Location: Bajor- El Aurian Colony
Timeline: 2396 After You Can't Go Home Again
“We can’t leave yet,” Asa said to Mnhei’sahe Dox, Rita Paris, and Death as the small group exited the treatment room for Asa’s father, Keres Dael. Keres had refused all medical treatment of an advancing disease, and had been placed in a quarantine hospital to stop the spread of the illness to vulnerable individuals. When Asa had gone to try and convince him to seek treatment, Keres had been belligerent and disowned Asa for going again the family religion.
Now, standing in front of the door to his room, Asa started to come back to their senses. Seeing the questioning looks on their friend’s faces, Asa said simply, “We have to go through the decontamination field. Let’s go see the duty nurse, he can take us to the nearest room.”
The decontamination room was simple, a few chairs, tables to place belongings on, and a series molecule scrubbers hanging on the ceiling that, when activated, would perform the same function as a transporter in terms of removing any foreign bio signatures from each person, but without the need to actually transport. It was a simple, clean, effective tool designed by the Bajorans in the decade prior to enable places like the Quarantine Station Zed to operate efficiently, allowing for easier egress for visiting patients and doctors than previous methods involving a complete decontamination shower.
The group sat silently for the three minutes required by the bio scrubbers, with Asa keeping an eye on Commander Paris’ vitals the entire time. The commander had been “cured” of their transporter allergy, but Asa was overly cautious to ensure nothing would harm their friend. Once the decon was complete, the group made their way back to the Thor runabout waiting nearby.
Turning to look at their friends, Asa gathered their will to speak and said softly, “I would like to visit Brennan’s-my brother’s that is- grave, if there are no objections? I..I never really got to say goodbye before. There’s also one or two people I need to inform about Keres diagnosis and indefinite confinement. Will you go with me?”
“Of course, Doctor. It’s why we’re here,” Paris reminded the delicate doctor with a shoulder squeezing hug. “You know we will support you throughout this visit. Graveside visit is only natural, and informing the rest of the settlement is the responsible thing to do. You tell us where you want to go, we’re right behind you.”
Smiling, Dox nodded in agreement. "Absolutely. Whatever you need, we're all here for you."
The pale woman nodded as well, not wanting to draw undue attention, just in case.
“Thank you,” Asa replied in a reedy voice. After pulling up the coordinates to the El-Aurian settlement, Asa advised the runabout land a good 10 minute walk from the community, stating “Some of them are survivors of the Borg attacks….they get a little jumpy about new ships landing.”
Once the runabout was on the ground, Asa exited with a tiny wisp of a smile on their face.
The Universe is a wondrous place, but there is no place like home. A river could be heard gurgling nearby as the group walked through the lush vegetation of the forest on this part of Bajor. A few mountains loomed in the distance, but for the most part, the landscape was flat here. A Bajoran town was a few kilometers in the other direction- close enough for security, but far enough away to honor each other’s privacy. Mainly it was the smell of the place- a blend of food cooking, the local vegetation, the moisture in the air, it all combined to smell like home.
At the heart of the valley was a community holding around 500 El-Aurian refugees. The houses were in neat rows with a patch of land behind each, most of which had some kind of vegetable garden. A coop for domesticated birds was at the end of each row of houses, and a few people could be seen coming and going to grab a few eggs from the coops. A few goats and sheep were grazing lazily in a paddock nearby, and a few small children could be seen chasing both each other and a small dog-like creature through the streets, screaming and laughing in the way common to children the universe over. It was a pastoral scene, one that would not be out of place on most any world at almost any point in time.
Taking a deep breath to fill their nostrils with the familiar scents, Asa began to walk towards the far right of the settlement. A small path could be seen leading down further into a grass covered area with a few headstones peaking above the grass. Once Asa was in the graveyard, it was a simple thing to find the most recent grave with a tombstone simply engraved, “Brennan Dael, Beloved Son of Keres Dael.”
“He couldn’t even include Mom’s name on there….” Asa grumbled, angry at the way Brennan’s death was honored.
Then, as if realizing where they were, Asa stopped for a moment, realized they were using anger to disassociate from the painful emotions of the moment, and then using every scrap of their wisdom from therapy, focused on being in the moment and allowing feelings to come as they would.
Unaware of their companions, Asa dropped to sit cross legged on the ground, staring at Brennan’s headstone as they began to speak.
“Hey Bren….It’s me, your Asa-icle. I…I wish you were here to tell me my feet are too cold and push me off from freezing you out. God, Bren…why did you have to go? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you. I get so mad at you sometimes…you weren’t supposed to leave me here! God, Bren! It was so bad for so long…I..I didn’t see a purpose to being here after you left. Everywhere I looked, I saw you. You were waiting in our house, wanting me to read you the next chapter from our book. Or you were splashing in the river, back from when you still felt up to it, remember? You always got so much water up your nose that you complained food tasted bad for days after. And…Keres….he just kept moralizing about how your sacrifice showed us the value of a life lived honoring the Gods, how they would reward us with a cessation of suffering. He used your death to support his stupid beliefs… and he hardly seemed to even care that he lost his son. Sure, he mourned in public, but at home? All he cared about was that we gave off the right image of a pious, mourning El-Aurian family.”
