~2100 words, for shadowserenity, pinch-hit of a pinch-hit to the prompt: Teyla. Queen. (PG) Fabulous beta services provided by the lovely dogeared!
It was Teyla who eased Rodney through the first days of his convalescence. Whenever he woke, for however long he managed to push back the dulling anaesthesia of drugs, he would find her sitting beside his bed, Kagaan in her arms, ready to enquire of his needs and to entertain him with gossip from the gateroom and the labs. Rodney was pathetically grateful – he could barely move for the bandages around his abdomen, for the muscles and skin knitting back together as he lay in bed, and with little else to do he worried incessantly. At least with Teyla close by, with Kagaan dozing happily in the folds of the bakra sling she wore across her chest, he could reassure himself that they'd brought her home, that John and Ronon would finish the mission and Michael would not live to inflict more chaos on their family-of-sorts.
When he moved back to his quarters, still tired and in pain, too ill to work but too bored to rest, Teyla brought him books – Athosian texts with large, hand-inked letters and colorful illustrations. At first it was enough to simply flip through the pages, picking out the words related to Ancient, studying Athosian star charts and field guides to bridge construction that employed a reassuring knowledge of trigonometry, even if expressed in phrases Rodney didn't understand. But eventually it became frustrating, to see the graceful arcs of Athosian calligraphy, to trace the span of sentences and never know what they said. He realized, waking up one morning to blink at the stack of books by his bed, that he'd never said hello to Teyla in her own language, never sung a made-up song to Kagaan with words the boy would one day claim as his own. He asked Teyla for help when she next stopped by, bringing him a morning cup of vuna root tea that she swore would make him stronger, and he drank only because she asked, but it proved hopeless – her words were translated by gate technology the moment they left her mouth.
Rodney quickly added this new, annoying quirk of programming to his mental list of 'Why the Ancients Were Total Assholes.' It was, he agreed, handy to travel the galaxy by stargate and understand everything that was said – it certainly made it easier for Sheppard to offend the local leaders' daughters, and enabled the team to negotiate for imak root without mastering the (alleged) seventeen syllables of 'imak' in native Hi'ichga'akian. But why the hell couldn't they turn the damn function off?
"It is quite all right, Rodney," Teyla said (or did she?, Rodney wondered bitterly), laying a hand on his arm. "I am touched by the gesture, but it is not necessary that you learn Athosian for my sake. Or Kagaan's."
Rodney shifted slightly – a move that might, just might, have involved stamping his good foot against the floor – and jabbed the air with an angry finger. "That is complete and utter . . . it's just bullshit," he finished, screwing up his mouth with distaste. "There are how many native speakers left?"
"Perhaps a hundred," Teyla replied, straightening the angle of the textbook open on Rodney's lap. "A few less? If there are hybrids on other worlds . . ."
Rodney sighed. "Yes, yes." John and Ronon were off again, chasing down a lead on another laboratory, two teams of Marines in their wake, each of them armed to the teeth and hoping against hope there were survivors they could save. "Still, if Kagaan's to grow up knowing who he is and – I mean, of course he'll know who he is, I just – I mean . . ."
Teyla tightened her fingers slightly, gripped his arm then released it. She was smiling at him. "Rodney . . ."
"I want to learn. So that I can – he should have his own language wherever he . . . it's just the right thing to do, okay?"
Teyla inclined her head, nodding slightly. "Then we will work out how to circumnavigate the 'gate technology," she agreed. "Perhaps there are language banks in the database, recordings – like the whales?"
"Whales," Rodney sighed, narrowly avoiding the urge to smack his forehead with his hand. "If they recorded the whales and not human speech I'll . . ."
Teyla laughed, softly. "Come," she said. "We will go talk to the anthropologists." She grinned at him. "I will talk to the anthropologists and you will endeavor not to explode."
He thought it over. "Fair deal," he said, and pushed himself up from the couch very slowly, accommodating the lingering stiffness in his leg, the pain that still radiated from the scar on his side.
He found the entry that changed everything four days later – a chapter on the vocabulary of leadership and Athosian social organization. With the linguists' sound files now loaded onto his computer, he could hear almost every word he wanted to understand, and he recorded his own pronunciation, compared the rise and fall of his phrasing with the schematics the computer could supply. It was an unorthodox way to learn a language, perhaps, but something about the orderly comparison of schematic against schematic, a measuring of hertz to express some sort of learning - it was reassuring, familiar, a scientist's compass into a world of impenetrable vowel sounds and consonants that backed up behind his teeth.
"Ashna," his computer offered.
"Ashna," he repeated, and grinned with pride when he saw that his pronunciation was exactly the same.
Textual translation software was standard on every Lantean machine, and he fed words from his book into the laptop, sent them through a set of algorithms he'd tweaked once or twice, waited for the English meanings to pop up on his screen. Ashna, Devaat, Mehnit, Eshon, Emar, G'tare, Tasaan, Ushf'd – the words sprang up in Athosian and English; queen, queen, queen, queen, queen, queen, queen, queen. Rodney frowned and ran the command again – queen, queen; the result was the same.
But it was wrong, he knew it – there was distinction in Athosian culture between the leader of all people and the harvest director, between the healers and the priests, between their world and that of the Wraith. That his computer could do nothing but offer him queen as a word to encompass it all – a word associated in his head with Britain and currency and a hierarchy that had never had a thing to do with merit; with hive ships and life-sucking aliens – he ran the command a third time, and growled when it offered up exactly the same results.
