Author's note: Not entirely sure where to file this. Set in Atlantis, but dealing mainly with SG-1 characters… This is Sam/Jack, so if that offends you look away now. No hate mail please, it's just pointless fanfic...
In this City
Self-preservation is a full time occupation
To survive on this shore
You know I don't avert my eyes any more
In a man's world
I am a woman by birth
And after nineteen times around I have found
They will stop at nothing once they know what you are worth…
…talk to me now.
Ani De Franco, Talk to Me Now
Sam Carter moved her potted plant to the left side of the desk and looked at it critically. Irritated with herself, she moved it back again, and tried shifting her in-box instead. It did no good. The space still looked cluttered, disorganised.
Hearing footsteps enter and pause, she glanced up. Colonel John Sheppard stood in her doorway. Behind him, the unusually peaceful control room of Atlantis buzzed and whirred quietly to itself as the crew went about their daily tasks.
"John," she nodded at him briefly, before turning her eyes back to the desk. "Anything I can do for you?"
"Not really," he said, watching as she pushed the in-box another inch to the right. "Just wanted to let you know that McKay's about to run a test on those pesky quarantine protocols. We don't want a repeat of last week's fiasco."
"Nope," Sam replied, attention still elsewhere as she shuffled some papers. "Definitely don't want that…"
There was another pause. She looked up again, catching the slightly perplexed look on Sheppard's face.
"Sorry," she said, with a sigh.
"If you don't mind my saying so, Colonel, you seem a little… nervous?"
"Nervous? What would I have to be nervous about?"
"Good question. I mean – you and General O'Neill go back a long way, right?"
She couldn't help but smile at that. "Oh yeah. Loooong way."
"As far as I can make out, he's just coming out on a routine trip. Y'know – visiting the front lines and all that."
Sam nodded, "Yes, I think that's the plan. He knows we've had a rough time of it lately and just wants to show his support. Bit of a morale boost from the top."
"Right. So..." Sheppard gestured to the desk, "Why the renovating? And Ronon told me he went to train early this morning and found you looking like you'd been there for hours. Says he never knew you had such a good right hook."
Sam sighed again, perching on the edge of the desk as Sheppard moved to sit down. She hadn't realised she was so transparent – especially to this new team, whom she still felt she barely knew. How could she possibly explain the complicated gamut of emotions she had run when it sank in that O'Neill was going to turn up here. In the Pegasus galaxy. In the City – her City. To visit her team.
"I don't know," said Sam, blowing out her cheeks with a frustrated breath. "It's so weird. I was fine up until this morning, and now – it's like I've got butterflies. Which is absurd, right? We served together for the best part of ten years. We know each other inside out. I should just be looking forward to seeing him, catching up. It's been months since we even spoke. But right now, I feel like some raw recruit about to get her first inspection." She looked at her desk again ruefully. "And to tell you the truth, I don't know if I'm going to pass muster."
Sheppard smiled. "Nah. That's not weird. I get it."
"Really?" Sam raised an eyebrow, dropping into her seat and leaning her elbows on the table.
"Sure. This is your first command. He's your former commander. It's bound to be a little odd."
Sam nodded doubtfully. "I guess…"
Sheppard stood. "Wait and see. Once he's been here five minutes, it'll be just like old times."
She watched him leave, his words ringing in her head. Just like old times? Sure. Old times. That would be a good thing. Of course it would. Right?
O'Neill stood on the deck of the Daedalus as the huge ship sank through the atmosphere toward Atlantis. The City loomed larger and larger in the viewscreen, and Jack threw a surreptitious glance towards Caldwell's command post. He wasn't sure he'd want the responsibility of landing this bird fair and square on the end of one of those pylons. Not that he couldn't do it. But one inch the wrong way and this monster could make one hell of a mess. It had been a while since O'Neill had needed to make a decision with consequences quite as immediate as that.
As they touched down, Jack pondered the turn that his life had taken. He'd never thought he'd be a General. He'd always assumed that if he couldn't be in the field, he'd retire and that was it. No pencil-pushing for him. No sitting at a desk with a window the only chance he got to see daylight during work hours.
But now, here we was with stars on his epaulettes, and happy with it. Sure, he still missed his active duty days – who wouldn't, who had seen what he'd seen, and knew what else was out there? But gradually, he'd come to appreciate the advantages that command from a distance provided. If he'd retired instead of taking the promotion, he wouldn't be here now, for example. He wouldn't even know what had happened to his old team, in fact. Which was the only reason he'd agreed to take the desk job in the first place. The thought of being cut off from them completely? No way that was going to happen. And even though now they'd all gone their separate ways, he knew what they were doing almost as soon as they knew themselves.
Well, mostly. Carter was more difficult to keep tabs on, being in a different galaxy and all. And so here he was.
Huh, this was one big damn City. Carter's City. Carter's Command…
"General? We're cleared to disembark, sir."
He nodded. "Lead the way."
"So Caldwell," O'Neill began, as he followed the broad-shouldered officer towards the exit hatch, "you ever tried the fishing in these parts?"
"Uh – fishing, General?"
"Sure. Fishing. You know, a rod, a line, a hook…"
"I'm not much of a fisherman, sir, to tell the truth. Perhaps Colonel Carter will know more."
"I doubt it," O'Neill muttered, feeling a slight smile pull at his mouth. "Carter's not really into fishing either."
He cleared his throat. "Never mind. Guess I'll just find out for myself."
It had been four months since he'd heard a peep from Sam Carter. Even back when she'd been on Earth, their communications had been infrequent. The odd email here and there, usually as part of a round-robin with Daniel and sometimes Teal'c too, if he was visiting the SGC. And then, it was never anything particularly personal. She'd missed the last ex-team meet up that Daniel had arranged, having been buried too deep in research at Area 51 to make it back to the Springs for old times' sake.
Old times. He couldn't really pinpoint what those 'old times' were. Sure, there was nostalgia, but any specific memories of Sam Carter were a complex mix of a tangled something he just wasn't willing to dissect. Let sleeping dogs lie, and all that. If anything had ever been going to happen between them, surely it would have done when he'd left Cheyenne Mountain. But nothing had happened, nothing had even been said, and eventually as the time lengthened he assumed she'd decided against whatever possibility she might once have entertained, and probably found someone else. Someone less craggy, less… old. Sometimes he'd wondered about Cam Mitchell, but mostly he just put the whole thing out of his mind. Or tried to.
Yet, here he was, about to step on to her turf, and he couldn't pretend that he felt nothing. He just… didn't know quite what he felt. Exactly.
And to be honest, it was best to keep everything on an even keel. Whenever he'd let that slip in the past, it had mostly caused them both a whole heap of trouble.
He stopped beside Caldwell and waited as the exit hatch was lowered, studiously thinking of nothing at all.
To be continued…