Stephen had done his best to give Selena a happy birthday, despite the grief that had become his constant companion. She had insisted on helping him prepare the pancakes which had become part of their family birthday tradition, grinning as she poured far too many chocolate chips into the batter while she chattered excitedly about their planned day trip to the zoo. His bright-eyed fairy child–small for her age but bursting with energy, brimming over with enthusiasm for each new experience, for each new lesson that her parents had provided her, magical or otherwise—had been a pretty picture that morning, her face, hands and nightgown dusted with flour, so that he'd had to work a quick, easy charm to get her (and the kitchen) properly tidied up.
After the zoo, they had a little picnic at the Bleecker Street Park and she had played on the swings and jungle gym long enough to tire her out for an afternoon nap—and when she awoke she had told him that she'd dreamt of her mama and the last trip they'd taken to Hadeeth, when the three of them had walked through the fields of beautiful flowers her mother had loved (those were Teyla's cherished talat akeylum, Stephen had realized painfully, as a fresh bolt of sorrow pierced his heart). Selena had looked to him earnestly, asking him when they could visit those fields again, and he'd had to fight against his voice breaking as he reminded her that the way to Hadeeth was barred to them for now, but he would take her there someday as soon as it became possible. If ever, he had sighed to himself, though he wouldn't say it aloud; Selena was far too young, and too filled with her mother's sweetness and eternal optimism, to have such hopes permanently dampened.
Stephen had allowed her to decide on birthday dinner (pepperoni pizza) and type of cake (strawberry short-cake with a mountain of whip cream coated in rainbow sprinkles) and afterwards they had watched her current favorite Disney movie, Moana; she had sung along with every tune, even jumping off the sofa to act out her favorite parts as they played out on the screen. Though his grief dwelt in the depth of his bones, his daughter's joy was the sweetest sort of balm–truly the best comfort he might have on this first of many birthdays they would celebrate together, forever changed now that Teyla was gone.
He had been contemplating for weeks if tonight was the night to share with Selena a very special, very dear tradition of her mother's people. She was still so young, but even at the age of four she seemed already to have inherited a good share of Teyla's intuitive wisdom and astonishing empathy. And there were her dreams to consider; dreams Selena often spoke of, insisting that her mother had visited her and played with her, sung to her and rocked her to sleep. She would wake from those dreams and call for her father from the room next to his, inevitably asking him when mama would return. Stephen didn't want to break his precious daughter's heart or hopes, but he knew he must find a way to make her understand that Teyla was likely never coming home to them.
And so it was, once the full moon had risen high on this warm summer night, that he brought his sweet Selena to the roof of the New York Sanctum. It was not her first trip up, for Teyla had loved the rooftop garden as she had loved all green and growing things, and had planted the seeds of such love in her daughter's ready heart. Indulgently, Stephen watched Selena range ahead of him, skipping along the pathways that crisscrossed the various sections of fruit and medicinal plants, seeking out her favorites, eventually coming to stand next to the most verdant shrub in the garden—a bush twice the size of any other in the greenhouse, and laden with a glorious bounty of big, glossy pink currant berries.
"Papa here it is," she exclaimed, motioning for him to join her, "The really big one!"
"Yes, sweetie, I see it," he told her patiently, dropping to one knee beside her, knowing the question that waited to spring from her lips, "And yes, you can have a few berries—but only a few, because it's nearly time for bed, okay?"
Selena nodded, and plucked several berries from the closest branch and handed them to him, "You too, Papa—Mama always says to share."
Proud of his daughter's quick generosity, Stephen squeezed his eyes shut at the bittersweet memory evoked by the feel of the currants on his palm. Sighing quietly, he laid his other hand on Selena's shoulder. "Thank you, honey." He popped one in his mouth, savoring its familiar sweetness, and assured his daughter, "They're delicious." Even more delicious than the day your mother healed this plant.
"Why is this one so much bigger than the others, papa?" He knew that Selena already knew the answer to that question—and that she had asked simply because she loved to hear the answer.
"That's your mother's handiwork, Selena," he explained, sighing hard, unable to keep his voice from cracking with sorrow, "This shrub had a fungus—it was very, very sick—and mama used her special magic to make it better."
"And now it's more than better," she intoned, looking to him with dark doe-eyes so like her mother's that they often took his breath away, "And someday I'm going to make mama's magic too."
Stephen pulled his daughter close, assuring her as best he could, "Yes, honey—the fruit of this plant is sweeter than any you'll taste anywhere on Earth. That's a gift of your mama's magic too. And I know someday you will be as great a Healer as your mother."
Selena draped her little arms around him and tucked her head against the crook of his neck. Stephen knew she could feel his physical struggle not to cry, and that–like Teyla had in their time together–she surely felt his emotion. He did not wish to burden her so, but such was her gift that it couldn't be helped.
"No more crying, Papa. Please." How comforting she sounded, as though she was the grown-up and he the child! "Mama wants you to remember to be happy when you think of her."
Stephen nodded, and kissed the crown of her head. "And I am, honey; I swear that I am…"
"But you miss her, papa…I know it hurts your heart sometimes…"
"Yes, sweetie—some days it hurts awful." Stephen felt a small smile tickle the corners of his mouth, "But then I remember how blessed I am to be your daddy, and that so much of your mother lives in you—so how can I be sad for long?"
