Feb. 20th, 2014 09:28 pm
stringertheory: (Teal'c)
[personal profile] stringertheory
Title: Reprise
Rating: PG
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Characters: Teal'c, Samantha Carter
Word Count: 3115
Categories: character study, drama
Spoilers/Warnings: Set after "Unending" (10.20). Spoilers for the same. Sequel to Dal Niente.
Beta: [personal profile] fignewton
Summary: Reprise - repeat a phrase or verse; return to the original theme.

Teal'c put music aside.

Between battling against the Ori and battling for the Jaffa nation, he had little time to devote to personal leisures. The Ori were making inroads all across the galaxy, sweeping across it as swiftly as the plague they employed on resistant populations. The Free Jaffa Nation, whose foundations were still tremulous, wavered and faltered under the Ori threat, fracturing deeply enough that Teal'c worried whether it could be saved should anything survive the Ori incursion. What time Teal'c spent on Earth was minimal and usually filled with tasks and duties to prepare for his next mission.

As he did not own a cello, there was no possibility of him squeezing in a song here or there before bed or in place of a regular mealtime. He could have purchased a cello – even ordered one and had it delivered to the base so there would be no time wasted completing the transaction in person. But he chose not to do so.

If he were honest, he didn't feel ready to face the memories – so fresh in his mind – of the lifetime no one else had lived. He didn't want to hear the tunes that were so inextricably tied to the years that were now his alone to bear. Music – their music – would only serve to hold open the wound. He needed time to heal. And he didn't want the scrutiny that would come his way from the others if he suddenly picked up the cello. So far he had been able to gently deflect their questions; he couldn't tell them about the music. It was one of the secrets he kept.

During the worst times, when Ori victory seemed imminent and the hoped-for Jaffa nation was crumbling beneath his feet, Teal'c succumbed. He found a recording of the first song Samantha had taught him and, alone in his base quarters late one night, he listened to it. He had expected the song to provide the same healing comfort it had on the Odyssey; but instead of peace or reassurance, it made him feel only sorrow and sadness, a deep, aching loss. He swiftly stopped the player and deleted the recording from its memory. He did not listen to it again.

Teal'c had lived with little to no music for an entire Tau'ri lifetime, and he quickly settled back into that old skin. The long months of their struggle were undertaken in silence. He tucked music away along with all the other things he no longer had, the things lost to time and battle and fate. He learned not to miss it, or at least to ignore the persistent, faint pain – like a muscle twinge or a deep bruise - that seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere and could not be eased.

And then – against all hope, contrary to all probability – they achieved victory again. With the Ori defeat, Teal'c turned his focus to helping the galaxy pick up the pieces, to helping his own people gain their footing as a nation once again. Even as he rebuilt and recovered, music echoed in the back of his mind. He neither pushed away nor held on to the sounds, but waited for his heart to tell him it was ready.

He woke in his quarters on Earth one day knowing it was time.

With little trouble, he acquired a second-hand cello and brought it to his quarters. After making quiet inquiries of General Landry, he was directed to an empty lab on one of the upper levels of the base, in a corner that was relatively unused except for bulk storage. He did not specify exactly why he wanted a quiet, out of the way area for his own use, nor did General Landry ask. The general just scrutinized him with an unblinking stare for a few seconds, then had Sergeant Harriman find Teal'c a place to suit his needs. The lab was just the right size, with thick doors to help muffle the sound of his playing, and its location was ideal. As much as he looked forward to playing, he equally desired that no one should come upon him doing so. He needed this for himself; he wasn't ready to share, and he didn't want questions or curiosity.

The first time he played again was like the first time he returned to Dakara after its destruction. Memories flooded him, bound with love, regret, desperation, resignation, and pain, but also the feeling of comfort at one remove. Playing made the loss, the swelling ache, fresh again even as it soothed like a balm. The sensation was not fully pleasant or unpleasant. Bittersweet, the Tau'ri called it.

He sat quietly for a few minutes after completing the first piece. The cello's weight was familiar and reassuring in his arms, and the notes – vanished from the air – continued to echo inside him, humming as if he, too, contained strings. He smiled faintly – heartstrings, he supposed. Another Tau'ri term.

Overwhelmed at first by the emotions and memories playing awakened, Teal'c gave himself ample time between sessions. Gradually, he was able to play both longer and more often until the act itself was no longer half torture, half pleasure. He made a point of returning to “his” lab whenever possible while on Earth. Though he contemplated taking the cello with him to his home amongst the Jaffa, he decided against it. The climate there was not suitable for it, nor did he wish to introduce another foreign element into the midst of the young and battered nation. One day he hoped to share Tau'ri instruments and music, and the stories both contained, with his fellow Jaffa, but for now he waited. His heart would tell him when the time was right for that as well.

