summary: Not long now, she thinks as she closes her eyes and tries not to scream. Not long now until she ceases to exist.
category: AU, angst.
prompt word: 006. Hours.
notes: Thanks to SelDear for the quick beta!
Her world was destroyed once. The memories have blurred with a thousand other worlds until all she remembers is that her lifetime is over. All that remains is to warn the others. She trips and flounders between realities, forgetting and remembering and moving on.
It was a matter of survival at first; warn others, find a new world, pick up the pieces of a new life she could slip into. It worked for a while; she found a version of home that was only a little skewed from the one she remembered. It didn't take long until she realised she couldn't stay.
The universe has its own way of doing things, and Sam Carter was made for a world that no longer exists. She jumps and runs and tries to keep ahead, but ultimately she knows the universe will win unless she can find her way back to the reality she lost. It's catching up, the tearing and pulling, faster and faster, until she hardly remembers what it feels like to feel whole, to not feel the heavy weight of the universe trying to pull apart the pieces she's made of.
The only constant left is the smooth surface of the quantum mirror and the brief spite of relief jumping to a new reality brings, before the universe finds her and starts pulling again.
Sam's fingers tremble and shiver, and her muscles are aching. She's stopped sleeping and eating. All that matters, lifetime after lifetime, is making sure she warns as many as possible. This world is dead, dusted and barren. The next is an empty field of flowers and she briefly wonders how the mirror came to stand abandoned in such a place. A corridor filled with Jaffa. An empty lab she remembers seeing before.
The tearing and pulling grows heavier.
A standard SGC storeroom, dark and quiet. Sam touches the mirror before the universe finds her and feels herself tugged through that weightless, timeless barrier that separates worlds until she's in another reality and the hourglass is turned again, a few less grains in it than before.
"She's waking up."
The faces around her are familiar and strange all at once. It's always different, who they are in their realities and the choices they made. Once she was curious about what caused the differences.
"How long?" she whispers, fighting to find her voice.
"Not long, a few hours," the Janet of this world tells her.
"Where did you come from?" Daniel wants to know.
"Who are you?"
She closes her eyes and answers their questions from a script she learnt a long time ago.
"There's a collection of data in my pack," she tells them, knowing they're not yet happy with her answers but not having the time nor the energy to pacify them. Once she would have tried; they'd have spent hours and days going over the differences in realities, possibly weeks if the counterpart of herself was no longer present in that reality.
"We know," the Colonel admits.
She smiles; some things are universal. "Copy it. No, take it. It might be valuable to you."
This is her last jump, she realises, closing her eyes. There's not much left of her now, the universe has been pulling too hard for too long. She has a few hours left, a day perhaps if she's lucky, but Sam's tired of running.
She's done her duty a thousand times over and now she just wants to close her eyes in a familiar place and sleep. Sleep forever.
The pain is fierce and sudden; the universe knows she's giving in and it's not happy – it's enjoyed the fight. It's not often things don't go the way they should, and a wayward traveller between crossed worlds is something the universe doesn't often see.
"What's happening to her?"
"Entropic Cascade Failure."
She's still alive in this world, Sam realises. The pain is worse in these realities, but Sam consoles herself with the knowledge that it won't last as long. A few hours at most.
"I thought it took longer to eventuate," Janet muses.
"Too long," Sam whispers, forcing her eyes to open. "The window gets shorter each time I jump."
"How long have you been doing this?" her counterpart wants to know.
"I don't know."
She's forgotten if she was a Major or a Captain or a Scientist or a Colonel. The realities are so blurred and confused the distinctions have disappeared. She remembers loving him more than life itself, and the taste of his skin on a forbidden night before the heavens turned red with the battle of fire and her lifetime was destroyed.
"I'm tired of running," she whispers. "Let me stay."
"You can't stay," Janet says gently. "You know what will happen."
"I have nowhere left to go. The universe will find me. Let me stay. Please. I'm tired."
She hasn't slept in a lifetime or more, and all she wants is to sleep forever. That's not too much to ask, is it?
She doesn't stay awake for them to answer her question.
Sam stands in the observation room by herself, the lights dimmed and the door closed. Through the thick glass window lies a reflection of herself. Haunted, pale, and terribly, terribly thin. Sam watches her sleep, confused by the reality the woman represents. She is watching herself die. Watching herself waiting to die with no sign of fight or desire to live remaining in the shell of her frail body.
It's uncomfortable, thinking that she is capable of giving up so completely. That she could be so tired that death would seem a welcome reprieve.
The woman on the bed convulses again, a nasal whine of pain tearing around the room despite her unconsciousness. Sam watches, horrified fascination as the woman's edges seem to blur and tremor, as though she's a projected image, not quite solidified.
"You shouldn't do this to yourself."
