Jack O’Neill is walking up to General West’s office, his newly buzzed hair and claustrophobic uniform already stretching his nerves thin, when he first hears her voice.
“With all due respect, sir—.” She doesn’t manage to sound all that respectful, and Jack is amused despite himself.
“That’s enough, Captain,” West barks, cutting across her. “I’m sorry you mistook this as a conversation, but it’s not. You will report to the Pentagon immediately.”
The captain doesn’t take the hint. “I built this program, sir, and there is no one more qualified to make this mission successful.”
“Oh, I’m quite aware how highly you think of yourself,” he says and it’s a damn catty remark for a damn general to be making to a captain. Of course, Jack suspects it’s the obvious subtext that really stings. This has nothing to do with her qualifications. Jack’s been standing out here for less than a minute and he can already pick up on it.
“I think I at least deserve an explanation,” she presses.
West is sexist, not stupid. He’ll never let her goad him into actually saying so out loud. “You are dismissed.”
She bowls out of the office and Jack’s a little surprised to see that the ballsy captain is a tall, striking blond, with brilliant blue eyes ready to laser down the next asshole in her path. Which, of course, happens to be him.
She stumbles to a stop in front of him, her eyes darting over his newly shorn hair and the slather of ribbons on his chest and he can practically see the conclusion she’s reaching—black ops. Some of the fight seems to go out of her then, like she’s finally connecting the dots and seeing each and every thing stacked against her. Her fight is far from fair.
She barely nods her head in what might be considered the slightest veneer of obeisance to a superior officer and smoothly steps around him. “You won’t appreciate it,” she says, almost as an aside.
He turns to watch her retreat down the hallway, but no matter how long he watches, she doesn’t look back.
* * *
At Jack’s request, they’ve given him quarters on base. They don’t ask whether this is because he doesn’t have a home to go back to, and he returns the favor by not telling them to shove it up their asses.
The few hours he’s been on this base he’s had uppity scientists rattling the chains, dealt with West’s tight ass posturing, and stared long and hard at the reason they brought him in instead of the bright, shiny captain—the possible alien threat waiting for them on the other side, if ever anyone figures out how to open the doorway.
He hadn’t expected to ever see her again, but he’s heading back to his quarters when he sees her walking down the hall with her back as straight as she can possibly get it while holding two towering boxes. She’s got no less than two marines walking her down the hallway, neither bothering to help her with the load, and it’s the classic perp walk of the newly fired. Isn’t that just adding insult to injury.
He’s not sure what makes him do it, maybe because he likes her spunk, or maybe because he finally has his out and it makes things a hell of a lot more easy.
He remains standing in the middle of the hall until she’s forced to stop. “Do you mind?” she asks, tacking on a nearly invisible ‘sir’ at the end.
“Nope,” he says, plucking the topmost box from her stack. It’s heavy as hell. Full of books and other geek things, he supposes.
She stares at him like he’s grown a second head, but he simply walks towards the elevators, assuming she will follow him eventually. If she ever wants this box back, that is.
It’s the four of them standing in the elevator watching the endless tick back towards ground level, and it might have been funny as fuck if Jack found anything remotely amusing anymore.
“West is an ass,” he says somewhere near level 17.
Her eyes widen, glancing at her two escorts, like they are going to narc on him or something. What the hell does Jack care? It’s not like he’s got a promotion to protect, and maybe that is kind of funny after all.
“It’s not like it’s a secret,” Jack says, nudging the marine next to him as if letting him in on the joke.
The guy does a pretty impressive job of just staring straight ahead and pretending Jack doesn’t exist. He’s getting used to that.
The marines look relieved to turn back at the gate, but the captain is still just staring at Jack as if waiting for the punch line.
“Where’s your car?” he asks, shifting his grip on the box. He’s strong, but damn this thing is heavy.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks, full of suspicion.
He shrugs. “Don’t have anything better to do.” And he doesn’t, really. Not if you don’t count arguing with nerds and burning his way through a pack of cigarettes. He picks a random direction and occupies himself trying to decide what kind of car she drives.
“This way,” she says, catching up to him and nodding her head off to the left.
He’s less surprised than he should be when he sees that her car is a sweet little classic thing with more speed than tonnage or efficiency. The sort of thing only a pilot or a grease monkey would love.
