Category: Fan Fiction
Summary: Morphing is never beautiful, even for Cassie. Except when it is.
Warnings: Spoilers for #54.
He came to her, that night. He just showed up at her door like he had a right to be there.
“I’m sorry,” Ronnie murmured, burying his face in her hair. She laughed bitterly into his shoulders and tried to ignore the dampness in her own voice.
Shut up, Cassie thought, fingers sliding under his shirt despite herself. You don’t know anything.
But he continued, whispering a melody of broken apologies in her ears until she couldn’t take it anymore. Before he could say another word, she leaned forward abruptly and captured his lips with her own.
It wasn’t a perfect kiss- far from it; her mouth like an open wound bleeding into his, Ronnie’s feeling more like a leech that was sucking her dry. But it was all they had and all they ever would, so they clung to it like life itself.
It wasn’t so much desire as it was need, wasn’t so much love as it was shared grief, but the results were the same.
Cassie awoke the next morning to his scent, and the sound of his gentle breathing beside her.
She lay there, half-collapsed beside the toilet bowl, cheek pressed to the cool white. Her stomach felt raw and red, throat stinging as she threw up into the bowl, over and over again until her shoulders began to tense from the heaving. I can’t do this, she thought, bitter tears drying on her face. Just make it stop, I’ll do anything.
She closed her eyes as her stomach rose once again to claim her tongue.
“Oh, God,” Cassie heard herself whisper. She held the device in a trembling hand and tried not to cry.
A bit of her mother’s dry humour slipped into her voice. “And that’s why they say to always use protection.” She sounded dull, even to her own ears. Fake. Cheap.
She stepped into the shower and scrubbed and scrubbed, desperate to clean herself of the results of the test. Shampoo foamed under her fingers as she tangled them in her rough curls. And if tears leaked from her eyes to mingle with the water, well, no one was there to notice.
When she was two months pregnant, Cassie broke it off with Ronnie, unable to face him without thinking of what was growing inside her.
At four months pregnant, she was nearly living in the bathroom, alternating between vomiting, showering, and peeing like a race horse.
At six months pregnant, there was a definite baby bump, the line of her hands curving as she wound them around her belly.
At seven months pregnant, she awoke to discover that there was no more ice cream left in her secret stash.
At eight months pregnant, she finally called Ronnie. He almost passed out from shock, then held her tight.
The last month was the worst. That was the month she waited.
“It’s a girl.”
Cassie had never been so terrified in her life to hear three simple words.
It’s a girl. It’s a girl. The words seemed to pound themselves into her head. It’s a girl.
It’s a girl meant that finally, this was real, that she could no longer deny it. It meant that the parasite that had been eating away at her for the last nine months was a person, alive, that the thing squalling beside her was not just a thing. It meant that she was a mommy.
Cassie had seen dozens of animals through labour, bottle-fed what felt like endless baby deer. Nothing could have prepared her for this.
She clutched at the hospital blanket, swallowing the lump in her throat as the nurse handed the child to her trembling arms. For a minute, she stared at the wretched thing, having to fight down a wave of disappointment that it didn’t inherit its father’s striking blue eyes.
Her mother took her hand. “What’s her name?” she asked gently.
Cassie couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from the dark-skinned baby in her arms. “Karen,” she answered absently.
It was ugly, she decided. All wrinkled and red, bright brown eyes streaked with blood.
She hadn’t been able to call it Rachel, like Ronnie had suggested. It just seemed wrong. Rachel was dead. This… this thing could never replace her.
She swallowed, suddenly caught between laughter and tears. She’d been crying so much lately, it was a wonder she had any left.
“Karen,” Cassie repeated, trailing a hand along the baby’s angelic face. “Karen Naomi.”
She was late.
Oh, crap, she was going to be late, and her boss would yell at her and she hadn’t hired a babysitter and the thing was screaming and she just couldn’t take this anymore.
“Stop it!” she shouted, squeezing baby Karen tight in her hands. “Please, just stop crying!”
The thing just wailed louder.
Cassie was not generally prone to anger. She was kind and sweet and understanding, and had a temper the size of a newt. But she couldn’t do this, she just couldn’t.
Her boss had called in yesterday, begging her to come off maternity leave for just two days as the Hork-Bajir valley was on the brink of civil war and Toby was demanding to see her. But it had only been three weeks since she had come home from the hospital with Karen, and she was so tired and stressed and thing just kept screaming…
“Please,” Cassie begged desperately, “I’ll do anything if you’ll just stop.”
Karen paid her no heed. With a frustrated sigh, Cassie began to rock her, slowly, back and forth, back and forth. She didn’t sing a lullaby, but only because she didn’t know any.
Finally, Karen’s wails softened as she drifted off to sleep. Cassie closed her eyes and continued to rock her, back and forth, back and forth.
After a few minutes, she placed the baby in her play pen and drew a hesitant breath, staring at her sleeping form. Cassie smiled despite herself.
Maybe she wasn’t so ugly after all.
“She’s so cute,” Mom decided.
“A little princess,” Dad agreed.
