Some Corner of a Foreign Field

Day 140: "Those were good times."

"Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter." ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Two and a half years earlier

Without intending to, John observed the woman out of the corner of his eye. Crumpled Midway jumpsuit, tousled hair, slight shadows under her eyes; it looked like she'd been working non-stop for days. Maybe some of Rodney's past slips about this woman were true after all.

The reputation of Colonel Samantha Carter had followed him since his first day in the Stargate programme. Just mentioning her name was enough to inspire awe and respect from military and scientists alike. With all the nicks in her belt, however, he wondered why the hell she'd wound up on something like the Midway station.

The last time he met Carter, she'd visited Atlantis during the Pegasus Project along with her team. That was a year ago. They hadn't stayed long, but it'd been enough to let him learn a few things about her: she was smart as hell and she didn't give up. She'd even taken out a Wraith ship to achieve their goal of protecting the Milky Way from an Ori invasion. That gave her a star in his book.

As if she realised she was under scrutiny, Carter glanced at him and John cleared his throat. "So… You sticking around?"

A silent sigh replaced Carter's poorly hidden smile. "No. General Landry wants Doctor Lee and I to gate back, give him a full briefing on the situation here." She paused and peeked at him. "The Apollo's gonna remain in orbit for the time being, in case you need any assistance."

John could only nod. A strange feeling settled over him. Memories of the past few days fluttered in the dark haze of his mind. He glanced only briefly at Carter, his voice low. "Thanks for saving our asses back there from the bad guys. It was a risky move."

At that, Carter raised an eyebrow and she turned more fully towards him. "It was nothing compared to the risk you and your team took." Her voice took on a soft tone. "Frankly, I'm amazed that you were able to pull it off."

John grimaced and shifted on his feet. "We had a lot of help," he dismissed.

"Yeah…" He didn't need to look into her eyes to see Carter's sympathy. Her voice said it all.

She then straightened and John recognised a very familiar stance – the kind any military officer would use in this situation: When they had to tell loved ones that a friend or family member had died. It made him stiffen.

"General Landry sends his condolences. He was deeply saddened to hear about Doctor Weir." Carter paused, then relaxed her stance and added in a softer tone, "We all were."

Oddly enough, John's words stopped in his throat and he only managed a curt nod. He couldn't meet Carter's eyes. Instead he focused his stare on the moons up ahead. They were cold and unresponsive.

"We haven't given up hope," he managed finally. "If there's a chance she's still alive, I'll find her." He locked his jaw, and rested his fists at his sides. His spine straightened and he almost held his breath, waiting for the inevitable rebuff.

He didn't get it. Instead, Carter stepped closer and touched his shoulder. "I know, John."

And she did. He could hear it in her voice, but he couldn't respond beyond another sharp nod. His chest constricted and he was forced to let out the breath he'd held. Carter's grip tightened on his shoulder joint, then she let go and stepped back. It'd been just enough.

John heard the doors open and close, but he kept his eyes trained skyward. The cold, silvery moons glittered high up on the sky above the dark waters surrounding Atlantis.

He blinked. Once, twice, until the small dots that caught his attention became visible. Stars. A lot of them. More than he could count.

His eyes narrowed. She was somewhere out there. Maybe she'd get caught up in the coming battles between the Asurans and the Wraith. Maybe she was a prisoner. Maybe she was dead. No matter what, John would find her. He'd bring her home, one way or another.

"I'm sorry, John." Sam's eyes were apologetic. Standing on the other side of the desk, John's insides dropped.

"C'mon, Sam," he wheedled. He leaned down on his fists on the top of Sam's desk.

She shook her head and gestured to the file in her hands. "I told you I'd look at your proposal and consider it, but this just isn't workable. There are too many unknown variables and too much that could go wrong. It's too risky."

"Only to a few, and we're all committed!" John bore his eyes into Sam's, willing her to see, but she only sighed and put the file down.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you take that chance. You're too valuable to this city."

John's jaw tightened. "Didn't you say you and SG-1 used to get into impossible situations, but you got out?"

Sam's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, we did, and frankly I'm amazed we're still alive. But that's beside the point – "

"It's the same thing," John insisted, leaning closer above the desk.

Their eyes met. John didn't blink until Sam exhaled and leaned forward in her chair, her palms up.

"Look, John, I get it. I understand what it's like to want to bring back someone you care about – " John recognised the tone. He twisted on his heel, his hands clenched at his sides. Sam's voice rose in volume, "– but you can't rush into something like this! Especially not now."

Jaw locked, John stared down into the gate room. The stargate stood silent and inert. A few security guards stood languidly on one side, chatting amiably. Picture perfect of the situation on Atlantis these past few weeks during Sam's transition to command.

Behind him he heard Sam get to her feet. She came to his side, fully faced towards him. Her voice was firm.

"Right now we've got the Asurans right where we want them: fighting the Wraith. That means they're out there, hunting down Hive ships and Wraith planets." Sam paused, eyeing him for any objection. He had none. "Even if they're programmed to do this, they wouldn't have left their own home planet open for any attack. They're replicators, John – whatever galaxy, they learn."

Like in the Milky Way, where they'd apparently gone from little bugs to full-grown human impersonations in less than a year. John recalled Sam's story from last week. He reluctantly eased his stance, but kept his eyes fixed on the stargate.

"Besides – " Sam's voice suddenly lost the firm tone, " – we've got no way of knowing if Dr Weir is still on their planet. It could be a suicide run. Even if you're willing to try, John, I'm not willing to risk your lives based on speculation."

John's fists clenched. "What happened to – "

Sam held up a hand. "Give me something solid and I'll back you up. Until then, we've got other things that need our attention." She gestured into the air. "Like today's mission to M3X-387."

It made sense. Of course it did. Even in these few past weeks, John had realised that Sam could win an argument almost as easily as Elizabeth - if not better when it came to military matters. She just had that kind of experience; she commanded respect almost instinctually. Reluctantly, John turned back as Sam returned to lean on her desk. His arms were tightly crossed, though. It wasn't that easy to just push her to the back of his mind.

"Do we have to?"

Sam smirked. "According to McKay, yes. He thinks there might be something there to help us fight the Wraith and the Replicators."

"He always thinks there might be something to help us fight the Wraith." John half-rolled his eyes.

"You can't say it's not a compelling argument." Sam chuckled.

John pushed his fists deep into his BDU pants pockets. "I guess not."

John hitched up the P90 attached to his vest and held it comfortably in his arms as he stepped into the lower part of the gate room. The place bustled with activity; people in both SGC and Expedition uniforms moved back and forth, most of them carrying crates and containers to be stacked up along the walls.

In the middle of all this stood Sam, her voice loud and firm above the commotion. "Be careful with that!" she called out to two soldiers swaying a container marked 'Hazardous' between themselves. "That's liquid naquadah. It could blow up this entire tower."

The soldiers glanced nervously at each other, then stepped more carefully towards their destination. Sam, eyebrows creased in worry, followed them with her eyes until the container was safely stored along the wall.

John threw a nod towards his team to get ready and they moved off to the end of the platform. He ignored Ronon's raised eyebrows as he veered off and approached Sam. "The big moving day, huh?"

