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If I Had Ever Been Here Before

Posted on 18 Sep 2018 @ 10:25am by Tabitha & Jacobina Newton

Mission: I Don't Care, I'm Still Free

A night and a day had passed since Tabitha and Xiuling had come aboard the Valkyrie. Where Tabitha had been for most of that time could be wagered only by those intimately familiar with the firefly class transport. She had been present around meal times of course, making sure the captain didn't regret his decision by making the available supplies into some very palatable dishes, served with plenty of fresh bread. The loaf she had brought aboard had vanished quickly at the previous nights supper and she had made two more that morning, the only real-time anyone could pin her down to a particular location. To say she had eaten with the crew would be misleading, she was nearby and was first to take a bowl of what she had cooked with a hunk of bread but either stayed behind the counter near the door or had vanished completely. The Doctor and the pilot seemed nice enough and of course she had to make nice with the captain but the other men aboard made her somewhat uncomfortable, certainly not comfortable enough to sit with them and break bread. The washing up and cleaning in the galley was mysteriously completed but no one really knew when it had been done.

Her choice to remain solitary was probably a wise one. These people were an unknown quantity and the little redhead was already on the edge of a sharp knife, her nerves shot to shit by being back in the black. So far no Reaver attacks had come and each minute that passed gave Tabitha a little more comfort. Barefoot and silent as a falling feather she moved into the common area around the med Bay, looking to check the state of things at the quarters she and Xiuling had been allocated and acquire a change of clothes.

Coby looked up from her inventory in the med bay; she couldn't say she'd heard someone, and her back had been to the common area outside, but she got a feeling someone was there, so she looked. Tabitha had been practically a ghost since Qi had taken the ship into the black again, and Coby frowned softly. Poor girl seemed like she was walking on glass for what little Coby had seen of her.

"Tabitha." Coby made sure to say her name before exiting the med bay, to make sure she wasn't right on top of her when surprising her. She stopped in the doorway, waiting to see the girl's reaction.

Tabitha's head jerked in the direction of the med bay as soon as she had heard the voice. By the time Coby emerged she was facing the med bay full on, her right hand behind her back, her blue eyes wide watching every move the doctor made. She looked more like a scared animal than a person. It certainly wasn't a normal way to greet another human being.

"It's okay, sweetheart, I'm not going to hurt you." Coby held up her hands, but didn't move forward.

Tabitha's right hand emerged from behind her back. It was certainly no mystery what it was doing there, only the most fatally unobservant folk wouldn't have noticed the handle and sheath of the large knife that lived pushed through the rear two belt loops of her trousers. The shirts that she wore, identical in cut but varied in colour and pattern did cover it at the back but not if she reached for anything in pretty much any direction. She came down off her tiptoes and continued to watch Coby, her manner easing slightly having recognised the doctor. She pointed to the red choker around her neck embroidered expertly with her name in off-white cotton and then pointed to the doctor.

"That's a nice choker. My name's Coby."

Tabitha smiled slightly and pointed at herself, then mimed holding an item in her left hand and stitching that same item with her right.

"You made it? That's very fine work. There's some folk who would pay you good money to do that for them."

More smiles. Tabitha scampered over to the quarters she shared with Xiuling and went inside. A few seconds later she emerged with another three chokers, identical except for the colours, black stitch on white, black stitch on blue checks and white stitch on Brown. They matched the material of the shirts she wore. Keeping her distance she held them up to show Coby.

"All of them mighty fine. You do good work." Coby chewed her lip, trying to decide if Tabitha would spook and disappear if she came closer. "What happened to your face? That's quite a scar you have."

Tabitha touched the scar with her fingertips and the smiles fell away. She was still looking at Coby except somehow she wasn't. It was as if there were a cinema screen behind the doctor playing some kind of hypnotic masterpiece that had the teenager mesmerised.

"Tabitha?" Coby took a step forward.

Her eyes came back into focus again and Tabitha took a step back, keeping her distance from Coby. Chokers pocketed the knife came out quickly from behind her back. It was large, serrated and certainly not intended for cooking. She stared at the Doctor menacingly, the V of the open neck of her shirt rising and falling quickly with panicked breaths.

