Dal Niente

Jul. 7th, 2012 07:51 pm
stringertheory: (Teal'c)
[personal profile] stringertheory
Title: Dal Niente
Rating: PG
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Characters: Teal'c, Samantha Carter
Word Count: 3246
Categories: drama, friendship, character study
Spoilers/Warnings: Set during "Unending" (10.20). Spoilers for the same.
Beta: [personal profile] lolmac
Summary: Dal niente - from nothing; out of silence.

One of the things Teal'c loved best about Earth was its music.

The music of the Tau'ri was very much like the people who created it: full of spirit and nuance, emotional even in its briefest forms, simultaneously simple and complex. His first encounters with the music of Earth had been piecemeal at best, but each had left an indelible impression. The hard blare of rock, the bouncy pep of pop, the haunting melodies of bluegrass, the distinct sounds of instruments and voices from dozens of different cultures – they created a palette of sound specific to Earth, to the people who lived there. In their music was their joy and sorrow, their hopes and fears, their accomplishments and wishes and determination. In many ways, it overwhelmed him.

Whatever the Goa'uld had demanded from their musicians, it could not compare to the best Earth had to offer. Such beauty, such power and emotion and confidence, would never have been tolerated. The simple act of hearing such music would have been grounds for execution. Teal'c relished the act of listening to music as much as the music itself; each song enjoyed was its own small act of defiance, a spit in the faces of false gods.

The music he discovered on Earth was enlightening and enjoyable, but the first symphony Teal'c ever heard was a revelation. Daniel Jackson gifted him with the recording, a performance of what he called “classical music.” Teal'c listened to it alone in his quarters, wanting to be able to turn it off without offending his friend should it be something he did not enjoy.

With interest, he listened to the opening notes. Quiet at first, the song grew in scope and scale until it filled his tiny room like another presence, almost palpable. The sounds seemed to flow through him, surround him, fill him. Some he recognized, others he did not. Combined, they built into something very like a story, something that breathed with a life all its own. Teal’c listened to the recording in a kind of stunned silence. After the final notes faded away, he remained seated on the edge of his bed, collecting himself. It felt very much like trying to catch his breath. As soon as he felt steady enough, he listened to the performance again. Then he sought more.

Over the years, music had become an important part of his life on Earth. Trapped on the Odyssey in the middle of empty space, he missed having it at his fingertips. So when the cello first appeared, it piqued his interest.

He entered the control room one day to find it there, gleaming in the low light. He inspected it from the corner of his eyes while Colonel Carter called up a supply of tretonin for him. He said nothing then, though he was curious.

A few months later, as he reported for another treatment, the unmistakable sound of cello music greeted him. He stopped in surprise in the hallway just out of sight of the room and simply listened. He did not recognize the song, but it made him feel lonely, hopeful, melancholy. Closing his eyes, he let the music drift over him. When the hall fell silent again, he waited for a few minutes before entering the room. Colonel Carter had already set the one instrument aside and was back at another, tapping away at a keyboard and frowning at the computer screen in front of her. She greeted him warmly, but made no mention of her playing or whether he had heard. He said nothing as well, but he studied her a bit more closely than he had in a long while.

Often she would be playing when he approached the control room. He always waited outside until she finished, not wanting to intrude and concerned she would stop playing if she saw she had an audience. But one day his curiosity overcame him, and he slipped silently into the room to watch.

Colonel Carter's face was calm, her eyes half closed as she lost herself in her own melody. Teal'c watched appreciatively, recognizing the skill she exhibited even without any formal understanding of the instrument himself. He listened without interruption as she moved through the sorrowful tune, one that spoke to him of vast distances and unsought solitude. It made his heart ache.

With a final, fading chord, Colonel Carter completed the piece. She closed her eyes and released a long, slow breath before rising from her chair. As she placed the cello back on its stand, Teal'c took a step away from the door.

“That was very beautiful, Colonel Carter,” he said quietly.

Her head snapped up, her eyes open and wide in surprise, though she quickly relaxed again upon spotting him. Her smile was faintly embarrassed as she settled the cello back into place.

“Thank you, Teal'c,” she replied. She stepped over to the control console and gave him a shrug and a self-deprecatory grin as he crossed the room to join her. “I've been practicing.”

Teal'c smiled. “So I have heard.”

She narrowed her eyes, though her smile remained in place. “Have you been listening to me?”

“I have, on occasion, come upon you while you have been playing,” Teal'c admitted. “I did not wish to disturb you, and I enjoyed the music, so I said nothing.”

She nodded in understanding. “It helps me think,” she said. She tapped a few buttons, and three tretonin vials appeared. She leaned on the console, eyes distant. “When things get to be too much, I just play something and let it all go. When I go back to work, everything's a little bit easier.”

Teal'c nodded. Such a thing was no different from Colonel Mitchell's running or his own meditation. Everyone needed a release, something that helped them return to their center when they felt themselves losing balance. Colonel Carter found in music a respite from the daily struggles of their life onboard the Odyssey, particularly the weight of responsibility she wore so heavily. He was pleased she had discovered something that provided joy as well as comfort. He wandered over to inspect the cello more closely.

