A/N: Another version of season eight - New Order through Threads. It might help to read my previous fic "Fracture" to get a sense of where I'm coming from in writing about Sam's post-Fifth encounter.
Disclaimer: if only Stargate were mine…
On Tor's ship you'd kill for a cup of coffee.
The colonel stands near Tor, hands in his pockets. His feet are planted stiffly, spaced wide apart. Teal'c's eyes are closed, and you'd think he was meditating if he wasn't leaning with his back against the wall, arms crossed. Daniel isn't even trying to stand. He slouched against the door, head against his chest, glasses askew. He looks up though when Teal'c asks in a strangely gentle voice, "Are you well, MajorCarter?"
You blink. At first you think you feel sort of numb. Your hands and feet feel detached from your body, and you have a strange moment of panic when you wonder if you're really you, and not some Replicator you. But then you feel weightless. It bubbles across your arms, down to the center of your chest, where, in the middle, you can hear your heart beating. It's the same feeling that runs beneath the edge of your skin when you lean against the handles of your Indian and watch the landscape (except for one point before your eyes) blur into long, pale lines of color.
The feeling surprises you. After everything you saw and heard on that ship, you expected something else.
You shift your shoulders, and sway slightly on your feet.
Confusion... Fear... Anger... Sorrow...
You try to come up with the reasons why your body only feels weightless, but give up after one and two.
The Colonel is back … The Replicators are gone ….
Before you slide down the cool wall of Tor's ship and close your eyes, you murmur, "I'm fine, Teal'c." No one questions your words because of the smile on your face.
It's only later, after you've woken up, that you understand the feeling of weightlessness came because your mind was wiped clean of everyone else's memories.
"My mind is my own again," you murmur, not recognizing that the sound whispering in the back of your mind is Jolinar laughing.
The quiet lasts for several months. You're not sure exactly when the whispers start, but you have a hunch it's when Daniel disappears on that Replicator ship. You're dozing in your lab, face pressed against a stack of files, with a cold cup of coffee just out of reach of your fingertips. It's so soft at first you don't understand the words. After a few moments, you realize it's the same word over and over again.
"Oh God, Sam! Sam! Sam!"
It takes another few moments before you recognize the voice is Daniel's.
At first you think you've gone crazy, and Daniel has found some way to call out to you from the shattered remains of the ship (with all you've seen and done – and with all Daniel has and been – it shouldn't surprise you that the bizarre ideas come first). You sit up straight on your lab bench and close your eyes (you really don't want to see Daniel appear as a being of light). You hold so still that eventually you can hear your heart beating against your ribs.
Finally, you can see a place flickering against the back of your lids. It's blurry and shaded in tones of gray, but you can tell it's not the ship … Your forehead wrinkles and you realize its Nirrti's Chamber of Horrors (the general's name for it), but it's from a new perspective. It blurs and superimposes itself upon your own memory of the place.
Daniel is standing in front of her machine, pounding his hands against it and glowing so brightly you can only see the outline of his glasses against the light.
He's shouting your name over and over again, and you want to murmur, "It's all right, Daniel. It's all right. I can hear you," but your mouth won't open against the pressure of his whispered shouts.
You wake up shivering, and realize it was only a dream.
The florescent lights in your lab look too real (too much like Daniel), and you occasionally wear sunglasses inside the base. The general looks at you strangely, but doesn't comment.
You're at home, enjoying a glass of wine after dinner, slouched on the couch watching a hockey game (which you'll never admit to General O'Neill) when you hear the second voice, almost dropping your wineglass and permanently staining your carpet with Touraine-Amboise.
The voice is louder this time and it doesn't take you as long to recognize the strong, even tones as Teal'c.
"Do not fear, CaptainCarter," he says. "I will find a way to free you." His face and eyes are hard, like brown sandstone sliced along the edge of a mountain.
You feel his fear and resolve along your skin, but it takes you longer to place where he is or why he would say those words to you. You grit your teeth and push your thumbs against your temples, ignoring the hum of your television and the smell of wine. You open your eyes when one of the players makes a goal, and a spectator in front of the camera starts celebrating loudly. But in the moment when your eyes are half-closed the image explodes against the back of your lids.
Teal'c is standing outside the brig at the SGC. Through the glass inset on the door you can see you. The black metal bars cast dark shadows against your pale skin, but you can see the hard set of your eyes and the straightness of your back.
Or, not your straightness, but Jolinar's (You try to convince yourself it's Jolinar, but even now the line between Sam and Jolinar is paper-thin).
Teal'c has a staff weapon in his hand, and you wonder why he even has a weapon. Teal'c is anything if he's methodical, and you (even you) can't count the number of times you've seen him stride down the corridors with his hands clasped behind his back.
