You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 11
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Signal rocks the house, Regan makes a realization, and three major things happen to River in the span of half an hour.


Hey All

Honestly, I'm wondering if anyone remembers or gives a crap about my story. I'm the worlds worst procrastinator, and I doubt I have it in me to totally complete this story. It's pretty much done as it is, I just had to fill in a few holes. I just put in some bracketed paragraphs describing what I would have written.

The reason I'm posting the rest of my story incomplete is because I've been sitting on this for two years and I don't really want to let all that time and effort go to waste. So here's the rest of my magnum opus. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Halfway across the ‘verse, Mal, Jayne and Shooter were walking into The Maidenhead. After dropping off the trio on Osiris yesterday, Mal and the crew had gone off to pick up the next shipment of liquidated resources from the docks on Persephone. It was a large order that had to be brought to the drop off point Fanty and Mingo had specified almost immediately, but even with his crew down by two people, they were able to make the drop as smooth as possible. But despite Mal getting his wish of things going smoothly, he couldn’t help but hope for some unexpected catastrophe. Every job they had had since Blue Tuesday had been legal, simple and plentiful. And while at first he appreciated the sudden reversal of fortune, lately he had started to feel restless. He was praying for something, anything, to happen. But he put his boredom aside, alongside his firearm that he hadn’t fired in five months in the revolving cases and headed down into the bar with Jayne and Shooter flanking his left and right, as Wash and Zoe went to one of the upstairs rooms for some alone time. The three of them headed over to the corner table where their twin employers were waiting for them. Unceremoniously, the three of them took their seats and looked over to the pair as they finished their drinks. “Who’s the new member?” Mingo asked inquisitively. “Impartial witness.” Shooter replied. He pinched one of the joints of his glasses to bring the pair further up the bridge of his nose. What the others didn’t realize was that he had just pressed a fiber-optic REC button. Shooter had been compiling footage of nearly every waking moment since Blue Tuesday for a documentary he had in mind of the last five months. And something like this he wanted to be in the front row for. “Drop go smooth?” Fanty asked. “Like a baby’s bottom.” Mal replied. “You have the payment?” Mingo asked. Nonchalantly, Jayne placed the bag of platinum coins on the table. “Fifty-fifty. That was the deal.” “Sure, whatever.” Both of them replied at the same time. Jayne then looked to Mal, confused as to the lack of haggling, which Mal also shared. Shooter merely looked back and forth between the four men. He wanted to get all this. “What? Ain’t we gonna haggle over the price?” Jayne asked in an irritated fashion. “That’s what we always do, right?” “Jayne.” Mal said in his angry tone. “No point in it, mate.” Fanty said matter of factly. “Kinda takes the fun out of it when it’s legit.” Mal looked at the two of them with a strange look, which Mingo noticed. “Oh come on, Mal. Don’t tell me that all this legal work you’ve been doing since the Alliance went broke hasn’t got you yearning for the old days.” “Have to admit things have been a bit slow action-wise for the last few months.” Mal said this as the waitress came over with a tray full of drinks that she set down in front of them. “But I guess the old sayin’ is true. Be careful what you wish for.” While Jayne furrowed his brow in confusion, the rest of the men nodded at this simple truth. “Well,” Fanty said as he raised his glass. “Here’s to an honest day’s work.” All five of them downed their glasses in one gulp. As Shooter put his glass down and looked around the bar, bored already by the discussions Mal and the twins were having, his eyes wandered over to the bar and the gigantic Cortex link that was hanging above the bar. He stopped, blinked, and looked again. It was at this point that Jayne noticed what Shooter was looking at and voiced his curiosity aloud. “Hey, is that River?” Mal looked over his shoulder, and then pulled back the fan that was obscuring his line of sight. “Jayne. Shooter.” All three of them got up and headed towards the Cortex screen. So were dozens of other bar patrons who were crowding around to get a closer look at the image. What they saw made Mal and Jayne’s jaws drop. They were watching River, their 21 year old source of so much joy and stress, wailing into a microphone as she played her old beat up guitar at a pace once thought unimaginable. Her hair was flailing in all directions, a sheen of sweat was illuminating her, and she was surrounded by a bunch of guys with similar looks, playing in a fancy place that was crowded to the rafters with people of all sorts of ages and backgrounds. As more people cheered, the volume grew even louder, as the sounds that were once heard echoing through the ship was now being broadcast across the ‘verse. “Wo de ma.” Mal said to himself. “I know.” Shooter replied. A few seconds later he broke the pause between the three of them. “The framing’s all wrong.” “Huh?” Jayne grunted as he looked over to Shooter. “The framing’s all wrong. Whoever’s filming this is doing way too many close-ups. There needs to be more medium and wide shots. And where’s the crowd? THAT’S what’s making the whole thing special. The sound’s OK, but the framing’s all wrong, the cutaways are too fast and it- Oh well, that makes sense. Bay is the one screwing it all up. I can recognize those delayed zoom-ins a mile away.” Shooter tore his eyes away from the Cortex and went over to Fanty and Mingo, who were now standing still in an enraptured gaze on what they were seeing. “Is there a telephonix here?” “Yeah, over by the bathroom.” Mingo stated blankly. Shooter turned, but before he could go, Mal stopped him. “Where are you heading?” “I gotta call my guy in Osiris. Get me in contact with that idiot in the control booth in Capital City.” He pointed at the screen in a determinate tone. “I don’t care if I have to direct this across the ‘verse, I am not going to let that hack screw up our girls’ debut.” Jayne muttered a “Yeah, you do that”, to himself as Shooter went off and left Mal and Jayne by themselves in the small crowd. Fanty inched his way to Mal and questioningly asked him, “You know that girl?” Mal just dazed at the Cortex screen and said in amazement, “I really don’t.” * * * * * * * * * * * * As Simon quietly closed the door to the balcony behind him, he still couldn’t shake his feeling of duty and responsibility towards his dying mother. As he looked to Kaylee, he saw that she had the same look on her face as well, although her eyes didn’t betray her excitement over the proceedings. Keeping in mind her request for them to have fun, and with River’s vocals and guitar refrains wafting into the opulent hallway, they simply walked hand in hand towards the elevator they had arrived in earlier and entered. They rode down in silence towards the main floor.

