For: calantha42 in the tealc_ficathon, who requested: Teal’c and Sam, off-base Earthside and hats; no kid!fic, superdepressing angst or S9.
Word count: 2700
Season: 6-7 (vague spoilers for ‘The Changling’, ‘Threads’ and ‘Death Knell’)
Authors notes: alpha/beta props to rydra_wong, who is my hero and a great sounding board as well as grammar guru. Thanks also to taselby who heard the first draft of the first 500 words and helped jumpstart the rest.
Perchance to Dream
When Teal’c started to dream, he believed he was hallucinating again, consistently, and troublingly. He could not fathom the inconsistencies of his dreams, did not understand the weakness of his own mind that allowed him to walk through them without challenge, without shouting out his defiance that he did not believe, would not believe, would not break.
Once, he gained enough presence of mind in a dream to stop Major Carter, hands on pliant shoulders, grey dappled concrete walls giving way to circular iron gates barring him from the sky and trees and air, and tell her he required her assistance. But she would not speak to him, either to confirm or deny the reality of the situation, or to help. He woke with a sore throat from choking on his frustration, shouting to no response.
He was dubious when Doctor Fraiser suggested company as he slept, as his teammates could mentor him through his dreams and nightmares, but he followed her instructions and initially it was Jonas who was there, wanted to be there for him.
Jonas made sense, since he also lived on the base. But he was too tentative for Teal’c and was not a comforting presence.
O’Neill, who wasn’t quite the same since the loss of their teammate and friend, would have been a natural choice to talk to about how to retain his defenses against nightmares that threatened to overwhelm him from within.
But O’Neill wasn’t quite the same since the loss of Daniel Jackson.
It was Major Carter who was easiest to reach out to. Who made it clear she would have stayed on base anyway.
Who didn’t focus so completely on him that he felt guilt added to the myriad of conflicting loyalties, strange emotions about weakness and independence and tradeoffs and death.
Who didn’t imply that she felt like an intruder by leaving soundlessly after he fell asleep; they had shared a tent for too long for her presence to alarm, even when his own dreams did.
Who didn’t restrict herself to the single, uncomfortable chair in the room when she fell asleep. Instead, he would find her claiming a corner of the mattress for her head in a posture he’d found her using at her workbench, or sprawling across the meditation pillows on the floor with his extra blankets as though they were merely off-world and she had rolled out her sleeping bag. He considered requesting a larger mattress, so that she might sleep more comfortably, but could not find the words to frame such a request.
Jonas raised his eyebrows once, seeing her bring her laptop with her, implying that she oughtn’t to give Teal’c the impression that he was interfering with how she preferred to use her time.
But Teal’c knew, though he never spoke of it to Jonas, that Samantha left the laptop unopened more often as the months progressed.
He was certain the others noticed a difference in his calm, because they quietly stopped asking how he’d slept, if he was adapting. He was relieved, because if they had continued to press into his evenings and sleeping habits, they would have observed that his nightmares were becoming irrelevant, and he could not explain his physical ease with a woman who was not his wife.
She learned to kel no’reem with him, though she preferred to sit on much softer, fluffier cushions than a Jaffa would ever admit to using, even the women; over time, he learned that the amusement he felt about that fact would not interfere with peaceful slumber.
He still had nightmares. Sometimes when Samantha was unlikely to work late or on a night she was unaccustomed to spending with him; he called her on the telephone during those times. She would wake and make a cup of herbal tea and tell him the story of an old movie. Sometimes one that she found on her television and he could watch as well, sometimes a story from memory.
Teal’c disliked telephones. If one could not at least see the person one was talking to, it was difficult to believe that the slightly metallic voice in ones ear was a living breathing being. Watching a television screen helped, though. Made Samantha into a narrator for the story, and elevated her to a status in his mind previously reserved only for Daniel Jackson: a benevolent if unseen being, willing and capable of helping in times of need, and ever-present. A quiet breath of air: invisible, but at your side nonetheless.
When Daniel came back, Teal’c stopped calling Samantha, and they saw less of each other in the evening times. He stayed awake at night, unable to imagine what she might have said to him, had he called her.
Teal’c felt that Daniel Jackson needed the resource of being able to call on each of them, and knowing how hard Samantha had mourned his initial loss, he thought the freedom from other obligations would be a gift.
He learned later that he was wrong.
