Genre: Geekfic, Sam|Daniel friendship, a bit of angst, a bit of humour.
Beta: Nikto. By which I mean, no one. Special thanks do go to my Russian professors, from whom I get a number of the anecdotes used within.
Continuity: Seventh-seasonish, doesn't really relate to any episode.
Prerequisites: Know about the Russians.
Summary: In learning Russian, Sam learns more than a language and realizes that language barriers aren't the only barriers out there.
Disclaimer: Y MGM-a ect' SG-1. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not of Aleksandr Pushkin, except, of course, where they are. While I have made every effort to avoid mistakes regarding Russian language and culture, this fic should not be viewed as an authoritative source. Fic should not be used as travel brochure. Adjectives may decline without warning. Questions, comments and chelovyeks can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!
The strangest linguistic request Daniel ever received from Sam was five years in, when she asked that he translate select parts of the Principia Mathematica into Ugaritic.
They'd been on P13-874, a planet which until a few centuries ago had been under Ba'al's control. They'd been trying to bring the population out of a local dark age, and at one point Sam's patience had snapped with a pair of priestesses and she'd decided to educate them at whatever the cost. Jack had eventually cut the mission short to turn it over to the anthropological and diplomatic teams, but not before Sam had inadvertently founded an academy of natural sciences.
The strangest request of the week came when she wandered into his lab after hours and asked, very politely, that he teach her Russian--and he had no idea what prompted that.
He'd agreed, of course--it wouldn't be the first time he'd performed unofficial teaching work for the SGC, though usually the subject was Goa'uld. And SG-1 tended to act as if they constantly owed each other favors anyway.
Before he left he ordered copies of every Russian scientific journal he could find, because he knew to teach an unfamiliar language in a familiar one. He used the summaries to learn some new vocabulary, some easy, some hard. "Proton" for proton, "elektron" for electron, "uskoritel zaryazhennuikh chastitz" for particle accelerator.
The next day he came in with charts on noun declension and verb conjugation, half a dozen strategies for parsing and constructing sentences, and every college flashcard he could find. After disposing of his work for the morning he headed down to her lab, and was surprised to walk in and see Sam taking meticulous notes between two copies of Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground.
"What translation is that?" he asked, setting down the journals. She looked up and flashed him the cover, and he shook his head. "That one isn't literal at all."
"So I'm finding," Sam said, waving at her dictionary.
"So, out of curiosity," Daniel said, pulling up a stool, "have you been making a study of this?"
"A bit. Off and on." She closed the books, sliding them to the end of the table. She took a breath, enunciating carefully. "No, ya nye khorosho izuchala." But I haven't studied well.
"Actually, 'izuchatz' has to be used with a direct object," Daniel said, pushing the first of the charts at her. "In that sentence, I'd just leave out the subject and verb entirely--'No, nye khorosho.'"
Sam shrugged. "You see what I mean."
"I dunno. It's a hard language, especially to pick up on your own...." he snagged one of her books. "And Dostoyevsky isn't exactly a primer."
He looked over the rims of his glasses and Sam shifted on her seat, appropriately chastised. "Trying to run before I can walk?"
"A little." He pinched the air. "Chut-chut. Let's start on grammar."
Sam laughed. "Jumping into the deep end before I can walk?"
"We'll start with easy grammar. And we'll get to metaphors tomorrow."
Over lunch in the commissary, Daniel finally asked how the issue had come up.
"A bit ago I got an email from a Doctor Vasili Naryshkin," Sam said. "Nuclear physicist. Probably one of the most brilliant people I know."
Daniel's eyebrows raised appreciatively.
"We met while I was in the Academy," Sam went on. "Exchanged a lot of letters. We lost touch after I went to work in the Pentagon, and I didn't hear from him again until a few weeks ago."
"How did he find you?" he asked.
"I don't know," Sam admitted. "There was a paper I coauthored with Dr. Lee that just cleared the Pentagon; as far as I know he got his hands on that and tracked me down."
Daniel partitioned the base-issue corn deftly with his fork. "I can honestly say that's more effort than any of my college friends ever went to."
"Vasili is interesting," Sam said. "And he insists that a proper grounding in Russian culture is essential to my survival."
Daniel had to laugh, at that. "And that it's superior in every way to American?"
"Not quite every way."
"Right." Daniel nodded. "Well, I can do Russian culture. As long as you don't want borscht."
A few days later he arranged to treat her to a Russian dinner. He arrived at her house with a copy of Dom Durakov--a movie he'd only seen half of, but remembered enjoying--a bag of groceries, and a bottle of Khortitzya vodka that Colonel Chekhov had given to Jack, which Jack refused on principle to drink. He stashed the vodka in the freezer and went to make dinner.
