Chapter 1: Feeling pain.
Her body told her she needed to sleep. Her eyes burned for the desire of soft lids to stay closed, her mind wasn’t too clear with thoughts and the rest of her body was still, yet River Tam couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t because of what she had been through recently, but because of what she heard.
It wasn’t her brother’s thoughts that kept her awake. Simon decided to be the proper gentleman and spend the rest of his nights in his bunk until the wedding. He proposed to Kaylee while they were on The Intrepid on Earth that Was and the main thoughts between the two were of a wedding. Until they were wed Simon had made the firm decision to sleep within his own bunk, much to the disappointment of both himself and Kaylee.
Not to mention the frustration, but River tried not to read that. Instead she tried to focus on the pretty thoughts between her brother and her soon to be sister. She had seen images of Kaylee in a frilly white gown trimmed with flowers while dancing with Simon in a suit, when Kaylee had sent a wave to her folks to let them know the good news, and where the wedding was going to be. She had seen visions of buffet tables covered with fine cloths and a display of food whenever Kaylee brought up the subject.
River blinked her weary eyes and smiled at the idea. Kaylee had asked her to be a bridesmaid along with Zoe and asked Inara to be the maid of honor. River saw herself in a pastel gown walking along the strip of cloth they were going to set up for the outside ceremony on Santo. It was where they were going after they stopped off at the station to sell the ancient coin, Jayne to send a package to his mother and to pick up a few more things.
Santo wasn’t just to have the wedding. Zoë’s cousin lived there with her family and Zoë’s son, Hoban jr., or Hobby as they all called him. Hobby’s presence was brief when Wash died, smaller than the head of a pin. River herself couldn’t even sense him. Zoë felt their kind of work on Serenity wasn’t fit for an infant and decided Hobby would be safer on Santo, at least until he could walk and talk. Month’s spent on Santo would be enough time to plan the wedding and hold the ceremony and it would provide some time for Serenity’s newest crew member to adapt a little better.
It was his dreams that kept River awake. Pain filled dreams of skeletons slicing and piercing through the chests of redcoats, of a violent storm tearing apart what was once a beautiful ship and taking naval officers into the sea, of men that were part sea creature and a woman who broke his heart.
River couldn’t sleep with such violent dreams a few doors away. It wasn’t because she could see such terrors in vivid detail. It was knowing her friend was in pain and misery that kept her awake. She peeled back the covers and slipped out of bed before she made her way to James’s bunk.
“James,” she said in a soft voice as she tapped onto the plastic screen. “I know I shouldn’t wake you, but you are in pain. I can see your dreams.” She waited for a full minute before she tapped again, only a bit more loudly.
“Miss Tam?” James Norrington greeted her on the other side of the screen.
“I can’t sleep,” River said. It was a half lie. She could physically sleep, she just didn’t want to, not until she knew James was going to be all right. “You are in pain.”
“I can assure you I am not,” he slid back the screen. He appeared haggard with his tousled brown hair and the stubble on his chin. Grayish bags had formed under his storm green eyes, along with the tears near the corners. He had been crying in his sleep.
“Your pain is not physical, not injuries or soreness. It is in here,” she pointed at his head. “And here.” She touched his chest, causing him to step back. “You were crying.”
“It appears that I have,” he wiped the corners of his eyes. “And I am going through much turmoil.”
“I need to come in and talk.” She frowned at her own choice of words. “May I have permission to come into your bunk so we could talk?”
James stared down at the blouse like undershirt he wore along with the flannel pajama pants he borrowed from the captain. “I am not properly dressed for such a visit.”
She rolled her eyes. “My brother and the captain do not wear shirts to sleep. I have seen them.” James came from a time of repressed sexuality and a great amount of propriety. He still has trouble calling her by her first name. She had to keep reminding him he was no longer in that time.
He nodded. “There is less propriety now.” He stepped back to allow her to enter.
“You were not dreaming of leaving your old life,” River addressed the fact as soon as she had entered is bunk. “You dreamt of undead pirates killing marines and of the hurricane.” She sat at one end of his bed.
“Correct,” he closed the screen behind them and took a seat at the opposite end. “I apologize for having you see such horrible visions.”
“You shouldn’t have to apologize for the visions your mind made,” she glanced around his bunk. Her eyes fell on his naval uniform. He kept it hung on one of the three plastic hooks that were installed recently. The other two hooks held his hat and wig. A small paper screen was taped up next to the uniform, containing the true facts, including actual birth date and where he was born. A fake one was created at the same time for him to carry around. “We can’t control our brains; sometimes they have thoughts on their own.”
