Author's Note: Don't own any of it except Major Jim Valley. First effort; please R&R!
Involuntary Man's Smile
"How's he doing, Doc?" Jack O'Neill, colonel, USAF, asked. He and Dr. Fraiser were standing outside the SGC infirmary.
"He's sleeping for now."
The subject of their discussion lay on a bed just inside the infirmary door, the left side of his face and head heavily bandaged. Sitting in a chair next to the bed, Major Samantha Carter also sported a bandage on her face, but it only covered her left cheek.
"Physically, she'll be fine sir. Chances are she won't even have a scar." Fraiser looked up from the chart she'd been studying. "I think she feels responsible for the major's injuries, though."
"I'll talk to her," Jack assured the doctor. "Thanks Doc."
Sam Carter studied the bandages on the face of the young man in the bed, feeling guilty that she only had one gauze pad taped to her cheek. From where she sat, she couldn't see the unburned side of Major Valley's face. All she could see were the bandages and some of his black hair. When she'd met him, she'd thought he was good-looking. What would he look like now?
"Carter." She jumped slightly as she heard O'Neill's voice next to her.
"Yes sir?" she asked, not looking.
"Have you gotten any sleep?"
"No, sir." This time she did glance at him. The colonel had actually managed to make it out of this particular engagement with nothing more than a bruise on his shoulder where a rock had hit him. "I thought I'd sit with him awhile," she continued.
"You should get some rest."
Sam just nodded. "Later, sir."
"Now, Major." When Sam looked up, O'Neill indicated Valley. "I'll sit with him awhile."
"Okay sir," Sam relented. Wearily, she got to her feet, realizing that maybe the colonel was right. As she passed him, he took her hand, bringing her to a halt.
"It wasn't your fault, Sam."
"Yes, sir." She squeezed his hand and continued out into the corridor.
Jack watched Carter head for the elevator before sitting in the chair she had vacated and pulling out a fishing magazine. He opened it and began reading, but his mind wondered to the young man on the bed.
Major Jim Valley was the second person to attempt to replace Daniel since his Ascension. The first guy, what's-his-name, had lasted only one mission, mainly due to the fact that he was so freaked out by 'gate travel. On returning to the base it had been unanimously decided he should stick to being a consultant. Major Valley, however, had done so well on his first mission that Jack had told General Hammond to let the guy stick around for another. And because of that decision, the surprisingly young anthropologist/linguist now lay in the infirmary with only half a face. It was easy to convince Carter that it hadn't been her fault. Convincing himself was a whole other ball of wax….
* * * * *
As tired as she was, Sam couldn't sleep. She'd realized that driving was probably not such a hot idea right now, and so was in her quarters on the base, staring at the ceiling above the bed. She was exhausted, there was no point in denying it, but every time she closed her eyes the mission to P3C-138 began playing in her head again.
It had started out easily enough. The MALP and UAV had shown no indigenous life signs near the 'gate, but there were ruins about a klick away that had to be checked out. On arrival, Major Valley had become very excited. The big grin on his face, especially, had allowed Sam to almost believe that it was Daniel who stood there. Teal'c and the colonel had done a recon of the area while she stayed nearby, just in case. They had been there for only a half hour when the two of them heard the unmistakable sound of P90 fire. Major Valley had shoved his notebook back into his pack and reached for his sidearm, letting Carter radio O'Neill and Teal'c and ask what was going on.
"We got company!" had been the colonel's response. "Heading back towards you!" Sure enough, less than 30 seconds later the sounds of P90 and staff weapon fire were getting closer. "Head for the 'gate!" O'Neill had yelled. Sam and Valley took off, covering one another and their teammates as they retreated. From the looks of things, the natives hadn't gotten beyond the slings and arrows stage of technology. Then she had seen the first burst of flame.
"Sir, they have some sort of flamethrower!" Valley yelled into the radio from Sam's left side.
"Noticed that!" came the short, sarcastic reply. "You two get back to the 'gate. We'll be right behind you!"
"Yes sir!" Valley looked over at Sam. "I've got your six."
Sam nodded, turned, and ran. She heard Valley close behind her, heard the break in his step as he looked over his shoulder every so often. Then she heard something up ahead on her left.
