BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Secrets - Part XXV
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

River sighed unhappily, and suddenly all the emotions were too much. She turned and ran back towards the lake, not stopping as she reached the water’s edge but continuing on, diving as she got deep enough, letting the cold fill her ears and eyes as if it might wash all feelings from her. Breathing out and seeing air bubbles rise to the surface, she allowed herself to sink to the bottom. She ignored the pressure in her lungs, only considering how easy it would be to just breathe in, and she could float forever. [Maya. Post-BDM. River sees everyone and everything. Things are about to happen.]


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1611    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Sometimes she wondered if she was a genius because she was psychic, or if she was psychic because she was a genius. Of course, she also wondered sometimes if this was all just some sort of hallucination or dream, and she was still sitting in that chair on the point of death, but then she was very like her jia yan in that respect. But that tended to be when her brain had only two hundred and thirty nine things to think about instead of the several million she was used to. Some were autonomic so could be allowed to get on without her constant supervision, but others, like the urge to take Binky and slit the crew’s throats, had to be kept under control.

So, in the quiet time after she and Jayne had made love, and his breath evened out as he fell asleep, as the rest of the crew settled down and she could ignore their dreams, she often turned more of her faculties towards this intriguing conundrum.

Oh, not the hallucination part – if it was she didn’t want to wake up – but the psychic versus genius question.

It was unsolvable, of course, without empirical evidence. She would have had to be split at birth, each half undergoing rigorous testing throughout their lives. Life. Would it be singular or plural, if they were two halves of the same whole? Did it count or did they cancel each other out?

Anyway. River 1.0 would have had her amygdala stripped, and River 2.0 would have been allowed to develop naturally. Cossetted. Comforted. Loved. Balls and parties. Opera. Ballet. Laughter. Not Jayne. No. Never not Jayne. She would kill to keep it never not Jayne.

Of course, Mara Tam had been her genetic twin, at least as far as that were possible without actually cloning. She’d been psychic, a genius and insane. Very alike, then.

It wasn’t even as if she felt particularly crazy. In a world of people like her, she would have been normal. Typical instead of unique. Standard instead of special. Ordinary instead of extraordinary. It was only perception and a specific viewpoint that pushed her to the edge of reason, like Mal saying time had slowed.

River sighed heavily, moving the strawberry leaves aside to see if there were any final weeds lurking, keeping their heads down in the hope she wouldn’t see them. She saw, of course. She saw everything. Just focus a little more, and there was Freya in the yellow drawing room, facing Ellen Rostov …

.. .

Ellen Rostov wasn’t at all what Freya had expected. Somehow, in her mind, she’d seen a petite, dark woman, svelte and delicate. She’d deliberately not read her brother to get an image, so it was a surprise to see this tall blonde accompany Alex into the sunshine room.

Her skin was café au lait, a contrast to her long pale hair caught in a clip at the nape of her neck, while in height she matched her husband, and Freya noted with half a smile that Ellen wore flats so she didn’t tower over him. She was athletic, that was for sure, with long muscles overlaying her bones, but there was a softness about her that suggested she enjoyed her food and didn’t care who knew it. In fact the expression in her blue-grey eyes was definitely provocative, as if she was ready to make friends or defend her husband as the need arose.

She was also radiating high, tight mental walls.

Freya smiled wider and held out her hand. “I’m Freya.”

“I know.” They shook, each testing the grip of the other but not to the point of pain. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” She glanced at Alex, who blushed faintly across his cheekbones.

“Really?” Freya’s own look turned him pinker. “He hasn’t told me much about you at all.”

“That’s … it’s not like … we didn’t …” Alex’s bluster rolled to a halt at their amused faces. “You know, you’re still a brat.”

“Boob.” The response was automatic, having heard it so much from River and Simon. Freya looked at Ellen guiltily. “Sorry.”

The other woman surprised her again by slipping her arm through Freya’s. “Don’t be. He can be the boobiest of all boobs sometimes.”

“Boobiest?”

“Well, if it’s not in the dictionary it should be.” Ellen sniffed the air. “And what is that delicious smell?”

“Fresh cookies.” Freya led the way to the sofa and they sat down. “I think Mrs Boden’s indulging in some displacement activity to avoid thinking about Inara. She hasn’t stopped cooking for days.”

“It’s a good job my girls aren’t here, then,” Ellen said, smiling at Alex. “They love cookies. Especially peanut butter.”