Only because you've known him for so long do you notice that he's gripping it much tighter than a warrior should ("It must be held firmly, but not clenched," you remember him telling you one day when he let you hold it. "Only then can it become a part of you, an extension of your arm").
You finally figure out why he has it when he says, "I will not leave you to this fate." He knows you would rather die than live trapped within your own mind.
It hurts because now you know how much it cost him to say it.
At first you manage to forget that you're hearing and seeing things you shouldn't be hearing or seeing. If you concentrate really hard, you can push the voices away, and keep your feet grounded in present conversations and tasks.
But this is hard to do when your vision blurs from dizzy spells.
You're running a diagnostic on the gate computer late one night, dozing with your head against your hand (Didn't I tell you once to get a life?) when the last voice comes. The voice isn't saying anything, just panting in short, guttural bursts, and you can hear the wet slide of blood on every breath.
The sound horrifies you.
You panic and cover your eyes with your hands like a child, digging your fingers in, but the image comes anyway, brutally clear in the darkness of your closed eyes.
Even though you've never been there, you know where he is. You've read the mission report.
You open yours eyes wide, hoping the half-light of the gate room and the glow of computer monitors will erase the image digging into your eyes, but it doesn't disappear. It's superimposed on the control room, as if a colorless transparency from a projector slide (like you had Dark Ages ago at the Academy) has slipped in front of your eyes.
You're shaking from dizziness before you realize the room is spinning. Your heart is pounding and you have to clench your hands to keep them from shaking. You take a deep breath and finally manage to stand up on trembling legs, only realizing now you're half-way across the room. You're not sure when, but at some point your shoved back from the table and almost wheeled the computer chair into the rear wall.
You wake to the sound of your alarm clock blaring.
Each new memory makes you shiver and sweat, as if you had camped in an off-world jungle.
You get used to washing your sheets every few days.
When you walk, you feel like you have two sets of eyes now, one for your reality and one for theirs. Sometimes the double vision eases somewhat, and you see your own world through your own eyes. Then reality stand out with a sharp clarity that make your eyes feel burnt and dried out when you blink.
Sometimes though, especially when you're tired (and when aren't you tired these days?), their inner worlds hijack your eyes, and all you can see are their worst memories (You didn't think it could get much worse than harsh, wet gasps in a faraway prison, but it does). Its worse when your vision fails to frame the memories, when the walls your conscious mind has erected tumble down, and you see their memories with a clarity that frightens you because you can't make yourself wake up.
You see sweat and dirt and blood and death, and dream in endless grays and reds.
You die in all the ways they have ever died, feeling all the things they ever felt.
You sob in the corner of your bed because you feel their suffering, loss, death, and you're helpless to do anything but suffer, lose, and die with them.
The interrupted sleep and daytime nightmares get to you, and soon you acquire quite a reputation for clumsiness.
"Daniel is rubbing off on ya," General O'Neill teases one day when you stumble into one of the briefing room chairs. You can't help it – you laugh a bit shrilly.
He touches your elbow briefly to settle you, and just as quickly removes it. He keeps both hands tightly clenched in his lap for the rest of the briefing.
You're careful not to look at each other when the briefing ends.
When you can't remember the day your mother died, you wonder if you're going crazy after all, if the other voices in your head will smother you until there's nothing left.
You start spending more and more nights on base, afraid to drive in case your bouts of vertigo block traffic lights and street signs in the dark. No one thinks to ask why. With your own Replicator doppelganger out wreaking havoc in the universe, it doesn't seem that odd you've found an official excuse for why you're spending an excessive amount of time on base.
Janet isn't here anymore to ask if Pete accepts how much time you're staying on base, or how you expect to plan a wedding when you're never home. You miss that. Janet would have noticed.
No one seems to see that even though you're always on base now, you're not usually in your lab. The voices in your head have pushed and shoved you to the edge of your body, leaving no room for feelings of weightlessness. With all the extra memories in your head, you feel heavy, and you're surprised Dr. Brightman doesn't pick up the difference when she weighs you in post-mission check-ups.
The only time the voices fade away is when you're in the cafeteria. It's not as if you can eat much, but the smells of an institution's approach to cooking and the loud chaos of soldiers eating and the bright florescent lighting, for some reason, keep the memories away. When you first heard Daniel's voice, you'd hoped you wouldn't be plagued by terrible nightmares. After all, each voice comes tinged with a horror your mind is not large enough to carry.
Your dreams take on the cast of fevered hallucinations. On your good days, you have time to wonder what Fifth did, what cancerous infection is slowly turning your mind ... but then you forget again.
Daniel's memories come laden with a sadness that burns across the dryness of your eyes, making tears drop one by one on your pillow (even though you've convinced yourself Carters don't cry).