Cassie gave them a tired smile and took Karen from her father’s arms. “You should hear her at night,” she replied dryly. “Voice of an angel.”
Her dad grinned, and she wondered when she had last seen him so happy.
Before her had learned his daughter was a killer, certainly. Cassie sighed and hefted the baby up to her shoulder. “Well, I think we’ll be going,” she told them, glancing at the clock. “Ronnie’s meeting me at Houston’s in a half and hour.”
“You’re leaving? So soon?” She could see the disappointment in his eyes.
“Yeah,” was all she said.
He looked at her, seeming to hesitate. “You know, we could take Karen if you-”
“Dad.” Did you go wrong with me? Did I go wrong with me?
He sighed. “Okay, yeah. She’s all yours, baby.”
Her mother told her to keep track, but Cassie kept forgetting. It seemed like every day was a new discovery.
First time baby rolls over. First time baby sits up. First time baby sleeps through the night. First time crawling. First time standing. First time walking. Baby’s first word.
It seemed like every day was a miracle.
Potty training was the bane of her existence, Cassie decided. It was messy, and gross, and tiring. Karen just didn’t seem to get it.
Part of her wondered it that was why Ronnie left. To avoid this.
Another part wondered if it was all her doing.
Break-ups were the bane of her existence. They were messy, and gross, and tiring. Sometimes, she just didn’t get them.
Heh, she smirked. Ronnie, I just compared you to potty training.
“Karen, I’d like you to meet someone very special.”
“This is Naomi Berenson, Karen. She’s going to take care of you while Mommy works.”
“Karen, sweetie, please don’t be difficult about this.”
“No, no, no, no, no!”
“Uh, can you give us a minute, Naomi?”
“Thanks… Now, Karen, why won’t you go with Auntie Naomi? She’s a very nice-”
“…But sometimes, it’s just so hard.” Cassie sighed, forcing a smile. “I mean, don’t take me wrong, I love her to bits, but sometimes, I think fighting the war was easier. Come to think of it,” she looked thoughtful, now, “You’ve never met Karen, have you?” A laugh. “I know, it seems she’s all I talk about now. It’s weird, because I never really liked kids before, but now… Anyway, I guess I should probably be going. Thanks for listening, Rachel.”
The gravestone was silent, save for a touch of wind.
“Karen, I want you to meet someone very special. This is Erek. He’ll be taking-”
“No, no, no, no, no!”
“What is it this time, sweetie? He too scary?”
“…He smells funny.”
Sometimes, she felt like she was neglecting them. She had been so busy for the past three years, taking care of Karen and working and fighting with Ronnie that sometimes she went for weeks without thinking of them.
She didn’t wonder if they were coming back. She knew the answer to that one, and it hurt too much to think about. So, when she found the time, she would sit, and remember.
She remembered Marco’s smirk, and Rachel’s smile and Tobias’ piercing brown eyes. She remembered Ax’s laugh, sending warm tingles through her mind.
She remembered Jake’s lips.
Cassie bent her head, and cried.
Karen’s third birthday. It was insane, Cassie thought, how much a child could grow in just three years.
Then she thought of herself, a naïve thirteen-year-old, and what three years had done to her.
Suddenly, it didn’t seem so crazy anymore.
Try as she might, Karen just couldn’t blow out those candles, doing nothing but lining the cake with a thin layer of spit. So Grandpa (it was still weird to call him that) sat her on his lap, and they blew out the candles together.
And for the first time in a long time, Cassie thought about the future.
“Mama, let me go.”
“ ‘Wanna go play with Toby!”
“…Your daughter has excellent taste, Cassie.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Cassie had faced monsters, battled parasites, and tasted death, but nothing could prepare her for the first day of Kindergarten.
Forget scared, she was petrified.
“…And don’t forget to ask for the bathroom, and use your manners, and play nice,” she babbled, practically cutting off the circulation in her daughter’s hand. “…and share your toys, and-”
“Mommy,” Karen interrupted impatiently.
Cassie bit her tongue.
“I love you.” Then, with a quick goodbye-hug, the four-year-old pranced off to the playground.
Cassie felt a smile tug at her lips. “Love you too, baby.”
Kindergarten was a breeze.
Grade 1,and Karen proved to be less than intelligent, but far from stupid (her mother’s bad genes again).
Grade 2, and Karen lost her first friend to some new girl. Cassie comforted her with cookies and milk.
Grade 3 was when Karen got homework for the first time. Her mother grudgingly sat down to help her with math, and tried not to take it too hard when she learned third graders were better at math than her.
Grade 4. Karen suddenly seemed to take notice to style, and refused to wear ‘those stupid overalls’ to school. Cassie noted, however, that the 9-year-old still wore them at home.
Grade 5. Cassie wondered where the years had gone.
Grade 6, Karen began to take an interest in boys, and boys in her. Cassie knew danger lurked behind those ‘innocent’ crushes, but honestly, cuteness trumped danger, every time.
At age 13, Karen was sassy, pretty, and popular; everything Cassie hadn’t been at her age. She always had a circle of friends around her, and more often than not brushed her mother off to be with them.
