’ra.”
Ronon frowned. “Being a Tok’ra isn’t something you can buy, is it?”
People had tried to bribe Thellas before, begged for her presence - and her gift of eternal life.
“No. Just - damn, but the gate translation system sucks at idioms sometimes.” Evan shook his head. “It means I’m accepting of what I am.”
“You can’t change what you are,” Ronon said.
“Doesn’t stop people from trying.” Then Evan grinned at him and put on a burst of speed.
The rush of adrenaline through their veins was glorious. Thellas wondered just how far and fast she could push herself in Evan’s body. He was fitter and stronger, had been in better shape than any of her other hosts had been in, his injuries aside.
Evan crossed the unspoken finish line well ahead of Ronon, wasn’t even breathing hard when Ronon caught up to him.
“Damn,” Ronon said. “Just how strong are you?”
“Not sure,” Evan admitted. “Thanks for running with me, Ronon. See you at lunch?”
Evan nodded. “All right. See you later.” And he headed back to his quarters to shower and dress for the day.
Rodney was sitting at their usual table, tapping away at his datapad when Thellas arrived with a tray of food.
“Morning,” Rodney said without looking up.
“Good morning.” Thellas slid into the seat opposite him. “You are very distracted.”
Rodney glanced up. “Yes. I’m very busy.” Then he sighed, set the datapad in sleep mode, and deliberately set it aside. “How are you doing today? Evan hasn’t tried to, you know -”
“I am well, thank you,” Thellas said, “as is Evan. We went running with Ronon.”
Rodney sighed. “Running. I hate it. But it’s useful.”
Evan said, You should see about making the kara kesh, tel’kesh, and hara’kesh useable to people with the Gene.
Thellas said, “That’s not a bad idea.”
Rodney frowned. “What?”
“Evan had a suggestion,” Thellas said.
“Evan?” Rodney echoed, startled.
Thellas nodded, and then she realized. Evan had spoken to her. During her time with Rodney, he’d spoken to her. Whenever he was in the driver’s seat, he answered her questions freely and honestly, always had (for the most part; he’d omitted the fact that he’d wanted to end his own life). But when it was her turn in the driver’s seat, he was silent unless she asked him a question.
With each host, Thellas had learned the balance of observation and participation, as it was different for each of them. Some of her previous hosts had enjoyed constant companionship and commentary, the two of them switching back and forth as easily as water flowing side to side in a tilting bowl. Others had preferred a strictly regimented timeshare. She’d thought Evan was more flexible, but he seemed to be thriving, with this very strict schedule Kate had recommended for them.
The only times they left each other completely alone were when they were in individual therapy with Kate. Thellas had two bodies she lived in, and even though she loved having a host, spending some time being present in her primary body was important to her as well.
“What suggestion?” Rodney asked.
Thellas told him.
“That’s - not actually a bad idea.” Rodney hummed thoughtfully. “Could you give me your, er, devices?” He was bad with new names of things and people.
“Of course.” Thellas nudged Rodney’s foot with hers under the table. “Now eat. You don’t want me and Sheppard getting after you if you get hypoglycemic on a mission again.”
“Sorry,” Rodney said. “Just - I’m still trying to analyze the data we managed to pull off of the Aurora.”
“I am here to help,” Thellas reminded him.
“I know. And you’re much better help than the bumbling fools the SGC keeps sending me, Zelenka and Kusanagi aside - don’t tell them I said that. Don’t want them getting complacent and lazy.” Rodney picked up his spoon and dug obediently into his oatmeal.
“After therapy,” Thellas said, “I will bring you the devices.”
“Great. And - and tell Evan thanks.”
“He can hear you.”
Rodney, Thellas knew, was still furious at Evan for almost murdering Thellas. Rodney looked at Thellas’s forehead the way he did when he didn’t want to quite look her in the eye and said,
“That’s not a half-stupid idea, Lorne.”
Thellas let Evan speak for himself.
“Thanks, McKay. That was almost a compliment.”
Why they persisted in using each other’s last names was still a mystery to Thellas, but she knew the Tau’ri had many social conventions regarding the many names and titles each of them possessed.
Thellas and Rodney finished eating. As soon as Thellas set down her fork, signaling the end of the meal, Rodney scooped up his tray and datapad scurried away to deliver his tray to the washing line, then head for the lab. By Tau’ri standards, Rodney was a little graceless and sometimes rude, but he was a good man at heart. And he was beautiful. Thellas returned her tray, and then she went to Kate’s office. It was time for therapy. Many different cultures had systems for helping people handle stress and tension and emotional trauma, but where many cultures relied on meditation and chemicals and devices, the Tau’ri seemed unique in their desire to talk things out.
Rodney is beautiful, Evan said, startling Thellas again. He’s got a great jawline, and his eyes are pretty. Also his mouth is fascinating. He’s fun to draw. He’s got a pretty nice ass, too.
Thellas understood, on an intellectual level, the sexual taboos that were part of Evan’s culture, both as Tau’ri, as an American, and as an airman, even if she didn’t agree with them. To hear him so openly admiring a male form was - well, he had kissed Billy Price in the sixth grade.
How does it work? Evan asked. Being in love with someone? Do both of us have to agree?
Thellas had been in love many times, and with each host it was different. Usually her lovers were other Tok’ra, though sometimes she loved one symbiote and her host loved the host of a different symbiote than her lover’s.
Less important than us agreeing is our lovers agreeing to sharing us the way we share ourselves, Thellas said.
She knew he was in love with Elizabeth Weir, that the taboo against him taking his commander, civilian or otherwise, as a lover was just as strong as the taboo against him taking another man for a lover.
No point in dating while I’m broken, though, he said. Who would want this mess?
You’re my mess, Thellas thought, but she didn’t say it to him, because she did love him, though not as a lover. It was a bond no one but a Tok’ra could understand. The closest analogue that Tau’ri would understand was comrades-in-arms. She loved Evan, would live for him, would die for him, would kill for him, but she wasn’t in love with him. Were she in a different host, she would not have chosen him for a lover, though his form was very pleasing to the eye.
