DISCLAIMER: I think it's obvious I don't own these characters or this setting. I borrowed all of it from the lovely and tolerant folks at Gekko, Double Secret, MGM, SyFy, and a host of others whose names I forget. I write solely for my own entertainment and make no money from it.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As much as anything, this is writing practice for me, with no real plot or purpose. I felt like playing with second-person POV, and this is what happened. Well, actually, that's not quite true; what happened was a hot mess of a story until I scrapped most of it and started over. I still don't quite know how to categorize it...I may have to invent a category called "dark fluff," since I think this might qualify :). Hope you enjoy; feel free to tell me if you liked it, if you didn't like it, or if you think I should give up writing and take up knitting instead.
SEASON: set towards the end of season 10; no specific spoilers other than for Heroes I & II, though it probably spoils most of seasons 9 & 10
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To cheerfuloceangazer[at]gmail.com

Closer To Fine
By ocean gazer


You can't remember a time when you weren't tired.

You shake your head a little at the thought that Sam Carter, known for being one of the sharpest crayons in the box, can't remember something so basic and simple. You muster up a tiny grin at the irony. It slides off quickly, though, since smiling takes energy – energy you don't have to spare.

You tighten your hold on Vala, who's leaning against your left side and looking greener with each passing minute. You'd tighten your hold on the zat in your right hand if you could, but your fingers are numb. There's not much you can do about it, though. Either your grip is fine, or it isn't. Hopefully, you won't have to find out the hard way.

Moving slowly, you pull Vala along with you. She can't bear any weight on her shattered foot, and your injured leg isn't feeling so hot either. You hear rustling behind you, but don't turn to look. You already know it's Teal'c, his presence as familiar to you as Daniel's.

You swallow an irrational lump of fear in the back of your throat. For the hundredth time, you wish Daniel and Cameron were still here with you. For the hundred and first time, you thank God – if there is one – that they're not. You know they had to split off if any of you have a hope of escaping this hellhole of a planet. Somewhere out in these woods is a tel'tac, the one your now-dead Tok'ra contact used to get here in the first place. Once Cam and Daniel find it, they can come and rescue the rest of you. And if that's not an option, then at least they'll be able to rescue themselves.

You don't want their deaths on your conscience.

On foot, there's no way the five of you would be able to get through the Stargate. It wouldn't happen even if you and Vala weren't in such bad shape. When Teal'c scouted ahead to check the gate, there were twenty Jaffa and a Prior guarding it. He didn't even want to guess how many Jaffa might be combing the woods for you, now that they know you're roaming free. Not to mention the handful of Lucien Alliance rebels skulking around in the shadows, looking to recapture their prized prisoners. You find it disturbing that you hope that if anyone finds you, it will be your former torturers. The mere thought that the Jaffa might find you instead and deliver you to the Ori makes your blood run cold.

Did you mention that you hate this planet?

Vala groans and you barely have time to steady her before she's leaning to the side, throwing up the little bit of water you'd gotten her to drink. You grimace at the sight, your own stomach clenching in sympathy, but somehow manage to keep your arm around her and prevent her from falling over.

Then, between one blink and the next, Teal'c is right behind you, his arms wrapping around both of you as his staff weapon falls to the ground with a dull thud. Before you can process what's happening, Vala is taken from your hold and settled on the ground with her back to a boulder. You hear her hiss of pain and know that she'd like to scream, but knows she can't. You're all reasonably sure no one is currently on your trail, but it's best not to tempt fate. SG-1 has done more than its share of that over the past ten years. You're not superstitious, but you have to wonder when your luck will run out. Mathematically speaking, it's just a matter of time.

You stand alone for the first time in what seems like hours, and feel your knees start to give way. You topple forward and somehow Teal'c is there to catch you. His hands on you burn, but you bite your lip bloody and don't make a sound as he lowers you to the ground next to Vala. You slump down, touching shoulders with her, and turn your head slightly to catch a glimpse of her face. She's entirely too pale and there's pain written in her dark eyes. But you see the worry on her face that she can't quite mask. When she turns away quickly, you realize the worry is about you.

