Trilithons – The Stones

In the purple dusk, with the stone trilithons seeming to loom larger than their actual height, it was natural for Sam to feel like someone was watching her. At least, that was what she told herself.

Over her head, the sunset was staining the sky shades of gold and pink, peach and lilac, rosy hues fading as the sun descended behind the distant hills of another planet.

And then the stars came out.

Bright points of white and blue, pink and gold in the night sky, these stars didn't twinkle to the naked eye, as did the stars visible from Earth. One of the survey team had stated that it was possible P2W-746 had a thinner atmosphere than Earth – although they had no way to test that theory – only the clear view of the heavens above.

"Impressive, huh?" The voice that emerged from the darkness didn't startle her – she'd faintly heard the sounds of his passage long before he'd stepped out of the brush and crossed the plain to where the circle of stones stood.

"It's beautiful." The stars had always beckoned her as a child – other planets, other worlds. As a child, the only way to reach them had been to become an astronaut – to get into NASA and fly to the moon. She'd studied towards that goal at college, joined the Air Force for the chance to get into space. And then she'd joined the SGC. Her work on SG-1 satisfied her childhood dream a lot better than NASA could ever have done. "I take it Daniel and Teal'c decided against stargazing?"

He snorted, "Yeah. Daniel's hard at work again. Teal'c was firmly in kel no reem last time I checked. Probably more to escape Daniel's enthusiasm than anything else." The Colonel grimaced, visible even in the twilight. "I said good-night, but I don't know if he even heard me leave."

Sam smiled, thinking of her team-mate involved in his translation with the kind of intensity that was uniquely Daniel.

"It's been a while when he got to translate something simply because he was interested in it."

"Yeah. No 'fate of the world' kind of stuff. Makes for a nice change after everything..." He trailed off as if only just realising what he'd said. "Well...it's a nice planet, anyway. And it's good to be out of the SGC."

She was amused by the way he managed to change the topic and he knew it. With a grimace and a deep breath, he clapped his hands together too loudly in the quiet. "Right. So are you ready to do some astronomy, Carter?"

He'd set up the telescope earlier that day, pestering his team with good-natured cheerfulness as they brought the parts along and he made calculations on how to set it up. Once Sam had finished her analysis of the low-level EM-field the trilithions were emitting, she'd helped him with the calculations, while Teal'c and Daniel debated the translation of the inscriptions on the stones around them.

SG-1 would be here for four days, reporting back to the SGC every day with their findings.

It was to be a 'quiet' mission. No allies, no enemies, just some time for them to get over the events of the last few missions and sort themselves out again. "The down time you have when you're not having down time," Colonel O'Neill had joked as they changed in the locker room.

"What did you want to look at, sir?"

"Well, I thought we'd start with the various moonrises, go investigating that northern asteroid belt, and then check out the nebula over there. There's a cluster that looks pretty promising..."

She listened to his voice rather than his words, the drawling tones easy on her ears as he described several of the stellar sights that SG-9 had catalogued in the initial survey of the planet. Earmarked for later exploration and use as a possible beta site, the main concern had been the 'stonehenge' nestling on a plain to the north of the foothills.

Goa'uld inscriptions covered the inner face of each standing stone – all forty-seven of them. This had been a major cause of concern to the initial planetary survey team, although further exploration had failed to bring up any sign of Goa'uld occupancy, recent or otherwise. There were no naquadah deposits that their technology could detect, and no signs of civilisation apart from the 'stonehenge'. A natural cave system in the northern foothills appeared to have been used by wild animals – none of which the planetary survey team had actually seen – but not by humans of any historical period.

Once it was clear that there was no immediate likelihood of Goa'uld occupation of this world, the survey team had settled down to detail what they could of the alien stonehenge.

While it was fairly clear that the writing on the monoliths was Goa'uld, it seemed that it was some ancient dialect, long forgotten among Goa'uld and Jaffa. Daniel had taken one look at the report and practically demanded SG-1 be assigned to the follow-up survey. The Colonel had treated their colleague's enthusiasm with amused indulgence up until he read the report about the stargazing possibilities - and then Sam and Teal'c had two enthused and determined team-mates intent on dragging them to P2W-746.

