Teal'c's symbiote was failing; his being encased in the frozen avalanche had taxed it to the limits. He was certain that frostbite had already begun to set in on the tips of his fingers and toes, and the wounds to his leg and arm remained unhealed.
Not for the first time Teal'c wondered if his symbiote was more of a blessing or a curse. Certainly, it had saved his life many times. He'd have died hours ago if not for the creature elevating his internal body temperature and circulating the blood to his outer extremities to keep them from freezing. Yet it also prolonged death, pain, and torture. How slowly would he die here? How long would it finally take? He was not afraid of death, but it was an ignominious way for a warrior to die.
Teal'c was a man of action, as the Tau'ri would say. Being trapped like this, injured and unable to move, gave him too much time to think. He could be patient, but the unrelenting cold made it difficult to achieve the correct state of kel-no-reem. His mind kept slipping to the fate of his companions. He wondered if Major Carter and Jonas Quinn had survived the avalanche or if their cold corpses lay buried nearby along with the bodies of the family they were trying to save. He wondered if this would be the end of what remained of SG-1 now that Daniel Jackson had ascended and Colonel O'Neill had disappeared with Harry Maybourne.
It grieved him to think of losing Major Carter and Jonas Quinn, too. He shuddered to think of them suffering the same fate as him, but without a symbiote to assist. Dying slowly... He dismissed the thought. Speculation accomplished nothing. Major Carter would have found a way to survive. It seemed impossible to him that she might be defeated by a mountain when she had overthrown gods, especially when she had known the hazards they faced here.
She had not said it would be a routine mission. She'd emphasized the potential hazards associated with evacuating the villages. Earthquakes. Ash falls. Debris slides. Mud flows. Avalanches. Something called a pyroclastic flow, and the very real and imminent threat of a volcanic explosion that could destroy half the island.
Teal'c had understood the dangers, even if he did not understand all the terms she'd used in the briefing. He had once witnessed the eruption of a volcano from space, watching the atmosphere fill with smoke and ash. Years later Apophis had returned to the planet, and Teal'c had seen the destruction left behind. Forests had been leveled for miles around a great crater where once had been a mountain. He had marveled at the evidence of power, power that rivaled that of the so-called gods he served. Apophis, seeing his wonder, had told him that a rival Goa'uld had caused the mountain to explode as an attack on his territory.
Major Carter would scoff at such a notion and explain the true cause of the eruption, but science had not been a word in the Jaffa language prior to the rebellion. The workings of Goa'uld technology were never explained to mere servants. Magic, he'd been taught. The power of the gods. All things were controlled by the gods, exploding mountains included. His people were kept in ignorance of so many things.
His symbiote squirmed uncomfortably, and Teal'c tried to still his mind. The packed snow made it extremely difficult to breathe. He knew he was lucky he had not merely suffocated, but he had followed Major Carter's instructions on how to survive an avalanche by expanding his chest and holding his breath until the snow around him hardened. He had a tiny air pocket in front of his face and enough room to breath.
Yet he could not survive like this indefinitely.
Major Carter had been prepared for this contingency. They'd worn avalanche transceivers and packed small spades in their packs. But he had placed his transceiver on the boy he'd been carrying as soon as he realized they would be caught in the slide. The boy reminded him of Rya'c, and though he'd tried hard to hold on, the boy had been ripped from his grasp when the avalanche engulfed them. Teal'c hoped that someone had been able to find the child in time to save his life.
However, without a transceiver, Teal'c knew it would be difficult for anyone to locate him. If either of his teammates had survived and escaped the snow, the lives of the family they'd been escorting to the gate - the children especially - had to take precedence. Someone had to return to the gate with them in order to send the IDC.
Major Carter would return for him, if she could. She would not leave him behind. Teal'c had faith in that. He had to have faith in that. Jonas Quinn, too, would do everything in his power to rescue him, if he survived. Of course, Jonas Quinn had not been serving with SG-1 long enough to determine his dedication to the Tau'ri "no one gets left behind" ethic. Yet, Teal'c believed that Jonas Quinn would try to help his fellow alien conspirator.