The rage in Asa’s voice at this point wiped away the few tears that had begun to fall, but then realizing who they were speaking about, the gravity of the day hit Asa again. Sagging visibly, they continued.
“But now he’s dying too. He won’t accept treatment for a disease that could easily be all but cured, and it’s going to cost him his life. My friend Cara, you met her at the end I think, stopped his ability to actually die, but he’s going to be stuck in a bed, hurting, for 19,000 years. Which is apparently how long I’m going to live. I…I can’t even begin to process that, Bren. I figured a good 4000-5000 year run, like most of the elders. Enough time to do some good in the universe and enjoy retirement putzing around like Nanny Yi’hawn. I guess I should go see her before I leave…at least that should be good. But 19,000 years? How in the seven hells am I supposed to stay sane that long? I will be a walking relic by the time I die….a thing people wonder over, living archaeology, unless I find a way to not become the galaxy’s biggest bore. At least I have plenty of time to workshop that particular problem….
It’s just…nothing is like I thought it would be. I made some really great friends though, Bren. Some of them are here with me, that’s Mnhei’sahe,” Asa said, pointing towards the red-haired Romulan standing nearby, “You would like her. She always has hot chocolate for me, and she lets me glomp onto her and cuddle, and she’s kind and brave. She’s hard on herself, but really, Bren, she’s one of the bravest people I know.”
Turning to Rita, Asa continued, “That’s Rita. She’s technically my boss. Ok, not technically, she is my superior officer, but she’s a really good friend too. She was the first person who saw any potential in me really, and she’s so encouraging. The universe, universes really for her, have put her through so much, but she cares so strongly. She’s a warrior for peace, and an undying advocate for curiosity. She…she holds me together, Bren. When I think I’m going to scream from how much it hurts having lost you, lost Mom, and…other….things, Rita is always there. I don’t even know if she knows she’s doing it half the time, but she pours so much of herself into all of us that I can only hope we pour enough love back into her.”
Then, looking over their shoulder at Death, Asa said softly, “And…well, I guess you met Cara Anam. That’s what I call her anyway, because she’s a friend too. You…you were in so much pain at the end, Bren. I couldn’t get you comfortable, no matter what I tried. You were always too hot, or too cold, or the pain was too much. I…I still don’t even know for sure what you had, but god Bren, it was bad. A part of me was relieved when Cara took you. Can you forgive me for that? I didn’t want you to go, but I couldn’t bear to watch you hurt either. I…I think you would forgive me. Anyway, Cara is funny and kind, with an innate sense of justice and desire to help others. She has helped me saved lives funnily enough. Oh yeah, I’m a doctor, guess I should have mentioned that. Seven years of training and I’m a doctor, as if seven short years could teach a person everything they need to know to preserve life…I hope I live up to that title. I couldn’t save you…mom….dad…..but maybe I can help save some other people. I don’t know…all I can do is keep trying.”
Head in their hands now, Asa sat cross legged looking at the gravestone with tears running freely. The doctor withdrew a small photo from a hidden pocket in their jacket. It showed a very young Asa Dael playing with a 3 year old Brennan, both of them smiling hugely and covered in dirt and grime. They stroked the image of Brennan’s face gently for a moment, looking wistfully into the distance.
Their voice cracked a bit as they concluded, “I promise you I will do my best to live for both of us. When I see new things, or meet new life, or manage to make the universe a little better….that’s for you, ok, Bren? I’ll try to live a life that honors who we always wanted to be together. All those places we wanted to see, all those things we wanted to learn. The universe is a strange place, Bren. In ways I never would have believed before, and I wish you were here to share it with. But you aren’t….and that, well that just sucks.”
After a long moment, Asa stood and turned to their friends. Making eye contact with Death, Asa said softly, “I don’t know if you can tell me this or not, and I hope you know I don’t blame you for any of it….you didn’t cause his death, Keres did by denying us medical treatment….but….can you tell me….did he know I was there at the end? Did he hurt too much?”
The pale woman rested a hand on Asa's shoulder as she smiled. She wasn't looking at Asa though, but at seemingly someone invisible standing nearby. "You know the rules. You know I..." It seemed she was listening for a moment, then sighed. "Ok, three minutes, but don't make me regret this."
Death lifted her free hand and a pale light flowed out of it, swirling as the breeze picked up, a few field flowers joining it to illuminate a small boy standing in front of Asa. "Ok, tell them."
With a wide smile, the young boy stepped slightly forward, looking at Asa lovingly. "Hi, Asa-icle." He said, his voice left a slight echo like wind chimes in a summer breeze.
