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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Second and last part of a Christmas Firefly tale. River knows what's happening, and sorts it all out.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1039 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
With nothing to be done after their improvised meal, the adults stayed around the kitchen table, hoping the children were behaving themselves bunked up together as they were, and not creating mischief, although a great part of that was ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
With some of Kaylee’s interengine fermentation finest doing the rounds, as well as a bottle of sake Mal produced from somewhere, the conversation had veered, quite naturally, to reminiscing about Christmases past.
“I was six,” Kaylee was saying. “I think that’s the first time I remember seeing snow. Pa’d taken us all into the mountains, to this old cabin he’d borrowed from one of my uncles, and it was colder’n anything I’d ever known before, but I didn’t care. That morning, seeing the snow outside, how it made everything look so ... new ... to me it didn’t matter if I got frostbite. Ma made us all dress up warmly as possible ‘fore she’d let us out of the door, though. And Pete found this old tin tray and we took it in turns to sledge down the hill. Then after we got ourselves all tuckered out, we came back in to find this feast on the table, and boxes done up in paper by our plates.” She sighed happily. “Got my first socket set that year.”
“A very appropriate gift,” Zoe commented.
“It still is,” Simon added, his mind on one of the gaily wrapped parcels waiting at the bottom of his drawer. He only hoped it was the one his beautiful wife had been dropping heavy hints about for weeks now. His eye caught River’s. She winked, and he relaxed a little.
“So you exchanged at dinner?” Hank asked Kaylee, wanting to get it clear.
“Uh-huh. Didn’t you?”
“Nope. We always gave our presents Christmas Eve. Gran dragged me to church, then after my soul had been saved for another year I got my reward.” He chuckled. “Usually a new pair of pants, since I’d worn the old ones out, and a book or two.”
“So that’s where your terrible taste in literature comes from,” Mal joked, pouring another round.
“It’s not that bad,” Hank said, defending himself. “Frey likes ‘em well enough.”
“I can only comment that I was pregnant, and hormones do funny things to you,” the woman in question said, sitting close to her husband so he could drape his arm around her shoulders.
“What about you?” Zoe asked. “In the Rostov household?”
Freya gave a tiny sigh. “Well, Christmas Eve all the estate workers used to come into the hall and sing carols, then my parents would hand out bonuses and mulled wine. My father hated it,” she added. “He thought it was demeaning, but my mother insisted on keeping the tradition going.”
There was a tiny pause as everyone once again realised that Freya’s family could probably have bought and sold each of theirs without even feeling the pinch.
Mal squeezed her shoulder.
“And gifts?” Hank wanted to know. “What about them?”
“Well, there was a private service in the family chapel, with the local Shepherd in attendance, then back for the full turkey dinner.” She had to smile. “Alex and I would stuff food as fast as we could in the hopes that Father would relent and let us go and open our presents quicker, but he never did. The number of times we both had indigestion ...” She groaned slightly at the memory.
“With me it was Christmas Eve too,” Mal said as the general laughter died down. “Pretty much like Hank, although technically it was probably Christmas Day. Church first, then going round folks houses and wishing them the compliments of the season. Be after midnight ‘fore we got back to the ranch, but my Ma would always open the house up to the hands, those as wanted to come in, and we’d be drinking egg nog and telling stories.” His eyes half-closed in happy remembrance. “Then after they’d gone, no matter how late it was, Ma and me’d sit and open our gifts to each other. It didn’t matter what I’d got her, she’d make like it was the most precious thing she’d ever had.” Things hadn’t changed, he thought privately, knowing what Jesse had made for Freya, and just how the gift would be received.
“We had stockings,” Jayne put in, then added, “What?” when everyone looked at him in surprise. “At the foot of the bed. Mostly stuff my Pa had made, but there’d be an orange in the toe, and maybe a sugar mouse.”
“That explains a lot,” Simon muttered, but only very quietly, dropping his eyes when he saw the glare River gave him.
Somehow they all ended up in the cargo bay, either on the deck or hanging over the catwalk, staring at their tree.
