AN: I'm still working on True Happiness, in fact, it's nearly done. But this one came to me and wouldn't quit bugging me. No promises when Chapter Two will be out. RL is still being a bitch. Please let me know what you think! For the record... this part is really just setting up the real story.
Disclaimer: I don't own them; I'm just taking them out for some fun. I'll put them back when I'm done. Promise.
Spoilers: Season Eight, including Threads.
Whenever Colonel Carter happened to peek in General O'Neill's office, he usually believed it to be the harbinger of something good. That Tuesday afternoon, however, he wasn't pleased to see her. He hid the grimace that crossed his face by pretending to finish reading the paper in front of him.
"Sir? Do you have a moment?" Polite and professional to the last, she waited for his permission to enter.
He forced a smile and inclined his head to the side, indicating that she was welcome. "What can I do for you?" Normally he tried to keep things light and informal, but he'd been avoiding her for two days and thought he might scare her away by pretending to be in a bad mood.
She stood in front of his desk; her stiff movements revealing that she was well aware of his mood. "I know you're very busy, sir, so I'll keep this short. I haven't heard back on my request to join the research team at the Alpha Site and I was wondering if you'd had time to review my proposal."
He had, of course, reviewed her proposal. As impartial as he tried to be, any requests made by SG-1 always magically wound up on the top of his pile and generally were approved without question. They rarely asked for anything excessive or unnecessary. But Carter's most recent request was simply unimaginable to him, damn near preposterous. She was asking for an open-ended temporary reassignment to the Alpha Site on the grounds that the head of their research department was ineffective. Jack already knew the arrogant man needed to be replaced and had been planning on asking Carter's help to find a suitable replacement. Unfortunately, when she asked to be that replacement, he found it impossible to consider. "I glanced at it."
For all of her efforts to keep her expression schooled into an impassive mask, her stare faltered for a moment as she frowned. "Glanced at it, sir?"
She knew. He knew she knew. She was calling him on it. With a sigh, he closed the folder in front of him and folded his hands on his desk. He hated telling her no; he really hated that he had to lie to her too. "Fine, Carter, I reviewed it. We need you here."
Her eyes fell on his for a moment and he could see the internal struggle when she weighed her options. She could argue professionally and get only half answers; she could appeal to him as a friend and get stonewalled. "Sir, Dr. Abrams is an embarrassment to the Air Force and to Earth as well. His position is a critical one." As usual, the professionalism won out.
It only irritated him; he would have greatly preferred that she allow herself to get angry. "He will be replaced. We are working on that, Carter."
She bit her lip for a moment and chose her words carefully, although her irritation slipped through in her tone. "Is there any particular reason why I am not being considered for the position, sir, or is it simply that I'm so valuable here on stand-down?"
He fought to keep the smile off his face. He liked to think her occasional flippant comments were evidence of his influence over her. "SG-1 is on stand-down because you're working yourselves into the ground. You're useless as a unit when you're exhausted. And reassigning you somewhere where no one will know any better than to let you work yourself to death is not in your best interest. Like I said, Carter, you're needed here." It was as close as he would get to the truth - that he wanted her where he could keep an eye on her. She'd been under more stress than anyone with her father's death and her break up with Pete and even her run in with Kerry. She was spending way too much time working and, for the time being, he didn't trust her not to push herself too hard.
Her professionalism disappeared entirely. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. "Why don't you just tell the truth and say you just won't let me go rather than the vague bull about how much I'm needed here. I'm not doing anything."
His eyes locked on hers. His heart beat faster. He loved the thrill of arguing with her. It was the only time they ever got to display any emotion whatsoever. "Fine, Carter, you can't go cause I said so. Is that better?"
"No." She waited until he raised his eyebrow at her before she finished. "Sir."
"I don't think you should be making any big decisions right now. I think you need to be in familiar surroundings until you come to terms with the recent developments in your life." He inwardly winced at his own words. It didn't sound like something he'd ever think. He feared the stars on his shoulders had seeped into his head and were turning him into a jerk.
"Why don't you just refer me for counseling, sir?"
He cracked a smile specifically to annoy her. "Hey, that's a good idea."