“Bren….BRENNAN!!!!” Asa yelled in delight, standing up impossibly quickly and running up to the figure of Brennan. They were about to reach out and pick him up, but an invisible wall stopped Asa, sending their skin tingling.
Well, that does make sense, other side of the veil and all, Asa chided themself.
“Gods, Bren, I’ve missed you so much. Are you ok? Is Mom there? Hux the wonderpup?” Asa asked, words and tears flowing freely. They rested their hands against the invisible wall, reaching out in every way possible, overjoyed at the sight of their baby brother, now returned to health in his second life.
Tears ran down Dox's eyes as she realized what was occurring. She couldn't see Brennan any more than Rita could see Death, but she clutched for Rita's hand and tried to compose herself in the moment she knew was happening.
Tilting his head, Brennan chuckled broadly with happiness. "Yeah. We're all here. And..." His face turned slightly melancholy as he spoke. "And we miss you, too. But Mom is soooo proud of you. Of everything you've done. Of everything you're going to do."
“Isn’t she great?” Asa said, acutely aware Brennan did not get to know Kendra Dael until his passing. “I…I’m glad you two finally get to know each other. And you look so much better, Bren. Just…be happy for me ok? It’s all I ever wanted for you…and I tried so hard, Bren. So, so hard to make you better, and I just couldn’t. It’s not fair I get to live forever and you hardly go to at all….but I’m going to make you proud, I promise. Are… are you ok? Promise me you are...I’m your big sib, it’s my job to make you ok, and I’m so, so, sorry I failed. God I’ve missed your stupid face, Bren. Every time I get distracted reading something I expect to look up and see you sitting there sticking your tongue out at me. And now I’m talking too much. Like always. Bren, I just love you so much. More than anything else in the Universe, now and forever, you know that right?”
The words rushed out of Asa's mouth lightning quick, the joy on their face easy for all to see, but with a slight undercurrent of sadness, knowing this moment couldn't last, but determined to make the most of it.
The young boy looked up at their sibling as the smile returned. "Duh, of course I know that. We feel it every day no matter where you are." He stuck his tounge out playfully.
Then he put his own hand up against the invisible Veil as he spoke. "I... I gotta go. But... I love you too. We all do. And we're glad you're happy. And Mom said to say she liked your friends, too. But you asked Cara something before, and no. I couldn't feel anything at the end."
Then he scrunched his face a little. "Except for one thing." He tapped his hand against the veil. "I felt your hand the whole time. I still do."
With that, Brennan began to fade from Asa’s sight. Asa felt the veil disappear, back into the aether from which it had come. Once Brennan had completely faded, Asa turned to look at Cara Anam, to look at Death, the provider of the greatest miracle Asa ever hoped to experience.
Without reservation, Asa ran to Cara, tackling her into a fierce hug and burying their head in her chest to avoid any accidental skin on skin contact.
“Thank you, Cara. Thank you so much, words cannot express how much that meant to me. You have healed me today,” they whispered for her hearing alone.
Then, turning to look at Mnhei’sahe and Rita, Asa said through their tears, “Well, why aren’t you hugging me too? Get over here!”
Watching the one-sided conversation followed by Asa hugging air, Rita Paris shrugged. The universe was a wild and diverse place, and she most certainly did not have most of the answers. But she knew when she was needed, and she know what to do in times like this. Stepping over with Dox to the slender surgeon, the fulsome first officer as the pair wrapped the El-Aurian in a hug. They were tactile, and this the human navigator understood all too well.
“We gotcha, Doc… we gotcha,” Paris crooned gently.
Alongside Rita, Dox was too choked up to say anything in the moment until she noticed Rita wrapped around the figure in the middle she couldn't see. With a slight sniffle, Dox chuckled a bit as she spoke. "Rita, you're squishing Death."
“I’m told it’s a hell of a way to go,” Rita quipped, hoping she could help Dox add a bit of levity to the moment while Asa Dael clung to the trio.
It was around this time that the figure of the oldest woman that anyone in the group had ever seen came tottering down the pathway to the graveyard. She was 1.7 meters tall, dark skinned, long gray hair in braids, and carrying a well-worn walking stick. From her gait, it was doubtful the stick was actually needed, but she did stop at tap it on the ground every now and again to scare off whatever creature was trying to get too close.
The woman wore a simple gray woolen skirt and white blouse with a deep green shawl, and had an open bag slung over her shoulders with a collection of wildflowers packed to over flowing. She worked her way through the graves, placing some wildflowers on each grave, before she stopped short, as if not realizing until she was only a few meters away that anyone else was in the small cemetery.
Through squinted eyes, she took in the assembled parties before clapping her hands together loudly.
“Asa! Is that you, child? Well come on over and give me a proper hello,” the woman called in a friendly tone.