That Evan was just talking to her was so new and strange - and a good sign, she thought. He was okay with sharing with her, not just lurking silently until it was his turn in the driver’s seat, answering questions for her out of mere politeness.
Using Ancient technology wasn’t as strange for Thellas as it had been at first for Evan, because much of Goa’uld technology required a mental connection, but Ancient technology felt different. She could feel Goa’uld tech in her blood, sometimes in her bones, shaking her to the core. But Ancient tech was like a song in the back of her mind, a gentle chorus.
So she smiled as she swiped a hand over the door mechanism at Kate’s office, not opening the door but sounding the door chime.
Then the door opened.
“Come in,” Kate called.
Thellas stepped into the office, took her place on the seat opposite Kate’s.
“Good morning, Thellas. How are you?”
“I am well, thank you.”
“What would you like to talk about today?”
“Evan has started speaking to me,” Thellas said.
Kate’s eyes lit up, and she leaned in. “Really? What’s different about him speaking to you? I was given to understand that you two are in constant communication.”
Thellas leaned in as well, explained what she’d realized about how distant Evan had become since they’d been held captive and tortured on that one planet, how she’d failed to notice his declining state of mind and how she now noticed the improvement in him and their relationship with each other.
Kate smiled. “That’s wonderful to hear. What are you talking about?”
“About - matters of the heart,” Thellas said, and suddenly she was hesitant. She had spoken many times to many people about difficult things, but admitting what she felt for Rodney - could she do it? It was not her place to speak to Kate about Evan’s love for Elizabeth, though she suspected Kate already knew.
Kate nodded, sat back. She wouldn’t press for more. “That’s good. How are things going in the lab with Rodney?”
“Very well. We completed our last side-project, which was increasing the efficiency of the desalination lines. Evan was the one who suggested our new project. I believe we shall begin it today.”
“That’s wonderful.” Kate leaned in again, caught Thellas’s gaze again. “How are you feeling about Evan? Are you still angry with him?”
“I - no. Sometimes. A little. But - I am more angry with myself, for not knowing, not realizing, not seeing what was happening. But after we were kidnapped, he shut me out.” Thellas shook her head. “I have endured worse and longer with other hosts, but they never shut me out as he did. Only our relationship was so new, and the circumstances of our blending so different, and -”
Thellas sat back, sighed.
“He tried to kill you. You’re right to be angry. Bottling it up is bad. I am here to help you release your anger,” Kate said. “And help you see where it’s coming from and how to cope. You have excellent insight, thanks to your very many years of experience. But you are still - mortal. Imperfect.”
Human, Kate had been about to say.
Thellas was not human. She was a symbiote, was born to dominate and control, to build all she wanted and destroy the rest. She was not as cruel as Isis or Hathor or Kali or Nirrti or Qetesh because she had not been given the genetic memory of their queens. Egeria had given her the ability to empathize with her hosts. But control was survival. In her true form, Thellas was small, weak, terribly vulnerable. In any body, but especially in Evan’s body, she was -
She still wasn’t sure just how powerful she was. She was afraid to find out, and so was he.
Except she knew how powerful she was, didn’t she? She’d rendered an entire planet in the Milky Way galaxy uninhabited, all by herself, all in Evan’s body.
Dare Thellas confess this fear to Kate? Would Kate fear her? Kate had no experience with the Goa’uld firsthand. Would Rodney look upon Thellas with fear if he knew what was inside of her, what she was capable, how much more she was capable of with Evan beside her?
Kate encouraged Thellas to keep conversing with Evan, to keep monitoring how he saw the world and any changes with it, and then their session was over. Thellas hurried back to her and Evan’s quarters to find her three main offworld devices, and then she hurried to meet Rodney at the lab.
You should get him some coffee, Evan said, just was she was programming her destination into the transporter.
The lab has coffee, Thellas said.
Yes, but not nice coffee, Evan said.
Thellas remembered, how Evan had suggested she bring Rodney special coffee after the incident with Project Arcturus. One of the few times Evan had taken initiative about Rodney.
Also I have a stash of homemade biscotti from my last kitchen adventure with Ronon, Evan said. Citrus-free.
What kind of biscotti?
Rodney adored chocolate the way Tau’ri women did. Thellas programmed the coordinates for the mess hall into the transporter instead. The KP Marines nodded at her respectfully - they probably thought she was Evan - and didn’t blink when she went into the kitchen, fixed up a plate of biscotti and a mug of the nice coffee, and made off with them without so much as a by-your-leave.
The lab was a din of mildly-controlled chaos when Thellas arrived.
“There you are,” Rodney said, impatience sharp in his tone, but his expression lit up when he saw the gifts Thellas bore. “Oh. Is that for me? You don’t like coffee.”
“Yes, the coffee is for you, as is the biscotti.”
“Right. You also don’t like chocolate. Thanks.” And Rodney immediately set to the coffee. Then he nibbled on the biscotti, gave a happy moan that made Thellas blush. “This is amazing. Where did you get it? I haven’t had anything like this since - since the last time I was on Earth.”
“I believe Evan and Ronon baked them during their time together in the kitchen.” Thellas laid her instruments on the workbench carefully.
“Nice of you to bring them to me,” Rodney said.
“It was Evan’s idea.”
Rodney paused, swallowed. “He’s just full of good ideas today.”
“He is intelligent,” Thellas said.
Thellas rolled her eyes. “You are a genius and I am an advanced species. But based on my understanding of human intellect and its distribution spread, he is above average. Air Force officers tend to be selected for intellectual capacity above fighting prowess, unlike Marines. You know Sheppard is much more intelligent than he seems.”
“True,” Rodney conceded, grudgingly. He finished a piece of biscotti and pushed the plate aside. “What can you tell me about how these work?”