"It's okay. I am not going to hurt you." Coby stepped back quickly, raising her hands again. She'd seen this reaction from soldiers during the war; flashbacks to battles long ago finished, new ones imagined, and often lashing out at those trying to help.

Tabitha continued to watch her for a short time and at length her breathing slowed. She pointed to the tip of the knife and then to her face before returning the weapon to its holster.

"What sort of monster would cut your face?" Coby didn't actually care what the answer was, she knew enough. Only a monster would do it. "Have you had anyone look at your scar? I might have something that'll help it heal up better."

Tabitha shook her head but she didn't approach. Her eyes flicked between Coby and the common room to her right as she considered the offer. Eventually they stopped moving but she still didn't approach. She was timid to be sure and, at least in her own mind, with good reason.

Coby frowned and looked at Tabitha a long silent minute. She would lay money on slicing Tabitha's face wasn't the only thing done to her, she was acting too cagey for that to have been the only thing to have happened, but she was afraid if she kept asking before Tabitha was ready to tell her—however she chose to communicate it—then it would instead harm what effort had already been put into establishing a rapport here. It might not matter in the long run, since she and Xiuling were only supposed to be on the ship until they made the delivery. Coby's hand found her locket and she pursed her lips.

"I had a sister, looked just like me. Want to see?" Coby held the locket away from her body just a little by letting the chain hang over her finger.

Coby's presence of mind worked out well. Where the offer of help with her scars hadn't quite been enough, humanising herself in Tabitha's eyes did entice her to move closer. She did so carefully, watching the woman rather than the locket but in the end got closer than she had been before, closer than she had been since arriving on the ship and studied the little picture. She certainly did look like Coby.

Tabitha pointed between the locket and its owner and mouthed the word "twins", raising her eyebrows slightly. This was a question.

"Yes, we were twins. We were inseparable until I went to medical school. While I was studying how to heal people, she decided to help in a different way. She volunteered with the Browncoats during the unification war, and in the end gave her life protecting others." Coby sighed and a melancholy smile settled on her face.

Tabitha pointed to Coby and then the locket.

"Miss" She mouthed silently. It was another question.

"Very much."

Tabitha looked sadly at the locket and the woman holding it whose face reflected the feelings she had when remembering her own family. Since being rescued images, feelings, old memories had managed to break through to the surface of the sea of trauma that was seeing her family strung up and eaten by Reavers. She had had two younger siblings, Jamie and Suzie and had spent a good portion of her time looking after them while her parents were out working the family farm. It had had a name of course, the... something homestead. It was the family surname but that name was still lost in the depths of the teenager's mind. She felt sad for Coby losing her sister and now she could access some of her own memories without succumbing to fear she could empathise, after all Jamie and Suzie were gone too. She reached out a hand slowly and touched Coby's gently, sympathetically.

"Thank you." Coby laid her own hand on top of Tabitha's and gave her a small smile. "Her name was Vic, short for Victoria."

Victoria. Tabitha liked the name Victoria. It was a common name but had its roots in history, there was something undeniably antique about it. She liked slightly old-fashioned grand sounding names like Victoria, or Tabitha, or Susan, her little sister. It was a preference she had acquired from her mother… Her mother… Tabitha could see her in her mind's eye coming into the house from an afternoon's work on the farm, asking her about dinner and about her siblings… Meredith. Her name was Meredith! Tabitha smiled, remembering her for a moment, but as soon as she realised she was capable of remembering her mother without the horrible images of the Reaver ship invading her mind her brief reverie was over and all she could see was Meredith, or what was left of her after the Reavers had their way. She took a step back in shock and confusion and darted back across the room towards her quarters.

"Tabitha?" Coby took half a step after the girl as she darted off, and sighed. "What did I do now?"