Peering out from around the embrace they were loath to leave, Asa’s face lit up.
“Nanna Yi’hawn! I was hoping to see you!” With that, Asa extricated themself and raced over to the woman, stopping to kiss each hand in greeting before enveloping her in a huge bear hug.
“Well of course it’s me, child. Who else would be carrying my bag? No one better be! I’ve got all my secrets in this bag,” Nanna Yi’hawn said with a wink. It was widely known among the El-Aurian children that Nanna Yi’hawn had a significant sweet tooth and hid all her best candy at the bottom of her bag.
“Now, let me look at you…Starfleet, eh? And a….lieutenant if memory serves? Yes? Asa, that’s fantastic, and so soon too! It’s only been what, ten years? Twenty? It all runs together at my age…Now, who are your friends?” The elder clasped each of Asa’s hands in her own and directed them how to move to best take in whatever aspect of Asa’s personage that Nanna Yi’hawn deemed worthy of closer inspection.
Keeping one hand clasped in Nanna Yi’hawn’s, Asa turned to motion over Dox, Paris, and Death. In an excited voice, they said, “Nanna, this is Commander Rita Paris and Lieutenant Mnhe’sahe Dox. They are my shipmates and friends, and they came to help me deal with Keres….”
The joy that had been so abundant a moment ago faded slightly as Asa recalled the encounter with Keres. It had been a day of emotional upset, and the good doctor was getting a bit of whiplash from it.
“And the third? That young lady is by no means Starfleet….not unless Starfleet has started allowing deities in miniskirts to clean the deck,” Yi’hawn inquired.
And does your Romulan friend know that her mind is a beacon to that entity? Or any other that happens to be passing by? Nanny Yi'hawn thought to herself. Although the irregularity was glaring, the old woman had learned long ago to take in the lay of the land before speaking about sensitive matters, and a persons brain was as sensitive as a matter could be.
“Um, you can see her?” Asa asked, a bit afraid of the reason why. Nanna Yi’hawn was over 5000 years old, and the oldest El-Aurian that Asa had ever met. Nanny Yi’hawn was the El-Aurian people to many of them, having so long been in residence among them she served as a simple force of nature. While Asa knew that one day the strong willed woman would pass away, it always seemed impossible that Death would ever claim her after passing her over so many times in her adventurous youth spent fighting the Borg, settling other worlds, and other tales the woman flatly refused to tell the ‘youngsters’ under 200.
“Well of course I can, Asa, I’m not blind. Honestly, a little deity class cloaking and you think I can’t get past that? Why, that’s barely even testing my second sight, is it, little one? So then, young lady,” Nanna Yi’hawn said, looking Death in the eyes, “Which one are you? I think I still owe three gold pieces to Lakshnmi, you here to collect?”
Death couldn't help but giggle like a young girl as she greeted the old woman. "It's good to see you again, Nanna. I'm just here to support a friend today, though I wouldn't turn down one of your sweets."
“Death wears a miniskirt? Huh. Least she has good fashion sense,” Rita muttered, looming behind Dox, letting the familial situation to play out. She had known she was here primarily as moral support, and had insured that she didn’t run roughshod over anything, instead just being there for emotional support for the young person’s homecoming.
With a theatrical gasp, Nanna responded, “My sweets! However did you know!” Reaching into the bag, she withdrew four wrapped chocolates, each in the shape of a bell and wrapped in silver.
Death gladly accepted the sweets, tucking them away for later.
“Come on then, the lot of you, it’s almost dinner time and Asa never did eat enough proper food. I won’t take no for an answer. Little Sponge, save an old woman the steps will you? Run ahead and pick the vegetables for Sklynar Stew from the garden. Don’t act like you forgot the recipe, I know better than that… off with you now!” Nanna said, patting Asa lightly on the back, “Don’t worry, I can get your friends back to my house.”
“And talk to them without me present too, eh?” Asa said, grinning back at the old woman. “You know I’m going to need the story of why you can see Death and why you owe Lakshmi gold, right? Don’t think I’m forgetting that…”
“Of course you aren’t, little sponge, you will soak up that story like you soak up sugar and laughter and knowledge and everything else. Go, child, go. I just want a chance to get to know your friends a bit, we will all talk over dinner, I promise.”
“Yes, Nanna,” Asa said in mock admonishment, then winking at the entire assemblage and went haring off to procure the vegetables requested, lest they incur the wrath of Nanna Yi’hawn.
“Well then, now let’s get to chat a bit, shall we? I assume Asa is here because of Keres foolishness, yes?” Nanna asked, looking each person dead in the eye. Her manner was kindly, but there was a protective energy about her when she spoke about Asa, and a wisdom that her long years had lent her, giving her an ability to see to the core of things quickly.