Teal'c had borne the enthusiasm with good grace and, although he maintained his usual stoicism, Sam could see that the prospect of a 'quiet mission' was infecting him as surely as it was propelling the Colonel and Daniel along. If she were truthful with herself, it would be nice to take it easy for a change.

And her shoulder ached. Landing on it had done her body no favours – unfortunately she hadn't had much of a choice. Just as she hadn't had much of a choice in leaving the Ambassador behind on the Volian homeworld. It was the Ambassador or Earth.

She'd chosen Earth.

For better or worse, she'd chosen a world full of people over one man – and while her pragmatism said she'd made the right choice, the feelings of guilt were unavoidable.

In the dusk, the Colonel's voice droned on without a break and Sam shifted a little, still not listening to what he was saying. For 'a man of few words' he could be a lot like Daniel sometimes. "...and if you look carefully, you'll see me doing the Macarena naked..."

That jerked Sam out of her reverie. "Wha...?" Her gaze met the Colonel's exasperated expression.

"Oh, so you were listening, Carter?" One corner of his mouth quirked a little and she flushed. "So on which planet were your thoughts? Apart from the one where I'm doing the maca..."

She interrupted him before he could continue. There were some thoughts it was better not to entertain about this man. "I was just...thinking..."

"And this is new...how?" One look at her expression told him that this wasn't a laughing matter. "About?" He sat down beside her on the stone. Not too close, of course.

"Ambassador Faxon."

"Oh." He glanced away and grimaced, "Carter…"

She knew what was going to come from him. Some nice polite platitude about how she'd done the right thing and how it was for the good of Earth. Sam didn't need to hear that kind of reassurance – she'd had it from everyone else so far. What she needed was belief – and there was nobody who could give her that but herself.

"Sir, I know what you're going to say. I made the best decision – I know that. I just don't think I made the right one…" And there was more in that statement. More, which she wasn't going to say, because his motto was well known: No-one gets left behind. And she had left the Ambassador behind, after all.

His reassurance in the gateroom that she'd "done good" was cold comfort. Sure, she'd done good. She'd managed to scuttle the Aschenn attempt to destroy humanity and left an innocent man behind to deal with the fallout.

And there would have been a lot of fallout.

Great job, Sam.

She didn't want platitudes and he probably knew that. He'd probably been in the same tough-choice position before when there was nothing he could do to help the situation and only one way to defuse it – the hard way. He knew how it felt, he knew the burdens, he knew the deal. Deal with your issues and get on with the job; you have a world to save – again.

"Actually," he said, after a moment, "I was going to say that it doesn't get easier as your career goes on. And it shouldn't, either."

His words startled her – but not as much as his subsequent action. In a rare display of affection and understanding, he took her hand and squeezed it briefly and firmly, warm fingers closing around her cold ones.

It was the first personal contact they'd made in a long time.

"Sir?"

She couldn't see his eyes, it was too dark for that, but she could imagine the expression in them: intent and surprisingly gentle – the expression she heard in the tone of his voice. "We both know there are no easy choices in our line of work, Carter. We make the best decision with the facts we have – and sometimes those facts are enough to make the right decision - too often they're not. And we live with it on our consciences." He sighed, faintly and softly in the night. "Is it easy? No. It's expedience, plain and sordid, and it's no fun. But…" his hand squeezed her fingers lightly, "…when you have people around you who are willing to support you – to back your actions – that makes the burden lighter."

The encouragement wasn't anything she'd expected from him and maybe he sensed her surprise, because he snorted. "Listen to me, I sound like Daniel."

Sam smiled, recalling her thoughts from earlier that evening, "That's not entirely a bad thing, sir."

"Depends whether he's in marshmallow mode or lecture mode."

She considered saying something; she really did. But in the end, discretion won out over teasing and she let it pass. In spite of their personal and professional differences, each man had influenced the other more than either of them ever thought they did.

