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fan fiction: how do I love thee
coffee
kehwie

A/N: I don't think I'll have any new readers pop up here (honestly, I'm not sure anyone's left on LJ at all). BUT on the off-chance that someone does show up and want to read the others in this series, numbers 1-3 are in the How Do I Love Thee tag.

Disclaimer: I still don't own jack. Or Jack. *cries*

#4 Perfection Is Overrated

She was perfect. She was absolutely bloody perfect, and Vala hated her.

How was she supposed to compete with that anyway?

Dr. Holly Sampson was an anthropologist and new to the Stargate program. But she'd already proven herself invaluable to Daniel as they worked to piece together histories and cultures of various worlds.

The woman was brilliant, there was no question about it.

And she was beautiful. Vala might not have been so irritated by the woman's presence if Dr. Sampson had had the decency to be a stereotypical unattractive geek. But no. She had to go and be utterly beautiful to boot.

No way Daniel wasn't going to fall for that. She was as close to his ideal as anyone could ever get.

Vala had been fooling herself all this time. She was all wrong for him—always had been, and she knew it.

She'd just been banking on the fact that Daniel didn't know it.

But it was going to be rather obvious to him now, with the annoying new doctor there for comparison.

Still she plunked herself down in front of Daniel in the commissary at dinner, same as always. She couldn't admit defeat just yet. Vala Mal Doran did not back down that easily.

Five minutes later Holly joined them...and sat right next to Daniel. He sent her a warm smile. "Hey. Wondered when you'd show up. Vala, have you met Holly?"

Vala's grip tightened on her fork, but she forced a smile of her own. "Why, no. Hello."

And damn it all, the woman had to go and be nice on top of everything else. She and Daniel discussed their own work for a few minutes, equaling each other in their depth of passion for the subject matter, but then Holly redirected the conversation to include Vala. She asked questions and seemed genuinely interested in Vala's answers.

It was positively infuriating. Couldn't the woman have any faults? Like being a horrid bitch or something?

Uncooperative wretch.

And so it went. The meals that used to just be Vala and Daniel or the two of them plus Cameron were now joined by Holly. And Daniel smiled and Daniel laughed, and Vala felt something shrivel up inside her.

That shriveled-up something died completely when she stopped by Daniel's office one evening to ask him to join her, Cameron, and Teal'c for movie night. "Sorry, can't. Holly and I are going to dinner and then a university lecture. Have fun, okay?" He walked off whistling.

Well, then.

A few days later it was dinner and a museum exhibit. And another dinner and lecture about a week after that.

Now Vala was off-world, watching Daniel and Holly both in their element as they worked. They communicated in rapid-fire speech and half-finished sentences and excited gestures.

Not only was Holly perfect, they were perfect together.

So when they returned to the SGC, Vala made a decision. She was happy for Daniel, she truly was, but she couldn't stay here and watch. She couldn't lie and pretend she didn't care.

"Walter," she said, entering the man's office, "when will the next data burst to the Hammond be sent?"

"Tomorrow at thirteen hundred hours. You need to add a message?"

"Yes. Yes, I do."

Walter eyed her shrewdly. "Do you need to schedule a time to speak with Colonel Carter privately?"

"Could you arrange that?"

"Not immediately, not as soon as tomorrow, but yes, I can make it happen."

What a dear man. Vala kissed the top of his head. "Thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate this." He turned pink but looked pleased.

And it did take time, but Walter worked with Samantha to get Vala a short time to talk. When the day finally arrived, he called her to his office. "All right, I'm going to go grab a coffee. You have until I get back. Just keep this under your hat, okay?"

Vala nodded vigorously. "Absolutely, my lips are locked. Thank you, Walter. This means a lot to me."

He waved her off and left the room. "So what's up?" came Samantha's crackly voice.

"Do you have room for me on the Hammond?"

There was a pause. "Of course. You'd be a huge asset. But, Vala, why? You love SG-1. And I know how hard you worked to be a part of it."

Vala closed her eyes, grateful her friend couldn't see her. "I just..need to get away from here. Please."

"Okay, sure. I'll figure out where I can use you most and make the request. But these things do take some time."

"That's fine. Just as quickly as possible, please?"

Another pause. "You bet. I'll try to come up with a way to rush it. But now you're scaring me. What's wrong?"

Walter re-entered the room. Vala couldn't deny she felt relieved. "Our time's up, Samantha, sorry. But thank you. And I promise to work hard and be useful to you. You won't regret this."

"Not what I'm worried about," Samantha muttered. "But okay. Thanks, Walter. Sending through our latest intel."

Vala mouthed another silent thank you to Walter and left the room.

###

Cameron stared at her, hurt and disbelief written all over his face. "You did what? Vala, why?"

She forced a smile. "I think I could do some good work there."

"You do good work here!" he all but shouted. "Dammit, girl, it was bad enough when Sam left, but now you too? What the hell's wrong with being on my team?"

"Nothing, nothing, of course nothing," Vala hastened to assure him, kissing his cheek soundly. "It's not you at all, Cameron—I just need a change…"

"Aw, hell." Cameron closed his eyes. "This is about Jackson, isn't it? Him and that new doctor who keeps tagging along on our missions?"

