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a mite whimsical in the brainpan ([info]tigerkat24) wrote,
@ 2007-12-31 12:00:00

Previous Entry  Add to memories!  Tell a Friend!  Next Entry
Entry tags:denial!verse, fanfiction, firefly

Sarie Tam series

He’d assisted at lots of births before.
Well, okay. Two. But he’d handled the first one relatively well, and he’d thought he’d be okay for the second. Someone should have told him that it was an entirely different story when it was your wife and your child involved.
Simon Tam leaned his head back against Serenity’s wall and concentrated on breathing. He was the only doctor on the ship, and if he managed to have a heart attack no one was going to save him. Except maybe River, and he wouldn’t care to stake his life on his little sister, even if she happened to be in one of her more lucid moments.
Well, it was over now. He could go and get roaring drunk if he so chose, except the last time he’d gotten roaring drunk had led in a somewhat indirect manner to him being the only doctor in God-only-knew how much open space when Kaylee went into labor.
Definitely not repeating that experiment.
Anyway, they now had a perfectly healthy little girl sleeping peacefully on her mother’s stomach. Kaylee named her Sarie. Sarie Tam.
He had asked, a few days ago, if he got to have any input in naming the baby at all. Kaylee had looked at him, looked at her belly, and informed him that she thought he’d done plenty inputting already. Simon laughed a little at the memory. It wasn’t as if he minded the name she’d chosen. Sarie.
It was certainly nothing his parents and their set would have ever considered naming a child. Their taste ran more to upper-class English names—Gabriel, Simon, Regan, Christina. River was about as odd as they got.
Odd…odd, how they’d let River go so easily. The thing that had surprised him most about Sarie was the fierce protectiveness she inspired. Even before she was born he’d felt it, and now that he could actually see her and hold her, he knew that he would kill anyone who tried to hurt her. Hadn’t his father felt the same way about River?
Maybe it happened to all men. Maybe as soon as the first shock of fatherhood faded, so would his interest. Maybe he would be like his father, distant, remote. Unwilling to be there, to help out. Trying to substitute things for love.
Simon sighed, closed his eyes, and thunked his head back against Serenity’s wall again. Logically, he knew he was being silly. Logically, he knew he was only feeling sorry for himself because every other member of the ship’s crew was currently cooing over his daughter, leaving no space for him in the infirmary. Emotionally was a different story altogether.
What if he was like that? Could he actually abandon his daughter to the Alliance? Was he even capable of being a good father? Would Sarie come to despise him as he despised his father? Would…
A sharp crack of pain lashed across his forehead. “Ow!” Simon sat bolt upright and rubbed his head. His sister stood across from him, her expression bored. “River! What was that for?”
“You were being stupid,” River explained, as if speaking to a child. “When you act too stupid to live, you should be put out of your misery. Be grateful I didn’t hit you as hard as I could.” She went up on her toes, and added in a brief sing-song, “Simple Simon, met a pieman, going to the fair...”
“What? River…”
“And don’t start going on about emotions and logic,” River said, lucid again. “It’s stupid. Anyway, you know you can go and push people out of the way. It’s your baby.”
“She. Sarie is a girl.” Simon swung his feet down from the table and stood up, carefully. He still wasn’t sure how much damage River had done.
“I know that, stupid.” River wandered away from him and picked up a cup at the table. “I made her a pink bow.”
“The others…”
She gave him a look unique to River.
“You’re her father,” she said. “You can push them out of the way. I just said this. Do I need to say it slower? Anyway, Kaylee will get mad at you if you don’t show up.”
Simon rolled his eyes at his sister and started towards the infirmary. Halfway out of the commons, he changed his mind and turned back towards River. “Thanks, River.”
River danced in a slow, floating circle. “Simple Simon went to look if plums grew on a thistle. You’re welcome.”