Rodney’s expertise was Ancient tech rather than Goa’uld, because he’d focused on gates and those were Ancient, but Goa’uld tech was modified and adapted from plenty of Ancient tech, so Thellas walked him through each piece, its power source, its structure, its interface.
“Wait, they don’t have to be made of gold?”
“No,” Thellas said. “Any sturdy metal will do. The Goa’uld just like to display their wealth and power, and gold seems to have a singular symbolic tower to Tau’ri and other derivative humans.”
“So we could make some out of steel?”
“Yes. The power cores, of course, need to be naquadah. But we could probably use some Ancient crystal-based circuitry instead of naquadah, as that is easier to come by in this galaxy.”
It could be prettier, too, from a design perspective, Evan said. Sergeant Saxton, one of the Marines, he’s a hobby blacksmith. He could probably mock up some devices. Maybe make them a little more streamlined.
Thellas went to relay that suggestion to Rodney, then paused. You tell him.
Evan was startled. Me?
Yes. It is your suggestion, your knowledge mingled with mine.
Okay. He’s your best friend. If you’re sure.
I am, Thellas said decisively, and for the first time since their strict arrangement and safety plan with Kate had been established, she let Evan take control during her time.
“McKay,” he said, and cleared his throat.
Rodney looked up, startled.
“It’s me, Lorne.”
“Yes, I gathered that. Why is it you?”
“I had an idea, and Thellas shouldn’t have to be our messenger all the time,” Evan said.
Rodney eyed him. “Well, you’ve had a run of good ideas, so I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. This time.”
Evan nodded, and Thellas could sense how nervous he was, though he maintained his composure smoothly, and Evan outlined his suggestion, that Sergeant Saxton be commissioned to build several smaller, more subtle, less gaudy versions of the devices so they’d be easy to carry and put on or so they could even be worn as jewelry without interfering with someone’s ability to wield a weapon.
“Sergeant Saxton can just make things out of metal?” Rodney raised his eyebrows.
“He’s a blacksmith,” Evan said.
“It’s the twenty-first century.”
“It’s a hobby,” Evan said patiently. “And a useful one. He’s been requisitioning supplies on our regular shipments and has his own small forge and an assortment of tools. I assigned him an outdoor space on one of the balconies on the edge of the regular military living quarters so he could work. He’s been fine-tuning a cleaner, more efficient heat source.”
“Being able to fabricate our own metal parts could indeed be very useful,” Rodney admitted. “Could he design new pieces?”
“I’m sure he, Thellas, and I could work something out,” Evan said. “Remember, my hobby is drawing.”
Rodney’s expression turned grim. “I remember.”
Evan winced internally; Rodney had seen his sketchbook, including all of his studies of Elizabeth - and the images from his nightmares.
“Well, I’ll leave you and Thellas to it,” Evan said. “Just - think about it. Sergeant Saxton’s always willing to put his skills to good use.”
And then he ceded control back to Thellas without waiting for a response.
Luckily for Rodney, Thellas had come to Atlantis with a data drive loaded with information about Goa’uld technology, including schematics and scans of all of Thellas’s usual field devices. Thellas and Rodney had to build an interface to Rodney’s laptop could even read the data, which was all in Goa’uld. Rodney was fairly fluent in Ancient, but he’d never learned Goa’uld.
They’d just gotten the drive hooked up to Rodney’s laptop and they were waiting for the data to translate as best as possible when Sheppard’s voice crackled over Thellas’s radio.
“Lorne, what’s your twenty?”
Thellas always let him answer his CO.
“I’m in the lab with Thellas and McKay, sir. Everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine,” Sheppard said quickly. “I just - usually you’re here. With me. Doing paperwork.”
“Are you having a problem with a form, sir?”
“No. Just - wondering where you were.”
“I realize usually I spend the morning in the command office with you, but Thellas and McKay are working on a new project that could have significant strategic value down the road, and I didn’t want them to lose momentum on it,” Evan said.
And Thellas remembered. Of course. Their schedule. After therapy she hadn’t even thought, she was so excited, she’d just headed straight to the lab.
“What kind of strategic value?” Sheppard asked.
Evan explained to him, and Sheppard sounded intrigued.
“So, Gene carriers could use the hand-thingie too?”
“That would be the plan, yes. Perhaps if we figure out how to make Goa’uld tech accessible to Gene carriers, it’ll bring us one step closer to decoding the mental interfaces overall and making the tech accessible to everyone down the road,” Evan said. “Of course, there is some strategic value in leaving the tech as it is.”
“Of course,” Sheppard said. “I’ll be right there. Over and out.”
Rodney, who’d been drumming his fingers impatiently on the workbench while he waited for the program to run, paused as soon as Evan started speaking. “What is it?”
“Sheppard is interested in what we are doing,” Thellas told him. “He’s coming here.”
“Again with the space weapons. It really is Pavlovian with that man.” But Rodney sounded more amused than irritated.
I apologize, Thellas said. I didn’t mean to interrupt our routine.
We can’t be on that routine forever, Evan said. We have to be flexible when circumstances demand, and this time they do. Besides, this is something all three of us can work on together, isn’t it? You, me, and Rodney.
You called him Rodney.
Not to his face. He hates me.
He doesn’t hate you.
He thinks I’m useless. And he blames me for - for almost killing you.
He thinks everyone is useless. And he doesn’t blame you. He just doesn’t understand how things are between us, Thellas said.
Sure enough, Sheppard arrived. Rodney straightened up, turned to him.
“Don’t get too excited yet. We aren’t anywhere near a prototype.” But then he started talking at a thousand words a second, blue eyes bright with excitement, cheeks flushed, hands fluttering.
Rodney was adorable when he was excited.
He kind of is, Evan agreed. If you want to give it a shot with him, be my guest, but he might kind of take exception to, you know, me.
