BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GIRLFAN

Even Roses Have Thorns, Chapter Thirty-Seven
Friday, February 2, 2007

River has an epiphany, some background is revealed about Mal's prisoner, and Serenity arrives on Oisris for Simon's final surgery. Nothing ever goes smooth. Canon pairings +1 (River/ofc). PG13.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1619    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Even Roses Have Thorns

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Culpam poena premit comes (Punishment closely follows crime as its companion.) Part II

*** *** *** Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-20, Chapters 21-30, Chapter 31, Chapter 32, Chapter 33, Chapter 34, Chapter 35, Chapter 36 *** *** ***

With a sad expression, River closed the infirmary door and locked it.

“Love, I think the Captain meant for you to be on the other side of the door.” Ceres pointed out gently, though she didn’t bother to hide her amusement from the other reader.

“He didn’t specify.” It was clear the River didn’t share the other girl’s amusement at their situation. “He doesn’t understand. Thinks you’re a danger to us, to his crew. He won’t stand for that. You’re his prisoner, his responsibility.” River blinked the tears back. “I won’t let him hurt you.”

The older, smaller girl crossed the small gap between them to hold her lover. River let herself be led, unthinkingly – only to find, in an instant, the infirmary door unlocked, opened, shut and locked again – with her on the wrong side. As River drew breath to let off a blood-curdling string of curses, she felt a gentle touch on her mind.

And I won’t let you lose your place here.

Swirls of unintelligible emotions – dusk purples and reds and blues flowed out from River, before they settled into the burnished gold of indignant anger. You are out of your tiny, little, mind! River hurled at her lover, calming slightly through the effort.

That’s redundant, love. Ceres knew better than to expect understanding; River had a right to be angry, both for herself and at having her offer rejected.

This is insane. Do you know what exactly is insane about this? River didn’t pause long to let her rhetorical question sink in to her lover’s mind. Aside, of course, from the insanity of your total control freakiness – I’m sleeping with my brother! That’s what’s insane. Same insane need to protect others from making their own choices, the same – issues! – the same idiotic sense of worth based on a self-created obligation to put everyone else you care about first. You even have the same eyes! The only god damn difference is your god damn hair colour!

Ceres didn’t point out that she could think of a few other differences. Love… love please listen to me for a moment. River’s swirl of anger settled to a simmer as she allowed herself to listen. Either everything is going to be fine, in which case it’s for the best that the Captain feels that he made that choice himself, or it’s not, and no amount of you posturing is going to fix that. He’s your Captain. He needs you to obey him and he needs to be seen to be obeyed. I’m not going to stand in the way of that – duty, obligation, love – I’m not. Nor will I put your safety at risk. Or your brother’s. Or his lover’s. You make this a fight, and they’ll have to pick sides.

River understood all of this. It wasn’t a situation she wanted to create, either, to be honest, but she felt trapped. Do you know what will happen if he decides he can’t trust you? He will put you down.

I gave him my parole, River. Those were the terms. My life was his to end from the moment he found me. We both knew that.

I don’t want you to die. I’ve only just found you. Soft silver-teal sadness mingled between the two of them.

And I don’t want to fear death. Or to love. Or to have my heart in the future. We don’t always get what we want, love. A tiny spark of bright sapphire not completely shrouded by the mist, revealed.

So caught up in their fight, neither of them where paying any attention to the discussion taking place in the kitchen, or in the cargo bay. When Zoë arrived to let Ceres out, she saw the two girls standing at the window, hands together as if touching. Zoë said nothing on finding the door locked from the inside, merely gesturing to the prisoner to unlock it and step out. River immediately took Ceres’ hand.

“Captain’s come to an understanding about your predicament, and realises it ain’t got nothin’ to do with Reavers and that it isn’t as if it’s violence directed at the crew. He’ll explain things to Jayne. You can go about your business normally.” Zoë passed a look between the two girls. “I think Simon’s warming up your breakfasts if you two’d like to go back and finish them.”

Ceres spoke. “Thank you ma’am.”

Before turning to walk to the kitchen, River exchanged a sad look with Zoë. “Turns out that there is a wood shed on Serenity.”