Valley had heard it too. "Major, look out!" he called, taking her down in a flying tackle. Between the shield his body created and their momentum, Carter was barely singed by the native's flamethrower. But her memory of Valley bringing down the native, his face still on fire, haunted her every time she shut her eyes.
* * * * *
Dr. Janet Fraiser sat at the desk at the end of the infirmary, completing some overdue paperwork. At the same time, she kept an eye on both Major Valley and Colonel O'Neill. The major was still out cold as far as she could see. Colonel O'Neill had just nodded off in the chair, which he'd probably regret when he woke up, but since he needed the rest Janet decided to leave him be. She knew O'Neill had to be thinking the same thing that she was: that this was the second time in just three weeks that someone under his command had been seriously injured.
There was no denying the similarities between Daniel's last stay in the infirmary and Major Valley's current visit. Both men were or had been extremely gifted at and passionate about what they did. Both had a unique view of things. They even had the same piercing blue eyes. In fact, once or twice Janet caught herself looking to see if Daniel's glasses were on the table where he could reach them when he woke up. But then she would remember that Daniel was gone, and that Major Valley needed her help now.
As she finished up the last of the paperwork, a scratchy voice called, "Doctor Fraiser?"
Moving quickly and quietly so as not to wake the colonel, Janet was at Valley's side in an instant, placing her stethoscope in her ears and checking his breathing. "How are you feeling, Major?"
"Thirsty," the crackly voice said. He attempted to smile, but could only manage it with the right half of his mouth.
Janet filled a glass with water and helped him drink through a straw. "Are you in any pain?" she asked quietly.
"No ma'am," he replied. His one uncovered eye found her two brown ones. "How bad is it?"
Just then, the colonel woke up. "What's up?" he asked, seeing Janet standing over the bed. "You awake, Major?"
"Colonel?" Valley tried to turn his head, but Janet stopped him. O'Neill stood and came around to the right side of the bed so that Valley could see him. "How's Major Carter?"
"Thanks to you, she's fine," the colonel responded.
"She has a minor burn on her cheek, Major. She'll be fine within a couple of weeks," Janet turned to the Colonel. "Sir, I think you should go lie down in your quarters." She gave him a pointed look, and for once he didn't ignore it.
"Sure, Doc. Get better, Major. That's an order."
"Yes sir," Major Valley said, managing to sketch out a salute. When the colonel had left, he asked Janet again, "How bad is it?"
Janet sighed. "You have first and second degree burns on your upper left arm and shoulder, and second and third degree burns on your face. When you're a little stronger, we'll have to take skin grafts and use them to repair some of the more extensive damage. There's also definite nerve damage in your face."
"What about my eye?"
"We won't know for a few more days if there was any damage or not." Janet looked at the young man, mustering a smile. "Try to get some sleep, okay? One of the nurses will check on you in a few hours."
"Okay, Doc." Valley managed another half smile for her before she left his side. After straightening up the desk, Janet headed for her office to get her coat and car keys. She should have been home a couple hours ago, but Cassie wouldn't be worried; she was used to Janet's crazy schedule. As she got into the elevator, Janet thought back to Major Valley and felt tears sting at her eyes. Yes, the parallels between him and Daniel were strong, but this time, Janet vowed, he would make it.
* * * * *
The following morning, James "Jim" Valley, major, USAF, woke up to find himself still in the infirmary. He wasn't alone, however. Someone was in the next bed over. Turning his head slightly, Jim was slightly startled to see Major Carter, fast asleep. She was still in BDUs, meaning that she probably hadn't gone home. A gauze and tape dressing covered her left cheek, but she seemed otherwise unharmed. Relief flooded through Jim; he was glad that she was okay.
The sound of shoes caused him to turn his head back to the left as far as he could. "Good morning, Major," Dr. Fraiser greeted him. She still seemed a little tired, but full of energy nonetheless.
"Morning, Doc," he responded, glad that his voice didn't sound nearly as scratchy as it had last night. "What's Major Carter doing here?"
"She was here when I came in this morning. The night duty nurse said she showed up not long after I left. Apparently she was having trouble sleeping," the doctor was checking his pulse and other vitals while she told him this, "but she was asleep when I arrived."
"She's okay, right?"
"Yes, Major. I think she was just trying to reassure herself that you were okay." Fraiser smiled at him.