"Aye ma'am," Rita spoke up. "Asa wanted to at least take the chance to talk him into accepting treatment for his curable ailment, but he'd have none of it. So since we were here Myx Dael wanted to visit their brother's gravesite and come to visit you. Aaaand we're here to insure that no one attempts to restrain our ship's chief medical officer from returning to their duties, if I'm to be perfectly honest."
“Good for you,” Nanna harrumphed in agreement. “That man was born a fool and it only got worse as he got older. He never did deserve my little sponge. I’m surprised they came back for Keres, but I suppose I shouldn’t be. Asa was always bringing home wounded animals, trying to fix broken wings. Even that mutt of theirs, Aw Shucks Hux- I think was the name, was a feral dog that got hurt. Asa brought that mutt home and loved it fiercely until the damn thing dropped dead a few years later. Little Sponge always has more heart that planning. Once they set their mind to something though, neither heaven nor hell will stand in their way. I’m glad to hear they have friends to support their decisions, I was worried with the way they ran off…Now, can someone explain to me why Little Sponge has been awakened? I can sense the cosmic energy positively thrumming in that skull of theirs- and that only happens in a certain number of ways….”
Nanna’s affable voice got grim at the end, thinking back to her own brush with death that awakened her abilities, all those thousands of years ago. While Nanna was glad Asa would get to experience the Universe more fully, her heart broke a bit at the thought her little sponge had already come so close to dying.
“Ah, that would be my fault, ma’am. I’m afraid I got them involved with Hera, a deity who helped them see the universe a bit clearer, if that’s what you mean. She made it right, but she did mention that Asa might never be the same, and… well, I’m the one to blame there, ma’am.” If there was one thing Rita Paris could be counted upon it was taking her share of blame, and the interaction between Hera and Dael was one that she was in command of the situation and had not prevented it from coming to pass. Thus the guilt and responsibility was hers to shoulder.
“Hera? Been ages since I thought about that old bitty. She still got her panties in a wad? I swear, it’s like she’s the only person who ever had a wandering husband….” Nanna grumped, then turning to face Rita, she clasped her hand gently, “Not your fault, dear. There is no way you could have known what would happen…I fear we have been too stand-offish these last few centuries, and the Universe is passing us by. Thank you for trying to keep my little sponge safe, I know you did your best. And Hera is right…Asa will see the Universe quite a bit clearer now, just perhaps not how they expect to…Here we are!” Yi’hawn chirped cheerfully upon reaching a house with a bright red painted door.
Opening the door the house, she went inside, tossing her bag on a nearby hook and taking out the leftover wildflowers to put in ready vase of water. There was a delightful smell of bread in the oven infusing the small house, and a slight hint of lemon in the air emanating from well-scrubbed floors and counters.
“Now, if I know one thing dears, it’s that dealing with unhappy news is hungry work, and it sounds like all of you have had a hungry kind of day. Let me see what I can do to make the day a small bit better,” Nanna Yi’hawn said as she slowly worked her way around the kitchen, gathering fruit and cheese from the fridge and placing it on a plate on a nearby wooden table.
“Won’t you join me for a snack? Water ok?, if not, I can brew some tea, let me know how old Nanna can help,” she said, motioning everyone over.
Asa came in from the back yard at this point, covered in dirt, and carrying an overflowing basket of assorted vegetables. Seeing the spread, Asa’s eyes lit up and they began to walk over to the table.
“Asa!” Nanna interrupted in mock indignation, “Dirt on my floor? No, no myx. You go wash that off right now! Your spare clothes are where you left them.”
“Yes Nanna,” Asa said dutifully, padding off to change clothing. As the doctor walked by the ancient woman, she swatted Asa lightly on the rear in a playful manner, then swooped in to give Asa a kiss on their forehead before proclaiming “Off with you” once more.
“I swear, that child is allergic to staying clean,”Yi’hawn muttered to herself. “Tea?” she inquired once again to the rest of the room’s occupants.
“Tea would be fine, ma’am, please and thank you,” Rita replied. Respect for her elders had been drilled into her at an early age, and Rita was generally diplomatic whenever possible. Hell, she was polite to the ship’s computer. “We don’t want to impose, but it would be rude to refuse hospitality.”
“Hard to impose on an invitation, young lady,” Yi’hawn replied with a wink and a grin. It was obvious to see where Asa’s sense of humor had come from as the implacable adopted matriarch bustled about humming to herself making tea.
While she had been largely silent, letting Rita answer questions she was more qualified to answer, a wry smile stretched across the red-headed Romulan's face as she looked at Nanny Yi’hawn. "Pardon me for saying, Ma'am, but now I understand. When we met Keres... I couldn't imagine how someone like Asa could have come from that. But meeting you, Asa makes significantly more sense now."
Looking in the direction Asa had left in to wash up, Dox kept smiling. "They are quite simply the single most... good... person I've ever met. On every level. Now I see where some of that comes from and I'm grateful they've had you in their life. Thank you."
