Some Corner of a Foreign Field

Day 2: "Don't hug me."

Sixteen hours after the connection to Earth disrupted and failed to reconnect, John found himself back in the stargate operations centre, where technicians were working on completing the preparations for Atlantis' next move. It'd been sixteen sleepless hours in which John had been practically everywhere in the city, both getting an overview of the Earth evacuees and the Pegasus refugees as well as making sure they were settled. Only the children who ran around had given him a reason to smile.

Ascending the final staircase into the operations centre, John's eyes went automatically to the glass office on the other side of the walkway. It was empty. Frowning, John stopped and glanced around the operations centre. He found his target leaning over one of the operations consoles, talking lowly with Amelia Banks.

"Colonel," he greeted her, giving her a small smile.

Sam did not return it. "Colonel. How did it go with the evacuees?"

She only gave him a sideward glance and then looked back at the console's connected tablet computer. John pushed down a sudden feeling of uneasiness and shifted on his feet.

"They're all rattled, but settling in for now. Major Lorne's down there keeping an eye on them. Which reminds me, the IOA guys want to talk to you," he added with a grimace. Out of all the evacuees, John had found the surviving IOA representatives the most difficult to deal with. He wasn't a politician.

"They'll have to wait," Sam said, her tone curt and short. She leaned over Banks to input a few commands into the console. "Zelenka just checked in. The power conduits have been fixed and Rodney's connected the ZPM they brought from Earth. I've ordered everyone to report to their stations or otherwise stay in their quarters. We're nearly ready to go."

"Oh." John didn't quite know how to respond to that. It seemed like Sam had everything in order.

He studied her, taking in her appearance and posture. Rigid shoulders, drawn lips, focused eyes. Nothing indicated that she had been up some thirty-odd hours without sleep except the slight paleness of her skin and the bushy strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail.

But she seemed dull, like she was working on automatic. Not the kind where she was completely engrossed in some scientific or mathematical problem, but something John had never seen before. He was disturbed to realise that he didn't recognise this side of her, but he thought he had a pretty good idea of why she had ended up like this.

For the past sixteen hours, John had seen a lot of different reactions as he walked around Atlantis. Denial, anger, bargaining... People had begged him to do things, to say things, but it would've all been lies and ignorance of the fact that it had happened.

Earth was gone. No stargate connection meant no one to receive the call. It had happened. John didn't know whether it was due to the enemy attack or the self-destruct, but they could no longer reach Earth. The ramifications were hard to swallow, particularly now when they had a whole other shitload of problems to handle.

As John watched Sam talk with Banks, he recalled the transmission from the SGC and Major General O'Neill. The General O'Neill, he reminded himself. The one who meant as much to Sam as Elizabeth did to him, and John knew what it was like to lose someone like that. Which was why, when Sam moved away from the operations console to work on a sole monitor in the background, John saw his opportunity and approached her.

"Sam…" His voice was low, aware of any eavesdroppers. "I realise this isn't the time, but when's the last time you had a break?"

"I don't know," said Sam, her tone clearly detached. She focused on the monitor where equations and schematics rolled down at high speed. "We've been busy."

"Sam…" John sighed and stepped closer. He noticed immediately how she tensed up and refrained from touching her. He hesitated. "You should sit down for a minute. The Wraith won't be here for another four days. We've got time."

"I can't," Sam said dismissively, still not looking at him.

"Sure you can," said John, a bit annoyed now. "Just step away from the monitor and into your office. It doesn't even have to be a minute. Just—"

"John."

Their eyes met.

It was nothing like those first moments in bed, when she giggled and looked like ten years had been shaved off her age, utterly beautiful. Nor was it like those small moments in-between command where he'd made her smile at something silly he said, and they shared a moment of thought about their off-the-grid secret.

Neither was it like those serious times when they were silently communicating, such as when she sent him off on a dangerous mission and she looked at him with a veiled mixture of desperation and well wishes, urging him to be safe. And he in turn told her he would get back to her, no matter what. He'd promised not to be as reckless as he'd been when she first took command of Atlantis.

It was not the look she gave him across the desk in her office when he brought her intent or commands into question, nor the look she directed at him when he was being called in on the carpet for something reckless or thoughtless he'd done. They were equals in rank, but she was the senior officer and she had the last word.

This was what John felt now. Sam had the final word. That is what he saw in her eyes, in her posture, in her unspoken words.

Sam was in command now, and no matter how much John wanted to take her off somewhere secret and hug the life out of her, telling her it would be all right, she would just give him the look she was wearing now: detached, distanced, and in control.

"You should get down to the chair room and prepare for launch."

The look didn't change. No small smirk or glint of an eye for his comfort. John's stomach sank and churned uneasily.

"Right. I'll get to it then."

The pregnant silence that followed only underlined the lack of silly retorts or flippant quips on John's part. Sam had effectively deflated him.

He kept his eyes trained on Sam and tried to tell her that it was okay — that there would be time afterwards for this sort of thing — but Sam turned her back on him and returned to the operations console where she resumed her talk with Banks. It left John standing alone, gazing at her back and shifting on his feet.

When he noticed Chuck giving him a sort of sympathetic glance, he truly began to feel uncomfortable and quickly straightened his spine.

This is professional, John told himself. Nothing else. It's fine.

With a nod in the Canadian technician's direction and a final look at Sam, John turned on his heel and stalked towards the staircase and his orders.

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