Trilithons – Absolution

The stumble back to the Stargate was difficult in the pre-dawn light, even for Teal'c.

It must have been nightmarish for Major Carter.

She was just ahead of him in the misty rain, flanked by Daniel Jackson. O'Neill lead the way a few steps ahead of them as Teal'c acted as a kind of rearguard. From Major Carter's faltering gait it was clear that she was exhausted, but she pressed on without uttering any complaint.

They were all uncomfortable; tired from the run, and damp from the mist-like rain that had begun floating down from the sky as they returned to the camp.

O'Neill had wished to evacuate Major Carter from the planet at the first available opportunity and SG-1 set out from the camp almost as soon as they arrived back there. They took their packs – all, save Major Carter's pack. Hers had been lost when she had run from O'Neill during the first attempt to return her to the SGC, although whether she lost it during her flight back to the circle or during her time beneath the circle was uncertain. She wouldn't speak about anything from the time she had knocked O'Neill out to the time when she appeared in the circle alongside Aengus.

Daniel Jackson was evidently dismayed by her reticence, but he had trotted alongside her for most of the journey, trying to bring her out of her shell. So far, from what Teal'c had seen and overheard, she had refused all Daniel Jackson's attempts to draw her out.

Ahead of them all, O'Neill was point. It had not been explicitly stated by their leader that they would range themselves around Major Carter to prevent another escape, however Teal'c had understood O'Neill's intention almost immediately, and Daniel Jackson took only a little time to work it out for himself. No words were said, they fell into their 'positions' easily. Such fluid actions would have been the same if it had been any of them incapacitated by circumstance.

In addition to these precautions, Major Carter wore restraints around her wrists to further hinder any attempts to return back to the stones. Aware of the risk she presented to her team-mates, Major Carter had submitted to being put under restraint, although she was visibly unhappy about it.

O'Neill had fixed them around her wrists, tight enough that they couldn't be easily undone, loose enough that her circulation was not cut off, and far enough apart so she wasn't completely uncomfortable while walking. He was taking no chances this time around.

His friend was not angry, Teal'c sensed. Instead, O'Neill hid his concerns and his worries behind a gruff face and curt orders. There had been many times when Teal'c had also been required to hide his emotions behind the expression of a commander. The situation required all his skill and his patience with none to spare for emotion, and so it was cast aside and blocked off from thought.

Ahead of Teal'c, Daniel Jackson and Major Carter began scrambling up a rocky outcropping. The rock was sheened with the dew, and halfway up, Major Carter stumbled and slid down the rockface. Her hands, confined in the restraints, couldn't find suitable purchase on the stone and it was only Teal'c's presence behind her that stopped her slide down the slope.

Daniel Jackson was down beside her in an instant, with O'Neill a second behind.

"Carter?"

She gritted her teeth, where she'd come to sit on the loosened dirt of the slope. She'd turned her hands over to examine the scraped on them. "I'm okay, sir."

"Your hands are scratched." Teal'c observed and she quickly flipped her hands over, clasping them together.

"They'll be okay," she repeated.

"I think she's tired."

"She is tired," Major Carter said with unaccustomed fierceness to Daniel Jackson. "She's especially tired of being talked about as if she wasn't here!"

Daniel Jackson's expression grew a little disconcerted at the snap, but he kept silent. Instead it was O'Neill who spoke.

"Do you want to rest, Carter?"

A shake of the head indicated her answer as she climbed slowly to her feet, shunning both O'Neill and Daniel Jackson's offers of assistance. "I can keep going, sir."

O'Neill looked carefully at her for a long moment and she returned the gaze, almost defiantly. Then he nodded, his expression neutral. "Daniel, take point. Teal'c..."

"I shall walk beside Major Carter." Teal'c interrupted O'Neill's arrangement of their positions. While he had no doubt that O'Neill had only Major Carter's best interests in mind, her state would not be improved by the kind of pep talk his team-mate had to give her.