Horses march across the top of her walls, canter down her blankets and toss their manes along her shelves. They fill her room and her imagination, surround her waking and enter her dreams when she sleeps.
Her mother says that all little girls go through this phase, but it has been three years and Sarie shows no signs of growing out of it. She is still as thrilled by their effortless grace and liquid eyes as she was when the Arabians cantered past her on Epona.
Sarie does not want to ride, nor does she want a pony, much to her Uncle Mal’s relief. She has no interest in the reality of horses, really. It is the dream of them, the elusive thunder of hooves that echoes her heartbeat, the soft press of a muzzle against her palm.
River understands this, the illusions that her little niece cherishes. Real horses are not soft and graceful and sweetly forgiving. Real horses are noisy, smelly, sweaty, occasionally vicious, rarely sweet: much like humanity. The dreams that dance in Sarie’s head are only that, dreams.
River has given up on dreams.

A little girl’s voice shrieks in pretended fear. “Help me, help me!” she cries, a joyful curve to her voice that says laughter is not far away.
“Rarr!” This is an older man, growling his best. “I’m gonna getcha! Rarr!”
Wash stops dead in the corrider, amazed. Did he just hear what he thought he just heard?
He sticks his head into the common room and confirms his first impression: Sarie Tam is indeed being chased around, giggling intermittently, by the entirety of Serenity’s PR department, one Jayne Cobb. Who is not brandishing knives, guns, grenades, howitzers, or any other weapon of any size or shape. In fact, he’s not even really chasing her. He’s deliberately shortening his long strides and letting her win.
Sarie is displaying a charactaristic common to most of the females Wash knows; namely, she is running with the intention of being caught in her own good time. As he watches, she decides that now is the time and fakes a trip. Jayne grabs her up and proceeds to tickle her unmercifully as she squeaks out laughs and bats ineffectually at huge hands.
Like a kitten, Wash decides, a kitten playing with the biggest, meanest bulldog you ever saw. A kitten who captivates everyone who sees her, who has on several (carefully secured) occasions enchanted a buyer or a seller into significantly altering a price to Serenity’s benefit. A kitten who does not yet understand that not every life is charmed.
But today is not the day for her to learn. Wash shakes his head, and continues on his way.

Mal could see both Sarie’s parents in her. Her mother’s soft, cheerful smile and happy-go-lucky manner, her father’s lean, narrow face and dark eyes. She had something of everyone on the crew, really. River’s grace and Jayne’s simple approach to life, Wash’s sense of humor, Zoë’s common sense, Inara’s confidence. There is, he thinks, even a bit of Book’s endless faith in her, and she has never known him.
There is, Mal hopes, nothing of himself in the little girl. What has he to offer her, after all? His cynicism, his violence, his criminality. He is reminded somewhat forcefully why he never wanted to be a father.
Simon does a good job of it, he thinks. Sarie adores her father, following him as often as he can, and Simon returns her love. There have been times when Mal has passed by the infirmary to see Simon bandaging a scrape with tender, professional hands, wiping away childish tears and telling a story in a quiet, warm voice. There have been times during fevers and colds, as Sarie lies asleep in the infirmary, when Mal has seen Simon staring at his daughter with wonder in his eyes.
He always knew Kaylee would make a good mother, ever since he saw her with children. And she is, there is no doubt of that. Warm, loving, compassionate, a comfortable lap, a good voice for lullabies. It is Simon who surprised him. It is Simon who Mal always considered to be more like himself, childless and loveless.
Just then there is a whimper, so quiet that if he had not been used to every groan and rasp of his ship he would not have heard it. But he does, and he moves over to the door. Sarie is curled up on the other side of the door, a single tear running down her cheek.
“Oh, hey, what’s the matter, mei-mei?” Mal kneels next to her and wipes the tear away. “Come on, don’t cry.” He has always been helpless before crying women, and the smaller they are, the more helpless he gets.
“I don’t feel good,” Sarie whispers. “My tummy hurts.”
Oh, gao yang zhong de guyang.
Simon is gone, away with Kaylee, on leave. So are Wash and Zoë. Jayne is here somewhere, but he is very very bad with children, unless it involves playing the monster in some game of Sarie’s own imagining. Of course, Mal is very very bad with children as well, and he has absolutely no idea what to do.
“Um,” he says, intelligently, and almost bolts for the bridge again, to send a wave to her parents. He only holds back because Kaylee promised him in a low voice that she would personally take a rusty knife to his gullet if he canceled or cut off their leave for any reason below Reavers coming in or Sarie seriously injuring herself. No matter how frightened he is or bad with children, he doubts a hurting tummy falls under that heading. While Simon might think that it is, Kaylee is the one who made the threat, and Kaylee is the one who will carry it out. And he has no doubt that she will.
“Um,” he says, again, and digs frantically for memories of Simon, of Kaylee, memories of his own mother dealing with this situation. “Okay, mei-mei, where does it hurt?”
Sarie sniffs and points. It means nothing to him, but a long-buried memory comes to life.
“Aw, that ain’t nothing.” He strokes Sarie’s hair, tentatively. “Just a bit of hurt. I know what’ll make it go away.”
She looks up at him, and sniffs again. Another tear falls from her eyes, and she scrubs it away with the heel of her hand. “What?”
Mal leans very close, as if imparting a great secret. “Some hot chocolate.”
She brightens immediately, and places her hand in his. Mal takes her to the kitchen, makes her the chocolate, tells her a story and cuddles her as she falls asleep, her thumb in her mouth. He sits there, half-frozen, feeling unworthy of such a gift of trust. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s nearly killed both her parents, unintentionally in her mother’s case, but with most definite intentions in her father’s. He doesn’t deserve this.
Mal tries to stand up, tries to pick her up and lay her in her bed. But Sarie stirs and clutches hard with her free hand. He tries to disentangle her hand, and she pops her thumb from her mouth, grabs his shirt with that hand and covers a spot above his collarbone with damp imperiousness. Stubborn. She could have gotten that from anyone in the crew, particularly her father.
A faint smile crosses his face. Guess he has one good quality to pass on after all.
When Zoë and Wash return early the next morning, sneaking in like giggling teenagers, boots in hand, they find Mal, asleep on one of the hard chairs, and Sarie in his lap, still clutching his shirt.

