Glimpses of Light
She's so…small. So young. For all she must have aged to adulthood, for all she was old enough to rescue me, to save me and drag me back from the gates of death, Mairghread is still…a child. My baby sister. Watching her sleep in this bed in a dark corner of the infirmary simply seems to emphasize this point. She's curled up on her side, tubes running in and out of her hands, wires disappear into the neckline of her shirt. Her hair seems to have creeped like a climbing plant over the small mountain of blankets that dwarf her slight frame. Her mouth is slightly open as she breathes shallowly, her eyes roaming beneath their lids. Every now and then she gasps and twitches in response to something in her dreams. Now she frowns, and I reach out with a trembling hand to touch her face, soothing away the imagined monster, whatever it is.
"She's okay, you know," a young woman, Dr. Keller, tells me, standing on the other side of the bed. "She's just sleeping it off."
"I know," I say, quietly, withdrawing my hand. "I just had to see her."
"I understand," Dr. Keller comes around to unlock the wheeled chair I am in and begins pushing me back towards my room, my guards in tow. "You're the big brother, right? You gotta protect her, your little sister. Oops," she seems to realize that this might not be the best thing to say. "Sorry."
"No, you are right." I tell her, and stare at my hands. Withered, scarred, bony, shaking hands attached to twig arms. Exercise, like they just had me do in 'physical therapy', will restore strength to my body. But it will not help me to be Mairghread's older brother, her protector.
"Aw, come on. Don't be like that," she wheedles encouragingly. "I'm sure you'll be bossing her around and telling her what guys she can date in no time."
Guys? Date? What is "date"? What guys?
"What is 'date'?" I ask, not sure I want an answer. Behind me, I hear the guards snicker and Dr. Keller suddenly seems to be choking on something.
"Um, dating is when, um, two people agree to meet, go out for a meal, see a movie for the purpose of, um, finding a mate," she says quickly, sounding intensely uncomfortable, and pushing the chair at a slightly brisker pace than before.
My sister? Trying to find a mate?!
She's not old enough to 'date'. Well, technically she is, but no. No, my baby sister is nowhere near ready to find a mate, to start a family.
Who would she find here? Are the wraiths I just can't sense? Would she try to find a mate among humans? Is that even biologically possible?
I finally acknowledge the persistent poking of my mind, to sense my father fretting faintly at the very edge. The connect seems tenuous and much weaker than normal. Sudden fear stabs at my heart. "Dad, what's wrong?"
"Nothing." Liar. If nothing were wrong, you would wait till night when our minds were freer. Even awake you should be stronger than this. "I am waiting where we left Mairghread. They are calling John Sheppard. Make sure he comes."
"I will," I tell him, sensing pain and exhaustion consuming his being, even over this great distance and poor connection. But I do not press the issue. If the people are calling John Sheppard to come, I hope to see my father soon. Better to berate him in person.
"Taigh leat," he says, and is gone.
Worry gnaws at my mind—something is wrong. Dad must really be close to death, really be dying. I sensed, when we spoke, when he convinced me to try and heal, that he was weak. But somehow, I didn't quite believe him when he said he was dying. He is my father, still alive after more than 20,000 years. How could he die? He told me when I was very young that death comes to all, that even the stars die. And yet, death has passed over him for so long, denied him that final journey and reunion with Mother…could this be his time?
No. It is selfish, perhaps, but he may not die. Not yet.
"Gil? You okay?"
I realize that we have arrived back in my room and that Dr. Keller seems to be giving me the choice of returning to bed or sitting in a chair for a while longer.
"Yes, I am fine," I reply and nod my head towards the bed. She says something to the effect that it was a good choice, and that lunch would be brought soon.
"Where is John Sheppard?" I ask once the Doctor and a nurse I do not recognize have gotten me into bed and finished fussing with reconnecting me to the noisy beeping machine.
"Col. Sheppard?" she repeats. "I don't know. I can try and find him…is it important?"
"Yes." Perhaps not to you, but for my father, for Mairghread, for me? Intensely.