"Finally." Sam looked up from her tablet. A slight huff escaped her lips. She jotted something down, then glanced at him and eased into a smile. "It'll be good to get started on the construction of the mining site. I've heard enough complaining from McKay about our lack of materials to last me two lifetimes. At least."

John snorted. Ribbing Rodney never got old, no matter what happened. "Well, that's not something you need to worry about now. Leave it to the IOA. Maybe he'll talk a hole in 'em and sort this place out."

Sam's smile tensed and her eyes rose up to the glass office, now attached with a very conspicuous wooden door. Xiaoyi and Coolidge were inside, talking without sound. John glanced too and wondered if he should've left it unsaid. The change of command was still a sore issue. However, Sam straightened her shoulders and looked back at him with a refreshed smile.

"You're right. I've got other things to sort out." Off to the side, a crate hit the ground and people flustered around it immediately. Sam sighed. "Like taking care of this moving thing… I'll be happy once we're off-world."

Given the status quo on Atlantis, John could see where she came from. He winced. "Yeah… Make that two of us." Sam raised an eyebrow and John explained, "We're visiting the Athosians today."

Sam's mouth formed into an O. "Right. When will you be back?"

"We've got eight hours on the clock according to the guys upstairs." John nodded towards the upper floor and then gave Sam a second look. "Why? You need some extra hands?"

"Wouldn't hurt, but I'm sure we'll manage." Sam smiled briefly. "Thanks anyway."

Although his neck was slightly tense, John shrugged. "Just holler if you change your mind."

Right then, a door slammed shut heavily above them and they looked up in time to see James Coolidge storm from the glass office. He shuffled people aside in the grand staircase and most likely would've continued to the transporter if his eyes hadn't caught sight of them, or rather Sam. He halted and, for a moment, his features darkened and glinted.

Something coiled in John's stomach. Hatred rose up like bile. Before he realised he'd done it, John pulled himself up to his full height and stepped into Coolidge's line of sight. Blinking, Coolidge's eyes went wide and he quickly veered off towards the transporter, leaving a trail of disgruntled people behind him.

Purposefully ignoring Sam's pointed stare beside him, John peered across his shoulder at the upper floor. Back up in the office, Xiaoyi stood by the desk, her face down. She seemed to take a few breaths and then straightened up. It didn't take her long to gaze down into the gate room and see their eyes on her. Her jaw set and she walked with deliberate, slow steps to the chair behind the desk. She picked up a radio and a second later Sam touched her earpiece in response.

"I'll be there in a minute," she replied to Xiaoyi's unheard message. Sam logged off and met John's eyes, her commander's mask slipping into place. His grip had tightened around the P90 and he forced himself to ease up.

"Trouble in paradise." It was half a statement, half a question. He didn't like it. In-fighting between two leaders never boded well. Especially these two.

"Another meeting," Sam explained, her voice annoyed. "Looks like the moving will be a little behind the schedule."

"I'm sure they can start without you," John suggested.

Sam hesitated and skirted her eyes around them. "Probably, but I'd like to keep a handle on things just in case. Besides, it's my mission. I've got to meet up with the Tikwee colony's leader before we can start up constructions, so I'd better be there when we go through the first time."

John's neck tensed somewhat; Sam was being slightly cryptic. Most people wouldn't recognise it, but after two years as her 2IC, John did. She worried about this new "command" of hers. Why, John didn't know. The IOA had practically banished her there – why would they do anything to change that? Or did she think that she would screw things up?

"Anyway, I better get going," said Sam. "Say hello to Teyla for me?"

"Sure. Good luck," John added, tilting his head towards the glass office.

Sam smiled tightly. "See you when you get back."

John nodded and took a step back towards his team, while Sam handed off her tablet to one of the gate technicians with instructions to log and double-check that they'd gotten the correct containers.

As he retraced his steps towards his team, John followed Sam's ascent in the corner of his eye. People almost went out of their way to let her through, which made him stop short and frown. Some stared after her with silent, narrowed eyes, but Sam didn't seem to notice. Her back was straight and her steps firm…at least until someone bumped into her. Her mask wavered and for a brief second…John's foot edged forward. However, before he could do anything, Sam had already continued up the grand staircase as if nothing had happened.

Shrugging off an uneasy feeling, John turned to his team. Only Ronon seemed to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. The Satedan raised his eyebrows at him, his features slightly dark, but John ignored it. This wasn't an issue he wanted broadcasted. Besides, Sam was a big girl. She could handle it. He was just her subordinate now.

That's what you told yourself before and you remember what happened?

He'd rather not. Not now. He had his mission to think about.

"Let's move out," John told the team and turned on his radio. "Chuck, you mind dialling up?" The faster they could get underway, the better.

"I'm inputting the coordinates now, sir."

Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on. ~Bob Newhart

"Someone ordered a pizza?"

Sweeping stray hairs out of her face, Sam looked up as John stepped through the open balcony doors, two trays in hand. She turned and leaned against the railing with a frown. "We got pizza?"

"Well... not exactly, but you could always pretend."

Sam smiled and accepted the tray. "Thanks, John."

John shrugged and went to sit against the wall, his long legs stretched out on the balcony's concrete floor. The tray rested upon his thighs. Sam followed his example and plopped down beside him with a deep sigh. She stared up at the twin moons. They shone silver and cold. Still, Sam didn't feel cold anymore.

"Eat," John said with his mouth and hands full of his ham sandwich.

Sam rolled her eyes at the non-veiled command. Although it'd only been a few months, she'd quickly realised John Sheppard didn't mind turning the tables when it was just the two of them, no matter if it bordered on insubordination. But she'd taken orders for so long that sometimes it was nice to be someone else and not the top dog. She picked up her chicken sandwich and bit into it.

They sat like that for a long while, just eating the sandwiches and staring up at the evening sky. John had even brought the Pegasus equivalent of hot coffee, so Sam didn't notice the cold stone floor underneath her until she'd finished it all. Even then, Sam didn't want to get up. Not yet. She just stared up at the vast, black sky.

"I was drifting in space," she said finally. John didn't reply. "We'd tried to stop the Ori invasion at one of the supergates. I was out in an E.V.A. suit switching the supergate's control crystals so we could dial out before the Ori dialled in. I wasn't fast enough."

Next to her, John sat quietly and stared at the same sky as her. Sam blew out a breath. "Four ships got through before we could stop them. We fought, but they destroyed almost all our ships. I couldn't do anything. I just…drifted."

For a long while, none of them said anything. Sam's chest constricted uneasily at the well of memories, but she kept it back. In the corner of her eye, John was an immovable rock. He didn't move, didn't speak, and it made her smile despite it all.

"The entity made me live through it all over again," Sam continued. "Every time I thought I was being rescued by the Odyssey, they were destroyed by a remaining Ori ship. I could just stare… until you spoke."

At that, John shifted a little. Sam took a deep breath and plunged on, "I opened my eyes and I was in Atlantis' cell. You were there, dressed like an Asuran. You wanted me to reveal the location of Earth. I resisted, so you…put your hand in my head. That's…when you guys found me."

