BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GIRLFAN

Even Roses Have Thorns, Chapters 36-40
Monday, February 26, 2007

All already posted before, just posted together for convience of new and (re) readers. Overall rating NC-17; this does not apply to all chapters, however. Canon pairings +1 (River/ofc). Normally, I post 10 chapters together, but due to the length of recent chapters, five seems more reasonable. Postive comments perfered; any cease and desists recieved will be complied with, and shown off at parties.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1965    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Even Roses Have Thorns

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

*** *** *** Chapters 1-10, Chapters 11-20, Chapters 21-30, Chapters 31-35 *** *** ***

Kaylee watched Simon climb into bed, then set up her own cot and pushed it up close so that she could sleep next to him. He lay back gingerly. “I don’t think I’ll be able to talk in the morning.” Simon’s voice was a little raspy.

“It’s ok, sweetie. You can always sign.” All of the crew had ended up picking up an array of various signs in order to understand Simon’s attempts to communicate with them. Some had learned more than others, of course. She watched in the dim lighting as his fingers moved.

I know. I just – wish everything was normal again. Kaylee was particularly familiar with those signs, and the ones for other, similar, complaints.

“It will be, soon, sweetie. You just have to be a patient for a while longer.” Kaylee was a bundle of emotion, mostly happy, some confused, and some downright sad and scared; she desperately wanted to talk, but knew that Simon needed to rest. She leaned over and kissed him, before laying herself down.

“What were you going to say bao bei?” Kaylee heard Simon whisper.

“Oh, sweetie, don’t try to talk, rest your voice. I was just thinkin’ a asking ‘bout what Jayne said at the table. I know you’re her doctor so ya can’t say anything ‘bout her, but ya can tell me if I’m right about what Jayne was sayin’ can’t ya?” He nodded toward her, slowly. “Am I right in thinkin’ that Jayne were implyin’ that Ceres’ guards had – forced – her?”

Simon saw that Kaylee’s gaze was focused exclusively on his hands. He also knew that despite the fact that the word ‘rape’ had very few synonyms, that Kaylee would always prefer to use one rather than the word itself. The only time he’d heard her use it was when she was directly quoting the bounty hunter who’d threatened her with it. The word alone terrified her. Simon signed a simple, yes. He saw the line of her lips harden, though her gaze never shifted.

“And when Jayne said guards he meant guards for sure, not like one, once?”

Yes.

“Weren’t right, the Cap’n saying that ‘bout her at table. Not anyone’s business, now the whole boat knows.”

In fairness, Simon thought – the Captain hadn’t said it – Jayne had. But Jayne and Kaylee likely had been the only ones not to know. He knew for sure that the Captain and Aren knew – and he guessed that Inara probably did too – and he was certain that Zoë knew. Jayne had possibly guessed – but the Captain’s remark had confirmed it for Jayne and the Captain’s decision not to contradict the mercenary had confirmed it for Kaylee. Kaylee knew that Simon could never say, but if Jayne had been wrong the Captain would have spoken up. So if that’s what Jayne had said – that’s what the Captain, in his silence, had agreed to. Simon lent across Kaylee and grabbed the pad of paper off of the side table. ‘Nobody’s going to think badly of her because of it, bao bei. Nobody thinks it’s her fault.’

“I know, Simon, it’s just – she must a been so scared, and then tonight, she and River looked so happy, and you kinda hope that they were having a good time, but what if she got all frightened? What if she scared River? River’s first time – no way she can deal with that. And what if she wasn’t, and everything was fine, and then she heard all seven a us thinking about it at the same time, while she’s try’na have her first time since they’d hurt her?”

Simon’s eyes closed as Kaylee’s worries washed over him. Mother of Mercy. Two readers on the boat, and that’s what everyone else was thinking about the first time they lay together. He threw the blankets off of himself, and tried to push Kaylee’s cot away.

Kaylee’s voice reprimanded him in a fierce whisper. “Simon Tam, what do you think you’re doing, trying move this cot with me in it?” She got up, and pulled it away from his bed. He stood carefully. “Need a hand?” She offered.

No. It’s a short walk.

She lay back down in the cot as Simon carefully walked to door and stepped out, closing it behind him.

Simon knocked gently on the door to his sister’s room.

He heard his sister’s voice call a out a drowsy, “Qing jin.” Simon stepped through, more than half-expecting to see Ceres’ red hair spilled across his sister’s pillow. River sat up, and spoke. “We tried. No room. Not practical. Ceres went back to her room to sleep. Champagne and sex. Made us sleepy.” River’s drowsy smile was happy and wide, and if he there had been any ambiguity there, well, the room did smell more than faintly of sex. “I like it.” She patted the space on the bed next to her in a gesture to sit down.

He wasn’t sure if she was addressing his thought or continuing her own, but it didn’t really matter. He addressed his next thoughts to her. “Most people do, Mei-mei.” He sat next to her. “Of course, most people like to sleep next to their lovers, too.”

River patted the wall next to her. “Not so very far away.”

Simon smiled. “I suppose not.” He didn’t know how to breech the topic of conversation, but it had to be done – Kaylee’s scenario was too terrifying to ignore. And he could ask his sister, at least – after everything they’d gone through, all the parts of his mind that she’d seen – there really was no place for shyness, anymore, between them. “So, did you have good sex?”

“Amazing sex.”

“Did we disturb it? We were talking about some unpleasant things right after you left. We weren’t thinking. I’m sorry, Mei-mei.”

“It’s hard, you know. Because I can’t really ever completely shut the rest of you out. Ceres has more control… but most of the crew is so loud sometimes that she still hears a lot and I’m still learning. Learning not to eavesdrop, learning to block. So, we heard you… but then all we heard was each other. Walls – defences I never knew I had – gone in a moment of trust. And it’s mirrors reflecting mirrors and you’re everywhere – and the whole universe is you and your lover – and you are your lover, and your lover is you, and you are your lover being you being your lover… Simon, it’s amazing. It’s like sharing a soul.”

“Great sex, then.”

“Sort of like…” she touched his cheek, not because she really needed to, and focused not on just hearing his mind, but touching it. This.

Simon felt a swell of champagne-tipsy wonderment and joy, and he shared it. For the first time in years, he felt certain that his sister would truly know happiness again.

***

It was at breakfast the following morning that Jayne noticed it. Instinct took over, and he grabbed the prisoner’s wrist. Feeling her freeze under his grip, he remembered what he’d leaned the night before. “Imma gonna let go, but you’re not ta pull yer hand away, dong ma?” His tone was low, and warning – but not what Jayne himself would have regarded as threatening. At her tense nod, he did as he’d said. She didn’t move.

For a moment, nobody did.

But as Jayne reached for her sleeve, the Captain spoke, “Jayne, what’s this about?”

Jayne never took his eyes off of the girl. “Show ‘em.” She didn’t move, but she could feel Zoë tensing beside her. “Show ‘em, or I will. Just flip over that wrist and roll up that sleeve.” She did as she was told. Jayne pushed his chair back from the sight, and looked at Mal. “We found her in a room full a gorram Reavers and now she is ruttin’ cuttin’ on herself!” Jayne jabbed a finger across the table at her, and stood.

Zoë spoke first. “Jayne we don’t know that she made those cuts herself.”

“No? Then who do ya think did? Anybody want to step up and say that they did this?” Jayne’s tone was firm – he didn’t think even Zoë believed her own suggestion was possible.

“I do.” Ceres spoke. “I did this.”

Jayne pushed his chair back in with more than the strictly required amount of force. “See now? Anybody remember how the last Reaver ‘survivor’ we took in made out?”

For a moment, no one spoke. No one had to. It was clear that they all did remember the last time.

Ceres stated calmly, “I was cutting long before I set eyes on a Reaver, Jayne.”

