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Author's Note: For the ff_friday challenge #22 (dreams)

Sleeps in Elysium
by LJC

She helps her mother clear away the dishes from supper. Usually, Jian would do it—but she's gone to Tiantán because her mother is ailing, and so it's a rare moment for the women of the Tam family to see what it is like to scrape leftover lamb and ginger from the platters and into the reclamation bin themselves. They laugh as they stack the glasses and plates in the kitchen which sees a great deal of use, but none of it by their hands.

Her mother knows how to cook, but she never does it. As they slice the mango and arranged it on the delicate china plate with the cheese, she tells her daughter that there are so many more important things for her to do, than spend even a moment in tedious drudgery if one could avoid it. It's a privilage that she's glad she can afford her children.

They carry the tray into the dining room, where her father and brother sit, drinking New Canaan brandy and laughing. She sets it down next to the girl lying on the polished wood surface. The girl stares at the ceiling, unmoving, unblinking as her brother used the delicate laser scalpel to peel back the spongy pink and grey layers of her brain while he told them all about the camping trip to the preserve on Iona he'd gone on last week with Ren and his cousin.

She takes a slice of apple from the tray and uses her fingers to pile white and green cheese—she knows the green veins were mold, but she likes the way they tasted—onto the crisp white flesh. She wants some brandy, but her father say she's too young. She makes a face, reaching for another slice of apple as the girl on the table's fingers twitch.

The scalpel makes hardly any noise at all, and there is no blood. She isn't sure why there is no blood. Her dark eyes were frozen open, her mouth slack. She watches the fingers twitch, as she ses the blue-gloved hands out of the corner of her eye as her brother works. Her mother slips her a snifter, only the barest trace of amber liquid still in the bottom and she grins.

She can't taste the apple, or the cheese. She thinks she can smell the fumes from the brandy, but it's like air on her tongue. She wonders if the scalpel cut too deep, and that's why. The amygdala is one of the basal ganglia, located within the temporal lobes on each side of the brain. Small islands of gray matter that lie deep within the white matter. It controls fear response—although there are several bio-chemical factors as well. But none of them should be affecting her ability to taste. That doesn't seem right at all. But they ignore her, ignoring her questions the same way they always do when she knows more than they do.

Her mother asks her about her class, because that's always a safe topic for dinner. She has a recital coming up, in the concert hall in Capital City and she should be prepared for it. She knew the piece the first day the instructor played it for them, and the choreography is maddeningly simple. You loaded the clip, took off the safety, and fired. Why was it taking everyone else so long to master such easy steps?

She took another slice of pear from the tray, but it tasted like ash in her throat. She set it down on the side of the plate, watching the edges where she took the bite begin to brown. The girl's finger is still twitching, and she has to tear her eyes away from the movement. Jian will be back tomorrow—unless they need to bury her mother. Tomorrow, they will go back to routine, and she should cherish this time spent with her family. It's not often that they can all arrange their schedules so that sitting together for a meal is even possible. Between the board meetings, charity fundraisers, hospital shifts, and piles and piles of schoolwork—it's rare enough that she should savour it while she can.

She reaches out and takes her mother's hand in hers, giving the fingers a squeeze. She thinks her mother's hands are warm, but it's hard to tell through the gloves they're wearing.

River opened her eyes.

Silently she crept out of bed, her bare feet whispering across the deckplates as she climbed the stairs to the mess. She trailed her hand along the edge of the table as she passed. Up and up, past the twinkling Christmas lights that cast a soft halo of light across the narrow corridor, until she reached the cockpit.

Sitting down in Wash's chair, she stared into the vastness, tasting the salt on her lips.

"Nightmare?" came the voice behind her, and she knew he was coming, so she didn't start.

She nodded dumbly, never tearing her eyes away from the stars.

"I used to do this at the Abbey," Book said as he sank into the co-pilot's chair. He wasn't wearing his collar, and she's got used to the halo of grizzled grey hair like snow on a cottage roof. She doesn't have trouble separating the symbol from the substance, anymore. Not always, anyway. "Come out into the gardens late at night, when I'd wake, head to full of something or another. I'd go and lie on one of the benches and stare up at the sky."

He leaned back in the chair, the silence between them companionable.

"I could wake your brother; if you need a smoother."

She shook her head, dark hair falling to hide her face. "I could be bounded in a nutshell," she began, frowning. "Bounded..."

"And count myself a king of infinite space," Book continued, his smile kind and his dark eyes reassuring.

"Were it not that I have bad dreams," she finished, looking down to stare at her hands.


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