“You know,” Hank said musingly, “we oughtta put the gifts underneath. Ready for the morning. Always did at home.”
“Nah.” Jayne was standing outside the shuttle, River at his side. “Not on Ezra. You’d wake up and find they’d been pinched in the middle of the night.”
“Stolen?” Kaylee looked up at him from the bay floor, her face horrified.
Jayne shrugged. “Only way some folks had any kinda cheer. One year my Ma got some special, when Pa was working, and left ‘em by the back door. She’d barely turned her head and they were gone.”
“Well, not here,” Mal stated. “There’s no-one on this rock, not since the settlement up and quit a dozen or so years back. So I think we’ll be safe.”
Black lace and purple ribbons.
Mal glanced sharply at River, the psychic’s words still echoing through his mind. You ain’t supposed to be peeking, he admonished.
She just smiled at him.
“Then I reckon we should,” Hank said, unaware of any other conversation. “The kids’ ones, at least.”
Freya nodded. “I think it would be nice.”
Mal looked at her. “You do?”
“And they’ll love it, coming in here first thing and finding them ready.”
He snagged his arm around her waist. “Come on, then.”
“You didn’t move ‘em, did you?” Kaylee asked, half upside-down in the laundry hamper.
“Why would I?” Simon was rummaging himself in a drawer, muttering Chinese curses under his breath.
“Only I know I put ‘em here.” Kaylee shook her head. “Except they’re gone now.” She stood up, crossing her arms. “You don’t think one of the kids got in there, do you?”
Simon closed the drawer slowly. “It’s possible,” he said thoughtfully. “I mean, if Bethie put her mind to it she’d be able to tell.”
“She’s been good, though, ain’t you noticed? Not peekin’ at all.”
“Then I don't know. Kaylee ...” Simon didn't want to broach another delicate matter, but felt he had to. “What about your gift to me?”
A smile tugged at his wife’s mouth. “Well, you ain’t getting it yet, so –”
“No, I meant, is it there? Because yours aren’t.”
Kaylee became serious again, and quickly dropped to her heels, pulling the panel away from under the bed. She gave a gasp of surprise. “Gorramit,” she breathed.
“I take it the cupboard is bare.”
“It surely is.” She span slowly to face him. “You didn’t ...”
“Me neither.” She stood up. “I reckon we oughtta tell the captain.”
Unfortunately Mal wasn’t surprised, and neither were any of the rest of the crew. Not one of them had been able to find a single present they’d bought, either for the children or for anyone else, and they’d congregated back in the kitchen.
“Do you think we’ve got a thief on board, sir?” Zoe asked, her hands clasped lightly in front of her.
“You mean over and above what we normally do?” Hank asked.
Mal ignored him. “If we do, then it’s a weird kinda thief. Only taking gifts when there’s things of more value around.”
River was staring at her fingers.
“Besides,” Simon put in, “with that storm outside, where would he have come from? And I doubt very much that we brought him with us.”
“Do you think it’s the kids?” Kaylee asked, her eyes beginning to mist. “You know, playing games?”
Freya shook her head. “I checked on them a little while ago, and they were all asleep, or at the very least giving a very good impression of it. But I didn’t pick up any guilty feelings.”
Mal looked at his wife. “What about anything else? Do you feel a stranger on board?”
She concentrated, her brow furrowed. “No. Not ... really.”
“There’s something, but ...” She sighed, disgusted with herself. “I can’t find the shape.”
“But you don’t think it’s a stowaway?”
River sat silently, not moving a muscle.
“No,” Freya admitted. “There’s just us. The other ... is more like a memory than anything else.”
“You mean a ghost?” Hank asked, glancing over his shoulder.
“About the only spirit on board was the one you were knocking back glass for glass with Jayne,” Zoe said, patting his arm. “But that does suggest we’re back to the children.” She shook her head. “Although I can’t think any one of them would have –”
“It was me.”
Everyone around the table stared at River.
“What was that, albatross?” Mal asked, his voice gentle.
“It was me. I took them. I wanted to give them out in the morning. Play Santa Claus.”