Jim felt the right side of his face grow warm, and knew that he was probably blushing. "When do you change the bandages?" he asked, trying to distract the doctor.
It didn't work. "Sam just feels a little guilty about what happened, Jim," Fraiser told him. Jim was a little surprised by the use of his first name, but more startled by what Fraiser had said.
"But it wasn't her fault!" As soon as he spoke, Jim regretted it. His emotion had caused his voice to try to rise, but it couldn't. Instead, he sounded like an angry chipmunk, and his throat felt like someone had scrubbed it with sandpaper.
"Easy, Major," Fraiser told him. Jim figured that she had to be psychic, because she reached for the cup of ice water on his bedside table and helped him drink through the straw.
"Janet?" a voice asked. Both Fraiser and Jim looked at the next bed over.
"Good morning, Sam," Fraiser greeted her, setting the cup down on the bedside table. "I'm glad you got some sleep."
Major Carter just nodded. She was looking at Jim.
"Morning Sam," he greeted her. She looked startled, then pleased. This whole past mission she'd been trying to get Jim to call her by her first name, since they were of equal rank.
"Morning Jim," she greeted him in return. "How are you doing?"
Jim looked at Dr. Fraiser, not sure how to answer. "We don't know yet, Sam," she answered. "We'll change the dressings in a minute, and we'll know more then." At this, the doctor took her leave. The silence that ensued lasted until she returned with a nurse. "Sam, can you step outside?"
"She can stay, Doc," Jim cut in, surprising himself and the others.
"Okay, Major, but she has to stay on your right side."
Sam nodded, and got off the bed to stand next to Jim. "C'mon, Sam," he joked when he saw her downcast expression, "how bad can it be? It doesn't even hurt." His last words were betrayed by a hiss when his arm and shoulder bandages were gently removed. "Okay, so I spoke too soon…"
Sam did smile, then, and Jim returned it. It wasn't that he found her attractive (although he did), but more the fact that she reminded him of his younger sister. Jim managed to draw Sam's attention with the same kind of banter he used to use on his sister, but when the bandages came off of his face, he let out a small yelp.
"Sorry Major," Fraiser said from his other side. "Can you open your eye for me?"
Doing it hurt, but he managed it after a couple of tries. Suddenly, he could see Fraiser where she stood on his left side. "Hi, Doc," he greeted her. "Nice to see you."
* * * * *
Sam smiled at Jim's lame joke, and saw Janet do the same. At least he could still see. Now that he was distracted by Janet, Sam took a moment to let the horror she felt on seeing his face come to the surface.
The burns ran from his jaw, up the side of his face, over his ear and cheek, and up to where his hair used to be. His eyebrow had been burned off, and the left third of his lips had been burned, as well. No wonder his speech had been sounding a little odd. All in all, he looked like a villain from a comic book, not a major in the US Air Force.
"What's with the face?"
Damn it, he'd caught her expression. "Nothing," she lied.
He saw through it, she could tell, but didn't say anything until Janet had recovered the wounds. "So, Doc, what's the verdict?" he asked.
"Like I suspected, you'll need skin grafts. You're obviously able to see, but I'd like to keep that eye covered for now to give the skin around it time to heal. There is definite nerve damage in your face, as well, which will affect your speech and expressions, but therapy will help with that." Janet paused for a breath and continued. "Your arm is in much better shape, primarily because your uniform burned before you did. You'll need some grafts there, too, and physical therapy to help stretch the muscles and skin once they start to heal…." Janet continued to talk, but Sam stopped listening. She was too busy looking at Jim, wondering if he held her responsible for this. He caught her eye and winked. No, apparently not.
* * * * *
Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c walked down the corridor to General Hammond's office in silence. The general had summoned them, and Teal'c hoped that it wasn't to inform them that Major Valley had died. Colonel O'Neill apparently feared this as well, as evidenced by his slumped shoulders and slightly slower walk. "What's your hurry, T?" he asked.
"General Hammond did request our presence immediately," Teal'c reminded him.
"I'm sure it can wait if my knee's acting up."
Teal'c just raised his eyebrow at his friend. O'Neill rarely used this excuse; therefore he was genuinely worried about what the general had to say. Teal'c said nothing more as they approached the open door of Hammond's office.
"Jack. Teal'c. Come in," General Hammond greeted them. He motioned for them to sit, but neither of them did. "I just got off the phone with Dr. Fraiser."
