They say that Cadet Carter will fly by the precise science of numbers, doing calculations in her head as she goes, whereas Mitchell will be all hot blood. They say that he’ll fly by the seat of his pants, split-second decisions made on gut instinct instead of mathematics. They say this even though they all know that Sam’s mind is not a flight computer. That Mitchell has to study too, because there’s only so far they’ll let you get without an understanding of aerodynamics.
Sam thinks that she will sometimes think about vectors and trajectories, calculate the curve of the turn (because science is fun, no matter how much any one else complains) but she’s been hanging around Air Force pilots long enough to know secondhand that sometimes, there isn’t any substitute for the simple kick of instinct that screams nownownownownow.
After they get to know each other, when she hears him tells stories about driving too fast and loose on back-country roads, she thinks that Mitchell learned that lesson a long time ago.
It’s the first semester of their first year, Cadet Basic barely under their belts, their Honor Oath still newly sworn.
Sam and Cam meet through a mutual acquaintance.
Kelli is also an Air Force brat and when they were both sixteen, her dad was stationed on the same base as Sam’s for eleven months. They’d both been girls with sciency interests and plans to join up; it had been enough to strike up a friendship. Now that they’re actually here, they’re not assigned to the same squadrons (Kelli’s Knights to Sam’s Fightin’ Fourth), but they’d always meant to reconnect and Sam’s happy to offer a hand when Kelli admits she and some friends are struggling with some of the engineering foundational concepts.
Sam isn’t exactly breezing through first semester, because even double major (physics and aerospace engineering) aside, there’s plenty to keep the 4th-class cadets busy. It could be harder, though; Sam’s had an intro to this life in the Air Cadets and she took college courses all through high school. Those classes don’t technically get her a lot here - a 4th-class cadet is a 4th-class cadet is a 4th-class cadet - but it does mean that most of her classes are review and that it’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the work, without having to grapple with it first.
Hard work has never been Samantha Carter’s problem. She can make the time for Kelli.
Their intramural sport schedules line up badly, but they manage to settle down to study as a group on a Saturday afternoon. Kelli introduces the three others at the table, all from her own squadron, and they get down to work quickly after that.
Sam starts explaining the key concepts, laying them out one by one in a way she hopes is going to come together they way they always do in her head (something she can pull apart and tease or look at whole, ready to be applied to half a dozen things she isn’t even meant to have learned yet). Mitchell, outgoing and with his hair buzzed so close to his head that it’s hard to tell what color it is, catches on so quickly - she’s barely had a chance to lay everything out - that she wonders if he hasn’t known the answers all along. Her back stiffens; she hates having her time wasted.
Kelli leans in. “Not so dumb for a ‘bull’ major, is he?”
“Ah ah,” says Cam, interrupting like they’ve had this argument a hundred times before. “Political science is not bullshit. It’s the study of governments, public policies and political processes, systems, and political behavior.”
“I’m learning which chemicals to mix to make things blow up,” says Blake, short but already stocky, lacing his fingers together behind his head as he leans back. “You’re learning the fine art of bullshit.”
Mitchell grins at that. “And so it is, my friend, but I’m still the one keeping up with record-breaking-SATs over here, so shut up and let me finish what I was saying.”
Sam stays for the whole hour, but now that Mitchell’s got the foundations of it, he’s actually a pretty competent tutor for the rest of the group. She has to nudge them along a few times more, but that’s only when Mitchell is clearly sitting back, letting his friends sink or swim without his input.
“Sorry about the SATs comment,” Kelli says later, after the others have left. “I had to brag a bit about you to convince them to take help from someone in another squadron.”
“That’s fine,” says Sam, because it’s been a long time since she’s bothered to try to keep her intelligence under wraps. (She can. Sam can manipulate her grades to make them anything she wants. That’s not the issue. But her mother sat down with her when Sam was thirteen, the first time she’s really tried to dumb herself down, desperate to fit in, and told her: “Women before you and I have fought for the right to be smart. There are always going to be people trying to tell you that you’re not good enough, just because you’re a woman. Don’t do their job for them.”)
Sam accepts Kelli’s apology, even if it’s the wrong thing from the wrong person, but she still thinks that Mitchell’s a show-offy ass.
After that, Sam catches up with Kelli when they can, but Sam and Mitchell don’t play the same intramural sports and their fields of study are about as far apart as it gets. With literally hundreds of 4th-class cadets, Sam and Mitchell don’t end up seeing much of each other after that study session, aside from carefully regimented activities (most of their lives at the moment), where chatter isn’t appropriate.
So they don’t talk and Sam doesn’t really mind.
Sam turns, the sun in her eyes. When she lifts her hand to shade them from the glare, she sees Cameron Mitchell hurrying to catch up to her along the designated path to Fairchild Hall and the library in it.