Again, silence. Sam didn't know what else to say. She just fixed her eyes in the twin moons. The experience with the alien entity was still fresh. Not something she'd be able to sweep under the table anytime soon, even if she knew she had to. She was in a different galaxy, and she was at the top of the food chain. A lot of people depended on her to do her job. It was a lonesome task. At least most of the time, Sam's mind added and she glanced at John.

"So… are we talking jumpsuit here or that weird…frock-thingy?"

A chuckle escaped Sam's lips before she could help herself. It was an entirely absurd thing to say… and just the kind of thing she'd learned to expect from John.

"Actually, I think you were all silver." Sam smirked, to which John grimaced.

"Great, now I'm gonna have those stupid nightmares."

Sam chuckled and they fell into a companionable silence. She peered sideways at her 2IC, who still kept his eyes up and ahead, and couldn't help but wonder at the mystery that was John Sheppard.

He'd been on the shortlist to command this city, but turned it down. He claimed it was about the politics and red tape, but Sam couldn't help but wonder if it'd been something else. When she'd watched him on a day-to-day basis, she'd seen the camaraderie he shared with the people in this city, from newly arrived gate technicians to his own team. John Sheppard thrived in his position. He seemed to breathe for his job, for this city and its inhabitants, and, as his proposal to retrieve Dr Weir several days ago showed, he was ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else.

She'd been that way once too. She still was to some degree, but things had changed. She was a leader now; she couldn't afford that kind of thinking.

Sam glanced at John again, who'd put aside the tray and pulled his knees up. His elbows rested on his knees; he fiddled with a golf ball. In that instant, he reminded her of General O'Neill, and of Cam, and she finally thought she knew.

Even if John had taken the job, he'd be too restless. He wouldn't have been happy commanding Atlantis and sending other people off-world in his stead. And then there were the social interactions, which he'd miss out on a lot more. He'd be caught up in the politics and red tape as he said, but also meetings, administrative tasks and all the other things that occupied Sam's days.

Maybe that's why he took pity on his lonesome superior officer tonight, Sam's mind reasoned lightly. Not that she'd complain. It was a nice feeling, sitting on the balcony as they did and doing almost nothing but stare at the sky. The nightmare of drifting in space and watching her friends die now seemed but a memory.

Still… Sam mused as John continued to fiddle with the golf ball. John was a great leader in his own rights. He might be comfortable with his 2IC position, but one day…he might have to step up to the trust and respect everyone in this city has for him. He just had to shape up a little more. Like the Asgard would've said: he had great potential.

"With all due respect, Ms Xiaoyi, this mission's been postponed long enough." Sam fought against fisting her hands, but she was failing. She crossed her arms instead, latching on to opposite elbows in a tight grip. "If we want Atlantis and Daedalus properly repaired, we need to get started on the mining. I'm sure Dr McKay has properly informed you of our needs for new materials."

"He has," Xiaoyi said, composed despite the display Sam had seen earlier after Coolidge's exit. She leaned back in the comfortable office chair. Sam's lips thinned. "However, this request doesn't come from me. Colonel Caldwell called in a while ago. He said Daedalus has picked up some new information about the Wraith, and that part of it concerns the Tikwee. I'd say that's cause enough to postpone the mission a day or two, wouldn't you?" Xiaoyi raised an eyebrow.

Sam couldn't argue with that. A surge of worry replaced her previous annoyance. The Wraith had attacked a few planets after Kadara, then dropped out of sight once more for reasons unknown. Maybe they were just toying with them, or maybe they were caught up in the delicate balance of power internally in the Wraith society; they just didn't know. Their direct link to the Wraith via Todd was gone with the introduction of the superhive, so all they had to go on were rumours and the odd sightings.

"When will they get here?" Sam eyed Xiaoyi carefully. The IOA didn't like involving themselves with the Wraith, but Caldwell's message had suggested their new mining operation might be compromised. Even Xiaoyi couldn't ignore that.

"About two hours," Xiaoyi said. She nodded towards the window overlooking the stargate. "You may leave the containers down in the gate room for now. Hopefully Colonel Caldwell's news will not halt the mining operation permanently. Thanks to the numerous reports and meetings with the science department, I am fully aware of this city's needs."

The edged tone to Xiaoyi's voice almost made Sam crack a smile. She relaxed her arms and prepared to leave, but Xiaoyi held her back.

"Colonel, before you leave…" She paused and picked up a file on the desktop, peering at it before meeting Sam's eyes. Recognizing the file, Sam's neck tensed. "About this list of people you wish to bring off-world… I was surprised to see that you want to bring fourteen engineers, but… only eight scientists?"

"It's mining," Sam said. "I'm going to need engineers with experience more than I need theoretical scientists."

"And you chose only the engineers from Stargate Command?"

"They've got experience mining naquadah and trinium in the Milky Way. If you need references, ask Major Lorne. He used to be the executive officer under Colonel Edwards on that team. As for the scientists, most of them have a background in practical engineering. Dr Ludlow even worked on designing new drills before we lost contact with Earth."

"I see," Xiaoyi said, and returned her stare to the list. She pointed at something and commented, "Sixteen combat soldiers?"

"With the losses we've sustained so far, I'm not taking any chances." Sam's voice was firm. "I think we both can agree that we'd rather not lose more people."

Xiaoyi raised an eyebrow. "Indeed." She looked at the list again, then put it down and picked up another. "I realize the need for practical mindsets, Colonel, but I would nevertheless want you to consider these people as well." She handed Sam the list in her hand. "Some of them have asked to be put off-world for a while, to get some change of pace, and I'm inclined to let them. Tirana, Administrator Wutt told me, is an ideal place for research. However, it's up to you."

Sam looked down on the list of names. All were civilians: scientists and doctors with mostly theoretical backgrounds in botany, geology, engineering and social sciences. Several faces came to Sam's mind as she scrolled down the list of twenty-something names. Some of them she knew, others were unknown – new additions to the SGC during the last year, Sam presumed. She bit her lip. Having an office at the SGC would've ensured that Xiaoyi probably knew many of these people. More than Sam would.

"I'll consider it." She forced herself to return Xiaoyi's indiscernible gaze.

Xiaoyi smiled and sank back in her chair. "Thank you, Colonel."

Sam only nodded. She hated politics.

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. ~Victor Borge

"I can't believe you still got the photo in your pocket." Sam's smile was infectious. Seated opposite of her in the nearly deserted mess hall, John smirked and twiddled the Polaroid between his fingers.

"You never know when you gotta show an amnesic who's his CO around here."

"And apparently, a photo is the best way to do it," Sam rolled her eyes and then looked down at the steaming hot coffee in her hands. "Maybe I should get one as well? I can think of a few uses for it." She gave him a pointed look.

"You're not gonna need it. Everyone knows who's the boss around here," John said and put the photo back in his pocket. Sam smirked at him and sipped her coffee. John raised an eyebrow. "Y'know, that's probably not gonna help."

"It's what I do when I can't sleep," Sam shrugged, referring to the topic that had led them both to the mess hall at night. "That and fixing motorcycles or naquadah generators." John's eyebrow rose further and Sam noticed. "What?"

