Summary: Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own. ~Aristotle
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Warnings: Character death.
Spoilers: Spoilers for Outcast
Title, Author and URL of original story: Kass, kassrachel. Letter S
Her mother always said she was made of fire. At first, Anne wasn't sure. There was itching in her hands, a dull roar in her ears. She grew up always on the move, and not just the ones brought on by the sweep of her limbs, the dancing of her feet. Texas, Germany, Georgia, Kansas. She ended up on the West Coast, at Stanford, equations in her head and friends at her elbows.
That was probably why Patrick fell in love with her. They met in a math class. She had gotten an A on the first exam; Patrick had gotten a C. She could see from the look on his face that this was unacceptable, not just to his parents, like many of their nervous classmates who had fathers funding their educations, but to Patrick himself. So Patrick had made a strategic move -- he sat next to the person who was getting the best grades in the class. By the time the term was over, Patrick had brought his grade up to a B+ and drawn Anne to him for life.
Surprisingly, her mother did not approve. She thought that Patrick was boring, demanding. Anne knew what the fear was: that demanding was going to turn into controlling. Her father, the military man, gave orders around the house like it was his base. Anne had always been able to more or less shrug them off, placate her father with a smile or quick squeeze on the arm. Her mother had no such luxury, and Anne knew her mother was afraid that with time and temper, Patrick would become a barker of orders that Anne, within the constraints of marriage, would not be able to ignore.
But Anne felt the fire in her belly now. It wasn't defiance -- it was love. It moved her heart, made her fingers fly over the keys of the piano. She knew what her mother did not, that Patrick was the earth, the grounding and the center her father's career had denied her her whole life.
So she let the fire roar, and married Patrick the summer after they graduated.
When David came, she felt like a whirlwind. There was always something to do. By that time Patrick had moved them to the big house in Virginia, the one that came equipped with a maid and a huge dining set and horses. David, named for a king, was with Anne wherever she went. They walked the perimeter of the land together. He sat for hours in a seat next to the piano stool. He would nap through the booming Beethoven; she would wake him with playful Mozart.
John was different. John was like the incarnation of Anne's internal whirling. He walked before he was a year old, and Anne would have to hover, always close, in case he got over the baby gates and tried going up the stairs. By two he was climbing, not just the stairs but the kitchen cabinets, the fence. He pulled crystals off the chandelier in the dining room after he shimmied his way up chair legs and onto the table. He always wanted to be as high as he could. If he couldn't achieve height by being in her arms, he'd get as far as he could on his own.
Anne loved that. It stoked the fire within her. It made Patrick nervous, which made him quiet. David he understood, but John was a mystery, happiest with Patrick only when he was swung up on Patrick's tall shoulders.
At eight and ten, John and David were both in school. Anne knew she wasn't like all of the other moms, but it only became more apparent once Dave went off to kindergarten. She wore jeans, t-shirts, blouses. Sandals and sneakers. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and when she wore it down the curls would stick up a little at the back. The only designer clothes she had stayed in the closet except for dinner parties or social functions with Patrick's work colleagues. She painted in the garage, took calculus or art or physics classes in D.C. She didn't cook because whatever she made came out either undercooked or burned. When Patrick was home, Louisa made dinner. When Patrick was away on business, she and the boys ordered pizza or ate sandwiches. One week when Patrick was in London they survived on hot dogs and Kool-Aid. John loved it; he talked for months about the varieties of ketchup and mustard, laughing with a child's abandon at his joke of "Dijon ketchup." Even Dave would let out a secret, delighted smile every once in a while.
She was happy to be the mother of sons.
The encyclopedias had been Patrick's idea. For once, Anne couldn't quite decipher her husband's thought processes. She didn't know if he thought they were a good idea because John needed to settle down and stop spending all that time with the horses or his skateboard. Maybe it was a sign he thought John wasn't serious enough. John, Anne knew, was serious enough for the both of them. Patrick seemed to think John was his rough-and-tumble son while David was the one who had already started to go with Patrick to work three times a week in the summers. The dichotomy Patrick had set up to understand his family disturbed her -- mostly because she thought it wasn't true. David would have been all too happy to muck around in the horse stalls if that was what he thought Patrick wanted, and John. Well. John was probably the most tender-hearted boy she'd known, though he stuffed everything way down deep, maybe a little too deep, like glimmers of glitter on the coral reef.
Besides, it wasn't like John didn't already read, either. He spent hours tucked away in different spots in the house or on the land, pouring over mysteries and adventures, love and betrayal. He carried clues for the Hardy Boys and existential angst for the Silver Surfer as if they were precious to him, given only to him for safe-keeping. Perhaps the encyclopedias would serve as a tether for John; non-fiction, the plain facts, would keep him grounded on the earth when he was so obviously meant for the air. Anne didn't like the thought of keeping John bound to the ground, but she knew in some ways that was what he needed, the same way she had married Patrick because she needed the same thing.
In that case, she really couldn't disagree with Patrick on the issue. So when he was twelve, for Christmas, John got a huge package labeled "From Mom and Dad" that held an entire encyclopedia set. He politely said thank you, found the letter S, and promptly disappeared until Anne had to go find him for Christmas dinner, curled up on a bench in the greenhouse, almost to the end.
She felt the fire going out inside of her before the doctors ever knew what was wrong. The flames licked and swept up her spinal cord until they fizzled out as if left in drizzling rain. Cervical cancer, they said. Six months, was what Anne heard, and she was right.
She came home because the thought of dying in a hospital bed was too much to bear. Instead, they hooked her up to IVs at home. Patrick got both a day nurse and a night nurse and disappeared into his work, gone from the house as much as possible. She didn't blame him. She wasn't angry. She knew he was frightened, didn't want to have to watch her die, so he chose not to. He simply ran away instead.
John, on the other hand, ran toward her pell-mell, head first into the breach. He would come home from school and he would appear in her doorway, his face already beginning to set like a man's, future conflicts writ large on his jaw, his eyebrows. Anne could already see the start of a split with his father, of "you just let her die" hurled like weapons and wounding just the same. Though it saddened her, she knew she couldn't stop it. Nothing she said to John, nothing she said in simple words, could make him understand something that was so inexplicable to him. He was too old for her to hold, for her to gather in her arms like she had when he was small, and too young to be softened with adult words or looks.
Oh, but she was grateful to have him. In the days when the medication made her limbs heavy, too solid to lift on her own, John would come and read to her. The nurses would try to run him off but he would hold his ground, and eventually they stopped even asking him to leave or shushing him, instead moving around him like apparitions. He read from the encyclopedias because she was too tired to follow the threads and plots of a novel. But she could usually make it through an entry or two of the encyclopedia before her eyes fluttered closed. Sometimes she would wake up and Dave was there, too, bringing up sandwiches or tea, soup and Cokes. When Dave was there the t.v. would often be on, he and John watching in silence as they ate. John would go days without laughing, but occasionally she would wake up to the sound of his har har har, his face lit by the television and a small modicum of joy. Her fingers would find his, and she would squeeze his hand; John's face would turn toward her lit up now not by the television, but by his smile.
Mostly, though, John was a warm presence, his voice soft and sometimes cracking as he read, from Aa-Al, Am-B, C.
The fire went out completely when he cracked the spine on J.