It was perhaps fated that Samantha was the one who discovered his secret.

She came upon him playing in the lab one day, tentatively poking her head in the door before walking in, flabbergasted, once she recognized Teal'c as the source of the music. He felt her presence a split second before the signs of it became apparent – a shift in the air, a faint rustle of clothes, the sound of her breathing. Eyes closed, he kept playing and wondered whether she recognized the tune of her favorite song. Or was it still her favorite? Had it ever been? Had it always been? This Samantha was not quite the same as the one he had known, the one that no longer existed except as a possibility in the woman standing before him. In some ways, it made her feel like a stranger. In some ways, it made him feel like a stranger.

He opened his eyes at the end of the song to find her scrutinizing him, the appreciation in her eyes and the hint of a smile on her face not quite masking her surprise.

“I didn't know you played cello,” she said, a faint note of accusation in her tone.

“I learned a long time ago,” Teal'c replied.

A furrow appeared between her eyes. “The Jaffa have cellos?” she asked, eying the instrument in his hands with doubt.

“No. It belongs to the Tau'ri.” Before she could question him further, he posed an inquiry of his own. “Do you play any instruments?”

“I've always wanted to learn the cello, actually,” she replied, nodding to the one in Teal'c's hands, “but I've never really had the time. There were no extracurriculars at the Academy, and I traveled so much once I joined the Force. By the time I shifted focus to research, I'd mostly forgotten about it. Then I joined Stargate Command and lost the minimal amount of spare time I still had.” She smiled faintly. “There's always a project or a crisis. Or both.”

She was talking quickly, flippantly, but Teal'c saw the way she was looking at the cello. It was a look of resigned longing, the look of someone who has long ago given up hope of fulfilling a dream without giving up the dream itself. He contemplated this Samantha, what she was, who she had been, who she wasn't.

“You have time now.”

She paused, and Teal'c saw surprise flitter across her face. She hadn't considered that.

Smiling softly to himself, he stood and gestured at the empty chair with his bow. “Sit.”

Her head came up at that, eyes wide. “Oh, I don't know – I didn't mean you –” she fumbled over herself, literally taking a step back from him. “I wouldn't want to impose.”

“Please sit,” Teal'c said, quietly cutting across her rambling.

She hesitated before doing as he asked. Sitting down stiffly, she took the cello from him with clear skepticism and uncertainty on her face. Teal'c was stuck by the difference between this woman and the one who had so confidently guided him through playing, the one who had played so beautifully, so effortlessly. Their positions were reversed this time. He had the chance to give her back something that had been hers first.

Memories of his own first lesson floating behind his eyes, Teal'c began to teach her the first song he ever learned. Just as she had for him all those years ago, he guided her through the line bit by bit before having her play it as a whole. She was eager but unsure, like a child given its greatest desire and worried about ruining it. She learned easily, absorbing the cello the way she did everything, a shallow furrow between her eyebrows as she intently followed Teal'c's instructions or studied him as he played.

When she played through the line in full for the first time, she glowed with happiness, even as shock took control of her features. The smile she threw Teal'c's way was one of pure delight, and he wondered why it had taken him so long to return the gift. In a way, the music belonged more to her than it ever had to him. He was merely reintroducing them to one another.


Hearing a song come from herself – come out of her, it seemed, the way the sound seemed to vibrate inside her as much as it did inside the instrument – for the first time was an overwhelming experience. It reminded Sam of how she felt the first time something she had built hummed to life when she turned it on. There was the sense of accomplishment, of the tangible result of hard work, but also the strange sensation of having created something alive and bigger than she was. She still got the feeling every time she built something, or solved the unsolvable, but it had been muted by time. Picking up the cello made it all new again.

To Sam, it felt like remembering.

Playing was strange at first – the bulk of the instrument in her arms, the sharpness of the strings under her fingertips, the unusual movements – but it quickly began to feel familiar, far more so than it should have. Her fingers and hands would sometimes move of their own accord, taking a new position before Teal'c could finish explaining it. The music itself was like old lullabies, half forgotten but attuned to something deep inside her, long buried. The feel of it vibrating in her chest, working into her from the instrument, was exhilarating but also oddly comforting.

And all the while, Teal'c watched her with knowing eyes and a private smile.

There was something about the way he instructed her that niggled in the back of her mind. The songs he chose were almost invariably ones she already knew and loved, or ones that she quickly came to. The way he worded his directions was so close to how she would have explained things that it often felt like listening to herself. And her suspicions about how he had learned to play cello in the first place only grew. She didn't question him again, but she watched, and she wondered. Like with so many things, she began to fit the pieces together.