“Do you miss them?”

The sudden question made Ellen’s mental walls falter slightly, and Freya was reassured that they were natural, not psychically made.

“Yes. I do. And as much as I’ve loved having this time with Alex, a second honeymoon, really, I can’t wait to get back to them.”

“I imagine it’s been a bit crowded for a few days on board your ship.”

“A bit. But the sisters have been a joy.”

“Really?” Freya’s apparent manifestation of disbelief made Ellen laugh.

“No, honestly. Especially Phoebe. Although I think Val might have been somewhat annoyed at her twin.”

“Flynn Youngblood?”

Ellen nodded. “I didn’t meet the young man myself, but I feel as if I have. Phoebe was very descriptive. And very gifted at making kissing noises.”

“No wonder Val was pissed.”

They laughed, then Ellen looked over at her husband. “Alex, why don’t you go away and let us get to know one another?”

A faint look of worry, tinged with a flavour of guilt, crossed swiftly over his features, little more than a tightening of his mouth and indentation between his brows, but to the woman who’d married him and the sister who was psychic, it was as if he had shouted. “No, look, I think perhaps I –”

“How are we going to be able to talk about you if you’re standing there?”

“It doesn’t usually stop you.”

Freya was impressed. There was no sting in the words, just good-natured resignation. “Alex, go and find Mal,” she said, smiling. “He’s gone to chat to Monty on board Carrie-Ann, and if you have that bottle of vodka you’ll probably be welcomed with open arms.”

“I don’t know.”

“And you’re making the place look untidy,” Ellen put in.

“Thank you.” This time the tone was withering.

The door opened and Mrs Boden came in carrying a large tray laden with tea things and several plates of cookies and cakes. “Madam.”

Alex took it from her, setting it on the table.

“Thank you,” Freya said.

“My pleasure. Is … is there any news?”

“Soon, I hope.”

“I’m praying for her. We all are.”

“I know she’d be very happy to hear that. And I’ll be sure to tell her when she wakes up.”

“Thank you.” Mrs Boden hurried back out.

“You know,” Alex said diffidently, “I think you’re right. I feel a bit like a fifth wheel anyway, so I might as well go and annoy someone.”

“Good idea,” Freya said.

“But you’ll let me know. Soon as there’s any news.”

“Of course.”

Alex nodded, exhaling heavily. “Shiny.”

Freya laughed. “Still doesn’t suit you.”

“Yes, but if I hang around with desperadoes I should at least sound like I belong.” He grinned suddenly, the years falling away from him. “Just be nice.”

Ellen raised an eyebrow. “Exactly who were you giving that advice?”

“Both of you.” He snagged two cookies. “I know you, remember?”

He ambled out, the door closing behind him.

“Now,” Ellen said, clapping her hands and turning back to Freya. “Let’s talk.”

“About anything in particular?”

“Well, in all honesty, mostly about why Alex feels the need to be out here on the edge instead of with his family.”

Uh oh. River’s voice floated into Freya’s head.

Go away.

But she’s interesting. And you might need assistance.

Go bother Jayne.

River imagined her version of ‘bothering’ Jayne, and was rewarded with a mental wince and the equivalent of a pointing finger. She smiled but left them to it.

Checking the bins once more to confirm there were no more weeds, she picked up the pail and carried it out into the common area. There was little conversation, only whispered words here and there as she continued into the cargo bay where Jayne and Hank were working out, and the smell of hot masculinity was almost overpowering.

“Hey, moonbrain. Where you going?” her husband asked, spotting the pilot as he raised and lowered the barbell over his chest.

“Gardening.”

“Well, don’t get lost.”

“I am never lost.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “Or possibly always.”

“Got that right,” Jayne said with a chuckle, wiping his cheek on his shoulder.

As she reached the sunshine she heard Hank, his voice a little strained.

“Uh … Jayne.”

She continued out of earshot but not out of contact …

.. .

“What?” Jayne demanded, watching his slip of a wife vanish into the trees.

“Help?”

Jayne looked down to where Hank was straining to get the barbell back onto the cradle, his face turning red and his legs raising with the effort of not letting it drop onto his neck. “You keep doing it like that and you’ll bust something.”

“Jayne …”

The big man grinned evilly, but gave enough assistance so that the weights slid into place. “Wuss.”

“Gorramit, but that hurts.” Hank sat up, massaging his arms.

