(A quick Author's Note before I had to leave this morning)...A/N: Well here we are, having come to the end. One more HUGE thanks to everyone who's read, especially those who have stuck with it these last four days. Also, my extreme gratitude goes to those who have reviewed and/or favorited and/or alerted this story. It really makes me very pleased to realize that it's been so well received. So thanks again.
Also, a huge thanks to Alexmichele who offered to post this for me, since I couldn't get on tonight to actually put this chapter up :). Love you seler' nin.
Just one more thing I'd like to mention... The fic "Under Fire" by Strix varia really inspired me. I read it a good many months ago, but the story opened up a whole new layer to the Stargate world that hadn't ever really crossed my mind before - that of how hard it must have been for Sam to feel like she was 'accepted' by the rest of the team, but particularly Jack - and it's stuck with me this whole time. Because of that inspiration, I added in a little thread that ties off at the end. It's simple, and not really that important, and I'm not sure how obvious it is...but it's there. So thanks Strix for all of the inspiration, and for opening that new train of thought for me.
Hope you all enjoy this final chapter, and I would love it if you'd drop a quick few words on your way out. Thanks, and happy reading!
She couldn't move, at least nothing below her neck. She slowly returned to consciousness, her head dangling down, her chin resting against her sternum. Her throat felt raw and it stung every time she swallowed, reminding her all too vividly of what had transpired just before her last lapse into darkness. It felt as if two hot pokers had been jabbed into the skin on her neck just below her jaw directly over the vein, and she could feel a faint, continued trickle of blood as it oozed from the punctures.
She slowly, achingly, lifted her head. It felt as heavy as a leaden bowling ball and throbbed agonizingly with each heartbeat. She blinked blearily, trying to sift her grainy vision into a clearer picture.
As she looked around, she took in as much detail as she could. She was in a large cavern, the far side indistinguishable from dusky shadow. The walls were made of the same creamy beige as before, only in many places the rock was eaten away in large chunks, as if some very corrosive acid had been sprayed throughout the entire cave. Webs gleamed in many of the hollows, and Sam could vaguely make out black and dark red blobs moving lethargically across the pearly fibers.
Sam looked down and discovered that her feet were a good three feet off of the nearest ledge. She looked frantically up, down, and to either side of her, and finally came to the realization that she was, indeed, fastened to a web, with both of her hands and her legs stuck firmly to the substance spread eagle style. She tried to wriggle free but it was to no avail. She was as tightly bound as ever before.
How long would it be until the spiders decided that their dinner was tenderized enough? Sam mused morbidly. Did these spiders even liquefy their prey and then suck out their innards, or did they simply strip the flesh off of the bones and the suck out the marrow? Or did they do neither, but instead had captured her for some other, more sinister reason. She honestly didn't really want to find out.
Her head began to droop lower and lower, the powerful poison that had been injected into her body beginning to take its toll. Her entire body ached and burned, and she felt as if a thousand nettles were burning into her blood. Or perhaps it was a thousand ants burrowing under her fingernails and into her skin. She was weak, unable to even hold her head up straight. Her vision was swimming, and everything acquired a certain washed out feeling to it. Colors bled from one thing to another until it looked like everything had a glowing trail of color surrounding it.
Then, it felt as if something changed. Sam looked up blearily, barely finding enough willpower to even lift her head so she could look around. Something had indeed changed, she saw. Someone was standing on the ledge in front of her, his head even with her neck.
He was tall, even for a man, and he was lithe and skinny. His hands were forced deep within the pockets of his breeches and he was gazing up at her. A deep shadow rested over his eyes and nose, the cusp of the hood he was wearing dropping to hide his forehead. Only his mouth was discernible. He smiled at her, revealing perfectly aligned and gleaming white teeth.
"Hello Samantha," he drawled carefully, his words precise and his tone sounding well-educated.
Somewhere deep within her, Sam drew on her last reserves of strength.
"Who are you?" she croaked.
The man's smile grew a little bigger and with only a second's hesitation he replied, "Deimos." He withdrew his left hand from its pocket and lifted it to her cheek, allowing the long, thin fingers to trail along her cheek. Sam jerked her head back, glaring as best as she could at the stranger.