She is so intent on observing the other woman she isn't aware that the Colonel has entered the small room she is standing in.
"She's dying," Sam whispers, unable to tear her eyes away from the woman once again lying still on the bed.
He puts a hand on her shoulder and forces her to turn away, to face him. "But you're not. That's not you, Carter."
No, Sam thinks to herself, meeting his brown eyes and feeling her insides warm a little at the reminder of what is her reality.
But it could have been her.
She wakes up eventually, and knows that she doesn't have much time left. An hour, maybe two. There's something she wants, and she forces herself to open her eyes.
"How are you doing?" Janet asks, by her side as always.
Sam smiles. "Not long now," she whispers, letting her eyes flutter closed again.
"We can take you to the mirror, Sam," Janet says. "You don't… you don't have to die."
"I'm tired of running," Sam says again, opening her eyes. "I've been running forever. From one reality to another. I've seen you all die a hundred times, Janet. Now it's my turn."
"I want this now. Please."
How did she reach this point, where she wants death more than life? Where giving in is more important than fighting?
Because life is meant to be about living, she realises dimly, and living isn't an option for her. All she does is run and run and run, and every race has to end at some point.
"Is there anything we can get you?"
They've let her sleep since she arrived. Took her data and information with thanks. Looked at her with sorrowful eyes, trying to hide the relief that she isn't really theirs. That their Sam is still standing safe and strong and healthy, snug in the reality which she belongs, not lost in the fabric of time and space.
"I want to go outside," she whispers. "One last time. I haven't been outside forever."
It's not a request that would normally get considered, Sam knows, but she's dying in an hour or two and she's given them everything she has. All she wants is to see the sky and feel the breeze. To see the sun or feel the rain or look at the stars.
One last time.
"I'll talk to General Hammond," Janet promises.
Sam would smile her thanks, but the pain is back and it's all she can do to hold herself together. Not long now, she thinks as she closes her eyes and tries not to scream. Not long now until she ceases to exist.
"I'll take her," Jack offers, glancing through the observation window at the other Carter.
She's owed at least that, he thinks, as Hammond agrees.
"Sir, she doesn't have much time left," Janet warns him.
"What… what will happen?" Daniel asks warily.
No one answers, not even Carter. They're all aware of Cascade Entropic Failure, but they've never really considered it until faced with this woman who wants to let it claim her.
"Be careful, Colonel," Hammond says.
She's so weak she can't walk; they place her into a wheelchair and Jack can see the pain drawing her features tight as they touch her. She doesn't cry out, and he feels a whisper of pride for this woman who is a familiar stranger.
"What does it feel like?" he asks her at some time in the elevator on their way to the surface.
"Like something's pulling too hard," she says. "Like I've left pieces of myself in each reality I've visited, and there's not enough of me holding together anymore."
"How many worlds have you been to?" he asks as the elevator door slides open.
"Hundreds and thousands. I don't know."
Carter is normally specific. She always has the right number down to seven decimal points and can work out the next twenty decimals if you give her a couple of minutes. Carter never says "I don't know" and means it.
Her eyes are closed when he wheels her out of the exit, carefully navigating the chair over the rocky ground.
"You can open your eyes," he tells her. "Didn't you want to see it?"
It's late fall and the heavens are crystal clear above them. The moon is so bright it turns the sky deep blue and the stars decorate it with a million and one patterns. "The stars," she whispers, awe on her voice. "I didn't think I'd ever see them again."
"They never change," Jack says, looking up at them.
He pushes her to a lookout without direction, knowing where his Carter often heads out to think. Together they look out over the landscape of black shadows and moonlight glinting off rock. It's dark and quiet and peaceful, and Jack thinks maybe he should do this more often.
Afterall, it's what he's fighting to save.
"I didn't want to die without seeing this one last time," she whispers. "Thank you, Jack."
He doesn't know what her relationship with him was in her reality, whether she was military or civilian or what, but he can tell she doesn't say his name very often. It sounds foreign on her tongue, but right.
"You don't have to-" he starts again, not wanting her to die. He' only known her a few hours, but she shares her soul with his Carter.
"I want to," she cuts him off.
He stops trying to save her; Carter is normally the one that saves him anyway.
"I loved you," she says quietly. "In so many lives and so many ways. It's one of those constants from lifetime to lifetime. Like the stars."
He's not supposed to think about things like loving Carter, and he's not sure what to say.
"Don't ever doubt the constancy," she says softly, turning on her chair to look at him.
Her eyes are almost transparent in the moonlight, her skin wavering and flickering unnaturally. He leans down to kiss her, and for a fleeting moment he can taste the love of a thousand Sam Carters but she flickers and fades beneath him, slipping into the starlight and swallowed by the universe.
He is left standing alone with an empty chair and the fleeting taste of a ghost on his lips.