“Music is one of the things I most enjoy about Earth culture,” he said, bending to examine the cello's strings, “the diverse forms it takes, its prevalence in nearly every society, how easily it is made.”

“How easily it's taken for granted?” Colonel Carter asked knowingly.

He tilted his head. “The Jaffa have little music of our own,” he replied. “Most Goa'uld forbade it. Goa'uld had musicians as part of their court or personal household, Jaffa who had been trained from childhood for such a purpose, or human slaves chosen for the beauty of their voices as much as for that of their faces.” He straightened and turned to her. “The only music we knew was what the gods allowed us to hear.”

She watched him closely, eyes dark with sympathy. “Coming to Earth must have been like suddenly being able to hear after a lifetime of silence,” she said.

He looked back at the cello, eyes drifting over its shape though his thoughts were elsewhere. “There were tales,” he began, “legends that the Jaffa once had music of their own, songs and instruments entirely of their own making. The legends say that such a privilege was stripped from them when they rebelled, but those who broke away took the traditions with them.”

“The Sodan?”

Teal'c bowed his head. “The Ori stole much when they destroyed the Sodan. But the traditions will not die.” He reached out and lightly brushed a finger across the top of the cello's scroll. “They will merely change.” Pulling back his hand, he gazed out of the window at the still stars. “The Jaffa are free now. We will make new music.”

He contemplated all that had been lost with the Sodan, all that was yet to come for his people as they explored the extent of their new freedom. He wondered if he would live to see it. He wondered if they would. In the distance, one of the Ori ships stood out white against the darkness of space.

“Would you like to learn?”

The question surprised him, and he turned to Colonel Carter with a faint frown.

“I can teach you,” she continued. “Actually, teaching someone else how to play would make me better.”

“I had not considered it,” Teal'c said honestly. He had grown to love music, but he had never thought of making it himself. The idea, now presented, intrigued him. He eyed the cello critically, mentally assessing his own potential. He realized that he wanted to learn. “You would not mind?” he asked.

Colonel Carter smiled. “Not at all. Besides,” she said, only the slightest tinge of bitterness creeping into her voice, “it isn't like we don't have the time.”

Teal'c considered her offer, sure that the lessons would benefit her as much as they would him. He nodded and looked up at her. “I would very much like you to teach me.”


Sam set to work immediately, motioning for Teal'c to sit down. If she were completely honest with herself, she was grateful for the excuse to not start another round of dead-ends. And while she couldn't condone taking more time for her own practice, she felt justified in doing so to teach Teal'c. She pulled the cello from its stand as she critiqued his posture.

“You need to sit on the front of the chair,” she told him, waving a hand to indicate that he should slide forward. He did so, and she tapped him on the knee as she came to stand in front of him. “Now set your legs so that there will be just enough space between them for the cello.” She stood the cello at his knees as a guide.

Once he had followed her instructions, she carefully slid the instrument forward a few inches and, walking to his side, let it tilt back on its endpin until it rested against Teal'c's left shoulder and chest. She placed his hand on the cello where the neck met the body, and once sure he had it steadied, she stepped over and retrieved the bow. When she turned around, she bit back a grin. The instrument that felt so large in her own hands was dwarfed by Teal'c's bulk. Shaking her head at herself, she stepped back over as he looked up.

With her help, Teal'c found a comfortable position for the cello, and Sam led him through a quick beginner's guide to the instrument. She showed him how to draw the bow across the strings, and explained how different ways of using the bow could produce different types of sounds. She explained how each string carried a different pitch that could be manipulated by the placement of the fingers on the neck, and she gently guided his fingers along the fingerboard to help him create a few chords.

He listened with that certain intense concentration he had, following her directions with care and allowing her to manipulate his arms, hands, and fingers without complaint. His attention to detail and the unparalleled control he had over his body made him a quick study. After nearly two hours of practice, he had achieved a relative mastery of the barest essentials. Sam watched with delight as he diligently repeated the exercises she had taught him. When he paused for a moment, she put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“How about you play something for me?” she said with a smile.

“Which of the scales would you prefer?” Teal'c asked.

Sam swallowed a chuckle. “I was thinking of something a bit more interesting,” she replied.

With that, she began to teach him a short passage from one of the easier pieces she knew. For this session – the first of the many lessons she was already looking forward to – she wanted Teal'c to get a feel for the instrument more than anything else. And there was nothing like hearing music coming from your own hands to give you that feel.

She taught him the line in small chunks. Half an hour later, he had it memorized. Sam gave him an encouraging nod, and for the first time, he played it as one continuous piece.

There had been pleasure on Teal'c's face while he learned, but as he played now, that pleasure shifted into something deeper, something stronger. The notes – cautiously and hesitantly played as they were – filled the room, resonating in the metal of the walls and making the air hum gloriously. The ship held the notes before releasing them, so Teal'c had finished playing before the sound of his song faded entirely.

