"You're being unreasonable, Janet --"
"Oh, I think I'm being very reasonable. You knew what my wishes were, and you disrespected them."
"I didn't *disrespect* your wishes, okay? I just -- I didn't think --"
"No, Sam, you *didn't* think."
"Am I going to be allowed to finish a sentence, here?"
Huddled on the stairs outside the living room where the argument was currently taking place, Cassandra Fraiser winced at the raised voices. This was all her fault. The noise, the bad feeling... everything.
It had all started -- well, if she was completely honest with herself, it had started this morning... the moment she had been told that Sam would be keeping an eye on her tonight.
"You've only been out of the infirmary for a few days, baby... I don't want you left alone."
That was when she'd hatched her plan. Her mother had forbidden her to go to a party with her friends -- clearly not understanding what absence from the fun would do to her already shaky social standing. Of course... Sam hadn't known that Cassie had already been refused. It wasn't like she was being punished, or anything. Her mom was just being paranoid -- she felt fine! So it was unlikely it would even be mentioned to her babysitter -- and she knew that's why Sam was there, to watch her like she was some little kid. So... all she'd had to do, was bat her eyes and plead a little, lay on some guilt until she'd gotten her way. Simple, really.
And the plan had gone off without a hitch -- well, sure, the party itself had been a little boring... there was only so much she could talk about boys, after all. But it had been fun to just hang out, to be a normal teenager... and not an alien refugee from another planet.
So things had gone fine... that was, until she'd gotten home. Unable to contain her excitement at the complete normality of her night out -- her first since Nirrti's reappearance on her birthday almost two weeks ago -- she'd immediately located Sam, her hands already flying as words bubbled from her mouth.
Only to find that they weren't alone.
Lips pinched together tightly and a frown wrinkling her brow, Janet Fraiser had been seated next to Sam on the couch. Both women had been silent, and neither had looked at all pleased. Cassie had then been quietly informed by her mother to, "Go upstairs and wait for me." Apparently, she would be, "Dealt with, later." She'd tried to explain, tried to break the almost tangible tension that had blanketed the room and it's occupants. But one dark glare from her mother had sent her scurrying off.
Then, the shouting had begun. Which was pretty much the story of how she'd ended up here.
"I told you that I wanted you to keep an eye on Cassie tonight, Sam."
"I know," Sam replied quietly.
"After everything that's happened lately, I wanted Cassie where I could see her, I told you that."
"I know," Sam murmured again.
"But since I was on duty tonight, I asked you to fill in for me... and what do you do? You let her go gallivanting off to some damn party --"
"I know!" Sam suddenly broke in, her voice making Cassie jump as it rose sharply in volume. "I mean -- God, Janet, do you think I did this deliberately, to hurt you, or something?" There was a pause, and then Sam continued, her voice carefully modulated now. "I just -- I wanted her to have some fun, Janet. Like you said, she's been through a lot these last couple of weeks -- we all have. It seemed to mean a lot to her, and that's why I said yes. I just thought that she deserved a little fun."
Her mother made a noise that sounded like a cross between a chuckle and a gasp. "I'm not insensitive to that," she said. "But, Sam, she -- she just got out of the infirmary. We almost lost her, for God's sake. *I* almost *lost* her... she almost *died*."
Cassie flinched at the misery that was plainly audible in her mom's voice.
"Janet, I... I can only say I'm sorry. I didn't think it would hurt anyone... God, you know how much I love you both. I never meant... I wouldn't...."
"I know," Janet whispered.
"I didn't think that you would mind if I gave permission -- I mean, I think of her as my own, you know that. And, yeah, I knew that you wanted her to stay home for a little while, but... I was in charge, here. You left me in charge, and I made a decision. That's what I was here for, right?"
"Right," the doctor answered, her tone reluctant.
"Really? Because you know, Janet, this is something you're going to have to think long and hard about. To really get used to if we decide to go ahead with this relationshi --"
"Not now, Sam!" Janet snapped suddenly, cutting her off.
Cassie blinked in surprise at the hiss her mother's voice had become. As curious as she was to know exactly what Sam was referring to, she couldn't get past the anger in her mother's words. She had *never* used that tone with Sam... *never*.
