Title: Principles of Leadership
Warnings/Spoilers: A Company of Thieves
Prompt: After Emmerson's death (A Company of Thieves), Jack comes to the SGC
Summary: After her last mission on board the Odyssey, Sam needs a bit of reassurance.
AN: This is the part where I can finally give credit to mrspollifax for all her hard work polishing this up.
Sam was deep in thought when General O'Neill's voice floated to her from the doorway of her lab. "A guy flies two thousand miles to see his old team and can't even get a lunch date."
"Sir," she looked up, startled. "What are you doing here?"
"Good to see you too, Carter." He was leaning against the door frame, cover in hand. It still felt out of place to see him in his dress blues at the SGC. In fact, the only times she could remember him wearing something other than the more practical BDUs was during official dignitary visits, where such dress was required, and memorials, where it was worn out of respect.
Paul Emerson's memorial was scheduled for the day after tomorrow.
"That's not what I meant." She smiled, still distracted. Her fingers automatically hit the key sequence to save her open documents before she pushed her chair away and stood to greet him. "It's good to see you too, sir. I didn't realize you were here this week."
Jack shrugged. "Face time. Apparently it's one of the keys to effective leadership."
"Did you read that in a book, or was that on the desk calendar that Teal'c sent you for Christmas?" she teased. He'd made no secret over the years about how much he hated playing the political games that went hand in hand with keeping an organization as large and as complex as Stargate Command running smoothly. In many cases, physical presence was more effective in convincing some bureaucrat to approve funding than arguing about it for hours over the phone. But still, the General complained about the games.
"I took a course," he replied, pretending to be taken aback. "Wrote notes and everything. Got a 'B', in fact. You'd have been proud."
"I am, sir. It seems that Washington has been rubbing off on you."
There was a moment of anticipant silence between them, but Sam's heart wasn't quite into the old rituals. Jack nodded towards the door and Sam reached across the bench to shut the lid of her laptop.
She grabbed a sheaf of papers from beside her computer and tapped the edge on the table, straightening the stack before she carefully tucked them into a file folder. Her last flight aboard the Odyssey had generated an exceptional amount of paperwork, but this particular file seemed to carry some extra weight. She was having problems drafting the official letter to Emerson's wife. As the remaining senior officer on that mission, she'd felt she owed it to his family to try and explain that he died with honor and integrity in the service of his country. As somebody who had worked closely with the colonel and considered him a friend, Sam felt she owed it to Paul personally to try and give them some measure of comfort.
She was just having a hard time putting the words on paper without turning it into a confessional.
Sam looked up from the cover of the folder and caught him watching her. "Uh, yeah. Sure. Just let me put this away."
"Everything okay?" he asked. The teasing was gone.
"I'm fine," she answered automatically.
As much as he didn't want to admit it, his ability to read a room and turn the situation on a dime was what made him as effective in his new position with Homeworld Security as it had in the field. She'd learned a lot from watching him over the years.
He raised an eyebrow in a silent 'You're not fooling me'.
She winced and looked back down at the folder. The soft beeps of her lab equipment and the hum of the mountain breathing filled the space between them.
She wanted to ask him how he did it. How he kept his poker face when the mission went off the rails. How had he learned to become that leader when they'd needed him most? She wanted to ask, but the words tasted foreign to her. General O'Neill had never been the kind to lecture on the 'how's' or 'why's', and Sam had never been one to interrogate him about his leadership tactics. She'd always figured it out for herself. Picked up a book, taken something apart, done a little digging. She learned best by trying.
When she didn't answer, he prompted, "Carter?"
"I cried," she blurted. If she were still twelve, she might have clapped her hand over her mouth to prevent it from betraying her further. Being a long way from twelve, she winced and looked away, daring him not to notice her slip.
The scuff of his shoe on the concrete floor drowned out the silence between them.
"I see," he said slowly, but she was pretty sure he didn't. Generals don't weep in front of their men, after all.
"When Anateo shot Colonel Emerson," she clarified. It wasn't as if he'd never seen her cry before, but rarely when she was on duty. Sam put the folder back on the work bench and smoothed the invisible wrinkles out of the cover. "I couldn't hide it from the crew when they brought me back to the cargo bay." She finally looked up to see him frowning. "How can you respect an officer who breaks under pressure like that?"
"Carter," Jack took the step or two towards the work bench. He touched the corner of the folder hesitantly, showing reverence for the letters inside. "None of the reports, and there were several from the crew of the Odyssey believe me, I read all of them. None of them mentioned tears. Anywhere."
"None of them," he repeated firmly. "Not a single person questioned your handling of the incident."
Sam nodded. It wasn't exactly what she'd wanted to hear. She'd cracked, after all. Let the crew down.
"You're human, Carter. Nobody blames you for that. In fact, between you and me," he leaned close and whispered. "They respect you even more for showing it." He rapped a knuckle against the folder to drive the point home.
Jack turned towards the door. "So, I ask again. Lunch?"
She swallowed. It might not have been what she needed to hear either, but it would have to be enough.
After lunch, Sam poked at the letter off and on for the rest of the day, each time closing it without saving the changes. She gave up on it later that evening and turned her attention to the problem of improving the data encryption on the Odyssey's black box and building in a failsafe in case of its removal.
On Thursday she stood beside Marks at the memorial service and was relieved when he greeted her with the same smile and nod as the first time he'd welcomed her on board the Prometheus. She wondered briefly if the Major's report had been one of the ones the General had been referring to, but she quickly pushed the thought away because, in the end, it didn't really matter.
A week later, after her return from the funeral in Arlington, Sam opened the door to her lab and found a package sitting squarely in the middle of her workspace.
There was no note and no indication of who might have left it for her. Sam slit the brown paper wrapper and smiled at the title of the well-thumbed book.
'Principles of Leadership in the Command Structure', it read. She didn't need to ask where it came from.
A Post-it note between the dog-eared pages caught her eye and she flipped to that page. Chapter 23 was titled 'Command Behavior in Captivity Situations', but that wasn't what made her smile. Taped to the facing page was a sheet torn from Jack's desk calendar. The entry read:
'Leaders must be tough enough to fight, tender enough to cry, human enough to make mistakes, humble enough to admit them, strong enough to absorb the pain, and resilient enough to bounce back and keep on moving. - Jesse Jackson'
Underneath the quote, scrawled in pen, was a more personal note: 'Just in case you need a reminder – what he said.'
Sam took a deep breath and set the book aside, still open to Chapter 23. She unlocked her laptop and clicked on the folder she'd been avoiding all week. The letter to Paul's wife stared back at her, but this time it didn't look quite so daunting.