Lifesize - Part IV
Friday, December 21, 2007

Maya. Post-BDM. Mal sees the finished painting, and River decides what to do with it. NEW AND CONCLUDING PART


River led him through the linen curtains. “Come and see,” she repeated.

“Dear God in Heaven,” Mal murmured, taking a step backwards and letting go of her hand. “That’s …”

“I wanted to capture it all,” the young woman said, not hearing him. But I think I've gone too far.” She folded her legs under herself and sank gracefully to the floor.

“Too far?”

“Stolen from them. From you.”

He sat down, a little less elegantly, next to her. “How’d you figure that?”

“Taken something I shouldn’t.”

“Well, my pockets don’t seem no lighter than they did this morning. So I think you need to explain a little.”

“Captain-dummy talk?” She smiled slightly.

“If at all possible.”

She leaned against him. “On Earth-that-was, many cultures believed that taking a picture of someone stole a little piece of their soul. Take too many and they cease to exist.”

“And that’s what you think you’ve done here?” he asked, his voice soft, somewhat tender.

“Made it too real. Is it more real than the reality? Is the now fractured because of what I’ve done?” She shook her head, her dark hair coming undone even more from its haphazard clips. She stood up quickly. “I should destroy it before anyone else sees and becomes entwined in the glamour and can’t get loose. Before it sucks the life force from everyone, imprisoning it in canvas and paint.” She picked up something from the crate she was using as her table, lifting it high above her, and particles of light were slit along the razor edge.

“Whoa, there,” Mal said, scrambling to his feet. “That’s sharp.” He reached round her, his arm encircling her growing belly, and put his other hand on her raised one. “And I don’t think you wanna do this.”

She didn’t fight him, but there was an obstinacy in her that made her solid. “I do.”

“River, can I show you something?”

She was startled. “Show … me?”

“Yeah. Just something I carry with me. Only you need to put that knife down ‘fore you hurt yourself. Or me.”

She looked over her shoulder at him. “I wouldn’t ever hurt you. Not intentionally.”

He had to smile. “That’s good to know, but I’d kinda like a bit more of a guarantee on that.” He shrugged. “And if you really want to cut this thing up after, I’ll help you.”

For a long moment she didn’t move, just staring into his blue eyes, seeing the honesty he kept hidden from anyone outside his family. Her muscles relaxed a little. “All right.” She lowered her arm, placing the blade carefully on the crate.

“That Binky?” he asked, letting her go.


“Jayne know you’ve got her? Him?” He paused. “Whatever?”


“Then we won’t tell him.”

“Okay.” She turned from the disturbing painting. “What did you want to show me?”

Mal reached into the breast pocket of his dark red shirt, soft from many washes, and pulled out a small capture. It was one of the old type, that held a series of stills, but it still worked. Moving her so that her back was against his chest, he put his arms around her and activated the mechanism. It took a moment to warm up, then a picture appeared.

“Oh.” River reached up, touching the screen gently with the tip of one finger, tracing the image of Mal and Freya, him in his suit, her in her red dress.

“Yeah.” Mal smiled. “My wedding. The day I said yes to being with the most amazing woman in the ‘verse.” He chuckled, and she could feel the rhythm running through her. “Most damn infuriatin’ sometimes, too, but that makes it fun.”

“You keep this with you?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at him.

“Often as I can,” Mal admitted. “For a while now. Only reason it weren't lost in the water that day on Three Hills was ‘cause I’d changed my shirt and not moved it over.” He pressed the button.


“First picture of him. Jayne took it, so that’s why it’s a bit skewed, but it’s the very first. Got a lot more now, a’course, but he was only a few hours old here.”

She looked at the picture of Freya holding the tiny baby, Mal standing behind her, his hand on their son’s head. Unconsciously she stroked her belly. “Small.”

“Yeah. So small. And a person I never thought in my life I’d ever get to see.”

She reached up and pressed the button. “Next.”

Mal grinned. “Impatient, ain't you?”


The picture now became Jesse, asleep in her crib, her little thumb in her mouth. “My girl,” Mal murmured.

“You were crying when you took this.”

He swallowed. “Maybe I was. Her first picture, too.” Putting his hand on her shoulder he turned her round. “These … my family … you think they’ve taken something from them? Made Ethan and Jesse less than they are?”

“I …”

“My family, River. And there’s others on here, of you and Jayne, Simon, Kaylee … all of you. I wouldn’t keep them if I thought I was taking something away from any of you.” He glanced up at the picture. “This won’t.”

“It might. It’s such an ancient belief.”

“River, we ain't ancient.” He paused as if in thought. “Well, maybe Jayne is –“ She hit him and he winced. Then he smiled. “Albatross, I meant it. You decide to cut it to pieces, I’ll help you. But I think the others need to see it first. It’s … they need to see it.”

“River?” Jayne’s voice outside. “You okay?”

