Summary: A whirlwind: not of leaves that grasp the sand and whirl it with them, on a prairie; but, of, paper and cigarette butts, on a sidewalk. (Charlotte Liberty Walker, I Heard A Scream In The Street, 1970). Samantha Carter comes undone. S/J..
Season/spoilers: Probably sometime after season 5. Spoilers for Lost City, Metamorphosis, Ascension, Death Knell, Zero Hour and Heroes.
Category: Dark, mentally deranged angst, and of course to contradict that there may be some sickening fluff and babyfic.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine. Really. The schoolyard rhyme comes from the book 'Surfacing', by Margaret Atwood, and there are quotes from the book (I Heard A Scream In The Street).
Rating: Teen, at least. Lotta swearing, some sex, some violence. There should be a game for how many times I dropped the F bomb.
A/N: hopeisabluebird is the single most AWESOME person in the world right now for being willing to beta this.

I try to listen to
The still, small voice within
But I can't hear it
Above the din

- Little Audrey's Story by Eliza Ward


She wakes up and there is a man in her room. Watching her. She shoots upwards, momentarily stunned as she realizes her gun is in the other room. As a scream builds up in her throat, the man melts into the floor, leaving a long, drawn out shadow in front of the bookcase. She goes in the bathroom with shaking hands, staring at her reflection in the mirror wondering what the hell just happened.

The fluorescent lights above her dim imperceptibly as infinitesimal shadows clank to the bottom of the light bulbs, breeding and seeping along the glassy particles until there is total darkness. She sinks to the floor, wrapping her arms around her legs as she tries to figure out if the darkness is coming from the bulbs or from the recesses of her mind.

It didn't start then, she knows.

"Major, are you alright?"

She gives the General a broad smile, eyes flashing bright. Absently forgetting the four hours between then and now. 'Yes Sir, of course I am.'

Tries to shake it off.

She feels it again, later, as she walks through the parking lot of the gated compound of Cheyenne Mountain. She feels eyes, thousands of them, peering and leering out from the crisscross chains of the security fence, flittering away when she looks for them.

She knows something is very wrong when she can't remember the Gate coordinates of their most recent off-world expedition. All she remembers about the planet are the parallel lines of endless hieroglyphics, her impatience with Daniel and the throbbing desire for a cold swim.

She remembers feeling glad to leave the dry heat of the desert planet. Glad for the shower waiting for her and the cool September breeze.

But something followed her off of it.

Into the wormhole, out of the gate and off into the sunset.

She knows it's expanding into an incalculable growth the moment it makes contact to Earth's atmosphere. Igniting inside of her, mutating her cells and molding itself into each molecule in her body, replicating by the trillions.

General Hammond asks her for her report, but she can't write about something she can't even remember. For an hour she stares at the off-world artifacts that Daniel had excavated, desperately trying to place them. She takes a deep breath in, casually visiting each team member and picking up enough evidence to frantically piece the puzzles together. No doubt the worst report she's ever handed in.

"If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit." Uncle Leo quoted to her when she was 11, trying to calm her down before her class presentation on Shakespeare.

If Hammond confronts her, she settles on doing the one thing she swore she would never do.

Blame it on cramps.

Only one day back and she feels her morals slipping.

She watches the Colonel, Daniel and Teal'c, scrutinizing every single motion they make. She wonders if they see the same, cruel things as she does. If they hear the same clicking ticking noises from the ventilation to the flash of lights in the corners of their eyes. The pounding sensation in their heads as though they ran a mile. The same black tentacles that merge into large particles and slither across their vision.

But her teammates laugh and joke as usual, and she feels more alone than she ever has.

She goes home scared. Unwilling to admit it, but scared nonetheless.

From one artificial world to another.

It's windy outside. The trees outside groan from the strain and scratches the windows in futile pleas. She looks down at her hand, watching curiously as the pink skin undulates in wavy formations, like moving through water, but there is no water. She sits at the kitchen table, spinning the lazy Susan, wobble wobble wobble. She clams her hands over her ears, shutting out the sound.

Her stomach contracts and the bile rushes up into her throat. She vomits in the bushes. After haggardly dry-retching for ten minutes, she looks up to see the condemning face of her neighbor, the old one with the limp, glaring down at her from the yellow and green tint of the window. She greets her scowl with a scowl, momentarily glad that the Shadow is speaking for her.

What does the bitch know anyhow?

She knows she has to try to ignore the creatures that slither out of the walls, the laughs creaking out from the wood grain.