Vala gave a little shrug, causing Cameron to sigh heavily. "Right. I guess I can understand. But damn, we're gonna miss you."

"I'll miss you all too. More than you know."

"Wouldn't have to miss us if you just didn't leave," the colonel grumbled. He hugged her. "Two weeks, huh?"

Vala nodded. "Yes. As I understand it, two weeks' notice is fairly standard."

"Yeah. Just not sure it's long enough to get used to the band breaking up further."

"Oh, Cameron. I was never part of your band. I was just the back-up singer, remember?"

"Hey." He frowned at her. "You know that hasn't been true for a long time. Don't pretend like you don't. Don't even joke about it. Not right now."

Her face softened. "I do know. And I'm grateful to have been a real part of your band. Really. I just..."

"Yeah, I get it. I hate it, but I get it." He patted her back. "C'mon, let's get out of here. I'll grab Teal'c and buy you dinner someplace nice."

She beamed at him, her first real smile in ages. "That sounds marvelous."

###

Vala had not been at all surprised that Samantha had received a big going away party when she'd left SG-1. After all, the colonel had been an invaluable part of the team for years and years.

She was a little more surprised when she received one. And the number of people coming up to her to express their sadness over her leaving was a bit overwhelming. She thought of the video clip Teal'c had shown her on YouTube once. "You like me! You really like me!"

She had just finished her conversation with an SF when Holly Sampson walked up. "Sorry to see you go, Vala," the anthropologist said, sounding completely sincere.

Honestly, this level of perfection was beyond ridiculous. Couldn't she give it a rest? "Thank you. I'll miss everyone here."

Holly nodded. "We're going to miss you too. Daniel especially. He's been in a terrible funk since we got the news."

Well, that was somewhat nice to hear. And though she didn't really mean a word of it, Vala tried to respond in kind. "I'm glad he has you." She hesitated, then impulsively put her hand on Holly's arm. "You'll take care of him, won't you?"

Holly stared at her. "Uh...sure."

"No, really," Vala insisted. "I know you're just as bad as he is about forgetting to eat and forgetting to have any sort of life outside of your books and research. But he needs looking after, and he deserves someone as good as you to do it." She swallowed. "I'm happy for you both, and I wish you all the best. Just please, please...take care of him."

And then, unable to speak another word, Vala scurried off to the refreshment table. Then punch wasn't spiked, but she knocked back a cup anyway, hoping it would help somehow.

Samantha came up. "Hey. What do you need?"

Vala glanced around. "I think I've spoken to everyone here, and I don't think Daniel is coming. Can you take me to a bar? This punch isn't going to cut it."

Samantha nodded. "Sure. I know just the place. Let me grab Cam and Teal'c, and we'll go."

"Thanks, Samantha. For everything."

"You bet. Back in a sec."

As they left, Vala noticed Holly still rooted in the same spot, staring after them. How odd. But she shrugged and followed her friends to the elevator.

###

Vala got back to her quarters around 2 a.m. To her surprise, Daniel was seated outside the door. Actually he was slumped against the door, having apparently fallen asleep while waiting for her.

At least he wasn't going to let her leave without saying good-bye. She'd wondered when he hadn't shown up at the party.

She knelt down and shook him lightly. He jerked awake and looked around somewhat frantically, then seemed to realize where he was. "Vala. There you are. Where've you been? I went to your party, and you'd already left."

She raised an eyebrow as he stumbled to his feet. "You must have left it awfully late, darling. I waited for you quite some time before I left with Samantha, Cameron, and Muscles."

He grimaced. "Yeah. Sorry about that. Guess I was trying to get up my nerve." He looked at her sadly. "You really doing this?"

"We leave the day after tomorrow. I think I can be useful to Samantha and her crew."

"I don't doubt that for a moment. But you're also useful here."

She smiled sadly. "I know. And I'll miss you all dreadfully."

"Wouldn't have to miss us if you just stayed," Daniel said.

Vala rolled her eyes. "Have you been talking to Cameron?"

"No. I just don't want you to go." He nudged her with his foot. "I'm kind of used to having you around."

Tears welled up, and she blinked furiously. She could not cry, not now. If she started, she'd never stop. "It's not like we'll never see each other again. I mean, the Hammond does come here from time to time, and SG-1 does use it for some missions, and there's leave time, and..."

"Hey." He cut her off, his hand cupping her cheek. "I know all that. It's just not the same. You know it's not."

She did know. Samantha's leaving had almost undone her. It wasn't as bad as this, leaving Daniel, but it had hurt a lot worse than she'd expected. She'd never really had a best friend before.

Now she had a best friend, a sort of brother, and a loyal Jaffa comrade. And Daniel, the love of her life, not that he reciprocated. And she was leaving three out of the four.

She couldn't stop the tears this time.

"Oh, hey." Daniel pulled her into his arms. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his voice sounding strangled. "I'm not trying to make this harder. It's just..." He shook head, then rested it against hers. "You have no idea how much you mean to me, Vala. Not really sure what I'm going to do without you."