"This is not the time or the place for it," Janet went on. Her voice was high and trembling now, and Cassie felt her eyes and nose sting at the knowledge that it was also thick with emotion. More than just anger. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to think clearly about that now."
"Because of Cassie?"
Cassandra's gut clenched as Sam waited for her answer. Was she hurting them? Holding them back from something?
"Yes," Janet finally answered. "Because of Cassie. I guess I just... I didn't think things through, fully. I thought that... that it would just carry on like we've always been, but... it's a major change, I see that now. And I don't know if I can do this after all."
This? What was *this*? Cassie wanted to shout. But she didn't.
"I understand," came Sam's voice, though while Janet's had risen in pitch, her's had deepened. It was as shaky as her mother's, and Cassie wondered what exactly it was that she'd done. And how she could fix it.
There was a sigh from her mother. "Look, I... I don't think that this is a good idea right now. I'm tired, an' I've had a hell of a night. Maybe... we should pick this up again tomorrow."
Cassie found herself holding her breath, not wanting to disturb the hush that had fallen.
"Alright," Sam finally agreed. "Tomorrow."
Cassie heard movement then, and pulled back in a futile effort to hide, as Sam moved out of the living room, heading past the stairs and grabbing her coat from the hooks that lined the wall next to the front exit. The door was opened quietly, her retreat the same, as Sam left.
Cassie found herself gripping the banister as hard as she could, her knuckles turning white with the force of her hold. What should she do now? Try and help? Stay quiet? She had no frame of reference for dealing with this kind of situation... nothing like this had ever happened to her -- to her family -- before. Big blowouts were a rarity around the Fraiser homestead... and even when they occurred, it was usually between herself and her mother, with Sam *refereeing*.
It was like... Jack and Daniel fought -- a lot. Sometimes lightheartedly, without heat... others, seriously. She was thinking World War III time, here. It was part of their friendship, and yet, for all their differences, she knew they would always stay firm friends.
Her mom and Sam, however, argued so infrequently, that this last time was *seriously* worrying... and to tell the truth, really scary.
She supposed it was a little like some of the kids at school, whose parents had split up. Yeah, her mom and Sam weren't... you know... 'cause her mom, doing *that* -- gross! Alright, perhaps she wasn't as grown up as she liked to think. It wasn't like she'd have a problem with it, or anything... it would just be weird.
Or would it, really? They had raised her together. Sure, she called her mom 'mom', and Sam 'Sam'... and her mother was the one who'd done most of the work, educated her in a lot of ways, lived with her 24/7... but she'd always thought of them as her parents. Would it really be so strange to find out they were doing *that*?
Either way, that wasn't the issue for her right now. Because she was too busy realizing that... it might not always be that way....
Cassie almost gasped at her mother's voice.
"Could you come in here, please?" the doctor continued softly.
Pulling herself up using the same banister, Cassie sloped in to the living room, slumping on to one of the couches dejectedly. She didn't bother asking how her mom had known she was there. It was just something moms did. She risked peeking up through her lashes, taking a look at her mother.
Janet Fraiser *did* look tired. Her hair was escaping it's formally-neat bun, wisps framing her face. There were lines of fatigue around her eyes and mouth, marring her too-pale face.
And conversely, Cassie thought that her mother had never seemed more beautiful.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, glancing down. There was no way she could meet her mother's eyes. "I didn't mean to cause a fight." She was slightly mortified to feel tears begin to collect in her eyes, but she figured it was no less than she deserved.
"Cassandra," her mother said again. "Cassie, look at me!"
Programed to obey that tone, Cassie immediately did so.
"You... you did wrong tonight, Cass," Janet began. "But you didn't cause what happened between Sam and I. Not really." She sighed, her shoulders seeming to sag even more. "It had been coming for a long time, I think." Now she visibly pulled herself together. "But what you did, didn't help any. What on Earth were you thinking? I told you, Cass, and you went behind my back...."
