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Ice Breakers

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First published in New Worlds & False Gods 5 (2002)

 

It was an unusual celebration, Teal'c thought, where no one seemed to feel like celebrating.

The dinner out at a "restaurant" had been Captain Carter's idea. She had said the fact that everyone was back in their own bodies merited celebration, and Teal'c was not one to disagree. What was once a given had become a precious commodity indeed after Machello's device had switched Teal'c's and O'Neill's bodies. It had been disconcerting to be in a form other than his own, without a pouch or a Goa'uld larvae.

Almost worse had been seeing O'Neill in Teal'c's body, attempting kel'no'reem at the risk of both their lives. It was a quiet relief to be back where he belonged, but if Captain Carter wanted to celebrate, Teal'c would not protest.

The greatest concern had been Daniel Jackson's trade with Machello. It had trapped the archaeologist inside the old inventor's failing body with his teammates not even aware of the switch. Daniel Jackson had nearly died before they were able to restore him to his body, and Machello had passed on to the Afterlife soon after. He had since been buried with honor on the planet on which they had found him.

Daniel Jackson, however, did not seem to be so at peace. Even Teal'c, still learning to read human emotions, had seen that the young man was not himself since, and Captain Carter had privately shared that it was for that reason also that they wanted to go out to feast. Perhaps the celebration would lift Daniel Jackson's spirits. With that possibility, Teal'c was very willing to go. He, too, was concerned about their youngest team member.

Which was why they were now in a "restaurant," named O'Reilly's. Teal'c did not know what an O'Reilly was, but it seemed to involve the serving of lavish foods, most of which the Jaffa did not even recognize. He gazed with impassive curiosity at the passing servers with their various dishes, as the four of them waited to be seated, although why they could not seat themselves no one explained. There was much that Teal'c did not understand, but watching carefully often provided the answers.

"I don't know why we had to go out tonight," Daniel Jackson was protesting behind him, and Teal'c cocked a head to listen while he watched a server pass by with something that looked like a dangerous, shelled creature complete with claws. No doubt a delicacy eaten only by those clever enough to evade its attacks.

"Because you were starting to put down roots in your office, that's why," O'Neill responded, and Teal'c almost turned to examine Daniel Jackson curiously before realizing that O'Neill was no doubt exaggerating. Teal'c had seen no signs of the Tauri having anything in common with plant life other than the scents of some of the females, but Captain Carter had once explained that even those were artificial.

"Machello left a lot of notes behind him. If we could break his code, it could give us countless incredible new weapons against the Goa'uld. I'd say that's worth some overtime, wouldn't you, Jack?"

Another server passed by, this one bearing a large transparent mass that seemed to jiggle as he walked. Teal'c's eyebrow rose. It reminded him of one of the creatures of a water world he had been on while in Apophis' service, except this mass was not covered in eyes as that one had been.

"Yeah, well, all work and no play makes Daniel a dull boy."

Teal'c did turn at that to give O'Neill a questioning glance. Sometimes his leader's remarks completely confused the Jaffa. O'Neill just shrugged back. Apparently no one had wished to tell Daniel Jackson about the true purpose of that meal, so Teal'c would not either.

"I think we all just need a break." That was Captain Carter, often the voice of reason. "It's only dinner, Daniel, then I'll help you work on Machello's code."

Daniel Jackson's acceptance of that was reluctant, but at least it was acceptance. Teal'c saw Captain Carter and O'Neill trade a worried look when Daniel Jackson was not looking at them.

Another restaurant worker appeared and waved them to follow him to a table. Wary of being seated, Teal'c quickly occupied a chair, but soon saw that the host appeared interested in pulling out the chair of Captain Carter alone, no doubt another Tauri custom. Teal'c wondered if it was due to her sex, or to the fact that she was the instigator and head of this celebration.

They were each given a large book with few pages. "It's a menu, Teal'c," O'Neill leaned over to whisper, as if this bit of information was at all enlightening. But Teal'c knew enough of the written language of the Americans to understand that it was a list of the available foodstuffs one could order. He eyed it with modest interest, wondering which of the strange words indicated the creature with the claws. It would have been amusing to challenge one.

No such entry seemed to promise such entertainment, though, unless it was one of the many words Teal'c was unfamiliar with. Several even had accent marks unlike any American word Teal'c had ever seen. Perhaps the menu was written with the speakers of several languages in mind? He would have asked his teammates except the other three seemed deep in study of their own menus.