Mal stood. “Jayne, take her to the infirmary.” Everyone looked at the Captain, mostly with expressions of disbelief. “Alright, forget I said that.” He looked around the table, trying to figure out who to send – couldn’t be Zoë, the danger was too great. Couldn’t be Jayne, because he wouldn’t do it, and if he would do it, it was only because he was going to end her. He needed the doctors, and ‘Nara for their training. Kaylee?

“Captain.” River spoke up. “I can take her.”

“You willin’ to lock her in?” Mal’s face was closed, guarded.

“Yes.”

“Alright. Then you can take her. But lock her in there.” As River and Ceres stood Mal continued to issue instructions. He looked at Jayne. “Jayne, you go help Kaylee in the engine room.”

“Why we always gotta go to the engine room anytime somethin’ happens? Ya got two mechanics and a boat full a parts. Ain’t like there’s anything even a little bit broke!”

Mal just gave his mei-mei an exasperated expression. “Well, fine, then. Kaylee, you go help Jayne lift weights in the cargo bay.”

“Shiny.” Jayne liked this turn of events, and didn’t need to be told twice. Kaylee rolled her eyes but trailed off after him.

After the four of them had left, Mal looked at those remaining. Inara and Aren were sharing significant glances with each other, and Simon. No surprises there. But Mal was pretty sure he had seen a meaningful glance pass between Zoë and Simon a few moments earlier.

Inara spoke first. “Mal, it’s not what Jayne thinks. I mean, at least, it doesn’t have to be. People have been cutting for centuries – millennia probably – and it never had anything to do with Reavers.” Seeing that this wasn’t helping at all, Inara turned to the two doctors. “There’s probably plenty of old scars to prove what she said is true.”

Zoë bailed the doctors out. “There are, Sir. Kinda surprised you didn’t see ‘em yourself bringing her over here, seeing as she was naked and all, but then that was kinda a big day.”

Mal’s face remained guarded, his voice short. “That it was.” He turned to Aren. “You mentioned the possibility,” he paused and correct himself, “the likelihood of the girl having some psychological trauma. This what you were talking about?”

“It’s certainly possible.” Aren normally wouldn’t give this kind of information, but this was clearly no longer just a personal matter; to an extent, as well, she wasn’t Ceres’ doctor, but the ship’s. “Some of her scars are years old. It’s more than plausible that she has been doing this for years.”

“How many years?”

“Ten, maybe.”

Mal’s eyebrows hit his hairline. “Ten years? She’s been cutting on herself for ten gorram years?”

Aren clarified. “Not constantly, by any means – and I doubt she did anything while Blue Sun had her locked up – but on and off, given the state of the scars – ten year seems about right.”

“She’d a been what, alla ten, eleven?” Mal’s revulsion was marked with disbelief.

“I was twelve.” All heads turned toward Simon.

“You tellin’ me you do this too?” Mal didn’t even try to hide his disgust.

“I’m telling you that I did. I’ve been in recovery for nearly a year now. I haven’t cut since before I got River out of the Academy. I’d managed to stop in med school, but after I figured out River’s code, I started again.”

Inara was puzzled. “But you were in the hospital the whole time. How did no one notice?”

“I didn’t use my arms, Inara. I mean, I did, when I was younger, but those scars are mostly gone now.”

Mal wasn’t done with his interrogation. “So where are they? Kaylee seen ‘em?”

Simon ignored the first question. “Yes. And before you ask, yes, she knows what they are. She saw them, she asked me, and I told her. It’s not something I lie about. It’s not something I’m ashamed of.” At the Captain’s expression, Simon changed tack. “Have you ever met an alcoholic?”

“Known a few.”

“It’s like that. It’s an addictive behaviour, dangerous – self destructive – but it’s also a short term fix to a problem you don’t have the ability to deal with any other way. If you’re lucky, and determined enough, you eventually stop – go into recovery – make conscious decisions to fight the urge, and to learn a better way to solve your problems. But the lure of the bottle – or the blade – remains with you, ever after.”

Mal understood that, perhaps a little better than he’d prefer to admit. He turned his attention to his first mate. “You seen these scars, Zoë?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“You knew what they were?”

“I had a suspicion.” Zoë’s face and voice were calm.

“And you didn’t see fit to tell me?”

“Didn’t see as how it concerned anybody, Sir. Got more than few scars I ain’t keen on telling the story behind myself. I imagine most of us do.”

Mal nodded agreement. As the others looked on he took a deep breath and sat again. “This ain’t helping figure out to do with the prisoner.”

“There isn’t anything you can do, Mal.” Inara’s voice was gentle. “She’s coping with her problems as best she can, and unless we can figure out a way to address the problems themselves, taking away her method of coping…” Inara let her sentence trail off. Mal understood.

“Alright. Even that being the case, we oughtta address the fact that she’s been pilfering from the ship stores for this nasty habit.” Mal turned to Simon. “Thought you generally kept a pretty close eye on supplies.”

“I do. There’s nothing missing – not with regard to sharps at any rate – I don’t keep track of weaves, of course – but if she needed one, it hardly counts as theft.”

“Well, she ain’t got any money, and she ain’t been off the boat, so where the hell else would she be getting them, Simon?”

Simon just repeated himself. “Captain, none of my scalpels are missing.”

Elsewhere, the pieces feel into place. Almost in disbelief at her own words, Inara spoke up. “They wouldn’t be.”

Mal didn’t miss his fiancée’s tone. “What do you know, ‘Nara?”

“She didn’t steal anything, Mal. She didn’t need to. We gave her supplies to her. You paid for them. I handed them to her.”

“’Nara…”

“I’m serious, Mal. Kirigami box? Blades and paper tape. Body scent and witch hazel: antiseptics. Cotton balls. I just can’t believe I didn’t see it before.” Inara met Mal’s eyes. He’d stood right next to her as she bought the tools. “But hidden with every thing else – it just – well it was just cosmetics and toiletries.”

“Well, it was a clever ruse,” Simon offered. “She didn’t want anyone to know. Didn’t want anyone to stop her.”

“Or make it anyone else’s problem,” Zoë added, with a meaningful look at the Captain.

***

A crisp voice spoke. “We’re coming up on it now?”

“Yes Sir. That’s the Pandora, no doubt about it.” The young man indicated a mark on his screen.

“Very well. Take us in.”

Later, after they were done shifting through the evidence left on the boat – though it would have been easier to say that the entire boat was evidence – it became clear that all of the records were gone. Completely destroyed. There were backups, of course, stored elsewhere but the most recent data was gone, and all of the surveillance footage they’d hoped to have was gone as well.

Watching the two spooks wander around in mostly silent, very closed efficient fashion was beginning to wear thin on the young man temporarily assigned to be their aide. “Sir, do you think Ceres Swann got out, did this, escaped?”

One of them answered him casually. “She didn’t have the means – even if she did there wasn’t any place for her to go. She’d be here. No. This place was stormed. Looks like a team of about four people. Given the amount of damage, I’d say we’re looking at the handiwork of River Tam.”

The second added, “She would go to some lengths to get her brother back. We were counting on it, in fact.” He turned back to his partner. “I’m beginning to wonder, however, if perhaps we’ve underestimated him all this time.”

With a raised eyebrow, the first indicated to the ensign to leave them alone. When he did, the first spoke. “The closest generic sample of an organism is it’s full sibling. I take it that you think the program hasn’t been sufficiently ambitious with regard to its plans for Dr. Tam?”

“Yes.” The second regarded his partner with a long look. “He’s been quite the thorn in our side, but we’ve never really seen him as anything except peripheral.”

“We never did figure out what he was doing on the Skyplex, or how he got his sister away.”

“No.”

“Finish it.” The first said. “Your line of thought.”

“I’m being to wonder – looking around here – if Simon Tam permitted himself to be caught. If that was his goal.”

The first understood. “Or to put it another way, the sole purpose of his mission.” At his partner’s nod, the first continued. “Interesting.” Chapter Thirty-Seven: Culpam poena premit comes (Punishment closely follows crime as its companion.) Part II

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 elusive. 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 was 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 accept 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 acknowledge with a polite nod.