"O-kay. Then it looks like I'm rearguard." With another hard look at Major Carter. O'Neill stepped back and waited for Teal'c and Major Carter to  move on before following in their trail.

She sighed as they set off again, a barely-perceptible huff of air in the hazy dawn mists to express her irritation with her team-mates and her frustration at her own circumstances.

Teal'c assisted Major Carter to the top of the rock and kept a careful eye on her all the way down the other side.

It wasn't until a klick later that Teal'c felt comfortable about speaking to his team-mate of the thoughts that preyed upon her mind. They were on a stretch of lush green meadow before the hill that would take them into the valley where the Stargate stood, so her attention was not needed from her terrain and would be better served away from her thoughts of depression. "Major Carter?"

"Teal'c?"

"Do you blame me for succumbing to the will of Apophis on the mothership outside Vorash?" He knew the answer, and so did she.

She looked at him, puzzled. "No."

He nodded once. "Do you blame Daniel Jackson and O'Neill for succumbing to Hathor's lures?" In front of them, Daniel Jackson turned a little, eyebrows rose in query before he turned back and kept walking.

The shake of her head was emphatic. "No. Of course not."

"Then why do you now insist on blaming yourself for your weakness to Aengus' attraction?"

Her expression was gratifying: the guilt and confusion of her self-judgement plain even in the crepuscular, pre-dawn light. "This was different," she said.

"How?"

For all that Teal'c admired his team-mate's skills as a warrior and as a scholar, there were times when she was very short sighted regarding her own weaknesses and what she could do to mitigate them. The Goa'uld were not gods, but they had the power of gods in their hands with the technology they held.

"It just...is."

It wasn't, but Teal'c said no more. Major Carter would come to the conclusion he wished her to reach: that while she might hold herself responsible for what had happened, her team-mates did not. The seeds of forgiveness and self-acceptance were planted in her mind. They would bear fruit in time.

They walked on to the Stargate.

*

He paced in the circle of stones that kept him from her, anger and jealousy burning within him.

She had left him! After all he had done, after everything he had worked on her mind and on her body, she had run from him as if he were a monster and not her lover.

The men who had challenged him were nothing to her. Aengus was a thousand times more than they...

His hands clenched as he remembered the taste of her, the feel of her. She'd been so soft, willingly accepting his embrace in the chamber below as he'd bound her to him in yet another fashion apart from the glamour that surrounded her.

Yet neither glamour nor physical intimacy had prevailed upon her to remain with him...

Aengus slammed his fists against the nearby stone and screamed his anguish to the pale sky of dawn as the rings consigned him back to his eternal prison.

Etain was gone.

He was alone.

*

It carried to them on the frigid morning air.

The utterly inhuman howl of the Goa'uld sent a shudder down Jack's spine and made him swivel on his heels towards the noise.

Behind him, she made an odd noise and he turned to find her standing rigid in the crisp morning air.

Instinctively, he caught her arm and felt her shiver and relax. "Carter?"

"I'm okay now, sir." She was still subdued, even after Teal'c had questioned her about her behaviour in comparison to their own at various times through the years. Jack had to give Teal'c credit; the man knew how to get at the nooks and crannies of her prison of self-flagellation.

Jack didn't question her assurances, not here. Once they were back in the SGC, he might, but the priority was to get her back home before anything more happened.

The assumption that the ring transporters only worked in darkness wasn't enough for Jack's comfort, even in the faint shafts of morning sunlight diffusing their way through the fog.

He turned to Daniel, standing frozen by the DHD staring up at the hills. "Dial it up, Daniel."

Daniel nodded, took a deep breath and began hitting the keys to dial the gate. She'd  turned away from the hills and was staring fixedly at the empty circle of the Stargate.

She'd retreated again, he saw. They'd drifted apart over the last couple of months - since her possession by the electrical entity. Their work together hadn't suffered, but their friendship had. And it had taken a couple of months for Jack to realise that she was drifting - from him, and probably also from Daniel and Teal'c. And that worried him.