Looking past River into the infirmary, Zoë spoke quietly. “Looks like.”

***

When Mal joined Inara on the bridge, she asked him, “May I ask why you thought it was a good idea to lock her in the infirmary?” Mal bristled a little at Inara’s condescending tone, but for the sake of peace, limited his response to a mildly confused look. “Mal, it’s the only room on this boat with more knives than Jayne’s bunk.”

Mal nodded slowly. “Good point there, ‘Nara. Might want ta speak up somewhat earlier, though, next time.”

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to do that?” Inara’s tone was dry, remembering his comments about the crew having to follow him and her always casting doubts in their minds.

“Ok. I’ll trust your judgement on making the occasional exception ta that rule. Like, when I’m suggesting locking up prisoners with access to weapons.”

She smiled at his compromise. “How did Jayne take it?”

“Oh, fine I guess. I suppose, truth be told, I wasn’t there for that part.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Lil’Kaylee took it on herself to tell Jayne.”

For a moment, Inara was confused, “Tell him what?” but realisation struck almost before the words had passed her lips. “No, Mal. It wasn’t her secret to tell.”

“Can’t say as I disagree, but that’s between her and Simon.” Mal sighed, and gestured toward the Cortex screen. “Find anything on Ceres’ background?”

“Not much on her – but there’s quite a bit on her family.” Inara turned back to the screen for a moment and selected a picture.

Mal was surprised by the picture. “Looks a lot like Ceres, don’t it? Different eyes, though – otherwise, very similar. That her mother?”

“That’s her maternal grandmother, Catherine Babcocke, who is still quite infamous today in the Guild under her maiden name, Catherine Ormand.”

“Really? Ever met her?”

“No! Thank heavens.” Inara took a calming breath and faced Mal. “She’s – she was a sort of bogeyman for girls at the Training House when I was growing up; you know, say her name three times in a mirror and she appears?” Mal was confused, but nodded, and Inara continued. “Obviously, it wasn’t until later that I discovered that she’d been a real person. She’d been one of the instructors at the Training House in New London. She was drummed out of the Guild – she was considered to be extremely abusive towards the girls in her care. She only died about a year ago.” Inara pulled up and pointed to the obituary. “After her dismissal, Catherine Ormand married Gwilym Babcocke, from a well to do family – but not normally the sort of family an Ormand would marry into. Getting drummed out of the Guild – well, of course it was a scandal. However, the newlywed Babcockes were decently well off, and left New London for Beaumonde, where they settled down and raised a family. Their daughter, Tanwen, Ceres’ mother, married off world to a prodigal son of the Swann family of Persephone.”

Mal nodded. “I think I’ve heard of them.”

Inara nodded. “You may have. Theoretically, it was a good match, and at first they apparently seemed happy. Their marriage fell apart after a few years, however, and Ceres’ mother took her, aged four at the time, and her younger siblings Egeria, age two, and Alistair, about three months old, back to Beaumonde to live with her parents.”

“How come Alistair got the only normal name?”

“I honestly don’t know. Maybe you can ask Ceres.”

“I don’t know. Didn’t she say they died? Guessing it ain’t a topic she’ll want me pryin’ in to.”

“So, you don’t want me to tell you how they died?”

“No, I do. Just don’t think I’ll be asking her any questions direct for a while.”

Despite herself and the grimness of their topic, she smiled at Mal’s honesty. “Well, about four years ago, one night while old Mrs. Babcocke was visiting family in New London, Ceres’ mother locked the children in their bedrooms and set the house alight. The children – ages sixteen and fourteen – died of smoke inhalation. The evidence was quite conclusive, but the fire-fighters at the scene also reported that she confessed to setting the fire before she died of her injuries. Mrs. Babcocke never returned, and lived out her life in New London, in the care of a niece.”

Mal was puzzled, and backed up the conversation a bit. “So while she was tryin’ kill the children – Mrs. Swann – got herself set on fire?”

“Well, apparently her initial intention was for them all to die in the fire, but she caught fire before the smoke caused her pass out, it seems – and, understandably, instinct took over and her body did what it could to preserve itself. When the fire-fighters arrived she’d thrown herself from a third-story window to escape. The fire-fighters did try to save her, but between the fire and the fall, there was just too much damage and she expired at the scene.”

