Rodney hadn't meant to insult Sam's hair. It was hardly an insult, anyway. All he'd said was that she looked better with the shorter style. (He might have actually said something more along the lines of how she was too old to run around Atlantis looking like a hippie, but he hadn't expected to be confronted with blonde flowing locks in her office of all places.)
Teyla had been there, and Sam had turned to her and said, inexplicably, "McKay was a musical prodigy when he was a kid."
Teyla had smiled that smile of hers that she probably thought looked mysterious and serene, but secretly reminded Rodney of the look Jeannie used to get on her face right before she threw up. Jeannie threw up a lot when she was a kid. She still does, for all he knows.
And that was how Rodney got sucked against his will into the Day of Renewal celebration, or--as Rodney liked to think of it--Teyla's Athosian Extravaganza.
Teyla did not think Doctor McKay was entering into the preparations in the proper state of mind for renewal.
She was beginning to wish that observation of the jana'Dekya did not culminate in a musical performance. Or at the very least, that custom did not dictate inviting close friends from other cultures to take part in the concert with traditional music from their own worlds. At least Rodney's part of the performance would only be a small portion of the concert.
It was wrongly done to force him to participate as a punishment. She must remember never to cross Colonel Carter herself. She would take care not to let it slip that she privately agreed with Rodney--the short hair Colonel Carter had worn on her brief visit of a year ago had been much more becoming.
Presented with two choices, Rodney had taken option C. There was no piano anywhere in Atlantis or New Athos--thank God--and he refused to embarrass himself by trying to learn an unfamiliar Athosian instrument.
But, like the mafia, once you were in the jana'Dekya there seemed to be no getting out, so Rodney agreed to lead a mixed Athosian and Lantean orchestra in their interpretation of Earth music. How bad could it be?
Few peoples in the Pegasus Galaxy revered music as much as the Athosians. A musician in the family was considered a great blessing; children often learned the fifteen-tone scale before they learned their first word. To be a part of the Celebration of Renewal was a great and rare honor--something every Athosian hoped for from the time he first picked up his instrument.
Three musicians came to Teyla and quit when they heard Doctor McKay would be leading them.
Three more resigned after the first rehearsal.
One took a swing at him. Rodney was looking the other direction at the time; Teyla managed to catch Naro's arm before he connected.
"No," Rodney said. "It's supposed to be legato. Le-ga-to. Are you playing staccato just to torment me? Be honest."
"I'd like to staccato your--"
"Jinto," Halling said.
Rodney glowered at the smart-mouthed kid. He'd fire him if he wasn't the best hurstoka player he had.
It was supposed to be simple; Rodney had done his part by choosing an easy piece that could be performed by a small chamber-style orchestra. He'd even tried to fit it into the theme of renewal--the Spring Concerto by Vivaldi. It was straightforward, uncomplicated, easy as pi.
Rodney prided himself on being a reasonable and fair man. He realized most of his orchestra would be unfamiliar with the string concerto form, so he'd made allowances for the new style as well as the Athosian instruments.
The violin section would be played on the hurstoka, a small box-like instrument with two strings--not a bad substitution; they sounded fairly similar. The violas were replaced with gersas--thick flexible reeds that were played with bows and sounded a bit like saws. The cello was an actual cello--Miko had brought it as her personal item. She wasn't half bad, surprisingly.
Rodney had tried to get Sheppard to play his guitar as part of the basso continuo section, but the louse had refused with a smirk, saying he was busy with the new Marines and had no time to take part. Personally, Rodney doubted Sheppard actually new how to play the thing at all. The guitar had been sitting in his room for the last three plus years completely untouched as far as Rodney could tell. It was probably just to impress girls.
He was pleasantly surprised when his ragtag orchestra had picked up the melody and counterpoint fairly quickly. The Athosian instrumentalists had proved reasonably adept at emulating the section parts as played to them by the Lantean players, and each musician, whether from Earth or Athos, had managed to get through their own part with marginally acceptable levels of success at least once. So their problems now in fitting it all together were clearly caused by willful incompetence.
"You, soloist," Rodney said to one of the Lanteans playing an Earth instrument. "You call yourself a violinist?"
"Actually, I call myself a biochemist," Simpson said.
"Jinto, you're soloist now. Simpson, get back in the section." He took a moment to glare at her. "Miss one more F sharp and he replaces you in the chemistry department too."
Teyla admired three things about Rodney McKay. They were, in descending order of her regard, his passion, his single-minded dedication, and his sea blue eyes. When Doctor McKay got a hold of a problem he was like a dloxa with a bone--grabbing on tenaciously and shaking until he had found the solution or collapsed from exhaustion, or both.
She got a small and secret thrill out of seeing this on Atlantis, where the consequences could be life and death, and only Rodney's quick brain stood between her adopted city and disaster. She could seldom be spared in times of crisis herself, but there were rare occasions when she was able to slip into the labs and watch Rodney work for a few precious moments. She enjoyed his rapidly skipping hands--like tlosweh birds during mating season--and admired his furrowed brow and loud voice. She found them... comforting.