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

As Mal wandered past the infirmary again, he saw Inara watching Zoë watching the sleeping pair of doctors. He sighed, but knew that it was past time to start coming up with a new plan. He stopped and stood next to Inara, and tapped on the glass. Zoë’s gaze turned toward him, and he gestured for her to step out. He watched as his first mate sweep her eyes back over the monitors before complying; when she stepped out, she left the door open a crack to listen for any changes in the sound from the machines.

“You heard what went down dirt side?” Mal asked Zoë, abruptly.

“I did.” Zoë was resting at her default impassive; Mal considered that she was probably conserving energy for another long night.

“How?” Inara asked.

“Jayne filled me in when he brought in some supper.”

At Zoë’s words, Inara nodded. “I just can’t believe that after everything – what must River think? – that kewu bu huihen de pofu! She actually betrayed us.” Inara was clearly only ramping up to her larger rant. Neither Mal nor Zoë had ever seen her so angry. “Not, I suppose, that it makes her any different from nearly anyone else we’ve taken pity on or tried to help.”

Zoë broke in gently. “I don’t think she betrayed us, Inara. Not from what Jayne said.”

Inara’s tone carried marked disbelief. “Jayne doesn’t think she betrayed us?”

“No, Jayne thinks she did, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the situation on the ground as he described it.”

“Zoë, I know you wanted to give the girl a chance – as did I – but you weren’t there. You didn’t hear her. She stepped out into the firing line, and instead of laying down fire, she just, she – she dropped her weapon and surrendered. Gave them her name, her serial number, nominal rank.”

Mal’s voice, hard and short, interrupted. “That what that code was?”

“Yes, Mal.” Inara sounded more exasperated than anything else. “It was in her file. BSRNDESE1; Blue Sun Research and Development Experimental Subject Espionage, One.”

Mal’s personal disgust combined with his sense of a soldier’s dignity. “That’s not a serial number, ‘Nara. That’s some product code – like that damn brand they put on her and Simon.” He bit the words out angrily.

“So you don’t think she betrayed us, either?” Inara’s voice went from exasperated disbelief to full on incredulous mystification.

“Oh, I’ll admit, it went through my mind right enough at the time. But it was a toss up, even then – coulda been that, coulda been a distraction.” Mal paused, and Zoë took the opportunity to jump in.

“River and Ceres were on one side of that Fed Squad, and musta known the rest of you were comin’ up behind – but you had no way of knowing where they where, or that they were there at all. From what Jayne said, gave you all a chance to get Simon away clean.”

Inara looked at the two soldiers in disbelief. “Shooting at them would have been just as effective for creating a distraction. Maybe more.”

Zoë’s voice remained gentle. “They were wearing her uniform, Inara. Shooting at them if she didn’t have to? Wouldn’t expect it of her.”

Inara digested this. “I – I just don’t know, Zoë.”

Mal spoke up. “Well, I do.” The other two looked at him, noting his tone of finality. He continued. “Heard her, in my brain, after they grabbed her. I’d told her when I let her out that first morning, that if she got caught I’d put her down. And as I readied my gun, I heard her. Thought, at first, she was pleading with me not to shoot – and honestly, I already knew I couldn’t – but she wasn’t. She was pleading with me to shoot.” Inara looked toward Zoë, frightened. She wasn’t sure if it was Mal’s flat tone or the words, or the almost empty look in his eyes – but she was frightened, and thoroughly unsure of what to do. But Zoë’s face registered nothing but the faintest trace of compassion as she looked her friend full into his hallow eyes. “And then – it wasn’t a plea anymore. It was an order.” The expression in Mal’s eyes never changed, but Inara saw that the suggestion of smile at the irony and her audacity played across his lips. “And I didn’t shoot, and then she was gone.”

Understanding the problem immediately, Inara pushed everything else aside. “Mal, you can’t blame yourself for showing her mercy.”

Mal finally met his fiancées eyes. “Had no right to. She gave me her parole, Inara, and I accepted it. Those were the terms. Binding on me as much as her.” He started to walk away. “Which means, we gotta go find her. End it, one way or the other.”

Inara tried again, gently. “Mal, you really can’t…”

Mal stopped in his tracks, but didn’t look back. “It was a promise, ‘Nara. And I don’t like breakin’ ‘em, not even to prisoners.” His voice went very soft, but Inara still heard it, and Zoë didn’t need to. “Maybe especially not to prisoners.”

As Mal walked away, Inara turned wordlessly back to Zoë. “It’s all a prisoner’s got,” the first mate added with a sad, tight smile and a half-shrug, before going back into the infirmary.

Inara followed her. “Zoë, he can’t blame himself for this.”

Zoë’s voice was very soft. “You see here?” She asked, nodding toward Simon. Inara nodded, confused. “When he wakes up, you can ask him if he had the choice between going through everything Blue Sun did to him, and a bullet to the brainpan – and you can watch the fear flash through his eyes at the memory, and then you’ll understand when he tells you that he’d rather you killed him.”

“But we’re going back for her, Zoë.”

“She doesn’t know that. And, in a way, it doesn’t much matter, not to either of them.”

Inara’s soft voice was honest. “I don’t understand.”

“That scenario I painted?” Inara nodded. “Take it a step further. Feds snatch him, and you have a clean shot – both of you know it, can see it. And you had promised him, that if he were ever in the situation again, you’d end it for him. But you don’t take it, and they whisk him away…”

Inara finished Zoë’s train of thought. “It would feel like a betrayal. To both of us.”

Zoë nodded. “We get her back, and enough time passes, whatever she’s going through now might seem worth it, for the livin’, but it’ll be a while before that happens.”

“And Mal won’t be able to forgive himself until it does.” Inara added in a whisper. She watched as Zoë brushed some hair back from Simon’s face. “How’s he doing?”

Zoë glanced at the monitors again. “Just fine. He should start coming out from under the anaesthetic, soon.”

At a loss for anything else to say, Inara just said, “Well, that’s good.” Of course, Zoë couldn’t contradict her, but Inara saw that the first mate turned that small sad smile back on her before speaking.

“I’d kind of like to have Aren moved to your shuttle before that happens.”

Inara was mildly surprised. “Is she ready for that?”

Zoë nodded. “I could wake her now. She’s more woozy from battle nerves and some blood loss than drugs. She’ll need more sleep, but she can do that in the shuttle. Or one of the dorms, as they’re closer.”

“Will she make it to the shuttle?”

“She should. Might not want to. I expect she’ll be groggy.”

“I’ll walk her there.” Inara would have asked Zoë why she wanted Aren moved before Simon woke, but it was a question that, once thought of, immediately supplied its own answer. Zoë wanted privacy for Simon, and probably herself, when he awoke to find that his ordeal was not, in fact, over – and that in the process, his beloved sister’s lover had been snatched. Inara understood. Zoë knew, as did she, that Simon – like Mal – would blame himself. “Should we be considering putting Simon on some kind of watch?” Even if he were deeply unconscious, it felt profoundly wrong to say the word ‘suicide’ in his presence.

“I don’t know. Expect that might depend a lot on River’s reaction.”

“She doesn’t seem to have had much of one, yet. But, I suppose she wouldn’t, not being able to hear Ceres.” But there was no real response possible to that. River’s silence was eerie, and they all felt it. As if, already, they had moved on, as if the girl they remembered really had only been a ghost – the very first word Inara had heard River use to describe her.

***

As Mal walked onto the bridge, he heard River’s voice softly singing.

“And the playing’s stopped in the playground now, she wants to play with her toys awhile and school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning, the lesson today is how to die…”

Thinking that she was having a bad moment, Mal interrupted gently. “Hey, lil’Albatross, you up to runnin’ a Cortex search for me?”

But her voice was clear and lucid when she replied to him. “Already am, Captain.” At Mal’s quizzical look, she pointed to the screen – it looked to him as if it had been running since River had gotten back to the boat. “Anticipating orders, Sir.”