At age 13, Cassie had been gentle, easy-going, and caring. Pretty in a way, but nothing special. She had few friends aside from Rachel, the bird-poop on her jeans scaring away even the most daring boys. She loved her mom and helped her dad in the Rehabilitation Clinic whenever she could.
Then the war came, and everything changed.
Cassie tried to imagine Karen in her place, and very suddenly understood why her father had reacted the way he did.
Though maybe Karen was far from innocent, she would always be Cassie’s baby.
“Karen, I’m going to ask you to come out one more time, and then I’m coming in.”
“Just leave me alone!” Cassie could hear muffled sobs filtering through the door. She sighed and pushed into the room.
Karen lay on the bed, face pressed into the pillow as she sniffled quietly to herself. Cassie ran a gentle finger through her thick brown curls.
“Karen, baby, what’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t love me!” was all the response she got.
Had she been Marco, she would have smirked. Had she been Rachel, she would have told her to suck it up, princess. Had she been Tobias, she would have said that Karen knew nothing about pain. Had she been Jake or Ax, she wouldn’t have had a clue what the girl was wailing about, anyway.
But because she was Cassie, she wrapped her daughter up in her arms and held her tight.
“That’s okay, baby,” she murmured, wiping at a stray tear, “I do.”
Some days, Cassie looked at her old self, and thought about morphing. She hadn’t done it in awhile, just from time to time while working in the Hork-Bajir Valley. When Karen came home from school complaining about how she really didn’t care what an Escafil Device was made of, no offense Mom, Cassie wondered what it would be like to morph again, just for the heck of it.
Her favourite morph had been, and always would be, the butterfly. She remembered how she had spent days as a lonely caterpillar, only to emerge as something beautiful and seeing.
A naturally-occurring morph, Ax had called it. But then, if change was morphing, didn’t every animal go through a ‘naturally-occurring’ morph? Caterpillars went into chrysalis, humans went through puberty- was there really a difference between the two?
Sometimes, Cassie looked at Karen, and thought about morphing.
Sweet sixteen. An age of responsibility, driver’s licenses, and adrenaline. The war had ended when Cassie was 16, her birthday occurring in the muddy trenches of the Hork-Bajir Valley. There’d been no cake or candles; just a hug from each of her parents and a quiet “happy birthday,” from Jake. The atmosphere had been too tense for celebrating.
Karen’s 16th was loud and crazy, full of deep bass and squealing car tires on hot pavement. Cassie, smiling to herself, left her daughter mostly to her own devices, knowing that despite society’s view on teenagers, Karen was quite capable of being mature when she needed to be.
Watching her not-quite-adult, not-quite-a-child daughter laugh and dance, Cassie indulged herself in a brief trip down memory lane, smiling as the pounding music slowed and a shy, awkward-looking boy asked Karen for the dance.
The smile only widened when she accepted.
Karen never needed to worry about money for college. The day she graduated, a huge amount of money was suddenly thrust into her hands from the trust fund Cassie had been saving for her. There was enough money for her to sail through life without breaking a sweat.
But what did she do? She bypassed the community college and went straight to university, leaving home for the first time in her life.
Cassie felt… strange. It wasn’t the raw hurt she had felt when Jake left, the heartache when Rachel died or even the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach when she and Ronnie broke up. She just felt empty.
It seemed she had spent so many years building Karen up, she hadn’t even noticed when she had begun to lean on her daughter’s solid foundation.
In her fourth year of university, Karen dragged home a man. Cassie took an instant disliking to him, but Karen didn’t seem to notice, chattering away as if the air wasn’t bristling between her mother and her boyfriend.
It was strange. Before Karen, Cassie wouldn’t have minded the guy; in fact, she probably would have tried to befriend him. But when she saw the way he looked at Karen, it was all she could do to keep from going wolf on his hiney.
But it was Karen’s life and Karen’s decisions, so she said nothing when the two left together for home.
A year later, they were engaged.
Still, Cassie remained silent, eventually warming to the boy’s attitude and multiple tattoos. He wasn’t a bad kid, she realized, just a little misunderstood. Amusement twitched her lips as she was randomly reminded of Marco.
If Karen reminded her of Rachel as much as she thought she did, this would definitely be interesting.
…Heh. Marco and Rachel. Whooda thunk?
Wedding bells. Church benches, lined with lace. Four groomsmen, four bridesmaids on either side of the chancel, twittering excitedly to each other. Daniel, the husband-to-be, grinning his face off.
Cassie swallowed, watching silently as Karen made her way down the isle, slowly, as if she were made for this moment. A brilliant smile laced her daughter’s cheeks.
She thought of things lost, and things gained, and wondered if she had the choice between this moment and a thousand other lives, what she would choose.
It wasn’t hard.
Blinking back tears, Cassie took Karen’s hand, only to give it to the waiting groom. Karen smiled back at her so blindingly that she had trouble hearing the pastor’s words.
And as the two exchanged their vows, Cassie thought of a red, wrinkled baby, wailing in her arms, and looked to the young woman sliding a ring on her fiancé’s finger.
And she decided the morphing process had never looked so beautiful.