Title: Out of Context
Author: Annerb
Rating: Everyone
Summary: SG-1 is moving on, but Sam is standing still. (fill-in btw S8 +9)
Classifications: Angst, S/J
Season: Between 8 and 9
Disclaimer
The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-1, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.

Out of Context

Las Vegas, Nevada

"What's going on with you and Jack?" Daniel asks.

The question seems out of the blue, but Sam feels like maybe he's been building to it all weekend.

"What?" Sam asks as blankly as she can manage, looking up from her meal. She lowers her fork carefully when Daniel continues to stare and shakes her head. "Nothing."

Daniel doesn't press, but now his brow is furrowed, and Sam can feel the concern radiating off him. She shifts uneasily under his scrutiny, suddenly wishing she was back at Groom Lake, surrounded by strangers. That she had never let Daniel talk her into a weekend stint in Vegas together before he left on his new assignment.

Eventually he goes back to eating, and Sam releases a long breath, sure he is going to drop what she had thought was understood as an off-limit topic, even among friends as close as them.

She should have known Daniel better than that.

"Why are you here, Sam?" he asks a moment later, obviously changing tactics.

She considers playing dumb; making some sarcastic remark that he'd been the one to choose the restaurant, not her, even though she knows he means her new job at Area 51. But this is Daniel. And she is far too aware that she is about to lose him to the Pegasus Galaxy.

Sam pokes at her salad, casually drowning her croutons in the gathering pool of dressing. "I just couldn't stay there anymore. Everyone else was moving on, so I figured I should too."

Now Daniel is openly staring at her, leaning back in his chair. Like he always does when presented with a delicate problem.

"This isn't about you going to Atlantis, Daniel," Sam clarifies. The last thing she wants is to make him feel guilty for pursuing his dream.

"I know it's not," he responds absently, as if he had never even considered it. "You could have come too."

He's right. Samantha Carter is a sort of hero, too, in the eyes of the military. She could have gone anywhere. Atlantis with Daniel, Dakara with Teal'c. She could have stayed at the SGC. She could have even gone to Washington.

But instead, she chose a top-secret, non-existent installation in the middle of nowhere. Maybe because she felt like being a little non-existent herself. And that is probably what Daniel is really trying to get at and Sam has the disconcerting feeling they were back to the original topic.

"I'm getting a lot of exciting work done here," she says, but it is nothing more than a party line. A lie repeated so frequently that even she has lost hope of ever really believing it.

Daniel doesn't call her on it, probably because he is aware of the fact that Sam is far more likely to respond to gently dropped ideas than bald-faced pressure.

She wishes he didn't know her quite so well.

The rest of the meal is filled with inane discussion; Daniel's excitement over his trip temporarily overwriting his concern for Sam. But his words linger in her mind, just as he knew they would, damn him.

A few hours later she is waiting with Daniel for his cab to the airport and he delicately lobs one last parting shot. "I can stay if you need me to."

Sam stares at him in complete dismay. He is so worried about her that he is offering to miss the Daedalus?

"Daniel," she draws out in protest. She doesn't need a babysitter.

"I know, I know," Daniel replies, waving his hands in the air. "It's just not like you to walk away without a fight."

It's a well placed barb and Sam feels it strike home. "Who said anything about walking away?"

Daniel doesn't answer her, instead pulling her into his arms. Sam can hear the cab pulling up to the curb next to them and leans into Daniel for a moment, all irritation at his words forgotten in the face of his departure.

"I'm going to miss you, Daniel," Sam whispers, held close and safe and familiar in his arms. "Why do things have to change?" she asks before she can stop herself, revealing more than she had wanted. She knows she sounds petulant and childish, but she can't help it.

Daniel squeezes her one last time and then pulls back. He smiles softly. "Not all change is bad, Sam," he reminds her. "Promise me you won't hide here forever."

Sam swallows hard against the unexpected prick of tears and nods silently before stepping back and watching him drive back out of her life.


Washington D.C.

The forwarding address leads Sam to a tall, glinting apartment complex in the center of town.

