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Chance Part 1

Title: Chance
Author: Mitai
Rating: PG-13. Light swearing. Oh. And violence. Almost forgot about that.
Written for: sarahjane (thehallway)
Who wants: The team in a mission going south.
And doesn't want: Sam stuck in the background.

Many thanks to lullabyeleague for hours spent up late at night beta-ing for me! This would be a very different fic if not for her help! Word count ends up at 23,396 without the disclaimer. Happy holidays, thehallway! Hopefully this fits the bill!


* * * * * * *

“Get up.”

She almost didn’t recognize the croak as her own voice; it was harsh and low and full of ash. So were her eyes. She could see the blurry outline of soft grey flakes clinging to her eyelashes as she blinked. Focus was quick in coming, but showed little detail. Everything around her was covered in the residue of the blast, it was still settling out of the air. Idly she watched the airborne cinders drifting festively and swirling devilishly in the updrafts of small secondary flames.

She must have been unconscious only for minutes.

They might still have time.

The thought spurred her stunned brain into action. Needed to get up. Needed to find him. Get him up. Get them out.

She shook her head, dislodging the ash and burned paper that had so recently been safe and unassuming in neat rows of metal file cabinets. Doubtless those cabinets had saved her life, they’d been ripped apart. Big blast, must have been huge . . . But not big enough.

But what if . . . ?

They had to get up.

The room was very dimly lit, and resembled a child’s unmade bed. Not a single structure in the room had remained intact. Tiny fires were burning themselves out every few seconds, smoldering a moment before reluctantly subsiding. The smoke had already filled the upper cavities of the partially collapsed chamber, and the air near the floor was starting to choke. The foglike quality and red of the coals and embers gave everything a deadly orange glimmer.

Almost like a hand device.

The doorframe, being an arch and thus architecturally sound, had survived the initial blast and was relatively unblocked. The door had blown inwards, as she’d known it would, and was nowhere in sight. The hall showed a faintly whiter light than the chamber, and she knew it had to be daylight. There might be a way out.

Needed to get up. Needed to find him.

She found that she was lying mostly on her left side, her hips twisted and her legs bent beneath the end of one of the support beams that had been hidden behind the incinerated ceiling tiles. She should have thought of that, of the fire traveling through the crawlspace. Lucky it hadn’t come squarely down on her.

It should have. The whole place should have.

She tried to straighten her back, gasping at a sudden pain not unlike a dirk being slowly but inexorably driven into her right kidney. The gasp made her choke, and by the time she caught her breath she wasn’t entirely sure she hadn’t lost and regained consciousness somewhere along the way. She was now flat on her back, and the dirk – probably a piece of the file cabinets, actually – had given up stabbing for burning. Burning unlike anything she’d ever felt. Burning like she had dipped the end of the metal shard into molten lava, and it was conducting that earth-melting heat directly into her body.

She scrabbled for it, cursing her right hand as torn fingers fumbled uncoordinatedly across her hip, working up to her back. Nearly at her spine she felt it, something hard, something foreign.

No telling how deep it was. No telling if removing it would do more harm than good.

No. It was hot, it would have been superheated by the air. It would have cauterized the wound. And if she pulled it, would the scabs come free?

She’d do more damage moving with it in than out. She turned her head away, a childhood reaction to shots, and made sure she had a firm grip on the metal. Her fingertips were numb, from burns or worse. It was hard to control her hand, she wondered if she’d raised it to cover her head when the blast hit them. Couldn’t remember the blast hitting.

Didn’t want to. She closed her eyes, and tightened her grip, exhaling for the pull.

But there was no need. It came out in her fingers, slowly pulling away from her skin like a credit card rubber-cemented to thick paperstock. There was a building pain as she did so, a sharp, hot pain, and her eyes widened momentarily as more adrenaline poured into her blood.

And she realized she was staring right at him.

Somehow they had fallen so that they were facing each other. They’d retreated to the back of the room, with five rows of paper-filled metal boxes between them and the door. Had hoped their weight and density would lend some protection. Had hoped it wouldn’t matter anyway. It put them against the outer wall, with their feet pointed at the inner hallway. That outer wall was still intact, no holes to the outside world, and in the light of only the small fires she couldn’t see anything other than his face. He was covered by debris, and that main supporting beam that had so luckily not pinned her lay directly across his lower body.