But how long could he survive? Hours had passed. Perhaps they had returned to the SGC, but had not been allowed to return. Perhaps, being an alien, he was not deemed important enough to mount a major rescue effort for, given the likelihood of an eruption. Always, O'Neill had been his greatest advocate within the SGC. Perhaps the others did not care about his welfare to such a degree.
No, Major Carter and Jonas Quinn would not abandon him. They were Tau'ri, not Goa'uld, and their values were different. They were not dead. They had not left him to die here. They were worthy of the faith he could not place in false gods. Whether or not he survived, he chose to believe that his companions were doing everything in their power to help him, if they were able.
Calmed, Teal'c attempted kel-no-reem once more.
A subtle shift in the snow pack encasing his prone body jarred him from his meditation. When the vibrations grew more distinct, he realized that someone must be digging to free him. He could feel the weight pinning his upper body being steadily reduced.
It was a very long time before he felt something touch his hip. Eventually his arm was freed, and he was able to move stiffly, frozen muscles protesting painfully, fingers numb and unresponsive. Soon, the snow around his head began to fall away.
Clumsily, he cleared the melting snow from his eyes and mouth, breathing deeply. At first he thought he'd gone blind, but then he realized that night had fallen. The light of a failing flashlight jammed into one side of the pit barely illuminated Major Carter's face as she continued to dig to free him, tossing snow over her shoulder and out of the deep hole with her small spade.
"Thank you, Major Carter," he breathed.
"Don't give up, Teal'c," she whispered, her eyes dark and strangely unfocused even in the dim light.
Teal'c frowned in worry. Examining her more closely he saw that there was dried blood on her forehead beneath her winter hat, matting her hair, and she did not appear to recognize the fact that he was watching her. He caught her arm with his free hand. "Major Carter, are you injured?"
She blinked dazedly, and then pulled her arm free to continue digging.
It was an abnormal response, and he realized she must be suffering from the effects of injuries and exposure.
He decided to attempt to reach her again. "Major Carter, where is Jonas Quinn?"
Her eyes furrowed as if thinking, but still she continued to dig.
He repeated the question.
"G-Gate… I sent him… safe. S-safe… home. God, Teal'c, hang on. I'm coming."
He was relieved to hear that the young man had probably also survived. "What of the family?"
When she didn't respond immediately, he tried again. "What of the family we were escorting, Major Carter?"
"I can feel you, Teal'c… hang on," she mumbled.
His heart sank. She was clearly in need of assistance, yet he was uncertain how to best to help her while still trapped himself. Teal'c watched silently as she continued to dig, sometimes mumbling incoherently under her breath. Unfortunately, he was partially pinned beneath a fallen tree, making his rescue more difficult. His left arm and leg were in a great deal of pain, and he suspected that in getting tangled with the tree, he had broken one of the bones in his forearm and severely cut his leg. However, his greatest concern was for Major Carter. Her breath rasped harshly in the cold air, hanging ghostly and white in the light of the flashlight.
Finally the snow around him shifted, and he was able to pull himself free with his uninjured arm. When Major Carter did not acknowledge his change in status and continued digging, he ignored his own pain and half-carried her out of the pit and away from the icy path of the avalanche.
He wished that he was strong enough to assist her back to the gate, but he knew that he did not have the strength. The effort of keeping warm had severely depleted his energy reserves, and his symbiote needed additional time to heal his wounds.
"Major Carter, we must make camp in the shelter of the trees," he told her.
"Hot," she mumbled, struggling with the zipper on her coat.
He stilled her movements with his hand. "It would be unwise to remove your coat," he said.
"I n-n-need to find Teal'c," she mumbled with single-minded determination, turning back towards the pit.
"I am here, Major Carter," Teal'c said calmly, gripping her shoulder, his alarm at her condition growing. Her situation was clearly dire.
She tried to pull out of his grasp.
Teal'c braced himself for the pain and grabbed her other shoulder, spinning her to face him. "Major Carter! I am here. You have saved me." He watched quietly as a semblance of clarity crept into her eyes.
Clarity was replaced by tears. "You're alive?"
He nodded again. "I am. However, we are both in grave danger. We must set up camp."
She fumbled for a backpack that was not there.
Knowing that her pack should be somewhere nearby, he retrieved the dying flashlight and scanned the area. He spotted two packs located in a good campsite a short way up the mountain.