A small device in her ear crackles at that moment and she taps it to stop the noise. However, I hear a faint, distorted version of John Sheppard's voice emanate from it. Dr. Keller looks confused for a moment, listening to Sheppard's question.
"Sure, hang on one sec. Um, Gil, have you heard from your father lately?" she asks, somewhat awkwardly. "Col. Sheppard wants to know."
"Yes. He is waiting for John Sheppard where we hid Mairghread."
Her eyes get even wider than normal in seeming surprise. "Um, yes, Colonel. Gil says that Cullough's waiting for you where they hid Mary. Oh, um, okay. Be there in 15. Keller out." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out what looks like a small, squishy ball. "Here, I want you to squeeze this, help build up your hand strength," she says as she puts the ball next to my hand. "I've got to go."
I watch her disappear through the swishy doors, and my guards retreat to a discrete corner of the room.
I stare at the blue ball, picking it up with my claw-like hand. It seems heavy in my grasp, though I can see, I know that it must in fact be very light for its size. I begin to compress it in my hand, a more difficult task than I would like to admit.
"Gilleasbachan, what are you doing? You're going to freeze to death you idiot," Ceana berates me as I stand in the snow, watching the frozen rain float to the ground so silently. "Aunt Ceridwen is making stew," she wheedles, taking a step out of our aunt's grounded hive into the deep white drifts. She crosses her arms and juts out her hip. "Come on, what is so fascinating, Gil?"
"Don't you see?" I ask, as I begin gathering the flakes into a ball. "Each one is unique—the same basic crystal structure arranged in infinite ways."
"I'm sure that's fascinating, warrior boy, but as your older sister, I order you inside!"
"You're 5 years older than me, Ceana. That hardly makes you the arbiter of what's good for me," I rile her, taunting her to get her to take just a few steps closer…
"Is so," she counters childishly, wading through the snow, obviously with the intent of forcibly bringing me inside.
Thank you, for stepping closer.
I throw the snowball in my hand at her—damn. I meant to hit her head, but it hit a little lower.
She is going to kill me.
Ceana stares at the now splatterd snow plastered across her chest, and screams at me, gathering snow from the hip-deep drifts as she runs at me. She smashes the snow into my hair and shoves it down the collar of my coat. I shove it down her shirt, and we end up rolling in the snow, soaking ourselves to the skin.
I smile at the memory. Of course, we incurred the wrath of our aunt and uncle, and got sick from being out in the cold so long. Even wraith get sick. Every organism larger than a microbe is susceptible to microbes who take advantage of their weaknesses. During childhood, our bodies simply become adept at killing them, and healing their damage.
Has Mairghread gotten sick? Her childhood would have been very brief, and being raised among humans, there's a chance that she would not have been exposed to the microorganisms that attack wraith. The infections are rarely serious, like human 'colds'.
But with myself, and Dad (I will not let you die, not yet), in the vicinity, it's entirely possible, even to be expected, that she will catch something we carry, but are immune to.
She has probably already caught something from me.
"You are SO dead, Gilleasbachan," Teàrlag growls at me from her bed, where she is cocooned in quilts and sneezing every few seconds. "Why'd you have to kiss me when you were sick?"
"Sorry, little sis," I blow her a kiss from the doorway, and she scowls, but also laughs before a sneezing fit takes her and she decides to throw a book at my head. I flash her a grin and duck out before she can aim again.
After days of waking nightmares (don't think about them, don't think about them), it is a relief, however unlooked for, to remember happier times.
They are dead, you idiot. You failed to protect them.
No, I tried. I tried. I'm so sorry, I tried.
Mama's dead because of you.
"Go away, please," I whisper to the ghosts in my head, dropping the ball to bed and raising my hands to cover my ears, as though this could block the noise.
I know I failed them. I failed Ceana and Teàrlag, Mama and Durhan and all my family.
I will not fail Mairghread and Dad. If they need me to be the strong one, that is what I will be. Mairghread needs a big brother to protect her, Dad needs a son to lean on. I do not know how, but I will. I squeeze the blue foam ball with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency.
I will not fail again.