His eyes were open, dazed and unfocused and the skin that gathered around them made his expression seem frightened. It was a very foreign look on his features, and she didn’t like it.

“Daniel?” It was another rasp, it almost choked her. It was too dark to see his pupils, to see even her own reflection. But she could see he wasn’t seeing. He wasn’t even blinking; she watched a small, grey, charred piece of paper flutter delicately over to land gently on his cornea.

He didn’t even reflexively flinch.

“Daniel . . .?”

She curled on her left side, dropping the piece of whatever was in her hand – it didn’t matter now, the pain was muted, overwhelmed by something else altogether. The heat of the room was moving the air, moving a small lock of his hair that had escaped his bandana. It was singed at the very end, only five or six separate hairs clinging together, their burned tips bleeding a tiny mural of carbon upon his forehead.

“No.” It wasn’t even audible. “No.”

She clumsily rolled to her hands and knees, favoring her back as much as she could and pulling herself completely out from underneath the beam that had so luckily fallen on him, rather than her. She began ripping away the smaller wreckage that clung almost protectively to him, exposing his vest, his throat, his arms, curled high on his chest. No injury was visible, not through the smaller bits of rubble and soot. Her fingertips were too numb, she couldn’t feel his pulse, couldn’t see him breathe.

As soon as she had thrown the biggest pieces to the side she threw herself on his chest, willing herself to hear a heartbeat. She wasn’t going to leave him here, not if there was a chance, not if –

There was no way to know if she was listening to only the blood behind her ears. The pulse was soft and quick and as she lay across him, with her inner wrist laying across his chest, she could finally feel motion. A faint tightening of his skin, a faint firming of the muscles beneath her cheek.

A breath. He was breathing.

There was still a chance.

She began frantically digging the rest of him out, not caring about the heat, not registering the small rips as her fingers met sharp edges. The rest of it she could move, but not that beam. It was huge; one of the main support beams for the floor above, it had ripped the ceiling away when the blast had rocked the crawlspace. It was easily twenty feet in length, and the majority of it was buried beneath the rubble that had been the wall that connected this chamber with its brother.

The blast had come from the main generator, the center of the badly designed complex. If it had collapsed the wall between this room and the next, it had ballooned out just like she’d thought – but the crawlspace. Force she had thought would have no escape found a release in the crawlspace. She’d miscalculated.

Badly.

And if the heat and the blast had done this much damage to relatively distant rooms anyway . . .

Not now. Now think about levering tons of rock.

Because that was what she had to do, to get him free. She scooted to the bottom half of his body, noting the beam had fallen across his legs right beneath the knee. She felt the area gently, unable to see for dust and dark, and found that she could just push her fingers between the beam and his legs. She would have breathed a sigh of relief if she could have – she had to keep ducking to the very floor to suck air between her teeth. Very soon it would be impossible to breathe.

She had to get him out. Get him out now.

It was hard to move in a crouch. Her right leg kept trying to rotate in her hip socket, it was impossible to keep the leg perpendicular with the floor, and her knee seemed too fluid to handle any weight. Her right arm was heavy and difficult to manage, and her right hand and wrist had no strength.

Maybe the metal had gotten closer to her spine than she thought. Maybe swelling. Maybe just shock. It hadn’t seemed to affect her left side, and she bent at the waist, favoring her back and sucking in the deepest breath she dared.

Then she set herself with her left leg forward, tightened the joint, and pulled.

It was hard to judge in the moving light, but she guesstimated she was able to lift it about an inch before the rubble that pinned the beam to the floor was immovable. And it took all her strength. There was no way to let go of the beam and pull him out.

She’d have to wedge something under it once she lifted it.

She was getting close to panic, between the air and her own pain and sense of urgency. There was no way the secondary had blown. The entire inner ring of the structure would have been destroyed. But there was no way the structure could have absorbed this much damage without imminent collapse of the second power source. It was going to go, sooner or later. There was no way to know how long she’d been unconscious, it would be minutes only, and she’d burned a lot of time.

She scrabbled over the pile of debris she’d flung so cavalierly to the side, located a chunk of the wall that seemed the right width. It was a little rounder than she would have liked, but it was the only thing remotely the right size and strength.