“Yes,” she said, smiling at Mal. “I think I am now.” She walked quickly to the curtain, sticking her head through. “Jayne, would you get everyone down here? It’s time.”

“You finished?”


Jayne grinned at her and loped over to the com unit by the doors. “Uh … would all a’ you … there’s something … aw, hell, just get your asses into the cargo bay, mah shong.” His voice echoed throughout the ship.

“Ever the diplomat,” Mal muttered witheringly, then said louder, “Come on. Better get my sheets down.”

River nodded and between them they took down the bed linen, leaving only one covering the picture. As they finished the rest of the crew clattered down stairs and out of the common area, congregating behind them.

“Sir?” Zoe asked, Ben held firmly by the hand.

”River has something to show us,” Mal said, stepping back so the young woman could take centre stage.

She smoothed her dress down over her expanding waistline, then looked around at everyone. “I wanted to apologise first. I shouldn’t have held Vera on you, but I needed … I needed to work alone. But I didn’t know if anyone was going to see it at all, until Mal … well, we spoke.” She stopped, unsure of herself.

“You didn’t know?” Freya echoed, Jesse sitting on her hip, her eyes huge. “Why, honey?”

“I didn’t know if it was safe.”

“Auntie River,” Bethany piped up. “I want to see it.”

“Me too,” Kaylee said, Hope in her arms. “We all do.”

Jayne stepped forward and pulled River into his embrace. “Come on, moonbrain. Ain’t nothing to be afraid of here.”

She let his heat soothe her a moment, then nodded. Pulling on the sheet, she revealed the painting.

There was a moment of stunned silence.

Finally Hank spoke. “That’s … amazing.” He walked forward to examine it more closely. “I feel like I could step into it.”

“Don’t!” River warned.

“Better not, sweetie,” Zoe agreed. “Might not get you back. Might want to stay there forever.”

“River, this is incredible.” Simon tore his gaze from the painting for a moment, and smiled at his sister. “You are so talented.”

“Thank you.” She leaned back on Jayne, feeling his strength.

“I look like that?” he asked, his voice rumbling into her.

“To me.”

“I might have missed this,” Freya murmured, her eyes trying to mist over, and felt Mal’s arm reach around her waist, holding her close.

“I wouldn’t have painted it if you’d not been here, niang mu zi,” River said softly.

Kaylee jiggled Hope. “See?” she whispered. “There you are.”

Bethany didn’t say a word, just led Ethan up to the picture. Her eyes were wide and bright, her mouth a perfect ‘O’.

Then silence descended again as they all stared at the painting. The painting of them all. In it, front and centre, a lifesize Mal was sitting, one ankle crossed over the other knee, leaning back in a heavy chair. Next to him stood Freya, Jesse in her arms, Ethan at her feet. She had one hand on Mal’s shoulder. The other side stood Zoe, Hank next to her, Ben laughing and reaching out from his father’s arms. Next along were Simon and Kaylee, Bethany holding onto his hand, grinning widely. Kaylee had Hope on her hip, just as she did in real life.

At the other edge of the painting were Jayne and River, his arms around her, his hands on her swollen stomach, protecting her and their unborn child. He was fully armed, and Vera leaned against a crate of grenades.

Behind them stood Inara, Sam at her side. He of all of them wasn't looking out – he had eyes only for the woman next to him, his fingers gently moving a lock of her dark hair from her shoulder. Noni was beside them, laughing and covering her mouth with her hand.

A little further back, not quite as distinct but very recognisable, stood the forms of Wash and Book, with something of a hint of angel wings behind them, all feathers and gossamer. Book had his Bible in his hand, while Wash was holding a dinosaur. And in the background, sitting on a hill, was Serenity, sparkling in the sunshine, her engine glowing, ready to take them all out into the black.

“It’s good work, River,” Jayne said quietly. “I think you captured us.”

“I didn’t mean to. But I can destroy it, set you all free again.” She bit her lip.

“No!” Kaylee said quickly. “You can’t!”

Mei-mei –“

“River, honey –“

“You mustn’t!”

Simon, Hank and Kaylee spoke over each other, their words blending and echoing off the metal walls.

“It’s not ours,” Freya said, cutting across them. “Whatever River wants to do with it, it’s up to her.”

The others looked a little shamefaced.

“Sorry,” Kaylee muttered. “It’s just … ain't never been immortal before.” She nodded at the picture. “’Cause that’s what this is, ain't it? Immortality.”

Simon nodded slowly. “It is.”

“And it still isn’t ours,” Freya repeated.

“Frey’s right,” Mal added. “Not our choice. But I for one am damn glad I've seen it.”

“Me too,” Zoe said, stepping forward. “Whatever happens to it, thank you.” She studied the picture. “You know, you got him,” she said quietly, looking up at the picture of Wash, the blond hair, the twinkling eyes, and that gorram grin he used to get around anyone at all. “And that was his favourite shirt,” she added, smiling. “I hated the damn things.”

“No you didn’t,” River whispered.