A demon with the face of Sha're kills you over and over again. The gold stick's light crackles through your body, radiating like fire across your skin. You accept it every time, knowing you'd rather die than her. But you can't help screaming, until the pain burns you from the inside out, and your tongue throat lungs heart turn to ash. You gasp and finally choke on the smoldering soot.
You cry out in your sleep, whimpering as the next dream weaves with the first one.
You feel the weight of a child in your arms. You thought Sha're's death had already broken your heart, but the shards shatter into smaller pieces when you cannot protect her child. You sing a lullaby in a forgotten language, whispering the last words because your throat closes.
When you wake up, you're curled up in a ball, shivering beneath your blanket.
You just want your head to be yours, dammit. Is it too much to ask the universe to keep snakes computers memories feelings nightmares robots out?
Teal'c's memories are the alien souvenirs of a life lived as a stranger in a strange land. You never realized before how irrevocably his choice cut him off, locked him up, forced him to carry his own traditions and community inside. He cannot ever share them completely with his new home, for he bears the weight of their destruction in his stomach.
When you dream Teal'c's dreams, you never toss and turn on your bed like you do with Daniel's, or wake with a face sticky with tears. With Teal'c, you're violently thrown out of your dreams because you wake yourself up panting, harshly pulling great breaths of air into your burning lungs. The pressure of his choice settles on your shoulders, back, neck, arms, legs like a great stone weight, and you don't have the strength to bear it.
His dreams are short, but no less agonizing because he accepts what he believes must happen. Only you can hear the whispered shouts in his mind, made heavier because, even after all this time, he cannot quite stop calling for a god he doesn't believe in when … you follow him down down down into the darkness of Heru-ur's prison …
Your throat closes under the pressure of Teal'c's despair, and you wake … gasping...
You have enough presence of mind to hope you're not talking in your sleep (or when you're awake) to ghosts when the memories come.
The General's memories scare you.
You really shouldn't be surprised by this. You know he's seen (and done) things which are unspeakable. You think this is why his memories always hit the hardest, why when they race across your eyes, you can barely see your own world … why his memories have no sound...
Yes, if the pictures themselves didn't make the world turn, and make you stumble and stagger in your dreams, you would welcome the strange silence of his dreams. But the soundlessness is heavy, eerie, like watching a horror movie with the volume turned down. It presses against your eardrums, leaving you deaf … helpless ...
… Cold ... Colder than space … Bone-searing, breath-stealing, skin-numbing cold … Gloving your hands and feet until you can't feel … Curling around eyes nose ears until you can't see smell hear …
"Save yourself," you murmur … gasping against the pain…
You moan, and turn over in your sleep.
… Cold becomes heat now … The gold walls burn shimmer waver in the heat of endless age and malice …
In between choking breaths, you feel the sharp, bone-charring pain of a knife shoved over and over again into your chest. There's a wet rasp to your breathing and you know your lungs are filling with blood. You want to stop breathing, knowing that every gasp tries to replace the spreading blood with air, stalling (but not stopping) your death. You can't bear to wake up in that damned box again, clean, scar-free, and whole …
"Please let me die," you whisper …
When the dreams fade, you're collapsed on the floor of your room on base. Your mouth is scratchy and hoarse, as if you've been screaming for hours.
Sometimes when you blink, you can see the disease in the after-image, a spreading mold moving across your mind.
You remember when you were a little girl, your dad used to have terrible nightmares. He would wake you up with his shouts, but you never got up to check on him after that first time. You must have been five or six (still young enough to be wearing a ruffled pink nightgown). You crept into the kitchen and saw your dad sitting at the kitchen table, hunched over like an old man, cradling a cup of tea in his left hand. Your mom was standing at the other end of the kitchen leaning against the back door. You tried to climb on your dad's lap and ask what was wrong, but your mom grabbed your arm and gently led you from the kitchen. She tucked you in and kissed your cheek, but it was a long time before you could go back to sleep. As you drifted off, you realized neither one had spoken to you.
The next time your dad woke up screaming, you stayed in bed.
You wonder if Replicators have souls.
In your dreams, Daniel keeps urging you to tell someone.
"Our memories don't belong here, Sam," he whispers. "Please let the … the real us help you."
You don't answer him at first, but when you almost wake up screaming on a mission, you think it might be time to talk with Daniel. Not to the General or to Teal'c, but to Daniel.
"Why only me?" presses Daniel.
The General pretends like he isn't waiting to hear your answer, but his curiosity makes you keep silent.
"She fears her superiors will not believe her. What did they do when Daniel Jackson heard voices in his head, or when Jonas saw the interdimensional insects, or when Samantha saw Orlin?" answers Jolinar for you. The words curl like ashy wisps along the corners of your mind.
"She also does not want to embarrass the General and Teal'c. They are very private, and may not wish to know she shares their memories," she whispers.
While you're muttering curses at Jolinar (Wow, Carter. Does Dad know you feel that way about snakes?), Teal'c speaks for the first time directly to you.