Deimos simply chuckled and let his hand drop. "So much fire," he whispered as if to himself. "But every fire must be quenched before it can get out of hand," he continued and looked up at her sharply.
"What are you doing here?" Sam rasped, and coughed a little at the end of the sentence. Her chest ached horribly, and she was finding it more and more difficult to find the energy to breathe.
"Why, to take you away from here," Deimos replied. His smile was gone.
"You mean you're here to save me?" Sam asked, incredulity giving her voice a sense of normality.
"It depends on your definition of saving," Deimos answered. A smile once again began to grow on his lips, although this time it was different. This time it was colder, hungrier. It seemed to Sam that it was the smile of a predator about to make a kill.
"No thanks. I'm fine here," Sam started to say, but before she was able to get the first two words out, it was as if the world around her was melting.
Colors blurred together and ran down, mixing and mingling until they became indistinguishable from one another. The world began to revolve, spinning sickeningly. For a split second, all sight, sound, smell, and feel vanished, and for a nanosecond, Sam believed she had died. And then the world righted itself.
She was no longer in the cavern with the spiders.
She was lying flat on her back, something very cold and smooth pressing against her back. It was metal, her analytical mind decided. For one brief moment, Sam thought she was free. She struggled to sit up, but almost immediately she was stopped dead. Her hands were cuffed tightly to the table, along with her feet. She jerked savagely against the restraints, but the only purpose that the action served was to reopen the wounds on her wrists. They began to bleed again, crimson droplets dripping off of her fingertips and to the ground below.
Deimos appeared beside her. He was shaking his head almost sadly as he watched her struggling on the table.
"It's no use. You'll never get free," he promised, pulling off his hood. Then he looked down at her, and her blood ran cold.
Crimson eyes gazed down at her, the irises shot through with black. The pupils were vertical, like a cat's, and deep within their empty pits, she could almost hear a keening howl and a dark chuckle.
"I said you were afraid of me," he crooned, stroking her cheek again.
She turned her head and bit at him, her teeth latching into his skin. She tightened her grip as tightly as she could, and after a second she felt something snap. Acid flowed into her mouth, scalding and burning her. She automatically let go, gagging and spitting.
Something smashed into her cheek and she felt the bones of her jaw, cheek, and nose break. She screamed, although she immediately regretted it as bone grated against bone and razor-sharp shards pricked through her skin. Swimming through a red haze of pain, Sam turned her head just enough to see what had hit her.
Deimos's face was a mask of cold fury, his eyes blazing. His fingers tangled with her hair and he yanked her head up until she was looking directly into his eyes.
"I hope you realize you will pay for this," he said quietly, his voice deathly calm. "I thought I made it clear that you shouldn't fight; that what will happen will happen, and there's nothing you can do to stop it." He snarled and slammed her head back down against the table. Again she heard bone crack, and darkness threatened to engulf her. For a second she thought she would lose consciousness. But then the world came back into focus.
Deimos had returned and he was holding a sheathed knife. The handle was ornately carved bone, strange runes and symbols etched into the glowing white hilt. He drew it slowly, almost reverently, from its sheath and examined the blade carefully. The edge was serrated like ocean waves, with more of the strange runes running the length of the blade. Deimos's fingers caressed the strange knife and he smiled as he gazed at the weapon.
He sighed. "This is going to hurt," he warned. But he didn't sound sorry. In fact, he sounded just the opposite. He sounded excited and almost gleeful.
Sam watched in sick fear as the knife rose above her body and then plunged downward. She felt it pierce her skin like a warm butter knife does butter, felt the moment the iron tip touched the table on the other side of her body. The knife was lifted out of the wound slightly, and then began to cut upward, slicing through both skin and her shirt.
She was being dissected alive.
She fought to control her mounting panic, tears of both pain and fear threatening to cascade down her cheeks. She was breathing still, but barely, with each breath coming in as a ragged gasp. She could no longer feel or remember anything but fear or pain. It had become one with her.