“Told you.” Jayne sat down on Bethie’s bench. “Don’t know why you bother. Ain’t like you have to make an impression on Zoe no more.”

“Look, I admit piloting doesn’t require much in the way of physical muscle,” Hank pointed out, “but if we ever have to rob a hospital like that again I’m going to be fitter. I nearly ruptured myself lifting that incubator into the shuttle.”

“You weren’t lifting with your legs.”

“What, are you some kind of chiropractic guru now?” Hank sniped back.

“You better be glad I’m on my best behaviour, or I’d pull your head off and spit down your neck.”

“I don’t think it would feel much worse than I do now.” He reached down for his water bottle, and groaned.

“Wanna try?”

“No.” Hank took a long drink, gasping at the end. “I’m just glad we haven’t had to use it yet. That incubator.”

“Yeah.” Jayne stood up. “Come on. ‘Fore you seize up and I have to carry you back to your bunk.”

“Why, Jayne, I didn’t know you cared.” Hank fluttered his eyelashes at him.

“Zoe’s far enough away I could get a lot of damage in before she stopped me,” the ex-merc pointed out.

“Ah. Good point.” Hank nodded too vigorously and had to wait for a moment for the coloured lights that danced across his vision to dissipate. He laid back down. “Another ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Aw, Jayne …”

River smiled as she walked towards the lake, her attention drawn for a moment to a flock of birds high above, their v-formation pointed south. She could just pick up their small minds, not exactly thoughts so much as instinct and determination for continued summer and plentiful food. Catch the next thermal, keep the one in front to the right, the one behind to the left, pull push glide, feel the airflow across wings designed to lift … all this and more was there, and River felt the necessity of migration, and for a moment was one with them, the wind in her hair, flying free.

She shook herself, and dug her toes into the earth.

Easier to read, yet far more complex, were the Reilly girls clustered on the yellow sofa and armchair in the common area. Mostly their consciousness was turned to Inara, but while Val shared her sisters’ concern, at another level she was thinking of much more pleasurable things. A kiss. Many kisses. Hand holding. Hands holding other, more intimate things. Skin on skin, mouths meshing, tongues dipping and swirling and … Thank heavens Phee doesn’t know about that. She’d make my life hell.

River shook her head. Let Mal worry about that, if he ever found out. And if Frey did decide to tell him then just pray he didn’t tackle Flynn Youngblood about it close to an airlock. Wriggling her toes again to make a hole in the ground she allowed herself to drift …

.. .

Zoe and Kaylee were talking quietly, sitting on the stairs. Mrs Boden had insisted there were plenty of supplies, and the expression of indignation on her face at the suggestion still made Serenity’s first mate smile.

“Cap should’ve known she’d be like that,” Kaylee said. “Nobody wants charity.”

“It wasn’t charity. And you know what he’s like.”

“Mother hen.” Kaylee almost chuckled then caught herself, looking into the still blue room, ashamed at finding something amusing at a time like this. “He’s still angry.”

Zoe knew she didn’t mean Mal. “He’ll come round.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so … mad before.”

“He knew what they were going to do. He agreed.”

“I know. But he don’t believe he did.”

Zoe nodded slowly. “He hates the idea of not being in control.”

“Yeah. I mean, he did all that, rescuing River, and it cost him everything.”

“He’s got you.”

“I know. And the girls, and David Gabriel, but … this ain’t the same.”

“Kaylee, I don’t know what to tell you. He’ll either get over it or he won’t.”

“And if he don’t? You think he’ll want to stay on board a ship with a crew he don’t trust?”

Zoe had no idea how to respond to that, just hugged the young woman.

River hugged the pail to her chest, the reflected wave of sadness crashing through her leaving a wake of melancholy. It had to be done, and he had understood. He just didn’t remember understanding, and until he understood again he could be stupid. In fact, his stupidity was a rolling purple cloud around him, and she was surprised everyone couldn’t see it.

The scent of some late-blooming flowers shone a candle in her gloom as a breeze blew the perfume towards her. White, five petals, brilliant yellow stamens and a smell like Mrs Boden’s ginger cookies. She inhaled deeply, letting the memory of the last time they had eaten them warm her through, when Caleb had chewed his greedily and then given her a sticky, gingery kiss on the cheek.

Better. No longer the urge to calculate trajectory and speed to follow the birds into tomorrow.