"Nothing. Just…" He drifted off, unsure how to phrase his reply. Most because he was impressed; he'd never pictured Sam as a grease monkey. Her reputation made her seem more like...well, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, although he'd never be brave enough to admit that. Not unless he'd drunk himself to courage.

"God, please don't tell me I reminded you of McKay."

John chuckled. "No. Well, a little," he amended, feeling brave, "but that's because you're both kinda geeky."

Sam groaned and hid her face behind her coffee cup. A moment of embarrassment passed before she looked up with an amused chide, "I'm gonna allow that because it's partly true, but I can still get that Polaroid taken any day, Colonel. Just so you know."

Despite the half-hearted threat, John only smirked and nodded at her cup. "Refill?"

John relished the fresh air as they hiked through the sparse forest. It was a welcome change from the processed air inside Atlantis, as were their surroundings. The straight, scattered trees reached high into the sky, probably two stories. Rays of sun streamed down from the treetops, warming his skin and black BDUs. John didn't mind.

"This is nice," he said out loud.

At his side, Teyla smiled. "I imagine you do not get out much anymore."

"You could say that," John grimaced.

"So how are things on Atlantis?" Teyla stepped gracefully over a protruding root ahead of him. John moved more mechanically, securing the swaying P90 on his vest as he continued on.

"Fine," he said shortly, but Teyla tilted her head in familiar fashion and John knew there was no point sugar-coating the truth. "You probably heard there's been some changes since you last visited?"

Teyla nodded. "Yes, Dr Jackson told me when he last visited. You have a new leader now, the IOA?"

John reined in a huff, but his tone was dark. "Yeah. You remember those?"

Teyla raised an eyebrow and looked at him sideways. "It is difficult to forget someone who did not wish you were in the same room as them."

Reminded of the forced relocation of the Pegasus refugees several months ago, John couldn't help but make a face. "Sorry."

Teyla only shook her head. "You do not have to apologize, John. We have made our peace on this new planet Colonel Carter found for us. The past is the past."

Uncomfortable with the easiness of Teyla's forgiveness, John averted his eyes and focused on the animal tracks they seemed to follow. There was no obvious path to the Athosian settlement, but that was their intention. The Athosians were great hunters and trackers, and their weapon against the Wraith had always been evasion. According to Sam, their settlement was hidden deep inside this forest, close to a network of caves that'd provide hiding places in case the Wraith darts swooped in. John had faith in the Athosians' tenacity, but he still worried.

After Kadara, the Wraith had gone underground again. They hadn't come around to attack Atlantis, which either meant no one on Kadara had revealed their position, or the Wraith were toying with them. John wanted to believe the first. The Kadarians had reminded him of the Athosians; they wouldn't have given them up under pressure, not like the Bhaati. However, there was no way to be sure. The Kadarians' GDO had been destroyed, but that didn't mean the Wraith hadn't seen the symbols on the DHD. Besides, John was certain that the Wraith, and especially Todd, would've liked the idea of messing with their heads.

"John, is something wrong?" Teyla's voice drew him out of his dark meanderings. She eyed him with concern. Off to their flanks, Airman Michaels and Sergeant Rowan glanced at him, then quickly returned their eyes to their surroundings. Ronon was up ahead as usual, along with one of the teen Athosians, a boy named Wex.

"No, I'm fine," said John brusquely. The skin across his knuckles strained white, and he forced himself to relax. "Everything's fine."

Teyla looked as if she wanted to prod, but instead returned her gaze to the forest. "We need to take a turn here." She pointed to a denser grove of trees.

John and the rest of his team followed her lead. Trudging one step behind, John struggled to relax his tense shoulders. To get his mind on something else, he said, "Keller mentioned I was supposed to bring something back with me?"

Teyla slowed her steps so that they walked side-by-side again. "Yes. She asked me if we could gather some medicinal herbs indigenous to this planet. I promised I would send what we had the next time someone visited us."

"Medicinal herbs?" John asked. "Nothing psychedelic or anything?"

Teyla raised an eyebrow. "I do not know this word."

"Uh, you see any hallucinations or pink elephants?" John tried, and Teyla chuckled.

"Ah. No, there are some herbs that have pain-relieving abilities, but most of them are for common illnesses, like the one that made you all lose your memories."

John grimaced at the memory. He still had that Polaroid picture of himself somewhere, just in case he needed it again. "Not that I remember much, but I get it."

They entered the denser part of the forest, and the sunlight became sparse. It was not like the forest surrounding the Bhaati settlement, however, so John didn't get the urge to pull out his P90 in readiness.

He took off his aviator sunglasses and tucked them into a pocket on his vest. He squinted into the darkness until the details became clearer. "Sam says hi, by the way."

Teyla glanced at him. "How is she? Dr Jackson told me she's moving to another planet for a while?"

Reminded of this morning, John winced. "Yeah… We're setting up a mining operation on one of the Tikwee's colony planets, one called Tirana. Sam's been put in charge of the whole thing. They're starting up construction today."

"It must be difficult to leave the city after so many years," Teyla said, her tone careful but sympathetic. "It took me some time to get used to the sounds of nature again, as well as not seeing you – " She nodded towards Ronon and John alike to illustrate her old team, " – every day."

"Bantos practice isn't the same without getting my ass whipped," John agreed and Teyla chuckled.

"You are welcome to join our session later. I am teaching Wex." She gestured to the young eager teen at Ronon's heels. "He is an avid learner."

John made a face, his tone light. "Is he gonna whop my ass too?"

Teyla smiled and teased, "I will protect you."

"Great, that makes me feel loads better."

They continued through the forest for a while longer, and soon the trees scattered and gave way to more sunlight. John heard the sound of a roaring river, but couldn't see it until they exited the forest unto a cliff. Far below them, the river crashed against the stony walls. On the other side, another forest spread out beneath a ridge of towering, snow-capped mountains.

An Athosian-style rope bridge stretched from one cliff to another, and Wex led Ronon ahead. While they waited their turn as Airman Michaels and Sergeant Rowan clambered across, Teyla turned to John.

"John, may I ask you a question?"

"Sure." John nodded, but as Teyla's eyes became rather hesitant he tensed.

"Do your people think Colonel Carter was a bad leader?"

John shifted on his feet, not quite meeting Teyla's eyes. "Some of them, I think," he said evenly. "A few don't like the way the IOA got control."

"And you?" Teyla asked carefully.

John didn't reply. His jaw tightened and he half turned away. He hated the way the IOA had simply thrown Sam off-world like she was a bug under their shoe. He also hated that Sam hadn't fought against them. Leaders didn't give up. And although she'd shown him something he couldn't talk about, something she obviously wanted to make, he didn't see how she could without access to Atlantis' labs and resources.

Still, maybe the point was that she was trying.

Realising Teyla was still waiting for an answer, John said, "There's only a few civilians I've really liked... and there's also just a few officers I've ever respected."

He hoped she wouldn't ask him anything further, but Teyla seemed to have gotten her answer.

She smiled a little and turned to the rope bridge. The others had gotten across and were just waiting for them.

"You may go first, John. The village is not far once we're across."

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. ~Jean Houston

"You made the right choice, John." Sam looked at him sideways. How did she always know where to find him? Seconds after exiting the stargate from Earth and there she was. She hadn't even changed out of her dress blues yet.