What was exciting in Atlantis was out of place on New Athos, however. It was impossible to withdraw the invitation to take part in the jana'Dekya, yet it was also untenable to allow Rodney to continue in the manner in which he had started. The Day of Renewal was sacred to her people. Rodney would be renewed whether he liked it or not.
She began by informing him that all participants were required to engage in silent meditation every day. It was not true, but it should be, so she felt justified in the falsehood.
Her attempts to get Doctor McKay to relax through self-reflection were unsuccessful. She gave up after his impatient twitching knocked over a ceremonial candle for the third time, nearly setting fire to her favorite purple half-shirt while she was still in it.
After that she tried making him drink Charin's special tea--guaranteed to mellow a giant qenartu. He resisted, but Teyla had long ago found that she could get Rodney to agree to almost anything if she smiled at him in just the right way. Normally she was hesitant to use this profound power, but this was a special case.
Rodney made faces while drinking the tea, of course--scrunching his eyes in a way that was rather cute, despite what John said--but the important thing was that he agreed to have a cup every morning.
Teyla was so busy with the jana'Dekya that for a few days she had no time to check on the effects of the tea. When she finally had a moment to drop by the labs, she found Rodney inhaling it from an oversized mug.
"This stuff is fantastic." He grinned at her, eyes bright. "I can't believe I never tried it before. Tastes like an old sock, but it gives me twice the energy of coffee. And it's good for me, right? I can drink it all day; it's really going to help me get through rehearsals." He turned away to yell at a junior scientist in a particularly vicious manner.
Teyla did not understand; with the amount of tea he was drinking he should have been relaxed to the point of coma. Would all the Earthers be affected by this way by the tea?
She sighed. As in so many things, it was probably just Rodney.
"Allegro, allegro!" Rodney could feel his face turning red. "There's a reason the movement is called the 'Allegro.' Why is that? Because it's supposed to played allegro. I thought musicians would have more sense than the morons in the labs, but clearly I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Let's take it from the top."
"The top of what?" Jinto asked.
Rodney tried to answer, but all that emerged from his mouth was a stifled moan. Would it be wrong to strangle Jinto? Really, in the great scheme of things?
"Okay, that's enough tea for you." Sheppard emerged from the darkness like a pointy-haired ninja.
"Agh!" Rodney jumped. "Don't do that."
"Seriously, McKay. I'm cutting you off. How much of that stuff have you drunk?" He took the travel mug out of Rodney's hand and sniffed at it.
Rodney blinked at him. He looked a little fuzzy. More so than usual, Rodney thought.
"Why don't we sit down for a while?" John was using his most soothing voice.
"Okay," Rodney said.
Sheppard led them to a stone bench. Rodney saw Teyla look at them with a sad face. He was sorry she was worried about his orchestra's readiness. He'd get back to them in a minute.
"Teyla's pretty, isn't she?"
Sheppard looked at him. "Yes. She is."
They sat in companionable silence for a moment. It was nice. But there was something very important Rodney had to know.
"Hey, Sheppard," Rodney said.
"Do you actually know how to play the guitar?"
Teyla had had enough.
It did not matter that no one had ever been dis-invited from the jana'Dekya in the long history of her people. There was, as the Earthers were fond of saying, a first time for everything.
Renewal was not a 'pretty yet pointless word,' as she had overheard Doctor McKay telling his orchestra. It was about new beginnings. It was about celebrating the fact that another year had gone by and your loved ones had not been culled. It was about reaching into yourself and bringing forth your best, knowing your time was short.
Rodney had not entered into the jana'Dekya in the proper state of openness, and things had only gotten worse. She had known it was wrong from the beginning and had let adherence to tradition control her actions.
No more. She was going to remove him from his position as orchestra leader. He could watch the performance from the audience.
She strode to their rehearsal area. They were on a break, it seemed. Good. No need to delay telling Doctor McKay of her decision.
"Teyla!" Jinto rushed up to her happily. "I am taking five!"
"Not now, Jinto." She had to speak to Rodney before she lost her nerve.
"Did you hear us?" He was bouncing. "We sounded great. Best we have ever been. Doctor McKay barely even yelled."
Teyla looked closely at him. His eyes shone as he cast a gaze back at Rodney that was full of... admiration?
"Jinto?" she asked. "Do you enjoy playing for Doctor McKay?"
"Sure." He grinned. "He makes us better than we thought we were. Is that not what renewal is about? Even Naro sounds less like a dying bird."
"You do not mind the yelling? The insults?"
He shook his head. "My father says the hurstoka lessons were not a waste of money after all. He has promised me a pet thiji."
There was the sound of clapping hands. Teyla looked up to see Rodney several feet away waving his baton impatiently.
"Oh!" said Jinto. "My five is took."
He dashed back to the musicians. Teyla listened to them play the first movement. Perhaps Jinto was right about Rodney bringing out their best, despite all the yelling--or perhaps, because of it. It was certainly true of the scientists on Atlantis.
She watched Rodney's flying hands as he guided the musicians, and felt a sense of lightness and well-being. Suddenly Rodney looked straight at her--right in the middle of the 'Pastorale'--and grinned. It made him look younger than Jinto.