Zoë is teaching Sarie how to shoot.
She doesn’t want to. It’s not fair, not to her, not to Sarie, not to anyone. But they were lucky last time.
Lucky that Zoë and Jayne and Mal were all nearby. Lucky that Sarie, with enormous presence of mind for a seven-year-old, bit the hand over her mouth and screamed for all she was worth. Lucky that no one wanted to get in the way when Mal and Zoë started shooting, and that even less people wanted to be nearby when Jayne charged, bellowing, into the fight. Lucky that it was only one man, quickly disavowed by any crime ring. Lucky.
They may not be lucky next time. No one on Serenity wants to contemplate what will happen if they are not. So Sarie must learn to shoot.
It isn’t fair, she thinks, for the millionth time, as she tries to get Sarie to aim properly. Sarie doesn’t even regard this as anything more than a game. She can’t imagine actually shooting a real person. On Serenity, she is safe and loved, and with a child’s endless faith, she thinks that she is safe and loved everywhere. The man who tried to hurt her is an abnormality. Something not real.
Zoë knows better. Ever since she was Sarie’s age—ever since everyone on Serenity was Sarie’s age, really, with the possible exceptions of Simon and River—they have known cruelty, seen that it is dangerous to be helpless in a violent and angry ‘verse. So they have made it a point to not be helpless.
None of them had what Sarie had. None of them had a shipful of people willing to die or kill to protect them. None of them had the luxury of innocence.
That’s why, she realizes. That’s why they all hate the thought of Sarie needing to protect herself. She is their innocence, and they do not want to lose her.
“I think that’s enough for the day,” she says. “Let’s go help your momma with dinner.”

Jayne is not a man much given to introspection. In his opinion, if you can’t fight it, screw it, spend it, eat it or drink it, it’s probably not worth much. That’s why he’s the tank. That’s why he’s always been the tank.
Sarie confuses him.
She falls into none of his categories, respects none of his limits. She fears him not at all, which is a definite departure from his previous experience. And for some reason, she refuses to see him as anything more than a giant teddy bear. And he, for some equally unknowable reason, lets her.
He doesn’t understand that, and contrary to popular belief, Jayne is not used to not understanding things. He may not take the subtle approach his crewmates seem to appreciate, but that is because he is a simple man with a simple life. Confusion over a little girl he could probably toss halfway across the ‘verse doesn’t fit his uncomplicated worldview.
So he doesn’t think about it. It seems like a good solution. Eventually he places her in the same category as her mother. Both itty bitty things, with big smiles and happy natures. Uncomplicated. Like him.
Maybe that’s why he likes her.