It took him a moment to find a response. “Well, then. Carry on lil’Albatross, and let me know when you know something.” As he walked away, he heard her take up her morbid song where she’d left it off.

“And then the bull horn cackles and the Captain tackles with the problems and the hows and whys – and he can see no reason cause there are no reasons – what reason do you need to die?”

It wasn’t until after the Captain had gone that she whispered the song’s next line.

“Tell me why.”

***

After Inara settled her friend back into her own bed, she checked her computer for messages. Seeing one that she’d been waiting for, she turned down the volume and selected it.

Durran Haymer’s message began. “Miss Serra, I am pleased to report that I can make the arrangements you asked about earlier.”

***

Mal was sitting in the galley when Inara found him. “Mal, I’ve found another option for Simon.” His head snapped up, face closed and wary, to meet her gaze.

“Risky.”

If he wanted to dance, well – Inara knew the steps as well as he did. “Yes.”

“Dangerous.”

“Possibly.”

“Ain’t got the money for it.”

“We’ve more than half, and they’re willing to trade for the rest.” Inara saw that Mal’s eyebrow shot up at that.

“Could be a trap, ‘Nara.”

“That’s what you said the last time too, but it wasn’t.”

“Ain’t following.”

“It’s Durran Haymer. He has the resources, and we’ll dealt with him before.” Before Mal’s shock could turn into objection, Inara finished quickly. “And he understands the extents to which one might go for a loved one.”

“Even were this all to go well, we’d be in his debt. Quite literally. And t’would be a heavy debt at that, ‘Nara. Plenty hard to clear.”

“I know.”

“Could take years.”

The debt, again. “Yes.”

Mal took a moment and rubbed his face with his hands. “Boy’s worth it, though. More than.”

“More than,” Inara agreed. “Will I go make the arrangements with Haymer, then?”

Mal raised an eyebrow at her. “Half-thought with all this dancin’ about you’d already done just that.”

Inara bit her tongue to stop herself from reminding him that it was he who’d initiated the dancing. She suddenly understood every argument Kaylee and Simon had ever had. “I’m Serenity’s Quartermaster, Mal. You’re her Captain.” She lowered her gaze. “I respect that. And I respect you. And I understand that I serve at your pleasure.”

It was a perfectly valid statement, and something similar from Zoë it would have seemed natural. But from Inara’s lips, it seemed almost… kinky in it’s obedient submissiveness. Mal’s lips turned up slightly at the thought, despite his mood. He let his voice go all Captain-y as he addressed his fiancée. “Well said. Carry on then, Miss Serra. I trust you to make the arrangements.”

***

Kaylee walked with Simon back to his dorm, just to make sure he’d be all right. As he pulled the door back, a soft waft of incense greeting him, Kaylee spoke. “I just wanted to make the room a bit more relaxing for you, sweetie. There’s some green tea there on the side table if you want some.” She watched him as he settled himself on the bed, and she continued. “Zoë did some pretty fancy flyin’ to get us out of there fast, and were hard on Serenity. Got most of it done now, but ain’t something can wait long. ‘Spect I’ll be another hour or so. Ya gonna be alright?” Simon nodded. “I can get River for ya.”

Simon shook his head. “I’ll be fine, bao bei. Thank you. I just – I need some sleep.”

“Sure, sweetie.” Kaylee kissed the top of his head gently before making her way out of the room.

Simon rested his right ankle on his left thigh, as he pulled off his shoe and sock. Automatically, then, he switched feet – left ankle to right thigh, continuing to disrobe as he gazed at the breath of pale smoke coming from the incense cone. He wondered which scent it was. He focused on the tip, the soft glow of orange, and imagined it burning away all his feelings – of guilt, at what had happened to Aren, to Ceres, to Serenity itself, and what this was doing to the rest of the crew. Of frustration at having his life and plans once again turned about. Of shame, that an old teacher, trusted, wise, could betray him. Of terror, at Mal’s plan to attempt the surgery again. Of horror, at what his sister’s lover was no doubt experiencing because she had sought to aid him. Of loathing at himself, and his responsibility for all this misery; everything golden turning to lead at his touch. With a profoundly heavy heart, Simon lifted the cone gently by its base and drew it close. The name of the incense eluded him, but its scent was pleasing. With a deft move from his healed right hand, Simon inverted the cone and brought it to strike at the tender spot just behind his ankle bone.

A clench of teeth and a single sharp breath, and it was done. He considered the mark. One was sadly never quite enough for Simon. He knew his weaknesses. Twice more, he brought the cone in contact with his skin, solidly, despite the pain, so that he wouldn’t have to redo them. Three perfect dots formed on a diagonal line – he normally would have gained a measure of peace from the aesthetic of such a perfect line, but now he felt mere relief that it was enough to make the urge subside.

***

On the bridge, River shouted at the pain, and grabbed her ankle.

Mal looked over from the co-pilot’s seat, puzzled. “Ya all right there, Albatross?”

River’s eyes were filled with tears, but she just nodded and massaged her bare foot, whispering, “Just a cramp.” Dismayed, Zoë and Mal watched as she winced twice more, and swore, hand tightening around her foot. “Dancer’s life,” she managed as the first sharpness of the pain eased.

Mal wasn’t certain, and he could tell from Zoë’s guarded expression that she wasn’t either. “Albatross, this got something to do with what’s happening to Ceres?”

But River shook her head. “Can’t hear her.”

Mal ventured an opinion. “Thought maybe she would come through more under stress.” Most of the crew had at least a vague mental picture of how reading did – and didn’t – work now.

River nodded. “I haven’t heard anything.” Her eyes glanced over the ongoing search on the Cortex. “I think she may be dead.”

***

Well, trim wasn’t available, what, Jayne smirked to himself, with all the lesbians on board, and he had already worked out past the point were he could go it safely without a spotter. It wasn’t that he didn’t like a quiet ship – he did. Just not this eerie-assed graveside quiet. Made the feeling of naked mortality seem more obvious, and made his reactions to it seem even less appropriate to everyone else on board.

Figured he’d better go hide in his bunk for a bit, before he went upsetting anyone’s sensibilities, and Mal threatened to keel haul him, whatever that was.

***

“Now River, I don’t think that’s the case,” Mal began, and frankly, it was true. “I know it must be down right disconcertin’ to you not to be able to hear her like you want to, but maybe they’ve found some way a keepin’ you out. Managed to hide all them troops from both a ya, didn’t they?”

“They weren’t there. The people giving the orders.” River stared out at the black as she – not as absentmindedly as it seemed – continued to rub her foot. “The soldiers didn’t know moment by moment what the next order would be or which of them would get it. Couldn’t read what wasn’t there. Couldn’t read it until it was there. Took us ages to figure out. But there was no shielding.”

***

River looked up from the breakfast she was preparing as Simon came to stand beside her and help. She gave him a sad smile before turning her attention back to her work.

River spoke, quietly, though she knew that no-one else was anywhere near the galley. “It’s a question of discipline. You don’t let yourself limp. Don’t let anybody else know. Don’t put them in a position to ask questions.” River tilted her head to the side and continued. “Second degree burn. Most people don’t know, but because of the nerve damage associated with third degree burns, they are actually less painful, making second degree burns the most painful. Blisters. Deliberate choice of placement. Tender spot, worse injury. And right where your shoes would rub, so you can’t ignore it. Can’t forget. Get to be all stoical. Disciplined. Hiding it in plain sight. No one sees your pain. Focus on small pain, forget the bigger one. Focus on the small problem. Stiff upper lip. Be a good boy.”

Simon looked in horror at his sister, her face shrouded by her veil of hair, realisation dawning. “Tell me you didn’t feel it.”

River’s voice was more than a passable imitation of her mother’s. “A liar is the worst sort of person. A liar can’t ever be trusted. A thief can make amends for what he took, but a liar never can.”

“Tell me it wasn’t the same.” His voice was hoarse.