The mood lightened as the doors opened to reveal louder music and a steady stream of people coming out and in at the same time. As they stepped out of the elevator and joined the line of people slowly flowing through the auditorium doors, the apprehension of the situation began to fade away rather quickly. Simon and Kaylee looked all around them, and were amazed at the sheer number of people packed into the enclosed environment. It would be easy to get lost, so they both tightened the grips they had on each other.

Six months ago, Simon would have considered being in a public space with thousands of people surrounding him and River suicide. But as he saw the rows and rows of the faces of people just like him and Kaylee jumping up and down and screaming and cheering and having probably the best time of their lives since who knows when, his anxiety and paranoia began to fade away. A strange sensation came over him as he and Kaylee finally stopped, found a relatively open spot close to the stage and just stood there. By that point, Signal decided to slow things down. George sat back and guzzled a few water bottles some stagehand brought him as he rested. Johnny had stepped off to the side and begun smoking yet another in a long line of cigarettes, thus replacing the smoke machine that had broken down in the first set. Keith had grabbed a violin from the arsenal of instruments that was slowly being assembled from backstage. But Cliff was already gearing up for another piano accompaniment. As he began to play the soothing phrase over and over again, River stepped up to the mike and looked serenely out at the legion of people listening to her. Her guitar dangled from her neck, for once silent in the last few hours. After counting out the beat, she began singing in a sweet, but philosophical tone. As if what she was about to say was revolutionary, and yet so simple she couldn’t understand why no one had thought of this.

“Imagine there’s no heaven.” She paused as she heard Cliff’s steady and pleasant refrain. “It’s easy if you try…No Hell below us…Above us only sky.” She took a quick breath that contained the simple pleasure of singing a song. “Imagine all the people…Living for today.” She added an “Ah, ah, ahhhahhh” that brought an even bigger smile to Kaylee.

“Imagine there’s no planets…It isn’t hard to do…Nothing to kill or die for…No religion too.” As she repeated the little twist from before in preparation for the chorus, Simon’s already infinite admiration for his sister swelled even more as he watched her on stage. “Imagine all the people…Livin life in peace, yooooouuuuuuu, you may say I’m a dreamer.” She gave a small smile and wink to the audience as she sang, “But I’m not the only one…I hope someday you will join us…And the ‘verse will be as one.”

Cliff’s playing of the keyboards became stronger as Keith’s violin accompaniment maintained the sweet undercurrent of the song. While it was the quietest song they had played in the last few hours, the ideas being spoken in the song had actually made it one of the top songs on the blacklist. But for the first time in centuries, this simple song was being sung publicly to the entire verse. The relief that anyone hearing this song felt almost brought tears to their eyes. But Simon merely leaned into Kaylee, smelt her hair and placed his hands on her growing womb. Even amidst River’s sonorous voice and the two band members accompaniment, he could still her pleased moan. The smell of her hair was a combination of shampoo and oil. It smelt so good. Reagan was right. They did need this.

As River continued singing, the conviction she brought to the song began to increase. “Imagine no possessions…I wonder if you can…No need for greed or hunger…A brotherhood of man.” As she took another deep breath, she sang the next lines and chorus as if it were a challenge to the human race. “Imagine all the people…Sharing all the verse, And you, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…I hope someday you will join us, and the world will be as one.”