She pushes through the rotating glass door, smiling wanly at the livery-wearing doorman. The lobby is spacious with smooth marble floors and strategically placed plants. On one wall is an enormous fireplace that crackles merrily even in the stifling mid-summer heat. A slight draft and gentle humming confirm Sam's suspicions that the A/C is working overtime somewhere to counteract the superfluous elegance of the fire.

The sound of a throat clearing behind her causes Sam to jump. Turning around, she catches sight of a clerk in a dark suit standing behind a gleaming wood counter. "May I help you, Ma'am?"

His tone makes it clear that she is somewhere she doesn't belong. Sam can't help but think that maybe he is right.

She clears her throat awkwardly. "I'm here to see Jack O'Neill, in 8C," Sam says, glancing quickly at the address again.

"Are you expected?" The clerk raises an eyebrow at her, and Sam wonders how this imperious snob can intimidate her in a way no Goa'uld could.

"No, I'm visiting from out of town."

"General O'Neill is not in at the moment," he informs her, emphasizing his title.

Now Sam is annoyed. She is aware of his rank, thank you very much. Though her decision to wear casual civvies instead of her dress uniform suddenly seems a bad one.

"I'll just wait over there," Sam says, pointing to the antique looking couches flanking the fireplace.

The clerk doesn't look like he is particularly fond of the idea, but in the end civility seems to win out, and he nods stiffly in acceptance.

Sam settles down on the couch and it creaks under her weight. She has to wonder if she is the first person to have the audacity to actually sit on what is obviously an expensive antique.

A large gilded mirror sits above the enormous fireplace creating a back drop for two Chinese-looking vases.

Sam just can't imagine Jack O'Neill living here. Logically she knows this is the apartment he was set up with, probably a nice, pre-furnished place worthy of his position. But everything about it is just so wrong and she can't escape the fact that this is just part of his new life. The one he chose.

She stares outside, watching people and cars fly by, seemingly unaware of all else around them. It's hard for Sam to believe that she had once called this city home. She can remember fitting so easily into the hustle and mixing of important people. She had once traversed it with ease. Now it just feels…claustrophobic.

It's strange, but not really surprising. Everyone changes, and Sam is no longer the starry-eyed young Captain she had been. Too much has happened since then. She's seen too much.

Lost too much.

And suddenly Sam has to wonder what the hell she is doing here. It seems too much like a futile attempt to cling to something from her old life.

Her father is dead, her team dissolved, and her friends scattered. Everything she's held onto for the last eight years is gone. In the end, she hadn't been enough to keep any of them.

Maybe she'd thought that Jack would be the one thing that wouldn't change, even if he had left just like everyone else. But this place…this political city and elegant apartment complex…none of this is the Jack O'Neill she'd known.

She doesn't belong here any more than she does in the anonymous desert. Maybe she should have gone to Atlantis.

Sam's just about to push to her feet to leave when a dark sedan pulls up to the curb. The doorman opens the back door, and General O'Neill steps out.

It only takes one glance to confirm that this is no longer that he's not the same. He is crisp and elegant in his dress uniform, collar starched, shoes polished, and hat firmly in place with dark glasses shielding his face. He moves stiffly, formally.

The doorman and clerk seem to snap to attention in his presence.

Sam sinks further into the settee, hoping that he might just pass her by. She lifts panicked eyes to those of the clerk in the mirror, and for a moment his face seems more human. And then he looks away imperiously, but she knows he won't say anything.

Jack's step doesn't falter as he crosses the lobby, his shoes clicking neatly on the cool marble. He nods absently at the clerk and stops in front of the elevator.

Sam wishes she had never been stupid enough to come here, but maybe she just needed to see it for herself. Then maybe she could really move on, like everyone else had.

The elevator dings open and Sam is almost free, but something at the last moment makes Jack turn slightly, just enough to catch sight of her in the mirror.

She can't see his eyes behind the impenetrable shades, but his mouth opens slightly in surprise.

Sam doesn't waste any time. She pushes to her feet and heads for the exit.

She can't do this. She can't face this man, whoever he is. She knows she is unashamedly fleeing, but let him think what he wants.

"Carter!" he calls out from behind her, but she doesn't stop.