Sam rolled the dense piece towards her, again leaning into the floor, sucking another breath. Her teeth only filtered out the biggest pieces of rubble and ash, and those that got through burned painfully against the back of her throat. Her back was quietly smoldering from the exertion, and she clung to the feeling of urgency, depending on it for another dose of adrenaline, of strength.

She’d have to kick it under with her right foot. Smoke stung her eyes as she arranged herself, braced herself, and lifted.

At first she thought the explosion was merely the pile of rubble shifting and her already stunned ears playing tricks on her. The beam was ripped away from her as though it were a pen an angry professor slapped from her grasp, and as she tried to hang onto it she was bodily yanked off her feet. She felt the beam shudder as it tried to rip into the solid rock floor beneath her, and forced her hands to release it.

She lay where she felt until the shaking stopped, and it occurred to her in a detached sort of way that the explosion was fairly mild, comparatively, and was likely an ancillary system. A prerequisite for the real thing.

They might still have time.

Her right side burned now with more intensity, as though a small flame were incinerating the muscles beneath her skin. Every movement brought it oxygen, made it burn more brightly, burn deeper and she could almost feel the tissue curling and flaking away, to drift through the air as velvetly as the ashes that tried to choke her. The air near the floor was no longer clear enough to make out the lay of the land, but she had a sense that the entire wall had shifted. The shift had revealed a monitor, still partially in its metal rack and flickering on and off, mutedly white and red in the smoke as it flashed out diagnostics and alarms.

She didn’t marvel that it was still working, that there was still power. She used it to see, to determine that Daniel was almost completely freed. The beam had rolled to the right, and both his legs were exposed to the ankles.

There was a deafening crack, it sounded right above her head. As sudden and sharp as thunder, but earthier. The concrete slab right over their head, through the crawlspace.

Sam choked on the smoke and dust, grabbing at the tops of his field-issue boots. The leather was strong, and the boots steel-toed, so she still had some hope that his feet might be intact. She was able to work his left one out altogether, but his right boot gave only an inch before the rubber sole, which extended further than the leather side itself, caught on the inner edge of the beam solidly.

“Come on!” It grated out from behind a clenched jaw. She wasn’t going to get it out, he was going to be trapped –

Get his foot out of the boot.

She clumsily reached across her torn vest, finding a velcroed pocket above the D-ring. Her secondary knife was still there, she’d forgotten about it earlier. It was little more than a box-cutter, and it took both hands for her to force the razor blade out of the protective sleeve.

“Daniel, you have to help me. Listen to me.”

It was hard to keep hold of the knife, it kept trying to slip from her nerveless fingers. She had to use the heel of her hand to push the single blade through the tough shoestring, and was afraid she’d nicked him as she lost control of the knife. She slapped the flat blade, afraid of losing it in the rubble and the dark, and after a brief struggle was able to coax a stiff index finger to curl underneath it.

She grabbed it again, only able to get control of it if she held it like a two year old might grasp a fork. A moment’s concentration, and the last of the shoestring was severed. The leather tongue bore telltale scratches from the tip, but it wasn’t punctured, and she pulled it far forward, exposing black sock.

“Daniel, can you hear me?”

She couldn’t see if the foot was crushed or not. She grasped his ankle and gave a tug, and his foot slipped almost easily out of the boot. It collapsed sideways as soon as she’d pulled him free, and she could see that part of the sole had melted against the beam.

“Daniel!”

She let his foot go, crawling back towards his head, keeping as low the ground as possible. The shifting of the debris and the second wave of hot air had circulated the smoke a little, and for a moment she was able to take a breath without hacking it right back out.

Daniel’s eyes were still open, still sightless. She grabbed his face between her hands, shaking him as roughly as she dared. “Daniel!”

An uncoordinated motion, maybe an attempt to free his head. It shifted the field napkin he tied around his head for digs, and she pulled it completely off, fumbling with the knot as she struggled to untie it.

“Daniel, we have to go! You have to get up!”