Teal'c did his best to assist Major Carter up the slope, fighting the agony of his own wounds. Her knee appeared to be badly swollen, and she had the blood on her forehead, but he could see no other serious wounds. She was, however, exhibiting all the signs of hypothermia.
As concerned as he was by Major Carter's state of mind, he was oddly gratified at the same time. He had witnessed the power of her grief at Daniel Jackson's death as well as the strength of her distress during the times O'Neill had gone missing. He had on occasion wondered if Major Carter cared about him with such depth of feeling, if she would grieve his loss as she did her other teammates. Often, she seemed to take his presence for granted. At other times she openly demonstrated her loyalty to him as a teammate. Yet it seemed unlikely that a young, beautiful, brilliant, Tau'ri woman such as Major Carter would feel strongly for an undemonstrative Jaffa warrior over twice her age, the former servant of her enemy. But it was clear to him now that she did care for him deeply, so deeply that she would risk her own life rather than leave him behind. While it pleased him that his faith in her was well founded, it grieved him to think that in staying behind to find him, she might have sacrificed herself to save him. Silently he vowed to do everything in his power to stop that from happening.
When finally they reached the packs, he opened the main compartments, pulling out the two sleeping bags. SGC sleeping bags were well-constructed and provided excellent thermal insulation. While most of Apophis's planets had been warm, many were the nights he had spent sitting on the cold ground wrapped in nothing but a cloak. Sleeping bags were a luxury item, and he was grateful to have two to join together. Initially, Major Carter tried to assist him in the task, but it was clear her fingers were too cold to perform the fine motor skills necessary to operate the zippers.
"You should put your gloves back on, Major Carter," he instructed her. "I can finish this. Perhaps you can locate a lighter and sterno so that we may have hot chocolate to drink." He knew that Jonas had packed some packets of hot chocolate in his pack just in case.
She nodded and looked around, lost.
Teal'c stopped his task with the sleeping bags and retrieved her gloves from her pockets, helping her back into them. He then handed her Jonas's backpack. "Chocolate and sterno would be good, do you not think, Major Carter?" he reminded her.
She nodded again, her attention finally on the backpack in her hands. She sat on the ground and began to look through the pack.
Teal'c quickly finished zipping the sleeping bags together. Major Carter was still seated, now staring at the backpack, unmoving. He cursed inwardly, wondering if there was time to bother heating water. He could not allow her body temperature to drop any farther.
Had his shoulder been uninjured, he would have lifted her into position on the sleep bags to spare her injured leg, but he managed to successfully maneuver her to the bags by pulling her to her feet and then steering her into place. Her lack of protest as he began removing her torn coat and the damp clothing beneath it was extremely alarming. Once he stripped her down to her sports bra and stocking cap, he sat her down again before continuing. She protested feebly when he pulled the boot off her injured leg but her resistance to his efforts was minor. Soon he had her bundled into the sleeping bags, and he stripped down to his own underwear to join her.
Though her body was extremely cold to the touch, Teal'c wrapped his arms around Major Carter and held her tightly, silently hoping that he could generate enough heat to warm them both. He could feel his symbiote working to heal his injuries as well as elevate his internal body temperature, but it was clearly strained by the effort of doing both.
It was a very long time before Major Carter began to shiver violently in his arms. Shivering was a good sign, Teal'c knew. It meant her body had recovered enough that it was trying to warm itself.
"Major Carter?" he asked, when he felt her trying to shift positions.
"T-T-Teal'c?" she whispered.
"Indeed," he answered.
"God, Teal'c, I th-thought I'd lost you, t-too."
"I am far too large to lose, Major Carter," Teal'c said, deliberately misinterpreting her statement.
She chuckled softly, teeth chattering. "Jonas, the two kids, and the father made it back to the SGC," she said after a moment of silence. "We couldn't find the mother."
The grief in her voice was evident, and Teal'c closed his eyes in regret. One lost, but at least the children had been spared. "You should have not have risked yourself by staying here to search for me," he chastised her gently. "You are injured."
"I know. Jonas argued, too, but I…" she hesitated, apparently embarrassed by the knowledge that her actions would likely earn a reprimand from General Hammond, "I thought I might be able to sense the naquadah in Junior, and I… I couldn't leave you here, Teal'c. I couldn't. Not after…."