John scoffed. "So it's a good thing to know the Replicators outnumber us ten to one? Fifty to one if all we've got is the Daedalus."

"We've faced worse odds," Sam said, her tone light. Somehow, it annoyed him.

"Yeah? And what's it gonna cost us this time?" John retorted, his arms crossed.

Sam didn't immediately reply and he could feel her eyes on him. His jaw tightened. Nails dug into his palms. The dull pain was welcome.

At his side, Sam sighed. "Of all the things I've been through, cleaning out Daniel's apartment after he died was the hardest thing I've ever done. Every time," she added, nearly amused.

John shifted on his feet, his neck tense. The silver moons shone coldly down at him. A sharp breeze drifted past the balcony, but John didn't acknowledge it. He waited for the other shoe to drop, the shared sob story from a superior officer that'd somehow make him feel -

"Tell me about her." Sam's voice was soft.

A strange feeling settled over John. The breeze passed on and left them behind. Warmth spread out from the city walls. He hadn't expected that: the empathic tone, the feeling that she really knew.

He leaned forward to clutch the cool railing. Something built up in his chest. He pressed his lips together, but they moved almost on their own. Sound came out. Quiet, hushed. For some reason, he couldn't keep it in.

"I thought she was crazy when she made me the military commander of Atlantis." From the dark haze, Elizabeth's smiling face looked at him across her desk. He chuckled and shook his head. "I still think she was."

Was, not is. John sobered. His knuckles whitened around the railing. "It wasn't fair. I should've—"

He couldn't finish the thought. At his side, Sam moved only marginally closer. He could feel her presence beside him, but he couldn't meet her eyes. Still, he raised his chin up at the two silver moons and his grip on the railing loosened.

"She had a great sense of justice," John said. The dark haze fluttered once more with her face, only this time there was no smile. Her eyes and features told him to run, to leave her behind. He swallowed, his voice strained. "And courage."

John almost startled at the soft touch on his shoulder. Sam didn't say anything, but she didn't need to. It was there, in her eyes.

He wasn't alone.

Sam glanced uneasily at Coolidge, who sat seething and silent by Xiaoyi's side. His eyes bore into her skin as she tilted her head at Caldwell. The Daedalus commander leaned forward on the table, unfazed by the three IOA members on the opposite side.

"During the last couple of days, we've picked up a lot of Wraith activity in the neighbouring solar systems to the Tikwee colony," Caldwell said. "It seems several Hive ships have gathered close to a planet we've designated M6X-7R2. For what purposes, we don't know, but we haven't registered any ZPM signature, so the superhive most likely isn't involved."

"Do you think it could be one of the other Wraith factions?" asked Sam, consciously ignoring Coolidge's stare.

Caldwell shrugged. "Possibly. We've heard some rumours that there might be some internal struggles among the Wraith due to the superhive. It could be they're planning some sort of attack to gain power."

"That would be to our advantage, wouldn't it?" asked Woolsey, seated on Xiaoyi's other side. "If the Wraith are busy fighting each other, then they won't be interested in us."

"But if it's the wrong faction that's been gathering on M6X-7R2, it could be that they've learned of our relationship with the Tikwee and are now targeting them," Sam pointed out, not too happy with the news Caldwell had brought. "We just have no way of knowing for sure."

"Unless we try a covert operation, no." Caldwell met Sam's eyes, and his subtext - directed only at her - was clear as rain. Her insides twisted.

"No." Xiaoyi's reply was curt. The two colonels looked sideways at Atlantis' new commander.

Sam raised her chin defiantly and clasped her hands on top of the conference table. "What do you suggest then?"

"Nuke them," Coolidge interjected, his eyes narrowed. "Swoop in and blast them all to hell."

Xiaoyi glanced at her colleague and Woolsey looked decidedly uncomfortable. He almost seemed to shift a little further away from Coolidge.

"We will do nothing of the sort, James," Xiaoyi told him. "Daedalus is our only ship and is, as I understand it, working at less than 80 % efficiency due to the last Wraith attack we were involved in."

Sam frowned at the American representative to the IOA, who'd set his eyes on Xiaoyi now. John's words from earlier that day came to mind. Was there trouble in paradise?

"Then I'd suggest upgrading our security on the Tikwee colony planet," Caldwell said and all eyes returned to him. Coolidge sank back in his chair; his eyes returned slowly to the wall next to Sam.

Sam shrugged off an uneasy feeling and addressed Xiaoyi and Woolsey. "I agree. Even if the Wraith on M6X-7R2 aren't gonna attack the colony, we know from past events that the Wraith have a way of getting information on our activities. Sooner or later, they might figure out that we've got a mining site on Tirana and decide to attack. I think everyone in this room can agree that we can't lose those mines."

Xiaoyi eyed her for a moment. "What would you require to amply defend the mining site and the Tikwee colony?"

Sam resisted the urge to glance at Caldwell in victory as her mind worked quickly. "Tirana is close enough for Atlantis to monitor it on long-range sensors, so we're able to get a head warning in case of a planetary attack. However, we're not prepared for an incursion through the stargate." She paused and met Xiaoyi's eyes. "I'd suggest two security teams on 12-hour rotation by the gate; an additional permanent team for the Tikwee colony and one for the mining site; and a Jumper."

Xiaoyi's face didn't lose its stony quality at the swiftness of Sam's reply. She simply turned to Caldwell. "Could you spare as much from Atlantis' military resources?"

"Shouldn't be a problem," Caldwell said, "but we should think of installing a railgun or two in case of aerial attacks. I believe there are a few of those left in the city?"

"Dr Weir had them stored in one of the lower levels a few years back," Sam nodded. "A bit dusty, maybe, but they should work."

Xiaoyi didn't reply. Instead, she glanced at both her colleagues and then at her folded hands. Silence filled the conference room. Sam raised her chin as Coolidge's eyes turned on her again. Woolsey looked uncertainly at Xiaoyi and feeling so close to her goal, Sam felt she had to say something to tip the scales.

"I've also considered the list you gave me, Ms Xiaoyi." Slowly, Xiaoyi looked up at her. "If we expand the site a little, I don't see a problem if some of them still wish to join us. I'm sure there'll be something there to keep them busy besides mining. Besides, with the additional security they'd be well protected."

"I see." Xiaoyi raised an eyebrow. She glanced again at Woolsey and Coolidge before leaning forward in her seat. "Very well, I will consent to this on one condition: the IOA will review the final list of participants before any construction begins, and I want daily updates from both the mining site and Daedalus. I do not want to be caught off-guard again."

Sam's lips thinned a little. There was no other way around it. She'd just have to make sure all those connected to the military could be trusted. "Agreed."

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. ~e.e. cummings

"Radek did really good today," Sam said as she leaned back in one of the comfy armchairs in her office. From the matching chair, John frowned as he prepared the chessboard.

"Wonder what he'd do if he got stuck in the vents?"

Sam chuckled. She knew John felt differently: he cared about the people around here and he knew them pretty well. "I'm sure he'd come up with something." She stretched her arms – her joints cracking – and sighed. "I'm just happy we finally got out of this mess."