Instead she went down onto her knees and carefully started to push the weeds into the churned earth. As she did so, another flavour slipped into her mind, this time all black powder, leather, soap and vodka …

.. .

Monty smacked his lips. “Gorramit, that’s premium stuff.”

Alex nodded. “It comes from my family’s distillery on Albion. We only sell to the very classiest of establishments.”

“High proof?” Mal asked, blinking a little, not used to this quality of spirit and with a stomach more equipped, he realised, for ng-ka-pei or Jayne’s rotgut.

“Perfect for Molotov cocktails,” Alex confirmed.

“Really?” Breed sat forward, his mobile lips smiling. “What did you blow up?”

“Uh …” Alex rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “There might have been an incident with the gazebo.”

“Was Freya involved?”

“No.” Alex looked saddened for a moment. “No. She’d already … gone.” He shook himself. “I think maybe I was making up for her not being there by being extra … mischievous.”

“Can’t say blowing stuff up comes under the heading of mischievous,” Mal said, accepting a second glass of vodka and resolving to sip it, even if the others tossed theirs back again.

“Perhaps not. But I was a brat, the liquor cabinet was open, and there was no-one to stop me …”

“Boom?” Dillon supplied.

“Big boom. Great big, bloody marvellous boom. I hadn’t realised my parents were storing the fireworks for Founders Day in there. Come to think of it, it probably hadn’t needed the vodka, just a match. But it was pretty spectacular. I got grounded for a month, and had my pocket money garnished for six to pay for the … uh … collateral damage to the boathouse and the gardener’s ride-on lawn mower.”

Mal laughed. “You need to tell Frey this. She thinks you were …” He stopped, realising what he was about to say was somewhat insulting.

Alex grinned anyway. “A sneak and a goody two shoes?”

“I’m guessing your turn of phrase is genetic.”

“Probably true. Our grandmother certainly had a whole library of sayings.”

“Katyusha Rostov?”

“So Freya’s told you something.”

“A little. Not much, but a bit. And you’re changing the subject.”

Alex shrugged and threw his vodka down his throat, not even flinching. “Pretty well, I thought. But you’re right. I wasn’t the impulsive, devil-may-care man you see in front of you. And I wanted our parents to like me more than her.”

“That’s brave thing to say,” Dillon commented.

“Hey, she’s not here to hit me.” Alex smiled wider, looking even more like his sister. “But it’s true. I was jealous of her. She was older, even if it was only minutes, she was cleverer, she had long hair …”

“Yeah, I heard about how you wanted that.” Mal chuckled.

“I hate to think what Father would have said if I’d announced I wanted to grow it. But I was a brat and a bore. And I’ve been trying my damndest to grow out of it ever since.”

“I think you’re getting there.”

“I think Ellen would prefer I stopped.”

“She doesn’t like the new you?” Breed asked, mischief in his eyes. “Well, if she turfs you out you can always come and stay with us.”

Dillon laughed. “Stop it. You’ll embarrass him.”

Alex shook his head. “I might have to take you up on it if I spend much more time out here. She wasn’t even sure about me buying the house on Persephone.”

“House?” Mal sat forward.

“Not far from us,” Dillon said. “A hop and a skip away.”

“What brought that on?”

For a long moment Alex busied himself with topping up their glasses, then said, “Everything going on. What we did on Hera. The New Browncoats.” It was like a confession being wrung from him. “The Core just doesn’t feel … safe, anymore. And then what Freya said about my children just made the decision easier. So we moved, at least temporarily. Persuading my mother to join us was the hardest part.” He had to smile. “You’d think I was asking her to go and live among Reavers.”

“Sorry, did we miss something?” Dillon exchanged a look with Breed. “What did Freya say?”

“Not to let them be tested.”

“Tested? You mean at school?”

“Not just school.” Mal took a deep breath. “Coupla months ago we came across a games complex on Wayborn …” He quickly told them what had happened, finishing with, “We ain’t stupid. They’re testing for abilities. All kinds.”

Dillon’s face hardened. “You should have told me.”

“Haven’t seen you to tell.”

“You could have got a message to me. Or Alex should have said when he … damn it, Mal, you know how I feel.”

“And we’ve got no proof. Only what River and Freya know, and they can’t tell the authorities, even if it weren’t the authorities behind it.”

“Blue Sun?” Breed asked, taking his lover’s hand and squeezing it reassuringly.