"I can hear many voices in your mind which are not your own, ColonelCarter," he says. "Some we may help you bear, like the whispers of Jolinar."
You take a deep breath, and try to hear your own thoughts on the edge of everyone else's.
"But ours you should not have to bear at all," he says.
You don't think Jolinar gave the real reason though. You stay quiet because at least in your head they talk to you.
But with the way your life goes, you never find the opportunity to tell them. Between your father's death and Anubis's attempt to wipe out life in the universe, it seems selfish to make everyone worry that the dizzy spells are getting worse, that you have to walk along the corridors with one hand along the edge (Thank goodness you have a good memory for space. Although the voices make you dizzy, you rarely walk into walls because you can't see).
And, well, if your private life got sucked into the center of things at the SGC, you don't want the rumor mill to buzz because you can't bear to live in the little house your (ex)fiancé picked out. You figure they don't need to worry about voices in your head too. Thank God Daniel's (de)ascension in his birthday suit is taking up everyone's attention.
Oddly, it's Teal'c who finally notices that you're not going home (even though the SGC is in a rare quiet moment), and that you're spending a lot more time in the cafeteria. He watches you at first, only coming up to speak the sixth time he catches you in the cafeteria with reports spread out in front of you. He asks if you are well, and you say you're fine. He nods, but you don't think you convinced him because he makes a point of stopping by your lab every day to check on you.
Maybe it's not odd that Teal'c is the one who notices. Daniel is usually so wrapped up in the past, he doesn't have much time for the present, and the General keeps himself from noticing because he still thinks he shouldn't (doesn't matter that you're not engaged anymore … or that there's an upcoming fishing trip…). His voice is strangely silent in your head whenever you dream about that cabin in Minnesota, and you wish he'd say something.
One day Teal'c comes though, and it's one of your bad days. Your dreams were especially terrifying the night before and you find yourself dozing in the lab after trying to work on the new ZPM, despite valiantly forcing yourself to stay awake (the six cups of half-drunk coffee on the lab table should indicate your efforts). Your head drops to rest on your folded arms.
… You're running, panting raggedly as the sand pulls your feet down, sliding beneath your socks, scouring your legs and ankles and feet … Awful, jarring pain shoots up your leg with each step, and you keep your right arm cradled against your chest … Heat … Blinding, burning, gasping heat … You blink stupidly against the grains of sand driven against your eyes by the wind, each one so burning hot … blowing against your skin … until its red and pockmarked and dry …
You have to reach him in time.
He's calling your name … over and over again …
"I'm coming," you gasp. "Just hang … on … I'm coming."
You want to throw up. With every step, your stomach protests the sights and sounds and smells of this desert place, but you fight down the bile and keep running, straining your ears against the roar of the hot wind that blows relentlessly into your already burning eyes. But everything is soundless … except for your dry gasps…
The gun shot strikes sharply against the air, not muffled by the sand. You fall to your knees and know …
You jerk awake when Teal'c touches your arm. You tell him you're all right, but stand up to reassure him. You guess you stand too quickly, because instead of see-through memories, fuzzy static runs across your eyes (fuzzy static … there's astrophysicist talk, if you've ever heard it), and you see the ground rushing up to meet your eyes. You just have time to think, Carters don't faint, before darkness overtakes you.
You wake up feeling like your head might explode.
Your mouth is dry, but all you can work up to is a kind of half-way groan. A hand cradles the back of your head, and you feel a straw against your lips. You sip a little, but not too much to get sick.
You open your eyes, and then wish you hadn't when the florescent lights burn across your corneas. Your eyes water and you feel a tissue against your lids. You blink a few times and finally work up the nerve to try again.
When your eyes open, you see General O'Neill and Daniel sitting on either side of the bed. Daniel is holding your hand. Teal'c is leaning against the wall, but his eyes do not carry the calm you've come to rely on.
They are silent, listening to you breathe.
"You busted your head pretty good there, Carter," says the general. You try to stay awake, but the pain is pulling you under.
"Thank you, sir," you whisper, closing your eyes again.
… down a deserted hallway when you hear it. It's so soft at first you don't understand the words. You reach the doorway, and the light streams out, blinding you, throwing grotesque elongated shadows against the faded white walls. You blink away the tears the brightness causes, and realize it's the same word over and over again...
"Oh God, Sam! Sam! Sam!
... murmuring her name over and over again, and you want to sigh, "It's all right, Daniel. It's all right. I can hear you," but your mouth won't open against the pressure of his whispered shouts. You choke in the darkness and see …
... can't help screaming, until the pain burns you from the inside out, and your tongue throat lungs heart turn to...
...gasp and finally suffocate on the smoldering soot until …
… and you dream again, shivering, feeling more alone than you ever have ...