What Is Courage Now?

From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: In Breaking News by Astra Kyne Murdock (Tuesday, November 21, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: In News Tonight by Astra Kyne Murdock (Tuesday, November 21, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, November 21, 2006)

The kids were safe. And she hadn't done it. She supposed she should have been happy that the kids were safe, but it was hard to be. She'd dragged people into this, and disappointed them all, gotten them hurt. She'd scared the whey out of Aedan. She wasn't fit to be Red Star's sestra. And her father, she'd scared him too. She'd disappointed them all. They all thought she was a failure and no better than a child.

Maybe she just wasn't cut out for this heroing stuff. Maybe she should move away, go to school somewhere else. Underhill maybe. The elves could keep her healthy without Kyne and Kyne could find someone better.

< No I can't. >

"Yes you can. I'm no good at this."

< I picked you, not someone else. >

She turned her face to the wall. "I'm not brave enough," she said bitterly. "I'm not smart enough. You heard Daddy, he was ordering me back home like a little kid, and that's all I am. I'm never going to be good enough. What good is a hero who has to be protected? And as long as I'm here, I can be turned into a hostage anytime anyone wants. I should leave and never come back. Besides, I don't think anyone wants me here anymore."

A knock on the door made her jump. She looked over her shoulder involuntarily. Rather than words, she felt the caress of her mother's thoughts. Sera glided into the room, followed by Aedan, who walked softly with his gaze fixed firmly to his feet. Then---John was there, leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed. He didn't look angry, she'd never really, really seen him angry at any of them, but she was more afraid to see him than any of the others. He had counted on her to be strong, and she had broken. She turned her face back to the wall. She couldn't look at them.

"I should go," she said, dully. "I...can go enroll in Merlin College Underhill. Kyne can find--"

< No I can't. >

"Kyne will find a new host, and the Elves can...the Elves can..."

Aedan took a seat near her. She could feel his own shame and pain through their connection. He wanted to show her that she wasn't the only one hurting, that she didn't have to go through this alone.

She squeezed her eyes shut, wrapped her arms around herself. "Aedan was the brave one. I'm just...I'm a coward. I couldn't stand...more kids...I couldn't...." Aedan was choked up, his eyes red and his throat already raw from strangled and suppressed weeping. John still stood against the door frame, arms crossed. His brow had creased as it usually did when he was concerned or saw something he didn't like, but Astra still couldn't read him.

"I'm...not good enough..."

"None of us are," Sera said, quietly. "There is no one in this room, in this apartment, in this city, who saved the first children to die. None of us are good enough."

Astra felt Sera's hand caressing her hair; felt the sorrow...felt the...pride? Her mother was proud of her? Of Aedan? Aedan she understood, but...her?

"You did something very, very difficult, Astra. You thought first of those children, and were willing to put yourself into harm to save them." Her hand continued to caress Astra's hair; through their connection, though her eyes were closed, she sensed Sera pulling Aedan close to her. "And Aedan. You thought first of your team, of your sister. You did your best and stood your ground to try and get them all to safety. You let go of your pride and called your father and Vickie when you knew things were out of control. That, too, takes great courage. There was no right answer here, but you both did what you thought was right for the greater good."

Slowly Astra opened her eyes and turned over to face them, a tear burning down her cheek.

John slowly walked forward, sitting beside Aedan. Everyone was around her now, but she still felt a twinge of apprehension as her father came closer. Then, John leaned in, and wrapped his arms around all of them, with Sera doing the same from the other side. "This is my family. Right here. Nothing can change that. Nothing ever will change that." John's connection to all of them through the family-line opened up full force; there was no shame for his children, no dishonor or anger. Just pride, love, and understanding. "We will get through this. I know we can, if only we stick together. Y'all did your best out there. It doesn't matter if y'all win, or lose, or anythin', just so long as you do your best. Trying is enough." He squeezed all of them a little closer, not hard or painfully but firmly, as if he was committed to never let go.

Astra gasped, buried her face in her father's jacket, and sobbed. "I...I'm not...what you wanted..."

"Hush, kiddo. This, all of y'all, is everythin' I've ever wanted. Much more than I've ever wanted, expected, or deserved. Always know that. You an' your brothers have always been wanted by your mother an' myself."

Sera had never fully dropped shields around the children before. Only with John had she ever been that open. She closed her eyes for a moment, and pulled up the memory of her longing to have them, her dreams of them, her joy at their births. Her pride in everything they had done. Yes, her fears for them. But also the hopes. There was not one moment of disappointment in any of it. Then she dropped all the shields and brought them all into those memories, those feelings; JJ too, he too needed to feel this. For a spare moment, all of them felt a sort of spark from John...but it came and went so fast that it was hard to be sure it had even existed.

It was a hard thing for children to be the offspring of parents with the sort of bond that Sera and John had. No matter how loved they were, there was always the faint feeling of being closed out.

But not at that moment. Astra and Aedan sighed simultaneously, and some of the pain of their failures faded. Some of the hesitation was still there, but it had been numbed over for now. The sharpness of the sting eased and dimmed.

Sera closed herself down again, and stood up. "I think you two need to talk a little," she said, looking from Aedan to Astra and back again.

Astra sniffed and looked into Aedan's red and swollen eyes. "I...I'm sorry I made you crazy..."

He grinned in a way that always reminded her of their father. "You better be, you big jerk." He punched her softly in the shoulder --another mannerism of John's-- wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

John and Sera both left the room, hands pressed together. Their children would heal, in time, but for now they were safe and at home. As the night wore on, John was troubled. He'd felt something, some twinge, an urge, something just beyond his grasp or understanding...and he couldn't get to it. He knew that his family would never be safe, and it nearly killed him to think that the reason they would never be safe was because of his past. The more he thought about it, the more he absolutely knew that whatever he'd gotten a flash of was part of the answer, the solution to his family's problem. He'd figure it out. Even if it killed him.

At five A.M., every intruder alarm in the building and the corridor outside the apartment went off. There was a thud at the door just as John reached it. He braced himself, staying to the side of the frame; no need to be in front of the door if bullets or something worse started to come through it. He mentally ticked off a few seconds, then snatched the doorknob, twisting it and ripping the door inwards. He pivoted to block the doorway, fist raised. He'd already charged himself with Kheldian energy, and was ready to defend his home and family---against nothing. There wasn't anyone in the hall.

There was a bouquet of strange flowers pinned to the door with a single enormous thorn. John had a fairly good notion of what was available in a flower shop...these weren't even close. Lovely, yes...but alien looking, with a faint, crisp scent. There was a card sticking out of the paper around the bouquet. John took it out, opened it. It wasn't signed. All it said, in precise script was—

"Get Well Soon."