Diamonds and Toads (Novak)
Word Count: 1701 (just a little bit over)
Character/Pairing: Gen, Lindsey Novak
Summary: Lindsey Novak discovers that not all fairy tales are just stories.
Author's Note: This is a companion to and backstory for doublel27's "Dropping Secrets" and was written for the sga_flashfic challenge Secret Superpowers.
"Once upon a time, there two sisters--"
The story always begins with two sisters.
Except this time.
"It's a girl!"
"No...." the new mother groaned and closed her eyes. The father smiled nervously at the frowning nurses and made feeble excuses for his wife's behavior.
Lindsey Novak was born on the 26th of October. She was supposed to have been a boy. All the ultrasounds had declared her a boy. After her birth, her mother demanded a hysterectomy.
"Let's see the curse best that," she said later, contemplating her scar.
"Lindsey, no." Her mother snatched her hand away from the snake and redirected it to the head. "Downward, with the scales."
Lindsey's mother was a veterinarian specialized in amphibians and reptiles. Aquariums lined the walls of their home and Lindsey's first pet was an albino corn snake named Hermes. Her father taught folklore at a local university and spun stories for her every night. He told her every story, save one.
"…there were two sisters—one petty and –"
"Stop," her mother interrupted from the doorway of Lindsey's bedroom. "Not that one, Jason"
"Sylvia, she deserves to—"
"Not that one." Lindsey pulled her stuffed frog tightly to her chest and looked back and forth between her parents. Her father looked away and rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses.
He never told her the story, no matter how much she begged. Later, when she was 16 and very ill, her mother would hold her close and tell her a very similar tale and Lindsey would finally begin to understand a lot of things about her usually distant mother.
"Lindsey Allison Novak, do not wander off like that again!" Her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the chess tables.
Lindsey was always getting lost, always exploring. Once she eluded her mother for three full hours in the park. As she and her mother left hand-in-hand that day, several snakes slithered across their path. She asked her mother about them, but her mother only squeezed her hand tighter and walked faster.
"But, Daddy, how do the mice turn into people?!"
"Magic, Lin." Lindsey wrinkled her nose.
"But how does magic work?"
Her father chuckled. "I don't know; it just does." Lindsey stood up on her bed and looked down at her father.
"I'll figure it out for you, Daddy," she promised, "Someday I'll even make people disappear. Poof!" She mimicked hitting her father with a magic wand on the head.
"Would you really make me disappear, Lin-love?" Lindsey shook her head so hard her pigtails thwapped her cheeks.
"'Course not, Daddy. Tuck me in again?"
Lindsey never stopped wanting to know how magic and everything else around her worked. Even after she accepted magic was not real, she still thirsted to understand how things worked, were created and destroyed. The first item on her Christmas wish list as a nine year old was a tool kit of her own.
When Lindsey was 16, she developed a severe sore throat and a fever.
"It hurts," she moaned. Her mother sat beside her on the sofa and gently tugged Lindsey's head down to her lap. She rubbed one hand along Lindsey's shoulder and held her hair back with the other. Lindsey could not recall her mother ever being so affectionate.
"Is it more a cutting or a swollen feeling?"
"Knives," Lindsey gasped and she started crying.
"Or diamonds," her mother said softly and, for the first time in Lindsey's life, she told her daughter a story. "Once upon a time there were two sisters," she began.
The forbidden story.
"They didn't always get along, but they loved each other very much. Their mother made jewelry and the elder sister learned to do so as well. The younger sister preferred to spend time with her father."
Her mother had had a sister once. Lindsey remembered seeing her picture in some family albums. She'd asked once how she died, but her mother had refused to answer. Lindsey still didn't know.
"When she was 16 the elder sister became very sick, just as you are now, except her throat felt tight and swollen. She was sick for three days. On the morning after the third day, her throat felt normal again and so she called for her mother.
"When she did, a fat toad fell from her mouth and onto her sheets. She screamed and a snake slithered over her lips, flies buzzed past her teeth. She did not speak again for three months."
"Mama?" Lindsey asked, wincing as she did so.