Mal looked at Jayne. “I didn’t think this had been a particularly bad day,” he said, not allowing any of the irritation he felt to show.
“Me neither,” the big man admitted. “But I’m guessing she’s tired.” He put his hand on top of his wife’s. “And it ain’t like she’s taken it into her head to slit our throats in our sleep.”
Hank put his hand to his neck and swallowed.
“No more she has,” Mal agreed. “But it’s caused something of a ruction, taking stuff that ain’t hers.”
“I am still here, you know,” River pointed out.
“That you are, darlin’.” Mal smiled slightly at her. “But that still doesn’t get those presents under the tree.”
“Tomorrow.” River turned her limpid eyes up to full. “They’ll be back in place tomorrow.”
“Mal, you heard my wife,” Jayne said firmly. “You trying to make a liar out of her?”
Mal’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn’t chase it. “Fine. But if they ain’t, there’s gonna be more of an explanation needed.”
“Then we’d all best be off to our beds too, else Santa really won’t come.”
“You do know he’s just an extension of an old pagan god, sanitised by the people back on Earth-that-was into something resembling ...” River stopped, then wrinkled her nose at their looks. “Tired anyway,” she said, faking up a huge yawn. “Goodnight.” She jumped to her feet and hurried out of the kitchen.
“And on that slightly scary note ...” Mal stood up and held out his hand to Freya. “Bed.”
“Yes, sir.” She smiled, then half-turned her head as she thought she heard a whisper ...
“Nothing,” she said, wondering why her imagination was running overtime.
In the shuttle Jayne closed the door then stepped up to River as she shook out the blankets. “Riv, why’d you tell ‘em that?” he asked, pulling her into him.
“About Santa not being real?”
“Nope. About you taking the gifts.”
“Because I did.”
“Nope. I know when you’re lying, moonbrain, and you ain’t telling the truth.”
She looked up into his blue eyes, wanting to lose herself in their depths, swim in their shallows and –
He brought her back.
“It will be all right,” she promised. “In the morning. Santa will have come and the presents will be waiting.”
“You know that, do you?”
“So who did it really? Bethie? Maybe her and Ethan?”
River shook her head. “I can’t say.”
“But it’s all gonna be okay.”
He gazed into her eyes this time, seeing nothing but the truth. “Shiny,” he said finally. “Then I think it’s time we went to bed too, don’t’cha think?”
“Yes, Jayne.” She snuggled up close to him, only her thoughts giving her away. Not that anyone would believe me anyway.
It was gone midnight, in the darkest of the hours, when Mal sat up in bed, suddenly wide awake.
“What was that?” he asked.
Freya forced her eyes open. “Huh?”
“Someone rapped on the hatch.”
“You were dreaming.” She reached up for him to pull him back under the covers. “Go sleep.”
“No, I'm not. Listen.”
She sat up too as the sound of someone knocking came clearly, on each of the doors to the bunks, making her jump as their own rattled under the onslaught again. “Oh.”
“Okay, I’ve had enough of this fong luh.” Mal swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up, grabbing his pants and a shirt. He struggled into them. “First the presents, now this. I'm gonna tan the hide of whichever kid’s playing us up, and I don’t care which one it is.”
Freya, doing the same but at least buttoning the front of her shirt, followed him up the ladder.
“What’s going on?” Hank demanded, sticking his head out of the hatch to his and Zoe’s bunk.
“Dear, move out of the way,” his wife said behind him. “Or I can’t shoot it.”
“Sorry.” He swung up into the corridor.
“You heard it too, then?” Mal asked, tucking his shirt in haphazardly.
Zoe joined him, her Mare’s Leg in her hand. “That we did, sir.”
“Frey, go check which one’s out of bed,” Mal said, half-turning. “Then –”
“It’s not one of the children.” Simon rounded the corner by the stairs, Kaylee at his back. “I checked.”
“You heard it down there?” Mal’s brows lifted.
“Whoever it was banged on our doors.” Simon put his arm around Kaylee’s shoulders, holding her to him. “I have to say, the children are terrified.”