Great. She doesn’t need this headache. It’s one of those weeks when everything is due all at once, deadline after deadline after deadline, with midterms coming up fast. She can’t imagine what he wants from her that isn’t going to be a demand on time that she doesn’t have to spare. He jogs the few yards to catch up to her effortlessly, the kind of physical fitness that, if you don't have on admission, gets kicked into during basic.
“You have a second?” Cam says. “Wait, never mind. Of course you don’t. How about I just walk you to where you’re going and I can pick your brain until we get there?”
“What do you want?” she says and she knows that she sounds cold, because she hasn’t been stewing over that study session, okay? But she hasn’t forgotten.
“Not a good time,” Mitchell says, backpedalling fast. “Sorry to bug you.”
He turns and starts to go back the way he’s come.
Sam hesitates a minute. This isn’t who she wants to be.
“Mitchell,” she says and he stops, turns back to look at her, curious. “When we met, when I came in as a favor to Kelli, did you already understand the underlying theory?”
Sam can watch him put it together in his head. He looks kind of worn around the edges too; all of the cadets do.
“Wait, you thought I was... what? Trying to waste your time? Show you up? You don’t even know me.”
She tries to smile, but thinks that it probably looks more like a grimace. “You wouldn’t be the first.”
“So what, you just assume that anyone who shows even a little bit of intelligence is some kind of threat?”
It would be so easy to snap right back, but arguing out where anyone can see really isn’t appropriate behavior and she knows now, she knows that they’re both exhausted and not at their best.
Sam reigns in her temper.
“Look, how about we start over,” she says. She shifts her things so that they’re all in one arm and holds out her right hand. “Samantha Carter. Nice to meet you.”
Mitchell takes her hand a little grudgingly, but he does it. “Cameron Mitchell.”
It surprises her a little when they do become friends. He still likes the sound of his own voice a little bit too much, still likes to show off, but if they run into each other on campus, they’re polite. She finds out that he’s a farm boy from Kansas and she talks about how her fascination with astronomy and her father’s career eventually led her here.
They wind up sitting near each other at an intramural rugby match, their squadrons facing off, and they both scream themselves hoarse trying to out-cheer the other.
Even after Sam and Kelli drift apart - sciency and girls not holding up to much more than the foundations for what Sam hopes will keep being a pleasant professional relationship - Cam sticks. It’s not so bad, really.
She can see why he’s doing well for himself here, just like she is. They both fit well into this life.
When they’re 2nd-class cadets, Cam makes Group Superintendent. It’s the second-highest rank someone at their level can be conferred, and it puts him above all of the 2nd-class squadron superintendents. It’s a huge honor, but he maybe bites off more than he can chew between that, a heavy courseload, intercollegiate basketball, fencing lessons, and all of his other responsibilities.
In the end, he flunks fencing, but since failing classes isn’t an option, it’s Sam he turns to for help. He’s been bulking up on his science classes since Ferguson started whispering in his ear last year about the Space Program and Sam knows he’s smart enough to handle it, but they’ve learned over the last two years that she still has a knack for nudging him in just the right direction so that he can find the answers for himself. She’s busy too, yeah, really busy, but she’s still the same person who makes time to help her friends.
Mid-session on a Thursday night, Cam groans and thumps his head down onto his physics textbook. “Why did I ever think that this was a good idea?”
Sam throws a bit of paper at him and Cam swats at the air lazily after it’s already bounced off of his head and together, they recite: “Because no one else would let me fly planes that go that fast.”
When he sits up, he still looks so miserable that she wants to laugh and sympathize with him all at once.
“Also,” she says, choosing laughter, because he deals better with challenge than with soft words, “I think you mentioned some sort of misguided idealism about ‘honor’ and ‘serving your country’.”
“Yeah. There was that too.” He still sounds low, but he’s already turning his attention back to his book.
“Look at the bright side,” she says. “When you snap and run off to live in a cave in the woods, you’re actually trained to survive that now.”
Cam smiles, small but there, and finally looks up at her. “You’re not all bad, Carter.”
And well, that’s nicer to hear that she’d like to admit. Not that it’s anything new, even from the time before she’s come to USAFA, but it gets tiring to be called a stuck-up bitch all day. “I’m glad someone thinks so,” she says.
“Hey now,” he says, catching on to the real weariness in her voice she hadn’t even realised she’d been trying to hide. “Don’t let those assholes get you down. You know they’re just jealous.”
“You think I don’t know that? That I haven’t been told that before?”
Mitchell holds up his hands. “Watch the friendly fire. I’m on your team, remember?”
“I know. I know,” she says, deflating. “I’m sorry.”
There’s a long moment’s silence, heavy and tired. Sam is just about to open back up her book, bury her head back in familiar numbers and equations until she forgets to be miserable, when Cam speaks again.
