On Hanka, you never say the names of the dead. Cassie likes to think like that, like Hanka as a culture exists somewhere outside her faded childhood memories. She remembers her mother lighting candles of remembrance and explaining it to her, the dead are called back from the spirit world if you call their names, and they might not be as loving as they were alive. Her mother’s face is blurred out, like a fuzzy picture, like when she wears Daniel’s glasses and can’t focus properly. The first time she wakes up and realizes she can’t remember her mother’s face she cries for an hour, locked in the bathroom, until Janet finds her and smoothes her hair, calls in sick and sits on the couch with her, watching cartoons and teaching her how to french braid.
Later that week Sam takes her for ice cream, even though it’s raining, and tells her to think of things she can remember, that her mother smelled like cooking spices, how her mother taught her how to bank a fire. Sam says that’s what matters, and Cassie almost believes her, takes every little bit of memory she has left and holds it close to her heart. Then she takes Cassie to a big store and buys plastic umbrellas and bright colored rainboots, enough that Janet sighs big and clucks at them when they return.
When Janet dies she leaves behind hundreds of pictures, dozens of videos, smiling and laughing and hugging Cassie from behind, and she realizes Sam was right.
Cassie’s first mother loved her hardest, loved her even after her father died of sickness and another couple with a big sprawling farm offered to take her as a servant girl, loved her harder even when Cassie caught the sick and was laid up in bed for a whole cycle of the smallest moon, sang her lullabies and boiled water over the stove to drip into her mouth from a cloth as it cooled.
Cassie names the dog Jack, and Janet laughs out loud when she hears it. She flushes immediately and assures Cassie she was laughing with her, not at her, and digs in a closet before coming out with an old green ball, tangled in tiny fuzz. They go to the backyard and let Jack chase the funny green ball around until he collapses at their feet, tongue lolling. Janet brings her another hot dog, done just the way Cassie likes them, the way Sam showed her, and then a hot drink that tastes sweet, like the stuff they drink on Hanka at the New Year. Cassie sits against the wall, eyes heavy, and Jack leans his head on her thigh, eyes beseeching until she feeds him little pieces of the bread.
“I see the resemblance,” Janet says, to herself, and brings the dishes inside. Cassie hugs Jack, warm and soft and breathing gently, and he licks her face. Cassie’s eyes grow heavy, and she realizes after a few minutes that Janet’s carrying her, tucked up against her shoulder despite how short she is, Jack twining around her ankles.
Cassie never does getting around to explaining it, that you name animals that aren’t for eating, aren’t for milking, after the father. Jack gave her Jack, and so he was called Jack.
“His name is Jack,” she tells Sam, and Sam just nods.
“It’s a good name,” she says, and it is.
When Cassie is cleared to go to school they have a Family Meeting, one that Sam and Daniel and Jack and Teal’c attend, and even General Hammond, who makes Cassie a little nervous, although he smiles very nicely and offers her a candy that’s tasty, if chewy. Teal’c drops his big white hat over her eyes and even smiles at her when no one else is looking. They have a long boring talk about what she can’t say to her classmates and her teachers and whoever else that doesn’t work under the big mountain, and Cassie nods carefully because they seem to think it’s very important.
Then General Hammond tells her to be good and leaves, everyone saluting as he goes. When he leaves Sam blows out a sigh and grins at her, helps Janet pull the big platter of chicken and ribs out of the fridge so Jack can show Teal’c how to work the cheap charcoal grill that sits on the outside porch while Daniel smirks at them and Cassie shows Sam the new pictures she’s drawn for Sam’s lab.
After everyone’s putting on their shoes to leave Sam hugs her one last time, presses a kiss to her hair. “You can’t talk,” she says, and she looks so worried Cassie gives her another hug.
“I won’t,” she promises. Cassie knows better than to speak of the dead.
Cassie’s second mother loved her best. Loved her through the hard years, the rebellious years, the years that set and form how she thinks and navigates through the world, this new world without long green lines of growing things, without the smell of rich turned dirt. She doesn’t miss it, exactly, but when she explains it Janet nods, lips pursed like they do when Cassie remembers something that Janet can’t make better. And then during her spring break Janet takes the whole week off, rolls the windows down in the front of the car for Cassie and the back for Jack, drives them to a place with rolling green hills and big animals she calls horses, and then even better, even best, rows and rows of deep green stalks, reaching up to the blue blue sky.