She was screaming, trying to be heard over a roar that had cropped up at some point – maybe air moving between this floor through the crack in the floor above her. She wasn’t sure he heard. Gradually she’d worked out the knot, and she looped the two longest corners around his face, pulling the cloth over his nose and mouth. It wouldn’t do much. She knew it was futile but she forced her stiff fingers to tie the knot, tangling some of his hair into it in the process. She hauled him into a sitting position, moving closer to him and getting up to her knees. She would never make a fireman’s carry, not with her right leg.

He never made a sound, she wouldn’t have been sure he was aware at all unless she had felt the slight tensing of the muscles of his right arm as she slung it around her neck. He was trying to hang on, trying to help her. Her left leg trembled dangerously as she used it to push off from the floor, this time lifting not only her weight but his with her. There was a painful, sharp snap of bone glancing off bone in her knee, but it did not buckle, and then she tried to move.

It was a balancing act. She couldn’t support even her own weight on her right leg, but the weight of Daniel on her left acted a little as a counterbalance. She bore their combined weight on one leg, swinging his weight forward before she would take a step with her right foot, so that by falling she was able to get her left foot in front of her, to keep them both upright, and use his weight solely to propel them forward.

It was almost impossible to see, and impossible to breathe. The smoke was far too dense, it had extinguished most of the flames, and the only light she could see was a very gradual lessening of the pitch blackness. It didn’t matter – all she had to do was follow the right wall. It would take them back to the closest door to the outer ring, and she was pretty sure there was a breach in that wall.

No, the problem was breathing.

She buried her face in Daniel’s shoulder to breathe, and the fabric of his uniform did little better than her teeth as a filter. She was retching before they’d made it out of the chamber, and her right leg was shaking in a pronounced and emphatic way.

The dense smoke dissipated slightly as she hit the halls, and Carter did her best to speed up the rhythm. Step, fall, catch, breathe. One step after another. Just get out into the valley. Find shelter. Radio the position.

Few would have survived the initial explosion, and assuming the smaller blast hadn’t been the main secondary, few were going to survive the next one. The smoke would form a column two miles high. It would help in locating them, make the base visible to the UAV.

There was a chance.

It took forever, but soon she didn’t have to put shoulder to the right wall to walk, she could take a breath without retching. The uneven floor beneath her feet was well-lit, and she had been right – the door that had led to the second ring of the structure was gone, and the reflective polymer that had made the base invisible to camera and IR had been shattered with the force of the blast. The fragments were brittle but sharp, and the pieces of flotsam and jetsam rolled treacherously beneath her feet.

She was out in the open now, stumbling across flatter, rockier ground. There was a treeline ahead, yards she’d have to cross with no walls to catch her. She couldn’t tell if Daniel was still hanging on. His weight was dead against her right side, his head hung heavily against his chest, and his toes dragged along behind her with no effort to take a step. She could not even be certain he was still breathing. She might have suffocated him, his breath had been so weak. She might have collapsed a lung by dragging him like she was, he might have had a broken neck –

Her stomach tightened threateningly, and her right leg gave. They hit the ground hard, but she barely registered the pain for the contractions in her throat. She turned her face away from Daniel and vomited.

There was no mistaking the third blast for anything other than the secondary generator. It shook the very earth against her back, and she squeezed her eyes tightly closed.

She never let go of his arm. He never spoke.

The world spun wildly, the very air vibrated with the fury of the noiseless roar. It was too loud to hear, it pushed outwards with such force that the air molecules couldn’t hold a wave pattern long enough for her eardrum to recognize it. The entire planet whipped around the sun in only a few seconds. It felt as though she had been bound against a wagon wheel and her head was being ground against the dirt, and then her feet, and then her head, and then her feet –

She gagged again but her stomach was empty, and when the dizzying feeling didn’t stop she opened her eyes, trying to get her bearings.

The trees were walking.

Sam clenched her eyes shut, and when the nausea still didn’t pass, she opened them again.

The trees hadn’t stopped. They were tilting wildly and dancing all around her, as though their roots were feet and their trunks had been painted with a dappling of dazzling sunlight. An odd fog surrounded them, brown rather than black, so that they loomed suddenly or shied back and disappeared in the blink of an eye. They creaked out a chant over the never-ending, deep groan of earth, and waved their branch arms over the pair, in a blessing or a greeting or a farewell. They whirled around her, mimicking the clouds visible in the afternoon sky.