“The same as what you felt? Oh, but it was, Simon. Felt you feeling it, here.” She touched her temple. “Felt me feeling it, here.” With a ballet dancer’s dance she brought her left foot up to be level with her hand. Her right hand mimicked his own movements from the night before. “Dot, dot, dot. Three little blisters, right in a neat, tidy, perfect row.”

Simon was relieved to see that at least her skin wasn’t marked – but it was a pitifully small comfort; and as she turned her face to look at him, he could see that her sad eyes had taken on the wet-glassy effect he hated. He’d actually hurt her. Hurt his sister.

As if she were responding to his thought – and for all he knew, she might have been – she spoke again. “Not everyone can be a hero Simon. A steely will and a sharp breath doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us have to live with screaming out our terror where others can hear.”

Somehow, what she said – he suddenly knew precisely why Jayne had given her that damn sock. “So when Blue Sun had me…” his voice trailed off, seeing the confirmation of his suspicions in her damp eyes. “I didn’t protect you from a damn thing, did I?”

He didn’t wait for her answer. He just turned, and without looking back, headed straight for the passenger dorms.

He stepped into Ceres’ room and walked straight to her dresser. Everything was sitting there, clean and neat and ready for use. He stared at the tableau, a ritual altar. He flipped open the craft box. Inara had, of course – and completely unintentionally – chosen well. He ran his fingers over the blades, but didn’t touch them, yet. He couldn’t, could he? Knowing what he knew now?

After a moment, barely lifting his eyes from the clean metal, Simon reached for a cotton ball. He considered his options. Body scent would have a higher alcohol content, but the smell would give it away. With one hand he opened the bottle of witch hazel and started to swab the skin of his wrist down. He picked up the craft box and set it on the bed, sitting next to it, and staring at its contents.

He startled, a little, at Zoë’s soft voice. “Thought I might find you here.” She was standing in the doorway. When he looked over at his shoulder to her, she stepped in, closing the door behind her.

“I’m thinking of inscribing the motto, ‘Hero: someone who gets other people killed’ on my skin.”

Zoë tilted her head at him, ignoring his tone – whatever it was. “It’s a good motto.” Zoë’s voice was gentle. “She’s not dead, you know.”

“Well, I’m sure that’s a comfort to her, right now. I’m curious,” he began, and Zoë still couldn’t quite place the tone. Distain? Snark? Detachment? “How did you know? I mean, if River’d told you, you wouldn’t have said ‘thought’, but you did. You guessed on your own.” Simon turned his face back; he could no longer see her face.

“That I did.” Zoë took a measured breath. “You said you’d managed to stop cutting in med school, and that you’d started again after you worked out River’s code. Then you stopped again, just before you got her out of the academy. Not after. Just before. You had a purpose, and life had meaning, and you were no longer helpless, or without hope. And now you are both, again. Many a man’d be suicidal in your place, wouldn’t be surprised if you were too. I’ve heard it said that this can be a way of staving off that.” Despite his back being turned to her, Zoë could see that he nodded.

When he spoke again, all she could hear in his voice was naked pain, and her heart ached for him. “Zoë, I’m sitting here, and all I want to do is to cut. Even knowing that River will feel it. Because it will, while I’m doing it, for as long as I’m doing it, it will be the only thing that matters. Of course, I know that when I’m done, there will be the guilt at having simultaneously done this to my sister. You understand the concept of a dyad in torture?”

It took Zoë a second, but she placed it. “I do.” She took a breath and let it out. “It’s when the torturer and the tortured collaborate in the rituals and acts of torture, such as where the victim is coerced into selecting the torture implements and the types of torment to be inflicted.” She could see where he was going with this, but knew that he must desperately need the validation of being heard.

“Yes. Only I’m both parts of the dyad. Torturer and tortured. And no choice that isn’t, in some way – torment.” Part of her wished the boy would just crack and cry so that she could comfort him, but he gathered himself and continued his painful confession. “And the only compromise that I can think of is to beg my sister to take a sedative, which she hates, so that she can’t feel me hurting myself, which she also hates. But it offers her a tiny haven from the actual moment of pain, if even,” she could see him struggle to go on, “even as it means that I give up any illusions of privacy or personal dignity. But what wouldn’t I do for River?”

“‘Torture is an obscenity in that it joins what is most private with what is most public. Torture entails all the isolation and extreme solitude of privacy with none of the usual security embodied therein... Torture entails at the same time all the self-exposure of the utterly public with none of its possibilities for camaraderie or shared experience.’” It was a definition she’d learned in the time after her experience in the camps, trying to understand what had been done to her.

Simon nodded, but didn’t voice his final thought: ‘Cut a little bit deeper, and there will be no guilt afterwards, end the torment, end the tormentor, end the tormented.’ And no one could ever use him to get to River, again.

Both heard the gentle knock that came to the door. Simon flipped the lid of the craft box closed, but didn’t bother to turn around. Zoë turned fully, and slid the door open a crack, blocking the view of Simon with her body. It was River. She had two hypos in her hand. Zoë wanted to send the girl away, pretty clearly Simon had come in here, at least in part, to avoid River. But as he’d said, what wouldn’t the boy do for his sister? She let the girl step through, and Zoë closed the door.

River rushed to her brother’s side. “I’m sorry, Simon, never make you beg.” She showed him the hypos curled in her hand. She looked up at Zoë, for permission.

Zoë nodded. “I’ll take the helm, little one.” Zoë left the room, and stood guard outside of it.

Inside, River carefully removed the craft box from the bed and placed it on the side table. As she went to pull the covers down, Simon wordlessly stood. River slipped under the covers on the far side of the wall. She picked up one of the hypos. “Not my tormentor. Only your own.” She closed her eyes tight, and, with a small scared mew, injected its contents into her neck. He took the needle from her hand and placed on the side table.

Now, for himself: blade or needle? With River lying there, there hardly seemed a choice, anymore. With a deep breath, he kicked off his shoes and joined her on the narrow bed, needle in hand. With one arm he curled around her, and with the other, he injected himself.

After a few minutes of total silence, Zoë ventured a peek in. They looked so peaceful, so young, curled together like that. She rubbed her stomach watching the pale siblings, so still, so loving, and hoped that Simon was right. One of each would be perfect. She flipped the light off and closed the door, before turning in the direction of the bridge.

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Pede poena claudo (Literally, punishment comes limping, which is to say, retribution comes slowly, but surely.)

When Jayne walked into the galley, hardly anyone was there. He looked at his watch; but no, he wasn’t late. He ventured to sit quietly at the table with Mal, Inara and Aren. Inara and Aren were having a light chat as Mal silently watched Kaylee dish up breakfast.

“Weren’t it River’s turn to cook, Kaylee?” Jayne asked the mechanic as she set his plate down in front of him. It was a pleasant surprise. Jayne might be willing to eat anything, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t have taste buds, and he thought that Kaylee’s was the finest on board, now that Book was gone.

“It were. Took over for her.” Jayne noticed that Kaylee’s face was tired and tense; he didn’t like it. “Simon was havin’ a bad morning I guess and River went to settle him down. Zoë says they’re sleeping it off in the passenger dorms.”

Jayne knew that there weren’t nothing he could say about that, so he didn’t. He did look up from his plate to ask, “Zoë eat yet?” No-one nodded and Mal shook his head. “Best make up a plate for ‘er then.” Jayne snatched an empty plate and started to load it up.

With a stunned expression at Jayne’s definition of ‘making up a plate’, Aren intervened. “The calorific content of that meal is more than extreme even for Zoë’s condition.”

Jayne stared at the doctor, not understanding anything except the horrified tone of voice. He looked to Inara for a translation.

Inara managed to keep the humour from her voice. “What Aren’s saying, Jayne, is that Zoë’s pregnant with twins, not a platoon of grown men.”

At Jayne’s hurt look, Mal took a little pity. He couldn’t help but feel fonder of Jayne when the mercenary was having his looking-after-his-little-women moments. “That’s alright, Jayne, Zoë can leave whatever’s too much. I’ll take it up to the bridge for you now before it gets cold.”