And in the night the man stands, waiting for her.

The shadows flicker in the corner of her eye. When she glances over, they disappear. She shakes her head and moves on, knowing in the back of her mind it will happen again.

A predictable lunacy.

She calls her niece on a Sunday morning, brightly wishing her a Happy Birthday when she hears the clicking. It's quick, clipped, but she hears it, loud like a jet engine, and stares in shock at the mouthpiece.

"Aunt Sam? Aunt Sam are you..."

She hangs up the phone, ripping the cord from the plaster wall.

When she was a child, her father was stationed at Fort Pickett in Virginia. There she made her first non-army-brat friend, a bad-mouthed girl named Kate. At 10, the girl was pack-full of supposedly wise wisdom, her most important lesson being that to successfully scare off a bad guy, one could A) beat the shit outta them, B) act mentally delusional and freak 'em out, or if all else fails, C) punch 'em in the balls. (This, of course, was important to differentiate from Lesson A).

She wishes Kate had a solution for this particular enemy.

She hopes it will pass, that the creatures will tire of her. But deep inside she knows she would rather have them trapped inside of her mind than be set loose on Earth.

She thinks she should tell someone, Janet perhaps, but the at end of their fourth day back the shadow appears in the corner of her left eye. It obstructs her vision and manipulates her with soft, seductive whispers. It tells her Janet will tell Hammond she's crazy, they'll lock her up and throw away the key. They didn't believe her when Orlin visited; they aren't likely to start believing her now. She keeps silent.

She calls him the shadow man, as she knows when night descends he slips out from her head and stands in front of her bookcase, arms crossed as he watches over her.

Warning her.

She finds herself running most days, usually in the late afternoon, something she ceased to do years ago. The sound of her feet slapping the pavement and the mountain wind on her forehead is somehow numbing, and she thinks if she just pushes her body that extra bit harder, makes her lungs and legs ache with the pressure until exhaustion consumes her, then maybe the dreams and the shadows will leave her be that night.

She doesn't quite understand the clicking and ticking and the absence of time, even if it is for just a split-second.

She'll be walking down the street, climbing up a rock face or merely picking up groceries. It can happen anywhere.

The world slips, stumbles, disappears in an empty black hole before spitting reality back into her face. Time is flexible, this she knows, almost like a fluctuating entity.

A glitch in the universe.

Pause. Click. She is outside her body. Click. Nothing's changed but her perception.

She looks around, trying to figure out what has shifted. The world's off-kilter and she's the only one that knows it.

She thinks the glitches are like little pause buttons on a remote control, lapses in time that force her to rewind and recollect. A section of her life momentarily spliced and tossed.

Pause. Resume. Pause. Repeat.

The next morning she's almost proud of her acting skills. Donning all the appropriate smiles, returning the routine quips. The shadow blows kisses of light into her eyes, brightening the false sincerity.

The Colonel visits her in her lab, as per usual. He plays with a yo-yo as she stares intently into a microscope, pretending she knows what she's looking at. The shadow tells her to smile, and laugh dutifully at his lame jokes and wait patiently for him to leave. The laugh lines in his face eagerly respond to her carefully timed quip. But inside she feels the urge to scream, to grab him by the lapels on his BDU's and beg him to get it out of her. When he finally walks away with a two-fingered wave and the familiar warmth in his dark eyes she knows the shadow has manipulated even him.

It's Jolinar all over again.

She lets the shower run, hissing with heat as the steam rises and swathes every corner of the cramped bathroom. Sweat breaks out on her flushed skin, and her hair falls limp. She stares at her reflection, her body pale and wasted in contrast to the stark brightness of the towel.

Bloody Mary Bloody Mary...

She watches, frozen, as the shadow man rises from the steam, emerging from the holes in the showerhead and billowing into a vapor mist. She holds her breath as he slowly snakes his way forward, the black particles undulating and folding within himself as he cloaks his arms around her, tonguing the skin of her neck.

The blackness overtakes her as she falls to the ground.




There are books on the lawn. She sips her coffee mug, staring at the window and tries to think back when it was that she threw out all her novels. Later she gathers them up, most of them bloated and rippled with water damage from the morning rainstorm. She sits down on the damp, un-raked grass and picks up one of the books. With a fingernail she scratches at a word. Bits of ink scrape off onto her fingertip. She puts her finger in her mouth and tastes something sharp and bitter.