"Look, Carter...you did a good job in a bad situation. Really." The hand around hers squeezed again and she accepted the touch. Even if it didn't banish all her regrets and feelings of guilt, it helped. He let her hand go, not quite reluctantly, but certainly not eagerly. "You're a good officer, Carter. I'm glad to have you under my command – and more grateful than you'll ever know for the times you've pulled my butt out of hot water." A pause. "And I am so not good at this kind of pep-talk."

Her lips curved at his deprecating tone. "You're doing fine. Thanks, sir."

"You're welcome, Carter. Now," he continued, standing up and brushing himself off. "According to Captain Vang's notes, moonrise should be happening in..." he checked his watch, "a few minutes."

Sam watched him as he fussed and fiddled with the telescope, a faint smile on her face. The Colonel was a private man and always had been, but sometimes – just sometimes – he opened up just a hint to her, or to Daniel, or to Teal'c...

He had a good sense of timing about it anyway.

"Now one of the things about this planet is the unusual orbit, Carter, did you read through Vang's notes?"

"Briefly, sir."

"Only briefly?"

"I was too busy reading Lieutenant McMahon's notes about the composition of the stones."

"Well, if you'd bothered to find out just little bit more about this planet, you'd know..."

Sam grinned as her CO chided her and proceeded to explain about the astronomical significance of the moonrise. It was a nice change to be listening to him 'babble' at her.

Nice.

*

He watched her from the shadows, yearning over the way the moonlight touched her face.

Exquisite, as she had always been. Her laughter clear, like fresh water. Her eyes, pale points of brilliance in the evening. Her movements, imbued with the grace of any sidhe woman although she was no more than human.

The man with her had no comprehension of her beauty. Instead of admiring her, he was too busy staring up at the heavens, without any realisation of the woman who sat beside him, listening to his voice, sometimes smiling at his words.

It had been long - too long.

Time here dragged like a stone through the dust. So many years alone and lonely. So many years without her smile or her laughter, her body against him in the night, her voice speaking to him of her day.

And she was here now.

*

"So...what's the stuff say?"

Daniel glanced up at Jack from the notes he'd scribbled last night. A few feet away, Teal'c was video recording another of the trilithons with solemn care. In the centre of the two circles of stone, Sam was sitting on a large flat slab with a clipboard on her lap and the end of her pen in her mouth. "Uh...a lot of things, actually."

"A lot of what things, Daniel?" Jack was in an, 'I need to know and I need to know now,' mood. Wonderful.

"Well, the Goa'uld were here once. Or some of them were," Daniel indicated the stones around them. "They came here to enact an execution of one of their own. I think there was a kind of...coalition of Goa'uld rulers in several systems. They had an agreement with each other and one of them broke it. The punishment was execution and confiscation of his lands – and they brought him here to die."

"And the Stonehenge?"

"I guess it was a kind of marking spot for one of their own."

"I thought the Goa'uld didn't go for the whole 'honouring the fallen comrades' thing," Jack remarked.

"They didn't. I guess. At least we've never seen any evidence of it before. But this was definitely a place of execution for the Goa'uld in question."

"And did 'the Goa'uld in question' have a name?"

"Uh...yes."

"And his name was...?"

"Well, I assume he had a name, Jack, because it would have been fairly stupid if he didn't."

"You just haven't found it, right?"

"Er...no."

Jack rolled his eyes. "So...the Goa'uld don't believe in putting up a sign saying 'Here lies Evil System Lord X' to let people know where everything stands?

"No, Jack."

Jack peered at the markings inscribed into the stone while Daniel watched in amusement. "So how long do you think...?"

"Oh, we'll need at least a few more days. Teal'c is finishing off the video now. When we go back, I'll be..." Daniel watched as Jack looked sharply at him in question and changed what he'd been about to say, "...getting the linguists in the lab to look over it." He tried not to sound resigned but sometimes it was hard to leave these things to other people – especially when Daniel knew he was the expert in Goa'uld. The human expert in Goa'uld. Teal'c had forgotten more Goa'uld than Daniel had ever known.

"Good boy."

"I'm not a pet dog, you know, Jack."

"I know."

"So don't treat me like one."

"I'm not."

"You are."

"Right now, you're acting more like a sulky kid than a pet dog."