After the first night, he'd hoped he'd gotten through to her enough to start over again in building up the level of trust between them - personal trust, not professional. And it had seemed promising. But after the last couple of nights they were back to square one. Or maybe a negative square if there were such things possible.

His excuse for his curt behaviour of the last six hours was fear. A simple fear but a powerful one and motivated by equally powerful emotions.

And somehow he'd have to break through her reticence all over again.

He wasn't relishing the kind of effort it would take.

She glanced over at him, as if sensing his gaze on her. "Sir?"

"You know, you might get a medal for this."

That caught her attention - if only in bewildered confusion. "Medal? For this?"

Jack grinned at her expression. They were close enough to the Stargate that he was in a better humour than he'd been for the last couple of hours, without the tension of her security preying so strongly on his mind. "Well the last time you hit a superior officer in the head, you got a commendation from Hammond. I figure that as your immediate superior, I should at least see you get a medal..." For putting up with me for five years, if nothing else, he added in his head.

She stared at him incredulously for a moment before she gave a soft snorting laugh and flushed. Her gaze found her toes again, and she muttered, "I'm really sorry about that, sir, and I understand that you have to report it..."

"I probably should," he noted. "But I won't. It wasn't insubordination - just alien influence."

She glanced up at him to see his expression and not just hear his words, then hesitated as if she was about to say something. But after a moment her smile faded. She nodded just once before looking back at the Stargate and the now-erupting event horizon that settled to ripples of blue.

"Carter?" Jack asked. He truthfully expected whatever she'd been going to say was going to stay unsaid, but he had to ask.

He wasn't disappointed. "Sir?" All right. She wanted to play 'Little Miss Major', so be it.

"Never mind." No point in pushing her now. She'd only retreat and it would make things worse later. And there would definitely be a later. Jack turned to check that the iris code had been sent, and Daniel's wave indicated that it was clear to go. So he indicated the gate to her, keeping his hand curled around the inside of her arm. Just to be sure she didn't run off again.

Priority number one was to get her off the planet, and priority number two was to have her physical condition checked out by the Doc. Reassuring her would have to take a back seat – for the moment. He'd corner her later by whatever means were possible and make sure she wasn't locked into a cycle of self-recrimination. She was good at that. So was Jack.

He had a pretty good idea of how she'd feel with the fast one Aengus had pulled over her - and he had a pretty good idea of how to deal with it. A good kick in the pants and she'd realise that she couldn't have done anything to stop Aengus while under his influence. She'd realise that she'd done an incredible job fighting it.

And maybe she'd even accept that not everything was under her control. Like the Ambassador and the situation with the Aschenn. Like the destruction of Tollana and Narim's death. Like the glowy alien guy and the NID. Like the entity. Like the death glider out past Jupiter. Like the situation on Apophis' ship.

But that would have to come later. Get her home first, then deal with her issues - and maybe a few of his own.

However, it seemed that while he'd decided to deal with her later, she'd decided to deal with him now. They'd only taken two steps forward when she spoke hesitantly. "Sir?"

Jack was surprised by the sudden willingness to talk but didn't look a gift horse in the mouth. "Yeah?"

He caught a brief glimpse of her eyes before she looked away, huge blue orbs in the planes of her face.

She caught his gaze before her eyes slid away. "Thank you for...for coming back to get me." Her embarrassment was plain enough. "And for yelling at me while I was in the circle..."

Caught by surprise at the unexpected gratitude, Jack took a second to answer. "Uh...no problem, Carter. All in the job description." It was easy to make light of it. Too easy.

In some ways, that was typical of Sam Carter and anything that dug too deep into her emotions. Do the small 'reach-out' stuff now and hope that it would cover the big stuff later.

And, yeah, I relate to that.

But Jack wouldn't be fooled by the small stuff - although it was certainly a start.

He'd still be checking up with her later.

Later.

They walked up the stairs, arm in arm, to go back home.

* The End *