She looks up, her finger drawn from her lips and blinks in surprise. She glances around, furiously. Curiously. But no one's there.

Voices wash over her. Whispers. Condemning her. A large part of her doesn't mind; she needs the company.

They're talking about her in the commissary, their teasing voices sliding through her like Goa'uld pain stick. She hears the words "So Hammond asked me to double-space my reports", and she translates that into "That Carter is one psychotic bitch." To think she risked her life over and over for these bastards.

They're all watching her, waiting for her to slip up so they can pat her on the head and send her packing back to the Pentagon, like a good little girl.

Well she'll show them.

She knows a hundred different ways to blow Cheyenne Mountain a thousand clicks into the air.

The rational side of her brain cautions her, freezes her. She needs to go home.

She's afraid to go home.

But she's more afraid of what she'll do if she stays.

The darkness ebbs and pulses beneath her skull. Her back arches from mattress. The keening of his voiceless cries tears into her ears like a speaker box; simmering from a treble cleft before ascending into a metallic cacophony that rises so high it disappears altogether.

Nonsensical schoolyard rhymes drill into her head ceaselessly. There was a rhyme for everything, back then. Smallpox... dead presidents... that one kid with the leg brace. If they could think it they would sing it.

Stick him in the bread pan,
Sock him in the jaw;
Now he's in the graveyard,
Haw, haw haw.

She wonders if there's a clever enough rhyme to capture the mockery of her own life.

She scours the house for evidence of security feeds left over from Orlin's visit, and though unable to find anything, she unscrews the light bulbs and smashes them in the kitchen. Releasing the invisible bugs. Hammering away their invisible ears and invisible mouths. Invisible Spies.

The old bitch across the street is spying on her too, she knows it. She draws the blinds, sinking further into the shadow.

She showers every day, relentlessly scrubbing her skin entirely aware that the water is the only thing that will cleanse her of the airborne toxins.

It's in the daytime when the darkness overtakes her. When nighttime falls, the intricate delicacies of the world come alive for her to taste. The noises and bumps in the night keep her awake, and fear grips her heart into an iron fist.

She can't live like this.

Whirlwinds don't abate. They just hide, until it's time.

The next evening after work she packs a duffel bag and drives to the outskirts of the city, as far as she can reasonably drive from her house. Escaping the spies in her home. She rents a motel room, a sparse square of space that smells of stale sex. It's paid usually by the hour but the man behind the desk doesn't say a word when she tosses him $500. The building itself is a sleazy, boxy edifice, surrounded by a few pawnshops and porn franchises. The sidewalks are cracked and jagged, miniaturized tectonic earthquakes pushing and rising and freeing long dead tree roots. Hung fatally below gloomy mountains and a brooding sky. Cornered by empty unsellable lots consumed by weeds and used syringes. She likes it here.

Maybe it's because here she feels like the normal one.

Cockroaches clumsily race across her toes in the night, the couple next door nearly breaks down the wall amidst rhythmic climatic banging and she wonders if she should go back to her mundane room in her mundane house, back to the shadow man. But the lights from the red neon sign outside the grimy window wash over her, illuminating the room, and she feels inexplicably safer.


Weeks go by.


The conscious side of her mind laments the loss of her friends, as the realization dawns on her that the shadows will never leave. Her team will never notice the infinitesimal changes in her, or by the time they do they'll be acclimatized to this new Samantha Carter.

She has no breadcrumbs for them to follow.

The only thing she understands is that her life is falling apart. And she's the only one that notices it.

She discerns, her natural curiosity brightening, that she has never attempted to speak to the shadow man.

But, as she plops down on the sinking mattress, she knows that this is because his words will reveal her cowardice.

She sees her mother at the farmers market, dodging between vendor stalls with her blonde silver hair glinting in between.

She follows the trail, trying to capture the bobbing of the faraway figure, before losing sight of her altogether.

Didyou seeher.?..? Didja? Where? Did you fucking understand that? You know what "where" means?

Fuck fuck fuck not going to lose her again fuck fuck fuck.

She finally catches up to the woman, only to recoil in horror as she turns around, a black hole yawning in place of a face.

She's sitting at on a bench near the freeway, the bright orange paint appealing to her with its peeling luxury. The sun is bright in her eyes, and she is thankful the white glare that filters through her eyelashes block out the shadows. Bus drivers shoot her dirty looks as they wait impatiently before moving on. The warm breeze plays with the soft hairs on her arm, and she watches as a pigeon doggedly scoffs down cigarette butts and garbage. Behind its gasoline-coated feathers a cluster of daisies peek out from cracked concrete.