John raised an eyebrow and smirked. "You mean you didn't plan to get locked up in a transporter with Zelenka all day?"

Sam smiled and glanced at the open laptop on her desk. A stack of papers and folders lay next to it. She was supposed to prepare for her upcoming six-month review today - and tonight. "Not quite," she said. "But at least it got me out of the office for a while."

Their eyes met and amusement shone in both pairs. John didn't reply, but he didn't need to. It was one of the things about him that amazed her. She felt comfortable with him, even if she shouldn't.

Breaking eye contact, Sam nodded towards the chessboard, "You black or white?"

"Ladies and full-bird colonels first," John replied, his tone bordering on cheeky. He lined up the white pieces on her side of the chessboard. Sam couldn't help but shake her head lightly.

"I'm not gonna go easy on you, Colonel," she ribbed.

John shrugged. "No holds barred. Ma'am," he added and his eyes twinkled.

He finished the line-up on his side and then leaned back comfortably in the white armchair. He let his eyes drift around the office as Sam surveyed the chessboard. It took her a few moments to make her first move.

Without a word, John turned back to the chessboard and looked at it. Sam observed him silently: the relaxed shoulders, the almost indifferent expression on his face, and the keen shine in his eyes. As John idly moved his pawn two steps forward to meet Sam's lone piece, she hid a smirk.

It would be an interesting game.

"…And that's how you do 'The Swindle of a Century'," John finished.

On his thigh, Torren babbled nonsensically in reply, his mouth caught on the ear of a teddy bear Keller had given him for his birthday.

John snorted and hoisted the kid further up his lap. "Tell you what, I'll teach ya. Y'know, when you get older."

Torren simply crooned at him. John smirked.


The quaint Athosian village lay shaded within the forest. Although the day had barely passed noon, shadows already stretched from the tree trunks. The sun was partly hidden behind the tall snow-capped mountain John had seen earlier, but communal fires and torches shed light onto the tents making up the village.

As villages went, it was not one of the most remarkable. The tents were patched and dirty. Some had wooden foundations, compliments of the Atlantis engineers. Still, none of the faces around him reflected lives of hardship and fear. The Athosians had been hunted and hustled from place to place since he'd come to this galaxy, and yet they still laughed.

Jeers rose up as Teyla met Wex's eager enthusiasm with a lesson in patience. John turned to see the young teen on the ground, bantos rods at his sides. Ronon stepped out of the surrounding half-circle and pulled him to his feet, a grin on his face. Everyone else chattered amongst themselves and seemed to approve of Teyla's move.

"Wex," Teyla spoke, her voice clear in the sudden silence. "You must not rush. Focus on your balance. Let the rods be a part of yourself." She placed herself opposite the young teen. "Try again."

The teen positioned himself and John watched as he slipped into a familiar balanced position, the rods relaxed in his hands. Many years ago, John had been in his shoes. He smirked as Wex and Teyla began to circle, knowing how it would end.

Moments later, the teen was on the ground again, but this time Teyla helped him up. She smiled. "Good. Don't forget your footing. Be aware of your surroundings."

"I will try again," Wex said, panting slightly. He straightened his spine and Teyla touched his shoulder in approval. The crowd around them cheered and made room for them again.

As Teyla went into her position, John's smile slipped. Her stature was strong, balanced and relaxed. For a second, she reminded him of Sam. Or the Sam she used to be.

The memory of this morning returned to John. An uneasy feeling settled in his stomach.

He'd told Teyla there were only a few civilians and superior officers he'd ever respected. At one point, he'd trusted Sam nearly implicitly. Far more than he'd ever trusted a commanding officer, and she'd shown an undeserved trust in him. They'd broken the rules together – not an easy decision – but that's what Sam did. She made the tough decisions, and she let him have a say in the matter. Most of all, she hadn't been afraid to challenge the IOA, the Joint Chiefs, or even General O'Neill on behalf of Pegasus and Atlantis.

He thought she'd lost that ability and fighting spirit. After Earth happened…she shut him out. She burnt the midnight oil each night, made decisions on her own and then started to turn to the IOA. Only when she broke down did he learn some of the truth. Sam had made the tough decisions. She'd tried to protect the city and Pegasus both, but she'd been a victim of something he'd feared: politics. And now she'd paid the price. Although there was a more bureaucratic word for it, the term that popped up in John's mind seemed more fitting: exile.

John's hands clenched in frustration and Torren protested loudly. He startled and found he'd squeezed the boy a little in his arms.

"Sorry, kid," John mumbled. Torren quieted and looked up at him, then pointed at the teddy bear he'd dropped. John scooped it up from the ground and Torren blathered happily at its return. "Didn't mean to scare you," John said, but Torren seemed to have forgotten it already. He chewed on the teddy bear, completely in his own world.

Still apprehensive about the boy's reaction, John forced his arms to loosen without Torren falling off his lap. He glanced back at the bantos match between Teyla and Wex.

"Looks like your mom's winning. Not surprising," John added, a slight smirk on his lips. "You won't kick my ass when you're all grown up, will you?" Torren didn't reply. John sighed. "Who am I kidding? Of course you will."

He stared back at the match where Wex was once more on the ground. To his credit, though, he still got up on his feet and asked for another try.

Like Sam had done by showing him her blueprints.

John's eyes widened. The thought had just suddenly popped into his mind, like it'd been there all along. For a moment, that befuddling haze of frustration and confusion he so often felt cleared up.

Leaders shouldn't give up, and that's what he'd thought Sam had done ever since she started to listen to the IOA. But even after everything they'd done - the forced relocation, the pro-isolation politics, the forced change in command - she'd tried to keep her chin up and face their leadership as anyone true to their duty would. Like a professional. A professional put in the middle extreme circumstances that no one could've been able to predict.

And when she'd been at her lowest, when he'd helped her out by finding her SG-1 picture, she'd finally shown him her blueprints with strict instructions to delete after reading. She'd opened up and included him. She'd trusted him.

But most of all, she'd reminded him of something. Something important.

He still mattered.

"You're still here?" Daniel stepped up to her on the balcony, hands in his pockets. He breathed in the fresh salty air.

Sam leaned her elbows on the railing and glanced up at him. "Still here. We got some intel that suggested one of the Wraith factions might know about Tirana. I've postponed the move until Daedalus checks it out."

"Huh, that means you're able to join me for movie night." Daniel smiled. "No excuses this time."

Sam winced. "I don't think it's such a great idea."

Daniel quirked an eyebrow at her, then fell silent as Sam simply stared out at the gold-glittering sea. He sighed. "They won't throw you out, Sam."

Sam scoffed, but didn't reply. It sure felt like they already had.

"Even so," she said, "I've got my night planned out. Xiaoyi's graciously granted me one of the Jumpers and Daedalus had some spare equipment that needs packing. I'll be in the Jumper Bay…once I've seen Reika."

"I've been meaning to drop by," Daniel said, his voice softening. "How's she doing?"

"The new treatment seems to be working, albeit slowly. But…it's putting a lot of strain on her body. It might be too much." Sam paused and looked to the blue sky. Her chest tightened a little.

A warm weight touched her elbow on the railing. Daniel smiled sadly at her. "She's a strong girl."