Sarie likes pretty things. Even when she was very small, she would wander into Inara’s shuttle and run her hands over the silks, try on the jewelry, stare wonderingly at her own face in the mirror. As she grew older and bigger, she played at being a Companion, something that shocked her parents until they realized she had no idea what a Companion actually did.
In her most private thoughts, Inara actually believes that Sarie would make a good Companion. She is lovely, sweet and compassionate, with a sixth sense for loneliness and a complete inability to regard anyone as a monster. She is graceful, or will be when she is old enough, and intelligent, and she has a heart big enough for the entire ‘verse. And isn’t that what Companions do, after all? Inara has always seen her profession as healers more than whores, despite Mal’s frequent declarations to the contrary.
Though of course she doubts anyone on Serenity would let their precious baby go long enough for her to become a Companion. The training is long and arduous; twelve years of study and contemplation before one can even be introduced to society. Too, Sarie at thirteen is a little old to begin the training. And there is always the danger that someone will recognize the name, will see Simon Tam in Sarie’s face. No, there will be none of that.
It does make her a little wistful. Sarie has great potential to heal. It isn’t just her age, Inara thinks. It’s in the way she smiles, her complete innocence, her compassion for the smallest of everything. She is naïve, yes, and if her various aunts and uncles have anything to say about it she will stay that way, unaware of the danger that surrounds her. Their baby.
Everything must pass. Everything must converge and become new, different, older. Nothing is eternal, everything is transient. But as Inara watches Sarie dance around the cabin, wearing one of her old dresses cut down to fit the girl-woman frame, she wishes that Sarie could stay this way forever.

Sarie is weeping; a boy she likes has told her he’s too good to take out a “space gypsy,” and the rest of the crew is arguing about what manner of pain to visit upon him and who gets to do the honors. Kaylee is not part of the fight. She finds her little girl huddled in the engine room, muffling her sobs in a ragged sleeve, beneath the bulkhead she slept on as a baby, so Kaylee could keep an eye on both her girls.
She is still so small, her baby girl. Not that anyone’s tall nowadays, whether from malnutrition or just the low height of ceilings and ship’s corridors. But Sarie is smaller than most, and more fragile in looks. Kaylee sits next to her and wraps an arm around her daughter’s thin shoulders.
Sarie transfers her pain from Serenity to her mother’s shoulder in a leap, and sobs wordlessly for what seems like forever. Kaylee doesn’t have any words for this first heartbreak, though she’s hurting too, for her baby. She doesn’t think there are any words, or none that wouldn’t trivialize pain, at any rate. So all she does is stroke her daughter’s hair, and wait.
It could have been worse, she supposes, though the rest of the crew doesn’t seem to think so. The boy could have told her she was beautiful, lead her on and left her sobbing harder, though in that case Kaylee doubts there would be enough left of him to bury. The boy could have reached from an alley, wrapped an arm around Sarie’s waist and asked in a deep, caressing voice if she’d ever been raped.
Though Sarie is strong, stronger in some ways than her mother is. Perhaps that kind of psychological torture would not have affected her, though Kaylee still wakes up sometimes sweating, and has to turn and bury her face in Simon’s shoulder and shake herself to calmness before she can sleep again. Perhaps her sweet, silly daughter would simply have applied her lessons in armed and unarmed combat. Kaylee wonders if she should remind her crewmates that their fragile little girl with a sweet smile and deadly abilities deserves to be the one delivering the pain, if she wants to.
The rush of tears has slowed to a trickle, now, and Sarie seems to be done crying. She pushes away from her mother’s shoulder, wipes her cheeks. She smiles, a little watery, but still a smile, and says thank you when Kaylee offers a handkerchief. She’ll be all right.
It’s Sarie’s first experience with heartbreak, though it assuredly will not be the last. But Kaylee’s daughter is made of thin, invisible steel, like the ship she was raised on. Sarie will bend, but Sarie will not break. After all, she is a daughter of Serenity. In more ways than one.
Kaylee hugs her little girl, and pats the bulkhead of her big girl. They’ll be all right, Kaylee and her girls. No matter what happens, they’ll be all right.

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