Thellas did want to give it a shot with Rodney, but she couldn’t begin to think how. In one of her previous forms it would have been so easy, because Rodney would have been drawn to her beauty. Evan was beautiful in his own way, but on top of being male he was a military officer, and what was permissible for Thellas wasn’t permissible for him, and the other Tau’ri would find it very difficult to understand how Evan and Thellas were at the same time quite separate but also inextricably intertwined.
I am not ready for such a relationship, Thellas said finally, but that wasn’t the truth: Evan wasn’t ready for that. They were only a month or two past what had happened with him, and he still wasn’t himself, not like he’d been before.
Would he ever get there? Or would the colors of Thellas’s world be forever muted?
Rodney made an indignant sound when Sheppard got on his radio and asked for Sergeant Saxton to report to the labs.
“What part of ‘nowhere near a prototype’ did you miss?”
But then Sergeant Saxton appeared, hovered politely behind Sheppard until he was acknowledged. Saxton was shorter than Evan and Rodney by a couple of inches, but he was incredibly broad across the shoulders and had bulging biceps. His uniform t-shirt was taut across his chest. He had blue-green eyes, and his light brown hair was cut short like all Marines, and when he smiled, he had dimples, just like Evan.
“Sergeant,” Sheppard said, turning to him, “could you replicate one of those out of steel?” He pointed to the kara kesh.
Saxton’s brow furrowed. He stepped forward, reached toward it, paused, looked at Thellas. “May I?”
He picked it up. “Yes, sir, though I’d probably need some smaller jewelry hammers. What’s it for?”
Sheppard glanced at Thellas.
She explained, “It is commonly called a hand device. It can function as a shield, a blasting weapon, or a radiation weapon.” She picked it up and fastened it on, held out her arm to see. “It is traditionally worn like so.”
“So the important part is that the red stone is on your palm so you can direct the blast?” Saxton peered at her hand.
“Which pieces are part of the mechanism to make it work and which bits are just fastenings and decorations?”
“Good question,” Thellas admitted. “I have never damaged my devices so I have never had to effectuate repair, but we can find out. I’m sure a scan of the powered up device will show us what we need to know.”
Saxton nodded. “And where’s that at?”
“Here,” Rodney said gleefully, typing away at his laptop. “What’s it called?”
“A kara kesh.”
“How is that spelled?”
“I have never seen it written in English,” Thellas admitted.
“The translation isn’t stellar.” Rodney’s hands danced across the keyboard. “Someone will have to talk to Daniel Jackson about that.”
Thellas peered over his shoulder. “There. That file.” She pointed at the screen.
Rodney opened it, fired up the first scan. Saxton hovered behind Rodney’s other shoulder, a polite distance back.
“Looks like everything is really just in the palm piece,” he said. “Everything else is just -”
“Gaudy,” Thellas said. “That is the way of the Goa’uld. Ostentation.”
“Hence all the gold.” Rodney rolled his eyes.
Saxton went over to the workbench, peered at the tel’kesh. “Basically it could be like this, then? Simple band, setting in the middle.”
“There’s probably a way to rig it so it can be worn like a watch or something. Might make it harder to aim, won’t index as well. Or it could even be adjustable, worn on the wrist offworld, but you could switch it around to your palm.” Saxton rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “How do you usually wear it?”
“Evan wears it as it is, and he carries the tel’kesh and hara’kesh in the pockets of his tac vest.”
Saxton blinked at her for a moment, confused. “You don’t wear them?”
“When we go offworld for combat purposes, Evan is in the driver’s seat,” Thellas said.
“Tok’ra,” Rodney said absently. “She’s a Tok’ra.”
Saxton’s eyes went wide. “Oh! Okay. Uh, well, let me mock up some fittings. It’ll take maybe a week. Then I can get back to you. What about the, um, crystal thingies? Do those need to be special?”
Thellas shook her head. “No. They are not the same, not in the kara kesh and the tel’kesh. The hara’kesh has no crystal at all.”
“I’m sure one of the geology teams can find a crystal if a crystal is necessary,” Rodney said. “But yes, please do mock up some fittings. We’ll work on the rest.”
“Awesome,” Sheppard said. “A plan. We’ve got a pretty good plan. So - Major Lorne. After lunch? Can you help me with some forms?”
Thellas ceded control to Evan so he could respond. “Of course, sir.”
“In fact,” Sheppard said, “it’s almost lunch time. Teyla and Ronon will meet us in the mess hall. Let’s go.”
“But we just got started,” Rodney protested.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Sheppard said, nudging him. He glanced at Thellas.
Thellas added, “You don’t want to go into hypoglycemic shock.”
“You brought me those chocolate biscotti. I’m fine. I’ll stay,” Rodney said. “I rarely eat lunch anyway. Evan always has lunch with Ronon, so -”
“So, team lunch,” Sheppard said. “With Lorne. C’mon.” He clapped Rodney on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Ronon looked a little confused when Rodney and John followed Thellas across the mess hall to their usual lunch table. Teyla joined them, because John had radioed for her on the way.
“Lorne?” he asked.
“Hey, Ronon.” Evan set down his water bottle on the table. “Team lunch, Sheppard said.”
Ronon glanced at Evan. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all.” Evan smiled. “Thellas and I are trying something new. Being a bit more flexible.”
“Okay.” Ronon rose up, and together they all drifted to the food line.
“How was paperwork this morning?” Ronon asked.
He wasn’t great at small talk, but he tried, and Evan and Thellas both appreciated that.
“Actually, Thellas and I spent time with Rodney in the lab.”
“Rodney,” Ronon echoed. “What about?”
“Making versions of Thellas’s healing device and hand device accessible to Gene carriers,” Evan said.
Ronon nodded. “Good idea.”
“It really is,” Rodney said.
He made his usual inquiries into the citrus content of today’s menu, and then all of them drifted back to their table.
“What’s the plan for tonight?” Ronon asked. “Drawing, cooking, music?”
What do you think, Thellas? Evan asked. We baked last night, hence the biscotti.