Sam only nodded and took a deep breath. "I don't like leaving her behind."

"We'll look after her. I'm sure John will keep you updated."

John… For some reason, Sam didn't like leaving him behind either. Her hands tensed on the balcony railing.

"Um, by the way, have you talked to him about…?" Daniel drifted off uncertainly. Not that she could blame him. It wasn't a topic she wanted to broadcast. His knowing about it at all had been an accident.

"No…" Sam's shoulders sagged. "I don't know what to say."

"Did you try 'I'm sorry'?"

"What's the point?" Sam countered, her voice edged. "I'll just mess it up again. Besides, I'm going off-world permanently. We're not gonna hang around much."

Daniel shook his head, putting his hands back into his pockets. He stared out at the sunny horizon. "Look not mournfully into the past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future, without fear."

Startled, Sam raised an eyebrow. "What's—"

"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet," Daniel smiled. "Kinda fitting, don't you think?"

Sam didn't know what to say. Apparently, Daniel didn't expect any retort either as he turned towards the door.

"I'll see you later," he said, still smiling, and then disappeared back into the city. Sam was left behind on the balcony to ponder his words.

A man isn't poor if he can still laugh. ~Raymond Hitchcock

Sam snorted into her coffee and almost sprayed the liquid all over the chessboard.

Across from her at the mess hall table, holding a white pawn in his hand, John smirked. "See? I told you it was funny." He placed the pawn on the board and then leaned back.

"I can just picture Rodney's face…" Sam wiped the coffee drops off her chin and met his amused eyes. "What'd you do then?"

John shrugged. "There wasn't much else to do. I mean, he's a pain, but he's kinda important to this city." He sipped his own cup of coffee. "So Teyla kept the king busy while me and Ronon sneaked off to the…um…escort rooms, and got McKay outta there."

Picking up a black bishop and replacing one of John's knights with it, Sam shook her head in amazement. "The things that happen to us… You'd think the stargate would be marked with a 'Hazardous' sign."

"Might've saved me from some very awkward…stuff." John winced as he leaned forward to survey the chessboard.

"Like being caught up in the court intrigues of Harmony's sister?" Sam ribbed. "McKay said they painted a very interesting picture of you…"

In the process of making his move, John's eyes narrowed and he swore beneath his breath, "Rodney…!"

Sam chuckled. "By the way, I'll checkmate you in three."

Confused, John stared at the chessboard, his rook forgotten between his fingers. Not that it would've made any difference. "Damn."

Hidden behind the rim of her cup, Sam grinned.

The stairs were dim with late evening light. Only far above did the shine from a full moon outside break the dimness through narrow windows. John ascended the stairs slowly, eyes on the open door ahead.

The Jumper Bay was equally dim, except in a corner where work lights had been set up around one of the Ancient puddle jumpers. A sole figure moved around inside it, and John pushed his hands deep into his pockets. This was it.

As he approached the Jumper, John recognised it as the one he'd flown on Kadara during the Wraith attack. Scorch marks marred the sides and the extended drive pods were dark and unresponsive. Big crates were stacked outside, all marked with the Daedalus logo. Spare supplies, he supposed.

The crates were forgotten once he heard a curse from the Jumper. He stepped up to the open back hatch. Inside, amidst a tangle of wires hanging from the ceiling, Sam sucked her finger. "Damnit!"

John smirked. The look on Sam's face was familiar. Obviously, something hadn't gone as planned. "Problems?"

"Yeah," Sam groaned without turning, fiddling once more with the wires. "I can't get this damn power distributor to work!" As if she suddenly became aware of his presence, she looked over her shoulder in confusion. "John! You're back? What time is it?"

John looked at his watch. "About eight. We got in a little late. Teyla threw us a feast," he added lightly. As Sam turned to him, his neck tensed, though. He shifted on his feet. "Um, I kinda noticed you forgot something down in the gateroom."

"Yeah, you could say that." Sam grimaced.

"Xiaoyi?" Recalling this morning, John frowned.

Sam shook her head. "Daedalus got intel that suggests one of the Wraith factions might know about Tirana. I sent a team to look after the Tikwee colony tonight, but I won't make the big move until Daedalus confirms the intel." She sighed and looked at the mess of wires above her. "In the meantime, I'm stuck here."

John glanced around the aft section of the Jumper. Panels were removed, wires stuck out everywhere, and the cabin itself was dark except for the work lights outside. "So…what's with all this?"

"We're taking a Jumper with us for backup, and I got this one." Sam blew out a frustrated breath. "Needs a bit of work, like getting power back online. However, without the ATA gene I can't test my progress."

Frowning, John didn't ask why she hadn't asked for one with the gene on-base to help her out. Instead he said, "Tell me what to do."

With slightly wide eyes, Sam glanced around the interior before nodding towards the cockpit. "Try and turn it on when I give the word. I'm just gonna reconnect all of these," she gestured to the many wires about her.

"Sure," John replied, and stepped into the cabin. As Sam edged close to the wall to let him pass, John's neck tensed further. He hadn't noticed how small the Jumper was before.

He almost let out a breath once he entered the forward section and settled into the pilot's seat. In the background, Sam moved quickly around the aft section, expertly attaching the wires in their correct spot. John watched her in the reflection of the Jumper window, her tall frame bending this way and that, strands of hair loose from her braid. He shook his head of the image when Sam finally gave the word.

"Alright, try it now."

John touched the panel in front of him and focused. The panels burst to life, lights flickered on, and the holographic screen popped up. "Nice," John breathed, still amazed at what a little mind control could do. Seemed like she hadn't been far from her goal, despite her doubts.

"You still got those magic fingers," Sam enthused behind him and John's relaxed muscles tensed again. Sam must've been aware of what she said as well, because she immediately started to fluster around the aft section. "Um, what I meant was – "

"It's okay," John said and swung the chair around.

Sam bit her lip and barely met his eyes. They'd had one glorious second before the elephant rejoined them in the Jumper.

"Um…" John scratched his neck and got to his feet. "I was thinking of heading down to Reika afterwards. Y'know, see how she's doing."

"Right! Yes. Well, she's hanging in there," Sam said, her hands wrung in front of her. She glanced around the cabin. "No change yet."

"Right…" John shifted on his feet. "Well, I just wanted to check on her. Maybe get some workout done after that. Ronon's promised to kick my ass tomorrow. Gotta get in some exercise before that," he added, and he calmed a little when Sam smiled.

"Nice to hear some things don't change," she said, and her shoulders sank a little. A sigh escaped her lips. "I don't think I've done any exercises in months. Keller's started to bug me about it."

John smirked. "'A healthy body, a healthy mind'," he recited and stepped to the divide between the forward and aft section. He leaned against the doorway. "I got something like that too…well, maybe not the kind you got." At this, he grimaced and thought of all the midnight runs and training regimes he'd undergone the past few months.

When he looked up, Sam was biting her lip again and apprehension rushed through him.

"Um… John?" She met his eyes hesitantly. Something stirred in those blue orbs that John hadn't seen since Kadara. "Since I'm not gonna be around here as much anymore… D'you mind if I tag along? I could use the workout…"

"Uh…" John didn't know what to say. A part of him wanted to –

"You know what? Nevermind," Sam said quickly and turned away towards the door. "I'll just go for a run."