She found herself grinning back, and felt her stomach flutter a bit in a way that had not been familiar for some time.
There was more than one kind of renewal, it seemed.
Rodney hadn't been this nervous since his first doctoral defense. He'd gotten through that by picturing the committee in their underwear. He couldn't do that with the jana'Dekya audience because, well--Teyla was there, in the third row.
His orchestra had been given the honor of closing the concert since they were performing music from another world, so he'd been able to watch nearly the whole show.
Teyla had sung a haunting solo in ancient Athosian. Rodney wished she'd sing more in Atlantis. Maybe she would now, after the Day of Renewal. Jinto had told him it was the first time in several years their people had felt safe enough to celebrate.
Halling and three other men had sung several songs in four-part harmony about--as far as Rodney could tell--the joy of sex. It was like the dirtiest barber-shop quartet ever. Rodney could feel his ears pinking--he'd never be able to look at Halling the same way.
There were gersa solos, and a sort of a bell-ringers choir, and finally after what seemed like forever, but was probably only an hour, it was time for Rodney's orchestra.
They had to wait backstage for the last group to finish. Rodney could tell his musicians were nervous--Jinto kept wandering to and fro aimlessly, stepping on people's feet.
As the sounds of the audience applauding the last group rolled through the amphitheater, the orchestra as one suddenly turned to Rodney. He could tell they wanted some kind of pep talk.
"Um," he said. "Don't suck."
Teyla weaved her way through the milling crowd of musicians backstage, trying to make her way to Rodney. She had had a sudden urge to speak to him before he took the stage, to offer her encouragement, or her appreciation--the impulse was not clear in her mind. She had seen his wide blue eyes as he had left the audience to go prepare, and had felt the need to do something.
She would wish him luck, she decided, as she saw the orchestra leaving to take their places. Rodney lingered behind a moment.
He turned to her abruptly and the words froze in her throat. She placed her hands on his shoulders in preparation of touching foreheads, but at the last second she stood on her toes and kissed him quickly on the lips.
They made it through the first movement with only six errors, not bad at all, Rodney thought.
The 'Largo' movement was not so much largo as andante, but he didn't care because Teyla had kissed him.
She probably didn't mean anything by it, he mused during the 'Pastorale.' It was just a teammates thing, or maybe she was impressed by his baton. He forced himself to concentrate.
Jinto made it through the tricky part near the end and they were home free, and then the crowd was cheering, and darn it if he didn't feel a little renewed.
Then it was over and his orchestra was being pulled away by friends and family before he could congratulate them. It was just as well. Too much praise made people complacent.
Sheppard insisted on shaking his hand, which was rather endearingly old-fashioned of him--though Rodney would jump in front of a Wraith's feeding hand before he ever told him that, and then Teyla was suddenly in front of him, her eyes shining.
"You did well, Rodney," she said.
"I, um, liked your song," he said because his brain had spontaneously emptied and that was all he could think of to say.
She smiled at him, which did not help his brain at all, and might have depressed his breathing as well.
"Rodney?" She sounded worried. "Are you all right?"
What the hell. This renewal thing was supposed to be all about starting fresh, wasn't it? He took a breath.
"Your song," he said. "It was very pretty. And also very sad. Would you, maybe, teach it to me sometime?"
"You wish to learn the song I sang tonight?"
"Yes." He nodded. "If you'd like to teach me."
She was looking at him with a puzzled frown. "Oh God." The thought suddenly hit him. "I didn't understand the words. It's about cullings, isn't it? And Wraith? And um, sad things. Fires. Floods. You don't want to be reminded. I'm sorry. I understand."
He couldn't seem to stop babbling. His hands flew around like they had minds of their own; Teyla was watching them with what seemed to be fascination.
"You don't have to teach me the song. I don't know what I was--"
"Rodney." She caught one of his hands.
"Um," he said intelligently.
"My song is called 'Krea Duna' in the old language. It tells the story of lovers separated by a cruel fate."
Lovers. Of course. Now she would think he was coming on to her. Which he was. Badly. But she was still holding his hand.
"It is a lovely night," she said. "Perhaps we could take a walk. I can teach you the song along the way."
He swallowed. "That would be... nice."
"Shall we?" She tugged gently at his hand.
"You kissed me," he said, which was not an answer.
Teyla looked up at him thoughtfully. She tilted her head slightly, then balanced a hand on his shoulder and slowly leaned up. He was more ready this time.
The kiss was soft and experimental. After several seconds Rodney suddenly remembered his body needed to breathe and pulled away with a gasp.
Teyla smiled up at him in a way that seemed almost shy. "We have all been through much. The Day of Renewal is a time for new beginnings, do you not think?"
It wasn't a rhetorical question, he realized. She was waiting for an answer. Rodney couldn't get the words past the lump in his throat, so he leaned his head down and touched her forehead in the Athosian manner.
She must have understood, because she laughed, like music. He found himself grinning back at her as they broke the embrace.
"Now. The 'Krea Duna' has three parts, but no one ever sings the third."
She tugged at his hand again. He followed.