"It's ridiculous!" he complained that evening when John came and ate dinner in his room. It was a habit they got into after they brought Teyla home and Keller dug four bullets out from under his skin; after he got out of the infirmary but couldn't yet move too far from his bed. "She's – how can they just . . . queen?"
John licked his spoon and shrugged. "I dunno. She's in charge. That's pretty . . . queen-like."
"That's not the point," Rodney quibbled. "Okay. Well, it's sort of the point. It's a point. But think about it – the only word we have for her position is exactly the same word we use to describe the leader of her people's sworn enemy. Our sworn enemy."
"Hmmm." John set his pudding cup aside.
"Hmmm?" Rodney asked, impatient.
"Lots of queens on earth. Rulers, I mean. It's not like they got along."
"But none of them were life-sucking space-vampires," Rodney said witheringly.
"Not that we've figured out yet," John agreed. "I'm just saying – why's it bothering you so much?"
"Why's it . . ."
"I mean, all seventeen fruits from Bitna are 'apples' right?"
"Technically, according to the linguists, yes, I mean, I thought my suggestion of calling them fruit one, fruit two, fruit three was quite inspired, but . . ."
"So why do you care?"
Rodney opened and closed his mouth, wanted to say – this is different; this isn't fruit; this isn't Catherine the Great vs. Isabella of Spain; this is monarchy and the Athosians have nothing like it; and ashna is a beautiful word.
"Because it's Teyla," he said suddenly, and blinked, looking up, a little dumbfounded.
John raised an eyebrow and smiled indulgently. "See, now that big old brain of yours is getting somewhere," he said.
"Oh," Rodney offered. "Oh. Wow. Really?"
"Really," John drawled, and passed Rodney half of his chocolate. "Did you think you were just learning Athosian because you were bored?"
"Yes?" Rodney said.
John looked at him, and laughed just a little. "Rodney," he grinned, and flipped open his laptop so they could play computer golf.
"When I say words to you in Athosian, what do you hear?" Rodney asked two nights later, walking back and forth at the foot of Teyla's bed, Kagaan in his arms.
"Should you be walking so much?" Teyla asked. "Your leg is still weaker than usual and . . ."
"It helps to loosen it," he said quickly. "The question."
Teyla nodded and looked as though she were gathering her thoughts. "I hear perfect Athosian no matter what you say," she conceded. "But when your pronunciation is perfect, when you grasp a phrase and utter it just as you should . . . I hear your voice, unmodified. I do not hear the translation technology's approximation of your words."
Rodney blinked at her. "So I'm getting some things right?" he asked.
"Yes, much," she smiled "Your greetings, your goodbyes. Your words of affection for Kagaan."
"Oh." Rodney colored a little, looking down at the little man in his arms, almost asleep but fighting as much as he could, fingers opening and closing against Rodney's shirt to keep him awake. "And – and the technology makes my voice sound different?"
Teyla stood, nodding. "Your own voice is warmer, perhaps . . . rougher?" She reached for Kagaan, hushing him as he groused, transferring him to his crib. "I like it very much."
"Do you hear – " Rodney paused, picking at one thumbnail. "When we call you leader, when we call the Wraith leaders Queens – do you hear the same word?"
Teyla tipped her head. "Yes." She paused with a hand on Kagaan's crib. "The intonation is different but the word is always Queen."
Rodney sighed at the intractability of the 'gate technology. "Write it down," he said. "I only hear the English word and . . ."
She nodded, moved across the room to her laptop and typed in the word she meant.
"Devaat," Rodney read. "Oh – oh, no, no, see that's wrong, you're not . . ."
Teyla watched him fondly. "Not?"
"Not like that. You're – " He closed his eyes for a second. "Ashna," he said, opening them. "Ashna and Eshon."
Teyla's surprise was visible. "Where did you – "
"I'm sorry, I didn't know that the gates were translating it – "
She held up her hand. "There are no variations in your language for – "
He shook his head. "No."
"Oh, Rodney." She smiled weakly, hand to her heart. There was a long, quiet moment while she struggled to find words. "I confess I thought it strange that you would link us, all of you, to the workings of the Wraith with the words you spoke, but I – I presumed, assumed that we are alien to you, that you see a continuity that we do not, that – "
"No, no!" He waved a hand urgently. "No, see, that's what I . . ." He took a step forward. "Ashna. Eshon," he said carefully. "That's who you are. That's what we mean, even if you hear . . ."
Teyla blinked, eyelashes fluttering for a second as she composed herself, as she straightened her shoulders and looked him in the eye. She stretched out a hand and placed it over his heart. "Cherished," she said, and the word sounded different in his ears, Teyla's voice a half-pitch lower, richer, with an elegance he had never heard before. "Cherished," she repeated.
"You've been learning English?" he asked, covering her hand instinctively with his own.
"There are certain words," she said softly, smiling at him. "Certain words that I am not sure translate, and . . ."
Rodney swallowed and smiled at her, knew she could feel the quickening beat of his heart. "The Ancients suck," he murmured.
"They do," she laughed, and when he leaned in to close his mouth over hers, he liked to think he could feel language dancing over his tongue, that in this, at least, there was perfect understanding, and he pulled her close, Ashna and Eshon, felt her fingers twist into his jacket, and needed no translation at all.