Word Count: 900+
Author Notes: Thanks to astrogirl2 for beta.
Written for ivanolix, who requested Teal'c's sense of humor, Sam, Vala.
Teal'c rolled his shoulders, working out a small knot, and took the moment to evaluate the situation. Two team members were absent. Supplies were running low. And Vala Mal Doran's eyes gleamed with mischief.
Standing in the open center of Colonel Mitchell's living room, Teal’c wrapped his fingers firmly around the crowbar from Carter’s vehicle. He squared his shoulders. Meeting her bright, curious gaze, he turned his attention to the container at his feet. Despite Vala's reassurances, Teal’c remained reluctant; Qetesh’s former host possessed a flair for dramatics. The crate merely sat on the braided rug, a wooden rectangle as high as his knees, unremarkable save for the one who presented it.
It was of a suitable size to contain a multitude of stolen goods. Or a body.
"Go on," Vala urged again. She hugged herself, smiling. "Open it."
Mitchell and Jackson were en route with further liquid refreshment, leaving Sam and Teal’c to look after the most… exuberant member of the team. And Carter just shrugged, flapping a hand encouragingly. Teal'c released a small sigh. Carefully, he edged the pointed end of the crowbar between two thick slats. One after another, he pried off the crossbars, leaving only a latch securing Vala's contribution to the ritual.
One last glance at her barely restrained glee, and Teal'c resigned himself. He unhooked the latch, lifted the lid and narrowed his eyes, muscles tensing.
Nothing sprang out at him. No garish lights shone in his face. No raucous music blared into his ears.
Teal'c reached cautiously down into the straw packing, probing through stiff yellow stalks. A fingertip brushed something hard, roughly tube-shaped. Teal’c froze, nearly imperceptibly. A weapon, perhaps… or a thing he had heard far too much about during Vala’s recent discovery of internet pornography. He refused to reveal his dismay. Her expression of lip-biting anticipation turned to a pout, and as quickly to a challenge.
Carter stepped closer, dropping a hand on Vala’s shoulder. Her voice, when she spoke, was mild. “What is it, Teal’c?”
He finally drew forth the object: a slim length of wood hollowed and pierced, with raised carving at its open ends and along the barrel. "A flute?" He turned it in his hands, relieved, and surprised at Vala’s thoughtfulness. And then surprised that he had forgotten; her mask was as well-forged as his own.
Carter’s fingers were no paler than the wood itself as they drifted along the carvings. "It's beautiful, Vala. Where did it come from?"
There was a fragrance to the flute, not sharp, but soothing, familiar. "This is from Chulak," Teal'c said, and breathed deep. The scent rose from the oil, with a strong undercurrent of the wood's natural odor. He glided a fingertip along the smoothed lip. "Thank you.” He inclined his head for two, three heartbeats.
Vala bounced over and hugged him. Teal'c smiled over her head when she tightened her grip, his ribs in no way threatened. A shift of his hip separated them, and then Carter embraced him in turn.
“Have you considered,” Vala mused, tilting her head thoughtfully at the table littered with torn paper and emptied trays of food, “that if ever we were stranded on a hostile planet…” One finger dragged through the creamy remnants of potato salad. "…We could exchange Cameron's kitchen prowess - among other things - for our freedom." She eyed Teal’c with raised eyebrows, leering cheerfully while sucking her liberally smeared finger clean.
Teal'c turned her bodily away from the table. "Sit," he suggested, and dropped her into Mitchell’s worn recliner. Sam laughed as the other woman lithely twisted to drape across the leather arms of the chair instead. Vala slung her hands over her head and winked up at Teal’c.
“I don’t think Cam’d find life as a chef on an alien planet too exciting.” Carter snagged the last beer bottle from the melting ice in the cooler by the table, settled on the sofa near Vala and patted the cushion beside her. “Can you play?” She nodded toward the flute as Teal’c joined her.
He placed his fingers along the holes in barrel of the instrument. “No.”
“Can’t play?” Vala peered at him, her face upside-down, loose hair spilling over the recliner’s arm. “What about your grand Jaffa warrior traditions? Singing of great battles and victories, lamenting those too old to continue fighting?”
“The second we did, on Chulak. We honor the names of warriors who have lived beyond their prime, who have spent their lives in service. But I do not know how to play an instrument.”
“Then perhaps together, we can learn.” Vala rolled until she could look at Teal’c straight on, humor in her eyes mingling with a sudden solemnity, her lips still quirked up at the corners.
Teal’c inclined his head once more. “Perhaps.”
Sam watched them fondly, leaning back to spread her arms across the back of the couch. The beer dangled in one hand. She turned her head as light washed across the living wall, accompanied by the distinctive rumble of Mitchell’s car pulling in. The sound of slamming doors was followed by Mitchell’s and Jackson’s voices bickering comfortably.
Sam turned back to Teal’c. “Are you sorry you let us throw a birthday bash for you?”
He looked at her, relaxed beside him, at Vala, sprawling in the recliner, at the two men burdened with barbecue and beer, trying to enter the doorway at the same time. “I am not.”