She was startled but pleased to be included in the decision. Music, she said. One of her previous hosts had been a dancer, had experienced music in a way none of her other hosts did, and she hadn’t had much occasion to enjoy Tau’ri music, of which there was an incredibly rich variety.
“Music,” Evan said. He eyed Ronon. “Do you have any Satedan music you could share?”
“I don’t have any Satedan instruments,” he said.
“Maybe there’s Satedan music in the database,” Rodney said. “It’d be really old, but - it would be the equivalent of classical music, right?”
“Usually classical music is centuries old, not millennia old,” John said.
They drifted back to the table with their trays of food.
“What kinds of instruments are typical in Satedan music?” Teyla asked.
Ronon began to describe instruments that were familiar to Thellas, similar to some she had seen on planets influenced by Tau’ri Javanese culture.
“So, mostly wood and metal?” Teyla asked.
Ronon nodded. “I could probably draw them for you.”
It was Thellas who asked, “Could we find some of them if we went to Sateda?”
Teyla said, “Evan, you seem most aware of the non-professional skills possessed by the Marines and airmen. Would any of them be able to fabricate such instruments?”
“For metal fittings, again I’d say Sergeant Saxton,” Evan said. “He can do at least some basic woodwork, because he makes wood handles for his own knives. I’d say Sergeant Hansen for woodwork. But we also have communal instruments in the MWR archive, though. Do you play any instruments, Ronon?”
“I was learning to play one.” Ronon made a familiar strumming motion. “I wasn’t very good.”
“I’m terrible at music,” Evan said. “I enjoy listening to it and dancing to it, but singing it or playing it? Just - no.”
“Dancing?” Sheppard asked.
Evan glanced at him. “You never danced at an officer’s ball?”
“I danced at cotillions,” Sheppard grumbled. “I just - you like dancing?”
Evan shrugged. “Why not?”
Ronon eyed him. “Does Thellas like to dance?”
Evan let her answer.
“One of my previous hosts was a dancer, so I learned to enjoy it. I know little of Tau’ri dancing, though.”
“You went to cotillions?” Rodney asked Sheppard.
“What is a cotillion?” Teyla asked.
Sheppard was blushing faintly. “It’s technically a coming-of-age celebration. What it actually is is torture.”
“Dancing sounds fun,” Ronon said. “I’d like to learn how to dance.”
Evan smiled. “Well, then we have a plan for tonight.”
They continued to chat casually while they ate. Teyla and Ronon gave Sheppard updates about how their training of the Marines was going. Teyla also gave Sheppard updates on how the Athosians were doing, though her report was much less detailed than the ones she probably gave to Elizabeth.
After lunch, Evan followed John back to the military command office.
“Just so you know,” Sheppard said, “your ability to remember forms by name is unnatural.”
Evan shrugged, standing behind Sheppard’s shoulder so he could get a look at the man’s datapad. “Says the man who can calculate the number of possible gate addresses in an instant given the number of known symbols.”
Thellas was impressed at Evan’s ability to remember such small things as well, but given that he’d grown up at the knee of two matriarchs of a seemingly chaotic community, his ability to organize was understandable. While everyone else on the commune had been feeding their minds and communing with nature and sharing free love, Evan’s mother and grandmother had been thinking about food and clothes and fresh water and other necessities, and Evan and his sister had stepped up to help them as soon as they were able.
Evan had been taking care of other people his entire life. That he hadn’t suffered some sort of mental breakdown before this was either impressive or frightening, because he was less good at taking care of himself.
“Touché,” Sheppard said.
“Here’s the thing,” Evan said. “In the logistics handbook, it says you need these three forms to get more weapons and offworld supplies.” He pointed to the list of forms. “But that logistics handbook wasn’t designed for intergalactic shipping lines. If you use this form and this form instead, well, that’s one less form, and also they’re both shorter.”
“Makes sense,” Sheppard said. “How do you know that?”
“I was 2IC on an extended offworld mining operation before Thellas,” Evan said. “Same thing, on a smaller scale. You know how it is, the Brass think they know what we need out here, but they don’t know what we actually need. My job is to make it all happen. Which is also why I usually do the forms myself.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “You saying I don’t make it happen?”
“You have other, more important things to be doing,” Evan said.
“Toilet paper seems damn important when you run out of it,” Sheppard said, and Evan laughed.
“Too true.” Evan retreated to his own desk.
To Thellas, he said, You can pick the music.
She was surprised. It wasn’t that he’d never made the offer before, but usually she didn’t feel like it was a good idea to take him up on the offer. He had an iPod that he’d loaded to the brim with his entire music collection. She knew it had taken him considerable effort to build it, converting over old vinyl records and cassettes and CDs into a data format that would read on the device.
I like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she said. The lead singer’s voice reminded her of an old lover’s.
Evan nodded and fired up a playlist he’d made of his favorite songs by the band, and then he set to work.
“The Chili Peppers?” Sheppard asked. “No Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez or David Bowie?”
“Thellas likes them,” Evan said.
Sheppard studied him for a moment, then shrugged. “All right.”
They worked in companionable quiet after that. Once in a while Sheppard would hum or sing along to a snatch of song drifting from Evan’s desk, but both men were diligent. Sheppard finished first, and he departed with a brief farewell for Evan and Thellas both (that was new). Once he was gone, Evan turned the music up louder, and he kept on working.
Together, Evan and Thellas worked clear through till Evan’s therapy session. Thellas had never been fond of paperwork or other boring administrative duties. The Tok’ra hadn’t been much for paperwork, instead sending in recordings of oral reports after a mission. The Tau’ri, by comparison, had elevated bureaucracy to an art form. The sheer amount of paperwork would have bogged the Goa’uld down endlessly if they’d operated in the same fashion. For Evan, paperwork was something of a science. Figuring out the fewest number of forms possible to get the most of what he wanted was almost a game for him.