The knife halted at the base of her sternum, and it slowly emerged. A shallow line of fire that slowly oozed warmth ran from the middle of her stomach to her lower chest and, although it hurt like nothing else, Sam could also tell that the creature had managed to avoid every single major organ. Deimos looked down at his prisoner and smiled again.
"Oh, don't worry, it'll take you plenty of time to bleed out. Much longer than normal, thanks to the venom the spiders injected into you. We'll have plenty of time for some fun." Sam quivered, but whether it was from fear, anger, or pain she wasn't sure. "Now, what would you like to continue with? If I keep rooting around in there, I risk killing you too quickly. So, arms or legs?" Sam refused to answer. "Answer me!" Deimos screamed
Deimos lashed out, striking Sam's left knee cap. She felt it shatter, bone fragments piercing her skin, while others sunk deep into her muscles and tendons.
"Answer me." This time Deimos's voice was deadly calm. Sam locked her jaw and refused to answer, ignoring the new assault of pain. "Very well," Deimos finally said. "Have it your way." He smiled sickeningly.
For the next few hours of her life, Sam held no reference of time. All she knew was the sound of her own screams, pain so intense she sincerely believed that she would die, and the sadistically gleeful smile fixated on Deimos's face.
Slowly, inch by bloody inch, he pulled her apart and cut her open. Muscles were cut away from bone, and bone was carved slowly into tiny slivers until the marrow was bared. She was literally skinned alive. She had never known what an organ sounded like as it was ripped from the body. She hadn't ever really wanted to, and she prayed she never would again.
Finally her voice gave out, and she was left screaming soundlessly. The only sounds left were those of her own body being torn to shreds and Deimos's seemingly displaced chuckles and murmurs.
Throughout the entire time, though, he left her face intact but for the first smashing blow to her cheek. She didn't know why but in one way she was thankful. In another she found it oddly disturbing.
Finally, Deimos spoke.
"Did you know that a human can survive having their heart torn out? In fact, they live long enough to see it still beating in their murderer's hands." He smiled his bloody grin, and then his hand darted downward.
And then the world seemed to somehow shift again. This time it was different than before, though. The colors surrounding her didn't begin to bleed together and run. Instead, it was as if other colors were attempting to filter through a veil. Vague images and shapes seemed to draw nearer, as if another world was beginning to cross over into the one in which Sam was existing. Next came sounds – shouts and humming, beeping and the whine of machines.
Deimos stepped away from her, his eyes wide. When Sam glanced at him, it was as if the iridescence had been leeched from his eyes and the energy sapped from his body. He was cringing away from the light that began to build, his bloodstained hands stretched out in front of him as if to protect himself from a vicious onslaught.
And then the darkness faded away, taking the table along with it. For a split second longer, Sam remained trapped between the two worlds. Her last vision was of Deimos snarling and lunging for her, anger and hatred raging across his face.
And then he was gone. He was gone, along with the pain.
No, that wasn't quite true. The pain was still there, but it was no longer unbearable. In fact, as the room around her began to come into focus, the pain continued to fade, as if it were being gently washed out of her body like a cleansing river.
She closes her eyes for a moment to block out the light. It feels unbearable, as if something long denied her is suddenly being shoved down her throat. Instead of simply blinking, though, she slips into a deep, dreamless sleep.
She awakens slowly, feeling drugged and lethargic. She blinks her eyes open slowly, feeling as if the weight of the world rests on her eyelids alone. A gentle sigh escapes from between her lips and she looks around, feeling peaceful, and yet still afraid of what she'll find.
She's in a place she knows; a place with gray walls and low ceilings, with a few dim lights blazing overhead. Somehow the light doesn't seem so bright anymore. A steady beeping sound pierces the fog that seems to have cloaked her brain and once again, this feels familiar – right. The bed creaks as she shifts slightly. A numb sort of pain whispers through her neck and she stills, afraid that, if she moves too much, she'll somehow reawaken the burning agony of before.