A server quickly arrived to ask them what they wished. O'Neill quickly ordered something called a "steak," with various vegetables Teal'c recognized. Captain Carter requested some form of fish, but Teal'c had had some of the fish of that planet and it had not been much to his liking. Daniel Jackson attempted to protest once more that he was not hungry before being overridden by O'Neill, who also ordered a steak for the archaeologist. Then four pairs of eyes turned to Teal'c.

He shut his menu and formally said, "I also wish to have a steak, with carrots and corn."

"How would you like that, sir?" the server asked.

Teal'c frowned. Knowing O'Neill, a steak was some sort of meat. "Cooked," he answered. How else would one have it?

O'Neill coughed next to him. "Well done," he said to the server, and Teal'c gave him a glance. Perhaps there were also more poorly done ways of preparing the meat. It was a good thing O'Neill knew to ask for such things, and Teal'c inclined his head in gratitude. The server collected their menus and left, presumably to bring the food.

"I said I'm not hungry," Daniel Jackson declared with an angry look at O'Neill.

O'Neill did not seem to notice. "Eat what you can, take the rest home to the dog," he shrugged.

"I don't have a dog," the younger man muttered.

Captain Carter stifled a grin and asked him a question about the translation, the two of them soon deep in a conversation Teal'c did not understand.

He took the opportunity to lean over to O'Neill. "What is 'steak'?"

"It's a kind of beef, Teal'c – remember the cows I showed you once? Good stuff. You're gonna love it."

He was always wary when O'Neill claimed that, as Teal'c's tastes and his leader's were often quite different, but at least he had been right about the meat. Surely it could not be too bad.

Another minute, and this time it was a fidgeting O'Neill who leaned over to Teal'c. "Carter tell you about the real reason behind this little party?"

"To raise Daniel Jackson's ghosts."

O'Neill's eyes widened. "Ghosts?"

"That is what Captain Carter said. Does it not mean to make him more cheerful?"

"Oh, spirits. It's raising Daniel's spirits, Teal'c. The last thing the guy needs is more ghosts." The last was a mutter more to himself than to the Jaffa.

"Indeed," was all Teal'c said. He didn't see the distinction himself and didn't personally believe in ghosts, but he would not argue what was most certainly another strange Tauri expression.

O'Neill seemed to take that as a question. "It's just that… he took the whole Machello thing pretty hard. You know Daniel – you can steal the guy's body and he still feels sorry for you."

"You believe he is saddened by Machello's death," Teal'c interpreted after a moment's thought.

O'Neill's eyes grew unexpectedly serious, and his voice lowered as if he didn't want anyone overhearing his admission. "I traded bodies with you, Teal'c, but I know you. Besides the shaving thing, which was not funny by the way, there aren't too many other people I would have minded less borrowing my body for a while."

He knew a compliment when he heard one, especially with his experience deciphering O'Neill's attempts. He inclined his head. "As I, O'Neill."

O'Neill grinned briefly. "Thanks, Teal'c. But, you know… this Machello creep just took Daniel over and left him in that wreck." O'Neill moved restlessly in his chair, wincing. This was not the sort of conversation he relished and the Jaffa knew it. "Bottom line is, it was a violation, and that hits someone like Daniel kinda hard. He just needs some time to get over it, forget about the whole body snatching thing."

"Trading," Teal'c corrected.

"Whatever. A guy doesn't just bounce back after something like that, you know? Besides the fact that for a while it looked like he wasn't gonna get back to his body before Machello kicked the bucket."

Now he was really confused. "I did not see a bucket, O'Neill."

"Figure of speech, Teal'c. It means 'bought the farm'… 'cashed in his chips'… 'went lights out.'" A grimace at Teal'c's expression. "Died."

"I see." Somewhat. Maybe. As much as he ever did with O'Neill, anyway.

"So… we just have to cut him some slack," O'Neill finally said, and sat back as if that puzzling last bit of advice had clarified everything.

Teal'c decided that perhaps it would be for the best to rely on his own observations rather than asking O'Neill for explanations. While the man was a willing teacher, if the topic was one he was comfortable with, Teal'c often came away more confused than when he had started.