An uneasy feeling settled in John's stomach as he saw Sam's back draw away.

"You don't have to do that," he suddenly called after her. As Sam stopped in her tracks and looked back at him with wide eyes, he tried to shrug it off. "I mean, the gym's for everyone."

Sam only stared at him. "You don't mind?"

Stepping around the loose panels and crates inside the Jumper, John followed her outside. His neck was tense, but his words were… "You need the exercise, right? I need a sparring partner."

A wide smile spread across Sam's face and, surprisingly, John's tension lessened a little. His lips twitched too.

"Okay," Sam said, turned fully towards him. "Thanks."

"No problem," John shrugged. "It's a win-win. But I'm not gonna go easy on you."

Sam chuckled and the sound was wonderful. "No holds barred. Colonel."

Recognising the familiar quip, John smirked.

As John exited the Jumper Bay, Sam sent a silent thanks to Daniel. The archaeologist's wisdom and friendship never ceased to amaze her. Getting rid of her fears, however, wasn't that easy, but maybe one day…

Sam turned back to the Jumper, now turned off again, and sighed at the state of the interior. She had some cleaning up to do before she could think of a workout. Not to mention loading the Jumper with the Daedalus crates standing outside.

"Did he ask about the crates?"

Sam startled at Caldwell's voice. He suddenly appeared out of the shadows, jumpsuit-clad and wearing that wary look that'd become regular whenever they met in private.

"No," Sam said, a little annoyed at the sudden arrival. She moved inside the Jumper to start reattaching the panels. "How much did you hear?"

"Not much. I just got here." Caldwell followed and stood tall in the doorway, arms crossed as he looked about the Jumper. "It's a good idea for you two to patch up, though."

An icy chill ran down Sam's spine. She forced herself to remain calm. "What'd you mean?"

"I'm not a fool, Carter." Caldwell turned fully towards her. "You had a falling out. I saw the same thing happen to command teams in the Gulf, in Iraq. Losing Earth's affected a lot of us."

Sam tried not to let an obvious breath out. He thought it was just professionally. Good. "It won't happen again."

Caldwell simply nodded, then glanced out of the Jumper. "How much does he know?"

"I haven't told him anything," Sam said, even if it wasn't completely true. She had shown him the blueprints. Caldwell had only seen them last week. "But I don't like it. With me on Tirana and you on Daedalus, we need someone on Atlantis to keep an eye on things."

For a moment, Caldwell peered towards the Jumper Bay exit before he lowered his voice and stepped closer. "I agree, but for now the less who knows, the better. Until we're all sorted."

"Fine." Sam finished reattaching the panel in her hands and peered up at Caldwell. "I'm guessing you didn't come here just to tell me that?"

"No." Caldwell's face took on a dark expression.

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book. ~Irish Proverb

"I'm gonna get bored out of my mind," Sam groaned. She wriggled as much as possible in the bed without moving her cast-enclosed leg. "And it's itching."

John smirked. "I'll bet you're not one of the doctors' favourite patients?" He stood up and looked around for something while Sam huffed.

"I've seen more than my share of them," she said. Her features dissolved into a grimace as she accidently moved her leg. "Ouch!"

"Easy," John told her, "You don't wanna break your leg again, do you?"

Sam sighed and slumped back in the bed. "I just hate this. Did you at least bring my tablet?"

Picking up an object from a nearby table, John shook his head "You heard the doctor – you need rest, which means no work. Here," he handed her a long-legged scissors. "Use that to scratch."

Sam accepted the scissors gratefully, and sat up so she could reach the cast. "Thanks," she smiled.

John smiled. "You just take it easy, alright? I'll keep this ship afloat. By the way, I got you something else." He reached into a large pocket on his uniform pants and pulled out a cube-shaped object. "This'll take care of your boredom."

Sam chuckled. "A Rubik's Cube?"

"Not just any cube." John's eyes twinkled. "It's a V-Cube 7. Got it on last month's shipment."

Sam turned the cube in her hands. It was a 7x7x7 cube with curved edges. "Upgrades," she noted.

"Yeah, just don't let me know how you solved it," John grimaced. Sam held back another laugh, recognising his feigned act of ignorance.

"Thanks, John. I really appreciate it." She met his eyes, although he quickly shrugged it off as nothing. He rolled on his heels and pushed his hands into his pockets.

"I'll see about bringing the chessboard around sometime," he said. "You get some sleep, okay?"

"I will," Sam smiled, and watched as John silently nodded and left the infirmary. Only one thought was left in her mind: his file hadn't said anything about his compassion and loyalty. She'd seen him extend that to others, but now…she felt included in that band of friends John surrounded himself with.

Atlantis was starting to feel like it could be a home to her.

John was running through the series of moves that Teyla had taught him when he felt a weird sensation at the back of his neck. He finished the last stab and tilted his head towards the doorway. Sam stood quiet, dressed in her workout gear, and simply smiled.

"You've improved," she said, and moved inside the gym. She slung her bag into a corner and turned towards him. Her smile fell a little and revealed her apprehension "So…"

"Rods in the rack." John nodded towards one side of the room, where racks with various training equipment were installed. He tried to roll off the tension in his neck as Sam went to the closest rack and picked up a pair of Athosian-styled bantos rods.

As he positioned himself, however, Sam hesitated and faced him. "Look, before we… Um, I need to ask you something." Her features hardened a little and a stone dropped into John's stomach.

"Something wrong?" He gripped the rods tighter in his hands and instinctively straightened.

Fortunately, Sam shook her head, but then looked around as if someone invisible had joined them. "No, it's… I need a favour."

John frowned. "Which kind?"

Sam sighed. "Today, I had to allow Xiaoyi putting ten civilians on the mining site in exchange for additional security for the colony. They all joined the SGC after I left for Atlantis. I don't know anything about them." She met his eyes, her tone low. "I need people I can trust, John."

"I'm not sure I'm gonna know more about 'em than you," John responded, rolling the rods restlessly in his hands.

"But you know the soldiers." Sam went to her bag, pulled out a piece of paper from an inside pocket and gave it to him. "Could you find 16-20 people with this kind of experience that would be willing to trust me?"

John surveyed the list. His eyebrows shot to the ceiling.

"You serious?"

Sam didn't reply, but her eyes told him everything. His eyes narrowed.

"I know I can't expect you to trust me…" Sam's commander's mask faltered. She sighed. "…but right now I'd really appreciate it." She paused and the look in her eyes changed.

John didn't reply; his jaw stiffened as he glanced between the list and Sam's eyes.

"It's a request, John," Sam added softly. "I don't want to make it an order."

The piece of paper balled in John's hand. He pushed it into a pants pocket and secured it, then whipped out both bantos rods and turned towards Sam. She looked at him, confused.

John raised an eyebrow. "I'm not gonna do it now. Didn't you get the memo our new boss sent out about decent work hours?"

A slight smile spread across Sam's face. Once more, John felt some of his tension lessen and he gestured for her to find her position.

"Now, first off, you can't rush. Find your balance and let the rods be a part of yourself..."
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