Nanna Yi’hawn blushed profusely and Mnhei’sahe’s words, tottering over to her slowly, and planting a grandmotherly kiss on her forehead.
“That, you lovely little red head, is one of the kindest things anyone has said to me in over 5000 years of life. Don’t ask me how much over, I lost track. Asa and Brennan were the sweetest little ones I’ve seen in many years. El-Aurians are born craving physical comfort and contact. Keres, the utter twat, never felt the need to give that to his children, and with their poor mother’s death, well, those two largely just had one another. Now what kind of person would I be if I left two little innocents to suffer? They were an easy pair to love, even if Asa was always up to some mischief. It hurt my heart more than I have words for when Brennan passed to eternity, but it destroyed Asa. I knew I had lost them too that nigh. I watched the bleakness enter their eyes, and I could tell, they had to get away from here to be whole again. Even if it was an ….unconventional…..move at that age….and I thank each of you for helping my little sponge find a way back to happiness. The light is back in their eyes, and I see they are comfortable seeking that physical comfort our kind so desperately needs with you. If I could ask one favor? Don’t let them withdraw. Asa will try to be strong and independent and hold it all together on their own. Don’t let them. Hug them, tell them when they are being a fool, and they will be at times, and find some way to be silly together. If you can do that for an old woman, I can die well in what, 5 years? 10? No, don’t look at me that way Reaper, I don’t want you to actually tell me, I’m just guessing by the ache in my bones.”
Stifling a chuckle, Dox smiled. She knew first hand how freely Death let people know how long they had left. Instead, she nodded as she replied. "Asa will get all the hugs and silliness we can give them, Ma'am. You have my word."
Asa came out an adjoining room wearing a now-brushed-clean uniform and with freshly washed hands and feet. Nanna placed the tea tray next to the fruit and cheese on the table, and took a bench seat at the table, allowing the three women the chance to have an independent seat if they desired.
Asa plopped down next to Nanna, resting their head on her shoulder and wrapping one arm around her waist.
“Thank you for tea, Nanna,” Asa said dutifully.
“I even got the big cup out for you, little sponge,” Nanna replied, placing a large mug in front of Asa before wiping an errant strand of hair of their forehead and planting a kiss.
“Little sponge, your friends told me how Hera gifted you with the Awakening. I should have told you about that long before you left home, but I always thought there was more time, and I didn’t want to burden you. Forgive me?”
Nestling in closer, Asa sighed before responding, “Of course, Nanna. It would have been good to know what to expect, but I survived. And I’ve already been able to use it to help my friend Samuel find his way back from the aether, so it all works out in the end.”
Nanna turned Asa’s face up towards hers and said gently, “Little sponge, you need to be careful. If you give too much of yourself away, there won’t be enough left here, and you will be gone. You have to fill up your energy bucket with light before you have any to give away….so whatever light and life gives you joy, gives you satisfaction, brings you peace….keep that bucket full, sponge. Soak it all in, as deeply as you can, before you share too much with others, you understand?”
Asa nodded in agreement, then confessed, “I…I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing with it all, to be honest. But Cara is letting me read a book about our ancestry and what we used to be able to do. It’s a huge book, and it’s going to take me forever to make any sense of it, but I promise, I’ll be careful.”
Looking at Death, Nanna raised one eyebrow and said, “The Leabhar Eolas? You found it?”
"Yeah... It was my predecessor's and got lost in the saddlebags... It felt right to give it to Asa, especially considering how long they're scheduled to live and the energy and time felt right." Death was acting a bit sheepish now, rubbing her hands together nervously. "I should have mentioned that I found it after my last visit... Sorry Nanna, I've only been at this for about sixteen hundred years now. Please forgive me?"
The grandmother of all grandmothers asked her shocked question, then no one answered and there was... silence. As she would have asked in a staff meeting, on the alien world, in the colony of practical immortals, Rita Paris raised her hand as if she were in school. "For the newcomer, what's the Leahar Eolas?
"Oh, goodness, lass, you dont see the Reaper, do you? Odd that, the traces of her passing are all over you. Wait. Not this one. ..." Nanna squinted, looking closely at something just off Rita's left shoulder, "Her...twin? From an alternate reality perhaps? I beg your pardon, the Leahar Eolas is The Book of Knowledge. The wisdom of our ancient ancestors, it is said to contain the key to mastery of the foundations of the Universe, giving its scholars the ability to manipulate and alter reality in order to keep the Gods in line. Oh Reaper child, I am not angry with you, I find it hilarious you gave the keys to communing with Gods to an athiest. "
Then as if to suit her words, Nanna fell into a moment of giggles.
"Look just because they exist doesn't mean we have to Believe in them," Asa grumbled. The protest set Nanna off laughing a second time.
"It's been my experience that believing in them... believing in their better natures, at least... has made them better. I don't know that belief in kind, beneficent gods is a bad thing, when it seems to make them kind and beneficent," Rita offered simply. After all, it had certainly been her experience with the gods, and sometimes the simplest wisdom was the greatest.