"Conveniently, there is a resident psychologist stationed at the Alpha Site, sir." There was pride behind the twinkle in her eye; she loved to argue because she usually won.
"Conveniently, there's a resident psychologist stationed here too, Carter. I can call him right now if you'd like." He didn't want her to talk to a psychologist; he wanted her to talk to him. After their fishing trip, he'd thought they were making headway. Unfortunately, she'd completely shut him out immediately upon their return.
"No, Carter. Request denied." He couldn't let her go. He had a million reasons, less than half of which had anything to do with her invaluable knowledge of the Stargate. He watched her bite down the remarks that came to her mind. He looked down. "Dismissed."
She spun on her heel and practically stormed out of the room. He stared after her for a long time. He'd done what had to be done. He'd succeeded.
And he felt like shit. He hated being in charge.
He found his way to her lab a few hours later. It was late, later than she needed to be there at least, but he fully expected her to be working diligently on something. To his surprise, she was waiting for her computer to shut down; her jacket was already on and her purse was in her hand. He closed his eyes for a moment. She was mad. Very, very mad. And she was mad at him.
He saw her jerk in surprise. She closed her laptop and thrust it into the case. "Yes, sir? Did you need something?" She picked up the laptop case and threw it over her shoulder as well. Her keys were already in hand.
He knew she hated her boss at that moment. He was there to help her distinguish between her boss and her friend. "I was just wondering if you wanted to crash Daniel's with dinner and a movie. I'm sure Teal'c will be free."
"Big plans?" He asked, but he was afraid of the answer. He never knew if she was going to patch things up with Pete or if, God forbid, she'd meet someone else.
"No, sir." She adjusted the bags on her shoulder. "Is that all, sir?"
He felt slightly worse that she hadn't bothered with an excuse. She just didn't want to be near him. "Yeah, that's all." It was obvious that she wanted to leave and that she wanted to put as much space between them as possible. He backed out of the doorway and allowed her to pass. She was several steps in front of him on the way to the elevator. "Carter."
She stopped, but didn't turn back. "Yes, sir?"
He moved in front of her, feeling horribly guilty for having denied her. "I'm sorry."
"You know, sir, I started working on the Stargate when I was 24 and I realized something today. I will never, ever be able to leave it, will I?"
"I didn't know you wanted to." The idea that she wanted to leave sent ice cold daggers through his heart, but his face gave nothing away.
"I just thought I'd have options. I spent so much time in school. I joined the Air Force. I always thought the more I knew how to do, the more choices I'd have. But that's not the case. I'll be here until the day I die."
He tried to lighten the conversation and smiled at her. "Job security's good, isn't it?" When his words failed to have any effect on her, he looked down. "It's not that, Carter. It's just bad timing. I don't think the Alpha Site is the place for you at the moment."
"Is it even up to you, sir? If I submitted my resignation, could you accept it? Or would someone stop you?"
His eyes went wide at the thought. "Carter, are you telling me-"
"No, I'm not. I'm just curious if it's your fault that I'm stuck here or if you're following orders."
"I'm sure someone somewhere would have a whole lot to say if you tried to resign. But this time, it's all me. We need you here right now."
"Why? There are a hundred people who know everything about the gate that I do. There are people who've spent more time working with it than me. They could probably tell you better than me how it works. Why am I so damn important?"
His eyes fixed on a spot on the wall just over her shoulder. He couldn't bring himself to meet her piercing gaze. "You just are, Carter. I don't want you going anywhere."
"That's what this is about, isn't it? You. What you want. To hell with me and what I want."
"Carter-" Even as his voice warned her, his mind reeled with the fact that she knew. She knew he wasn't about to let her leave him. He suddenly hated having that power over her. It was up to him - and he couldn't let her go. It just wasn't right.
"Can I go, sir?" Her voice held as much contempt as she dared.
He nodded in defeat. He was a jerk and she knew it. He watched as she walked the rest of the way to the elevator, jabbing the button repeatedly in anger. She stepped inside and turned back to face him. As the doors started to close, he caught her eyes. "I'm sorry, Sam. Really."
He stared at the doors for a long time before he found the strength to go home.