“We've done this before,” she said one day.

He looked up and met her eyes with a steady gaze. There was only a slight hesitation before he answered simply, “Yes.”

“On the Odyssey.” He'd said he learned a long time ago. He'd also told them they had been trapped on the ship for fifty or sixty years.

Teal'c nodded. “Yes.”

They had dealt with enough time travel to know the importance of keeping quiet – and when not to. Teal'c had been tight-lipped about the details of their voluntary imprisonment, though, beyond the few tidbits he let slip – intentionally, no doubt; he wasn't careless with words. Considering how they came out of that experience, Sam doubted his silence was due to concerns about disrupting the timeline. It was personal. Fifty to sixty years together, stuck on a ship – it was almost a human lifetime, and a significant period even for a Jaffa.

“Why didn't you say anything before?” she asked in a quiet voice. For a minute, she wasn't sure he would answer. He looked away to stare at the wall, gaze distant. When he turned back to her, she saw something swirl in his eyes.

“I have always believed that the only existence that matters is this one,” he said, spreading his hands, “the one we are in. That still holds true, but my existence contains a life you never lived, a life you do not remember. But I do.” His shoulders lifted and dropped in the gesture Sam recognized as his version of a sigh. “It was easier not to think about those years.”

Curiosity outweighed politeness, and she blurted out, “What brought you back?”

He smiled then, softly, but there was something hard and determined in his eyes. “I have lost many things in my life; I was not going to lose this, too.”

He told her, then, of the first time she had learned the cello, years ago in the future and the past. He spoke of how he discovered her playing in the Odyssey's control room and what the music had meant to her then, in their static, ongoing crisis. He told her of how he could hear her playing at night sometimes, music echoing down lonely corridors, and how he could often gauge her mood by how much or how little she played. The music had kept her sane and kept her going, been her comfort and her escape. She thought of his original explanation of their time on the ship – of her time – and felt this new information snap into place, like the layers of a schematic resolving into the complete structure, filling in holes she hadn't even realized were there. He told her about the songs she knew and the songs she played.

And he spoke of how she offered him the gift of that music, and what it had meant to him to receive it.

As Teal'c talked, Sam began to understand the weight of what he carried, of the lifetime that was his alone. There was a very tiny part of her, she was ashamed to admit, that was slightly hurt and irritated that Teal'c had returned to music without her. But the majority of her felt like a stranger, on the outside looking in. It was how she felt every time she met another version of herself and heard stories about a life she wasn't living – something, she mused, that occurred to her with a frequency that defied all measures of probability. Here was another life that didn't belong to her. The music and the memories weren't hers, and never would be. She and Teal'c couldn't start over – but they could start again. They already had, with every lesson he gave her, with every tune she mastered, and with every piece he played for her.

They were fusing together two histories: the Teal'c he had been and the one he suddenly became – in that nanosecond that contained a lifetime – and the Sam she would never again be and the one she was instead. She may have shared music with Teal'c before, but in returning the favor he was giving her more. He was sharing himself, the Teal'c that lived through those fifty or sixty years, in a way he hadn't with the rest of the team. Based on what he told her about their time on the Odyssey, she suspected it was similar to what the two of them had shared there.

Though they could have moved to another venue – Sam's house would have sufficed for their purpose – neither ever suggested as much. Somehow, playing in the little lab felt right. Sam did buy a cello of her own. Playing duets, which was something they had never done on the Odyssey, wove a new thread into the history, one that belonged to this Teal'c and this Sam alone.

The others eventually found them. Nothing at the base stayed secret for long, not even when tucked away in an upper level corridor used for storage. To their credit, they didn't crowd or impose or ask many questions. Not even Vala who, under normal circumstances, had to make a concerted effort not to do any of the three. She listened to them play once, but offered no quips and didn't tease. She simply let it be, and Sam couldn't fully explain nor properly express why she was so grateful for that. When he first heard them, Cam settled for being suitably impressed, though Sam knew he connected the dots quickly and understood more than he let on (he had that in common with Jack). Daniel, who rather enjoyed orchestral music, visited them the most often, but he always asked first and they never had to give a reason when they said no.

And if new recruits asked about the music they sometimes heard drifting from the storage areas, whatever they were told kept them from exploring it further. And if supplies had to be shifted around a bit, and squeezed into available rooms ever so often in order to keep one small lab clear, no one complained. And if the lab table in that same lab went missing one day, leaving the lab floor wide open for use, well, it must have been needed somewhere else.

They had their lab, and the history they had and the history they were making. And they had the music. That was enough.

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