A huge thank you to my beta Bruised Reed and to Stargate wiki and there time saving transcripts without either of which this story would suck.
Blood on my hands. Blood on the floor. Blood on my son. The endless echo of a single shot. A thousand shots in my lifetime, but only this one echoed for hours.
I sit up in a cold sweet. Damn. I hadn't had a dream about Charlie since the weeks after the nasty experience with a crystal form of my son. I thought I was finally leaving the nightmares behind. Not that I deserved to leave the nightmares behind. Who would have thought when I decided to live instead of die the decision was going to cause me this much pain?
I doubled over, that usually helps with stomachaches. But it didn't help with this stomachache. The problem was originating in my mind not my stomach. The image of his son, hanging on to life hour after hour resounded in his mind.
What if I had run to him faster? What if I'd greeted Charlie right after coming home instead of saying hi to Sara? What if I'd remembered to hide the key to my lock box? What if I'd talked about gun safety one more time? What if I'd never had a gun? What if I'd allowed my son to play with toy guns? What if? What if? What if I'd died on Abydos?
No, that thought…wouldn't get me anywhere. Daniel was right…it was a shame to be in a hurry to die. Death hurt. My death wouldn't hurt anyone like Charlie's death had hurt me. But all deaths hurt, and no one deserved that.
The three of us walk around them like guards. Daniel to the left, Teal'c watching their six, and me on the right hand side. Hand in hand, father and son march toward mother. But it isn't real. It isn't really his son. He lost his son.
I wake from the dream, and move toward the window. I remember after my mom died. How most of my friends just tried to ignore what had happened to me, because they didn't know how to deal with it. Or they'd tell me stories about a dead dog or grandma. It wasn't the same. Every death was different, but the death of a mother. More crushing, more life altering.
My brother might have understood. But Mark was so angry then. Hardly ever around. He was in teenage rebellion, drinking, partying, never slowing down enough to let the knife of grief stab him.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to lose a child, but I knew before I began that my mind would not be capable of the task. I'd never had a kid. Not so much as a late period worry I might have a kid. I had a niece and nephew, and hearing that one of them was dead would make my heart clench in terror, but I knew it would be nothing compared to how a parent would feel.
Two years ago, Jack was married and coming home from missions to his son. Playing ball, fishing, loving a little boy. Now…as far as I knew he had nothing beyond the SGC.
Not that my own personal life was more interesting, but I didn't mind. Really, I don't mind. Keep telling yourself that.
Anyway, I wasn't ready for the personal life Jack occasionally ordered me to get (one of those orders I never even considered following, like 'no giggling captain'). After all it was less than two years ago I'd been engaged.
Sometimes, usually in the middle of the night like this, I wondered if I'd made the right choice breaking off my engagement with Jonas. Marriage was, after all, what was expected of me. A year ago, I'd been on track for the life everyone wanted for me. By now I'd be married, on maternity leave. I'd work a desk job until my three children were in school. I'd bake cookies, walk the dog, change diapers. Then I'd go back to my real job. The one I have now.
Why had I said no to that life? If my mother was still alive…But I didn't want my mother's life. Even temporarily. I wanted a husband, and kids, but I also wanted the Stargate, and if I had to choose…
Perhaps it wasn't possible. Maybe the eighties were a lie; maybe you couldn't have it all. Maybe in the end, someday I would have to choose between the galaxy and the cradle. Maybe I already had.
Was I wrong?
I remembered my father's face when he met Jonas. He'd hated him. Of course, my father had hated every single one of my boyfriends. My father had such high standards that no one could meet them, especially not me.
In Jonas' case of course, my father had been right, Jonas was crazy. Jonas had proved that when he declared himself God hadn't he? But…was Jonas crazy before the sun baked his brain? Maybe if I'd married him…maybe I wouldn't have ever had to point a gun in his face.
A gun I never could have fired. Did that make me a better person like Jack had said? Or just a weak soldier?
And of all the boyfriends my father had hated….Jonas was really the best. God, maybe I should give up on the happily ever after if Jonas was the sanest I'd ever dated.
