by Avalon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
fanfic at http://members.dencity.com/avalon_online
PG-13, S/J, Part 8/8
THE MANY SHADES OF NIGHT VIII
"Light Out of Darkness "
When the explosion came, it wasn't what Carter had expected. She had closed her eyes, her arms tightening around O'Neill, resigned to the knowledge that, if she had to die, then at least it wouldn't be alone. And that they would take some of the creatures with them... The last second ticked by while both held onto the grenade and to each other, and then...
White light. Blinding her, even through tightly shut eyelids. A shock wave that blasted through her body like a cannon, leaving her stunned and shaken in its wake. Sounds. An explosion that was somehow silent and thunderous at the same time, followed by a high pitched scream of a thousand alien voices, united in a single cry of absolute agony. And then...
Silence. Complete and overwhelming silence. For the first time since their arrival on PJ2-838, the sibilant rustling in Carter's head had stopped. Only the echo of the scream remained, and even that was fading.
She was trembling, she realized distantly. Her entire body was shuddering violently and she couldn't feel the ground beneath her. An eternity passed and then slowly, reluctantly, she opened her eyes...
...and flinched. The night was ablaze with silver light, as if the sky itself had caught fire. Vague shapes swam through the illumination -- the Hejiran ruins? -- and everything seemed curiously distorted and flat, as if her depth perception was not working properly. There were no colours save for a multitude of grey, white, and silver.
Whimpering slightly, Carter rolled over onto her stomach and reached a hand forward through the silver light. Her fingers curled into the material of Colonel O'Neill's jacket and she almost sobbed in relief as she felt the steady rise and fall of his chest. He was alive. They both were.
At her touch, O'Neill stirred and opened his eyes. Carter dragged herself forward, meeting his gaze. She could see a little better now, she realized. Her eyes must be adjusting.
"Carter?" His voice was weak.
She nodded and resisted the impulse to drop her head down onto his chest and hold him close. "I'm here, Sir."
He blinked, trying to focus. "OK. Pretty sure we're not dead. Hell wouldn't hurt this much."
"No, we're not dead." It came out as a cracked whisper.
"That's good." He closed his eyes and let his head fall back slightly. "Why not?"
"The...Luminar must have taken a while to gain enough power to destroy the Ammita..." Her voice trailed off and she looked back up, staring out into the night that no longer held any darkness. The realization of what she had done was slowly sinking in. The Ammita were gone. There was no sign of them. Only a blizzard of dark ashes, swirling in the night wind, remained.
Carter swallowed. "The device -- I think it destroyed them all. They just...burnt up in the light." Her voice grew small at the thought of all that power she had unleashed. Even now, the Luminar was burning above them like a new sun. She couldn't even see the top of the tower, so brightly was the Tok'ra device shining. A faint memory darted through her mind. The Luminar would burn for a thousand years, the memory said. Hejira, or at least this part of it, would never know again darkness in that time.
"This is going to play hell with the ecology," Carter thought randomly.
O'Neill stirred slightly and she glanced back down at him, feeling more than a little overwhelmed. "And this?" he asked. He was staring at the grenade, its pin still irrevocably gone.
Carter blinked. It should have gone off. They both should have been killed. Unless... "Maybe it was something like an EMP. But an electromagnetic pulse wouldn't have..." She stopped as O'Neill waved his hand weakly, letting the grenade fall to the ground.
Incongruously, a ghost of a smile touched her lips. "Sorry, Sir."
"S'okay, Carter. Promise I'll listen to the whole explanation back on Earth. Cross my heart. But first..."
"But first we have to get there."
"Yeah. First we have to get there."
* * *
It took some doing. At first Colonel O'Neill had insisted that she head back to the Stargate without him, but she had refused to leave him. After a quick but vehement argument, he had given in, although it was probably only his ever-growing weakness that had led to his surrender.
She had bound his wounded shoulder, as best she could. Unfortunately, O'Neill had used all the supplies from their field medicine kits earlier on her, and she had had to use her jacket as a makeshift bandage. Still, it had seemed to help a little. Despite this though, it had been all that he could do to climb upright, even with her supporting most of his weight.
The broken leg didn't help.
The journey from to the Stargate seemed to last forever. Carter's world once more narrowed to a single goal -- putting one foot in front of the other. She had draped O'Neill's left arm over her shoulders, gritting her teeth as it pressed against one of the cuts on her back, and half-dragged, half-carried him through the alien streets, step by painful step. The lack of shadows and colour in the night made navigation difficult, and the pain from her injuries quickly became all-encompassing. After a few minutes' travel, Carter began to count seconds under her breath, distantly wondering just how many she would reach before her strength gave out altogether.
Finally, though, they passed beyond the crumbled walls encircling the city. The Stargate was just ahead -- which was just as well. O'Neill was growing heavier with every passing moment and her legs were threatening to buckle beneath his weight. Gasping, she came to a wavering halt beside the DHD and reached out a hand to steady herself. Just a little further...