He sat with her, late at night, imperfectly witnessing her nightmares in the infirmary for the second time in as many months. Knowing that she was unaware of his watchful presence, but realizing the impractical importance of it regardless.
He remembered the value of waking up in the safe presence of another. Knew she had been alone on a ship with only her mind for company, knew the fear of not being able to trust your surroundings, your own thoughts. He stood watch for her.
He wondered what her nightmares subjected her to and then felt shame at delving, even in his mind, so personally into the privacy of his friend where he had no right to be; Teal’c restricted his thoughts to the public as much as was possible, and realize that their interactions had not ventured beyond it in recent memory. He believed that this was right, and followed all the rules of his culture and hers, and yet it brought him only sadness to consider it. He was unable to discern the cause.
She awoke, as much as her medications would allow, each flutter of her eyelids walking her back across the veil of sleep for a moment; she spoke, but in the slurred way of one conversing with hallucinations, and in words unlikely to be remembered.
“I’ve never chosen,” she said, “never chosen a partner. Never chosen well. I should try.”
Her ability to meet his gaze, to hold it, was deceiving, he knew; she would not remember the words he spoke to her now. “Nor have I,” he said, “I was not permitted to do so.”
“We should,” she said after too long a blink, “A lover should be the one you want, not the one who comes to you and won’t go away.”
Teal’c agreed with a deep bow of his head, remembering the mandate from Apophis to marry, the decision of Drey’auc decided upon at the direction of his master and the head of the town, the foreign rules of the Tau’ri, his removal from his son, his people, and the culture he knew. How much was choice, and how much order heaped on order until there were no choices left, and no understanding of how to cope with them when they came?
Teal’c began to suspect that he was not the creature of action that he would like to claim to be; rather, he existed in reaction to his surroundings only. It was not a flattering self-image.
He dreamt he was standing in the house gifted to him by Apophis as the armies still loyal to their God burnt it to the ground. He thought only that he was glad his family was not in the house, but he was disturbed and betrayed that his team did not come to his aid.
He called Samantha when he awoke. The clock he did not want in his room reflected 12:52 in green light off the grey walls.
“Carter,” she answered, three questions implied under the word.
“Major Carter.” He reverted back to her title; it had been so long since she’d insisted he use her name.
“Teal’c, you okay?”
“I am unable to achieve satisfactory rest,” he said, the weight of handling many nights of it alone dampening his tones.
“What have you tried?” she asked, the sounds of covers rustling a white noise behind her words.
“I have called you on the telephone,” he stated, and patiently waited out the pause the statement elicited on the other end of the metal wire.
“Have you checked what’s on T.V.?”
“I have not,” he replied, and made no move to do so.
Over the staccato buzz of channels changing, he listened to Samantha breathe. “I found Top Hat on AMC,” she said, startling him with the hot sound so close. “Fred Astaire? Ginger Rogers? Guaranteed to either take your mind off it or put you to sleep.”
Music with a faintly metallic band sound funneled through the earpiece on his telephone, the sounds of Major Carter’s breathing less distinct.
“A most agreeable guarantee,” he replied, “however, I do not believe I can receive the AMC channel.” He could, however, look at the ceiling and try to imagine the pictures behind the story if Samantha would relate it.
He heard a soft huff through the line. “I really don’t know if this is going to translate. You might have to see it to believe it.”
“What is occurring?”
“Well, she complained that he was keeping her awake, and now he’s singing to her.”
“Is Ginger Rogers a very young child?” Teal’c asked, trying to make sense of it.
“Nope, grown woman. He has a crush on her, actually, though she’s resisting his advances.”
“It would seem unwise to upset a woman one wished to court by keeping her awake at night.”
“She’ll get over it, it’s in the script.”
In the background, Teal’c heard staccato, bright shots, inconsistent with an automatic weapon, but rhythmic nonetheless. “Is this a movie set in wartime, Major Carter?” he inquired.
“No, why do you ask?” she replied, a little startled. “Oh, he’s tap-dancing, that’s the sound.”
Teal’c could think of no appropriate response to such a statement.
“You’ll have to see it for yourself, Teal’c.” He was certain she sounded as though she were smiling. “Come over, I’ll make tea.”
The airman who dropped him off never left him on his own, so he was prepared for them to wait for the nod from Major Carter before pulling away from the house. He also knew that she would have called ahead of his request for a driver and a car, to make sure none of the nightshift guards balked at the lack of authorization.