(River then goes into “Revolution”. Later, taking their cue from a female fan that throw’s a bra onto the stage, Johnny puts it on as the band plays “King For A Day”. Johnny dresses like Mal in drag and vamps to the audience. This makes River fall in love with him, Kaylee smile and Simon worry. River then does her version of “Shout” and manages to tie in the Ballad of Serenity. This leads to a huge musical climax where River and Johnny go all out on their guitars. Johnny almost orgasms as he writhes on the floor playing. River then come up to him, straddles him as she plays the final notes, and before the last strum, she kisses him in front of the entire crowd, which goes out across the Cortex. A star couple is born.)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

A half hour later, the band began to feel a bit weary. Even though they’ve only scratched at their combined repertoire, they had been playing for nearly ten hours straight. And it was beginning to show. After the song where River shared her first kiss in front of thousands of people, they had decided to slow down a bit to conserve their energy. They did slow and thoughtful songs from bands ranging from Pink Floyd to Don McLean. As they finished the last notes of a ballad, River began to walk backwards towards the drums to call together an impromptu meeting of the minds.

“We’ll be back in just a sec, ladies and gentlemen.” Johnny said this quickly before joining his mates and his brand new girlfriend. The crowd began to buzz as they wondered what was going on. Simon and Kaylee merely exchanged glances as they became as puzzled as the thousands that surrounded them. Only Regan’s attitude stayed the same. As much as she was enjoying seeing River perform and hearing the music she was playing, it wasn’t enough to distract from the blinding pain that was shooting through her entire body and the tiny gasps of air that were now harder for her to breathe in.

Up on the stage, River had asked the guys if they were ready to call it quits. “I can still go, but what about you guys?”

“You know how hard it is to keep up with you two?” George asked River and Johnny. “Between you guys and your musical foreplay, I’m just dripping with sweat beating off to you guys.” All of them suddenly gave George a grossed out look. “OK, that didn’t sound sick at all.” George replied.

“Smooth.” Keith replied. “I’m also getting a bit worn out. I think I’ve done every instrument on hand.”

“And me fingers are getting worn down to nubs over here.” Cliff chimed in on the situation. Even though River was as energetic as the people closest to the stage, she could see that they were close to running on fumes. And they did want to leave on a high note.

“OK, let’s do one more song, and then call it a night. What do you think we should end it on?”

“Definitely something big,” Keith countered. “Something that could blow the roof off of this joint.”

“And it should be something from a band we havn’t touched too much.” As the guys began to quickly list off songs that they hadn’t done yet, a strange sensation came over River. A sense of needing to do something right now, but unsure of why it had to be done. She suddenly realized what it could mean and snapped out of her small trance.

“The Irish band.”

“What?” Johnny asked.

“The Irish band. We need to end with one of their songs.”

“Which one?” George questioningly implied.

“City of Blinding Lights.”

The guys suddenly looked worried. The reason that they hadn’t touched any of the Irish band’s songs was due to their complexity. They had rehearsed that and a number of other songs, but they were never able to get it just right.

“Are you sure you want to do that, River?” Johnny was worried that after all they went through, that they were going to end on a sour note. “I think that-“

“Don’t think.” River interrupted. “Just feel.”

The guys looked at each other and shrugged. Cliff broke the silence with a nervous grin. “Well, if we’re going out, might as well be swinging. Just give us a few moments to get ready.”

“Sure. I wanted to say a few things to the crowd first.” And with a wink, she turned and walked back to the front of the stage. As the band members prepared themselves for the massive song they were about to play and communicating with the people backstage to make sure everything was in place, River took the mike and addressed the audience. “How you folks doing there?” The crowd answered her in a roar of acceptance. “Well folks, as much as we enjoy being up here and playing for you guys, we’re about done here.” A few boos and angry shouts were directed at her before she followed that announcement with “But we got one more song for you folks.” The crowd then cheered at this news.

As the guys got prepared for the final song and The Dude hurriedly gave directions to the stage manager to try to do for this song, River began to address the crowd in a more reserved manner. “This last song we’re about to do was written over five hundred years ago by a band from a country from Earth-That-Was called Ireland. It was written…after a horrible event that began many years of strife and hardship. Particularly in a city very much like this city. This band, despite being surrounded by horrors and atrocities and terrible things, was able to see the absolute beauty of the world around them, and to find meaning where there seemed to be none.” As she spoke these words which were echoing in the minds and hearts of billions of people all over the verse, they resonated with different meaning. To nine people, it seemed to sum up their lives. And for one person in the balcony, it assured her that the little girl that was taken away from her all these years ago had finally become the woman she wanted her to be.

“I know that it seems hard to be able to see anything of hope in these times we live in. Trust me, I know. But it is possible. All you need to do is look for it. I hope you can.” As River said this last part, the stage lights dimmed to the point where the whole theatre was nearly pitch black. After a few moments of silence, Johnny played a single note twice on his base. As he stretched the second note longer and louder, spotlights that were set up behind the band dimmed up, illuminating the band in silhouette. After ten seconds of this, River joined in with a quick beat that sounded unlike anything the crowd had heard that. The notes seemed to be soaring high above the crowd, like they were about to take flight. After another ten seconds of this, Cliff joined in on the piano with a simple descending phrase repeated over and over again. A palpable sense of astonishment came over the band as they realized that they sounded very much like the Irish band. George slowly brought up the beat of the drums until they matched the rest of the song. Keith had a base guitar of his own that was accompanying Johnny and River’s parts.