Selena backed away enough to scrutinize his face, her brow creased as she plumbed the truth of his emotional state. In that moment—with her thick, dark hair and her pretty mouth, with her deft hands and her flashes of brilliance beyond her tender years—he recognized himself in her lovely features, and was reminded that although her huge, generous heart was a legacy from Teyla, his daughter's mind held the same potential genius that had marked his own life for extraordinary purpose. How could he have room for grief in his own heart, when faced with such a wonder as his little Selena?
She smiled to see his clouds had passed and Stephen grinned back, his load lightened considerably. "There's something very special I want to show you, honey. Something meant to be seen under the light of the moon and stars." He stood up and took her hand, to lead her out of the greenhouse, and near to the brick wall that edged the roof all around.
There beneath the full moon's bright sheen, Stephen began to hum a melody he had heard several years before. Though his memory of that night was keen, and untarnished by the intervening seasons, he wasn't entirely sure that his rusty baritone did the music the justice it deserved–but he was determined to see it through. He carried the tune for a while, raising his hands to the sky as he'd seen Teyla do for her father–waiting for their daughter to ask the same sort of question he had asked that moonlit night so long ago.
He could feel Selena beside him, feel her amazement at the surprisingly uncharacteristic sight of her father singing to the cosmos. When she finally asked him what he was doing, Stephen gathered her into his arms as he answered her, "It's a tradition of the Hadeethan people, my darling girl. Your mother's people. A tradition older than their written language."
Her eyes went wide as saucers and her mouth dropped open, and she was no longer his exceptionally precocious child, but a newly turned four-year old fascinated with a story he was about to tell. "Upon the passing of a loved one, they celebrate their life under the blessed light of the moon." Stephen's voice grew stronger with each word, as he heard again in his mind, Teyla's loving explanation. Strengthened by his bond with her, that love-forged bond which went soul deep, surpassing any he had ever known, despite even the impediment of insurmountable separation, and even that of physical death. Teyla was not only with him still in his daughter's eyes and mannerisms and perpetual sweetness—she resided in his soul, and no grief could be strong enough to deprive him of that glory.
"They sing with joy regarding their loved one's greatest deeds and the kindness of their spirit," he told his bright-eyed little girl, child of two worlds. "They thank the Creator for the gift of their life. And they promise to honor their memory with acts that follow their example." He kissed Selena's downy soft cheek, so reminiscent of her mother's, and told her, "So tonight, I'm sending all my grief, all my sadness, unto the stars, and making the best farewell that I can manage…with the hope that Mama will return to us again someday, if not in spirit, then in a future life—for the wheel of life turns eternally."
Selena nodded solemnly, as though she fully understood the import of his final words, and hugged him tightly around the neck. "It's okay, papa. You have made mama very happy."
"Have I?" Stephen chuckled, warmed by his daughter's ease in the face of such complicated metaphysical concepts. The simple faith of a child really was one of the most beautiful things in the world. "I'd like to believe I'm doing exactly what she would ask of me."
They lingered on the roof a while longer, and Stephen pointed out to her a few of the constellations easiest to find, explaining that ancient peoples often told fantastic stories about the pictures they saw in the night sky. But it was well past Selena's bedtime, and when she yawned wide and drooped her head onto his shoulder, he knew their evening beneath the stars had come to a close.
She was already half asleep when he laid her on her little bed, not bothering to disturb her to get her into her nightclothes. Instead, he tucked the lightweight coverlet loosely around her, and bent down and brushed his lips upon her forehead. His eye caught the framed photograph on her nightstand, of the three of them, a picture taken in the early spring, several weeks before Teyla's fateful trip to visit her mother on Hadeeth. As always, Stephen thanked whatever power it was in the universe that had prompted Teyla to make it a solitary journey; he was certain he would not have survived the grief of losing both Selena and her mother, certain that darkness and oblivion would be a far preferable fate to that unendurable loss.
As he rose, Selena turned onto her side, and let out a coo as soft as a dove's, calling him back to her side. She rubbed her sleepy eyes, then fixed them upon his, "Mama is never far away from us, you know. I see her in my dreams a lot of times."
He cupped her face in his palm, "I know, baby…I know…"
"But, papa, even if you can't see her, you can feel her if you let yourself. I feel her all the time!" She yawned again, ready to fade back to sleep. "Mama says you just hafta let yourself feel her, and you will find she's right beside you…and she always will be."
Stephen nodded, moved by Selena's sincerity, and bent to kiss her goodnight. "She's here right now, papa. So you hafta try…okay?" And then as swiftly as the flick of a light switch, his daughter was asleep again.
Stephen stood in the doorway a little longer, watching the little light of his life sleep peacefully, secure in her place in their world and in both her father and mother's love. He sent his most loving thoughts of Teyla out into the wide, far-flung multiverse, not expecting an answer, but hoping that if he showed the faith of a child, he might have some share of peace himself.
He could not be sure, but he would always chose to believe that the whisper he heard in his mind that called him 'Beloved' and the small, inexplicable sensation of a woman's hand slipping itself into the crook of his arm were real. He had, after all, witnessed far more incredible, astonishing things in his forays across multiple dimensions—who was he to say that somehow Teyla's spirit hadn't finally found her way here to watch over their daughter? Found her way as best she might, to lighten his loneliness if he left his heart open to that beautiful possibility?
Thus comforted—when he had least expected comfort to be found—he sought his rest. And from that night forward, Stephen had the blessing he needed above all others—for in his dreams, from time to time, he found Teyla waiting for him, and they walked in the fields of the sweet talat akeylum, and he ever felt renewed upon awakening, bolstered for whatever tasks lay ahead, knowing that his beloved healer and soulmate was really only a thought away from his side.