Not a very comforting thought, especially since Teal'c is also studying you carefully, his concern obvious to you though his features are as impassive as ever.

You fight down an entirely inappropriate urge to laugh. If you look that bad, why were you the one who spent the last hour half-carrying Vala? But the trace of humor slides away quickly. You already know why. There wasn't any choice. The only way off this planet is that tel'tac, and Daniel and Cam couldn't be expected to find it, burdened with one or both of their injured teammates. Teal'c couldn't carry both of you, or fight off any pursuers if he'd tried to carry Vala. There are at least two Lucien Alliance rebels lying out there with snapped necks, thanks to Teal'c guarding your backs. You don't know if there are any others. He stopped mentioning the signs of pursuit once he realized it made Vala antsy.

And there was no way Vala could walk on her own, not after what the chief jailer did to her foot with his sledgehammer during your first escape attempt. That left you to get her out of there, your own injuries be damned. You realize suddenly that your teammates have been worried about you all along. They were there, after all, forced to watch the torture sessions. They know exactly what those men did to you; they saw exactly how brutal and brutish they were.

They also know what you've been trying to hide from yourself: that if not for her smashed foot, Vala would have been the one carrying you.

You feel yourself shaking, very slightly, as the adrenaline wears off. You want to tell Teal'c that this is wrong, that you need to keep moving. If you and Vala sit here too long, you're not sure either one of you will be able to get up and go on. But you can't seem to form the words. Your tongue feels too thick in your mouth and you wonder why you never noticed before that the trees were dancing from side to side. Closing your eyes, you concentrate on trying to breathe. It shouldn't take concentration, should it?

A hand covers your hand and you manage to force your eyes open in response to the touch. It's too much work to say anything, so you sit staring silently at Teal'c, who regards you solemnly as he kneels in front of you. It's not his hand on yours, though; it's Vala's. You know she's sitting next to you, but her whisper seems very far away. "The tel'tac will be here soon, so hang on. Don't you die on me, Samantha. We haven't had enough 'girl time' yet."

You manage a smile at that, at least you think you do. It's hard to be sure. You wonder why she's so certain that you'll be rescued. You didn't hear a radio. Maybe she just wants to make you feel better. But it's too hard to think about it when your head is pounding and there's a dull roar in your ears and there are suddenly three Teal'c's in front of you. You're vaguely aware that your concussion has decided to act up, but the memory of how you got it makes you nauseous. You don't want to throw up, because it would just make your head hurt worse. So you concentrate on the three Teal'c's, who are all speaking in low voices, though you have no idea what they're saying.

It would have been nice to have three of him earlier, you think. One to carry Vala; one to carry you; and the other to just be Teal'c. Then the team could have stayed together.

You close your eyes again after a fourth Teal'c joins the group in front of you; the multiple images are blurring and starting to confuse you. You hope Cam and Daniel are okay. You hope they know how much you care about them, since you don't think you'll get the chance to tell them. The thought makes you sad, but you're too tired to think about crying.

Instead, you slump down further, comforted by Teal'c's presence and the warmth of Vala's hand on yours. You hear more whispers, different voices, and wish you had the energy to open your eyes to find out what's going on. When you feel a hand tear roughly at your shirt sleeve, baring your skin, your heart sinks. You hope they'll just kill you outright, not take you prisoner again. Your head pounds, and even though you're a soldier you can't seem to muster the strength to face your captors defiantly. All you can do is slide sideways, your head bumping against Vala's shoulder as you feel her squeeze your hand.

There's a prick against the bare skin of your other arm and you hear Teal'c whisper, "Sleep now, Colonel Carter. It will make the trip easier." You want to tell him to run, to escape, but the blackness is rising up to greet you.