“Didn’t see their logo on anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised. They’ve got their fingers in plenty of dirty pies, so I can’t see them missing out on this.”

Dillon nodded. “Wayborn, you said?”

“Uh huh.” Mal’s mouth twitched. “Why, you planning on going to take a look?”

“Just making a mental note. I’ve got records of all of this, kept securely and without your names, in case you were about to ask.”

“I was. But you need to be careful for you, not just us. From what we’ve seen, they ain’t above making a pre-emptive strike.”

Monty roused himself, having kept quiet throughout the somewhat uncomfortable conversation. “Speaking of which, I found something you might wanna see.” Leaning his chair backwards to the point where it looked positive he was going to overbalance and land on his ass, he snagged a remote control from the kitchen counter. He let his chair fall back onto four legs with a crash, then said, “Something you’ll really want to see.”

He pressed a button, and a large Cortex screen slowly lowered against one of the walls. “Inez says she only watches the cookery stuff,” Monty went on, “but I know for damn sure I’ve caught her engrossed in those soap operas.”

“She and Frey should get together, seeing as my wife got somewhat fixated on them carrying the kids.” Mal stopped. “On the other hand, don’t. Else we won’t see hide nor hair of them for the duration.”

“I can’t believe that,” Dillon said, shaking his head. “Not the Freya I knew.”

“Which you still haven’t told me about,” Mal pointed out, taking another sip of the vodka and wondering if he could persuade Monty to get out the saki instead.

“Maybe after a few more glasses.”

“Monty, keep pouring.”

The big man chuckled and topped everyone up.

“You know, I shouldn’t,” Alex said, staring into his glass. “Ellen won’t be pleased if I roll into bed tonight.”

“You can always sleep on board Serenity.” Mal grinned at his brother-in-law. “Won’t even make you stay on the couch.”

“I could be taking you up on that.”

Dillon smiled slightly, his anger of a minute ago now forgotten. “So you’re henpecked?”

“Hey, she has a right to be …” Alex realised he was being wound up. “Yes,” he deadpanned. “Can’t you see the wounds?”

“No more’n Dillon and Breed here,” Mal put in. “They may not wear the rings, but they’re worse than an old married couple sometimes.”

“Oh, I know. They were arguing about something or other a couple of days ago. I was just glad the girls weren’t around to hear the language.”

“About that –”

“Don’t you want to see this?” Monty interrupted, switching on the screen but leaving the sound down.

“Yeah, sorry, Monty.” Mal gestured with his glass. “Go ahead. I’m all ears.”

“So I’ve heard.” Monty nodded and started to cycle through channels.

“Would you like to?” Dillon asked Breed quietly while Monty found the right station. “Wear a ring?”

“Why?”

“I saw your face when Mal mentioned it.”

“It … would be nice. Seeing his, and all.”

Dillon smiled, and the love on his face could have been embarrassing if he wasn’t among friends. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“Here.” Monty’s normal ebullience was subdued, his manner almost diffident. “Their version of the news is on somewhere or other pretty much all of the time, and most of it I don’t believe a word.” He turned the sound up, and the pretty Chinese anchorwoman with a lot of cleavage and a vacuous expression became loud enough to hear.

“… and while the Alliance cannot give assurances that such an accident will never happen again, they have made it clear they intend to post warning beacons around the area, and a pre-recorded message advising pilots to fly sensibly and not participate in aerobatics or other practices that might result in further fatalities. Mr Lecomb was unavailable for comment, although his representatives say he is considering taking legal action against the Morell Corporation for lack of safeguards. A written statement from the Corporation has advised that while Morell were sad to hear of the death of Matthew Lecomb, all evidence suggests that this was a case of pilot error, and not equipment failure. They will, of course, be continuing with their investigation, but do not expect any further announcements to be made.”

“You think they’ve got a big enough carpet to bush that pile of bullshit under?” Mal asked.

“Just be glad your River’s a genius.”

“Oh, I am.”

“Ssh. This is the bit I was waiting for.”

“In other news, there have been reports of isolated attacks on rural communities, which are being attributed to the so-called New Browncoats, although this has yet to be confirmed by government sources. The Alliance is urging all citizens not to panic, but to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the relevant authority.” The presenter smiled brilliantly, her eyes dead, and Monty switched her off before she could kill off any more of their brain cells.

There was silence for some seconds, then Mal said, “It ain’t ours.”