Mal grimaced. “Gruesome.” Inara nodded. “Any explanation why?”

“No, but there’s a lot of speculation. The most sympathetic, I suppose is the word, theory is that Ceres’ mother, Tanwen, was terrified of her mother and consumed by her guilt at everything she’d allowed her mother to do to her children. She decided to kill them both, and herself.”

Mal was clearly angry. “Instead of maybe sending them to live with their father and toppin’ herself or the old bird?”

Inara made her voice carefully neutral. “Well, nothing overt has ever been stated about Ceres father – Janus Swann – but there have long been rumours of – impropriety – with younger girls. It’s worth noting that when Ceres left home for military school she never restarted contact with her father, which, of course, she was free to do; and when her siblings died the Swanns had the children brought home to rest in the family plot on Persephone – and Ceres remained at school.”

“She didn’t go to the funeral?”

“No.” Mal wasn’t sure how to read the expression on Inara’s face. “She did have a small service said for them at school. The chaplain officiated and several of her instructors attended, as well as a few classmates.”

Mal’s face darkened further, perhaps more than Inara had ever seen before. “And these rumours of impropriety, ‘Nara, they mention how much younger, exactly, these girls were?”

Inara dropped her gaze to her hands. “They were children, Mal. In the... least ambiguous sense of the word.”

***

Aren, after much coaching from Inara, handled all the communication with ground control, getting Serenity cleared for landing near the Medacad without a hitch.

Simon, at Kaylee’s urging, came onto the bridge and stood behind his sister to watch her landing on his birth world. He’d never expected to see it again.

“That’s Capital City?” Kaylee asked, excitement overcoming her nerves, pointing at the ground coming up to meet them.

“That’s Capital City, bao bei,” Simon answered, not taking his eyes off of it for a second.

The Captain’s voice came over the com immediately after they landed. “This is your Captain. I want all personnel to the cargo bay.”

They assembled quickly, and Mal began. “Ok, we go over the plan once more, then we go. Simon, Aren, Inara and I are in the first team – hopefully, things go smooth, and none of the rest of you need to step off of the boat. Team two is Zoë and Kaylee – keep us ready to hit sky anything happens. Team three – Jayne, River and Ceres – you’re the cavalry.” Mal paused, seeing the nervous expression on Aren’s face. “Now, for the new people, just gonna go over your parts one more time. Aren – you gotta come cause I can’t trust anyone I don’t know to knock Simon out, and I ain’t leavin’ him alone in the care of nobody I don’t know. You got your bag and all the hypos you need?”

“I do.” She nodded firmly, but Mal could see that she found the whole thing unnerving. Still, she was holding together, and that was as much as he had any right to ask of her.

“Good.” Mal turned to Ceres. “Hopefully this’ll be an in and out” Mal amended his statement on seeing the rest of the crews bemused expressions “twelve hour surgery.” Mal paused. “You really ready to the necessary it comes to it?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Okay.” He gave the girl a curt nod. “Okay, people, let’s do this.”

They were good – you had to give them that. The first trap was sprung before either River or Ceres – both listening carefully – heard a thing. The girls felt Simon slip into unconsciousness at Aren’s needle, and only then were they alerted, as Aren’s methodical mind was overloaded with fear at the appearance of a squad of Federal Marshals.

By the time team three left the ship, Aren had been arrested and Simon pulled unconscious from the operating table. By the time they made it to door of the University hospital, the second Alliance squad had surrounded and arrested Mal and Inara.

When Aren was separated from Simon, to be moved elsewhere by two guards, team three spilt up. Jayne went to find Mal and Inara – and, he expected, Aren – while River and Ceres went after the squad carrying Simon. They were, somehow, extremely ellusive. By the time River and Ceres had found them, team one – plus Jayne was already sneaky up behind the squad. The Marshals advanced on the position the girls were in, and Ceres made a decision. She stepped out of cover, into the firing line, noisily dropping her weapon. “Swann, Ceres, third year cadet. BSRNDESE1. I surrender.”