As it turned out, nothing. At least, nothing Coby could anticipate. In her room Tabitha took the chokers out of her pocket and put them neatly in her bag. She emerged again into the common area and looked at Coby for a short time, calculating something in her head. Her right hand went behind her back again but this time produced a small notepad and pencil from the right rear pocket of her trousers onto which she wrote something and having padded forward towards the doctor again she held it up so Coby could see.

my sistER wAs cAllEd SuziE. shEs dEAd to

"Suzie's a good name, you miss her too, don't you?" Coby smiled softly, and moved to sit down on the couch in the common area. She patted the space next to her in invitation for Tabitha to sit down.

Tabitha nodded and gingerly took the offered seat, albeit as far up the couch away from Coby as she could. She still wouldn't take her eyes off the other woman when they were in close proximity. She was watching for any 'false' moves.

Coby shifted on the couch, turning towards Tabitha and making sure her hands were easy for her to see. "Was Suzie older or younger than you?"

Tabitha put her thumb and index finger close together to denote something small and held it up to show Coby. Then she held up eight fingers.

"Younger, eight years old?" Coby wanted to take a look at Tabitha's scar, but the poor girl was still very nervous. She probably wouldn't go into the med bay willingly. The more she observed, the more Tabitha told her, the more of an ill feeling settled in the pit of Coby's stomach. For now, just talking, getting her comfortable, would have to be enough. If she was lucky, maybe she could develop enough trust before Tabitha and Xiuling got off the ship in a few more days yet.

Tabitha nodded and scribbled on the notepad again for a time, looking up every few seconds, keeping an eye on her companion.

bRuthER JAmIE wAs ElEvAn. hEs dEAd to. ZoolIng FAmIly noW

Xiuling family now, Coby thought as she read the rough handwriting. Maybe Xiuling would help encourage Tabitha to let Coby look at her scar? She wasn't sure where the young woman would be right now—not that there were many places to be on a ship this small—but there was no point stopping this conversation as long as it was moving. She could ask her later if she wasn't successful now.

"It's good you found someone who can be there for you. Losing both your siblings is difficult." Probably lost your parents too, I'd bet, Coby thought. The pit of her stomach churned. She didn't want to speculate what had happened, there were too many horrible things that can happen in the black. As it happened she didn't need to. Tabitha nodded again and flipped the page on her notebook. She showed it to Coby again after writing

shE sAvE mE FRom REAvERs

Coby stared at the rough handwriting on the page for a very long moment. She'd heard the stories, of course; whole towns on forgotten moons wiped clean and left as ghosts, ships adrift in the black and even the most cut throat scavengers afraid to touch them. The idea that this girl had stared that in the face, and she was able to function at all? And the idea that a small woman like Xiuling could have been the one to fight that off? Coby wasn't sure if she could believe it, but she had no reason to doubt it either. Why would she lie about it?

"It sounds like you were mighty lucky Xiuling came along."

Tabitha nodded again. She was beginning to like Coby. She spoke to Tabitha like a human being, but not like a child, the same way Xiuling did. Not too much anyway, although Tabitha would be the first to admit she didn't look as old as she was. It was good for her, re-learning her autonomy as a person to be given choices by the adults around her. The wrong kind of person could easily treat her like an accessory or worse like a child and that could do some damage.

Tabitha watched Coby watching her for a while. Her hair reminded the teen of her mother. It was a welcome coincidence that probably led to her trusting Coby more than she otherwise might. She certainly wouldn't have revealed what she had to anyone else on board but the feigned familiarity and her warm caring manner were breaking through Tabitha's many lines of defence. They steadied her nerves as she delved back into the memories of her family that helped and haunted her in equal measure. She didn't really know what to say (or rather, write) so she didn't say anything at all, she just put her grubby bare feet up on the couch in front of her and tucked her knees under her chin.

"Do you want to let me get a look at your scar? See if I can give you something to help it heal better?" Coby indicated where Tabitha's scar was on her own face, then gestured toward the med bay.

Which was the lesser of two evils? Dealing with someone getting close and touching her now, or seeing the scar on her face and remembering each time she looked in the mirror every day until the last. She had come this far and she trusted Coby wouldn't try anything. The hope was that she could keep control of herself like she had in front of the Captain when they had boarded the ship. She had done well that day, Xiuling had said so. Maybe she could do it again? Her feet slid off the couch and she stood slowly, still watching Coby and put the palms of her hands together in front off her in the universal sign for 'please'.