His right arm rested on his leg, the bow held loosely between his fingers. His left hand still held the neck of the cello, but he only cupped it now. He was staring at the floor at first, so Sam couldn't make out his expression. But then he looked up, staring blindly toward the control room door, and she felt her breath catch in her throat.

The look on his face was a powerful mixture of rapture and reverence. Sam knew then that the lessons would definitely continue.

She devoted a couple of hours every few days to instructing him. Teal'c learned quickly, but he never lost the revelatory joy he displayed the first time he picked up the instrument. He always handled the cello with respect and treated each lesson as a gift, taking the time to thank Sam after every lesson, much to her amusement.

“Thank you,” Teal'c said as he replaced the cello on its stand.

Sam smiled and shook her head at him. “Teal'c, you don't have to thank me every time.”

Teal'c straightened and turned to her. Clasping his hands behind his back and meeting her eyes, he held her gaze for a moment. His eyes were dark with respect and appreciation, the same as they were when he played.

“Thank you, Samantha,” he said slowly and deliberately, his voice a low rumble.

Sam nodded. “You're welcome.”

Teal'c bowed his head in her direction and took his leave. At the end of the next lesson, he thanked her again.

Eventually, Sam ran out of things she could teach him. Teal'c was rapidly approaching her in skill level, and at a certain point practice sessions became less about learning technique and more about honing skills. So when Teal'c arrived for their next session, she didn't leave her place at the console. She had encountered a very promising section in the Asgard database, and she didn't want to neglect it at the moment. Once Teal'c was settled with the cello and waiting patiently, she glanced up and told him to play.

“Play?” he asked, clearly a little confused.

“Just play something,” she replied, waving a hand in his general direction. “Anything you'd like.” She met his eyes. “This will probably be the extent of our ‘lessons’ from now on,” she told him. “I've taught you all I can; the rest is up to you.”

“'Practice, practice, practice'?” Teal'c said with a small smile, repeating the mantra she had used so enthusiastically during the early days of his tutelage.

Sam grinned back. “That's the idea.”

Teal'c nodded and began his warm-ups, slipping easily into a piece Sam recognized as one of her favorites. She let the music fill the empty spaces in her mind as she turned her focus back to her work. Some time later the room fell silent, and Sam glanced up, slightly dazed, to find that over two hours had passed. Her computer screen was filled with notes and she had somehow managed to get more than halfway through the pertinent section in the database.

When Teal'c thanked her this time, she thanked him right back.

Teal'c played for her often after that. The music eased her mind and helped her keep going after every wall she hit, and Teal'c did not seem to mind providing background music for her struggles. Sometimes she asked him to play; other times he would offer. Sometimes she declined, knowing the music would only serve as a distraction in her current state of mind. Other times she would turn him out of the room with terse politeness or aching weariness, needing only to be alone. Sometimes he did not ask at all, somehow knowing to leave her be.

Every once in a while, Teal'c would arrive in the control room to find Sam already seated with the cello. The first time it occurred, he paused in the doorway and lifted one eyebrow in question. Sam directed him to the empty chair nearby with a point of her bow. As he sat, she smiled at him.

“I thought I would return the favor,” she explained.

Teal'c nodded his head in understanding. “I would enjoy that very much.”

However much they played alone or for one another, they never played for the others. It wasn't a secret they kept and Sam knew that the others were aware, at the very least, that she played, even if they did not know about Teal'c picking up the instrument as well. Daniel had come to visit her once while she was learning a new piece, and had kept her company while she practiced. Once, Cam wandered down shortly after she had begun playing a song, and he had stood quietly just inside the doorway until she finished. He had given her a crooked grin, but hadn't commented on her performance, instead asking what he had come to ask her about using the converter to whip up a birthday cake for the general. No one ever discussed it with her or asked her to play for them, and she was grateful. Though she didn't mind them listening if they came upon her mid-song, she didn't particularly want to give any command performances. Playing was more about what she got from it than what it gave to anyone else.

As years turned into decades and the end of their conundrum began to look more like an actual end instead of a solution and a new beginning, the cello became her comfort. It kept her going, whether it was in her hands or in Teal'c's. He seemed to feel the same, and she would sometimes find him in the control room late at night, softly playing his favorite pieces, his gaze somewhere beyond the walls of the Odyssey.

When they finally figured a way out, she had little time to stop and think of everything she would lose in the process. But after all the calculations were done and triple-checked, after the crystal was loaded and placed in Teal'c's hands and she stood alone in the control room one last time, the thought crept up on her. Fifty years, fifty long years of memories and experiences and living would all be lost. She stared at the cello in the corner and felt her heart twist. Then she thought of Teal'c, and smiled sadly.

If their plan worked, he would be the only one to remember, but at least someone would. If they succeeded, if they lost everything else, Teal'c would still have the music. Comforted and resigned, she activated the Asgard control and closed her eyes.

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