Their food soon arrived, and while Captain Carter's fish looked unusually appetizing, Teal'c approved of the steak the rest of them received. It was indeed good, and done well as O'Neill had requested, and the vegetables were ones he knew and liked from the SGC cafeteria. Teal'c dug in with relish, as did O'Neill, and he saw out of the corner of his eye that even Daniel Jackson had started to eat.

Conversation was mostly suspended while they ate. Whatever an O'Reilly was, its food was far superior to that served at the SGC, although Teal'c would never have complained about the generous and interesting meals served on the base. He understood now, however, why Captain Carter had thought going outside of the base to eat might be good for Daniel Jackson's ghosts – spirits.

 

Daniel Jackson had only eaten half his steak by the time Teal'c took his last bite. O'Neill was already done and Captain Carter nearly so.

"For the dog," he said archly as O'Neill gave the archaeologist a pointed look.

Teal'c did not think he had a pet, as Daniel Jackson himself had claimed before, but perhaps he intended to give it to another creature, such as the one Cassandra now owned.

The server returned to take their empty plates and return their menus to them, "For dessert." This was also a Tauri tradition, of following a full meal with something sweet, perhaps as an aid to digestion. Teal'c had never seen any other good reason for it and usually skipped that custom back at the SGC, but with O'Neill ordering pie, the fruit-filled pastry Teal'c was familiar with, and Captain Carter something called a Tiramisu that she promised to share with Daniel Jackson, Teal'c also looked over the part of the menu O'Neill pointed out to him. "Brownie" he did not like and "eclair" he did not know, while "mousse" was some sort of creature, was it not? There was much meat in the diet of the Tauri. But "ice cream" – he had heard of that before from both O'Neill and Cassandra, although he had never tasted it. In the SGC cafeteria, one had to ask for it, especially as it altered its consistency when not frozen, no doubt the "ice" part of the confection, but Teal'c had never bothered. Making his decision, Teal'c ordered the ice cream, of the strawberry variety. He did not care for chocolate.

They fell silent while waiting for this last portion of the meal to arrive, and Teal'c studied his teammates. Captain Carter seemed to be doing her best not to look with concern at Daniel Jackson, who had sunk into what seemed to Teal'c to be a state of unhappy reflection. O'Neill was less covert about his scrutiny, frowning as he watched Daniel Jackson, who did not seemed to notice him any more than he did Captain Carter.

Concern was good, and he had never before been witness to such interest in the well-being of a fellow teammate and friend. Even friendships such as Teal'c's with his mentor, Bra'tac, had been based as much on respect and the bond of fighting side-by-side as on any real affection, though the older Jaffa had favored Teal'c above all his students, just as Teal'c regarded his mentor with sincere fondness.

But perhaps it could be overdone, too. While there seemed to be no shame in revealing one's true feelings within this group, Teal'c had never known Daniel Jackson to be comfortable as the center of attention or in sharing his pain. Even his loss of Sha're he had mourned silently, his grief coming out only in rare slips and brief admissions. Perhaps the dinner would cheer Daniel Jackson to some extent, but if it was dealing with that which troubled him, Teal'c had an idea that would come about through the young man alone, or at most, with one other of his friends. With their obvious interest, both Captain Carter and O'Neill seemed likely candidates.

The desserts finally arrived. Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson's Tiramisu seemed to be a layered confection that even Daniel Jackson seemed to savor. O'Neill had a pie that smelled of a pungent green and pink fruit Teal'c did not recognize but that the man also clearly enjoyed. As for the ice cream – it was cold. Teal'c considered the frosted bowl in front of him, the dessert already starting to melt as he watched. Picking up his spoon, he scraped cautiously at it and then took a careful bite.

His eyes instantly widened. Could this not be – surely it had to be – the food of the gods? Although the Tauri did not have the same gods Teal'c had been raised with… but he had never tasted such an incredible food. Sweet and cold, it melted its way down his throat. No one had told him of this great delicacy of human foods before?

A glance around the table showed none of his teammates to be particularly envious of his choice. Perhaps they had not tasted before of this ice cream? But he could not believe that – O'Neill had once mentioned that it was a popular dessert. Maybe then too much of it would dull its pleasure, like an overused sarcophagus?

He didn't care. The bowl was empty too quickly, and Teal'c motioned to the server as he had seen O'Neill do earlier before to order the desserts.

The man came over. "Yes, sir?"

"I wish three more of these," Teal'c indicated the dish.