“Aw, thanks Mal.” Jayne happily passed the plate over and started to chow down on his own breakfast. Mal turned a bemused grin on his fiancée; he knew that it wasn’t in Jayne to worry about Mal’s breakfast getting cold.

***

“Oh, there’s pretty definitely going to be some worrying done, lambie-toes. In fact, I think it may be my finest worrying to date,” Wash advised her, eyes wide, as he reached for her pregnant belly.

“Zoë, there’s no way I caught you asleep on duty, is there?” Mal’s tone was wildly amused.

Zoë’s voice came back groggy, confirming his suspicions. “Permission to strangle you, Sir, with my bare hands?”

“Sure, Zoë.” He set the plate down on the console, before amending his statement. “Not to death, though. Got Captain-y things to be done.”

Zoë reached for her plate. “Thank you, Sir.”

“You’re welcome, Zo. Actually, it was Jayne’s idea. Makes more and more sense why his momma loves him like she does,” Mal mused as he sat down in the co-pilot’s chair. “Anything come up on the Cortex search yet?”

Zoë looked up from her plate. “No, Sir.” Her eyes glanced at the screen. “I’m running a second search, and I believe Inara’s running one in the shuttle. No hits yet.” She took another bite and swallowed, before speaking. “I’m beginning to share River’s opinion.”

“Took us a while to find Simon, Zoë. No reason this would be faster.” His voice was reassuring.

“That it did, Sir. Situation’s different this time ‘round. There was plenty of chatter immediately after Simon’d been snatched, and a few little bits after that. Police channels only, of course, but there’s been no chatter at all so far. Nothing for Inara to try to follow.” Zoë took another bite, but Mal didn’t make any response. “Sir, we can’t wait on Haymer’s offer too long. Longer we wait, bigger chance of someone getting wind.” Zoë hated this, what she knew the dilemma was doing to him. She dropped her voice and offered gently, “Permission to set course for Belleraphon, Sir?”

She could almost see the wheels turning – grinding together painfully – in the Captain’s mind as he gazed out at the black. She continued to eat carefully as he rose and walked from the bridge. Before passing the door, he agreed. “Set course for Belleraphon, Zoë.”

***

After breakfast, Kaylee and Inara headed for Inara’s shuttle, leaving Jayne alone with the doctor. “I’m making some more coffee. Ya want some?” Jayne asked as he stood.

“Please, Jayne. That would be lovely.”

“So I got ta wonderin’,” Jayne began as he prepared the drinks, “iffin you’d never been with a man.”

Aren smiled. Jayne was crude, it was true, but something about his frank curiosity was appealing; it wasn’t the misogynist attitude she was often used to; he was prying, but that was all. She’d watched him long enough to know that if she refused to answer him, the conversation would end there. “No. Never.”

“That usual?”

“At my age? It’s not unusual. A lot of lesbians never do; some have the occasion male lover, especially in their youth.”

“Ya wanna?” Aren peered at him closely – he was focused carefully on his task.

Aren kept the surprise from her tone, trying to keep her voice at the same polite level as before. “Are you propositioning me, Jayne?”

“That mean am I asking ya if ya’d like ta have sex with me?”

She cracked, and the humour came through. “It does.”

“Well, yeah.” Jayne shrugged and brought the coffee over in two mugs. “Ya ain’t gonna be on the boat much longer and I can’t see Mal stoppin’ any place soon long enough ta get some trim. Wouldn’t normally ask crew. Anyway, just thought ya might be curious.”

Well, of course she was curious; but she’d never been that curious or she’d have done it before. Oddly, Jayne’s open curiosity had aroused her own, and a small part of her brain was toying with the idea. “We tend to get our pleasure – differently, I suppose.” She hoped it wouldn’t go over his head; she didn’t think she could be anymore explicit at table.

It didn’t. “I know that!” Jayne’s indignation was mild. “I got fingers and a mouth. Course, there’s the beard, but some girls like that. Anyway, be worth doing for the sake of tryin’ somethin’ once.” He gave her what she considered was a winning smile.

Aren hadn’t led the sheltered life that many people assumed she’d had. She’d had torrid affairs and fast and free love – and she’d had similar conversations before. Still she couldn’t quite figure out whether she was thinking about agreeing at all, or that the man in question was Jayne. On the other hand, maybe it made sense that it would be someone like Jayne. He wanted more or less anonymous, easy sex, and had no delusions of or desire to ‘fuck her straight’. It wasn’t about power, or ego. He simply wanted trim. Smiling, she wondered if she was trying to talk herself into it. She studied her coffee as she stirred it carefully. “And if one were to consider such an arrangement, how would you propose we go about it?”

“Well, I figure we’d each get some in our usual fashion.” That was about as subtle as Jayne got, but he could see that she was thinking about it, and he didn’t want to chase her away.

“So I’d?” She asked; not the question actually clarified anything.

“Iffin ya wanna. Suppose you could always bring me off girly style. Wouldn’t refuse on account ta that. Wouldn’t do much for yer curiosity, though.”

Well, now Aren’s curiosity went elsewhere. “What would you refuse on the grounds of?”

“No kissin’ on the mouth. No kinky shit.”

“No kinky shit?” Aren queried.

“No kinky shit. No blood, no smacking around.”

“Okay. Nothing kinky.”

Jayne nodded. “Standard disclosure rules.”

Aren barely swallowed her mouthful of coffee. She should have realised that the third rule would have to be downright hilarious if the second one was ‘no kinky shit’. “Standard disclosure rules?” It didn’t even sound like something Jayne would know how to say.

“Yeah, well, yer a woman, and women-folk can’t not talk about sex. So, standard disclosure rules. What, ya want more?” Jayne eyed her warily.

“I’m just not sure what passes for standard disclosure rules.”

“Well, ya can tell all yer sisters, or if ya ain’t got sisters, yer girl cousins that is close as sisters to ya, and yer six best friends – so long as they’re girls. But they gotta promise not ta say nothin’, even if ya know they don’t mean it.”

“That seems – fair.” Aren nodded, amazed. It was a very good read of many women’s idea of confidentiality. “Who do you get to tell under these rules?”

“At my age? No one. ‘Less it’s years from now, we ain’t seen each other since, and I’m drunk.”

“I see.” Aren was impressed. “What if the crew finds out? It’s not that big a boat.”

“So they know we had sex. Don’t mean we gotta give ‘em details.”

“True.” Aren finally decided; after all, when would she get a chance like this again? “Where would we do this?”

“My bunk, I guess.”

Aren stood and drank the last of her coffee like it was a swig from a bottle. Part of her thought that she could do with a stiff drink now. “Ok. Lead on.”

Jayne hadn’t necessarily meant immediately, but he definitely didn’t have anything better to do. “Shiny.”

***

Inara settled herself on her sofa and smiled warmly at her friend, pouring tea for them both. She pushed her own sense of disquiet aside as she saw Kaylee chewing a little at her lip. “Mei-mei, what’s wrong?”

“I think Simon’s gonna start cuttin’ again. Mebbe already has.” Inara felt a swell of sadness and disappointment at the mechanic’s words. “Zoë said they was sleeping soothers off in the passenger dorms, but they ain’t in Simon’s room, and they ain’t in River’s. And since River didn’t sleep in Ceres’ room last night, and it were River went chasing after Simon, I’m guessing that it were Simon went into Ceres’ room first – only one thing she’d have that he’d want.”

Inara almost suggested that Simon would go to the infirmary, but she wasn’t sure. Simon was still noticeably avoiding the infirmary. “They might be in one of the other rooms.”

“Checked ‘em all, ‘cept Zoë’s.”

“Oh, Mei-mei. I’m sorry.” Inara gathered her friend into a tight embrace.