Exhausted, you let it.

You feel like you're drifting. There are sounds in the distance and you think you should know what they are. But they're muffled and indistinct, as if your ears are stuffed with cotton. It's dark all around you and you wonder about that for a minute. Where are you? What happened? But you're too tired to puzzle over it for long and you go back to drifting.

You lose track of time in this dark and warm place. It feels like you should be asleep, but this is nothing like a dream. And then the sounds come again, closer this time. Voices. You'd cheer at the brilliance of your own deduction, except that involves energy. Not to mention the fact that you still don't know where you are or who is there in the darkness with you.

A low, lulling bass voice catches your ear. Teal'c. You have no idea what he said or who he's talking to, but you know it's him. Groaning with effort, you manage to open your eyes. Bright light assaults you and you whimper with the force of it. An authoritative female voice snaps out a command and immediately the lights dim. You sigh in relief, despite your dry throat, and because your sight is still fuzzy, you tentatively whisper, "Janet?"

A gentle hand comes to rest on your cheek, and you know instantly that it's not your lover, remember abruptly that your lover isn't here any more, that she died on that planet...666...whatever it was. You blink hard, the world around you finally coming into focus. It's Dr. Lam who's here now, who's touching your face and hovering over you, her eyes lighter than Janet's, even though they're full of the same intense concern.

Her voice is soft. "Do you know where you are and who I am, Colonel Carter?"

You want to laugh, because, after all, isn't it obvious? If she's there and you're flat on your back, you must be in the infirmary. But you don't laugh. You remember in a burst that she knows about your relationship with Janet – that Daniel clued her in after the first time you woke up in the infirmary, confused after being sedated, looking for someone who wasn't there. It's sweet of Carolyn to care enough to make sure you're really in the here and now. Her bedside manner isn't quite as compassionate as Janet's, but she's a close second.

Your throat burns, but you manage to whisper, "Infirmary...Doctor Lam." You start to cough, and the doctor turns away for a moment, her hand leaving your cheek to reach for a cup sitting on the table beside your bed. Turning back, she holds a spoon of melting ice chips up to your lips. Opening your mouth, you let her place them on your tongue, the wet coolness easing your dry throat and making you feel a little bit better. And then, the nightmare on the planet comes back to you in a rush, and even though the words catch in your throat, you ask, "Is Vala okay?"

Carolyn smiles at you. "She's going to be fine."

You sigh in relief, grateful to hear it. You were so worried about her. A shadow moves across your bed as Teal'c comes to stand next to Dr. Lam. His hand reaches out to rest lightly on top of yours, even as Carolyn places her hand on your forehead as if testing a child for fever. Teal'c speaks softly. "Her foot was seriously injured and it will take much time for her to recover. But she will recover fully, as will you."

It suddenly occurs to you that you didn't even think to ask how you are. Then again, you're alive and back at the SGC, and that's really all that matters right now. You're too tired to care about the details, and you feel your eyes slipping shut.

Teal'c's hand strokes yours lightly and Carolyn gently brushes hair off your forehead. The last thing you're aware of, before the darkness claims you again, is your teammate's soft, "Rest now, Colonel Carter. You're safe."

You can't remember the last time you were this bored.

It's ironic, you know, given that you spend most of your time sleeping these days, your body needing the rest in order to heal. It's not like you're awake for hours on end with no distractions. But the problem is that when you do wake, there's nothing to do. Dr. Lam runs a much stricter infirmary than Janet ever did, and your teammates haven't been able to smuggle in a laptop or notebooks or any other welcome diversions. Janet isn't here to check in on you like she used to – keeping you amused with random gossip and news about the world outside the mountain. And Daniel, Teal'c, and Cam haven't been here much – General Landry is keeping them busy with day-trip visits to allies, so they can't camp out in the infirmary the way they normally would. The general, despite his casual demeanor, runs a tight ship.