He would have been invaluable on some of the Tok’ra bases. Had he been in charge of supplies and unfettered by paperwork, the Tok’ra would have lived in much better comfort and had better access to necessities.
I can see why you like it, Thellas said, during one of Evan’s stretch breaks.
Like it? No one likes it.
No, I’m just better at it than Sheppard and Teldy, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s better if I do it.
But you enjoy the challenge.
Evan, who’d been windmilling his arms to stretch his shoulders, paused. Maybe I do.
It is time to go see Kate, Thellas said.
Evan sobered. Yeah, it is.
Of a courtesy, Thellas retreated from the driver’s seat completely, the way Evan did for her while she was spending her time with Kate. Instead she took the time to reacquaint herself with her own body, her tiny body inside Evan’s. While they were indescribably intertwined, Evan could never know her body the way she knew his. Thellas did her best to stretch and bend and wriggle without causing Evan discomfort. As long as she didn’t press against his spine too much, he wouldn’t even notice what she was doing.
The difficulty of withdrawing so far into herself was that she lost track of time, so seemingly no time had passed at all when Evan said,
Ready for dinner?
Typically when they had dinner, it was just the two of them, but this time they sat with Rodney’s team, Teldy, and Radek. When they arrived, John and Rodney were in a heated debate over Tau’ri pop culture figures. The Tau’ri entertainment complex was astounding. Not even the Goa’uld, who were much dedicated to their leisure, had so rich a fictional mythos.
“Lorne,” Sheppard said, “help a guy out. Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?”
Evan set his tray down and sat between Rodney and Radek. “Captain Janeway.”
“You’re disqualified on account of being a smartass.” Sheppard flapped a dismissive hand at him.
“Of course you’d pick Janeway,” Rodney said. “You’ve got Thellas.”
“What’s wrong with Janeway?” Teldy asked archly, and Rodney looked at her, did a double take, winced.
Thellas asked, “Why would my presence affect Evan’s selection of this fictional character?”
“Janeway’s a woman,” Teldy said.
“Ah. And because I am typically female-aligned and Evan and I are partners he will always be more loyal to women than men in a competition between the two?” Thellas asked.
“When you put it like that,” Rodney began.
Teldy and Teyla looked amused.
“But it wasn’t a competition between men and women,” Ronon said.
Sheppard and Rodney turned to him.
Ronon’s expression turned hesitant. “Right? You were talking about The Box again.”
“Yes,” Sheppard said, and he looked pleased.
“Lorne was simply pointing out the flaw in your logic,” Teyla said. “You had given yourselves a false dichotomy, trying to choose between two options when there were more than two.”
Rodney considered this. Then he said, “Fine. Lorne, if Kirk and Picard were your only options, who would you pick?”
“Pick to what?” Evan asked.
“Who’s better?” Sheppard pressed.
Thellas said, again, “Janeway.”
“Not helping,” Rodney hissed.
Thellas smiled sweetly.
Teyla said, “Perhaps a new topic of discussion would be best, one suited to all of the participants, regardless of their planet of origin.”
“We should play one of those cheesy getting to know you games,” Teldy said.
Radek looked alarmed. “What, like Never Have I Ever or Two Truths and a Lie or what?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “This isn’t summer camp.”
“You went to summer camp?” Sheppard asked.
Rodney nodded. “And I hated it.”
“I loved it,” Teldy said.
“Of course you did,” Rodney said, all sarcasm.
“My parents could not afford summer camp, though there was a science-based one I would have liked to attend,” Radek said.
It was Ronon who asked what Thellas wanted to know: “What’s summer camp?”
“It’s where parents who hate their children send them in the summer when school isn’t in session so someone else can watch them,” Rodney said.
Thellas was alarmed at the bitterness in his voice.
Evan said, For some parents and children, maybe that’s true, but that’s not how it always is.
“It’s also a place for children to go in the summer to spend time with other kids and learn specialized skills, like rowing or swimming or camping or crafts,” Teldy said.
“Or things like science or music or drama or art,” Sheppard chimed in.
Rodney eyed him. “Did you go to summer camp?”
“Once.” Sheppard shrugged. “It was all right.”
“Why wouldn’t your family teach you how to camp?” Ronon asked.
Rodney laughed. “My parents? In the outdoors? Never.”
“I love camping,” Teldy said. “The outdoors are awesome.”
“Only when you have a choice,” Ronon said, and Teldy looked sympathetic.
Teyla asked Thellas, “Do the Tok’ra have a type of summer camp system?”
“No. When we are prim’ta we are cared for by loyal jaffa, and we only take willing adult hosts unless it’s an emergency,” Thellas said. “We would never take a child.”
Radek said, “Major Lorne, did you go to summer camp as a child?”
“No,” Evan said. “My mother wasn’t into that kind of thing. But there was plenty for me to do in the summer when I wasn’t in school.”
From there talk turned to people’s schooling. The Athosians had no formal schools, and Teyla had learned of her people’s ways, history, and culture from her parents and other elders who cared for her after her parents were taken in cullings. Ronon had gone to a very fine school on Sateda as a child, had learned poetry and painting and drama in addition to core mathematical and science subjects, and he’d also been schooled in the Satedan ways of battle and war.
“A real Renaissance man,” Sheppard said, surprised.
Ronon shrugged. “It was what was expected.”
Rodney explained that his schooling had been much the same, that he was required to study a much broader range of subjects than were typically required in American schools, which made Teldy a little defensive.
“Depends on the school, though,” Sheppard said. “I had to take fencing.”
“Fencing?” Teldy asked.
Rodney eyed him. “You went to one of those crazy fancy schools, didn’t you? With the Little Lord Fauntleroy uniforms and everything.”
“What’s fencing?” Ronon asked.
“A type of competitive sword combat,” Radek said.
Ronon glanced at Sheppard. “Then why are you so lame when we spar with swords?”