“Well, it ain’t one of us,” Hank said, trying not to be too obvious in standing close to his own wife.
Jayne and River appeared from the stairwell.
“What’d’ya wanna do?” the big man asked. “Search?”
“You too?” Mal asked.
“Yeah. Damn near split my scalp on the bulkhead sitting up so fast,” Jayne admitted.
“We won’t find him,” River said quietly.
Mal turned on her. “You know where he is? Who he is?”
“Yes. Sort of.”
“Mei-mei, you need to be more specific,” her brother said.
“I can’t. There’s no name. Just ... is.”
“Moonbrain ...” Whatever Jayne was going to say was drowned out by Kaylee's sharp intake of breath.
“What’s that?” she asked, staring into the darkness of the kitchen, and the red-lit gloom of the engine room further on.
“What?” Hank stepped even closer to Zoe.
Kaylee pointed. “That.”
Everyone listened, then heard what she had. Footsteps. Running footsteps. Bare feet, but very clear, and seeming to come from her domain.
Mal peered into the depths of his ship. “That one of the kids?”
“I don’t think so,” Simon said slowly. “They were too scared to play games.”
“Soon find out,” Zoe murmured as the footsteps started to get nearer, down the short corridor and into the kitchen.
“Simon ...” Kaylee said, her voice trembling, holding on to him.
“It’s okay.” But even he didn’t sound certain.
“Are they –” Hank began.
“Running round the table,” Freya confirmed.
Round and round, the sound getting louder then fading.
“Can you see anything, Zo?” Mal asked, somehow not able to get much sound out of his throat.
“Not a damn thing, sir.”
In the unlit dining area, whoever it was seemed to pause for a moment.
“Tah muh duh,” Mal swore. “I’ve had enough of this.” Wishing he’d thought to pick up his gun, he took a step towards the door and the light switch, just as the footsteps started up again, this time heading for them. Up the steps and along the deck, bare feet running, but not a thing to be seen.
Without conscious thought Mal stepped back, and whatever it was ran past him, a cold breath of air caressing the bare skin where his shirt was undone, and an indecipherable whisper in his ear. He shivered, and not just from the chilly sensation. “What the hell ...”
The footsteps disappeared into the bridge, and suddenly there was silence.
The crew looked at each other.
“I thought you said ghosts didn’t exist?” Hank said finally.
River sighed. “I’ll go talk to him.” She slipped past Jayne, along the corridor and up the steps.
“Honey, wait,” Mal called, but it was too late. She was already closing the heavy door. He looked at Freya. “Ghosts?”
Furrows marred her forehead as she concentrated. “I can feel that ... something. But I think River’s more in tune with it.”
“You know you believe in them.”
“Not outta choice.” Abner, the whistling, and a mine field ...
Jayne just stared at the bridge entrance.
Five minutes later, as the crew began to get somewhat twitchy, River slid the door open, standing at the top of the stairs in her thin dress, the glow from the control boards seeming to shine through the fabric.
Mal cleared his throat. “Albatross?” he asked.
“You sure?” Hank’s voice was higher than normal, probably at the thought that he was the one who spent most time on the bridge, and he didn’t really want to be sharing it with something unseen but noisy.
“I'm sure.” She stepped silently down to join them. “It was just a memory. Nothing more.”
“And the gifts?” Zoe asked.
“That was still me,” the young woman asserted. “And everything will be fine now.”
Mal wasn’t sure. “River, if there’s something else we need to know –”
“Nothing. I promise. Nothing to hurt anyone.”
The captain stared at her, trying to read the truth from her face, and only getting the dark eyes gazing at him instead. “Well, I suppose ...”
“Time for bed,” she said, taking Jayne’s hand and leading him away towards their shuttle.
“Do you want to give things the once over?” Zoe asked Hank. “On the bridge.”
Hank glanced over her shoulder. “Um, not tonight. I think everything’s shiny tonight.”
She suppressed a smile. “Then I think River’s right, and it’s time for bed.”