The band built and built and then hit the crescendo that truly announced the arrival of the song. The crowd, which at first was confused about what they were about to sing were now back on their feet, jumping up and down to the beat of the song and cheering to hear the actual lyrics of the song. Kaylee’s heart began to soar as she heard the heavenly melody that River was producing from her thin, worn out fingers and Simon stared in amazement at the confident entertainer that his sister had become. And as Regan watched as River came up to the mike to sing, she started to feel an odd sense of euphoria growing in her. As if, for once in so long, everything was all right.

“The more you see, the less you know.” The way River began singing it would have brought tears to even the legend who first sang it centuries ago. “Less you find out as you go. I knew much more then, than I do now.” As her melody echoed throughout the building, a sense of humility got mixed in with her awe. “Neon hearts, day-glo eyes, city lit by Fireflies.” She gave a tiny chuckle at the line, knowing that only two people in the crowd caught the in-joke. “They’re advertising in the skies, for people like us. And I…miss you when you’re not around. I…’m getting ready, to leave the ground.”

As she tied that last word to the wail that she and Johnny were singing into the mikes, she felt like every atom in her body was about to dematerialize. At that moment when the volume exploded, the stage lights went back on to their brightest capacity in synch with the song. The sudden blindness that flooded the auditorium made it seem like a higher deity suddenly came down for all the verse to see. Even River was caught off guard by the collective spiritual elation that had just made the opera house the temporary center of the universe.

“Oh, you look so beautiful tonight, in the city of blinding lights.”

The song calmed down a bit, but still retained its power as River began to address the people in the front row. “Don’t look before you laugh, look ugly in a photograph. Flash bulbs, purple iris’, the camera can’t see.” She then looked up to the balconies and the people in there. For some strange reason, she felt compelled to address that area. “I’ve seen you walk unafraid. I’ve seen you in the clothes you made; can you…see the beauty…inside of me? What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?” To River, this seemed like a question of self-doubt. But for Regan, this seemed like a direct question towards her. And in her mind, she answered, “It’s there. It’s just outside of you now.”

In an instant, River seemed to get the answer to the question she had just asked. Thus, as she sang, “And I…miss you when you’re not around. I…’m getting ready, to leave the ground.”, an ecstatic smile came over her as she now realized that this was the real her. Her guitar playing became even more forceful as she now exploded in pure psychic and spiritual energy.

“Oh, you look so beautiful tonight, in the city of blinding lights.”

She banged out a majestic chord to put the audience in her hand. “Time”. The chord seemed to bring the house lights a bit brighter than normal. “Time.” Regan noticed that they got even brighter, and yet they did not notice this. ”Time.” The volume was still deafening, but it didn’t seem to hurt her ears now. “Time…time…won’t leave me as I am.” River had her eyes shut as she was both screaming in ecstasy and playing her guitar with glee. “But time won't take the gal out of this woman.” It was the last thing Regan could make out.

A strange sensation began to overcome Regan as River and her band roared into the final repeat of the chorus. The pain that had been increasing all day suddenly shifted into a feeling of euphoria. Time and space slowed to a crawl as the auditorium was flooded with a warm, yellow light.

“Oh…you…look…so…beau-ti-ful to-night!!!”

In a second that stretched to infinity, Regan Francis Tam saw her entire life unfold. She saw herself age from a precocious girl to a bereft woman. She saw all her successes and all her failures. The people she touched and who touched her. She saw all that had made her the woman she is, and understood the meaning of existence.

“Oh…you…look…so…beau-ti-ful to-night!!!”

She would never see her daughter blossom into a real woman. She would never hold a grandchild in her arms. She would never feel Gabriel’s embrace one last time as they celebrated an important anniversary. She would never experience the later joys in life that many others would. But in the moment before her body gave away from the awesome experience she was having, she could not have been more grateful for all that she had in her entire life. She did not know what was ahead of her, but for the first time, she truly was not afraid. She closed her eyes and smiled in joy as the light enveloped her.

“Oh…you…look…so…beau-ti-ful to-night!!! In the city…of bli-nding lights.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“The more you know, the less you feel…some pray for it, others steal…blessings not just for the ones who kneel…luckily.”

As she heard her bandmates close out the song, she kneeled and began to bow to the audience. The place grew louder and louder as she did this, then got up and exited the stage along with the guys. They walked over to an area in one of the wings that had a table filled with bottles of water and saki on ice, along with the usual cold cuts and rice rolls. While Cliff and Keith began to ravenously devour the meager bits of food and down the bottles of water to cool down, River, George and Johnny flopped down on the couch and relaxed. River didn’t realize that she was so physically exhausted after the last ten hours or so. They really had done the impossible. She just exhaled and leaned against Johnny. All she wanted was to rest next to him.