She tosses her box into the non-existent back seat, holding her hands out for the one he’s still bear-hugging.
He’s oddly reluctant to give it up, though he suspects it has a lot to do with the very valid point that she is really attractive.
Oh, he knows he has a type; he’s not stupid. Blond, leggy, and feisty as hell get him every damn time. So it’s not surprising that he’s noticed her legs, or the curves that the Air Force uniform is trying and failing spectacularly to smother.
She’s beginning to stiffen up again though and that bothers him, so he hands it off to her without comment. He’s not really sure what to say. Sorry you got canned? Sorry you get to put up with more crap than the rest of us just because you’re a woman?
Sorry they need someone like me way more than someone like you?
He settles for shrugging and giving her a look as if to say, ‘What can ya do?’ He turns away then, but doesn’t make it very far.
“Drinks?” she asks, sort of hurried and breathless like she knows giving the offer one more second of thought will reveal what an awesomely bad idea this is. He turns to see her, and she’s leaning one hip against the car, flipping her keys around her fingers, the invitation clear.
He wonders if it has really been that long since someone was nice to her.
He gets in.
* * *
In the end, he doesn’t fuck her just because she’s clearly got a stick up her ass and so obviously needs a good tumble. It’s not because, when he took back his rank and this hypothetical mission, his wife told him not to bother coming back, that he couldn’t clearly remember what it was like to touch his wife anymore anyway. He may have expected fucking a near-stranger to be about the faded bruises on her upper arms and the slight trace of lingering swelling on her knuckles that says she didn’t take that ill-fated asshole’s crap lying down. It’s not even about the fact that he killed his own son and she’s someone who can’t possibly know that, because she does, somehow. She can see it, and maybe that’s really what this is about. She can see it and she’s fucking him anyway.
He halfway expects one of them to get up and leave as soon as they are done, but they are both lingering, not snuggling or anything so prosaic or hypocritical, just lying there.
“I deserve to be on the mission,” she says and he thinks maybe this is her reason for being here. Not trying to sleep her way into it so much as being completely out of options, needing to understand it somehow and he might just be the only one with that answer.
He looks over at her lying there in the dim light of the advancing evening and thinks that this woman on that mission would be the worst idea in the universe, and not just because he gets the sense that her brain makes her invaluable. She’s bright and young and beautiful and he thinks maybe strangely vulnerable under all that armor, though he has no idea how he can know that. But the chip on her shoulder alone is enough to get people killed. Maybe get her killed.
Rolling across the bed, he settles himself on top of her, giving her a moment to protest, but not particularly surprised when she softens under him, her leg wrapping around him. She’s far from shy in bed and it’s just another hidden facet that makes unexpected sense. Moving his mouth across her stomach, he digs his fingers in at her waist. “No,” he says against her skin, skin so smooth and as yet untouched by sacrifice and duty. Skin he’d only ruin in the end, taking her down with his sinking ship. “You don’t belong on this mission.” Not the one they are sending him on, the one built on worst-case scenarios and suspicion.
She lets out a hiss of air, her hands digging into his hair not so much in punishment as encouragement. She’s angry, he knows, angry that he’s taking this mission away from her—a ghost who doesn’t even technically exist—and there is absolutely nothing she can do about it. She takes what he gives her though, her body lifting under his—a consolation prize paid in flesh that he has no problem offering.
They sleep for a while at some point, two strangers dozing in and out on their own separate sides, not so much as an errant hand or foot breaching the distance, nothing so falsely intimate.
Some time near dawn, she invades his space, rolling up against him, her face nestling into his shoulder, and the gesture hurts in completely unexpected ways.
“You’re not making the return trip,” she says. It isn’t a question, and it’s scary as hell, because either he’s lost his edge and is that easy to read, or she’s just that damn smart.
“No,” he says, finally admitting what no one has been callous enough to actually say out loud, that he’s just a soldier looking for a quick out. Paid for and sanctioned by good old Uncle Sam.
She stretches one long leg across his body, shifting her weight until she’s hovering over him. She’s staring down at him and he doesn’t want to look, to see the pity he knows will be there. Her fingers grip his chin, forcing his face up.
She’s staring at him with clear eyes.
And maybe that’s why they are really here in this not-seedy hotel room. Because he’s a dead man walking and they both damn well know it.