She knows that there is beauty in the ugly.

But she can't seem to find the beauty within herself.

One rainy morning she wakes up with a dim memory of being in an underground cave, senses consumed by dying red embers and the stark smell of coal and grease. She vaguely recalls listening alternatively from the heavy clanks of loud machinery to the heavy heartbeat pounding below her ear. Jonah.

She's terrified that she is unable to remember else about that dream or the man starring in it, even more so as she recognizes, deep down to her soul, that this is important to her.

But what's even scarier is the realization that her feelings for this faceless, mysterious Jonah, strikes an even bigger chord inside of her than the presence of the Colonel.

She knows then, at that moment, that she has lost herself to the shadow man.

There's another side effect to this lunacy, she notes with a touch of grimness. Every moment of every day she is consumed by this insatiable, unquenchable need to get laid. The ache permeates through her very core, massaging her brain in pulsating pain. But even crazy Samantha knows better than to sleep with some random person, or risk court-marshal by jumping the bones of ones commanding officer. So it's not without some hint of pleasure that she bumps into an old Mathematics professor at the supermarket, shopping carts banging and identical grins forming. He is a flaxen-haired man not much older than the Colonel, and whom she once intensely desired from the confines of the third row auditorium. Half an hour later, honest intentions of a coffee date tossed aside, she fucks him in the backseat of his Honda Civic in the parking lot outside of a Starbucks.

She leaves humiliated and overwhelmingly satisfied.

She is so fucking sick of cockroaches.

She's walking down the grey corridor with Daniel when all of a sudden the shadow man appears yet again in the corner of her eye. Teasing her, shooting out a limb into her vision merely to distract her. She stumbles forward, catching Daniel off guard. Her head buzzes in pain, and she clutches at her head. He asks her, in that annoyingly concerned voice of his, whether or not she'd like to go to the infirmary.


He's startled. She bites her tongue.

"No." She repeats softly, calmly. "I'm fine Daniel."

She can control this.

She's forgotten her birthday, not surprisingly, and she laments to think that by this time next year she'll be six feet under with a distinct black-charred hole in her skull.

She doesn't think she can last much longer.

At the end of the day the Colonel surprises her with a book on 'current trends in relativistic astrophysics', topped off with a card portraying a half-assed doodle of Bart Simpson, a bubble above him saying "Happy Birthday Man!" As she imagines him standing and fidgeting in line at Barnes and Noble, embarrassingly handing the book over to the cashier, some bullet of warmth penetrates the black steel of whatever remains of her soul.

She wants him.

An hour later she lies spread-eagled on the red sheets, her short hair elongated by sweat and wreathed around her face like a burning halo. Blood simmering in red desire, the tongue disappears and her legs close, arms outstretched. She feels her forehead pinch with the sting of thorns, and this surprises her. She never believed in god, but now at this moment she feels like one. With her long tanned legs and black heels and a whimpering mathematics professor completely under her control, she feels more powerful than she ever has before. She rolls her head upright, eyelids heavy with lust, and she wishes for an entirely different man to crawl over her and tuck his head into her neck.

The professor leaves with a grin and a glint of pathetic affection in his eyes, and she knows, with an unhappy sigh, she'll be seeing him again.

Even more sickening is the realization that she is beginning to sympathize with the Goa'uld Hathor, and her endless quest for domination. Stirred on by an increasingly familiar sensation of lust and power.

She wonders, as the tables turn, if she was too quick to condemn.

Despite her brief fling with power, she still sleeps with a gun under her pillow.

For a while she thinks she can control the shadow, somehow live with it like a symbiote. But when the simplest mental reflexes begin to fail her, the shadow clamps down on her panic attack and sedates her, and she knows she is gone from this plane of existence.

Monday morning Dr. Lee asks her to double-check what to her should be a simple theorem, and she realizes that for two hours she's stared at the sheet of paper without a hint of comprehension. She can't make out the numbers. They rise out of the page and drift laughingly, taunting. She wonders if this is how other people view the complex nature of her doctorate. She realizes, with a sharp breath, that she has officially lost whatever basis of her necessity to Stargate command. The numbers in front of her cease to remain in there constructed frames, and she laughs with the futility of it all. Grieves the loss of her prized talents that she so often associated her identity with. Vaguely worried about her ability to keep up with the big boys.