Apparently, despite their differences, he and Carolyn prove the "like father, like daughter" saying.

You hear the rustle of fabric and look up to see Vala's smiling face peering around the edge of the green privacy curtain. You return the smile and she flings open the curtain, maneuvering herself forward, then slides it shut behind her before she swings herself over to your bedside. She seems to have gotten the hang of crutches pretty quickly; you bet Daniel twenty bucks that she'd prefer them to a wheelchair; he thought she'd have too much fun making other people push her around.

There's a chair near your bed, and she reaches out with one hand to shove it closer to you. When she gets it arranged to her liking, she moves over to it and sinks down gracelessly, dropping the pair of crutches to the floor with a loud clang. The sound makes you wince, but you don't say anything, seeing the crease of pain wrinkling her forehead, knowing how tired and defeated she's been since the nightmare on that planet. You feel the same way.

You watch her for a few minutes, not saying anything, as she watches you silently in return. There's nothing to say, or there's too much to say, and you never have been good at this kind of emotional stuff. The only thing you can think to ask is how she's doing, and she says the same thing she always says – "I'm fine." You know it's far from the whole truth, but it's the same thing you'd say if the situation were reversed.

You frown as you realize she hasn't asked you that question. Nor has anyone else – at least not recently. Either they know something you don't, or they know better than to expect an honest answer from you. The thought makes you sad for a moment. This is your team you're talking about, the people you're closest to in the world, and they don't trust you to open up to them completely.

Vala speaks suddenly, her voice loud in the quiet infirmary. "I'd ask how you are, but I already know you feel the same way I do – you're in pain, you're bored, and you hate having too much time to think about what happened on that planet."

For a moment, you can only gape at her, wondering if she's suddenly turned psychic on you, given what you were just thinking about. Then you realize she doesn't need to be psychic, any more than your teammates need to ask questions whose answers are obvious. The rush of relief in realizing their silence is not about lack of trust in you is powerful enough to make you light-headed.

You manage to meet Vala's eyes, not surprised by the muddied emotions you see there. You suspect your expression is about the same. Her confession is surprising in one way, not so much in another, and you decide her bravery deserves an honest response. Taking a deep breath, you say, "Yeah."

Then, because you know such a simple word is inadequate, you offer, "I don't want to keep replaying it – thinking about it or talking about it. It's not really about what they did to me...I've been tortured before, we all have...it's not anything new. It's not the worst thing I've been through..."

You trail off there and see the knowing half-smirk on her face. You've both been unwilling hosts; you've both been prisoners in your own bodies. No one else quite understands that mere physical violence will always pale in comparison to the scars left behind by that mental and emotional violation.

You manage a brief half-smile in return, then muster your courage and finish your thought. "I don't want to think about it any more – not because the memories of the violence are so bad, but because it made me question...made me..."

Unable to find the words you want, you search her face, hoping she knows what you're trying to say. She laughs, and you hear the hysterical edge in that laughter and wonder if you've misread her, if the two of you really are on the same page.

Her words tumble out quickly. "It made me lose my faith that the good guys do finish first sometimes. The Lucien Alliance wants to wipe us out because they lost some wealth and thus some of their status. The Ori want to punish us for not believing their self-serving twisting of the words in the book of Origin. There's no reasoning with any of them..." She shakes her head, strands of long, dark hair coming loose from her braids with the violence of the motion.

You didn't misread her. You ask quietly, "How do you win against an enemy that's motivated by fanatical beliefs?"

Her answering nod is emphatic and you feel a sense of relief that she understands what you haven't been able to explain to anyone else just yet. The Lucien Alliance is blinded by its greed for profit; the Ori are blinded by their own false prophecies and need for unquestioning followers. They're all zealots – willing to destroy everyone and everything that stands in the way of what they want, regardless of the cost. For all the evil the Goa'uld have done, most of them weren't fanatics in the same way – you could find their weaknesses, negotiate with them, and work with them when you shared a common enemy. They wanted wealth and power just like the others; unlike the others, they didn't, deep down, believe their own hype. No matter how much they liked playing gods.