“No we can’t.” He reached up to scratch the side of his head. “And you cannot control what you read off others.”
“I am learning. I have to learn. I have to; unless I am told it is okay.” The only times she was allowed to read were the rare jobs when Malcolm took her out with them. It would have been all jobs, but they needed at least someone to be able to fly Serenity.
“You had your filter removed.” He reached to her, almost as if he was about to touch her head, but restrained himself at the last second and pointed at his own head. “I don’t think I would have the same control as you.”
Any other person would have thought he said that to make her feel better, but she knew he was sincere.
“Dreams. We need to get to the dreams, talk about it, makes it better and then we can sleep.”
“Are you certain?” He raised his brows.
“You did this for me.”
“I did.” He nodded at the memory. “Where should I start?”
“Your dream. You start.”
He inhaled deeply. “The skeletons killing marines. I was alone in a longboat and I watched as the cursed pirates of Barbossa’s crew climbed aboard the Dauntless and slayed every single member of my men. I was helpless. I did not have a single oar. I couldn’t reach them. I tried to paddle my hands against the waves, but all it did was cause the boat to go into circles.”
“This happened. It was over a year for you, but it’s not the fact, not quite.” She read the facts off him. He had been before such an ordeal, but he was not alone in the longboats and the entire crew of the Dauntless did not die. “Not everyone died”
“There were some who did.”
“Not your fault,” the only way it could be his fault was the fact he did agree to go to that island, but he wouldn’t have made such a decision if it weren’t for she who broke him. “It was her, she falsely accepted and you went to the island. She did not warn you. She warned another man after you were preparing the boats.”
“Gillette,” he closed his eyes. “He told me on our way back to Port Royal. He was a good man, a good soldier, and a good friend."
“I was so close to catching Sparrow,” James stared at his hands. “I knew we were a few days behind. The clouds and the waves were fierce. We tried to veer around, but the winds pulled us in. It shredded my ship as if she was made out of mere paper. I saw five soldiers pulled over by a single wave. I held onto Gillette’s hand, but he too was taken away from me.” More tears formed at the corners of his eyes. “I ran after him and it was Groves who pulled me back.”
“Tears make us human.” She reminded him.
James nodded before he buried his face. His silent sobbing was brief before he growled out a name he had uttered in disgust many times before. “Sparrow.”
“Don’t,” she knew where he was going.
“That man made a mockery of myself and the navy. He was the reason why I lost my ship, why they are dead.”
“No.” Her response was cold and brief.
“I place part of the blame on Turner.”
River curled three of her fingers to her palm, leaving her thumb to stick up and her index to point before she brought the tip to James’s temple.
“James Norrington I order you to give this pirate a full day start or I will blow your brains out. Did this happen?”
James shook his head. “No it didn’t. I may have caught him if I prepared a ship that very instant.” He turned to look at her. “That does not the change the fact that Turner helped him escape.”
“Turner and Her. They are not entirely at fault and neither are you. All three share the blame.” She brought her fingertip back to his head. “Who threatened you to sail through the storm, who threatened you to resign?”
He stared at her unblinking while the remains of his tears slid down his cheeks. His emotions ran the gamut from shock, to anger, and then to disbelief.
“Don’t want to hear, or think but you have to. It weighs too much. Will eat away until nothing is left. The dreams will control you.”
“No one forced me.” His voice cracked. He turned away from her.
“I’m sorry. This is the first step you will heal soon after.”
“Never completely,” she nodded. “Just enough. You need to sleep peacefully. Not all your fault, not all innocent.”
“No I am not.” He turned back to her and blinked. His eyes narrowed as he studied hers. “You haven’t been crying have you?”
“Not crying or sleeping.”
“You are exhausted.”
“I can’t sleep,” her words came out in a yawn.
“You are doing this to yourself.” He stood up. “Don’t force yourself awake on my account.”
“You will accept?” She blinked her tired eyes as she felt James help her to her feet.
“I will get through this and you will get some sleep.” James opened the screen and led her back to her own bunk.
“Once you accept it will weaken.”
“I think it may have weakened,” he said as they entered her bunk. “Please get some rest, Miss Tam.”
“No-“ she paused to yawn again. “Formalities.” She made her way to her bed and sat down.
“River, please get some sleep. It hurts me to see you doing this to yourself.”
“Pain is leaving,” River said as she pulled the covers back over her. “Sleep is coming.” Her head met her pillow and the last thing she heard was James wishing her good dreams and the sound of the screen closing before she slipped into a welcoming slumber.