His teammates all looked up. The server seemed surprised, no doubt at his reckless indulgence, but he nodded and left.

Daniel Jackson cleared his throat. "Uh, four bowls, Teal'c? I… guess you must like ice cream?"

"It is a most pleasing dish," Teal'c allowed, reining in his unseemly enthusiasm.

"Well, that's… good." That was O'Neill. "Junior takes care of the extra weight, too, huh?"

Teal'c gave his friend an impassive stare as he usually did when he wasn't sure what was meant. O'Neill just shook his head with a small smile, as did Captain Carter, and returned to his pie. Daniel Jackson looked as though he wanted to ask another question which, Teal'c considered, was perhaps a good sign, but then thought better of it and also resumed eating.

In the end, they didn't have to wait for him long. The other three bowls were also quickly consumed, to Teal'c's regret. He would willingly have eaten several more, but the server's and his fellow team members' responses indicated that this was perhaps not an acceptable thing to do. He consoled himself with the thought that perhaps the SGC would also have more of this wonderful strawberry ice cream.

As they rose to pay for their food and then leave, Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson discussing the division of the bill, O'Neill fell into step beside Teal'c.

"So what do ya think?"

"Ice cream is exceedingly satisfactory," he answered without hesitation.

"That's… good but not exactly what I meant…"

"I believe Daniel Jackson's spirits have been raised as much as they are able, and that he will return to his former self with time."

O'Neill turned to look at him, blinking once. "You know, Teal'c – you're a very wise man."

He bowed his head. "As I have found you to be."

His team leader leaned a fraction closer with a confiding grin. "Just don't let it get around, huh? I've got a reputation to maintain."

Teal'c stared after him, forehead creasing as he watched the whistling O'Neill sling an arm around Daniel Jackson's shoulder and say something to the archaeologist. Sometimes he didn't think he'd ever understand the Tauri. Or perhaps just Jack O'Neill.

 

As it turned out, the SGC did have ice cream, just not nearly enough of it. The cafeteria was open all the time in deference to the many different shifts of the SG teams, but after emptying the carton of strawberry ice cream they had on hand and then the far less satisfying, but still delicious vanilla ice cream, there was none left but chocolate. Teal'c tasted it with a grimace, but not even the wondrous properties of ice cream could overcome the strong chocolate taste he did not care for. It reminded him too much of the medicine his own mother had forced on him when he was ill, before he received his first Goa'uld larvae. Which meant there was no more ice cream left on the base. Teal'c mentally shook his head. How could they not acquire more of this incredible food when it was apparently so freely available?

Well, if there was no more to be gotten at the SGC, the only answer was to go where ice cream was available. And so Teal'c went in search of his teammates. Perhaps one of them would also be interested in such an excursion.

Captain Carter, as it turned out, had gone home for the night. Despite their early morning mission the next day, she often preferred returning to her home when possible and coming back to the SGC in time to leave in the morning. O'Neill had chosen to stay on base – Teal'c had the impression that "home" meant less to the team leader than it did to Captain Carter, or even Daniel Jackson. Perhaps, Teal'c reflected, this was because his wife and son were no longer there. Teal'c's own "home" on Chulak meant far less now that Drey'auc and Rya'c were no longer there, and Drey'auc was no longer his wife.

But O'Neill was already asleep and Teal'c did not wish to wake him. Which left Daniel Jackson. Teal'c knew better than to try the archaeologist's assigned quarters on base, instead heading for his office.

As expected, light shone from beneath the door, and Teal'c promptly knocked as he'd been shown how to do.

"Come in."

The voice was tired. Surely he had not woken Daniel Jackson? But opening the door revealed the younger man to be sitting at his desk, engrossed in examining Machello's data pad, stopping to make notes on a pad beside him as he went. He glanced up at Teal'c as the Jaffa entered, his eyes looking fatigued indeed.

"Daniel Jackson, it is I. I had thought perhaps to ask you if you would wish to seek ice cream with me outside the base, but if I have disturbed you–"

"Oh, no, 's okay, come on in." Daniel waved him in. "I was just working on this code… I don't think I'm getting anywhere with it, though," he sighed.

"Machello did say it was difficult to break," Teal'c reminded him. He had come inside, but stood just inside the door, hands loosely held behind his back.