She let out a choked sob. "You'll be fine, Daniel. Holly's here. You'll forget about me in no time."

He pulled back to frown at her. "Ah, sorry, no. Holly's great and all, but she's not you. She can't replace you or keep me from missing you."

She chuckled, although it came out hoarse and rough through the tears. "There's nothing I could do for you that she can't take care of, darling. Okay, so she's not quite as good at making you stop work and take a break once in a while. But it's not like that will bother you." She patted his chest. "You'll be fine. She promised to take care of you."

"Yeah, about that..." He released her and stepped back again. "She said you congratulated her and it sounded like you thought she and I were dating or something."

"Well, you are, aren't you?"

"No. We're friends, and I value her as a colleague. But no, nothing beyond that."

Vala rolled her eyes again and huffed. "That whole 'friends and co-workers having dinner' thing again?"

He shrugged. "Yeah, pretty much. There were lectures we wanted to attend and a museum exhibit we wanted to check out. It made sense to get dinner first."

She eyed him suspiciously. "You're not dating her?"

"Nope. Not dating her."

"Well, I don't know why not! Daniel, she's completely perfect for you!"

"Oh, do you think so? See, I don't agree. She doesn't pester me to take a break or to stop working and take her out somewhere fun. She doesn't flirt incessantly. She doesn't mangle her idioms. She doesn't distract me with her pigtails and sparkly hair clips and memories of her leather outfits. She doesn't bring me coffee made exactly the way I like it. She doesn't argue with me, challenge me, make me furious, make me rethink everything I thought I knew. And she certainly doesn't drive me absolutely, certifiably insane. I doubt she even owns pink furry handcuffs. So how could she possibly be perfect?"

She stared at him, gaping. "You...you like me doing all that stuff?"

"They're all part of what makes you you, aren't they?"

"I...I guess."

"Then how could I not?"

"But Holly isn't bored by your work. She even gets as wrapped up in it and excited about it as you do! She's beautiful and smart and a good person and you have everything in common..."

"You're beautiful and smart and a good person. And having everything in common is overrated. Why would I want someone exactly like me?"

He ran a hand along her cheek. "I'd rather have someone who can complement me. Fill in my weak spots. Make me laugh. Make me remember that there is actually more to life than work. I don't love you because you're perfect, Vala. I love you because you're perfect for me."

"You...really mean that?"

He sighed. "I really do. And I know I'm an idiot. I never thought that you might have serious feelings for me; Holly did. And I never noticed that you were jealous; that was her too. And I never put it together until it's too late that you were probably leaving because of what you thought was between her and me." He sent her a sideways look. "She's got a boyfriend, you know. She's been with him a lot longer than she's worked here. But even if she didn't, even if she weren't 'taken,' it wouldn't matter. I'm taken. You've bewitched me completely; there could never be anyone else."

Vala pressed her face in her hands, sobbing in earnest. "Oh, Daniel. Have I messed everything up?"

"Shh, no, of course not. I haven't waited for you this long only to let a little thing like you taking off on the Hammond get in the way."

"But how do we make it work?"

He pulled her back to him and kissed the top of her head. "The same way Sam and Jack do. Take advantage of every leave we can. Or..."

"Or?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Well...I may have had a little chat with Jack while you were off drinking with Sam and Mitchell and Teal'c tonight. And he may have agreed to change the paperwork on your transfer to be a temporary one. If you want it to be."

"And what if I don't?"

"If you don't then he won't. You'll have a new permanent position, and I'm sure you'll do a great job. Sam will love having you. And I'll be right here waiting every time you have leave, Vala. I'm yours no matter what. Again...if you want me to be."

"You stupid man. Of course I want you to be. I've always wanted that."

"Good. Me too." He kissed her, slowly, searchingly, his hands gentle in her hair. Vala could taste the salt from both of their tears.

They broke the kiss, and Vala buried her face in Daniel's shoulder. She felt him press another kiss to her hair. "You know I'm not playing, right?" Her voice came out muffled. "You know that I love you and that this isn't me just messing with you."

And maybe it was a ridiculous question to ask after all this. But Vala had thrown herself at Daniel too many times. She couldn't handle it if it blew up in her face yet again.

"Yes, I know. I'm dense when it comes to this sort of thing, I know that. I should've realized a lot sooner that you'd stopped messing with me a long time ago—if you were ever messing around at all. But I realized something when Holly talked to me earlier. If you just wanted to get me into bed, to make me another conquest, you might still be jealous if you thought I was with someone else. But you'd be angry and offended, and you'd see it as a challenge. And Vala Mal Doran never backs down from a challenge; she confronts it head on. So you'd still be here in that case, trying to 'best' her—trying to win. You didn't do that. You ran away. You run when you're hurt, not when you're angry. And if you were hurt, you had to feel something real."

She laughed, though it still sounded half-sob. "You're very perceptive...finally."

He let out his own teary chuckle. "Yeah. I know it took me awhile. Don't rub it in too long, huh?"

She lifted her face, finally smiling for real. "I don't know. Maybe fifty or sixty years would be long enough?"

He grinned in return. "Yeah. Maybe."

END


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