But, thanks to good ol' Uncle Leo and W.C. Fields, she is damn good at baffling with bullshit.

It's easy to see herself from a mirrored perspective, to recognize the traits that belong to her and that belong to the shadow man. It's easy to present herself as a version of tamed sanity, to pretend to do her job accordingly, despite the impossibilities.

But that is that shadow man talking. Samantha Carter is terrified at the gradual loss of her mental faculties, yet vaguely comforted in their inevitable outcome. She realizes that maybe she finally has the desperately needed breadcrumbs. Rule number two, Kate said, about defeating an enemy. 'Show 'em your crazy side.' Her insanity will finally lead SG1 to her prison, and to her ultimate salvation.

But that doesn't stop the shadows from bleeding onto the walls.

It's Team Night at the Olive Garden, and she tries desperately to dredge up the enthusiasm needed to get through the night. Teal'c saw one too many commercials for the restaurant, and for the night his appetite knows no limits. She spends the night with her head leaning against a fist vigorously trying to focus on Daniel's lecture all the while pointedly ignoring the Colonel flirt with the waitress. She knows he doesn't do it intentionally, he never makes the first move, but he never stops it.

She's sick of being the only one who's attempted to make her feelings clear.

She declines his offer of a ride home, wondering if he'd rather pick up the giggling waitress who left her number on the receipt.

It's only ever been about him.

It pains her to think that one day, if humanity succeeds in offing themselves by total nuclear annihilation, cockroaches could one day inherit the earth. Little bastards could probably survive a replicator invasion.

At the briefing one morning she can feel his eyes burning into her neck, staring at the raw hickeys. From the angle she sits at, she knows he's the only one who can see them, despite her pains to cover them up earlier. But she can't hide anything from the Colonel. She realizes, as her eyelids shudder to a close, that she doesn't care. Bitterly thinking of Edora, she realizes this is her revenge. For once, she wants him to know it.

That other men want her. That other men can tear into her skin with vicious teeth, cry her name out with an animalistic pain, all with a single clench of her thighs. That she can disarm any man into complete subservience. She reaches across the table to grab the coffee mug, feeling his eyes follow into the open dip of her shirt as the marks trail down to her collarbone.

She never wanted to be a slut.

But the shadow simply begs for more.

She goes to the bathroom to brush her teeth. Flicks on the buzzing switch, mirrors grimy with age. Not her bathroom. Anyone's bathroom. Cut off here from her world. Hotel room is transit state. Not a building, not a hotel, because really all it is a fuck-room, a bedroom. Anyone's bedroom. The only difference being the one sleeping in the bed. Just her. Transition. The couple next door scream their enthusiasm, the gushing repetition of their names, "Oh, --! Oh,--!) But in the end it's just her. She closes her eyes and imagines the Colonel, imagines her crying out his name under the taut cords of his arms. But his name is something faraway and unattainable; his name represents something like sacrilege. Not the bible kind. Literally the end of the world kind.

There are muffled bumps and clunking from below, ceaseless susurrus of the heating vents. Two distinct sounds. There is a pure flow of airstream, and a lower, more rattle-like undercurrent growl; a muttering voice.

She freezes under the starchy sheets as the voice emerges from the dark depths and slithers into her ear, lowly laughing in the darkness of the room.

"You can't have him..." He teases.

She's surprised that the shadow man exactly like the Colonel.

She knows this will be a very, very long night.

It takes her a full 10 minutes before noting Teal'c standing broodingly at the door, arms crossed. She' stunned at her own lack of reflex, and before she can say anything his words have already crossed the length of the room.

"I hope you overcome this, Major Carter. Whatever it is you inflict upon yourself."

She wants to reply, to tell him about the shadow man and the voices and her losing her very identity and how she thinks something followed her off that lonely desert planet and taken over her body. But by the time she opens her mouth he has already left.

He was always, secretly, her favorite.

Daniel is her brother, the Colonel is something more, but Teal'c will always be her redeemer.

It isn't until the next mission to PX3-whatever that she finally succeeds in revealing the first intimations of her agony.

She should take note of this. Jungles and monsoons act as fantastic instigators.

She and the Colonel scour the far edge of the perimeter, the drenched hoods hangs over their heads as the torrential rain pummels into them.

The dripping is ceaseless. It swims through the creases of the dark green Gore-Tex material and drips into her eyes, suspended by eyelashes and blinding the shadow man. As the Colonel gripes about his dislike for trees, she clutches her P-90 closer to her chest as her face flinches with each pendulous drip... drip...drip...