“No.” Monty took a deep breath, enlarging his chest until he looked about to explode, then exhaled noisily. “Nope, it ain’t. Even if Lecomb had got that stone back soon as Cobb could relieve himself of it, and they managed to unscramble things, there’s no way they could’ve got men out already.”

“So there was more than one.” Mal’s voice was bitter.

“More than one what?” Dillon sat forward. “What else haven’t you told me, Mal?”

“I conjure you ain’t got the message we sent out.”

“Message? You mean the one Callum forwarded on to me? I haven’t had the chance to open it yet. I’ve been a bit busy.” He could see by the expression Mal’s face that this was deadly serious. “I take it it’s important.”

“Pretty important.” Mal went over what they knew, what they’d done, what they surmised.

Cao.” Dillon ran his hands through his hair, then grabbed his glass and swallowed the vodka in it without even noticing it going down. “If I’d known I’d have …”

“I know.” Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Mal added, “’Cept this time we’ve got the evidence.”

“You’ve got the Culver?”

“The original.”

“And the list?”

“I’ll get you a copy. No point in you trying to decipher anything now.”

“I’ll warn people where I can. Suggest they go somewhere safe for a while.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ve already spoken to a lot of folks, got messages out to others across the ‘verse,” Monty added. “Already got word some folks’ve packed up and run.”

Mal nodded, just once. “Good. I don’t hold out hope of catching all of ‘em, but if even some of ‘em get away then …” He slammed the glass violently down onto the table, only its thick base stopping it from shattering.

The sudden action startled everyone in stillness.

“Mal …” Monty began but paused.

“We fought a war to make things better,” Mal said quietly, his tone dark. “Make folks accountable. People died to stop this kinda thing happening, and it didn’t make a gorram bit of difference.” He stared at his hand clutching the glass, his knuckles white. “They believe they can do anything, kill families just because they might say something, maybe do something that could be thought of as a threat. Might. Maybe. Could be. Just ‘cause we don’t all fit in with their vision of how things should be.”

Breed exchanged a look with Dillon, then said, “Mal, this isn’t your fault. And we’ll get the word out. Today.”

There was silence, then they all heard Mal take a ragged breath. “Sorry. It’s just … all this … and ‘Nara …” He held out his glass. “Maybe I’ve had too much. Or not enough.”

“Not enough,” Alex said fervently, lifting the bottle. “Definitely not enough.”

River pulled back, for a moment concentrating all her attention on not slipping as she walked towards the water. Then as she reached it and stepped into the water, the cold making her toes curl, she allowed herself to ponder her captain’s propensity for taking on the guilt for the woes of mankind. Perhaps she should say something. Or offer to remove the offending portion of his brain so it didn’t hurt anymore.

She could feel her dress getting heavier as it soaked up the water around the hem, and she smiled as she wondered what Mal would say if he saw her. Probably something along the lines of ‘you’ve got a pail – why ain’t you using that?’ Her answer would have been to show him the bucket, and the split across the bottom. She’d found it on one of their previous visits to Lazarus, and it was fine for carrying fruit, vegetables, weeds, even earth if she put a large stone in the bottom. But water would just run out, no matter how much she tried to tell it not to.

For a moment a song ran barefoot through her brain, something Bridget used to sing in the kitchen when she was cooking. River would have been no more than four, but the words came at her beckoning. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza; there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Deciding enough was enough, she stepped out of the lake and climbed back to her patch of earth, letting the water run from her dress onto the weeds, letting them drink.

She hummed as she felt the mud growing under her feet, and her mind wandered again …

.. .

“What are you doing?” Bethie asked.

“Painting.”

“Painting what?”

Hope glanced up at her sister from where she lay on her front on the nursery floor, framed by a patch of sunlight through the open window, then pulled the paper closer. “Nothing.”

Bethie swallowed the sigh with difficulty. There had been an … incident a month or so back when she’d ‘accidentally’ spilled a jar of brush water all over a rather wonderful picture Hope was just finishing, and there had been ‘words’. In fact, if Auntie River hadn’t been there supervising there might well have been blood, and at the very least a few kicked shins. Auntie Frey had added later that she understood being cooped up on board ship for weeks could make tempers a little short, but that didn’t mean people could be careless. She’d made Bethie apologise, except it didn’t look as if Hope had forgiven her yet. “Can’t be of nothing. That’s what Ethan paints.”