Her mother shifted off the sofa and knelt in front of her daughter. "Once upon a time who spoke creatures and who jewels was decided by a test of character, but such a test only exists in stories. Don't yell, Lindsey." She took a deep breath and spoke. A slender snake slipped slowly from her mother's mouth, hanging for a moment like a piece of spaghetti before twisting and falling onto the floor.
Lindsey covered her mouth in disgust and started to cry again, but after that moment she had no trouble believing anything—no matter how fantastic—ever again.
"You can control it," her mother promised. "I'll teach you."
Lindsey was sick for three days and she barely spoke for thirty-six.
"Hey, Lindsey, wanna go get dinner this Friday? Maybe see a movie?"
Lindsey took a deep breath and held her mouth the way her mother had taught her, she didn't want anyone to know she was a freak, and said, "Sure."
The boy's eyes widened and he grinned. "The Sphinx speaks," he teased. "I'll pick you up around 6:30?" Lindsey nodded.
The date was a disaster. They had fun until Lindsey swallowed a fry wrong and, for a second, thought it was a jewel coming up instead. She gulped down her soda and coughed into her hand. Then she hiccupped.
She held her breath, swallowed sugar, and took ten sips of water in 30 seconds. She drank awkwardly from a glass upside down and did a handstand in the parking lot while breathing deeply. She let her date try to scare her and then embarrass her, but nothing worked.
Her date frowned. "Why don't I just take you home? You can't go to a movie like that." Lindsey hiccupped miserably and agreed.
When he asked her out again a week later, she declined and hardly dated anyone after. The incurable hiccup attacks never left her. Nerves altered her breathing, which caused the hiccups. The hiccups kept the jewels and flowers down and were a warning to be warier. She despised them, but relied upon them as well.
"So what are you studying?" Her uncle asked the summer after her junior year. She was staying with him while working in a lab far from home.
"Physics, engineering—I took linguistics for a year, but it wasn't what I thought it'd be."
"And what are you going to do after college with that?"
"Probably work quietly in a lab somewhere," Lindsey replied, vaguely disturbed by the idea of working in a lab for the rest of her life.
In college and grad school Lindsey mostly kept to herself, except when helping design and execute a prank. Her classmates included her for her surprisingly evil ideas and for her seemingly endless supply of cash. That was the best part about her gift; money was never an issue.
"My grandparents left me. Many jewels," Lindsey said; each word still required extra effort. Her mother stood behind her in silent support. "Could you. Appraise them for. Me?" While young her jewels were rarely precious, but she still earned enough to buy all the parts she needed for her increasingly elaborate entry into a high school robot competition. Her jeweler doted on her and never asked questions. As Lindsey grew older, she spoke more jewels than flowers and her jewels increased in quality. Diamonds, however, remained unique, coming only when her words were as or more precious than the stones.
Lindsey did not approach the coffin until the last of the guests from the visitation had left. She had flown in as soon as her mother had called her and had not spoken since she'd heard the news. "Lindsey, your father, he—oh, Lindsey, it was a car crash and he didn't make it. He's dead, Lindsey." She did not trust herself to keep a single jewel in. When the guests were gone, she walked up to the coffin. He did not look like her father, but then, dead people never did match their living selves. Lindsey's eyes filled up with tears again and she brushed the back of her knuckles against her father's chin.
"Oh, Daddy," she said, "I'm going to miss you so much. I can't—I'm too young to lose you, Daddy. Please let me wake up. I was going to make you so proud of me and I already miss you and, oh, I love you. I love you. I—" Jewels spilled as easily from her lips as tears did from her eyes. Several diamonds fell onto her father's chest.
Those jewels she never sold. Her mother made them into a necklace and a bracelet for her, both of which she took with her everywhere. Someday Lindsey would pass them on to her son—if she had children at all. Like her mother, she swore to never have a daughter.
At 25 Lindsey began to work for the government. Her intelligence and quick mind gained her access into many top secret projects. She did not spend all her time in a lab and became quite talented working with the strange technology shown to her. It was not, however, until she published a light-hearted article in a popular magazine that she learned about the Stargate. The article was titled: "Explaining Magic." She dedicated it to her father.
"That's…. wow, just—how does it work?" Lindsey gaped at the large, active stargate.
Her guide smiled indulgently. "You'll learn, but first, let me show you where you'll be working primarily."
Lindsey Novak followed the man deeper into the complex, excited and eager.