She's beginning to understand the effectiveness of the Chinese water torture concept.

It isn't until she's further into the bright green cacophony of the jungle, stepping blindly across purple vines and swerving past giant yellow leaves that she begins to truly feel it.


The jungle heat is an odd contrast to the stinging cold outside, and the purple vines makes her think of blue veins, only suffused with more life than she could ever imagine.

It's probably from the steam that emanates through the soil, or merely the blinding humidity of the forest. But she blames it on the flak jacket. It's far too small. Compressing her, choking her. She adjusts and readjusts until the Colonel finally snaps at her, telling her to pay attention, and she just knows he's biting back a PMS retort. She honest to god hates him some days.

It's only later, after running like hell from a fleet of Jaffa that she realizes the danger that she put them in. The shadow man tries to block her fear, assuage her guilt, but he can't hide the fact that she is completely inept in the field.

Her hands had shaken the entire time.

Amazingly enough, the Colonel didn't even notice. It's only later she understands that he too, is distracted.

Every few days her CO asks what she's up to that evening, and she realizes he's fishing for information. Wanting to know who it was that marked her neck. This time she stares in barely disguised wonder as he leans against the door, trying so adorably hard to act cool and casual and she feels a long forgotten rush of warmth slide through her. It's killed pretty fast when she remembers whose bed she's going to be in later that night.

And anyway, she can see the reflection of the shadow man in the Colonel's black eyes.

She smiles secretively and swivels around on her stool, opting to attempt to concentrate on her work. He drums his fingers on the doorframe in a gesture of futile defeat before moving on.

It sickens her to see the amount of trust that Stargate Command has placed in her. Each airman and each scientist that passes through those corridors look at her with an absolutely, unshakeable blind faith in her abilities. And in her sanity.

She has to wonder who's more fucked up.

She stuffs her passport and $500 dollars of extra cash in her locker, just in case.

She understands most people hate cockroaches. She does. But on Monday morning when she wakes up to a monkey chain of them dangling above her eye from the headboard, she knows it's more than personal. She vows she'll one day annihilate them all.

Daniel gets food poisoning, unsurprisingly, and it's with some measure of relief when she's given a week of downtime. The next day is so temptingly sunny she takes the Indian motorcycle and drives north into Wyoming, spurring the vehicle faster and faster, as far as she can get. When the shadow man juts an elbow in her vision, she merely clicks into the next lane.

The acreages she drives past stretch out into infinite, parallel lines, and she thinks it's appropriate that she races across the only vertical concrete column in a sea of horizontal land dividers. Hoodoos tower in the distance and the long stretch of road ahead of her just aches for burnt rubber. And she's more than willing to assist.

The sun descends and a deer skitters across the road, startling her and forcing her to lose control. The accident's not too bad, but she left her cell phone at home and has to wait an hour for a passing car. When she limps into the locker room one week later, no one can contain their shock she tells them about the minor incident. Introducing the not-so-invincible Sam Carter. About time they met her.

That's when the questions start.

The looks.

The concerned raised eyebrows.

The barely alive part of her screams out yes! But the shadow man stomps on that as fast as she thinks it.

Teal'c is the only one that comes out and says it. Sometimes she thinks he's a better friend than Daniel and Janet combined. She can't get a good read off the Colonel. She knows he's aware that something's off, but he always shut himself from her.

She watches tiredly as white orbs flit across her vision, playing tag. Playing some lunatic game of Marco Polo in her head.

She thought she was long past paranoia. The past few weeks the shadow man had granted her a welcome reprieve, an opportunity to breathe despite the constant buzzing in her head. The fear had abated. But as she lies in bed, grimly listening to the heavy moaning on the other side of the plaster wall, she thinks she hears footsteps, and she knows the reprieve is over. She hears faint scuffling outside the doorway, though she sees no shadow filtered under the crack. She presses her head lightly on the pillow as her hand snakes underneath and grips the cold flesh of the gun. Sliding the safety off.

Just in case.

She doesn't notice when she misses her period.

General Hammond asks her why it is that the strange climate of planet PX7-983 affects the tectonic activities near and around the Stargate, and she opens up her mouth to spit out her routine answer only to realize she has no answer to give.

They stare at her from the table, speechless, and she sees exactly when it is that they all wake up to finally catching on to the breadcrumbs and finally taking a good look at her.

About goddamn time.

