DISCLAIMER: The story, and characters and anything and everything
else concerning SG: SG1 belong to MGM, Gekko, Secret Productions
etc, they are so not mine and no money is being made from this and
no copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: Set early Season 8. Janet Fraiser survived the events of Heroes and is still working at the SGC.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author
SEQUEL: To Off the Map.
"How is she?"
Their voices, however subdued they thought they were being came to her clearly. Janet closed her eyes, turned her face to the wall. She had nothing to say to anyone. With any luck they would think she was still asleep and leave her alone. She did not want their pity or their platitudes.
"A little better, I think. Devastated, of course. Colonel Griff told me he had to lift her off her feet and physically carry her back through the Gate. She wouldn't leave them." Sam sounded tired. She had been here all night, watching over her. "I've never seen her so. angry." Oh, she had been angry all right, still screaming as Griff half carried half dragged her down the ramp. She had been so out of control by that point she had scared herself.
"They were her patients. She'd just saved their lives once. what a bloody waste. And she was sick herself by then." Daniel's voice was closer for a moment as if he had peeked in through the curtain around her bed. "She looks exhausted."
"She is. It's been hard on her, first dealing with the epidemic and then trying to stop. the sad truth is it would have happened regardless of our presence, Daniel. The violence has been escalating for months. Genocide, ethnic cleansing. whatever polite term you want to use," Sam's voice was thick with unshed tears. However `military' she tried to be situations like this always hit Sam hard. Despite the tough persona, her lover had a gentle soul. Especially when it came to the welfare of children.
"We still should have pulled out before we got our people involved to this extent," General Jack O'Neill said. "It's pretty obvious that we weren't told everything about the situation when we first went through. And the reports from the scene."
She would have to answer for that, sooner or later, Janet knew. She had blatantly misled the General about the situation on the ground on more than one occasion before the Kethrin had made their final attack. She had thought she was getting somewhere with Blayre, the Kethrin leader. The Kethrin had the sickness as well. They needed the SGC's help just as much as the Mishin had done. But in the end offering them a cure for the red death had not been enough. The culling had begun.
Janet shifted uneasily, her skin had that curious crawling sensation again. Not quite an itch more like. insects. Tiny spiders creeping under her skin. She shuddered. She hadn't brought the illness back with her, she was sure of that. This was something different. She had started to feel ill on the planet but had put it down to stress and tiredness. Dealing with the level of hostility between the two tribes they had encountered was enough to exhaust anyone. Whatever had possessed her thinking she could mediate.
It was an old old story - too few resources, too many calls on them. Centuries of feuding between the two tribes heightened by the new threat - the coming Ice Age, the glacier that crept further down the mountainside each year encroaching on the pasture and farmland forcing the highland tribes to move further into the valleys or watch their children and their herds starve.
"General O'Neill. Colonel Carter. Dr Jackson. I think you should leave Dr Fraiser to rest now. She's still suffering from a low grade fever and exhaustion. I'll page you as soon as she's awake and well enough for visitors." Dr Pendleton's bedside manner was improving slightly.
"I'll just." Janet closed her eyes again as she heard the curtain move aside and felt Sam's presence by her bed. She felt calloused fingers brush against her brow for a moment, carding softly through her hair. A voice little louder than an exhaled breath close to her ear. "I love you Janet. So much, I. please, don't stay away too long."
Janet had been included on the mission after expressing interest in some of the mosses and lichens found growing on the ancient ruins. Daniel Jackson was also going through to double check whether the ruins were `Ancient' or just old. The Mishin hunting party found them two days later and invited them back to their tents especially after finding out that they had a healer amongst them.
Their tents - the Mishin were nomadic - were afflicted with a disease that they called the Red Death but Janet identified as Scarlet Fever or Scarlatina. Once a killer on Earth but now easily treatable with antibiotics. Thirty children - almost the entire population under the age of ten - were ill. In previous years when the Red Death had arisen many children had died and the Mishin had no reason to believe that it would not happen again this year.