“Sam Carter, you’re amazing.”
Her head shoots up, dread falling into the pit of her stomach like a rock.
“Woah. Woah, woah, woah. I am not hitting on you, cross my heart, swear to God,” says Cam, his own eyes wide, like he hadn’t quite thought that one through before he’d said it. “I know that you have enough bullshit to deal with and I would never presume so far above my station.”
She doesn’t smile. Not really. But her lips twitch in something that might, one day, be one.
“What I mean is,” he starts again, “none of us have an easy ride here. Yet here you are, sitting down with a guy who can’t even stay on top of his own assignments and who, quite frankly, should have probably sucked it up and taken a summer course, leave be damned.”
She shrugs. “You’d do the same for me.”
“Come on, Sam. You know that I don’t know the first thing about rocket ships, despite all of these books. Hell, I don’t even know if they take regular or premium.”
They don’t say anything more as they get back to work, but neither of them can stop grinning.
She kisses him, just once.
Normally, Sam doesn’t drink, not more than a bottle of beer that she nurses all night and watches like a hawk. She keeps her thumb over the mouth when she’s not drinking and she’ll abandon the bottle altogether if she forgets to do it. Sam grew up around military men. She knows that there are a lot of good ones, but she also knows what the culture is like and she’s studied enough about human behaviour to know that even good men do bad things, especially when they’re not sober and they’re in a pack.
Sam grew up around military men and she also knows that they’re not all good men.
But tonight, she’s drunk - not just drunk, but drunk - and everything is wonderful. They’ve gone to a bar further off base than the cadets usually bother with so that she and the other women in their small group with them can let down their hair a little more safely, although Sam’s beyond any kind of thinking except wondering why they don’t do this more often. She totters on her feet as she walks up to Cam, who looks good enough to eat in a well-fitted button-down shirt.
“You’re handsome,” she says in what she’s sure is her sexiest voice.
“Why Carter, I hadn’t thought you’d noticed.”
“Oh, I’ve noticed,” she says and leans up to kiss him, to show him how much she appreciates him.
Cam catches her when she goes off balance and falls into him, an arm going around her waist. He laughs, not unkindly, as he breaks off the kiss.
“Okay, camper, let’s get you back to you bunk. Maybe a glass of water or three.”
She never remembers it in more than mortifying, disjointed snatches of memory. Cam is too much of a gentleman to bring it up directly, but isn’t above making kissy faces at her when he wants to win an argument.
It’s overcast the day they graduate, but it doesn’t rain. When she admits later, much later, after the sun’s set and even the partying is starting to wind down, that she wishes she could see the stars, Cam bumps her shoulder with his and says, “You’ll be up there someday. Plenty of time to get an eyeful then.”
Years later, after their careers have sent them in wildly different directions (but none as wild as the place they both wound up), Sam and Cam are sitting in the front of an al quesh, wearing what Cam calls their “We’re not Tauri, really!” leathers. (Ever since their last run-in with the Lucian Alliance, when all of SG-1 got taken prisoner, he also calls them their Bad Luck leathers, but not, Sam knows, when Cam thinks that Landry is in earshot.)
They’re here to gather information about a young Goa’uld trying to set itself up as the new god of the planet below them, its population ripe for the picking. Their old master died in the skirmishes leading up to the final battle with Anubis, and this planet isn’t important enough that anyone’s bothered to stake a claim before now. Daniel and Teal’c are keeping busy in the cargo area and the al quesh itself is sitting in an asteroid field that hides their energy signature. It’s basic recon while they wait for a good opportunity to slip past the orbital patrol and do some recon on foot.
She keeps her eye on the readings in front of her, knowing Cam is doing the same, and the silence between she and Cam is familiar, comfortable. Working with him like this is at once a throwback to cram sessions at the academy and a total shock. It’s one thing to see Daniel, Jack, or even Teal’c in this setting. It’s how she’s always known them. Someone from her past being here, even Cam, is just another sign of the way the Stargate program keeps changing.
Eventually, Cam grins and looks her way, a glint in his eye. She thinks he remembers studying together in this kind of silence too. “You could fly this thing just doing the math in your head, couldn’t you?”
“Maybe,” Sam says, smiling a secretive smile and gunning the engines, she flips the al quesh backwards through space, weaving behind them through asteroids and smaller debris. They can’t actually feel it - the inertial dampers are too good for that - but they can both see the star field kaleidoscope on the screen in front of them. Beside her, Cam whoops for joy. When she settles the ship back into their original parking spot, she checks her readings; she stayed well within the Jaffa patrol’s blind spot.
When she looks back up, he’s grinning at her and she does the same, speaking into the joyful quiet. “Though I think we both know that sometimes, there’s no substitute for seat-of-your-pants flying.”