“Uhhh, guys…” George’s voice interrupted the silence of the group as they relaxed over the din of the crowd. “They’re not leaving.”

Everyone either sat or looked up. River and Johnny got up and followed Cliff and Keith towards George, who was looking out from behind the red velvet curtains.

“I think they want us to do an encore.” George remarked in a reluctant tone.

“You gotta be kidding me!” Johnny’s cigarette dropped from his mouth. He was tired, horny, and had to go to the bathroom. “After all that, we still gotta do more? I still haven’t taken a piss in the last ten hours.”

Keith handed him an empty water bottle. Johnny looked at him as Keith continued. “Well we can’t just go out and tell them to get lost. They’d tear this place apart if we don’t go out there and give them at least one more song.”

“But what can we play?” Cliff asked. “I think we’ve touched every legend and type of rock ever created. And that song was one of the biggest songs we know. What’s bigger than that?”

“Free Bird.”

The guys looked at River, faces agape at her suggestion. “River,” George said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said that I was almost burnt out.

(River convinces them to play “Free Bird”. They go out for an encore. Johnny says “You’re still there, huh?” Johnny takes the vocals for the song and he and River do the guitar bits. The song slowly builds and builds until if it’s at all possible, they hit an even higher plateau in their musical ability. River decides to really get things going, and during the massive guitar solo that makes up the majority of the song, she and Johnny go into full make-out mode. They give the hottest, intense kiss anyone’s ever seen as they both play with a fury no one’s ever seen. As they get near the song, George shifts his beats so that the band can recognize “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.” River and Johnny transition into that song and wraps up the evening with it. The crowd practically explodes as the five band members walk up to the front and take a group bow. George throws his sticks into the crowd as they walk off.)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After they walked off the stage for real, they paused to take in what had just happened and the roar of the crowd as the cheered and chanted “Sig-nal, Sig-nal” over and over again. No one said anything until they had left the main stage area and returned to the dressing room they were in earlier. They each sat at a station, all looking at each other with satisfied looks on their faces. George was the first one to break the silence.

“Oh man, was that incredible or what?”

Each of them agreed with the sentiment whole heartedly. But Johnny, ever the voice of doubt and perspective, quietly added to himself, “I just hope it’s not all downhill from here.”

Keith looked at him incredulously and gave him a nudge with his right hand. “Lighten up, man. Couldn’t have asked for a better turn-out. We must’ve played to over 2500 people in there.”

“3,283 to be exact.” River replied. Everyone looked at her. She looked back and simply shrugged, “I counted.”

As the guys chuckled at this little joke, a middle aged man with a beard, a gut and a head-set knocked on the door and poked his head in. “Excuse me, which one of you is River Tam?”

As River raised her hand, Johnny looked to the guy with a surprised look. They had just become the first rock icons in nearly two hundred years. Surely he’d know who they were by now. “Havn’t you been watching the show, man?”

The guy shrugged. “I was busy managing everything from behind. I got two people by the door that won’t leave.” He said this while sticking his thumb over his shoulder. “One of them is pregnant and the other one says he’s your brother.”

River smiled. “That’s Simon and Kaylee.” She looked at the guy and said excitedly, “Let them in.” As he closed the door to let them in, she turned to all the guys. “You have to meet them.”

Johnny asked, “Is he the brother that broke you out?”

As she nodded, the door opened again and Kaylee and Simon emerged. Kaylee first stepped in, and then burst into the room, rushing over to River.


River got out of her chair and both collided into a hug. “Oh, honey. We were worried about ya.”

River broke the embrace and began talking happily. “I’m fine. I’m more than fine.”

Kaylee began acting like a star-struck fan as she exclaimed how excited she was about the whole thing. “I know. I saw. You were real shiny up there. Nearly went supernova at those last two song of yers.”

River shrugged again. “I try.”

As the girls went off to a corner to talk some more about the concert and all that had happened since last night, Simon walked further into the room. While he was excited and happy to see River acting like a normal girl again, he kept it on the inside. What he wanted to know was if the new people around her could be trusted. He walked over to where the guys were sitting and talking to each other. Johnny noticed him and walked up to him, looking as serious as Simon was.

“Are you her older brother?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

Johnny looked at him for a few moments and then smiled as he nodded knowingly. “Dude. Your sister totally rocks.”

This comment was without a doubt, the one thing Simon Tam thought he would never hear in his entire life. For starters, what he was called had never been said about him by anyone in his entire life. No one who had ever met him, and not even he himself, would ever describe him as anything remotely dude-like. Simon was the furthest thing away from being a dude. So for him to be given this high accolade from a very dude-like stranger felt more odd than vindicating. But the comment about his sister totally rocking was the one comment he was sure he would never hear. River was many things. A prodigy for sure. But for someone to describe her being as similar to that of the legends she emulated, it seemed as if River was no longer the scared, broken little girl that came out of the cryo box. She was now a true woman. Simon had no idea what to say, so he simply said this.