"Yeah, try impossible. Some codes just take a long time to break, but I don't think I'm even headed in the right direction." He took of his glasses and briefly massaged the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Some codes aren't breakable, you know – the Navajo Codetalkers were never figured out, and one-time encryption pads are supposed to be pretty secure, too. All these incredible inventions at our fingertips and we may never figure out how they work."

"Then we will continue to search, Daniel Jackson. There are many worlds, and many allies to be found against the Goa'uld."

Daniel Jackson stared at him. "That still doesn't mean we should ignore these resources, Teal'c. I mean, Machello gave his life to come up with these tools in the fight against the Goa'uld, and the instructions for all of them are here, right here," he tapped his fingers hard on the notepad. "If we can't figure them out, he'll have thrown away his life for nothing."

Teal'c's eyebrow rose. "Machello chose to give up his life in order to return the one he had stolen. I do not believe that is 'throwing away'."

The archaeologist looked at him suspiciously. "Have you been talking to Jack?"

"I have talked to O'Neill frequently," Teal'c answered, for once unwilling rather than unable to understand. He did not know the archaeologist as well as Captain Carter or O'Neill did, but apparently he was the one who Daniel Jackson had chosen to confide in this time, and if so, Teal'c was more than willing to listen and try to help.

Daniel Jackson shook his head, slumping back down in his chair. "I'm sorry, Teal'c, it's just… I really respect the guy. He lost his wife, even his planet – I don't know if I could have made the sacrifices he did, and if we ever figure out how his inventions work, his work could make a real difference in our balance of power with the Goa'uld. But… it's hard to get over what he did to me, too. I know that sounds… selfish, but–"

"It does not," Teal'c said almost sharply. Daniel blinked in surprise at him. "Machello's sacrifice made him worthy of much honor, but it did not give him the right to take the life and body of another. That is the way of the enemy he sought to defeat."

A long moment, then Daniel Jackson took off his glasses again and dug the heel of his hand into his eyes. "I guess you're right. I might even have let him 'borrow' my body for a little while if he'd asked, but to just take it like that…" He shuddered at the memory.

"Indeed, it was a most… disturbing experience," Teal'c agreed, also remembering.

Amazingly, Daniel Jackson smiled as he replaced his glasses. "That's right – you and Jack switched, too. I'd have loved to have seen that."

Teal'c's lip actually curled in displeasure. "He would not let me shave my head."

The younger man started to cough, perhaps to cover what sounded suspiciously like a laugh. Teal'c looked displeased but inwardly he also smiled. If Daniel Jackson was capable of being amused, Teal'c had no doubt he was recovering from the ordeal; the young man had weathered much worse already in his short life. Nor had Teal'c any doubt that Captain Carter and O'Neill would be patient with him until he did. And besides, the memory of O'Neill's expression of horror was one that brought Teal'c amusement as well – if later.

"Uh, what was that you said about ice cream?" Daniel Jackson finally recovered his composure to ask.

"There is no more available in the SGC. I have come to ask if you would be willing to go in search of a new supply."

Daniel Jackson's eyebrows climbed nearly to his hair. "After all the ice cream at the restaurant, you ate all we have here at the base and still want more?"

"It is an excellent food," Teal'c said almost disapprovingly. The archaeologist made it sound as if he were pursuing some sort of frivolous indulgence.

"Well, uh, sure it is. I just didn't realize it was that good. But, yeah, I'll take you if you want." He stood, reaching for his jacket and then hunting around on his desk before he came across his keys. His gaze lingered only a moment on Machello's notepad.

"All the wisdom to defeat the Goa'uld will not help us if we forget who we are," Teal'c said solemnly.

Daniel Jackson's eyes flickered back to him with a start, then warmed as he smiled. "I know you're right, Teal'c, I just… need a little time for that to sink in."

Teal'c nodded once. "We will willingly… cut you slack, Daniel Jackson."

The man grinned. "You have been talking to Jack, haven't you?" He put his jacket on and opened the door, waiting for Teal'c to go through.

"As little as possible," Teal'c answered truthfully.

Daniel Jackson actually laughed at that. "I know what you mean. So, when you're talking about getting more ice cream, how much are we talking about?" They headed down the hall towards the elevator.

"I have in excess of three hundred American dollars given to me by General Hammond."

He could barely hear Daniel Jackson's mutter as the elevator doors crunched shut. "Oh, boy…"

The End