The clouds _couldn’t _ be spinning like that.

She tried to pick up her head, recognizing the resistance, the pressure on her neck instantly. It was pretty mild, less than she would feel in a 747 passenger jet during take-off. A last burst of adrenaline gave her a brief moment of clear sight.

They had fallen on a thick, brittle slab of slate covered in dirt, and it was sledding down the side of the mountain, rotating in an almost gentle, clockwise manner. All around them dirt, trees, and rocks tumbled through an eerie, dusty fog.

A landslide. They were riding the top of a landslide.

Sam closed her eyes, laid her head back on the stone, and waited. Her exhausted brain stalled on the mathematics of their odds. Before her experiences with SG1, she had always supposed in a panic or torture situation she would rely on mathematics, on numbers, to keep her brain occupied and clear. She had used the technique in controlled classroom settings when sodium pentothal had been administered in conjunction with hypnosis. The math prevented her from focusing enough on the hypnotist to be entrapped.

It had also helped, to a tiny degree, when she’d been drugged with the Blood of Sokar. It had helped her deal with the agony of the cold and her exhaustion in Antarctica.

But now just remembering the times math had helped her concentrate was . . . numbing. She couldn’t spare the energy for memories, let alone calculate their position, the hypotenuse of the triangle she was making as they sledged down towards the river. If she recalled their trip in correctly, the river had once been significantly higher, so there was likely to be a ledge and a height involved. Soon they’d come across a large enough rock that their slate would be forced upon its end, or the edge of the cliffs, and they would be crushed.

She’d accepted this already. They’d said their goodbyes.

She just hadn’t expected it all to take so long.

It was as though their rock sled had heard her thoughts. There was a deafening crack, a moment of complete stillness, and the sickening lurch of everything dropping away beneath them.

They fell for an eternity. It wasn’t like a freefall in a jet. She lost all relative positioning. The feeling of the rotation of the rock beneath her was foreign. She couldn’t tell where the sun was, couldn’t tell if the rock at her back had turned so they were beneath it, so that it was pushing them down. It was like one of those rollercoasters, built indoors and in total darkness, so that you had no idea which direction you would be pulled next. The dusty fog grew darker as they fell, and she squeezed her eyes shut, squeezed Daniel’s hand.

They struck something hard and sharp, that gave way like a glass coffeetable. A moment passed which reminded her of the weightless drifting of space. Then a frigid wave enveloped her, shocking and silent. For a brief moment she thought it was an empty void, it was death. She opened her mouth to speak, to shout, and it filled immediately. It wasn’t ash this time.

They’d reached the river.

With that realization she suddenly understood the building pain in her ears. She brought her left hand up to her nose, pushing air into her inner ear to equalize pressure. They were at least fifteen feet down, then. She kicked her feet experimentally, felt the rock dragging across the heel of her boot. It was sinking quickly, and not only moving down but to her left. The river was a fairly major body of water, she recalled it fed the entire city and in some places was almost two miles across. The current was swift, and it carried them away from the falling rocks.

It also did nothing to bring her closer to the surface.

She blinked her eyes quickly, trying to see in the murk. The dirt of the landslide had muddied the water considerably, and she had long ago lost any sense of up. Daniel’s arm was still miraculously around her shoulder, her lifeless right arm still clinging precariously to his wrist. She couldn’t turn her head enough to see his face, he was quickly drifting behind her rather than beside her.

There was no way she could kick her boots off, make them any more buoyant. She hadn’t even gotten a good breath before they’d hit the water.

It rolled through her head, as clearly as though the training had been earlier that day. Stop. Breathe. Think. Act.

She couldn’t hit step two. She’d remembered raising her hand, asking their instructor in a joking manner what they should do if their air was gone, and they couldn’t get past number two.

He’d smiled, one corner of his mouth, one eye crinkling. “Then you surface. Decompression sickness is curable. Drowning isn’t.”

Sam opened her eyes wide, and hummed, sending a small stream of bubbles from between her lips.

The bubbles drifted quite pointedly directly to her right, and she realized that she was parallel with the ground, her left side being dragged down by Daniel’s weight.

With a few kicks she righted them, humming again. This time the bubbles went more or less past her nose, past her eyes, and above her hairline. Up was now up.