His hand pulls her to a stop just as she nears the doorman, who is now unabashedly staring at the unfolding drama.

Sam takes a split second to breathe, to compose her tumultuous thoughts before turning to look at Jack.

He's still wearing the sunglasses, and she can't quite make out his expression. "What's going on?" he asks lowly.

Her attention is caught by the glittering stars on his shoulders and she is inexplicably annoyed by the topmost button of his dress shirt and the way his tie is perfectly tied.

Sam runs sweaty palms over her own crumpled jeans. "I just had to see for myself," she finds herself saying.

She can see Jack's eyebrows scrunch in confusion over the top of his sunglasses. "See what?" he asks.

Sam's tongue is thick in her mouth, and she is silently damning Daniel for putting this idiotic thought in her head. She wets her lips and finally forces the words.

"That it really is too late."

Jack's lips press into a firm line, and she can feel his fingers dig into her arm. But he doesn't say anything for long moments, and Sam finally reaches over and pulls his hand off her arm.

"Goodbye, sir," she says, resisting the urge to knock off a crisp salute.

She doesn't make it very far, though, because Jack says, "Oh, I don't think so," grabs her arm again and corrals her back into the waiting elevator.

Before she can form a coherent response, the elevator doors are closing on the astonished faces of the doorman and clerk.

Jack punches the button for level eight but makes no move to say anything else to her. Sam stares at her toes and feels the swooping sensation of the elevator chugging into motion. It reminds her a little of tumbling through the Stargate.

The doors open with a cheerful chime revealing a plush, carpeted hallway lit by stylish sconces. Jack moves to the third door and pulls out his keys.

All Sam knows in that moment is that she can't stand to see the pretentious elegance that is Jack O'Neill's new home. She backs away a few steps and bumps into a large vase gracing the hallway. She quickly steadies it with uncertain fingers, but can't help saying out loud, "I don't belong here."

Jack unlocks the door. "And you think I do?" he asks quietly with his back still to her.

Sam stands startled for a moment and watches him disappear into the open doorway. Three deep breaths and she manages to force her feet to follow.

The apartment is just as she feared, rich furniture and elaborate wainscoting. But there is a pile of books haphazardly spilling off one of the couches and a dead plant in the window sill. Sam absently shuts the door and finds a stack of heavily framed paintings turned against the wall. Glancing around again, she notices the rectangles of discoloration on the walls where the paintings had once hung.

Jack notices her fingering the paintings and shrugs. "It always felt like they were watching me."

Sam dares to take a couple more steps into the room, aware of Jack's eyes on her. She tries to match up the heavy brocade curtains with the hand-made mug full of cold coffee forming a ring on the mahogany table. But it just doesn't compute.

"What are you doing here?" she finally asks.

Jack laughs humorlessly. "I thought that was my line."

Sam turns and really looks at Jack for the first time. He's shrugged off his jacket and removed his hat and sunglasses. His fingers are pulling at his collar. Seeing him everyday for eight years, it had been hard to track how he's changed. It was only when Sam had unexpectedly come across a picture of SG-1 in their first year together that she had even noticed how much they had all changed. During those eight years Jack's hair had slowly turned gray, Teal'c had looked more human and Daniel had grown muscles. But it had been a gradual thing.

Three months away from Jack, though, and it all seems so clear. His perpetually tan skin has faded out and he seems tired. More tired than she has ever seen him, like the uniform is choking him slowly, day by day. Being a general doesn't agree with him and if she thinks carefully, he hasn't really been himself since he stopped going off-world, since he lost the integral part of his life. It's something she hasn't allowed herself to notice until now.

"You're miserable," she observes unflinchingly.

To his credit, Jack doesn't try to deny it. "And you're surprised?" he asks instead.

The new revelations are still too much for Sam. "I don't understand. You left! You chose this." Because if Sam could have done anything, he could have, too.

"Do you really believe that?" he asks skeptically.

"You could have retired," Sam blurts out before she can stop herself.

Retired. Probably the most heavily loaded word ever uttered between them. Right up there with za'tarc and fishing.