Smiling over at Death, Dox followed up Rita's words with a few of her own. "I've certainly met a couple worth fighting for. I can believe in that."
"Well, I'm more a universal force than... I mean..." The palest woman to ever exist somehow blushed.
Chuckling slightly, Dox looked over at the embarrassed universal force with a smile. "However you're classified, you're my friend, Rei. And I believe in my friends."
“See, little one?” Nanna chided Asa, “The act of belief won’t make you like your father, child. Choose where to put your faith- put it in your friends here, put it in the Gods that deserve it. And if they don’t deserve your faith, bend fate and all the laws of the Universe to help them see that they should. That used to be our way, you know. We didn’t blindly believe in beings lounging about in some wormhole. We found those higher life forms that exhibited the good in life and worked with them to stop those that didn’t. The Q would have run hog wild over this sector for centuries if we hadn’t. You’ve met that lot, yes? Insufferable, arrogant, know-it-all’s. Although they aren’t all bad….” Nanna trailed off, a wistful look on her face, followed by a telling blush around the ears.
“Well, that was millennia ago, I doubt she remembers me. Still….those manifestation powers did come in handy….”
“Nanna!” Asa cried in shock, causing the old woman to lean against Asa in a fit of laughter.
“What, child? I wasn’t born old. I’ve had 39 children you know….and none of them were immaculate conceptions. Why, there was this one man, had the strongest shoulders I’ve ever seen….”
“NANNA!” Asa was floundering now, desperately trying to not find out about men with strong shoulders from their adoptive grandmothers, but knowing if they said much else it would only tease her into continuing.
In a placating manner, Nanna reached over to smooth Asa’s hair again, planting a kiss atop the crown of their head before standing to procure the vegetables Asa had picked. While she washed each one thoroughly, she said softly, “Sponge, did Keres formally abdicate his position?”
Face turning momentarily hard, Asa replied, “No ma’am. He won’t willingly do that, and now….well, the council is going to have to remove leadership from him. He won’t be dying and he won’t be in a position to lead. As his supervising physician, I can file the report with the Bajoran consulate and the colony elders. Or I can ask the doctor at Quarantine Zone Zed to do so, I’m sure they won’t mind.”
Bringing the freshly washed vegetables over to the table along with a three vegetable peelers, two knives and two cutting boards, Nanna sat back down before replying.
“I can take care of that, little one, you have enough to deal with. As the eldest elder, I have sway now that Keres is out of the way. How he weaseled his way to the top I still don’t understand,” then turning to look at the group, Yi’hawn passed out the cooking prep tools, “Everyone helps, everyone eats. Peel something or chop something if you please, I’ll let you fine folks work out who does what.”
Asa reached out to pick up a peeler and began working on what appeared to be a collosal carrot, leaving the potatoes out of reach. Asa hated peeling potatoes with a passion. They never got peeled quite right, always leaving an exposed eye or bumpy spot that tickled the irritation place in the back of Asa’s brain. The tomatoes wouldn’t need peeling of course, just a quick, rough chop, and the mushrooms were the same. The klin’dhar, a potato sized root vegetable that looked similar to a skinned celery stalk, also lay in the bowl to be prepared.
Awkwardly, Dox grabbed a potato and a peeler and muttered, "This is going to end in blood." half joking about her abysmal cooking skills.
After quickly chopping an onion, Nanna was back up and over at the stove, lightly heating the garlic and onion in butter, releasing a delicious scent throughout the house. Once that was started, she reached in and withdrew a huge loaf of bread from the oven.
As she continued to slowly stir the garlic and onion, Nanna looked over her shoulder, “You know you started a bit of a rebellion here, Asa. After you left, seven other younglings became so infuriated at their lack of vaccination and basic medical care that they stormed the regional health office and demanded treatment. From what I hear, the doctor there was more than a little surprised, but was happy to help. Five of them started attending Bajoran schools, too. Said something about wanting to get outside opinions. Once Keres was diagnosed with Vahar’ai, 37 of the adults even went to get the vaccine. Some are still being fools of course, but they will see, in time. Everyone remembers how horrible it was to lose Kendra, then Brennan, then you, sponge. You may not have died, but having one of our own leave the nest so soon, and in such spectacular fashion, I might add, spurred on a bit of change around here.”
"Good," Dox replied, peeling slowly to protect her fingertips. "I'm glad Asa has had a positive impact here."
“Good thoughts, good words, good deeds,” Paris opined from potato peeling duty, which she handled rather deftly. The act of composing a communal meal was one that she enjoyed, and she was quite happy to help. She'd wanted to offer, but many old cooks tended to be a bit territorial in the kitchen and she didn't want to intrude. Being invited to do so, however, made her happy. While her own cooking skills tended to be comprised of following a recipe, manually cooking for Sonak and the occasional dinner guests had prepared her for moments such as this, and it brought a warm feeling to her heart. “We seldom realize the impact we are making, but a life well led by example can have quite a profound effect on others. What we do in life echoes an eternity, as the wise man said.”
