Richard wasn’t one to really dwell on embarrassing situations—he rather tended to repress them, if truth be told. However, there was something in the slightly apologetic but frank tone that Vaness—the AI had used when it had told him it was a manifestation of his romantic and sexual ideals that rankled. It was as if she—it had been genuinely sorry it couldn’t provide the companionship it had determined he was lacking. When he added that to the complete lack of attention paid to the announcement that he was now considered the permanent commander of Atlantis, Richard wondered if romantic companionship was the only thing he was missing.
It was his own fault, really. After all, he hadn’t discussed his performance review with many people except to express honest concern for or forced confidence in the result, so when he’d received word that Xiaoyi’s favorable review had cemented his position on Atlantis, he should have expected the news to pass relatively unnoticed. Nothing was going to change, after all. Why should anyone care?
Except, by the time three days had passed, Richard figured the entire base had to know. Besides Teyla, Amelia, and a few others, hardly anyone had even spoken a word of congratulations to him. A lesser man, Richard told himself as he ate his lunch alone in his office, might have developed a complex. As it was, he told himself yet again that the important thing was the fact that he didn’t have to leave, not that he was starting to wonder if anyone would have missed him. Sheppard’s team had each in their own way shown their appreciation; that would have to be enough. Dr. Weir and Colonel Carter’s collective shoes were tough to fill, after all, and he’d not been commander for a full year, yet. He needed to give them time.
This self-reassurance thing was feeling more and more hollow each time he exercised it, Richard realized a few hours later. He’d gotten next to nothing done, too preoccupied by his attempts at rationalizing everything. It was time for a new approach.
“I’m sorry, sir—monthly overhaul,” the young man mopping the floor outside the mess hall said, shaking his head. “Mess’ll open an hour late today.”
’It figures: the one time I decide to indulge in the unhealthy Saturday dinner,’ he told himself ruefully. In an hour he’d have changed his mind, Richard knew. He wasn’t much for impulsive decisions anyway. That thought reminded him of one other indulgence, however.
“Empty?” Richard echoed ten minutes later, standing in front of the rations center.
“Yes, sir. I guess the Daedalus didn’t bring the wine you requisitioned,” Lt. Bryant told him with a quick second glance at his clipboard. “I can ask them to send some through on Monday with the check-in—”
“No, no. That won’t be necessary, thank you,” Richard assured him, holding back his disappointment. There had been a particular bottle he’d planned on enjoying the night of his year anniversary of taking the job on Atlantis, but on an impulse, he’d persuaded himself that celebrating his new-found job security was the next best thing. Hefting a sigh, he headed back toward his office.
“Oh, Mr. Woolsey—on your way to dinner?” It was Teyla, her hand poised over the destination grid of the transporter he’d just stepped into.“Forgive me, I was woolgathering,” Richard apologized. He hadn’t even noticed the transporter was occupied—this was becoming a bad habit, he noted.
“Right—Earth expression. It means I was preoccupied. Though, on second thought, I have no idea why ‘woolgathering’ would come to mean that, but that’s English for you,” he said awkwardly. Teyla’s polite, friendly expression never wavered through his fumbled speech, and he felt a rush of affection for her. “As a matter of fact, I was planning on eating early today, but the mess hall wasn’t open yet. Would you mind some company? It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with the latest news of the Athosians, not to mention Torren.”
“I would be very pleased, thank you,” Teyla said, choosing the correct location on the screen. As they stepped out, Richard checked his watch.
“We’ve still got a half hour, I think.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” Teyla said, smiling. She gestured to the doors to the mess hall, which were cracked open a few inches. The young man and his mop were nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t understand! It was definitely closed,” Richard protested, slowing his pace, but Teyla hooked her arm in his and guided him through the doorway.
The room had indeed been overhauled—into the setting for a dinner party, complete with tablecloths and flowers from the mainland in vases. What looked like most of the personnel of Atlantis had been mingling with each other until he and Teyla had entered the room; as soon as a few near the door had seen them, they’d started a round of applause that left Richard completely baffled.
He turned to Teyla for an explanation, and, beaming, she pointed to a banner that hung slightly crookedly from the far wall. It read: ‘Congratulations to Our Permanent Commander Richard Woolsey.’
Completely overcome, Richard wasn’t able to stop himself from exclaiming, “I thought no one cared—I mean… well.” He lowered his voice, feeling the color rise on his face slightly. “Thank you, all of you. This means a lot. It is with great pride—yes. I’m proud to serve here. You all are—” he broke off, fighting an unexpected rise of emotion as he looked at all their faces. For a split second, he thought of Xiaoyi, the way she had expressed such shock at the idea that he might not want to leave. He’d been surprised at his own vehemence at the time, but now he understood it. He felt like he truly belonged here.
Belonged enough to be able to read the expressions of a few expedition members, the most prominent of which was Doctor McKay.
“You all are undoubtedly hungry, given the late opening of the mess hall,” he continued, deciding not to try to come up with a speech on the fly. He knew himself well enough to recognize that the chances of it being worthy of this gesture was fairly slim. “So again, thank you—and, let’s eat!” Richard was touched to see McKay nod respectfully in his direction before speed walking to the front of the buffet line. Turning back to Teyla, he saw that she’d been joined by Colonel Sheppard and Lt. Bryant, who was sheepishly holding a bottle of wine. With a deep breath that was scented ever-so-slightly with New Lantean wildflowers, Richard allowed himself to release the burden of resentment he’d been holding against his subordinates—his friends, and reached out to shake John Sheppard’s hand, his lips lifting into a broad, genuine smile of—at last—contentment.