He considers her for a moment in a way that makes her feel about as big as an ant, and she has to admire the way he is taking this all in stride considering the fact that she has completely blind-sided him and is currently hovering as near to hysteria as Sam Carter ever does.

"Someone has to do this job, Carter," he reminds her after long moments.

"But why you?"

"Because I don't trust anyone else to do it," he says tiredly. And she's back on the familiar merry-go-round. Only now she is hiding in the desert, and he is fading in a job he can't walk away from.

But the familiarity makes something clear to her. Even now, even this far away, he is still protecting his team. Protecting her. By leaving her behind. Because that was what he had done, up and left, practically in the middle of the night, leaving Sam feeling more than a little bewildered, if not abandoned.

"You left," she repeats quietly, trying to stop all the spinning.

"Hey, we all left. Including you, Carter. Or have you already forgotten your new shiny job, Madam Head of Research and Development?"

Sam shakes her head, knowing he doesn't really understand. "It's not like that. I took the job because… They were the only ones who still seemed to-," she cuts herself off abruptly, realizing what she has almost said.

But Jack seems to sense that there is something important there. "Seemed to what?" he prompts.

Sam surprises herself by actually answering. "To want me," she says inanely, immediately feeling foolish. She closes her eyes and covers her face with one hand.

Jack is quiet for a long time, but she can't quite bring herself to look at him. "Why didn't you stay at the SCG? Landry would have been beside himself to have you."

Sam shakes her head. "I couldn't…" But how can she explain how it felt to be at the SGC without her team anymore? Without him? How does she explain without sounding pathetic?

In the end, she settles for saying, "It's not the same."

Sam turns away from Jack and wanders over to his spectacular view of the city.

"What you said downstairs," Jack says after another silent stretch, his voice tentative. "Do you really believe that?"

Does she really believe it is too late? She had thought so only minutes ago, but now she is struggling to balance all her equations and everything keeps coming out wrong.

Daniel's voice is mocking her again, drilled into her brain by the simple power of suggestion. It really wasn't like her to walk away without a fight. But then again, she'd always been a bit of a coward when it came to Jack.

Sam gazes out over the city, the glass blocking all sound and making it look like an unchoreographed dance. She thinks of Jack stuck here while his friends seemingly run off on new adventures. She understands that he probably feels abandoned too. And she's ashamed that she never even considered his point of view.

"I used to live here," she says instead of answering his question.

"I remember," he replies quietly.

Things slowly begin to crystallize in Sam's mind, and she spins around to look at Jack. "Get changed," she says abruptly.

Jack raises an eyebrow at her.

"I assume you've been taken to all of the finest restaurants in D.C. as would be fitting someone of your stature."

Now Jack looks even more confused, but he nods faintly.

"Well…if you're going to live here, you're going to need to know about all the hole-in-the-wall, cheap, most amazing food spots so you don't starve in between all those formal dinners."

Jack isn't stupid. He knows what she is offering. A way to make this place as bearable as possible for him, so he can do the job he thinks he has to do. But he isn't going to let her get away with everything that easily.

"Carter," he says heavily.

Sam takes a deep breath. "It felt like I was being discarded," she admits, "like everything I had held on to for so long was slipping away." She meets his eyes unflinchingly. "But maybe I was the one leaving."

There is an apology there that she knows he can hear. They stare at each other for long moments, until Jack abruptly says, "Chinese."

Sam blinks a couple of times. "Excuse me?"

"Chinese," Jack repeats. "I haven't had good Chinese food since I got here."

Sam smiles slowly. "I know just the place."

Jack turns back towards his bedroom to change and Sam gives the room one last appraisal. "You're going to need a new apartment," she observes.

Jack pauses, looking back at her. A smile slowly creeps over his face. "Thank god," he mutters.

And suddenly he's just Jack again, his eyes warm and his smile enough to make her stomach flutter. She feels an answering smile on her lips.

No, she thinks, definitely not too late.

Because Samantha Carter never walks away without a fight.

-Fin-

You seem so out of context
In this gaudy apartment complex,
A stranger with your door key
Explaining that I'm just visiting.
And I am finally seeing,
Why I was the one worth leaving.

'The District Sleeps Tonight,' by The Postal Service