She dialled the coordinates for Earth with trembling hands. It was becoming increasingly difficult to think and several times she had to shake her head to clear her blurred vision enough to press the next glyph. Finally though, it was done. There was a moment's pause then the Gate opened with its familiar roar. The vortex faded and at last there was only the wormhole, rippling serenely before them. Escape. Safety.
Carter barely retained enough presence of mind to send the signal to open the iris. Long moments dragged by while she waited for confirmation, and the Colonel grew heavier and heavier in her arms. At last though, the signal came and she staggered forward, dragging him across the last fifty feet.
Forcing her legs to take those last few steps was probably the hardest thing Carter had ever done. Grey streaks were dancing across her vision and a cascade of sound was roaring in her ears by the time she reached the Gate. Nevertheless, some last streak of stubbornness kept her moving. There was the familiar feeling of disorientation as she fell into the wormhole's embrace, the incredible chill as she reformed on the other side...
...and then she was falling once more, darkness swirling around her. She barely noticed when she crashed to her knees onto the solid metal ramp of the SGC.
* * *
Lights. Voices. An excited babble of noise. And something important. Something she had to wake up for...
With an effort Carter managed to unglue her eyes. She blinked dazedly up at the world spinning wildly around her. People -- Daniel, Teal'c, Janet, General Hammond, and others -- were all swimming in and out of view.
Memory returned. She was laying face down on the ramp in the Gate room, the wormhole still activated. She must have only been unconscious for a moment or two. An overwhelming sensation of relief rose up inside her. They had made it. They were home.
Doctor Frasier was pushing people aside, calling for two gurneys and bending to check Carter's pulse. Carter ignored her, turning her head to look for Colonel O'Neill, wincing at the pain the movement caused.
He was still beside her, laying where she must have dropped him as they had emerged from the Stargate. Blood was seeping slowly from beneath the jacket she had tied around his shoulder and his broken leg was bent awkwardly beneath him, but he was conscious. And alive.
Carter shut her eyes briefly, allowing that realization to wash over her. Somehow, beyond all expectation, they had beaten the Ammita and had survived the night.
"Carter." O'Neill's voice was weak but still clear.
Her eyelids fluttered open again and she turned to meet his gaze. "Yessir?"
He gave her a faint smile, a ghost of his normal jaunty grin, but a smile nonetheless. "Good job back there."
She smiled back weakly. "Thank you, Colonel..."
...and then somebody touched her back and agony rose up like a tidal wave, seizing her by the throat and dragging her back down into senselessness...
* * *
The next time Carter awoke, she was laying on her stomach in a hospital bed in the sickbay, an IV in her left arm and a headache pulsing around her temples. She blinked at the dim lights, frowning. What...?
"You just missed Daniel and Teal'c" O'Neill said matter of factly.
Carter twisted around, turning her head towards the sound of his voice. As she did, the familiar ache in her back returned. This time though, the pain was dull and muted, as if it belonged to someone else entirely. Her frown deepened as she tried to make sense of...well, everything.
O'Neill seemed to read her mind. "Painkillers," he said, raising a hand that also had an IV in it. "Wonderful invention."
Well, that explained the headache.
The Colonel was laying on the bed next to hers, his lower right leg encased in a cast and his shoulder bandaged. He was pale and a few bruises were beginning to appear, but overall...
Overall he looked like hell. "Are you all right?" she asked, wincing at the grating sound her voice made.
"He would be if he would get some rest." It was Janet's voice. Carter jumped slightly -- she hadn't heard the Doctor come in. Janet gave her a brief smile then reached out to check her IV. "And you too. From what I hear, you've both been through hell."
Carter swallowed, trying to get her voice into some semblance of working order. "Any...permanent damage?" She braced herself inwardly, half-dreading the reply.
"You're both going to be fine. There's nothing that won't heal, given enough time." Janet moved toward O'Neill, checked his bandages briefly, then stepped away. "Colonel, maybe now that you know the Major is all right, you'll let yourself to get some sleep," she continued severely.
Carter's eyes flew to O'Neill's and, for an instant, their gazes locked. Something unspoken flowed fleetingly between them then vanished. The Colonel looked back at Janet and gave her a half-sheepish shrug. "Whatever you say," he said, grinning tiredly.
The Doctor shot him a look, sighed, then turned to go. "Good night," she said quietly. And then she was gone, dimming the lights slightly behind her.
Sleep sounded good. Better than good. Carter had never felt quite so tired. Nevertheless...
She kept her eyes open, focused on the man across from her. He was already relaxing, his eyelids closing and the tension ebbing from his frame. Carter smiled slightly, allowing herself a moment of sheer wonder and gratitude that they had both managed to survive PJ2-838 after all.
She glanced back at O'Neill. His eyes, dulled with exhaustion and pain, were open again. "Yes, Sir?" she said softly.
"I..." He paused, then went on in a different tone of voice, giving her the impression that he had been about to say something else entirely. "Carter," he said, "If anyone ever asks...you didn't throw me out the window. I jumped."
Her smile widened. "Yes, Sir." She was still smiling when she finally drifted off to sleep.