Three minutes in--he'd chucked a handful of potatoes into a pot on the stove--Sam walked in and demanded to see his recipe, which amounted to scrawled notes on a legal pad. "You have no idea how to cook," she decided, with a certain awe in her voice for someone who'd lived alone as long as he had and still hadn't learned. "Here, let me help."
Of course, cooking was neither's forte, and while Sam was quoting the physics of specific heats and Daniel was quoting folk wisdom and the culinary complaints of Baba Yaga's daughters they managed to boil the potatoes into a dry mush and leave the watermelon cubes out just long enough that the edges turned rubbery. It didn't matter. Dinner was wonderful.
Daniel showed her how to drink in true Russian fashion--a ritual that involved a lot of food-sniffing ("If you're in a bind, you can smell you sleeve instead," he informed her) and table-banging, and over the course of the evening forgot the movie entirely. By the time he checked his watch next it was late.
Daniel excused himself, stood to leave, and paused in the doorway with his keys in his hand. "Um," he said.
Sam blinked at him owlishly. "You're drunk, aren't you?"
"Na ushakh," he confirmed, pinching air to indicate a little. "Maybe I should call taksi."
Sam graced that with an amiable snicker. "Po-russki?"
"English would probably be better."
"Luchye." Sam nodded.
Daniel nodded. "Da."
Sam kept laughing.
Daniel turned around, stuffing his keys back into his pocket. "Shto?"
Sam cleared her throat, feigning gravity. "Maybe you should crash here. At least until you're not mixing up your languages any more."
Sam patted the cushion. "Come on. I'll bring you a blanket."
Daniel woke the next day when Sam dropped a plate of toast on his chest. "The eggs are in the kitchen," she said.
"You know," Daniel said, groping for his glasses, "traditionally, Russian breakfasts were dishes set aside from the night before--"
"I think the only thing we didn't finish was the vodka," Sam said. "I don't think Colonel O'Neill would approve if I brought you in drunk."
"Actually, Jack might." He picked up the toast. "...which is terrifying in and of itself," he muttered.
"We have a couple potatoes left," Sam said.
"Trivia. Not suggestion!" Daniel called, but Sam had vanished into her den.
Daniel finished his breakfast quickly and made unnecessary apologies as Sam drove him in. (They were going offworld anyway, and Daniel's Cheyenne Mountain Complex parking spot was directly beneath a tree with a suspiciously well-developed sparrow population. Leaving his car in Sam's garage was preferable by far.) "I really don't usually do that."
"What--get drunk, or speak in tongues?" Sam glanced over, raising her eyebrows innocently.
"Either, really." He grinned sheepishly. "How drunk was I?"
"Not bad. I've seen you worse."
Daniel pushed his glasses back up on his nose. "I think that's reassuring."
Sam smiled enigmatically.
Daniel inspected her from the corner of his eye as she navigated Colorado Springs. There was something a bit off about her--something impossible to see unless one'd spent years one step down from living with a person. "Something on your mind? Aside from Russian?"
"Not exactly," she said, but she said it unconvincingly. "I'm just waiting on an email."
"Vasili," she corrected. "I was expecting one yesterday, but I still haven't gotten one. I emailed him again this morning--"
"Well, if he's anything like you, he's probably gotten distracted," Daniel said, repositioning his arm on the window rest.
"Ouch," Sam said. "Pot calling kettle. At least I notice when my clock stops."
Daniel laughed and waved it off. "In my defense, I did notice something was up when it stayed four-thirty for upwards of three articles."
She took one hand off the steering wheel to punch him in the shoulder.
They went out on assignment--routine reconnaissance--and Daniel drilled Sam on conversational basics any time Jack went out of earshot. She went into it with the same dedication she devoted to all her work, but her focus was off--she mixed up poka and privyet three times before they bivouacked for the night, and Daniel joked that Russians wouldn't know if she was coming or going.
He was drilling her on salutations and fixed phrases while they set up tents, and when he looked up Jack was giving them a look dirty enough to imply that they'd run over every dog he'd ever owned. There was a tense moment.
"Izvenitye," Daniel said, and Sam stifled her laughter one laugh too late. Jack did not accept the apology.
The next day Sam was up before anyone but Teal'c, who had drawn the early-morning watch. Daniel woke to find her boiling water, precise spoonfuls of instant grounds already apportioned into cups. "Coffee?"
Daniel glanced surreptitiously behind him. "Kofye," he said.
"I heard that!" Jack called, emerging from his sleeping bag. He approached the fire, clearing a patch of dirt with one foot. "Of all the languages in all the world," he grumbled, "you had to drag her into that one."
"You're right," Daniel said, "French or Spanish would be far more useful for a member of the SGC."
