Susan Lorne hadn't been sure what to think when she got a letter from her son saying that he'd be home on leave for Thanksgiving and that he'd like to bring a friend with him. Well, she knew exactly how she felt about Nick being granted leave; she would be thrilled to see her only son. It had been more than two years since she'd seen her firstborn. It was the bringing a friend that threw her. Not once in the thirteen years he'd been in the service had Nick ever asked if he could bring someone home with him, the unspoken implication being 'bring them home to meet the family.' He'd made it clear when he graduated the Academy that he was going in for life; he didn't think that would make for a good marriage and would rather avoid the mess of a divorce. He had always been the most stable of her children, knowing what he wanted and how to get there. She understood his reasoning about relationships; it was sound and well thought-out. Despite that, she still couldn't help despairing of her chances for grandchildren. Her daughters still hadn't figured out where they were heading in life, and there were months she thought they never would.
She'd written back, telling him that of course he was welcome to bring a friend home with him. There had been no response. She knew he was stationed in Antarctica, but she couldn't imagine that the mail service was that bad. She wondered if something had changed and his leave had been canceled. It had happened before; it was one of the reasons it had been more than two years since they'd talked through more than just the postal service. It didn't bother her husband, but then Mike always had been an introvert. As long as the letters kept coming, even if they did arrive partially blacked out and months after the date in the upper corner, they didn't worry too much.
After six weeks of no reply, she'd concluded that he wasn't coming. She had added another tick mark to her mental list of reasons she was displeased with the military this year, and went back to her day to day life. The girls were still coming up for Thanksgiving; Cindy had even been making noises about bringing her 'we're not dating, really Mom' boyfriend with her, and preparations had to be made for the annual family gathering. Therefore it was with no small degree of surprise that she opened the door and found her son standing anxiously on her front steps. As he caught sight of her, a classically unrepentant grin replaced the worry. "Hi, Mom."
Her jaw dropped in shock; she couldn't bring herself to believe that he was really there. She reached out a tentative hand, sliding her fingers over his cheek as if to prove to herself by Braille that this was her son standing before her. Once it registered that he was real, she pulled him into a tight hug. "We didn't think you'd be coming!" She felt him shrug self-consciously, but didn't let go; it had been far too long since she'd held him, she'd be damned if she'd let his pride get in the way of making sure he knew he was home. When she opened her eyes, she noticed a stranger standing behind her son. She relaxed the hug and stepped back, understanding his tension more clearly. She turned to the stranger, offering her hand in greeting. "I'm Susan, and you must be Nick's friend."
She watched the stranger glance at her son, something unreadable passing between them, before he shook her hand. "David Parrish, ma'am."
She looked him over curiously; this wasn't at all what she had expected when Nick had said 'a friend'. He was tall, a few inches taller than Nick, blond, and tan. They were both tan. She hadn't thought you'd get that tan in Antarctica; Jane, who lived two doors down, had a nephew who'd spent a year working in Antarctica as a plumber because the money was insanely good. He'd come back looking sickly-pale from a lack of sun exposure, not like he'd just returned from two weeks in Hawaii.
She shook her head, clearing it of thoughts that she had no business thinking when her only son had just returned home and she had guests. "Well, come on in. You can toss your things in Nick's old room until we get everything sorted out. We'll sort out sleeping arrangements and what-have-you later, once you've had dinner and settled in. Your dad's in the basement, you might want to say 'Hi' at some point."
Nick had nodded and proceeded to drag 'David' up the stairs to his room. She shook her head and wondered what exactly that was all about; she had an idea, mothers always do, but she didn't want to jump to conclusions. And she really didn't want to think that her son didn't trust her enough to tell her.
* * *
She had learned, over dinner that evening, that the two had met through 'work'; work, of course, being something classified beyond belief and somehow involving a botanist and a career military officer. She had also learned that David had no family of his own, which made her heart go out to him. He'd shrugged it off, and even her son had seemed oddly matter-of-fact about it. He'd explained later that most of the people they worked with had either no family or were estranged. It made her wonder again what exactly it was that he did, but she'd learned a lot time ago not to push. Nick was a firm believer in 'what you don't know can't hurt you', and she'd never been able to break him of it. If he was going to talk to anyone, it would be her husband.
Her suspicions about exactly what kind of friend David were confirmed when she brought up sleeping arrangements, apologizing for the lack of notice and spare beds. Nick had blushed impressively, but his voice had been calm as he'd informed them that he and David would share his room. To his credit, Mike had simply nodded and gone back to his book. She'd given them both hugs and sent them up to bed, because now that the anxiety was gone there seemed to be nothing left. Nick hadn't even complained; he'd simply muttered something about jet-lag and they vanished up the stairs.