Mal wasn’t certain if it was a diversion or a betrayal, but either way, he wasn’t going to waste his chance. He and Jayne opened covering fire, while in that first moment of utter confusion Inara and Aren grabbed the gurney with Simon on it. When Aren was hit, Inara returned fire. When the women and Simon were safely behind him and Mal, Jayne threw a flash bang and a smoke grenade at the Fed squad.

In an instant, it was over. And it was almost a win.

But Ceres had been in the firing line, and at the epicentre of the flash bang going off; she’d also had less protection from it than the guards she’d surrendered to. As the smoke settled, Mal’s eyes met hers as the guards took her further away. “You’ve never sworn your commissioned oath, so you can’t break it. I’m willing to offer you parole on the following terms: you take no actions against Serenity or her crew, you pay for your room and board by helping out... Always something to be done. For my part, I will not expect you to take any overt actions against the Alliance – might ask you to – but I won’t expect it. Finally, you get captured by the Alliance or Blue Sun, and I’ll do unto you as I would if you got caught by Reavers. You willin’ to except these terms for parole?”

He raised his gun. "Finally, you get captured by the Alliance or Blue Sun, and I’ll do unto you as I would if you got caught by Reavers." It was a clear shot. In the background, slowed by the adrenaline in his system, he could hear the others getting Simon away.

But over that sound came another, remarkably familiar, if tightened by fear. Captain Reynolds! You have a duty to me. I gave you my parole, Sir! Maybe she could tell that it wasn’t quite working. Sir, you will fire your weapon. Fire your weapon! But he didn’t. And in another moment, no longer than the last, she was gone from his line of sight.

***

With Simon out cold from the anaesthetic, it was left to Zoë to patch Aren up. She watched over the two doctors as they slept the results of their adventure off. River had gone straight from the cargo bay up to the relieve Zoë; she hadn’t left the bridge since they’d hit the sky.

While Jayne and Kaylee made food for the others in virtual silence, Mal wandered the ship alone.

In her shuttle, Inara’s fingers paused mid air as she weighted, one last time, the risks in her mind. With an air of finality, they gently brushed against her Cortex screen, and the call connected.

“Miss Serra.” Durran Haymer acknowledged with a polite nod.

*** *** *** Chapter 38 *** *** ***

COMMENTS

Friday, February 2, 2007 2:13 PM

GIRLFAN


Thank you once again, to all who have read, commented, supported - I am grateful.

tkid, thank you for your suggestion - I hope you find Ceres' background illuminative.

Friday, February 2, 2007 8:17 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh....things have definitely taken a big step towards the land of "Holy cao!" haven't they?

:(

Still...this was definitely a brilliantly-executed chapter, girlfan! Between River's rant to Ceres and the trap at the hospital, things definitely were anything but smooth for the BDHs;)

BEB

Saturday, February 3, 2007 2:17 AM

GIRLFAN


Guys? I know it's the weekend, but I'm not so much feeling the love :(

Saturday, February 3, 2007 10:49 AM

MANICGIRAFFE


My, my, aren't we impatient? ;)

Mal wimped out on the shot - although I expected him to. It doesn't take much for him to mentally add someone to the crew, and he no doubt see Ceres with the same eye he uses on River (rightly or wrongly); someone to be protected, not killed. Or, also likely: he just didn't want to take orders from her to shoot him. He's onery that way.

And Simon didn't get his hand, and the actual functioning doctor got shot, too. Serenity is hard on its medical personnel. Will Aren want to stick around after this? Getting shot at was certainly not something she signed up for.



Saturday, February 3, 2007 11:11 AM

GIRLFAN


>My, my, aren't we impatient? ;)

Feeling much better now :)

Saturday, February 3, 2007 9:54 PM

AJAMES


Great way to hit me with the fast pace action! I think I need a nap...

Great work, once again!

-AJ

Sunday, February 4, 2007 11:59 PM

BORNTOFLY


Just when things are finally looking up, you make things not go smooth. Which is, as we all know, how I like my fic.

Nice to have some more background on Ceres. She's a rather intruiging character.

The entire moment between the captured Ceres and Mal was superbly well written, the definite highlight of an already brilliant chapter.

The teensy scene with Inara at the end certainly makes things all manner of interesting.


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