When the call comes that Daniel Jackson has done the impossible—somewhere between the inevitable fall of awkward silence and the arrival of probably ill-conceived breakfast room service—she doesn’t plead her case again, just gives him one long, deep kiss and doesn’t say goodbye.
* * *
Abydos isn’t anything like what he expects. He’s prepared for bad guys and worst-case scenarios. He’s even forced himself to consider the all-too-real hypothetical that Dr. Daniel Jackson is talking out of his ass and has no fucking clue how to get his men back home.
All of which basically comes true.
But there’s also a persistent ache of something not quite hopeless, not quite unbearable as he keeps one eye on Daniel to keep him from tripping over his own damn shoelaces, or getting fed to alien camels by Ferretti.
It’s like an echo, rattling away inside him, and he can’t even pinpoint when it started, just feels it bouncing unerringly from raw wound to raw wound and it hurts like fuck, but he still stands there smiling for the first time in ages when a kid with dreadlocks and a funny name dances around like a chicken.
Most of the time he’s convinced he’s living inside a cautionary tale.
But maybe it’s the living part that’s unexpected.
Almost as unexpected as the way her voice lingers half a galaxy away—the woman who shouldn’t mean anything.
You won’t appreciate it.
He’s huddled in a dark cave on Abydos when Dr. Daniel Jackson tells him it’s a fucking shame he’s so ready to die.
For the first time, he thinks maybe it is.
* * *
One month later…
She’s not hard to find. It turns out there aren’t a lot of gorgeous, blond, genius captains in the Air Force.
Her hair is an even more brilliant shade of gold in the afternoon sunshine than he remembers. She’s striding down the stairs in her immaculate uniform, and if he didn’t have a handful of indelible memories of a night spent in a hotel room with her, he may not have believed she could be the same woman.
Only then she sees him, coming to a stop halfway down the steps.
He doesn’t move, remains standing on the sidewalk, giving her ample time to simply walk past him, to firmly store that night in the past for good. He’s more than aware that he may be an unwelcome intrusion—a one-night stand that was supposed to disappear into the bowels of a dead-end secret mission, not show up unannounced halfway across the country on her doorstep.
He watches her consider her options and it’s not until that moment that he can acknowledge that she was one of the reasons he came back. One of the reasons an eager kid and a hapless archeologist on a desert planet on the far side of the galaxy could penetrate the wall he so carefully built around himself.
Her shoulders square, just the slightest bit and he knows she’s made her decision, is ready to defend it—to him, to herself. He just doesn’t expect her to actually move towards him.
She stops a careful distance away, as if not sure what to expect from him.
“You were right,” he says, knowing where this starts even if the ending is still a giant fog.
“I was?” she asks.
He nods. “I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.”
Her eyes widen. She’s curious and hungry for facts and it’s proof yet again that she would have appreciated it all so much more. He pictures her there for a moment, bright and stubborn under the Abydonian sun.
“What happened?” He expects questions about the gate and what’s on the other side, but for some reason he doesn’t think that’s what she’s asking.
He shrugs, not indifferent, just still unsure himself. “I guess…I made the return trip after all.”
He thinks his own wonder at this strange turn of events must still be audible in his voice because she takes another step closer, something shifting in her expression. She tilts her head slightly to one side, her brow furrowing and he gets the feeling she’s trying to understand the change in him, to reconcile the man in front of her with the one from a month ago. He’d really like to know what she finds because he doesn’t have a clue.
“Yes,” she says, her eyes skimming across his face. “You did, didn’t you?”
He holds her gaze, looking back at her, because everything is just a little overly bright, confusing, like his body is still trying to get used to actually being alive, to the thought of tomorrow actually mattering.
“I think I’m glad,” she says, and he doesn’t begrudge her the uncertainty.
“I’m Jack,” he says, sticking his hand out. It’s information she probably already learned weeks ago if she cared enough to try. But that’s not what this is really about. She’s smart enough to get that.
She takes his hand, her fingers firm around his. “Sam,” she says.
He’s more nervous than he’d bothered to be the first time he met her, but possibly that’s because things actually matter now. Have consequence.
“Is there a chance…that I could buy you lunch?”
She smiles at him, surprised by the offer, or maybe a little pleased, her hand sliding up his arm as the sun glints in her hair.
“Yeah,” she says. “I think there is.”