"I already speak French," Sam pointed out, pouring their water. Jack stopped her halfway, dumped cool water into his cup from his canteen, and drained the mug in a go.
"How about Goa'uld?" he said.
"I speak some Goa'uld."
"I don't mean whatever Jolinar dumped into your brain," Jack said, "I mean actual Goa'uld."
The distinction evaded every non-Colonel at the fire. Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "The language spoken by the Tok'ra is the Goa'uld language," he said.
Jack shrugged. "Can't have a conversation in it."
"Because she's not fluent, not because it's not real Goa'uld," Daniel replied.
"I bet the SGC would pay for you to learn Goa'uld," Jack said, rifling through his pack and pulling out a packet of dehydrated eggs.
"Pay who?" Daniel asked.
Jack glanced up. "You. Teal'c. Set up a nice teaching business on the side." He thought for a moment. "You're not actually charging anything, are you?"
"No, I'm not," Daniel said, folding his arms. "Why? Want in?"
Jack turned back to his eggs. "Oh, nyet," he said.
Two offworld days meant that they came back to Earth at fifteen hundred Mountain Time, just in time to see SG-4, the token Russian team, off. Sam told them all Do svidanya, and from the looks they exchanged at least half of them approved.
After the showers and the routine medical exam, Sam didn't stay long. She told Daniel that she was taking off early, made sure Jack could drive him by to pick up his car, and vanished.
SGC personnel were allowed to cut their days short after coming back from offworld assignment, but Sam never took advantage of the fact. Especially not when she had a weekend or vacation coming up regardless. Really, most of the time she stayed late, eager to write down or set up something she'd worked out in her head over the course of the trip.
Later in the weekend, Daniel headed over to Sam's house again to show her how to prepare tea in the Russian style. This time his supplies-of-choice were a paper bag of Russian tea, small jars of jam and honey and an electric samovar roughly the size of his torso. He maneuvered them out of his car in what was frankly a testament to his sense of balance, and took the liberty of setting up on the island of Sam's kitchen.
"You know," he called, "if you do enough traveling on Earth, it's almost universally useful to develop a taste for tea. I used to hate the stuff," he said, scouting out an outlet, "until I went to Egypt."
Sam emerged from her den, eyeing the samovar warily. "Why's that?"
"National drink of Egypt," Daniel said. "Visit anyone, especially anyone of importance, and you'll be expected to drink."
"No," Sam said, "I said what's that."
"Oh." Daniel turned to the device--a large metal urn with a spigot at the base and a teapot on top. "This is a samovar. Russian tea-maker. Literally a 'self-boiler,' from samo which means 'same' and varitz which--well, guess?"
"To boil," she said. "Varu, varish, varit--"
Daniel nodded along. "Exactly."
"That looks a bit complicated just for tea," she said, approaching and looking over the pot as if expecting a reactor inside.
"Tea is complicated," Daniel said.
"Everything Russian is complicated," Sam said under her breath.
Daniel paused, giving her an odd look from the corner os his glasses. "You all right? You look a little preoccupied."
"Waiting on an email," she said.
Daniel's eyebrows raised. "Still?"
"He has an odd schedule," Sam deferred. She cleared her throat. "So. Samovar?"
Daniel paused, watching her. She didn't seem like she wanted to talk about it. "You make a strong tea concentrate in here," he said after a moment, tapping the teapot, "and heat water down here." He indicated the urn. "Then you mix them together to drink."
"Isn't it simpler just to brew the tea with enough water the first time?"
"Maybe," Daniel said. "But not as Russian."
He set to work. Sam watched, taking mental notes as he put what looked to be an excessive amount of tea leaves into the small pot, filled the urn with water, and plugged it in.
"Learned how to do this in Russia," he said. "Woman named Galya Ivanovna. She insisted I should have one of these." He patted the side of the urn. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a samovar past Customs?"
The water came to a boil and he filled the teapot, replacing it on the top. "Taking a while," Sam remarked.
"'Pospeshish--lyudey hasmeshish.' Rush, and you'll be laughed at."
"How do I know you're not making these up?" Sam asked.
"Ask SG-4?" he suggested.
"Siler insists they can't be trusted."
Daniel chuckled. "Just because they told him that Russians use Russian Metric and he'd need to get new tools."
"He was going to have them specially made," Sam said. "It took three of us to convince him it was a prank."
Daniel shrugged. "Call Colonel Chekhov?"
Sam laughed. "And when Colonel O'Neill stops by to ask why we're causing international incidents over Russian proverbs?"
"Tell him 'Minutochku' and run," Daniel said in the direction of the samovar. "Or you could ask Doctor Naryshkin."
"Vasili," she corrected again, but quieter this time.
He turned around with the teapot in hand. Sam's attention was elsewhere. "Zavarka?" Daniel asked.