Zoe looked at her. “No, maybe I didn’t. Because they were Wash.” She nodded, chuckling at the dinosaur in his hand. “He would have approved.” With that she turned, and went back to Hank. “Come on. Let’s go and talk someplace.”


“Or something.”

His face lit up. “Oh, definitely something,” he said, following her up the stairs.

“Us too,” Simon said, taking Kaylee’s hand. “It’s getting late, and some children should be in bed.”

“Do we have to?” Bethany asked, not taking her eyes off the picture. “Can’t I stay and play?”

“No. Not tonight.”

Bethie sighed. “All right.” She reached up and grasped her father’s fingers. “’Night.”

They walked out of the cargo bay, the little girl glancing back all the time at her other self.

“Do you really want to destroy it?” Freya asked, a shiver running down her spine from the way her canvas counterpart was looking at her.

“I … I don’t know.” She looked into Freya’s face. “What do you think I should do?”

Freya put her free arm around the young woman. “Zi nu, like Mal says, it’s yours to do with as you wish, but it’s art, too. And no matter what happens in the future, here is the proof that we were a family. Lifesize and real.”

River hugged her, and smiled brilliantly. “Then I know what to do.”

“Good.” Mal moved over. “Simon was right. Time a little one was in bed.” He tickled Jesse under her chin where her head lay on Freya’s shoulder, her eyes closing.

“Daddy?” Ethan tugged at his pants leg.

“What is it, big feller?” Mal asked, picking him up and hitching him onto his hip.

“Can we paint tomorrow?” the little boy asked, looking into Mal’s face.

“I think permaybehaps we can,” his father agreed. “What do you want to paint?”


Freya smiled. “That would be nice.”

“And Jesse.”

“Even nicer.”

“Come on then,” Mal said, leading them up the stairs. “I think an early night ain’t gonna do any of us much harm.” He looked over his shoulder. “You gonna be okay, River?”

“I have Jayne,” she said, leaning against the mercenary’s bulk.

“Then I’ll just say goodnight.”

“’Night.” She waved tiredly at the small family as they disappeared through the doorway, then turned to Jayne.

“So? What’re you gonna do with it?” he asked.

“Freya’s right. I can’t destroy it. But it needs to be safe.” She looked around, then back into his blue eyes. “Help me.”


Between them they took the picture down, laying it carefully on the floor, before starting at one side and rolling it up.

“One of the sheets,” River ordered. “One of the pink ones.”

Jayne grinned. “That where Kaylee put –“

“Yes. One of those.”

He dragged it out of the pile and between them they rolled the canvas up into it. Jayne did something complicated with the ends, and the sheet suddenly encompassed the entire roll, with no edges showing.

“Now what?” he asked.

For answer she went to the rear of the cargo bay, into the corner by the armoury door. Leaning on the wall, she pressed a point high up. There was a click and the wall moved inwards. “In here,” she said.

Jayne was surprised. “Mal know about this one?”

“No,” she admitted. “Not this nor the one in the common area.”

The big man laughed. “Thought he knew all there was to know about this boat.”

“Not quite.” She walked over to the roll. “Please?”

“Course.” Bending down, he picked up the sheet-covered canvas, his muscles flexing as he carried its unruly weight over to the hidey-hole. It was just big enough to slide the roll inside, standing on its end. “Now what?”

River reached up, pressed the same spot, and the wall slid back into place. “Now Serenity looks after it for us. Like she looks after the real us.”

“She surely does.”

“And maybe some day in the future someone will find it, see what we were like. Remember us. That’s true immortality.”

“Even for the likes of me?”

“Even you.” She studied her hands critically. “I think I need cleaning up. Paint,” she added, holding them out so he could see.

“Yeah, you’re a mite untidy.” He reached up and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “You got some up here too.”

“Help me?” she asked, her eyes lifting to his face, dark with amusement and love.

“Always,” he growled, grinning as they ran up the stairs towards their shuttle, following her inside.


Friday, December 21, 2007 3:49 AM


Fantastic ending. The way you captured River in this story was amazing. You got the best of her not quite crazy, not quite sane attitude.

Friday, December 21, 2007 4:37 AM


Beautifully done. Brava!

Friday, December 21, 2007 8:05 AM


Loved the painting and the story. Serenity is a family and she'll keep both the painting and the real family safe.

Friday, December 21, 2007 1:24 PM


Loved this but felt sad that River hid the painting away. I was hoping she would feel confident enough after everyone's reactions to hang it in the commons area so they could all enjoy her masterpiece. Shame that the only ones who will get to appreciate it now are the folks that come after when they are all dead and gone. Makes me all manner of sad. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, December 21, 2007 9:50 PM


Oh man. I'm almost speechless. I don't know that I've ever read a better story. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 4:58 PM


Hurrah for RIver's magic. Thank you, Jane.

Monday, November 2, 2009 6:53 AM


Talk about art..

Thank you.


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