Vala tosses her head, getting errant strands of hair out of her face, and looks solemnly at you. "What would Janet say if she were here, listening to us talk like this?"

For a long moment, you can barely breathe. She's never asked you anything about Janet before; of all your teammates, only Daniel mentions her, because he's the only one who is comfortable with your tears when the memories are too powerful to contain.

At first, you want to shrug off the question, thinking she's trying to do some kind of armchair psychology. Then you see how her hands are clasped tightly together, the knuckles white, how her lips are thin and pressed together, how she's sitting ramrod-straight in the chair. She's asking for her benefit, not just for yours. She's asking because she knows Janet was the one person who could make things make sense when your emotions were tangled. She's asking because she needs things to make sense.

You take a deep breath and close your eyes. You think about Janet – the warmth in her chocolate gaze, the mischievous smile that quirked her mouth, the strength in her slender hands. You remember long evenings on the lawn, looking up at the stars, talking about anything and everything. You remember curling up on the couch, Janet sitting next to you with her arm around your shoulder, pouring out your heart after a mission gone wrong. You remember her no-nonsense manner, her practicality, her groundedness.

You keep your eyes closed, not able to look at Vala. "She'd tell me that we don't fight these enemies solely to defeat them. She'd tell me we fight them because it's the right thing to do. Because even if we lose the fight, just the fact that we stood up to evil will give others the courage to stand up against it, too."

As you say the words, you feel like you've finally found an anchor to hold on to after being tossed around on the sea of doubt and uncertainty. There's still plenty to mull over, to work through, but you've found your center again. Opening your eyes, you look over to see Vala mouthing your words to herself, clearly weighing them. Her eyes snap up to meet yours, and while she still looks tired, there's a glimmer of hope shining in her gaze that wasn't there before.

She speaks slowly. "It's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you fight the battle."

You find yourself chuckling at the new twist on the old cliché. She smiles at your reaction. Then, abruptly, she grows serious again. "Thank you, Sam. I...I needed that."

The words are out of your mouth before you can second-guess them. "So did I. Thank you...for asking me."

You can't find any better words than that, but it doesn't seem to matter. She's nodding and you're pretty sure she knows exactly what you mean. You've grown to be friends over the past couple of years, but there's been a new understanding between you since the captivity on that planet.

At least something good came out of it.

She bends over in her chair and picks up her discarded crutches, leaning them against the side of your bed. She puts her hands on the arms of the chair and levers herself up on her good foot, balancing herself before reaching for the crutches. She says, "I'd better get going; I promised Daniel I'd come visit him this afternoon. He wants to take me out of the mountain to go get coffee at Starbucks, since he knows I'm going stir-crazy being cooped up inside."

You nod, knowing the feeling. Not seeming to notice, she chuckles to herself and there's humor in her voice when she continues, "I think he's just desperate to get away from Colonel Mitchell and Teal'c for a little bit. Apparently, they've been talking military tactics for days on end and he's bored out of his skull."

You laugh at that and she smiles conspiratorially. Her words are dry. "I think I'll go find a wheelchair and make him push me around all day. It'd be fun to have him at my beck and call, and since he already lost his bet with you, it's not like he can rub it in or anything. And I'm sure I can talk him into bringing a drink back here for you when we're done. I think I've found a way to outsmart Doctor Lam."

Your mouth starts to water at the idea of real coffee. From the other side of the curtain, you hear a droll "Don't count on it, Vala."

Vala rolls her eyes at Dr. Lam's words and mouths, "Really, she'll never know."

You chuckle and Vala swings herself expertly away from the bed, pausing to open the curtain. You see her nod curtly to someone on the other side, and then she's gone. Carolyn Lam comes around to your bedside, clipboard in hand, recording your vital signs. There's amusement in her eyes as she says, "If she had just bothered to ask, I would have told her that I'm lifting some of your dietary restrictions. Coffee is now on the approved list."