"I know," Cassie admitted. "I just -- I wanted to go, mom. And you wouldn't let me, but you didn't say anything about asking Sam --"
"That's no excuse, and you know it," Janet interrupted. "I really can't believe that you would be this irresponsible after all that happened the other week, that you would disobey me like that. You knew I would find out about it, and you shouldn't have put Sam in that position in the first place. Damnit, I --"
"I know!" Cassie burst out suddenly. "I was stupid, and mean, okay? I... I just wanted...." She trailed off, her features twisting.
Janet frowned at the outburst. "Wanted what?" she prompted, her own reasoning forgotten.
"To be normal!" the teenager shouted. The tears she'd held at bay fell now, trailing down her face. "I just wanted to be normal. To go to a party if I wanted to... to not have to stay at home 'cause I was sick. To not have people whisper about how weird I am, and how I might be contagious or something." She looked away from the questions on her mother's face. "Dominic. He told his friends about what happened, and they told their friends, and... now everyone knows what a freak I am."
Janet shook her head. "Cassie, you're not a freak."
"But that's what I feel like, sometimes," the teen explained. "Whenever anyone talks about what they were like when they were little, their favorite games, places to visit, I have to stay quiet. Whenever we're doing history at school, and I don't know about something because I wasn't brought up being taught that, it's even worse. Or... or when something weird happens to me, just because I'm... I'm an *alien*." She met her mother's gaze. "That's when I feel like a freak, mom."
Janet rose from her seat, moving to sit next to the girl. Wrapping her arms around her daughter, she squeezed gently. "You're not a freak, Cass," she repeated. "But I do understand where you're coming from."
Cassie looked up, their seated positions giving the woman height over her. "You do?"
"Umhmm," Janet nodded. "You see, when I was 14, my mother got really sick."
"Grandma?" Cassie asked.
"Yup," her mom answered. "Hard to believe now, but... at one time, she couldn't even get out of bed."
Cassie shook her head. It was difficult to conceive... the grandma she knew was tough as nails.
"Your Grandpa... well, he had to work to keep us afloat. So it fell to me to look after my mom. She insisted she didn't need anyone looking after her, but...."
Cassie smiled. Now that sounded like her grandma.
"But... after a lot of talk, we... decided it would be best if I left school for a little while... just until my mom got better."
Cassie reacted with surprise. Her mom had dropped out of school?
"Eventually, she got better. And I did go back to school, but... nearly a year had passed. I had to repeat some stuff. I didn't mind, not really. I was just excited to be seeing my friends again, you know?"
Cassie felt her mother's body shift as she sighed.
"It wasn't that easy, though. After so many months, my friends had moved on. They tried to include me, to make me comfortable, but... they'd be talking about things I hadn't heard of. Lessons I'd never attended, scandals I hadn't witnessed."
Cassie smiled again. At her school, you were nothing if you weren't up on the latest gossip. Her smile faded. Unless that gossip was you, of course.
"So you see," Janet finished, "it's not the same, but... I know where you're coming from on this."
Cassandra nodded. "I guess it does help." It made her feel less alone. She felt the body under her tighten, then, and braced herself.
"But that doesn't change what you did... and you *will* be punished," Janet warned.
Cassie just shrugged. She'd figured that much. But one last thing weighed on her mind. "Mom... what about Sam? I mean... you said that something was going to happen, but... why? What's wrong?"
Janet sighed again, hugging her closer. "Things are... changing, Cass. And Sam and I are trying to figure out how best to deal with it. What the best course of action is. I promise, when we do... we're all going to sit down and talk it through. 'Kay?"
Cassie patted her mom's arm. "Okay."
They pulled back, and Janet tried to look stern. "Alright, missy... bed, now."
Cassandra grinned, getting up and heading for the stairs. "Yes, mom," she answered in a sing-song voice. She heard her mom chuckle behind her, and looked over her shoulder. There was an expression on her face that the teen couldn't put a name to. She gave her mom one last smile, climbing the first few steps. She paused, listening to the movement in the room she'd just left. C'mon, mom, she urged silently. You know it's not too late.
She heard a low clattering noise, then, followed by her mom clearing her throat. "Sam? It's Janet. I, uh... I think we should talk."
Cassie sighed in relief. Tomorrow, she would be facing punishment for what she'd done. But right now? It didn't really matter.
|Summary:||Parents come in many forms, and as relationships change, it's not a good idea to play them against each other.|