That was, for all intents and purposes, the end of the surprises for the week. That didn't mean things were normal; there was no way that they could be. There was an indefinable strangeness to both of the 'boys' that she couldn't place; something that surfaced periodically and seemed to hover at the edge of her senses. It wasn't that her son was gay; that had been a surprise, but didn't change who he was. It was like her memories of the Vietnam veterans, as much as anything; that sense that there was something wrong, or at least something not-quite-right, but you didn't know what it was. It was painful to see in someone you loved; her brother had been drafted and he was never the same once he returned to the States. She'd been scared to let Nick or the girls near him, afraid of what he might do. Now, just as then, she kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. This time, it never did.
Even though it never came to a head, it still was a rough week. Nick's old room was next to the master bedroom, so every night she heard them through the wall and wished desperately that she didn't. The whimpers and cries broke her heart, especially when she realized that some of them were her son's. If they had been the sounds of passion, she could have closed her eyes and waited for them to quiet and then gone back to sleep; but these were sounds of pain, and they kept her awake long after the rest of the house had fallen silent again. She discussed it with David on Friday afternoon, once everyone else had settled into the living room to talk about old times. She hadn't meant to ask; she'd been prepared to take the quietly stoic matriarch approach and let Nick have the room he thought he needed.
David was the one who broached the subject, his voice quiet as he helped her load the dishwasher. "I wanted to say 'thank you'."
She cocked her head to the side, pausing to study him. "Is there anything in particular behind that, or is it just for having you over? If it's just for having you over, you're plenty welcome. This is the first time Nick's brought someone home since he moved out; I'm just glad it's someone like you."
He blushed and stared into the pile of dishes for a moment. "For not asking questions he can't answer. He loves you all very much, but there are things we can't talk about. Not even with family- Things that we don't even like to think about. I..." His hands gripped the counter, tendons visible with the effort. "I almost lost him, once; I thought I had lost him. I asked him to bring me home with him. So I could meet his family, know who he'd leave behind if something ever happened. I guess I just wanted to know I wasn't alone in worrying about him." He laughed, but it was full of things she couldn't place. He spoke again, but it was more to himself than anything. "So few of us have family, you forget what it's like. What we're fighting for."
She paled, because he was a botanist, a good one if the comments he'd made on her house plants were any indication, but a plant scientist all the same. She'd worked as a secretary in the college of life sciences for over twenty years, and never once had she heard a scientist use that tone of voice paired with words of violence; not even the radical activists that rotated through the faculty occasionally. She wondered what 'us' he was talking about, where they really worked if battle was such a casual concept. She reached out and pulled his hands from the counter, holding them gently in her own. "I don't know what you've seen, and I don't think I want to imagine because that path leads to madness, but I'm glad to know that my son has found someone that he cares about; that he's happy."
He blinked at her, things flashing across his expression too quickly for her to have identified even if she had known him better. He swallowed visibly. "Thank you, Mrs. Lorne. That means a great deal to me."
She nodded briskly, released his hands and handed him a towel to dry them. "Now, I want you to go in there and get to know the girls better. I expect I'll be seeing you for a number of years to come, so you'd best make a good impression now." He nodded again, looking overwhelmed, and she chuckled as he left the room. She waited until she could hear the boisterous voices from the living room draw him into the conversation before she sat down at the kitchen table and allowed the quiet laughter to turn to tears and wept for all the things that she would never know.
* * *
The boys stayed exactly a week. It wasn't long enough, not nearly, but it was better than nothing and both of them seemed anxious to return to wherever it was that they now called home. Each had a duffel full of the most random items, candy bars and coffee and flash-drives; a result of shopping lists they'd been asked to fill by friends, she supposed. Nick had hugged her tightly and made her promise not to worry too hard, that they'd be fine and the girls needed more of her worry than he did. She'd pointed out that the right to worry over her children was a mother's prerogative. He'd laughed, but there was something dark in his eyes that she had to turn away from.
David had simply hugged her, whispering a quiet thanks and a hope to come back someday. She'd made sure that he knew he was always welcome in their house, if nothing else for the miracle he'd worked on her houseplants.
As she watched them go, her son followed by his lover, she shivered in the cold November air. Worry might be a mother's prerogative, but that didn't make it any easier to bear. Returning to the kitchen, she made herself a cup of tea and settled at the table with the stationary and fountain pen she had purchased the day before. If she was going to worry, she might as well do it productively.
~ Finis ~
Author's Notes: This was inspired by a yet-unpublished piece by Cass and a FarScape piece I read a while back that was Terra Firma from Jack Crichton's perspective. I was going to do it from the familial perspective of a second-string marine biologist or something, but Lorne & Parrish insisted on horning in on the action. This has had a rough beta by Kiji, but all remaining mistakes are mine (I'm sure there are some, this was knocked out in about 3 hours). ETA: Thanks also to Wychwood for a slightly more complete beta the morning after.
For those who were wondering... Yes, they really do sub-contract out civilian jobs like plumbing maintenance in Antarctica (At least they did a few years ago). I have a cousin who looked at doing a year down there because the money's so good.
Summary: The 'Antarctic Deep Space Telemetry' life, from the perspective of a mother. Three glimpses into Susan Lorne's world: A Mother's Prerogative, A Mother's Regret, and A Mother's Grief. Lorne/Parrish.