“I didn’t say I was good at it, just that I had to take it.” Sheppard was blushing faintly and hadn’t countered Rodney’s characterization of his childhood schooling.
As the meal wound down, people discussed their plans to spend their evening free time.
Thellas said, “We are having dance lessons.”
“We?” Teyla asked.
“Evan says he enjoys dancing, and I would like to learn Tau’ri dancing, and Ronon knows no Tau’ri dancing, and we can all learn together,” Thellas said, pleased.
Sheppard was out of his chair like a shot. “Nope. No dancing for me. There’s a DS waiting for me with the newest Castlevania game on it. Later.”
Teldy rolled her eyes. “Men and dancing. I’m glad you’re game for it, Ronon. That’s nice of you, for Thellas.”
“And Evan,” Thellas reminded her.
Teldy actually winked. “I’m not surprised he’s fine with dancing, but then you’re not like other men, are you, Lorne?”
“In the end I find few men are like each other,” Evan said.
“You’re too nice.” Teldy scooped up her tray and bade them farewell. She and her team were watching a movie together.
“Will you be joining us, Rodney?” Evan asked as they all went to return their trays to the kitchen for washing.
Rodney blinked, surprised. “Do you want me to?”
“It’d be good,” Evan said, “to have you teach Ronon the man’s part while I - well, I’m not sure I’m actually qualified to teach Thellas the women’s parts.”
“Please do join us,” Thellas said, and she used what Evan called the puppy eyes, widening her eyes slightly at Rodney and batting her eyelashes just once, her mouth pulled into the slightest pout.
“Sure,” Rodney said. “I can teach Ronon the basics. But we really do need a woman who can help us.” He cast about the small crowd lingering near the tray return window. “Who’s a decent ballroom dancer?”
“Ballroom dancer?” Elizabeth asked. “Are you throwing a ball, Rodney?”
He rolled his eyes. “This isn’t Pride & Prejudice. No, Thellas wants to learn to dance. I can teach Ronon the man’s part, but someone would need to teach Thellas the woman’s part. Because neither I nor Lorne learned to dance that part.”
“What kind of dances?” Elizabeth asked. “I can waltz, foxtrot, tango, quickstep, and Viennese.”
“I can’t tango, but otherwise I’m capable of all those,” Rodney said. “We should start with a waltz. Elizabeth, will you teach Thellas?”
She smiled. “Of course.” Then she caught Thellas’s gaze. “If it’s not an imposition, of course.”
Evan? Thellas asked. She knew how he felt about Elizabeth.
I can be perfectly professional with Elizabeth. This is for you, not me, he said.
Are you sure? You don’t always have to hurt yourself to benefit someone else.
It’s fine, he insisted.
So Thellas smiled at Elizabeth. “Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.”
Rodney nodded. “Great! We should start with a waltz, because that’s fairly simple. I just need to round up some music, and -”
“I have music,” Elizabeth said. “Where should we meet?”
“One of the rec rooms,” Evan said. “So we have sufficient space. We’ll radio you with a location, ma’am.”
“I think for this you can call me Elizabeth,” she said.
“Of course, ma’am.”
She arched an eyebrow but said nothing further, headed away.
Are you sure about this? Thellas asked.
Evan said, Yes.
Rodney requisitioned a music player from the MWR archives while Ronon and Evan shifted furniture in one of the rec rooms to make a small dance floor. Elizabeth arrived with a CD.
“Ideally,” Rodney said, “if you were learning to dance we’d have wall-to-wall mirrors so you could see what you’re doing better, but you’ll just have to stand beside us and figure it out. You’re coordinated. It’ll be fine. First, we should listen to the song, so you can get the count, which of these tracks is a three-count. Elizabeth?”
She knelt beside the CD player and fired up a song that was slow, gentle, lulling. Thellas cocked her head, listening.
Guitar, mandolin, violin, Evan said. Can you hear it? ONE-two-three ONE-two-three…
Rodney was clapping one hand on his thigh on the first beat of every three count. Ronon was nodding along to the beat, swaying to the music. He could clearly sense the rhythm of the song.
“Got it?” Rodney asked.
Thellas nodded. Evan had natural rhythm, could feel the beat of the music easily.
Rodney shuffled into place beside Ronon. “Waltzing is pretty simple. Just three steps. You’re the man, you lead.”
“Why?” Ronon asked.
“Typically because men are taller and when you’re on a crowded dance floor you’re better able to ensure you and your partner don’t crash into other couples,” Rodney said. “And also a long history of sexism. But anyway, you’re leading. If you want, you can learn the women’s part when we’re done. For equality and whatnot.”
Evan already knew how to waltz, but he let Thellas have total control, learned the women’s steps right along with her. The concept was simple, three steps that formed a sort of square, so one ended where one began, more or less. And the woman mirrored the man, stepped back when he stepped forward, stepped left when he stepped right, stepped forward when he stepped back. All to the beat of the music.
What was simple to do alone was harder to do together.
“Okay, frame up,” Rodney said.
Thellas and Ronon blinked at him.
Elizabeth stepped toward Rodney, and he put his right hand in the small of her back, clasped her right hand in his left. She rested her left hand on his shoulder, and they pressed quite close.
“This is the basic dance frame,” Elizabeth said. “As long as you stay this way and move together, you’ll never step on each other’s feet. See?”
Ronon nodded and stepped toward Thellas. Rodney and Elizabeth stood on either side of them, showed them where to place their hands on each other and where to stand.
“Okay, now, to my count,” Rodney said. “Aaaaand one-two-three -”
They were hesitant at first, stumbled a little bit, but once Thellas surrendered to Ronon’s lead, learned to feel where he was going, it was easy. Thellas smiled up at him, and he smiled down at her.
“Looking good,” Elizabeth said. “Now, with some music. Ready?”
Ronon and Thellas paused but didn’t let each other go while Elizabeth started the music. Then Elizabeth and Rodney framed up, and once more Rodney counted them in, and they danced.