“I was already there,” he grumbled, stepping down the ladder into their bunk.
She followed him, nodding goodnight to the others.
“Are you sure it’s okay?” Kaylee asked. “I mean, can I tell the kids everything’s okay?”
Freya nodded. “There’s nothing more to worry about.”
“if you’re sure.”
Simon tugged her gently towards the stairs. “Come on,” he said softly. “You know I can’t sleep without you next to me.”
She turned enough to look into his eyes. “Sweet talker.”
“I’ve learned to be.”
They walked away, arm in arm.
Mal waited until only he and Freya were still in the corridor. “Well?” he asked.
She put her hand on his skin, on the pale scar that ran down the centre of his chest. “It’s fine. Or at least it will be.”
Reaching up, she put a kiss on his lips, stopping any more words. “Bed,” she whispered, her breath caressing him as her hand did.
“Bed,” he repeated in a whisper.
River waited until she felt the crew settle down again, then slipped out of bed and opened the door of the shuttle.
“Moonbrain?” Jayne moved enough so he could look at her, her skin glowing palely in the darkness.
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Don’t be too long,” he said, settling back, taking her at her word. “Your side of the bed’ll get cold.”
“I’ll stay awake for yah.”
She smiled at him, then stepped into the cargo bay, gliding silently down the stairs to the common area. Checking once again that everybody else was asleep, she climbed into the hidey-hole under the stairs, one of the few places Mal didn’t know about, and retrieved a number of items. She carried some of them out and laid them under the tree.
At the second trip she heard a whisper in her ear.
“They’re not yours,” she said conversationally. “You shouldn’t have taken them.”
The hair at her neck moved as something brushed by her.
“This isn’t your home, either,” she added.
Another susurration, this time on her cheek.
She turned, and in the soft coloured lights on the tree she could see an outline. A boy, no taller than her, with a suggestion of features, visible only in movement.
“It wasn’t our fault that they left you. And it was so long ago.” She sighed. “I'm sorry.”
Whisper. Whisper. All that was left. That and a knock, and the running of feet.
“It’s time for you to move on.” She walked to the door in the airlock, pulling it open with deceptive ease.
A wave of sadness flooded through her.
“I know. But you have to leave.” There was a pause. “But you can take this.” She picked up one of Kaylee’s small candles that had gone missing, holding it out.
There was the impression of a hand, and River let go, but there was no sound of it falling. “Time to go,” she said, stepping back to the doorway and looking out.
The storm, as she’d predicted, had blown itself out, and the light from a thousand stars was reflected in the hard, bright air, mixed with the colours from the Christmas tree throwing a glow onto the snowfield.
She watched as nothing stepped past her, into the night, and she closed the door, shutting out the cold and anything else that might have wanted to come inside.
Then, on her own silent feet, she walked through Serenity, returning the remainder of the gifts to their rightful adult owners, leaving them outside bunks and hatchways.
The last she kept in her hand as she stepped back into the shuttle, smiling as she saw Jayne hadn’t been able to keep awake. He was gently snoring, lying on his back, his bare torso just calling out for her to run her fingers through the hair across his chest.
Placing the box carefully onto the chair, she glanced past the small partition to where Caleb lay in his little bed, hugging a teddy bear, one thumb stuck determinedly into his mouth.
She smiled, feeling the tug of love from a mother to her son. In a few hours he would wake, tearing the fancy paper from his presents, and probably getting as much enjoyment from the detritus as from the actual gifts. Mind, Jayne would be the same, his pleasure evident that she’d managed to get some ammunition for Carmen.
Quickly slipping out of her clothes, she slid under the covers, wrapping herself around him, letting his warmth chase the chill from her skin.
He muttered, grumbling, then pulled her closer, his dreams full of egg nog and soft flesh.
River sighed happily, and let sleep claim her, knowing only Serenity’s crew was inside her embrace.
And in the morning, when Mal opened the door to the outside world, he found a set of bare footprints leading from the Firefly, fading into nothingness some twenty yards from the hull.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 5:04 AM
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