She didn't finish the thought, but Teal'c knew what had gone unsaid. Not after losing Daniel Jackson. Not after losing O'Neill.
She attempted to change the subject. "I hate the c-cold," she said, shivering. "F-First Antarctica, now this."
"I am not as severely injured as O'Neill," Teal'c said, hoping to reassure her. "And my symbiote will elevate my temperature to keep me warm."
He sensed her smile in the darkness. "You're b-b-better than a sp-pace heater. I just hope Junior can k-keep it up all night. I don't think I'd m-make it without you, Teal'c."
Teal'c smiled inwardly, warmed by her recognition of the truth, honored that she was willing to acknowledge her frailty to him, even injured as she was. This was not something she would consciously reveal to many, if any, others. "I would not have survived had you not freed me from the snow, Major Carter."
"C-call it even, then?"
"I am not keeping score."
An icy hand squeezed his arm in silent appreciation.
A slight, chill breeze stirred the branches of the trees overhead. Many moments passed in companionable silence. Teal'c wondered if she had finally succumbed to sleep, still shivering.
"I miss D-Daniel and the C-Colonel," she whispered, the confession spilling forth awkwardly.
He held her shaking body more tightly. Her grief over their missing teammates was palpable, yet he lacked the words to console her. He could only share this pain with her, so she would not bear the burden of grief alone. "As do I," he told her honestly.
Teal'c broke from his kel-no-reem when another small earthquake swayed the surrounding trees and sent small stones skittering down the mountainside. In the distance he heard the cracking of ice and the roar of another avalanche. The fire that he had built earlier in the night to help warm them and dry their damp clothing had almost burned itself out, the embers turned to pale ash.
Overhead a star glittered brightly against the gray sky of dawn revealed between the shadows of overhanging limbs. A bit of Bratac's wisdom came to mind. "Life is as fleeting as a rainbow, a flash of lightning, a star at dawn." For the Tau'ri this was even truer than for the Jaffa, although the life of a warrior was often cut short. Major Carter was still a very young woman to Teal'c, and he grieved that her life should be so blazingly brilliant, like the star overhead, and yet doomed to fade so quickly by virtue of her loyalty to Earth and the Stargate program. If anyone deserved a peaceful life of great length and happiness, it was the courageous woman he held in his arms, her body finally warm to the touch.
As if sensing his restless thoughts, she stirred with a shiver.
"Major Carter," he said.
"Hmmmmm?" she groaned. She turned in his arms onto her back. "Teal'c?"
"Indeed, it is I," he said.
Her eyes were still clouded from sleep, and Teal'c wondered if she would be more coherent this morning than she had been the night before. "It is morning," he said, "We must make our way to the Stargate before the volcano erupts."
She blinked, turning her head to meet his eyes. "You were buried…" she said, frowning.
"You found me."
She touched his face with a shaking hand. "I was afraid...."
"You did not lose me," he said seriously, knowing exactly what it was that she feared. He caught her hand and pressed it against his chest so she could feel his heartbeat.
She smiled, eyes filling with unshed tears.
Teal'c let a rare smile grace his face and released her hand. "How are you feeling?"
She appeared to think about it for a moment. "Cold, sore, hungry. And…" she frowned, "… embarrassingly unclothed." She looked at him, blushing, slightly. "Ummm... I don't remember too much about… Did you say it's morning?"
"Indeed. You were suffering severe effects from the cold. Our clothing was torn and wet, so I removed it. My symbiote healed the worst of my injuries and kept us both warm through the night. The sun now rises. It is dawn."
She smiled at him, and he understood the unspoken gratitude in her blue eyes. He watched as they drifted, focusing on the sky above.
"Look at that beautiful star!" she said. "It's bright enough to be a nearby planet in the solar system. Or maybe a small moon. Or a distant large moon. Or possibly a binary star…."
Teal'c smiled inwardly as her mind sorted through the possibilities. Planet, star, or moon, he did not think the star was nearly as beautiful as Samantha Carter's radiant smile, but he said nothing, content to enjoy her enthusiasm in silence. He knew that she was well enough to survive the trip to the Stargate if she was alert enough to notice the details of her surroundings. The star would fade with the morning light, but Major Carter would live another day. Teal'c was pleased. He was very pleased indeed.
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