TITLE: Pearl in the Shell
CHARACTER/PAIRING: Cassandra Fraiser
SUMMARY: Sometimes you have to lose the battle in order to win the war.
EPISODES REFERENCED: Singularity, Heroes, Ripple Effect, Avalon, Ex Deus Machina

I knew, of course, that I could have gone anywhere and done anything. People were constantly telling me that the world was my oyster, although I never really understood what that meant. Daniel tried explaining it to me once, but I got lost in the anthropological meaning of the phrase's origin. Teal'c set me straight, sort of. "It means the world is yours to explore, Cassandra Fraiser." And, while I got that, I still didn't understand the connection to slimy and disgusting shellfish. Perhaps there are some things one non-Earthling should never try to explain to another.

Hanka is such a distant memory now. When I turned fifteen, I realised I could barely remember what my parents had looked like. We didn't have cameras and, besides, I'd left the planet of my birth with nothing. There wasn't even a fellow survivor who could tell me the stories of my heritage. The few memories I do possess fill me with sadness, and so I also mourn for the memories I have lost. But at fifteen, I was angry, so angry, at that realisation. A lot of teenagers rebel at that age, and I followed my peers into rage and disrespect. I regret my behaviour now and the way I treated Janet during that time. If I could do my life over, I would have always appreciated my time with my adoptive mother. Instead, I must be content in knowing that in some universe, somewhere, there is a Janet Fraiser who is still alive and is a grandmother to my children. Daniel told me in that reality I married Charlie O'Neill straight out of high school. I wonder if that would have happened to me if Charlie had still been alive here, in this reality.

That Cassie had Janet and Charlie, but was tied to motherhood in Colorado Springs. I might not have had family, but I had the freedom to choose whatever I wanted to do. I'm certain that Cassie had a choice as well, but her choice was not mine.

The obvious decision was to attend university, but where should I go? What should I study? Did I want to go to the military route or stay a civilian? Maybe I could attend a civilian institution but join the reserves. And if I did that, which branch should I join? The obvious choice was the Air Force, but the base jarheads thought I should join them instead. Alternatively, I could strike out on my own and join the National Guard.

In addition, my extended family all had their own ideas. Jack and Sam weren't insisting I attend the Air Force Academy, but they certainly weren't against the idea either. The anti-Air Force angle belonged to the Marines and my Grandma Fraiser who blamed the service for Mom's death. She thought I should go for nursing instead. Jack thought I should take History as a major; Sam thought I should go for one of the sciences. Daniel, naturally, thought archaeology would be a good track.

In my contrary way, I chose none of their suggestions. I suppose I was subconsciously lashing out at them for not saving Janet's life because I had to make my decision shortly after her death. I realise now that they were definitely not to blame. Jack was already a casualty of the firefight, and Sam was trying to attend to his wounds while trying to issue orders in his stead. As for Daniel, he was shouldering enough guilt from being at her side and not being able to save her, even though we'd been told death would have been immediate. However, at the time I was hurting so much I was convinced I was on my own and had to make my own decisions.

Therefore, I chose an engineering course at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and applied for financial aid, ignoring all the scholarship offers I'd received. I loaded a backpack onto my shoulders and left Colorado Springs without a thought. By then, Sam was dating Pete, Jack was trying to be 'the man,' T was spending more time off Earth with his free Jaffa, and Daniel was pleading to join the Atlantis mission. If they didn't need me, then I didn't need them.

How wrong I was. I had the roommate from hell and my workload was horrendous. I found myself sinking into a black hole of sleepless nights, unhealthy eating, and alcohol. My life was sliding downhill and gathering momentum every day. Not that I could see it at the time. In the end, I wrapped my car around a pole, had to be airlifted to Nellis because a regular hospital couldn't treat me, and lost my driver's license due to under-age drinking and driving.

That's how Sam found me - doped up on morphine for the pain and loving the numbness. She took care of all the issues with my car's insurer, paid all the fines, and moved me out of the dorm and into an apartment she'd rented. I dropped out of university and into rehab. I was nineteen and a recovering alcoholic. Perhaps that other Cassie had made the right decision after all.

Jack stopped by to see me one afternoon while Sam was working at Area 51. He brought Thor with him, and I thought my meds must have been hallucinogenic until they explained how our new ships had these new beaming capabilities. Thor didn't stay long but, while he was there, he asked a number of questions regarding my CD and DVD collection. Nor did he understand all the kitchen appliances. In short, he reminded me of myself when I first came to Earth. Like him, I'd been curious of this culture. Mind you, I'd also been scared of the washing machine's vibrating during the spin cycle whereas that didn't appear to bother Thor at all.

Once Thor left, Jack became blunt almost to the point of desperation. I had so much to live for and so many choices. I'd already accomplished so much in my young life, and I'd overcome hurdles greater than this. Hell, I'd watched the entire population of my planet die, while Niirrti had used me, manipulated me for her own ends. Moreover, yes, Jack reminded me that "ding, dong, the witch was dead" and I'd beaten her because I was still alive.

He told me about Charlie, the son who had died in this reality, but who'd lived to be my husband in another. He told me of the guilt, the depression and the urge to end it all afterwards. He told me of the suicide mission to Abydos, how he'd hung on and eventually realised he could do some good instead. Living now didn't mean mourning Charlie any less, it just meant that he'd found a reason to keep going.

I thought about what he said, and I also thought about something Teal'c had originally suggested I do when everyone had been putting forth their ideas for my future. And by the time Sam was recalled to Colorado Springs I had already decided to go back with her whenever she left Vegas.

Becoming a grief counsellor is nothing I had ever seen myself doing. Besides, I'd never known what to say beyond, "I'm sorry." But just as Jack had confided in me, so I knew I also had a story to share with others. There were teens all over Colorado Springs who had lost parents and felt the need to lash out or take comfort in the drug of their choice. There were military children who were angry that their parent had been killed in a way they opposed. The Stargate children had difficulty understanding how a parent could have died while being assigned to a unit that specialised in space telemetry. My idea was radical, but it had Jack and the President's support. I told these kids the truth about the program and even about me. Many of these children later ended up working at the SGC, following in the footsteps of their parents.

There were also the lost children. They were the ones who came from off world, who had no one left on their own world and had been brought to the relative safety of Earth through the Stargate. And when they got older, they felt the pain of those disappearing memories. They were mad at themselves for forgetting, even if they had been mere babies when they came. However, I knew I could help them, so that's what I did.

After all, they were me. And I had survived.