The fire has gone out. It's so hot during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down it's freezing. I get up to stoke the fire.
"Husband!" she protests as she flings herself around me.
"Sha're," I laugh, "I was just going to start the fire."
"I will keep you warm," she says pulling me closer.
"Sha're, we're going to freeze if you don't let me…" She stops my talking with a kiss.
I pull away. She groans. "Just let me take care of you Sha're, I say."
"Ok, and then I'll take care of you," she says. I love that I finally know her language well enough to understand innuendoes.
As I wake up from the dream I feel unbelievably cold. No fire to stoke, and turning up the furnace is not the same.
I see the bruise, but his mother doesn't, so I wait until we are alone, "Who did this to you."
"I fight my own battles father."
"If someone has injured you…"
"I want to be as strong as you one day."
"Even the strong sometimes need help."
I love the harvest festival. Harvest time is always stressful. The men in the field praying the rain will hold off until they are done. Until they have another year of food and clothes and happiness secured. The woman in the kitchen producing piles of food that the hungry men will eat silently, too exhausted to notice the flavor the woman were so careful of.
Then there is the harvest festival, when the work is all done, and we know that for one more year we are safe from hunger and poverty. The music, and the dancing, and the leftovers of harvest time. And then, the late night stories. Mom always said before that I was too young for the stories. But this year she has either decided I am old enough or forgot to remind me I was too young.
Probably my brothers fault. The twins are three, in other words, old enough to try to sneak into the story telling. They are crafty enough that they absorb my mother's attention.
The old storyteller sits around the fire, wrapped in a cloak, clutching a cane she doesn't need. Her voice crackles like the fire as she begins the story.
At harvest time we fear the rain, the snow, the hail, the wind. For a century now nothing but the weather has the power to separate a Harkan from wealth, but it was not always so. Long ago, there was a creature that flew like the wind, and threw hailstones of fire from a building that flew through the sky.
Nirti was dangerous for many reasons, not the least of which was the beauty that was lovely enough to tempt, but not so lovely that she could not hide among us. She had a jewel between her eyes, and light in her eyes and in her palm. Light that could kill, or make a sleep fall upon you, or cause pain.
The men who fear the rain…once feared the taker of crops. Each harvest, she came and took what she wanted, anyone who tried to stop her would be killed by the fire in her hand.
Until one day…when the Defender of the Weak came of age.
From her birth, everyone knew the Defender was different…
"Cassandra! To bed!" Mother scolds, "You'll give yourself nightmares!"
Clothed in a Sari, the dress my people banded a century ago when the Defender banished Nirti, hair in a tight bun. A dot on her forehead, the mark of the devil goddess. Fire comes from her hand, into my head. Pain.
I awake, to see her eyes focused on mine.
"You are no more than a nightmare," I say. Father says that talking back to your nightmares, telling them you do not fear them, this is the way to make them disappear.
"I am your nightmare dear, but I am far more than that."
I am floating, in some machine with a strange colorful ladder around me, "What is this?"
"I'd rather not have to render you unconscious, again," she says making her eyes flash."
The machine turns off. Nirti walks toward me, and injects a shot into my arm. A strange pain shoots up my vein. I kick her in the leg, and the light from her hand makes me fall back to sleep.
I wake up in my own bed. Mom was right. I'm too young for storytelling.
"You really want to send her out to story time after the nightmare she had last night?" Mom asks Dad in disbelief.
"I think the problem was you not letting her hear the end of the story. If she'd heard the description of the Defender, she never would have been afraid. Let her hear the whole story tonight," he insists.
"Go," Mom nods to me.
"The Defender had hair the color of sunshine, and eyes the color of ocean. She kept the hair short-like a griever. She said her hair would never grow until the world was freed from the oppression of the goddess. She learned to walk while others learned to crawl. She learned to talk when others shook the rattle. Her second harvest she went into the field to do the work of men. When she was three she climbed a tree proclaiming she was trying to reach the stars to slay the goddess. At four, she sparred with boys, and won. At five, she played bar games with the men and beat them. At six, she finished her schooling. At seven, she became the village champ in arm wrestling."