“Just so, lass,” Nanna said, “Just so. And may I add, my Asa could learn a thing or two from you. They have always been useless in the kitchen.”
Bringing the chopped veggies over to Nanna, Asa said reluctantly, “I’m…I’m glad things are changing, it was past time. But you should know…Keres stripped me of being a part of Clan Dael. I cannot speak to the council, I no longer have a place in the community. I’m…I’m not even sure I will be welcome if I return.”
Nanna narrowed her eyes for a moment, considering her next words.
“Did you know your Great-great-great Aunt Lydia was my 14th daughter? She married into the Dael clan long before Keres was even thought of. So, that makes me a senior Dael by proxy, and I’m telling you that you are not stripped of anything. And if the council wants to fight me on it, they will look like they are bullying an old woman. They won’t do that….the optics would be horrible, especially right now. So never fear, if you want to be a Dael, you are. If you aren’t, then I hereby welcome you into the Yi’hawn clan. No one runs off my little sponge.”
Wrapping their arms around Nanna’s waist from behind as the old woman stirred her pot, Asa said quietly, “Thank you, Nanna. Maybe I’ll take on a hyphenated last name.”
Tapping Asa gently on the forehead with a wooden spoon, Nanna said softly, “No rush to decide. You’ve had a hard enough day. Now let’s get dinner on the table, shall we? Off with you, I can’t cook with a sponge wrapped around me like a squid.”
After placing the vegetables in to cook, Nanna turned and faced the group at the table.
“Rita, Mnhei’sahe, Reaper….our time together grows to a close after this meal. It has warmed my heart to meet my Asa’s friends, and to see you again, Reaper. You are doing such a good job, lass. Keep that compassion and you will do well. What other gift can an old lady give any of you? My wisdom is my own, and may be folly to you. My home remains open to you whenever you may return, and my heart remains with you as my Asa travels with you. I cannot do much, not anymore, getting old is exhausting, you know? But I can do this…..”
With that, Asa could see a momentary aura of brilliant blue surround Nanna, rushing out to go between each of the friends at the table, tying itself to each member, then joining in the center, tying in a huge knot before disappearing.
“What…was that?” Asa said, rushing over to help Nanna take a seat.
“I give you the gift of understanding…a small piece of each of you is in the other now. A small piece of each of your hearts, your minds, the tiniest speck of who you are- all tied together in a group. You were on your way to creating these bonds, mind. The love you all share for one another was already forming energies, reaching out and entwining. It would have solidified in another 3 or 4 years, I just helped that along. You will now be able to understand the others point of view a tiny bit more, you will be a tiny bit more empathetic towards each other, even when you are tired and hurting and don’t feel like it. You will be able to tell more easily when something is wrong with each other, you will have a tiny inkling when the other is in danger. Of course, any of you can break these ties at any time. Love can always be broken or rejected, or just allowed to wither if it is not fostered. But I don’t think that will happen….all I have done is confirm what was already there, the ties that bind all families together, no matter how they form.” Nanna looked pleased with herself and her efforts, but remained slumping in the seat resting.
Not quite understanding what had happened and being oblivious to what Asa had seen, she nonetheless felt something she otherwise couldn't explain. She smiled as she looked at Asa's nanna. "Ma'am, thank you. But the only thing breaking my bond with Asa is when Death decides I'm done. And maybe not even then, I don't know how that works either." Dox gestured to Death with a smile.
Getting up and walking over to Mnhei’sahe, Nanna tousled the as much of Dox’s hair as she could get her hands in. It was a familiar gesture, and a playful one.
“Sweet little lady, you saw what happened in the graveyard, as did I, albeit from afar. Did that look like something as paltry as death could tear apart the love people have for one another? Even when we can’t speak to those that go before, they stay with us. You feel them with you, if you try hard enough. Fear not, Mnhei’sahe Dox, truefriend of the newly formed Dael-Yi’hawn clan, emissary to refugees, and protector of the good gods. Death cares not to loose the bonds of friendship, nor is she cruel in the delivery of her duties. I think you will lead a good life, little one, I think all of you will.” Nanna pronounced the titles upon Dox as if they were time-honored offices, with all the gravity of prophecy and all the promise of hope, but once complete, reached down and kissed Dox on each cheek, intoning sofly, “May peace and hope find you, all your days,” before moving to Rita and performing the same ritual.
When reaching Death, Nanna kissed her gloved hands instead, and said, “May the affection of those you choose, encourage you against the nature of your task, and may your nature be a reflection of who you are, until the task is done.”
Then moving back to the stove to stir the soup, Nanna said brightly, “Now then, who’s hungry?”