She sighs as she drives down the road going opposite from Cheyenne Mountain, rolling her eyes in the rearview mirror. She thinks that if the Colonel truly intended to be inconspicuous about trailing her, he wouldn't have picked his behemoth of a truck. But she doubts he cares about pretensions such as that. She wonders if he's at all surprised when she drives past the turn to her house, and continues on for another 45 minutes before arriving to the seedy motel. She climbs up the rickety, iron-fenced stairs and turns the key into number 26, turning on the light before leaning against the doorjamb. With a hand playing with her keys and her ankles crossed, she waits and watches as he parks the truck, warily glancing up at her before climbing up the stairs.

Fumigation. That's the reasoning she gives.

Roaches infested her house, she says, as he looks cautiously around the sparse room. Prudently taking in all the pathetic details. The giant, fuck-me bed, the tiny satellite TV with the crack in the screen, the graffiti on the walls, the claw marks on the headboard, the broken, sadly swaying door of the mini-fridge.

"Why did you follow me?" She asks dutifully with a perfect hint of hurt, fully knowing why.

He stares at her, his face carefully guarded, and she knows he's scrutinizing her as though she's a Goa'uld trickster.

"I dunno", he slides a hand through his rumpled hair, "you seem distracted lately. And tired. We're worried, Carter."

"Are we." A pointed statement rather than a question. She hates how he will never admit, za'tarc detectors aside, to his own personal worry.

She would like to tell him how she's afraid to sleep. How the only thing more terrifying than the shadow is the darkness behind her eyelids when she lies in bed.

Instead she dons him a dazzling smile, meant to reassure. "I'm fine sir, I'm sorry I gave you the impression I was otherwise. The whole thing with my house being fumigated is just really stressful right now."

She attempts to act nonchalant at his skeptical glance.

The shadow man buzzes excitedly in her mind. Opportunity. She suddenly thinks it would be really nice for them to fuck on that lumpy mattress under that thin blanket. His shoulder blades flexing as he pounds into her, payback for the people sleeping in the next room. Rivulets of sweat rolling down his chest. But he isn't looking at her with anything remotely akin to desire, and she leaves it alone. She's nervous as he copies down the number on the sticker taped to the phone, and her paranoia begins to creep back in.

As he steps out the door he brushes past her, his face agonizingly close to hers, his leather jacket shooting static sparks into her. The sky turns to yellow dusk, and long shadows formed from flickering signposts and crisscross fences stretch across the cracked abandoned compound. He stares distastefully from the iron-gated balcony, before turning to her, his face shadowed.

"Stay safe, Carter."

She makes some unremarkable reply and the next thing she knows he is gone. She shuts the door with its peeling faded paint and bolts it, hearing the buzzing grow louder and louder as the creatures find their way to her.

Nowhere is safe.

She knows something is about to give when all of SG1's upcoming off-world missions are cleared away. She stares at the blank schedule with a surprising sense of calm, sipping her coffee and eventually walking away from the curious eyes.

She knows of only two inevitable outcomes that can come of this.

The shadow man winning, or the shadow man losing.

Either way she knows she won't be able to survive it.

She looks at her cell phone, only to see 11 missed calls from Janet. All filled with a forced cheerfulness, suggesting girl's night out or reminding her about her next physical. By the third plaintive message she snaps her phone shut and tosses it to the homeless man sleeping by the garbage bins.

She has sex with the professor one last time and seconds before he falls into unconsciousness he sleepily mumbles his love for her. She freezes, and when his breathing evens out she stealthily slips out of bed and hurriedly dresses. She crawls out the window and it's only until she's run all the way to the motel that she realizes she's forgotten her shoes. She gingerly walks over dead, crunchy leaves to the empty motel pool, a black shape, a welcoming void in the dark night. She dangles her bloody feet over the abyss. Knowing that somewhere down there with the leaves and the fast food cups and the used syringes that her soul is somewhere amongst the empty muck. 'Holy Hannah,' she thinks, 'that doesn't even make sense.' The shadow man sure doesn't give a fuck. She watches in fascination as the grimy dirt on the periwinkle-tiled wall intermingles with her bright red blood, streaking across skin surprisingly white in the darkness of the night.

The dead wind carries the voices with it, suddenly breathing with life in the empty compound.

When she finally goes inside to room 26 she stands for an indeterminable amount of time in the bathroom, staring at her reflection under the harsh yellow lamp. She fingers her hair, measuring the length via her knuckles. Her blond hair has reached below her ears, and Lord knows she didn't want to be kicked out of the Air Force because of a dress code violation. She takes scissors and hacks off as much as she can, leaving the blonde remnants scattered in the cracked sink.