Chuckling again, you say, "Yeah, but then she wouldn't have the fun of trying to figure out how to smuggle it past you."

It doesn't surprise you when Carolyn simply shakes her head, instead of shooting off a sarcastic comment like Janet would have. She comes to stand beside you, reaches out to lightly touch the back of your hand, and says, "Everything still looks really good. You're healing more quickly than I'd expected, frankly. If you continue to improve at this rate, you'll probably be out of here in a couple of days."

You thank her and she pats your hand and smiles down at you before continuing on her way.

You open your eyes to see the end credits of the movie rolling across the television screen. From the deep breathing and faint snores you can hear around you, you aren't the only one who fell asleep. Then again, you've all seen Return of the Jedi dozens of times, so it's not too surprising.

You're lying on your side on Daniel's couch, your head nestled on a pillow. You glance around as best you can without moving. Daniel is fast asleep, sprawled in the love seat that's next to and angled out from the couch. His mouth is open and he's drooling slightly, his limbs limp in sleep. Teal'c is sitting on the floor in front of him, leaning back against the base of the love seat, eyes closed and breathing measured. You can't see Cam, but you can hear his snore coming from the other side of the couch; he's probably curled up in the beanbag.

Vala is on the other end of the couch from you, your legs resting in her lap. Her foot, still in its cast, is stretched out on a footstool in front of her, and as you look up at her, she turns her head towards you. Apparently she's the only one who stayed awake for the whole movie. Then again, she slept away most of the day after getting a strong painkiller from Dr. Lam, curled up on a folding cot in your lab while you and Daniel huddled around the work table, pouring over notes. Then on the way over here this evening, she drank a venti, triple-shot mocha. She won't be falling asleep any time soon.

She shoots you a wicked grin and holds up the remote. Somehow, months ago, she managed to talk Daniel into getting an expensive cable package, with movies on demand. It looks like that investment is finally going to pay off – for Vala, at least.

Catching a glimpse of the time on the TV screen, you mutter softly, "I didn't know it was that late."

You don't really want to get up and leave right now, especially since you've been having bad dreams since you were released from the infirmary and allowed to go home. Not nightmares, exactly, but haunting images that lead to less-than-restful sleep. Even knowing that it's normal after what you've endured, as your subconscious works through everything that happened, you're still not eager to face another night of it. But you also want to be respectful of Daniel's space. And he hadn't invited the team over for a slumber party – however impromptu it ended up being.

Reluctantly, you start to push yourself up, moving slowly, mindful of your still-healing injuries, then feel a hand gently patting your calf, carefully not touching the bandaged section.

You look over to see Vala watching you. Her voice is soft. "You don't need to go, Sam. Daniel's fine with us staying here all night; we talked about it after you were already asleep."

You open your mouth to protest and she stills you with a simple shake of her head. She studies you thoughtfully and you feel as though the secret of your restless nights is really no secret to her at all. Quietly, she says, "Really, it's not a problem. Besides, your legs are keeping me warm."

Despite the light tone, there's something under the surface of her words, but you're too tired to try and sort it out. Instead, you sigh softly and let yourself sink back into the comfort of the couch. Vala stops patting your calf, but doesn't move her hand away. The warm weight on your leg is lulling, as is the softness of the pillow under your head, and you close your eyes again.

You begin to feel relaxed, at ease, in a way you haven't since before that planet. Maybe it's the fact that you're starting to wrestle the worst of your demons back into the shadows of your mind. Maybe it's the safety of being surrounded by your friends, feeling their comfortable, familiar presences. Whatever it is, you're not about to complain about it. You soak up the feeling of warmth and peace.

The last thing you hear before sleep claims you again is Vala's whispered, "Sleep well. You're going to be fine, Sam. We're both going to be fine."

The End

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