“It means he respects you.” Simon turned around and saw The Dude enter from the door behind him. “But don’t get too attached to the title. Only one guy here called The Dude and that’s me.”

Simon stretched out his hand and politely responded, “It’s nice to meet you…Dude.” Words cannot describe how awkward he felt saying that.

The Dude clasped his hand and shook it while grinning. “Likewise. Heard a lot about you from her.”

Simon wanted to return the politeness The Dude was showing, but was still uncertain about the situation. “I wish I could say the same thing, but I’m a bit in the dark about all this.”

The Dude caught onto this and winked at him. “Don’t worry. I’m about the shed some light onto the whole thing.” The Dude stepped forward and raised his voice. “Everyone, can I have your attention, please?” The gals stopped talking and went over to the group. “Thank you. I have some good news, and some even better news. The good news is we kicked ass. The house was packed, the manager says that they actually made a profit, and all those folks out there are spreading the word about us. The media’s eating this up and word and footage of the concert is speading like wildfire over the Cortex. We’re the first good news the ‘verse has heard in a long time.” Everyone except Simon cheered about this news. “And, it keeps getting better.” He turned to the door and yelled, “Mr. Spector, you can come in now.”

The door opened and a man in a suit came in and stepped forward. For a brief second, Simon, Kaylee and River recoiled, expecting something really bad about to happen. But their fear subsided as they noticed that the hand that was carrying the briefcase was bare. Despite the name, he was not the ghoulish, blue handed demon they had come to expect. He was about the same age as The Dude, seemed fresh out of business school and had an air of vitality around him.

The Dude smiled as he introduced the suit to the band. “This is Robert Spector. He’s from Twilight Music and is here to make an offer.”

Cliff frowned and voiced his confusion. “Twilight Music? Never heard of 'em.”

Before The Dude could reply, Robert stepped in and began to talk in a clear and excited tone. “We're an up and coming, vertically intergraded music company. After Blue Tuesday, the distribution channels were available for purchase. And a few of my associates bought them at a discount. We have access to the main Cortex hubs and can distribute music to every link in the verse. Problem is, nothing we have the rights to is selling. The music industry is stagnant because no one wants to listen to jargon that reminds them of a corrupt system.” At this point, he had already set his briefcase down and began gesturing animatedly with his hands as his tone grew more and more excited. “We've already signed a few minor artists just to test the waters. But you folks here have something. You've tapped into something new and exciting that no one's doing but everyone loves. You are singing what an entire verse is thinking during these troubled times and are giving them something they’d never thought they would have again. Hope for the future.”

As they were all listening, a slow realization came over them. They had all gotten into this for various reasons. No one really expected anything to come of this union. But as Robert was explaining how much of an impact they had made with the concert, they suddenly had a sense of responsibility for what they had achieved and what could be possible. Johnny was the first person to say what they were all thinking. “That's all nice and dandy, but what do you want from us?”

“We want to take you into the fold.” As he continued, he went over to a table in front of the group, opened up his briefcase, pulled out a lengthy digi-pad, powered it up and opened up a contract file. “We can't promise a lot of money, but like I said we can guarantee distribution to every Cortex link in the entire verse. And when it's feasible, we can put you on tour alongside other bands and artists on our label. We can also guarantee 100% creative control on your end. We leave the musicians to make the music.” He then placed the digi-pad on the table in front of them and placed a dig-pen at the bottom. “All you have to do,” he said with a smile as he pushed the contract forward, “is sign.”

A heavy silence came over the room. Everyone there realized what this sudden development meant to all of them. They knew that this was a turning point in not only their emerging music careers, but their entire lives.

It was River’s turn to break the silence. “Can we take a few minutes to talk it over?” she asked Robert.

Robert shrugged. “Certainly. Take all the time you need.”

Robert pulled up a chair and sat down. He knew this was going to take a while, and he was in no rush. The group had split into two. River went with Simon and Kaylee to the back of the room while The Dude, Johnny, Cliff, George and Keith all huddled off to the side to discuss the offer.

“Well, what do you guys think?” asked The Dude.

“I think we should sign.” Keith responded. “Something like this only comes around once in an incredibly long time.”

“There’s a reason why it’s like that.” Johnny replied. “Because any idiot willing to sign that usually ends up signing away any integrity they might have.”

The Dude countered this. “Do you want to go back to the border planets working go-se part time jobs?”

“Of course not. I just don’t want to get into something that’s gonna spoil down the line.”

George got in on this. “Hey. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Just go with the flow. I know I am.”

Cliff finally spoke, saying something that he had now realized. “Gentlemen, as much as we are all enjoying this debate about artistic integrity, I should point out that we’re not talking about the one thing that’ll make or break the whole thing. It doesn’t matter if we sign or not. But our gal River is the lynch pin. Without her, we got nothing.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

While the guys were discussing artistic integrity and the implications of the contract, a very different conversation was going on with the three in the back. River was amazed by the sudden turn of events. For once, she didn’t see something of this magnitude coming. Oddly enough, this didn’t deter her. If anything, she was filled to the brim with anticipation over what could happen. It might not have been the thing she dreamed about ever since she was a little girl, but right now, it looked as if everything she could ever want was now in front of her.