“I just don’t know what ta do. Do I pretend not ta notice? That don’t seem right. Pretend like it’s ok? Even he don’t think is. It scares me, ‘Nara. I don’t understand it. He’s explained it, but I don’t understand it. How can you be in so much pain that only more pain’ll help you cope? Ain’t even like it fixes it, like some kinda harsh cure. And if it’s true, what can I give him a blade can’t? Don’t wanna hurt him, don’t hardly understand pain, leastways not like that.”

“You’ve heard the others say so darling, and it’s true. You’re pure sunshine. It warms all of us.”

“’Cept the one who’s facing into darkness ‘cause it’s the only thing he wants or understands.”

“Sunshine drives away darkness. Darkness can’t last in it’s presence. Every night ends in a burst of light.” It wasn’t a perfect analogue, and Inara hoped that Kaylee wouldn’t focus on the fact that it was always night in the black. She didn’t.

But, in retrospect, Kaylee’s insight might have been worse. “You can always chase the dark, run away from the sun. Always dark someplace if you head away from the light.” Inara noticed the tears in her young friend’s eyes. “I don’t wanna chase him, ‘Nara, not if it means he’ll only try harder to get away, and I don’t have any other ideas a what ta do. And doing nothin’ seems…”

“Unconscionable?” Inara supplied.

“Yeah.”

***

When Aren made her way down the ladder into Jayne’s bunk, she was pleasantly surprised. While not actually clean, it was cleaner than she’d expected; and while it might have been some time since she’d had sex quite this casually, it wasn’t exactly an aberration, either. Jayne sat on the bed, matter-of-factly pulling off his boots and tee-shirt. He set his feet a little apart and put his hand out to her. “So, ya gonna let me have the honour a poppin’ yer cherry?” he asked quietly, as she reached her fingers out to brush his.

Was it almost sweetly? She wondered, but not just about that. Was that why she felt sort of strange? Was it the strangeness of the situation, or the fact that she felt, in some senses, a virgin again, if only in this context? It was oddly nice to have that butterfly feeling again, at her age.

She decided not to bother explaining the fact and myth around the mysterious hymen; it didn’t matter, and he was being (or at least trying to be) gallant. “With pleasure.” She gave him a wide smile.

***

He could feel his sister; they were still wrapped around each other on what was almost certainly her lover’s narrow bed. He’d been reasonably certain, when he’d put the hypo to his neck, that it merely contained a soother. He wasn’t quite ready, however, to open his eyes and focus on reality. Still, reality was unavoidable. He could hear his sister’s breathing, which only drew attention to his own. They would need to breath, surly, if they were dead? He opened his eyes, and looked into his sister’s – she must have turned when she’d awoken. “This isn’t heaven, Mei-mei,” he said seriously.

“It isn’t hell, either, Simon.” She planted a light kiss on her brother’s face, and he pulled her into a tighter embrace.

Chapter Forty: Veluti in speculum (As in a mirror) Part I

The dark tones of the voices in the galley finally explored into loud anger.

Kaylee’s pained voice broke first, “Jayne, I don’t understand how you can be such a cold hundan, after everything Simon’s been through, and done for us. The money shouldn’t matter!”

Jayne matched her call and raised. “Look, ya don’t like ma answer, that’s just fine lil’Kaylee, but you asked and ya don’t get to twistin’ up my words to make me sound like wangbadan niao shi de dugui, just ‘cause I agree with Simon!”

“Simon’s only saying that ‘cause he don’t wan’ ta be a burden – yer sayin’ it ‘cause you don’t think he’s worth the cost!” Kaylee hurled back with fury in her voice.

From where Mal and Zoë stood, unseen, it sounded like Jayne’s blood vessels might be set to pop when he yelled back at her, “Damn straight I don’t think he’s worth the cost, and I ain’t just talking about the coin. Kaylee, we ain’t talking about the Simon we dragged offa the Pandora, more broken than fixed. Would be different if it were. He’s got two hands work fine now and he barely made it outta the last surgery alive an’ free ‘cause it was a gorram trap. And I ain’t weeping loud tears over Ceres’ getting snatched and compared to it being you or River – or say Zoë and them babies – we got off damn lucky. Coulda been Simon, Kaylee. Almost was. Out cold, couldn’t do a ruttin’ thing to defend himself? How’s the cost a that hand looking ta ya now? ‘Cause from where I’m standing it’s looking pretty damn steep.”

Inara’s voice was exasperated, but it remained on the right side of calm. “Jayne. Simon. I have such an urge to bianda bei of both of you. This is not about money, which, I might remind you is the Captain’s sole prerogative to decide. If you are not happy with your pay or the jobs we are taking, then you may leave. That is your prerogative. Neither is it for you, Simon, nor you, Jayne, to make assumptions about the risks relative to the gains. The arrangements are as safe as they can possibly be.”

“Go se, ‘Nara. Yer talkin’ like Simon don’t even get a say.”

“Jayne, you don’t understand…”

“Let me tell ya what I understand. Yer talkin’ about grabbin’ Simon, taking him back to the gorram place where he got snatched before he were beat on fer days, knockin’ him out cold whether he gives ya his say-so or not, and then cuttin’ on him fer twelve hours.”

Mal decided to end the argument there, and stepped into the dining room. Zoë followed him. “Enough, Jayne. This isn’t up for debate. You don’t want to go through with this?” Simon raised his head from where it rested on his hands to shake his head. “Well, that’s tough. Captain’s orders, so suck it up.”

Only because Zoë was in the direct line of sight of the rest of the crew did she manage not to roll her eyes. She watched as Simon stood, and the others tensed in response; fully expecting the edgy young doctor to explode, and the argument to turn into fisticuffs. Zoë watched them carefully, as the crew’s expressions turned to surprise when Simon merely nodded his head in a sad, detached sort of way, and exited the kitchen quietly with a firm but low “Yes, Sir.” Zoë managed – barely – to keep her own surprise from her eyes.

“You’ve all got things to be doing, so get to ‘em.” Mal pointedly remarked to the rest of the crew, who wisely scattered.

“Well, if that wasn’t down right bone chillin’,” Zoë murmured next to Mal.

“Don’t know. From Jayne, well that’s probably as close to actual concern as he’ll get for that boy.”

“Wasn’t what I was referrin’ to, Sir.” Zoë’s voice betrayed nothing.

But Mal recognised all of Zoë’s ‘saying something by saying nothing’ tones, even if he didn’t always understand them. “Which was?”

“Just think it’s strange that it’s Jayne who can see how there might be a problem doing this over Simon’s lack of consent.”

***

Simon sat in his room, quietly pouring over his notes on Ceres, on every clue she’d ever given him about guarding his mind. He tried some of her techniques, unsure if they were working or not. The ache to cut had become maddening, and yet he dared not even look at it straight on, least it overwhelm him. There had to be some compromise. He looked up from his notes, resting his eyes; his sister’s words floated up to the top of his conscious thought. “The same as what you felt? Oh, but it was, Simon. Felt you feeling it, here. Felt me feeling it, here. Dot, dot, dot. Three little blisters, right in a neat, tidy, perfect row.” Well, if he couldn’t stop her from feeling him feeling the pain, at least he could ensure the she didn’t feel herself feeling it. There were at least some parts of his body that he could injure that River didn’t have. He shuddered, but that was a comfort: at least he wasn’t yet so far gone that such a thought brought with it a sense relief.

The knock on the door did, however, bring that sense of relief, even though he knew it would be momentary. “Come in, Zoë.”

The first mate stepped through. “You weren’t kidding about the ‘unless the Captain orders me to’ part, were you? Not even a little bit.” She shook her head. “May I sit?”

“Of course, Zoë. I’m sorry, I should have offered.” Simon swung himself sideways so that she could sit next to him on the bed.

“We didn’t hear the fight, you know. Don’t know what you said to get Kaylee and Jayne so riled up.”

“I just said that I wouldn’t do it. They took it from there.”

Zoë nodded. “You know they were expecting you to take a swing at the Captain, right?”