Ironically one of the lichen's she had sampled probably contained a version of penicillin which when refined and processed would guarantee the red death never again deserved its name. If there was anyone left.
The Mishin had regarded her as some kind of shaman, a saviour. When the Kethrin approached she had offered to mediate. For a time she had actually seemed to be getting somewhere. The Kethrin leader Blayre was young, a reasonable man, his power base still dependent more on his father's memory than his own deeds. Blayre was fascinated by their presence on his world, by the idea that there were other worlds beyond his, other ways of life. The Kethrin elders were not quite as open and idealistic. They knew only the way of war, the rites of blood. The Mishin were little more than vermin to them, doubly contaminated now because of their contact with Janet and the SGC personnel. Blayre was murdered, the Kethrin elders ordered that the cull begin.
Now the children danced through her dreams, holding hands, their little faces solemn as they followed the intricate steps their ancestors had danced two thousand and more years before on the Russian steppes. She stood in the centre of their circle, garlanded with flowers. Their voices rose and fell around her in an atonal chant. Ash bloomed on their forehead, their thin cheeks stained with the hectic rash that was the mark of the scarlatina, the red death as the Mishin called it.
Once a vicious child-killer on her own world as well, it was now easily treatable with antibiotics. Throat swabs from the children had detected the presence of the strep infection and they had started them on penicillin. Most of the children responded favourably within a day or so. However, three had already developed pneumonia and another had symptoms of acute rheumatic fever. Endemic malnutrition had complicated their treatment but none of the children had died. Not then.
The Mishin had greeted the Outworlders, particularly Janet, as saviours. The red death killed many of their children each winter, left the survivors weak and prone to other infections. They had held a feast in their honour that lasted for three days. And then the Kithrin had begun the cull.
The children were singing another song now. A song they could not possibly know, but Janet did. An old children's rhyme, steeped as so many were in tragedy death and blood. She remembered singing it herself.
"Ring a ring a roses."
She heard the screaming begin, Major Griff shouting at his men to hold the Gate, to start dialing up and prepare for evacuation.
"A pocket full of posies"
Such pretty flowers here, delicate despite the harsh conditions they grew in. Soft blues and bright yellows, trembling delicately in the constant wind.
Yellow and gold blossoming in the pastureland. Fire burning, cleansing. Dark shapes beyond it. Horses hooves thrumming on the hard soil.
"We all fall down!"
Griff grabbing hold of her, bodily lifting her out of the circle of fallen children. The Kithrin warriors hung back, SG3's volley of shots over their heads tempering their blood fury for the moment. But not for long. As they started to run for the Gate she heard death howl beginning to rise.
She woke with a start, not having realized she had fallen asleep again. The almost greasy stink of burning flesh was still thick in her nostrils. It would be a long time before she would be able to attend one of Jack O'Neill's barbecues with an easy stomach. That is if the General ever invited her again, after he had overseen her courts martial for deliberately disregarding orders and endangering the lives of fellow officers in the field.
Sam was sitting beside her, reading through some reports. Startled and dazed from her abrupt awakening Janet could only stare at her as Sam gently asked if she was okay.
Her head was pounding, her limbs felt like lead. And that strange crawling sensation under her skin. They had tested her for scarlatina - it wasn't that. All the tests so far had come back clean - it wasn't viral, it wasn't bacteriological. Dr Pendleton had told her the last time she had woken that Dr MacKenzie was coming to talk to her later which meant, she supposed, that they had decided it was psychosomatic.
She was making herself ill. As some sort of punishment. It was all her fault. Physician heal thyself, indeed.
"Janet. Do you want some water? Something to eat?" Sam asked. "You've been asleep for about eight hours."
The idea of food nauseated her but she was thirsty. "Water would be good," she said softly. Sam poured her a glass from the jug on the cabinet beside the bed and handed it to her. "How do you feel?"