Beside him, Teal'c felt O'Neill tense. "She says that Major Valley will be fine." O'Neill relaxed so much that Teal'c was briefly worried he would fall.
"That is good news, General Hammond," Teal'c responded.
"Yes it is," the general agreed. "Right now, though, it looks like he will take a few months to recover, which means we need to find someone else for your team."
"Yes sir," O'Neill responded. Teal'c could see that, on the one hand, O'Neill was not happy about this prospect. On the other hand, however, Teal'c could also see how glad O'Neill was that Major Valley had not died.
* * * * *
Later that day, both Teal'c and Jack went down to the infirmary to visit Major Valley. Jack wasn't very surprised to find Carter there, but he was surprised to hear her laughing at something Valley had just said.
Valley noticed him standing in the doorway first. "Sir!" he saluted, causing Carter to stop laughing and stand at attention.
Jack returned the salute. "At ease. Both of you." He was glad to see that Carter no longer wore a hang-dog expression on her face. "Teal'c and I thought we'd drop by to say hi." He motioned to the Jaffa behind him.
"Hi, sir," his 2IC responded, the corner of her mouth twitching. Jack ignored her and spoke to Valley.
"So I hear you're gonna make it, Major."
"That's what Dr. Fraiser says, sir." Valley smiled with the half of his mouth that still worked.
"Good." Jack looked over at Carter, who had resumed her seat on the next bed over. "How about you, Carter?"
"Janet says I'll be fine, sir." She smiled at him. "I won't even have a scar."
"Good," Jack responded as he pulled a chair over so that Valley could still see him. "Valley, when are you gonna be up and about?"
"Not for a while yet, sir," the major answered, looking slightly disappointed. "I have to get skin grafts."
"Ew," Jack said.
"Tell me about it," Valley responded, making a face. "Then I have to have physical and speech therapy for several months." He looked disappointed again. "I guess this means that I'm not going to be assigned to SG-1, doesn't it, sir?"
"Hammond will be by later to talk to you about that," Jack deflected the question. "In the meantime, I've got a new joke you should hear…"
Major Valley stayed in the infirmary for two more weeks. SG-1 came to visit as often as they could; O'Neill usually had a new joke to try out on Jim, while Sam would share data on any big finds.
A week into his stay, the skin grafts were done. One week later, Sam walked in following a mission and was surprised and pleased to see Jim's entire face. "Hey Sam," he greeted her, smiling.
Sam smiled in return. "Hey Jim. You're looking better."
"Dr. Fraiser says that I get to go home by the end of the week."
"That's great!" Sam sat in a chair. "Has General Hammond talked to you about what's next?"
"I'll be staying at the SGC, but I'll be assigned to another team." A half smile appeared as he shrugged. "I'd rather be with you guys, but what can you do?"
Just then O'Neill stormed in, holding a gauze pad to his forehead. Teal'c followed, his features stonier than usual. He was followed in turn by Dr. Fraiser, and two nurses came last, supporting the latest temporary SG-1 member, Lt. Rory, between them. "Oh boy," Jim sighed. "How many does the Lt. make?"
"Counting you, four," Sam said. "And that's also if you count the two hours Captain Matheson lasted."
"What happened?" Jim asked, watching as Rory was led to a bed at the far end of the infirmary.
"Lt. Rory was exploring a series of tunnels," Teal'c answered, taking up a position near Sam. "There was a cave-in."
"He tripped a booby-trap, T," O'Neill corrected his friend. Dr. Fraiser motioned for the colonel to have a seat on the bed next to Jim's. "He was so busy trying to translate some writing that he didn't look where he was going. OW!" O'Neill was sitting on the bed now, and Dr. Fraiser was looking at the cut on his forehead.
"You're lucky, Colonel," Dr. Fraiser informed him. "This isn't deep enough to require stitches." She proceeded to clean and bandage the wound, ignoring the colonel's mutterings.
"Look at it this way, Colonel," Jim said, trying to lighten the mood, "even Indiana Jones tripped the booby-traps once in a while."
"Yeah, but at least Indy didn't have to deal with people who were supposedly helping him springing the traps."
"On the contrary, O'Neill," Teal'c started to contradict him.
"Ah!" O'Neill glared at the Jaffa. "I'm not in the mood to hear it T."