Becoming aware that Major Carter had most likely altered her attire knowing she would need to address an airman was the first time Teal’c considered whether having his own transportation would be preferable.
Her eyes met the driver’s over his shoulder, drifted sleepily over the deserted street and stuttered over his head before she smiled in greeting.
“I could not procure a top hat on short notice,” he stated, and considered whether he should further inform her as to the nature and name of the ‘bowler hat’ he was wearing, but after a brief time decided that late nights were for silence, preferably. She smiled widely and opened the door, gesturing with her arm in welcome.
Tap-dancing, Teal’c decided, was a most unintimidating display, impressive though the speed and agility was, particularly that of Ginger Rogers, who, Samantha pointed out, was performing the steps in most impractical shoes and skirts. Teal’c was undecided about whether it was an effective courting technique, to require a partner to dance complicated steps in conditions far from ideal, though he had used a similar technique as a training exercise.
“Dancing is as much about communication as the skill, though, Teal’c,” Samantha said, her head propped comfortably on a cushion, “leading and following and how much your partner will ask of you and what you will do in response.”
“As with anticipating an attack in battle?”
“Less opposition to each other, they’re working together, not trying to win.”
Teal’c disagreed, as Ginger Rogers was most clearly wary of Fred Astaire, even if she did seem to tolerate his spontaneous need to break out into song, and a battle in which one partner was constantly defensive seemed most unflattering.
“And if Ginger Rogers does not wish to dance?”
“She could’ve said no, I suppose, but it’s Fred Astaire, and everyone wants to dance with Fred Astaire.”
“I do not.” He meant it fairly sincerely, though he believed that Samantha’s broad statement probably referred to women more than all creatures in the universe, but she did not continue the conversation and instead just smiled at the television screen in response as she sipped her tea and used one foot to tuck a blanket around the other more securely.
Teal’s greeted the end of the movie with a raised eyebrow. Samantha said, “See? It all works out according to plan.”
“What plan is that, Major Carter?” he asked, feeling sleep dull and slow.
“The mid-century, boy meets girl, white picket fence, happily ever after plan,” she replied, “it’s not that bad as plans go.”
“It is not one you would choose for yourself.” He meant it as a statement, but it sounded more like a question.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about that.” Samantha muted the television and sunk a few more inches into the sofa as the credits rolled black and white dappled light up her face. “It would be nice to have something normal in my life, someone waiting for me at home, someone I could count on, I think. I think that would be comforting.” Her eyes focused blankly on the ring of liquid his teacup had marked on the coffee table, and frowned slightly; Teal’c did not believe she was upset about the table though, ironically named as it was for a beverage she did not consume, and returned to his own thoughts.
He remembered how his wife and son had waited interminably for him to come home and he had failed them, or at least Drey’auc; he thought perhaps there was less comfort in someone left behind than she supposed.
“Can you sleep?” she asked after a time, eyelids low and nearly in a sleeping posture on her sofa. She appeared most comfortable.
He nodded once. “I will call for a driver.”
She snorted, “Don’t be ridiculous, I have a guest room, and we’ve done this before.” She raised herself up, loosely folded the blanket over the arm of the sofa and offered him a hand up. Teal’c surprised himself by leaning on it most companionably.
“We have not,” he told her as they walked down the hall.
“Close, I guess, in a different venue.” She opened the door to the guest room, indicated a number of provisions around the room and stepped back. “I’m really glad you called tonight, Teal’c. I’ve missed…this.”
He acknowledged her from behind a pile of clean towels with an inclination of his head; he did not trust himself to say more surrounded by soft linens and clean light. He wanted to ask her how she dealt with her own nightmares, she who reached out to rub his shoulder now because she was too tired to hold back. He knew from past conversations, though, that she denied remembering them, did not try to, did not feel they were worth the honor.
And yet she respected his nightmares, and his wish to acknowledge them; did not challenge his inability to predict her, or name their camaraderie.
He dreamt, lying between unwrinkled cotton sheets, that he tap-danced down the corridors of the SGC in a top hat and Jaffa military boots with a hat stand for a partner; the hat stand was leading. O’Neill stood with Ry’ac and Bra’tac, who cocked their heads to the side in time with the tap of his boots and turned as one to flee screaming down the halls. In his dream, Teal’c wanted to smile, but could not.