They get home and Janet is drawn from the driving and dog wrangling and child wrangling and Sam is sitting on the steps of their house, her hands dangling between her knees. Cassie leaps out of the car before it’s stopped moving, shouting with joy, and Sam smiles as she stands and reaches out for a hug. She grunts when Cassie hits her, and sways, her hand coming up to hold her ribs.
“You’re getting too big,” she teases, straightening with wince and a quick flash look at Janet. There’s a plastic bag hanging from her wrist--a new sketchbook. “Tell me about your trip,” she says, and Cassie does.
Cassie draws a picture of the four of them, coming through the gate, completely unharmed, Daniel pushing up his glasses, Teal’c watching over them, Sam with her gun slung across her chest and grinning at Jack’s terrible joke. She keeps it under her bed for luck.
She doesn’t think to draw Janet safe in her infirmary, stethoscope stark against her white coat, because she didn’t think Janet needed luck.
“Tell me the story of us,” Cassie says to Janet, and Janet sits between her legs so Cassie can practice french braiding on her hair, grown past regulation length and kept that way because, as she says, she’s the boss of everyone, even General Hammond, and as Sam says, because Cassie loves it that way so much.
Once upon a time, Janet tells her, on a planet not so far away, a terrible thing happened. But out of that terrible thing there was a miracle girl, a miracle girl named for the stars that found the woman who loved the stars, and the woman took the girl back and wouldn’t leave her, even when other people ordered her to. And the woman said they wouldn’t die, and they didn’t.
“And then I found you,” Janet said, smiling, “and how could I not keep you? Now go clean your room or you can’t go to the movies tomorrow.”
Cassie goes to Daniel’s funeral and stands between Janet and Sam. After the service Janet turns to her in the back of the car on the way to the wake, looking tense, and explains that Daniel’s not dead, not really, not in the way she thinks of dead.
“He’s coming back?” she asks, and tries not to cry. Janet tucks her close and murmurs something soft and soothing, but she catches Sam’s eye in the rearview mirror, Sam’s knuckles white around the steering wheel, and Sam shakes her head, sharp and sad.
Sam and Cassie know there’s no difference between dead and gone forever.
After Janet, Sam sits Cassie down after the week of nothing but grief and sad, the mourning period, and tells her that if she asks, Sam will resign her commission and walk away from the Stargate, even at the height of the struggle.
“Maybe I should have,” she mutters, and stops herself. She sighs, and tries to smile at Cassie. Cassie thinks that she’s never taken Sam off that pedestal the way she slowly did the other adults in her life, even Janet, but then--
But then Sam pulled her out of a pile of corpses and told her she wasn’t going to die. And Sam went deep into a mountain and held her in her arms and waited for death with her, cheated death with her, and how could Sam ever tarnish that, not really? It would take more than the mundaneness of realizing that she’s not infallible, that she makes mistakes.
Cassie remembers that Sam left before she came back.
“No,” she says, and smiles when Sam tries to hide the flash of relief. “I do want you to move me in,” she says, early admittance to art school, a selective one, she and Janet dancing around the kitchen with the acceptance letter. She’s suddenly shy, and Sam rises to come around the table and brush her fingers through Cassie’s hair, cut short because she couldn’t imagine ever french braiding it again.
“I won’t leave you,” she says, an echo, and Cassie holds her for a long time.
Teal’c takes her to the cemetery sometimes, some old soldier superstition keeping Sam and Jack away, or maybe too many other graves to visit. Cassie brings tulips, Janet’s favourites, and cleans the face of the tomb with Windex and a soft rag. She pulls the weeds out and smoothes the dirt with her bare fingers.
“Doctor Fraiser was a brave warrior,” Teal’c says, and Cassie’s fingers clench in the grass.
“All the good it did her,” Cassie says, the bitterness slipping out.
“Your mother died free,” Teal’c says, and Cassie’s muscles ease.