She kicked for all she was worth, noting that the surface wasn’t that much more bright than the water around her. But there was no pain in her ears, she hadn’t needed to swallow to change the pressure. With their weight, she wasn’t even rising that much faster than her bubbles. Not that she needed to worry about their ascent rate. Her last breath had been at the surface. At least the situation couldn’t be further complicated with nitrogen bubbles in their blood.

While her right leg had been too weak for walking, it proved to be up to swimming, and her head broke the surface before she’d even realized she’d reached it. Sam gasped in a breath, immediately plunging underwater as her lungs emptied. It always took the body a few seconds to adjust to buoyancy changes. Her held breath and feet got her above the surface again. She took another breath, choking and coughing. She couldn’t get a deep enough breath to keep herself fully on the surface, and every cough tasted of smoke.

She had to get Daniel out of the water.

She finally released his arm; he didn’t even try to hold onto her. The current was washing them very swiftly downstream, she caught a glimpse of treetops at least thirty yards to her back. She snagged his vest with her left hand as he began to drift past her, hauling him up to the surface and rotating 180 degrees so that she was now facing him. She wound her left arm under his left armpit, and then bent her elbow, pushing his head up out of the water. He was heavier than she was, she had to keep her lungs inflated almost constantly in order to keep them both afloat.

She used her right hand to yank the sodden handkerchief off his face, seeing his slack jaw, his mouth half-full of water.

She turned them so her back was once more facing the closest shore, and leaning back, still intertwined with Daniel, she began to kick.

It took a long time. At first she would pick her head up exhaustedly to look, and every glance seemed no closer to the bank than before. For miles at a time they simply drifted along with the river, occasionally being passed by a small sapling. Once a large trunk drifted near to them, and she kicked for it with everything she had, but it sailed past them with yards to spare, and she watched it go for a long time before she tried again.

She adopted a breathing pattern opposite her usual breathe in, breathe out, hold. That worked for above water. Beneath water, with a scuba tank, it was opposite. Breathe out, breathe in, hold. It wasn’t so much a hold as it was a pause. It took effort to exhale through a regulator, and reversing the usual pattern of breathing conserved air. In this case, it kept her lungs inflated longer, which made her more buoyant.

It occurred to her they might actually drift into the city before she could get to the shore. Some of the urgency was leaving her, quickly being replaced by shock. It wasn’t just physical, either. She didn’t have the arm strength to perform mouth to mouth on Daniel, if he were breathing at all. His eyes had closed, perhaps reflexively in the water, and if he were breathing at all, it was through his nose, shallowly, and infrequently.

She didn’t let go of him.

It was sudden. There was no noise of water on the banks, she figured it was just more debris. But suddenly her kicking heels touched something solid, and she dared to look behind her.

A few more yards they were dragged downstream, then she and Daniel were swept into a tiny cove, already populated with pieces of tree and vegetation.

She managed to pull them back until their upper torsos were nearly completely out of the water before she slipped, and then the minutes started to tick by.

Need to get out of the water. Get Daniel out of the water.

There wasn’t much sunlight left, and she estimated the temperature of the water at 76 degrees. If she hadn’t been swimming like she had been, she would have been at risk of hypothermia. She risked it now.

And Daniel had already been in shock, so there was no doubt his body temperature was low. She couldn’t tell how low; her fingers were still numb as she slowly and clumsily disentangled herself from him and felt his neck.

He lay nearly across her chest, and she rolled to her side, maneuvering him in the shallow water as best she could. His lips were blue, and the skin beneath his fingernails almost matched the sky. He didn’t move, he made no protest as she shoved him further up the bank.

Sam refused to pause. Refused to accept. She knew she wouldn’t move again, not once she stopped. She struggled with him, pulling them both back, silently thanking the water for its chilly temperature. Her back was nearly numb, she knew she had to be pulling at the wound but it was nothing more than a blissfully muted ache of cold. Once she had pulled them into solid mud she collapsed against him, and the pressure of her weight on his ribcage caused him to sputter.

And then he took a breath. She heard it clearly.

Sam rolled off his chest and didn’t open her eyes again until it was dark.

* * * * * * *


Part the second: http://community.livejournal.com/sg1teamficathon/7498.html#cutid1

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