"Tell the story of Kali Yuga, end of the world!" one of the boys shouts from the back.
"Hush child, the second night, is for the Defender of the weak," the old woman says.
"But soon the darkness of the sun will bring the Kali Yuga," someone protests.
"Child, don't let fear run your life," the woman says.
"You tell the tales but do not believe them?"
"Accha, child, I'll tell you the story," the old woman grumbles, "The world was made during the darkness of the sun, and every twenty years the darkness returns. The Defender was born on a day of darkness, and the night she conquered Nirti was a day of darkness. The legend," the storyteller says with a slight sneer, "tells us that on the twentieth darkness after the Defender saved us…"
"This year," someone mutters.
The storyteller pretends to ignore her, "a sickness will come. The sickness will cleanse Harka of rebellion. Only one will survive. One to tell the story."
"And the one?"
"Part healer, part builder, brave," she says, and on the very last second her eyes meet mine.
My mother is a healer, my father is a builder, but I am not brave.
In my dreams she drifts over the city spreading death which sparkles like the jewel between her eyes. The sickness is coming, and I am the one. Healer, builder, brave.
I wake up with a gasp.
"Cassandra," my mother says pulling my hair away from my forehead.
"Sorry, my dreams woke you, again," I whisper.
"I was already up," she says looking at the door, "Melinda said there is sickness in her house."
"Go…I'll be alright," I assure her.
"Are you sure?" she asks, "I can wake your father."
"No," I say.
I lay awake wondering about prophesies and dreams.
"You need to rest, Alexandria," my father pleads with her.
"There are so many who are sick, I have to help as many as I can," mother insists.
"So many…everyone is sick! We should leave the city. You have often said that diseases travel by the air, if we were to go into the country, in the clean air."
"It's too late, and I'm not sure this is borne on the wind," Mom says gravely.
"You know the prophesies…" Dad begins.
"Foolishness for old women."
"The sickness with the darkness."
"I'm not willing to accept this is Kali Yuga yet. I want to believe that the world will go on. That tomorrow the sun will rise. That my children will grow up. That the world will keep turning, long after this sickness is gone."
"But fighting against Kali Yuga can make you grow tired…or sick"
"If it's Kali Yuga, I'll be sick regardless," she mutters, "and I'd rather go down fighting."
"Even if it is Kali Yuga, the world will go on fighting, and the one will carry our heritage to another world."
"Cassandra, you should rest," Mom pleads.
I shake my head, mopping her brow.
"See if…if there is someone who is not sick. Someone who can take care of you."
"I'm going to take care of you until you get better," I say.
"No one who has gotten the sickness has survived," she says. "Eight hours from first fever until…Cassandra, you should go out of town, you are not sick yet, maybe you could…maybe you could be spared if you would leave the town."
I shook my head at her, and offer her a glass of water. She takes the water and swallows painfully, "Listen, I love you," she says closing her eyes for so long that I think she has once again fallen asleep, "I'm always going to love you, but if…if you're the one." I start to protest. That is what I am most afraid of. More afraid of than death, "If you make it out of this, whether escaping to another planet like the myth or merely have immunity and survive among others…if I don't make it I want you to know, I want you to be happy. To find a family who will love you and who you will love them back."
"You're going to be ok," I tell her.
"Oh Cassandra, would that I could live for you. Watch your brothers until you find a grown up to take care of them, please."
"You're going to be ok," I repeat.
She nods her head, and I know she's lying. She's a healer, and she knows this is Kali Yuga.
Four graves in the backyard. I intended to bury the neighbors as well, but as I go from house to house I find death, more death, and death on top of death. So much death that I cannot bury it all. I leave the village.
I am the one.
Healer, builder, brave.
I am none of these things.
The one who will carry on civilization.
The one who will bear the tale.
The one who will go to a new world.
The one who will be alone.
I hide in the bushes. For days I have been nursing family member after family member. But nothing I know how to do makes a difference. Eight hours from first fever they die. Unstoppable. So tired. Sleep.