Young Master Reynolds rolled his eyes, and didn’t even try to stop the sigh escaping, fully aware of his penchant for painting the Black, with all the stars in their rightful places.

Hope giggled but didn’t move her hands. “It’s for Auntie ‘Nara. When she wakes up.”

“Can I see?”

“Are you going to hurt it?”

Nope. Not forgiven yet. “I only want to see.”

“Well …” Hope glanced at Ben, who shrugged. He didn’t want to be in the middle if there was going to be another fight. “It’s for when she has her baby. So she won’t forget us.”

“I like babies,” Bethie said wistfully.

“You’ve got David Gabriel,” Ethan pointed out, pushing his own picture to one side.

“S’not the same. He’s all … poopy.” Her nose wrinkled.

“Only when he needs changing.”

“I like it when they’re new. Then they smell all …” Bethie’s vocabulary failed her. “Daddy wanted to show Hope and me how to change him,” she went on, reaching out and scratching Fiddler between his ears and making his eyes close in pleasure. “Momma said he wasn’t to shirk his responsibilities and just ‘cause Uncle Jayne was better at it was no excuse.”

She’d got Kaylee’s voice pitched just right, and Hope burst into a fit of the giggles, her sister joining her.

The two boys exchanged a look, then shook their heads.

“Gorram kids,” Ethan muttered, making the girls laugh even harder.

Eventually, wiping teary eyes, they got themselves back under control.

“So.” Bethie smoothed her t-shirt down, this one announcing she was ‘Hard to Handle’, bought by her father on a shopping trip when far too many things were more interesting than getting new shoes. “The picture. Show me?”

Hope bit her lip, but said, “’Kay.” She held it up.

It was all of them, all the children, out in the Lazarene sunshine. The house was in the background, and Serenity was a suggestion to one side, but they were caught in the middle of a game with a kite. The dogs were bouncing around their feet trying to catch the tail string, and even Maoli made an appearance, stretched out like a wisp of grey fog on one of the wrought iron chairs from the orchard.

“Wow.” Ethan sat, his mouth open. “That’s … mei li.”

Hope coloured prettily under her cropped blonde curls, then looked at her sister. “Do you like it?”

Bethie didn’t speak for a moment, having to sit firmly on the stab of jealousy that she’d been told was wrong, but couldn’t help. Then she smiled. “Auntie ‘Nara’s going to love it.”

“When she wakes up.”

“Right. When she wakes up,” Bethie agreed.

That was very good.

River’s voice in her head didn’t even make her eyes widen. Thank you. She preened a little, then asked, somewhat diffidently, Auntie ‘Nara is going to wake up, isn’t she?

River didn’t answer, but that was answer enough, and Bethie sat back, biting the skin on the inside of her thumb.

The sun felt good on her skin, even if there were clouds on the horizon. River closed her eyes to absorb as much of it as she could but the tableau in the infirmary drew her back …

.. .

Sam read the words over and over, even though each one cut into him deeper than the last. If there had been any justice the writing should have faded, worn away by his eyes raking the pages, but instead only the edges were blurred from where his fingers gripped the paper. This was not going to be the last thing he had of Inara, and he knew he would kill to ensure it.

Simon had slowly withdrawn the sedation, countering its effects with a very mild stimulant, but there had been no change beyond a very faint tremor that ran through Inara’s body. The doctor was ready with a hypo, glancing between his read-outs and the incubator sitting ready, but hadn’t used it. Instead Inara settled again, her face smooth and empty.

And still the letter drew him back, the slight unsteadiness in Inara’s usually beautiful copperplate showing her anxiety as she wrote what she thought would be her final testament.

My darling Sam (it began), it was never going to be easy, writing this. I’m not like Freya, I can’t talk into a recording machine. I never know what to say, and I’m sure I’d waffle on about nothing important and never get to the point. Which I’m doing here anyway, aren’t I?

I love you. You know that but I wanted you to have it in writing. Something to hold onto if the worst should happen. When it happens. If you’re reading this then the worst has happened and …

I am scared. So afraid I won’t see our child born. I know I said I wanted a little girl, but I pray this is a boy. I won’t see his first steps, hear his first words, pick him up when he falls, praise him … you’ll have to do that. And tell him about me. How I so long to hold him in my arms, touch his little fingers and toes …

I am so sorry, Sam. My selfishness has caused this, and I have hurt you so much. I wish …

The handwriting became more unsteady.