"Tired. hot. and it feels as if there are insects crawling under my skin," Janet shivered. "Not an itch exactly, just this strange skittery feeling."
"Dr Pendleton doesn't seem any the wiser as to what's wrong with you," Sam said. "I don't suppose you have any idea?"
"If I did don't you think I would have said something by now!" Janet snapped. Sam drew back as if Janet had slapped her. Her anger dissipated as suddenly as it had developed. "Oh Sam hun, I'm sorry I didn't mean to."
"It's okay, Janet. You're right, it was a stupid question," Sam attempted a smile. "Is there anything you need, anything I can do for you, Janet?"
"You've already done more than you should, Sam," Janet said. Her head was beginning to pound viciously, the pain extending down the back of her neck.
Sam's eyes narrowed. "This is about more than what happened with the Mishin, isn't it?" There was a bowl of water and a cloth beside the water jug. Without being asked Sam folded the wet cloth into a compress and gently pressed it to Janet's forehead.
The pain eased a little. Janet sighed, laid back against her pillows. "I'm sorry," she said again. "It's just. this is the first time I've had time to think. that I've allowed myself to think about what happened on P3X-666. About what you did. I died. and you brought me back to life again. There has to be a reason, a purpose." It can't just feel like borrowed time, like a mistake.
"I love you. Cassie loves you. This place needs you. Aren't those good enough reasons?"
"The best reasons, sweetheart. But." Janet sighed. She had never been able to articulate what she had experienced whilst Sam was healing her. No one knew about the Ankou. "I was saved for a purpose, Sam. That's the only way I can put it. It's what I've been searching for in all the months since it happened. Since I died. I should have been able to save those people, those children. They believed in me, they." she broke off, unable to continue without giving in to her tears. And she would not cry.
"I keep seeing them. hearing them. the children," she realized how unsteady her voice was and paused, taking a deep breath. Her chest hurt - not just her sternum which always hurt these days but deeper. Something was wrong.
"I don't understand, Janet," Sam frowned. "I'm sorry, but you're not making much sense."
"I promised." she whispered. She knew she couldn't hope to make Sam understand. How could she when she did not understand it herself. "I'm sorry. My head seems to be in such a strange place right now. I know I'm not making much sense. Just ignore me."
Sam took hold of Janet's hand, lacing her fingers with those of her partner. Sam's fingers seemed cold which probably meant that her own fever was higher. "I can't ignore you, baby. You're ill. I'm like you, I'm not one to just sit by. You did what you had to do. Give it a few days. You need to rest, love. Sleep, if you can. Things will make more sense when you're feeling better. Don't worry about it. I'll be here."
"The others, are they okay?" Janet asked. She had been very insistent on taking the blame for this. Griff had done his best in an impossible situation. He had got all the SGC personnel out when the Kithrin overran the camp. He had followed protocol to the letter in that. The fact that the situation had got to that point was something he would have to answer for. But technically Janet had been in charge. It had been a medical/humanitarian mission.
"They're fine. A few bumps and bruises, nothing more. The General will debrief all of you when you're feeling better. Try to sleep now, please. For me." She had that beseeching expression on her face, the one that no one could withstand for long.
"'kay," Janet said faintly, managing a ghostly version of her usual bright smile. She closed her eyes, conscious of Sam's gentle touch on her skin, the cool compress on her brow.
Janet found herself standing beneath the shattered tree. Bone white branches reached impotently for the black sky. She could hear the Bone Eater singing tunelessly to herself somewhere behind her, scratting amongst the bones that were piled haphazardly amongst the tree roots. Janet refused to turn around to look at her.
"Didn't expect to see you again so soon."
Janet traced the outline of a jawbone that seemed to be emerging from the trunk of the tree, the teeth small, the larger molars barely erupted. A child's jaw. She shivered.
"I thought you were going to live forever. You and your mate. Last time she almost killed herself saving your life. Wonder what she'll do this time."