The phone is ringing.

She winces at the noise, it's distracting her. She needs concentration.

She's lying in bed when she realizes that her heart isn't pumping. Blood isn't coursing through her veins, her limbs spasm into weightlessness and she feels devoid of blood. Frantically, she reaches for her wrist to feel for a pulse, only to realize that there are no bones in her hand.

They found her.

Creatures are climbing out of the walls, snakes slithering and insects flittering closer and closer, teasing her, condemning her, judge and jury and she realizes this is her execution.

Her head snaps from the pillow as she claws at the hand, tearing the skin. Her nails aren't sharp enough.

She wonders if the acrid tang particles on her tongue are the remnants of bone dust.

The phone rings, shrill, repetitive... won't. shut. up. She turns away from it, protecting her hand from its emissary frequencies. Her labored breathing increases into panicky jerks, shutting her eyes from the noise.

The shadow man drills holes into her eardrum, more room for sound waves.

"Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetrum..." She loudly recites, frantically trying to block the noise. Deflect sound waves with her voice. "Pisiform, Trapezium..." Intricately delicate bones exceedingly important to the human structure, *the* evolutionary breakthrough since the last Ice Age, and they're all gone.

China bones. Fractured glass, shattered remains. Hollowed out with TNT-laced molecules.

And it keeps ringing. When the blood begins to seep, she finally feels her pulse raging from her hands and surging into her body, exploding in her skull. The phone rings in unison to the throbbing.

Snatches phone off wall, "Leave me the hell alone!" She doesn't wait for the stunned silence before yanking the cord out of the wall.

Somewhere along the way she ends up holding a razor.

The sheets around her begin to waver and rise from the bed; she blinks furiously to lower them back down.

She understands him perfectly now. What he wants from her.

The shadow man.

He'll suck her marrow dry, grinding her bones into grainy sediment and forcing her to shed her skin like a snake.

She is a vessel.

This she understands.

When he comes, kicking open the door after pounded knocks, she stares at him with wet eyes. "They're gone, sir, they're all gone. The bastards, they've taken my bones." She doesn't understand the shock on his face. She doesn't care. She just wants to understand why her bones have fractured and disintegrated into ash without her noticing.

She doesn't register him dialing his phone.

She doesn't care; she has more important things to do. She cuts open a vein.

He yells out orders, commands meant to speak to the instinctive soldier inside of her. But his voice is drowned out by her mournful protests, by the rush of blood roaring in her ears.

He doesn't understand, he cannot possibly understand the integral importance of stopping the shadow man in his tracks. The shadows are seeping through the hollowness of her empty hand and eating it's way down her arms. She needs to stop them.

She beats his chest as he wrestles the razor from her, her combat training kicking in as she shoots a well-aimed kick in his groin. He lets out a low breath and grunts in pain, only momentarily deferred. He covers her body with his heavy frame, trapping her arms above her head. Her blood coats his clothing as he tries to pry open her fingers. He's stronger than her, and the razor is thrown across the room.

'But it's okay', she thinks brightly. 'You have something better than a razor'.

He doesn't lose his tight grip around her wrists, nor the tight rigidity in his body. But he lets his head collapse on her neck as he tries to maintain his harsh breathing. For a moment, all she can hear are the jagged, exhausted breaths. Louder than jet engines, superimposed in the small confines of the room. Oh what the neighbors must be thinking. She wraps her ankles around his calves, grinding her pelvis into his. A feathery kiss right below the ear. Instinctively he rises almost imperceptibly, only a few degrees, so that he can stare at her in confused shock. 'It's enough', she thinks, as she head butts him.

His face contorts into a painful grimace as he lessons his grip on her. She snakes out from under him, grabbing her small side arm from under her pillow with clear intentions to shoot her outstretched palm.

He won't stop her.

Nobody can stop her.

He yanks her hand at the last minute, startling the trigger. She falls back at the resounding crack, inextricably aware of the acrid stench of gun residue and the burst of pain that envelops her. An overwhelming coppery taste springs onto her tongue. A black roar shoots in her ears, and she is more than a little bit grateful as the shadow man unfolds his arms and takes flight, drawing darkness in his wake.

She thinks one of two things.

The first one being, "at least I won't be buried in an empty casket."

The second one being, a bit ridiculously, "Goodbye and thanks for all the cockroaches."