Take care of everyone. They will grieve, and will need you to be there for them, Mal perhaps most of all. He will take the guilt onto already over-burdened shoulders, and even with Freya at his side I fear this time it may break him. And don’t think this means I care for him more than you – that isn’t the case. They are my family, but you are my love.

And if you feel the urge to hit him, please do. It will probably do him good, and as nobody knows about your boxing medals it will take him by surprise.

I wish I could find a poem to explain how I feel, but I can’t. Not even one of those you read me so long ago, when we were starting to fall in love. All I can say is that I love you with all my heart, and I always w…

He couldn’t go on, tears dropping onto the page and making the ink run.

River sighed unhappily, and suddenly all the emotions were too much. She turned and ran back towards the lake, not stopping as she reached the water’s edge but continuing on, diving as she got deep enough, letting the cold fill her ears and eyes as if it might wash all feelings from her.

Breathing out and seeing air bubbles rise to the surface, she allowed herself to sink to the bottom. She ignored the pressure in her lungs, only considering how easy it would be to just breathe in, and she could float forever.

An image of the effects of drowning sidled into her brain at the same time as a gentle but insistent voice said River.

Yes, mu qin?

Enough.

Internalising the sigh since she had no breath to spare, she kicked off from the bottom and surfaced, taking in two lungfuls of fresh air.

Freya was on the shore, cradling her wrist.

“I did apologise,” River said a little petulantly as she tread water.

Freya looked down in surprise, then smiled a little. “I wasn’t thinking about it.”

“It hurts?”

“Aches.” She jerked her head. “Come on.”

River shrugged then swam to where she could stand. “I was fine. Shiny.”

Freya’s eyebrows raised. “You’re lying to me?”

The younger woman made sweeping motions with her hands as if she was writing on the water. “Maybe.”

“Do you think it will work?”

This time the sigh was vocalised. “No.”

“Then come out. Before you catch your death.”

“I am healthy. Physically,” River grumbled as she left the lake.

“And if Mal sees you like that he’s likely to have another heart attack.” Freya looked up and down River’s slim form, clearly visible under the dress that now clung to her. “Do you ever wear underthings?”

River glanced down. “Not … usually.”

“Might be a good idea if you’re planning on doing this again.”

“I didn’t plan it this time. I just wanted to …”

“Run away?”

“Too much. Too many. Drowning.”

“Well, feeling like it and doing it are quite different.”

“Sorry.”

Freya put her arm around the girl as they started back towards Serenity. “That’s okay. I know how you feel.”

“Empathy.”

“Probably.” She glanced back. “Don’t you want your bucket?”

“I’ll get it later.” River put her arms around Freya’s waist, snuggling close.

“One of those days?”

“Mmn.” Then River stiffened.

At the same moment Freya felt it, a change in the tension on board.

In the nursery Bethie and Ethan were on their feet and running, almost bowling Molly over at the top of the stairs in their haste.

In shuttle two Jayne vaulted through the doorway, his boots ringing on the decking, a clean dress for his wife clutched in his hand.

On board Carrie-Ann Mal surprised everyone by jumping up and pounding out of the kitchen, his glass rolling off the table and skittering across the floor.

In Serenity’s infirmary Sam sat forward, every muscle in his body so tense he thought he was going to snap.

“Inara?”

to be continued

COMMENTS

Tuesday, July 14, 2015 9:04 PM

BLUEHANDEDMENACE


Arrrgh what a spot to leave it just mean mean mean.

Something about this chapter felt so very very Joss to me, all the snippets and character moments all basically circling around the same one or two issues, and then the evil evil cliffhanger.

Thursday, July 16, 2015 11:31 PM

KATESFRIEND


You enjoyed leading us on to this cliffhanger, didn't you? Loved River watering her transplanted weeds with her dripping dress - so very Riveresque. Ad Inara's note was perfect in describing her relationship with her FIrefly family.

Sunday, July 19, 2015 10:44 AM

BUCKSHOTPILOT


You really left me on the edge this time! I love the way you've expanded our family and integrated them all so well into this story.I enjoy this a lot, thanx

Monday, August 3, 2015 11:19 PM

KAS


I think I'm going to save all the Secrets chapters together into a single book so I can read them end to end without all these maddening delays between chapters. But I can't do that until you post all the (Many!!) remaining chapters. So get busy! Grin!


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