She felt a cold breath on the back of her neck, shivered as the Ankou drew a skeletal finger down the line of her spine.
"Thank you, by the way. All that young fresh bone. I haven't fed so well for a while."
Dark hair at the edge of her vision, dusty with ashes, tangled into spooklocks threaded with fingerbones. Janet stared resolutely at the tree.
"And to come here of your own free will - quite a turn up for the books. Took you long enough to realise the futility of it all."
A few parched leaves still clung to one of the branches, the only signs of life in this desolate place.
"Are you all that there is?" she asked. "In the end, does everyone come here?"
"I'm just an archetype, a shadow," the creature said. "A half remembered tale told to a small, impressionable child. We make our own heaven, Janet. And our own hell."
"That's not an answer," Janet said, turning to face the creature for the first time.
"It's the only one I have," the Ankou said. She moved out of the shadows and for the first time Janet saw her face. It was her own.
She woke abruptly, aware that something cool was pressed against her hot skin. Daniel was sitting by her bed, wiping her face and neck with a cold compress. He smiled as he saw her eyes were open.
"You were having a nightmare, I think."
"Sam. is she?"
"She's okay. Jack ordered her to go and get some sleep. She'll be back later, I'm sure. She's worried about you, Janet. We all are."
"Don't. I'm not." she drew in a shaky breath. The pain in her chest sharpened again. A fragment of the children's song came back to her and she shivered.
"Not what. not worthy? Oh god, Janet, what's got into you lately? Everyone's worried, of course they are. You're important to everyone here. When we thought we'd lost you. we came within an inch of falling apart. Sam almost killed herself to put you back together. And take it from one who knows - the afterlife. not everything its cracked up to be." He gave a wry smile which faded quickly as he saw how close she was to tears. "What is it, Janet? Is there anything I can do?"
"Do you know anything about a creature called the Ankou?" Janet asked softly.
"The Ankou. I think it's a figure out of Breton legend - the coastal areas of France. Some sort of intermediary spirit between the living and the dead."
"The eater of bone," she whispered.
"That's one interpretation," Daniel frowned. "Why is this so important, Janet?"
"I'm dreaming about her. When. when I was dead she had me. She taunted me, threatened me. Threatened Sam. I know. I know how close Sam came to dying herself trying to bring me back. But Sam beat her, brought me back. Now she's back in my dreams, she say's I'm coming to her of my own free will. I should have died, Daniel, back on P3X-666. I should have died."
"Don't say that, Janet, please. Never say that." Daniel looked visibly upset by her words. Belatedly she remembered that he had been with her when she had taken the staff blast. He had watched her die once already. Which made them even.
"When you ascended, were you aware of. other possibilities."
"Hell, you mean," he frowned, considering her question. "Strangely enough, we never talked about concepts like heaven or hell. It was more a process of evolution. The next step. I'm not even sure that I was really dead, not by any accepted conventions. I mean, I know what that feels like." He attempted a smile. "Janet. don't get me wrong, okay. I think the problem is that you still haven't fully processed what happened to you on P3X-666. And then saving those children only to see them murdered. It's only natural."
"There's nothing natural about it, Daniel!" she was shouting, she knew but she didn't care. "They died. I should have been able to help them! I should have been able to stop it but I couldn't. What use am I? What use."
"It's okay, Janet," Daniel tried to soothe her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."
Janet realised that she was trembling. Her chest burned. Her skin was on fire. She tried to get herself under control. "What's happening to me?" she whispered. "What's happening.?"
A shadow beyond the curtain drew her attention. A thin figure, strangely articulated. She heard the scratch of clawed feet on the concrete floor, the rattle of bones. She was so hot, the air tormented her lungs. "She shouldn't be here. not real. not real!"
"Janet, what's wrong?" she heard Daniel shout for assistance. "Janet, you're burning up. You need to calm down. It's gonna be okay." The curtain was hastily drawn back as her nursing team and Dr Pendleton arrived. There was no sign of the Ankou.
