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Beauty in Skill

by Fig Newton
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Written for the 2009 [info]tealc_ficathon for [info]sela21k, who asked for Teal'c and Bra'tac, the team learning something about Teal'c, and something in Teal'c's past that will affect his future on the team.
All his life, Teal'c had seen style prized over substance. Gilt and gold and the glitter of crystal: these were most important. An object's usefulness came second to its beauty, for what god (false god) would be shamed by utilitarian ugliness in a palace of glory?

Yet here he stood, in an echoing, cavernous chamber of bare concrete walls. His staff weapon, with all its deadly elegance, was nowhere in sight; instead, he gripped a weapon formed of metal and plastic, a squat, mass-produced object. The crude mechanism propelled small hunks of metal outward, in a percussion of sound and recoil.

This was the weapon of the Tau'ri.

Primitive and ugly it might be in comparison, but Teal'c hefted the pistol in his hand and found it good.

Earmuffs. Safety glasses. He felt certain he did not need to wear them, but chose to accept them out of courtesy. Settling the protective headgear more comfortably, he took up the proper stance to sight on the target: a man-shaped paper outline fastened to the wall some twelve seshen distant. With a steady hand and a careful eye, Teal'c fired rapidly, one shot after another, ignoring the sharp jerks that shocked his hand with each recoil.

Blinking past the thunder, he regarded the target with a critical gaze. All six shots had struck, but only three would have been lethal. He would have to try again.

"You're getting better," a voice shouted in his ear, a bare instant after he sensed O'Neill's approach. Teal'c consciously controlled the instinct to lash out at the invasion of his personal space, and merely turned with his usual grace, removing the earmuffs so they could converse properly.

"Thank you, O'Neill," he said in reply. "But I must still practice with your weaponry before I can achieve proper competence."

O'Neill gave a one-shouldered shrug. "It's easy to fire a weapon. It's harder to do it with accuracy. You're way ahead of most people." He raised his voice to add, "Not that competence isn't a good thing. Right, Daniel?"

Daniel Jackson, fingers busy replacing the clip in his own pistol, glared at O'Neill from his position in the next aisle. "I've fired guns before, Jack. I knew how to handle them before I walked through the Stargate."

"True enough," O'Neill conceded. "And you've done fine. But I need you better than fine, Daniel. So get cracking."

Captain Carter peered around Daniel Jackson, relaxing her stance as she meticulously pointed her weapon at the floor. "He's improving, sir."

"Not as much as Teal'c," Daniel Jackson admitted. He pushed his safety glasses onto his forehead and fumbled for his regular spectacles. "I wouldn't have expected your expertise with the staff weapon to translate to firearms, Teal'c. That's not all that common, is it? Are the Jaffa trained to handle multiple kinds of weapons?"

O'Neill snorted. "Not from what we've seen these last few weeks."

"Stormtrooper effect." Captain Carter smiled. The answer meant something to O'Neill and Daniel Jackson, for both of them chuckled. Teal'c noted the term and resolved to ask for clarification at a later time.

"Seriously, though," Daniel Jackson persisted. "Teal'c has handled all kinds of weapons since he's joined us. But from what we've seen off-world, most Jaffa aren't even all that good at aiming a staff weapon."

Teal'c hesitated. He should have expected a question of this nature, although he would have thought an inquiry regarding his weapons skills would come from O'Neill or Captain Carter. Daniel Jackson's questions usually focused on culture rather than battlecraft.

And yet this was indeed a matter of cultural habit - only one that had been forced upon the Jaffa. Tek'ma'te Bra'tac had explained it to him, long ago, at a time when these Tau'ri had not yet been born.

"Apophis cares little for the skill of the rank and file. It is enough for him that their appearance is pleasing, and that they inspire dread."

"How, then, can the Jaffa fight his battles for him?"

"Consider, Teal'c. Most Jaffa see little actual war. They serve to keep slaves cowed on their master's planets. The staff weapon is used as an instrument of terror. Why else is it favored over the zat'nik'atel? The flame and destruction can cause great fear. So long as a warrior can fire a staff weapon, it matters not if his aim is poor. Does Apophis worry that one slave might be killed rather than another?"

"And those that fight against other Jaffa?"

"Their opponents are often as little trained. They are fodder, ranks to fill the battlefield. The Goa'uld care not if they die in great numbers. Only those that serve as Apophis' personal guard are given intensive training, Teal'c."

"Yet some Jaffa train themselves, Master Bra'tac. As you have been instructing me."

"You cannot be accepted into the elite ranks if you do not show promise, Teal'c. I believe you will do well. Always remember, chal'ti, that skill can carry you beyond the barracks and your peers."

…And it had. Teal'c stood here now, and despite the sometimes smothering weight that groaned between him and the blue skies of Earth, the intoxicating freedom of self-will was a prize he had never dreamed he would attain. He wished there was some way to tell Bra'tac of this great victory, but he could not. He did not even dare to mention Bra'tac to the Tau'ri, for once he spoke of his past - even a little - it would open the door to further questions. And even if he disregarded the risk that General Hammond might perceive his loyalties as divided, he had no desire to speak of his wife and son. Why relive the pain of knowing that he would likely never see them again?

He ejected the empty clip of his pistol, and regarded it for a long moment. "Many Goa'uld do not choose to train their Jaffa to fire accurately," he said at last in answer to Daniel Jackson's question. "There is often little need. Numbers and firepower are usually enough, even without skill."

"Unless you're a First Prime?" Captain Carter suggested, and her gaze flickered upwards to the golden symbol of shame on his forehead.

"Indeed," Teal'c said, and he allowed her explanation to stand. A spark of guilt burned in him at this denial of his mentor, but he could not tell the others of Bra'tac. Not yet.

He looked at these three human beings who had become not only his teammates, but also his companions - and, perhaps, also his friends. They, too, chose to hone their skills, to practice and train and seek to better themselves. It was, Teal'c thought, the greatest weapon of the Tau'ri: that need to reach higher, to go further, instead of remaining content with adequacy.

The Goa'uld were complacent. The Tau'ri clawed their way to triumph.

Teal'c knew which choice could lead to victory. And even if that struggle would prove arduous, he was pleased with the path he had taken.

With a nod, he took the pistol out of Daniel Jackson's hands, checked that the clip was loaded, and aimed at the distant target.

Bull's eye.
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