Sam and Jim both smiled, which prompted O'Neill to comment, "I see you're no longer doing your mummy impression."
Jim half-smiled at the joke. "That's right, sir. I get to go home by the end of the week."
"Lucky you." O'Neill looked at his watch and turned to his 2IC. "I'm gonna hit the showers Carter. Debriefing's in thirty minutes."
A couple of days later, Sam entered the infirmary to find Jack delivering the punch line of yet another horrid joke he'd gotten out of the book he'd borrowed from Sgt. Siler. It received only a raised eyebrow from Teal'c, and a half-smile from Jim. That man's a saint to put up with those horrors…
"Carter!" O'Neill had noticed her standing in the doorway. Jim turned towards her, and she watched as his face lit up in a genuine smile. She smiled in return as she came over.
"Hey guys," she greeted them.
O'Neill was looking suspiciously at Jim. "What? My great joke gets a smirk, and Carter gets a smile just for showing up? May I remind you, Major, that I outrank both of you?"
Jim looked slightly embarrassed. "It's not my fault, sir." His face flushed slightly as all three members of SG-1 looked at him, but he continued. "Remember how Dr. Fraiser said there was nerve damage because of the burns? Part of the damage included the nerves that help me smile voluntarily." He gave them a few moments to absorb this. "In other words, Colonel, I can only smile at things that I genuinely like. I can't lie."
Silence greeted this statement. Finally, O'Neill spoke, "Well, there goes your career as a diplomat." Sam laughed, and saw Jim's face split in a genuine smile, too.
* * * * *
Three months later, SG-1 arrived back in the SGC after their mission to P4D-428. "Welcome home SG-1," General Hammond's voice greeted them. "We'll debrief in fifteen."
Colonel O'Neill waved towards the control room to acknowledge the general's words, but Sam's attention was on the young man in BDUs who stood next to the general in the control room. She felt her face break into a grin before exiting the 'gate room at a fast walk. "Jim!" she greeted Major Valley as she arrived in the control room. She offered her hand, which he shook warmly, smiling wide enough that the scars on his face disappeared. "General," she remembered to greet Hammond.
"Major," Hammond greeted her, smiling.
"How was the mission, Sam?" Jim asked her, drawing her attention back to him.
"It was fine," Sam answered as she studied him. His face had almost healed, leaving only a few scars at the edges of the skin grafts. His left ear was a little misshapen, but not noticeably so unless you looked closely. His hair and eyebrow had begun to grow back, and his new buzz cut was a little closer than usual to keep everything symmetrical. "You look great," she told him, meaning it.
"Certainly nothing like a mummy," O'Neill agreed from behind her. Sam threw him a glare over her shoulder, which he ignored.
"Sir," Jim saluted.
"At ease, Major. It's good to see you back here." O'Neill offered his hand.
Jim shook it. "Thanks sir. It's good to be back. Hey Teal'c," he greeted the Jaffa. Then he noticed the man standing next to the former First Prime, and his face lit up. "Jonas!"
"Major," Jonas Quinn returned the greeting.
"You two know each other?" O'Neill asked, surprised.
Jim half-smiled at the colonel. "Dr. Fraiser introduced us, sir. Jonas would come and visit while you guys were off-world."
O'Neill looked at the alien, then back at Major Valley. "You never mentioned that before."
Jim just shrugged. "Didn't know that it was important, sir."
"I've reassigned Major Valley to SG-17 under Lt. Colonel Davidson," Hammond said, drawing the focus of the conversation to him. "He'll be joining them for their mission tomorrow to P3Y-420."
"Good job, Major." The colonel smiled. "Just don't drive Davidson too crazy and you'll be fine."
"Understood, sir," Jim half-smiled. O'Neill scowled in response and headed up the stairs to the briefing room without another word. "I think I hurt his feelings," Jim observed. Sam swallowed a smiled, and she could sense the amusement radiating off Teal'c and Jonas. Even General Hammond smiled as he followed the colonel up the stairs. Jim turned his attention back to Sam. "Care to join me for lunch after the debriefing?" he asked as Teal'c and Jonas moved past the two of them.
"Yeah, that sounds great. I'll meet you in the commissary in…," Sam looked at her watch, "an hour, okay?"
"I'll see you there," Jim promised, smiling.