“Yes,” she agrees, and they walk out together. The heavy iron gate squeaks shut behind them.
Cassie’s third mother loved her the longest. Through the grief of her other two mothers and further, taught her how to fire a gun and how to make sure she would never have to fire a gun, taught her about how to keep living through loss and loss again. Sam shows her how it feels to feel the wind in your hair on a motorcycle before her college boyfriend does, shows her how to eat fast food before Jack does, shows Cassie her namesake in the sky and tells her the story before Daniel does.
“Tell me a story,” Cassie croaks on a bad day, when she can’t stop crying and her roommate slips out, her roommate whose father died in a dusty desert overseas and jerked in surprise when she saw Janet’s medals displayed on Cassie’s desk, and who understands that Cassie needed that night to mourn. There’s a rustling on the other end of the line, and a thump like Sam’s settled herself down on the ground the way she used to when Cassie was small and liked to hide behind the sofa and under the table.
Once there was a woman, Sam tells her, who was alone and didn’t mind it much, because she had her job and she was good at it, the best, and passionate to match, and thought she had everything she needed. But then a girl came along who got sick, and then better, and then sicker, but the woman saved her with knowledge and instinct and love, and the woman loved her so much she took the girl in and never let her go, not ever.
“Your mother saved you,” Sam tell her as Cassie starts to slip off to sleep, the phone still cradled against her ear, “don’t let anyone try to tell you different.”
“You saved me too,” Cassie murmurs, falling further into sleep.
“You repaid the favour,” Sam says, and then, softer, “I love you.”
Cassie receives her Master’s degree in the top two percent of her program, and the Dean who hands her the diploma raises an eyebrow, because there’s a sea of dress blues at the edges of the audience, marines and Air Force standing at parade rest, and then closer, Sam and Jack and Daniel in a suit, Teal’c in a button down dress shirt and a baseball cap with a green alien stitched on it. Cassie shrugs at him, shakes his hand. She knows they do this for other kids who lost parents in the Stargate program, but that doesn’t make the warm feeling in her chest go away.
Later they go to the park, the same one where Sam pushed her on the swings for the first time, told her about the physics that meant that if she pulled her legs this way, pushed them that way, it made her rise higher and higher, until the seat jumped beneath her and her stomach lurched in a way that made her laugh for the first time since she left Hanka.
Cassie helps Teal’c drag the big coolers out by the public grills and the picnic tables, and then sits on one, her legs swinging from beneath her summer dress.
“I am considering staying on earth,” Teal’c says, and changes his hat from the joke ballcap to a larger ten gallon cowboy hat, so swiftly that she doesn’t catch a hint of gold. Cassie blinks at him.
“I grow old,” Teal’c says, but he doesn’t sound sad about it, the way Janet did when she moaned about grey hairs in the mornings. “The Jaffa’s new leaders are young and brave and somewhat foolish, as they should be.” He pauses. “I will of course visit my son, but I feel... an affinity for this planet. It has become my home.” He looks at her, and Cassie can’t remember the last time she thought him intimidating. He offers her his hand, the broad pale expanse of his palm, and she takes it the same way she did when he pulled from the long dry grass the first time they met.
“I’m thinking about going into counseling,” Cassie says, an offer for an offer. “Kids affected by violent trauma.” Teal’c inclines his head, very slightly, and then looks at something behind her. Cassie turns to follow his gaze and sees Daniel coming their way, Vala tugging at his pocket. His look of annoyance looks more like fondness than ire, and he turns away to say something to Cameron, the sun glinting off his glasses.
Behind them, she sees Sam and Jack walking with their shoulders brushing; Sam’s changed into a skirt and a light blouse, Jack’s in faded jeans and long sleeve button down, his bum leg dragging stiffly.
“You remind me of your mother,” Teal’c says from behind her.
Cassie smiles. “Which one?” she asks, gallows humour--that, she learned from Jack.
Cassie sees Jack and Sam’s hands tangle, blink-and-miss-it, and how she turns the curve of her smile sideways until it’s just for him, the way his joke is just for her.
Teal’c’s hand squeezes around hers, just once. “All of them,” he says.