TITLE: Promised Land
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Obviously.
SPOILERS: None. Sequel to "Going Nowhere"; probably a good idea to read that before you read this.
AN: Ev started to beta this... but AIM boomed and I'm impatient. Apologies for mistakes. I suspect this is turning into a series, so when I feel inspired more will probably litter your inboxes. Having said that, this can be read as a stand-alone.
::blows ev a raspberry::
The angry sky shifted restlessly, dark clouds bruising against the brilliant blue as white lightning tore through the expanse. The heavens bled radiation the way her skin leaked blood. Huddled in a wheat silo pitted with holes and rust, she watched the approaching storm. The sky would turn amber before it went dark, and the rain would hiss as it fell onto the ground, burning the barren earth even further until even the remaining stumps and roots were stripped from it.
"We're going to have to move," he said, his voice sandpaper rough in her ears. They didn't speak much these days.
"To where?" Her lips were dry and cracked, the blisters breaking as she spoke and the fluid that leaked from them bitter on her tongue when she tried to lick it away.
"I don't know."
Not that it really mattered, anyway.
The sky turned amber, and she moved them away from the silo's entrance, shutting them in a small work station with a thick iron roof. The wind howled its fury outside, and the corrugated walls rattled. The hissing of the rain dissolving the walls was barely audible over the crashing thunder outside.
His body was warm against hers, solid, his arms comforting as they pulled her close. He smelt of sweat and dirt and blood, but she didn't care, breathing him in even as the stale smell of old acid started to permeate the musty air of the dark room. His fingers dug into her arms painfully – there would be bruises later – and he pressed close against her.
Outside the storm thrashed and shrieked, its fury reverberating across the hills as death rained from the sky.
Their food was gone and the earth was dead. It smelt of ash and acid and emptiness.
If humans couldn't have Earth, no one could.
He'd seen the mushroom blooming in the distance, lethally graceful as it plumed and billowed against the spring sky. He'd watched, entranced, disbelieving. Watched until Carter screamed and his eyes burned.
When he woke he could taste dry blood on his lips and the world was a dark, empty place.
Carter's body was soft and warm against his, her skin sweaty. He could smell her, beneath the scent of sweat and dirt, he could smell her. Carter. He closed his useless eyes and breathed her in deeply, pressing his face against her neck and ignoring the storm outside.
When the storm ended they'd have to move. Find somewhere the rain hadn't yet burnt, where he could smell grass and hear small animals moving in the bush. Maybe even hear a bird sing.
The rumbling around them faded quickly, the storm moving on as swiftly as it arrived, and all he could hear was the steady dripping as the world tried to dry itself off.
"Come on," Carter said, pushing out of his arms and away from him. He didn't like it when he couldn't touch her, couldn't hear her breath rattling in her lungs or feel the way her heart still beat in her chest.
"We have to go, Sir," she said, and he reached out for her. Her hand grabbed his and she pulled him to his feet, leading him through his dark world.
The air smelt wet and sour when they stepped outside, a faint burning lingering in the air. His fingers were wrapped tightly around hers, but she didn't complain that he was hurting her even though he could feel the delicate bones almost crushed in his hold.
Heat burnt his cheeks, his raw skin tender in the sunlight searing down on them. He followed her, listening to their footsteps as she led him over the dead ground.
He did not ask where they were going.
The night sky glowed the same amber colour Sam had learnt to associate with the acid storms, and it turned a planet she had once called home into a strange and volatile place, unpredictable and dangerous. She crouched in the doorway of a large shed they'd stumbled across, her arms wrapped around her legs as she surveyed their surroundings.
Bleached and blackened by unforgiving sunlight and burning rain, the landscape was in ruins, empty in the light of the strange sky. The radiation alone would kill them eventually, but the dead earth around them meant no food, and any water they found was contaminated by the radiation, if not down right acidic.
It felt strange to be dying on her home planet, yet not being able to recognise it as such.
She sighed, staring up at the oddly coloured sky. It was almost alive in her gaze, ripples of dark and light swirling and eddying across the sky, dancing for her. A sky that had once been so familiar and beloved was now strange and foreign. She couldn't even see the stars.
O'Neill stirred in the dark behind her, and she abandoned her post by the door to go sit with him. His cheeks were hot and dry beneath her finger tips, his lips as blistered as her own.
"Where were you?" he asked.
"Watching the sky." She smoothed his hair back off his forehead, trailing her fingers through the locks that now grazed his eyebrows and touched his shoulders. Her hair had also grown since the first attack, but there was no need for either of them to cut their hair, so they didn't.
"Can you see the stars?" he whispered.
"No," she answered. "The sky's amber. I think it has something to do with the radiation. It almost seems to glow, Sir, and that blocks out the starlight the same way-"
"Carter," he complained softly.
A bitter chuckle bubbled up inside and burst free, her lips pulling into a grimace as the scabs forming over the broken blisters split and cracked. "Sorry, Sir," she apologised, but she kept smiling, ignoring the burning of her lips.
"Remember the planet with the orange sky?" he asked her.
"I do, but it doesn't look like that." He was silent, and she continued to stroke his forehead.
He tugged on her free hand and pulled her down next to him. She listened to him breathe and felt his heart beat against her cheek.
"It's beautiful, Sir. I wish you could see it."
"So do I, Carter, so do I."
His head felt heavy. Burning with the heat of a sun he couldn't see, he let his head bow forward and exposed the back of his neck to the sun instead. Carter's hand was hot and sweaty as he held it, and he made no move to relinquish his grip on her.
"I think we're in Ohio," Carter said abruptly, never once faltering. "The paint's stripped off the signs – I think by the rain – but I'm sure we're near there."
He listened to the brittle asphalt crunching underfoot; the road they were on sounded hundred's of years old. "I can smell something," he said, breathing deeply. "Trees."
"It doesn't seem to as burnt here, Sir. I don't think they detonated a nuke in this area of the US."
"Why not?" he asked, but he didn't expect her to answer. Instead, they just kept walking.
She'd seen traces of grass and weeds for the last few hours, and the asphalt under foot didn't shatter when she stepped on it. Her fingers tightened around O'Neill's when he stumbled, his body falling heavily against hers as she tried to steady him.
"We're almost there, Sir," she whispered, holding him steady.
His breath was hot and light against her neck, a gentle breeze puffing against her sticking skin. She held him until his breathing steadied, and he pushed her away silently, standing by himself but still clutching her hand tightly. In the evening sunlight his eyes were dark and unseeing; his eyelids burnt raw and dry. He blinked. "Keep going," he said.
She squeezed his fingers and moved on; he followed obediently, as silent as a ghost. When the sun set and the amber night sky turned the world to gold, she saw a tree with leaves on its branches. Her tears tasted hot and bitter on her swollen tongue, and burnt her eyes the way the acid ate the land.
"Carter?" he asked.
"It's okay, Sir," she told him. "We're here."