Coby smiled wide as she stood also, and slowly walked into the med bay. She patted the exam table and turned to collect a few tools: stethoscope, pen light, a tongue depressor, and a lollipop. She held these all so they were easy to see when she turned back, holding the lollipop out for Tabitha. Everyone from grizzled Browncoat down to toddler loved the lollipops, though some around what she guessed Tabitha's age was would pretend they didn't. It didn't hurt to offer though.

Tabitha followed, looking around taking in her surroundings as she entered the medbay for the first time. It was an odd sort of place, it reminded her of the clinic on Deadwood her mother or father had taken her to occasionally, when there had been something needed seeing to or some advice that needed to be heard. She skirted around the edge of the room slowly and, watching Coby like a particularly wide-eyed owl raised herself onto the exam table. The existence and implications of the lollipop were meditated upon and at length the girl took it with a bobbed head of thanks.

"Can you open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue for me?" Coby hung the stethoscope around her neck and held up the tongue depressor, hoping it would be a familiar enough request that Tabitha would cooperate. But she didn't, she shook her head, regarding Coby suspiciously and pointed to the scar.

"I have to give you a quick looking over, make sure that there's nothing else wrong with you that treatment for the scar might react badly with."

The suspicion in Tabitha's eyes remained but her mouth opened slowly and mechanically. In one moment the reason for her silence became quite clear, her tongue had been sliced, presumably by the Reavers and now had two pointed tips almost like a snake. She stared at Coby, challenging her to react, but her fortitude was crumbling quickly. She was getting upset. Sure, she would use it for effect when she wanted to show her displeasure at someone but Coby was trying to help her and she reminded the little redhead of her ma.

To her credit, Coby managed to bite back the gasp that wanted to escape when Tabitha exposed her tongue. She pulled out the penlight she had, shining it on Tabitha's tongue to inspect the split. It looked like it had healed fairly clean, but that was to be expected with trauma to the tongue since there were so many blood vessels present in the muscle. If Tabitha was willing, Coby could probably research what would be involved in trying to repair it, but she was certain they didn't have time before reaching the delivery of the cargo. She instead gently stuck the tongue depressor into Tabitha's mouth.

"Do your best to say ah for me, okay? You're doing really well." She smiled brightly at the girl.

"Ahhh" Tabitha said quietly, showing Coby the assortment of missing teeth in her bottom jaw.

"Looking good back there." Coby smile again, taking mental note of the teeth. "Let's get a listen to your heart. I need to press the stethoscope to your skin, it's going to be a little cold, okay?"

Tabitha pointed to her chest over her heart questioningly, as if to say "here?"

"That's right. Are you ready?"

She undid her top button and slid the opening of her shirt over slightly to allow Coby access to her heart with her left hand. Her right moved behind her back and she shuffled uncomfortably on the bench.

Coby took a step back when she noticed where Tabitha's right hand had moved. Her service on the med ship during the war had shown her many people like this—liable to attack those who only tried to help because reality and the hell that existed in their mind blended together too well—and Coby knew that even if this girl was smaller than her, she could do some serious damage with the knife she carried.

"Would it help you be more comfortable if Xiuling was here with you?"

Tabitha shook her head. Nothing would make her feel more comfortable about being touched by someone else, even a doctor, even a doctor she liked. Nothing could stop her lashing out in defence if she felt she needed to. Five months of hell had taught her that sound and contact were bad, they meant pain and despite being only five months of her fifteen year life it had changed her thinking forever. She hopped off the bed and skirted around Coby, lingering by the door for a moment. She produced the notepad and pencil again and scrawled a note which she left on the counter under the lollipop Coby had given her before disappearing out of the door in a flash.

Coby sighed as she watched the girl run off. She picked up the note, leaving the lollipop on the counter.

"I don't want to hurt you," she read the note aloud and looked in the direction Tabitha had disappeared, and shook her head.




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