Kaylee was equally stunned by all this as well. She didn’t know what to expect when it was decided to come to Simon’s home planet and meet his folks. But she never imagined that she’d be watching her mei-mei-in-law up on stage, resurrecting an art form that would be a source of inspiration for an entire verse. While she was happy for what she had accomplished, she was worried about what was going to happen. Only Simon’s expression didn’t change. He looked in concern at everyone else in the room, and was starting to think this had a sinister side to it that they weren’t seeing.

River looked over to the two most important people in her life and asked simply, “So what do you think?”

Kaylee was flabbergasted by it all and was unsure how to answer. “I really dunno what ta say. It all sounds so amazing.”

Simon looked over to Robert Spector and said in a hushed tone, “A little too amazing....”

River shook her head. He was so wrapped up in his determination to protect her, he couldn’t see beyond his paranoia. She gave him her “you’re an idiot” look and said, “He's not bad. Ink isn't in blood. It's pixillated.”

Simon reacted normally. ”I'm sorry, but it all seems like bait to me.”

Kaylee got on River’s wavelength and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Simon. Not all people are out to get ya.”

Simon responded in a “yeah, well” tone with “But it does tend to happen.”

River looked into his eyes and said clearly “The hunt is done. The war is over. Time to deal with what to do after.” She gave a small smile as she said “And I want to do this.”

Simon dropped the concerned act and said worriedly, “The contract though, the tour... how are you going to do this?”

“I sign.” Normally, River would have said this in a bratty way towards her older brother. But she said it as simply as possible while giving him a look that said for the first time in four years, “I’m staying.”

Both Simon and Kaylee felt a chill in the room as the implication hit them. After all they had gone through in the last four years, this was how it was all going to end. Not in an epic space battle or a final showdown that would alter the history and fate of the ‘verse or an act of sacrifice or anything overly melodramatic. It would end simply with the signing of a signature. After letting it sink it, Kaylee piped up quietly, “You wanna leave Serenity?”

“Do you need me?”

Simon looked incredulously at his sister. “Of course we need you. How can you think otherwise?”

River then started off a checklist. “Do I go out on missions?”

Simon squinted at the peculiarity of the question. “No. There haven’t been any missions at all.”

“Do you need a nurse?”

“I haven’t needed one in years.”

She addressed this next question to Kaylee. “You need any help with the engine?”

Kaylee would have said anything to keep River from leaving, but like Simon, she was unable to beat River’s logic. She merely shook her head no.

“Do I need to be taken care of?”

“Of course not. The guitar has done far more for you than anything I could treat you with.” Simon looked down to his feet and then back up. He then said quietly, “It's not easy for me to let you go...”

“Should I have more attention than your own daughter?”

“How can I answer that?” He said this as he was trying to keep the sudden wave of emotion he felt from overriding him.

River then took a step forward and put her right hand on his left shoulder. He avoided eye contact at first, but then looked into her deep brown eyes as she asked the most important question in their lives. “Do you want to see me happy?”

Simon suddenly felt everything he had worked for in his whole life had summed up in that moment. Everything he had done, he had done for her. It was an odd form of selfishness on his behalf to be the deciding force in her life. But now, the one person he had sacrificed so much for was now staring at him, asking for the freedom that he had moved heaven and earth to attain for her. He said nothing, but the look on his face was enough of an answer.

“Then let me go. Let me decide the course of my own life. Let me do this.”

Simon felt her hand slip away from him, and he knew then and there that she was gone. Kaylee was running the risk of becoming a blubbering mess as she trembled due to the hormonal imbalance she was experiencing at this moment. She was choking back tears, but she let one slip away she said in a trembling voice, “We're gonna miss you, sweetie.” She placed both her hands on her womb for emphasis. “All of us.”

“I know.” River looked over, and as soon as she saw the trail of the tear she had shed, she went over to comfort her. “Don't cry. I'm not dying. I'm just going to be playing music and taking care of Mom and Dad. I'll still be the cool aunt to Brooke. Just in the Core, and with these guys.”

Kaylee face was now streaked with tears. “I know that. Just not gonna be the same without you.” She chuckled weakly through her tears as she wiped her face with her hands. “I can't seem to find the off switch to it...”

“Save your tears, jie jie. Remember how excited you were when you got the job on Serenity. This is exactly that. And with a cute burn victim as a boy toy no less.”

This made Kaylee laugh genuinely and smile as she nodded in agreement. “He is awfully cute...”

“You take care of me.” River looked at both of them. “You’ve always taken care of me.” River then stepped back from the two of them and said calmly, “My turn.” She turned around, took a deep breath and walked forward. As she walked past the still debating guys, they stopped in silence as she went to the table. She took the digi-pen in her hand and with a confident flourish, signed her signature in both English and Chinese on the appropriate lines. She placed the pen down and looked over to the guys. “Well??”