She looked up again. "What?"
"Zavarka," he said, indicating the pot. "Tea concentrate. You dilute this with the kipyatok, or boiled water. How strong do you like your tea?"
"Strong," she said.
"You know," he mentioned, pouring the zavarka into a mug, "if you drink this straight it has narcotic properties."
"Not that strong," Sam said.
He added water, hot from the spout, and handed it over. "Honey? Jam?"
Sam sniffed the steam, and looked up incredulously. "Jam?"
He nodded, holding up the jars.
"In the tea?"
"In the tea."
She watched him for a moment longer and took the jar, keeping an eye on him as she spooned a small lump into the teacup. Daniel tried to look innocent, which shouldn't have been so hard given that he was. When she was done, he poured himself a cup and headed for the couch.
"What, you're not going to have any?"
Daniel pointed at his cup, dark and unsweetened. "It tastes more like coffee this way."
That earned him a small laugh. "You're hopeless."
He sat down, leaving the samovar to keep itself hot, and cleared a space for his tea on the coffee table. He was in the process of transferring a stack of backissues of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences onto a stack of backissues of Popular Mechanics when he noticed a half-sheet of printer paper lying on the latter. "What's that?"
Sam followed his gaze, and snatched up the sheet. "Nothing," she said. "...Vasili mentioned something. I just looked it up."
He tried to catch a glimpse of what it is as it disappeared into a pocket. "Poetry?"
"Pushkin." She looked up, and her face was taut. "Essential to Russian culture, right?"
"Very," he said. "What poem? Pushkin's stuff is pretty advanced--"
"Ya vas lyubil; lyubov eshchyo, buitz mozhet," she recited, and underneath the American accent lay a familiarity with the words that hurt to hear. He wasn't sure how, but with a week of lessons, a grammar book, and a dictionary, she'd picked up the poem and read it and understood. I loved you, once--perhaps, still love.
He looked into his tea, then up at her. "Sam, what's going on?"
She looked at him, and her eyes were deep and wet and still. She wasn't crying, but she wasn't serene. "What do you mean?"
"I thought you were corresponding with a scientist," he said.
He shook his head. "I was ready to teach you what you'd need for scientific discourse."
She shrugged. "Some people say that science is an art."
"Notes from Underground? Pushkin?"
"Our conversations tend to the--" she began, and no word in either language fit.
He knew what she was saying, and didn't know what to say. He shifted a stack of verb charts off the middle cushion and moved down one, tacitly offering support.
"He's one of the most brilliant people I know," she said, leaning into his arm. "He always was. I recommended he be assigned to the SGC, under the terms of our treaty, but the Russian government wouldn't clear him. He's never subscribed to the popular politics."
"He wrote a few articles--I don't think they were ever printed anywhere. 'Obuikatz Znachyeniye v Nauki Primenyeniye'."
"The Search for Meaning in the Application of Science," Daniel translated.
She nodded. "It was good. You should read it. He sent me a copy--" she swallowed. "Translated, unfortunately."
"You wanted to read it in Russian," he said.
"I wanted to meet him halfway. He's--opinionated. 'I think, not only that Russians should learn English,'" she said, laying on a thick Muscovite accent. "Americans should learn Russian, so we will understand each other.'"
Daniel smiled. "I think I'd like him."
"I think you would," Sam agreed. "...he hasn't been doing well recently."
"That's what was wrong on the mission," Daniel said.
She pulled out the poem, turning it over. Perhaps, still love is not extinguished in my soul. The paper crinkled between her fingers, and she dragged one fist across her mouth. "Russia has the second highest per-capita suicide rates in the world," she blurted, and her voice caught. He looked down at his hands.
"When was the last time you spoke with him?"
"I haven't heard from him since we left," she said. "He would have fit in here."
"He would have found meaning here," Daniel translated again.
Neither of them said the last line: He never will.
Sam tried to smile, folding Pushkin's poem neatly down the center. "We're good at keeping secrets," she said. "Aren't we?"
"Too good?" he asked.
She tried to smile again, and looked like she was taking a shot.
Daniel exhaled. "You know, when I was studying Russian, my professor--you know that old urban legend about eskimos having a thousand different words for snow?"
"My professor told me that Russians have a thousand different words for sadness," he said. "I mean, language--it's all about what you know."
"What you need to know," Sam said.
He looked over at the samovar, at a loss. Tea didn't fix these things, and he doubted vodka did. Professora Koslova had told stories of soldiers drinking themselves to unconsciousness and falling asleep on the snow, of old Russian babushkas who would find them and take them in. Nothing so pragmatic as sitting over tea and missing someone. Ya vas lyubil.
"I'm sorry," he said, eventually.
"Ya tozhe," she answered. Me, too.