"Well, would you rather I drooled all over your crotch?"

That stopped them both dead and they went very red. Jack looked like Daniel had just grown glowing eyes and a ribbon device and Daniel suspected he had an, 'I really didn't mean that the way it sounded' expression on his face. Sometimes I wish my mouth would consult my brain before coming out with such gems.

It was laughter that broke their frozen embarrassment at Daniel's faux pas. Soft sniggers of amusement came from where Sam sat, her clipboard now clutched to her chest as her shoulders shook.

"It wasn't that funny, Carter."

She wasn't even able to stop laughing to answer him.

"It was extremely amusing, O'Neill." Teal'c stated from across the circle of stones. Although his back was turned to his team-mates, the smirk was quite audible in his voice and Jack glanced over at Daniel with an expression that quite clearly said, Why the hell couldn't you have picked something else to say?

Daniel shrugged, annoyed with himself and doubly annoyed at Jack for having started the whole conversation off. "Glad we could be of service."

Sam hiccupped and tried to stop herself from laughing to no avail. She caught Jack's eye, snorted with laughter, hiccupped once and laughed some more.

Jack glared from her to Teal'c to Daniel and stalked off. "I'm going to look over Captain Vang's notes. Again."

Teal'c continued to video the writing on the stones and Daniel glanced down at his notes again. Me and my big mouth...

Finally, Sam's laughter wound down - although the hiccups continued. Wiping her eyes free of tears, she addressed Daniel. "You should have seen your faces." Hiccup! "It was priceless." Daniel just gave her a sour look as she put the clipboard down and came to look over his shoulder. "How much have you translated so far?"

He leapt at the chance to change the topic. "Only a fraction of the first stone and bits and pieces of the others."

She nodded. "Anything we need to be worried about?"

There were times when he'd hated her and Jack and Teal'c for having a mindset so different from his own - for not seeing things the way he saw them. It made him uncomfortably separate from them. But time and again, they'd shown him how necessary their kind of thinking was for survival - and he'd shown them how necessary his kind of thinking was for more than just survival. In the end, the two balanced out.

"Not that I can see." He made a face. "I'd ask how much trouble a Goa'uld supposedly dead for a thousand years could be, but..."

"Marduk," Sam said as he trailed off.

"Marduk," he agreed. That mission had cost not only the lives of three Russian soldiers but a great deal of goodwill between the American and Russian military. Daniel most definitely did not envy the next person who'd have to deal with the Russians. "Still, if there was a Goa'uld to worry about around here, then I doubt this place would be so deserted." He waved a hand at the green valley around them. "It's pretty peaceful."

"It's relaxing," Sam murmured. She glanced out towards the hills and Daniel slung an arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze. She'd had it rough the last couple of missions - from the destruction of Tollana and the death of Narim, to the sabotage of the Aschenn treaty and having to leave the Ambassador behind.

She looked at him, startled by the gesture of affection. While they were close, none of SG-1 were the openly affectionate kind. But he was pleased that she leaned into the hug for a moment. Until he realised Teal'c was videoing them.

"Teal'c!"

The video camera didn't move an inch. "Yes, Daniel Jackson?" Damn the man for being able to keep a straight face!

"Stop that!"

One corner of Teal'c's mouth turned up from what was visible of his face behind the video camera. "If you say so, Daniel Jackson." He went back to videoing the stone plinths as Sam shook her head smiling and ducked out from under his arm to return to her clipboard on the slab. Daniel hoped it was just her automatic withdrawal from emotional displays - although he suspected she'd been getting better since her relationship with Jacob improved - and not any distaste for being 'linked' with him.

He turned back to the stone he'd been studying before Jack interrupted him and tried to decipher more of the text. The reason the translation was going so slowly was because this writing was a kind of 'high Goa'uld' language. Daniel had seen it before but the chances to study it had been few and far between. And with Jack insisting that he needed Daniel out in the field rather than in the research labs, it seemed like Daniel would be leaving the translations to someone else. Again.

Sometimes being a member of SG-1 sucked.

*

Continued in Trilithons Part Two - Aengus