Upon hearing that, the other guys snapped out of it and headed over to the table. George was the first to sign. He was so excited about the whole thing that his signature nearly became a squiggle. Cliff followed with a more reserved, but just as excited energy which was continued with Keith. Johnny was the last to sign. It was a few tense moments as he held the pen in his hand and looked over the contract. Everyone held their breath for a few moments before he finally put the tip to the screen and signed his name discreetly in both languages.

Robert then took the digi-pad from them and tapped the screen in a few places. As a chime rang out, he smiled with the satisfaction of a done deal. “Congratulations. You are now officially a part of the Twilight Music family.” He placed the digi-pad in his briefcase and shook each of their hands as he said the following. “Our office will send you further details. It's been a pleasure doing business with all of you.” He gave them all one last smile and walked out the door.

As soon as the door closed, the entire room burst into cheers. George was hollering, “Yeah, yeah.” as he jumped around excitedly. River and Johnny exchanged a small kiss as the guys began slapping each other on the back and congratulating themselves. When the atmosphere quieted down, The Dude addressed the band. “Gentlemen. River. We have officially done the impossible, and in one day no less. I think this earns us a few drinks.” The guys hoped and hollered at the implications of this and began to collect their stuff. Only River stood behind as the guys moved to the door. The Dude paused and looked back at her. “River, you coming?”

“I'll catch up with you guys later. I wanna tell my folks about this and celebrate with them.”

The Dude thought this was a fair enough request and shrugged. “OK. Rock on. We’ll catch you later.” The Dude then closed the door behind him, leaving the three alone.

River stared ahead for a while with a satisfied smile on her face. She turned around and went back to Simon and Kaylee. "Come on. Let's go tell Mom and Dad. Where are they anyways?"

Kaylee responded, “Your Mom’s probably still up at the balcony.”

Simon continued. “Dad’s outside waiting by the car. He never came in. Oh well, his loss.”

“Well let's go get Mom ourselves then.” River headed for the door with Kaylee following and Simon trailing behind. The journey back to the balcony was easier this time then when Simon and Kaylee braved the crowd to get as close to the front of the stage as much as possible. Nearly all the people were gone, save for a few employees cleaning up the mess left behind by the crowd. As the ascended up the flights to the Tam’s private balcony, River was filling in the blanks to an excited Kaylee.

"Did you guys really play for like ten hours?"

"Well, there was a three hour break between The State and the Metro, but yeah."

"Da bian hwan, and you still managed to play a great show and get signed and all. This here calls for a party. Can't wait to tell your mom the..."

Simon was the last person to walk into the balcony. Both women were staring at Regan with a suddenly scared look. Simon went forward to get a better look. He saw the still chest and felt the coolness of her skin. While her face had an expression of peace and serenity, it was too still for any living person to sustain. There was no need to examine her.

Regan Francis Tam was dead.


Monday, February 25, 2008 3:51 AM


*Epic no*
Not Regan.

Apart from that, glad to see you're back. And with the funniest thing I've heard all day.
“Dude. Your sister totally rocks.”


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You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 15
Kaylee goes into labor. Hilarity and drama ensues.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 14
Wash and Shooter discuss death and dinosaurs, Gabriel tells Kaylee about Regan, River brings her family together one last time, and Simon and Kaylee face an uncertain future.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 13
Everyone returns to the mansion, Johnny helps a grieving River with some Van Morrison, and Gabriel asks Mal to end it all.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 12
Gabriel is confronted by his family with the news, Kaylee makes a call to Inara, some unexpected guests arrive, and Gabirel is confronted by a familiar demon.

You Can't Go Home Again - Chapter 11
Signal rocks the house, Regan makes a realization, and three major things happen to River in the span of half an hour.

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 10
The Tams make their way to the Metro, Johnny get's spiritual clarity with the help of thousands, River plays a favorite of hers, and Simon and Kaylee go on a long delayed date.

You Can't Go Home Again Chapters 6-9
The next day of Simon, River and Kaylee's journey to the Core. Simon comforts Regan in more ways than one, Kaylee makes some figurative and literal repairs of her own, River and Johnny go from the top of a warehouse building to front and center of the Metro in less than 24 hours, and Regan shows it's never to late to make things right.

You Can't Go Home Again Chapters 1-5
Set after THE SERENITY GIG, BLUE HAND BLUES and SHOTGUN TAM, this story takes place in an AU where the BDM never happened, although there will be refrences to it. With the social and economic breakdown of the Alliance, the Tam's are finally free. But a message from home forces them to deal with a larger issue at hand.

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 9
The Metro opens its doors, Kaylee sees what she's dreamed of, and the first rock concert in two hundred years goes under way with an updated classic.

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 8
This is the all singing, no dancing chapter as River and the band play in public for the first time and tap into something big. The Tam's and Kaylee get wind of this and round two of the fight is interrupted by an unexpected source.