"We have to start the treatment now," Pendleton said urgently. "Her symptoms are getting worse. Dr Fraiser, try to relax."
"Treatment. what's wrong with her?" Daniel asked. Janet felt as if her skin was crawling, fire erupting in her veins.
"Help me!" she whispered. She heard the sere laugh of the Ankou. Another IV line was going in, bags of fluid set up. Bags of ice were being placed around her body, under her knees and the back of her neck.
"Not long now, Janet. Not long now."
"The last set of tests came in. We think she's been poisoned - two of SG3 have also come down with symptoms. We think it's ergot. They must have eaten contaminated bread at the settlement," Pendleton hurriedly explained. "It's very uncommon which is why we didn't spot it straight away. But she should be okay in a day or two, now we know what we're dealing with."
She remembered eating the rye bread. It was all they had to offer and out of politeness she could not refuse. It had tasted musty, bitter. That must have been it.
"I'll get out of your way," Daniel said. He reached out, touched her hair for a moment. "You're going to be okay, Janet. Just hang in there okay."
"Sam," she whispered. "Tell Sam. sorry."
"You can tell her yourself later, when you're feeling better," Daniel said softly. "I'll go and let her know how you're getting on. And no more speculations on the afterlife, Janet. You've got plenty of years left of this life to live."
Ten minutes later he was back again with Sam wanting to know every detail of Janet's treatment and prognosis. "We're giving her epinephrine and Demerol. There was no need to pump her stomach, the affected material had already been digested and passed through her system. We're keeping an eye on her temperature and bloodpressure and monitoring her circulation to her hands and feet but she should be fine in a day or two," Pendleton said. "Despato and Banks are recovering as well. None of them ate enough of the contaminated bread to put them in any real danger thank goodness. She's sleeping now, she should feel a lot more herself when she wakes."
They clustered around her, calling her name, all trying to get as close to her as they could, this shaman-woman who had come through the great circle of their ancestors. She had made the pain and fever go away. For the first time that any of them could remember the red death had not taken anyone that year. They hugged her and thanked her, hanging garlands of flowers around her neck, tying brightly woven bracelets around her wrists. Then they made a circle around her, held hands and began to sing. Their clear sweet voices rang out as they began to dance around her again, then they peeled off one by one, stepped into the darkness and vanished.
And she was alone again. Apart from one other.
"I have waited a long time for you, Janet Fraiser. And it seems I must continue to wait." She was clothed in shadow again, her face hidden.
"I'm not afraid, not of you," Janet whispered. "And I won't give up. I did my best for those children. I'm sorry it wasn't enough. But what happened was not my fault."
"No, it wasn't," the Ankou said. "They would have come to me regardless. You gave them a moment of hope, a moment of joy before they died. That is all the consolation I have to give you." Janet felt something soft touch her hair, her cheek, smelt that indefinable scent that was her Sam.
"She's waiting for you," the Ankou said. "You'd better go. There's nothing for you here. Not now. Not yet."
"One day." Janet nodded.
"One day." The Ankou faded from sight.
As she had before, Janet closed her eyes and waited to wake.
Sam's hand stilled as Janet opened her eyes. She smiled. "Hey, you."
"Hey," Janet said, a little shock at how weak her voice sounded. "What did I miss?"
"Nothing much," Sam grinned. "SG2 had a run in with some of Ba'al's Jaffa. Got slightly singed but it'll teach them to duck quicker next time. The President might be coming for a visit - there's some aide talking to the General right now about it. Cassie's coming home at the weekend - she called last night. She sends her love and hopes you're feeling better soon. And we need to go to the garden centre when you're feeling better. Furling took a dislike to something in one of your flower beds whilst you were away. I tried to replant as much as I could but its not the same."
"Same old same old then," Janet said, reaching up to touch Sam's cheek. Sam's hand closed over hers, trapping it there for a moment as she turned her head, pressing her lips to Janet's palm.
"Same old same old," she solemnly agreed.
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