"Good morning camper," a cheerful voice chirps off to her side. She frowns, slightly confused. Isn't that voice supposed to sound…different? Echoing and far-off? She twists her head to the side, and finds her gaze drifting over a sleepy looking, yet smirking Colonel O'Neill.
"S-" she tries, but her throat constricts and she chokes on her words.
"Here," he says, and half stands up from the plastic chair he's sitting on. He picks up a small cup and fills it with water from the pitcher of the bedside stand and lifts it to Sam's lips. She's a little surprised at his kind gesture, not to mention his mere presence, but gratefully accepts nonetheless and sucks up the cool liquid, reveling in the feel of it sliding down her dry and aching throat.
"Thank you," she manages this time, although her voice still sounds husky.
"No problem," the Colonel replies. He's still standing, his hands shoved in his pockets. For a second, Sam is overwhelmed with an irrational fear at the sight of him standing in that way, a vague, blurry memory of fear rising to the forefront of her thoughts.
"Carter?" O'Neill asks, concerned at the flash of anxiety that crosses her face.
"It's nothing, Sir," she replies automatically, although she knows it's anything but. She'll figure it out later, though, she decides.
"You look tired," Colonel O'Neill says after a few awkward seconds of silence. "Get some rest." And then he turns around and saunters out of the infirmary, whistling something that sounds vaguely like 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat'.
"How're you feeling?" Sam jumps a little, her nearly asleep mind starting at the new voice beside her. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Sam opens her eyes and looks at her new visitor. It's Janet Fraiser, the new base CMO.
"Fine," Sam tells her. The petite doctor eyes her patient critically, but for the moment decides to accept the other woman's assessment. She catches Sam's quick glance toward the door, and then the empty chair, and smiles.
"Either Colonel O'Neill, Daniel, or Teal'c were sitting with you the entire time you've been in here," Janet informed Sam softly. She smiled at the slight look of surprise on Sam's face at the news.
"How long have I been unconscious?" Sam asked, finally gaining the nerve to ask the question that had been drifting about her thoughts.
"Three days," Janet replied, turning to record the readings on the monitors by Sam's bedside. "And apparently you'd been stung almost a full day before the rest of SG-1 managed to get you back to the SGC."
"Stung?" Sam asked, her mind whirring as she tried to recall something about being stung. All she could come up with was a long, seemingly never ending tunnel, a seething mass of spiders, and a tall, pale man with gleaming red eyes. She shivered.
Janet noticed and carefully tucked the blanket tighter around Sam. "Yes, stung," she affirmed. Seeing Sam's continued look of confusion, she elaborated. "You were on a mission to P4S-671 with the rest of SG-1. You encountered a small group of locals on your way to the ruins you were going to explore, and they warned you about a reptilian-like insect that populated the area. If stung, the victim would experience very intense hallucinations in which they were faced with their worst fears, until eventually one of the hallucinations would kill the person."
Again, blurred pictures sped through Sam's mind, illuminating random bursts of images and windows of feeling.
"You and the Colonel were exploring a more densely forested area of the ruins when O'Neill stumbled upon one of the insects. You saw it just as it was about to strike, and knocked him out of the way, and took the stinger instead. It passed almost all of the way through your neck," she added, shaking her head. "It was a miracle you even survived the initial sting. The rest of SG-1 carried you back to the Gate and home, somehow managing to keep you alive until they got you back to the SGC. By the time the Colonel carried you through the Gate, your heart had stopped and you weren't breathing." She fell silent, and Sam started to drift off to sleep again. "I think you'll find some things will change, though," she murmured, and then departed, seeing Sam's drooping lids and hearing her deep, steady breathing.
"Some things have already changed," Sam murmured just loud enough for her own ears to hear. Never before had the Colonel looked at her that way before – like she was someone to be respected, even if she was a woman and a physicist. That she was an equal.
Slowly, sleep once again claimed her and, as she drifted off into sweet oblivion, she smiled. It didn't matter that she would have nightmares for weeks about her experience. It didn't even matter that she was confined to the infirmary. For she had faced her fears, and had come out alive. For she had her friends, and they were there for her. She knew that now, beyond a shadow of a doubt.