“When I stood up? Yeah, I’m sure they did.” Simon’s tone was flat, and his tight smile held no mirth that Zoë could see. Zoë didn’t say anything; she’d hoped, now that Simon had started talking, he might just continue. And, after a few moments’ silence, he did. “When I was on the Skyplex – after Kaylee had left the diner, I was – I was waiting to pay the bill, and you know, just trying to put some distance between us and hoping to leave quietly before the Feds showed – and the guy – the cashier he was just taking forever. And I remember making all of these cosmic promises.”

Simon paused and Zoë watched him silently from the corner of her eyes. “You know, at first, Kaylee wouldn’t go? Didn’t want to split up, didn’t understand, and we didn’t really have time to discuss it. By the time she left, and I was waiting for the cashier – I was so conscious of the seconds we’d wasted and I finally understood – really understood – how frustrating it must be for the Captain when what he needs is trust and timely obedience, and all he’s getting are arguments and questions from me – like the time we were boarded. And I said that if Kaylee just made it back to the ship, I’d never question the Captain’s orders again.”

“And if you both made it back to the ship?”

“I said that if we both made it back safe, that I’d never leave the boat again unless it was absolutely necessary.”

That gave Zoë a long moment’s pause. “That why you said you were never leaving the boat again unless the Captain ordered you off?”

“Yes.” Simon’s mouth was a sad, rather haggard line.

“But you didn’t make it back safely.”

A flicker of some emotion Zoë didn’t recognise crossed Simon’s face quickly. “Close enough for government work.”

‘Ah, yes’, Zoë thought. ‘Snarky Simon – always a joy to deal with’. Zoë patted Simon’s leg comfortingly.

Simon sighed at the gesture, a too-familiar sense of shame creeping up. “I made it back,” he said softly.

“Not all of you.” Zoë’s voice was just as soft.

“No. But enough of me that I don’t want to kill myself nearly as much as I did when I was in there.” Simon’s soft voice went softer and smaller. “And who knows? Maybe someday it will all seem worth while.”

“But it’s not, now.” It wasn’t a question.

“River’s safe. But she’s not happy, and I can’t shake the feeling that that’s my fault. It’s ok,” Simon said quickly, before Zoë could interrupt. “I know that you’re going to tell me that it’s not, but it doesn’t change the circumstances of how my sister’s lover got taken, or how I feel about that.”

***

Banks looked away from the one-way mirror to glace sideways at his partner. "The phrase 'best two out of three' springs to mind, Sir."

Green’s gaze did not change as he acknowledged Banks’ words. "Indeed?"

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that we would end up with the best two, but I propose that there is a way to capture at least Simon Tam without further risk to Blue Sun property and personnel,” Banks amended.

"But not River Tam?"

"Oh, possibly River Tam as well, if we play our cards right. She can be somewhat unpredictable, of course."

"Of course. Your plan is?"

"I propose a straight deal with Dr. Tam. One life for another. He comes willingly, and we stop pursuing River Tam. Everyone has a fulcrum, an axis on which they can be moved. His sister is his."

"The loss on the River Tam project would be irrecoverable."

"If it were final,” Banks agreed before continuing. “On the other hand, as it stands, the cost is currently still mounting. Also, after we have Simon Tam, we may finally be able to get our hands on River Tam."

"We've tried that," Green pointed out.

"No. Hunt and Smith tried that, and their approach, while worthy, failed and increased our losses by an order of magnitude."

"Indeed."

"Dr. Tam will accept our offer. We will then have both recovered Ceres Swann and be able to mould Dr. Tam into along his lines of potential - more likely to be along the spy project than the assassin, but still, a worthwhile arrangement. If, afterwards, River Tam seeks to join him, we will allow her. If she, say, has herself mailed to us in cryogenic storage. We will of course let her know that we will be opening the container with extreme caution - and, if necessary - prejudice. Make it clear that we intend to honour our arrangement with Dr. Tam by not pursuing her, but that arrangement does not exclude reprisals should she choose to attempt to interfere with our projects."

Green considered his partner’s reasoning. "Dr. Tam will want some reassurances that we have stopped following her."

"Want, yes, but not necessarily need. He knows that his drive to protect her makes him vulnerable, but I think we can make him an offer - during the negotiations, of course, not up front - that will be the final lure that he desires. I propose that we permit River Tam to write to him - as we did before - and aside from insuring that the contents contain nothing but paper and standard ink, in no way interfere with them. Dr. Tam will be permitted to respond to her letters, although for safety's sake that can be no more than an acknowledgement that he is still alive. Something along the lines of 'I received your letter dated... Love, Simon,' or 'I received your undated letter beginning... Love, Simon'."

Green was impressed with the simple elegance of his partner's plan. He half turned so that he was finally facing Banks. “Tiancai idea. It would be nearly impossible for him to fail to feel a measure of gratitude both for the offer and each time he receives a letter and the ability to comfort his sister."

"I don't know about genius, Sir," Banks spoke modestly. "Really, it's fairly elementary traumatic bonding."

Green waved this away. "Oh, not quite. It's a nice twist - given the relationship between the Tams, the letters will be a significant comfort to Dr. Tam without costing us anything. It also lowers the ego-cost to him of surrendering himself to us."

Banks nodded seriously, and added, "Access to Swann might be another bargaining chip with him; we can acquiesce to his request to see her, be certain of her still being alive. Similarly, it allows us a bargaining chip should either of them feel particularly intractable regarding their training."

"You think there is a relationship between the two?" The smallest indication of questioning passed across Green’s generally unreadable features.

"Well, there would logically have to be some relationship, of course, Sir. If you mean do I think they had a romantic relationship, I think that it is a distinct possibility. It's possible that it is merely a deepening friendship, too - but Swann chose to surrender to give the others a chance to get Dr. Tam away; perhaps more significantly, their personalities are very similar. I suspect that a genuine sympathy would naturally evolve between the two, in a relatively short period of time together."

Green considered this. "That could also work in our favour, if we could subvert them enough to breed. Alternatively, we could merely pursue the project in vitro. Obviously, this would be dependent on how close to each other their talents lie. More significantly, while Dr. Tam's recommendations have a large genetic component, there is quite a lot of evidence that Swann's are largely nurture rather than nature."

"At the very least, Sir, we would breed another genius," Banks pointed out. “And, it’s likely we would breed a genius with some malleable Tam features.”

"This is true. In any case, it merits due consideration." Green turned back, expressionless to the one way glass. “Check the records. See if we have any useable genetic samples from River Tam. It would be worth looking at the possibility of a Simon Tam-River Tam cross, as well.”

“Yes, Sir.” Banks filed the order away in his mind for later, as he too turned his attention back to the glass and waited.

*** *** *** Chapters 41 - 45 Just Chapter 41 *** *** ***

COMMENTS

Monday, February 26, 2007 8:57 AM

GIRLFAN


All the chapters have originally been posted here, singly or occassionally in pairs.

As new chapters go up, I add links between them, and every ten I bunch them together. It may be a personal quirk, but when I first started reading stories that were already long by the time I got there, it was nicer when I didn't have to load lots of pages etc to get each fix. I tend to read straight through. I suppose this second upload is a nod toward readers like myself.

If you perfer to read a bit at a time, the original chapters are still up with the comments they garnered. Please take a moment to read them, too. Sometimes the comments are the funniest bits.

Oh, and if you add your own comments, that would be shiny.

Thank you to all who've shared this with me, and especially to everyone who's commented.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 1:22 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Even after a few days, I still feel the need to go "Ewww!" about Green and Banks' idea to creat a Tam Special from Simon and River's DNA. Cuz while I doubt they would let things alone till it was too late to deal with something suffering from disorders galore....it's not something I am feeling warm and fuzzy about:(

BEB

Thursday, March 1, 2007 12:02 PM

GIRLFAN


>it's not something I am feeling warm and fuzzy about:(

Green and Banks aren't really supposed to encourage warm, fuzzy feelings... :)


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