This is fun, Thellas said.
It’s hard to do this backwards, Evan said, but a good learning experience. Ronon is so damn tall.
Thellas laughed. When the song ended, Elizabeth and Rodney applauded them.
“Okay, so you’ve got the basic box step,” Rodney said. “Now you can learn the basic promenade step and some basic turns.”
Ronon looked alarmed, but Evan was familiar with the terms, so Thellas nodded. “All right. Teach us.”
By the end of the night, Thellas and Ronon could box-step, chasse, do a natural turn, and one very simple dip. They switched to a longer song, one with a woman singing, so they could practice their moves.
“Perhaps,” Evan said, “to make sure we know our moves, we should switch partners. Rodney, why don’t you dance with Thellas?”
“Good idea,” Rodney said.
Evan, what are you doing? Thellas’s heart thumped oddly, sped up when Rodney pulled her into his arms.
Ronon held Elizabeth very tentatively. She smiled up at him.
“I promise in this you aren’t going to hurt me,” she said. “If you lead, I will follow.” She reached out, turned on the music - another slow song, strumming guitars and a man’s voice - and then it was time to dance.
Rodney’s body was warm, firm, and he led very confidently, guiding Thellas smoothly across the dance floor, turning her and, at the end, dipping her.
There, Evan said. That was fun, wasn’t it?
Perhaps too fun, Thellas said, and then aloud, “You know, usually this is Evan’s time to spend with Ronon. I know Ronon and I have learned much. Evan should be allowed to dance, yes?”
No, that’s fine, we’re being more flexible, remember? Evan said.
But Rodney was nodding. “Yes, of course. Well, since Evan is used to dancing the men’s part, really the only reasonable partner for him is Elizabeth. Any song in particular you’d prefer?”
Elizabeth looked startled. “Me? Oh, whatever’s next is fine.”
Rodney nodded and let the next song start. It was very slow, piano music and a guitar and a soft woman’s voice.
Come away with me in the night, she sang.
Evan’s heart sped up. Thellas nudged him toward Elizabeth and then ceded control over to him.
He offered Elizabeth his hand, bowed slightly. Elizabeth curtseyed in return, and then Evan swept her into his arms. Dancing was something he was confident about. Dancing with Elizabeth was something he’d never dreamed of doing, had never let himself dream of doing. While she was in his arms, he was both terrified and awed. He held her firmly but gently, enjoying her warmth and softness and the simple joy of moving together, spinning across the little makeshift dance floor.
Thellas hovered in the background. Was it just her imagination, or were the colors around her a little sharper, a little brighter?
The song ended, and Evan dipped Elizabeth easily. Rodney and Ronon applauded, but Evan barely heard them, gazing into her eyes, close enough that he could taste her breath, almost taste her lips.
And then he remembered himself and straightened up, righting Elizabeth neatly and stepping away from her.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said softly. He thanked Ronon and Rodney as well, bade them good night, and fled.
Shouldn’t we help them move the furniture back? Thellas asked.
Evan made it back to their room and locked the door behind him, setting it so only Heightmeyer or John could get in, and then he proceeded to pace a groove in the floor beside his bed.
Why did you let me do that? That was a terrible idea.
Thellas wondered how all this pacing wasn’t making him dizzy.
You enjoyed yourself, Thellas said.
I did, but - but it can never happen. She’s our commander. She needs to be free from distraction, and I’m already a terrible distraction as it is. And - she can’t be compromised, but by a relationship with me or anyone like me. I know she has a hard time with the Marines as it is. It’d be worse for her, if she were dating an Air Force officer -
So you want to date her.
Evan sank down on the edge of his bed, buried his face in his hands. “I’m in love with her.”
Thellas knew why - because she was smart, idealistic, optimistic, hopeful. Because she was beautiful and iron-willed.
Thellas said, “She makes your colors better.”
Evan lifted his head. “What?”
“Let me show you.” Thellas drew Evan into her consciousness. He followed, hesitant, until they were one in a way most Tok’ra avoided, the kind of one where the host and symbiote lost their boundaries - the place where a Goa’uld could take over completely.
She showed him how he saw the world through her consciousness, showed him how dim and colorless his world had been in the days leading up to his suicide plans, how the colors had been sharpening and brightening since Rodney, Elizabeth, Kate, and Carson had saved them.
How dancing with Elizabeth had made his world even more beautiful.
“What should I do?” Evan asked.
“Perhaps,” Thellas said, “you should love her. Even if you cannot be with her, you can still treat her as though you love her.”
There was a tradition among the people of one of Thellas’s former hosts, of loving someone without being with them, of expressing that love through devotion and kindness, knowing it could not be reciprocated, because expressing that love was better than trapping it inside and letting it fester, become bitter.
“You can still be professional,” Thellas continued. “But you love her, and it is not a bad thing.”
Evan considered. “Well, would you like to do the same for Rodney?”
It was Thellas’s turn to consider. “Why not?”
Evan smiled, and his world turned a little brighter. “All right, then, it’s a plan.” He stood up, moseyed into the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face for the night.
“Why is everything a plan with you?”
He shrugged. “It’s just who I am.”
“As long as I share in your plans.”
Evan hummed as he changed out of his uniform, and Thellas recognized the song as a waltz.
“What song is that?”
Evan paused, halfway out of his shirt. “What? Oh, an old power ballad. Never Tear Us Apart, by INXS.”
Thellas said, Will you waltz with me?
Evan finished peeling his shirt off. How does that work?
Close your eyes and do your part, and I will do mine.
Evan drifted to the middle of the room and closed his eyes. He called up the memory of the song, and Thellas shifted the connection between them so she was projecting her experience of his body back to him.
This was the true power of the symbiotic relationship, two people in the same body, able to double up on their experience, their knowledge - and potentially their power.
But for this, for now, Evan would sense that he had Thellas in his arms, and they could dance together, and their worlds we be a little brighter and sharper - and more beautiful.