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It used to be safe for him here. A long, long time ago, this was safe. And boring. Just the place he came to do some deadly boring chore. But as bored as he was here, this was safe, because it was a place where no one expected anything of him. He wasn't a failure or a genius who should be doing something with his life. He was just another laundry-goer.
Dr. Horrible was born here, staring at the washing machines and designing ways to make them better, more efficient, more versatile... eventually, more deadly. And then that moved on to encompass other inventions, inventions that made things smaller or navigated a busy road or... stopped time... or killed someone.
Billy met Penny here, loading his laundry into one of the dryers and turning away, bored, and seeing the most beautiful woman in the world. And it was okay for him to watch her, because really, who could blame him for being so bored he was staring off in the distance? And if that distance just happened to be occupied by someone, it was, statistically speaking, an easily possible coincidence. And if that someone was beautiful, that was just his lucky day.
It was safe for both of them here, once upon a time.
Not anymore. Now he loads his laundry into the washing machine, and he leaves a few items in the basket. This is the first assignment Bad Horse has ever given him. It is his first job with the League. It is his first time pulling a heist with minions stationed outside and around, waiting for him to move.
It is his first heist since Penny died.
And as Billy takes off his track jacket and drops it in the washing machine, and reaches into the basket and pulls out the lab coat, and pulls it on and buttons it, and puts on the goggles and gloves that were sitting there, and takes out the gun, he can trace the exact moment that this building, this little, innocuous laundromat, goes from sanctuary...
She’s safe here.
The door slams, solid and secure behind her, an impenetrable boundary between life and death, good and evil. The arms of the transept seem to welcome her, to close about her as she runs to the altar, to the cross, into the arms of Christ.
She breathes deep.
The penetrating smell of incense tickles her nose, the taste of oil and beeswax lingers on her tongue. The scents and flavours of Church soothe and calm her. Nothing bad can happen within these walls. The priests and sisters may be merely human, but they serve God and that will make them strong and immoveable.
She closes her eyes.
The picture of her mother offering her body in exchange for their lives will never leave her. The image of her father staggering down the hall with his entrails dragging behind him makes her gag. The vision of her sisters, screaming, twisting, torn apart from within and without is burned on her lids. She has seen too much to be innocent any longer.
The delusions are upon her again, even in this consecrated place. The demon with the black wings stalks towards her. The demon with the lovely face lingers on the sideline, watching and gloating, writhing with the pleasure that death brings. White birds flutter ineffectually at them, swatted away by the demons with the golden eyes and the cold skin. She doesn’t understand what it means, but it fills her with dread.
She’s not safe here.
The heavy door crashes open as if it was made of paper, and the demons are upon her. This holy place, this sanctuary will be bathed with blood, the priests and sisters will be torn apart and defiled. She brought this evil down upon them, and there is nothing God can do to save them now.
She hears them all, whispering in her ear, twisting through her brain like Earth-that-Was worms (Lumbricus terrestris, segmented), filling her head to bursting, until it all rains out in little drops (the Lenard effect was discovered in 1892; droplets aren't tears, they're flat and puffy, like pancakes. Her mother made pancakes; Simon likes his with strawberries.):
Simon, who surveys his little bottles of tetras and cyclos and oxides (tetra, from the Latin, four; cyclo, carbon arranged in a ring—the ideal tetrahedreal bond angle is 109.47 degrees; oxide, containing oxygen and at least one other element), soldiers with tin caps, orderly, in a row, medicines and life-givers, healing hands, the weight of a syringe in his fingertips, the soft touch against a fevered brow. Sterile, but not cold, familiar and right. Not as it should be, but close enough. Close enough since he's found her.
Shepherd Book, floating in the vastness of God's universe, the starry expanse above, a mystery, an answer, a wonder. Scary hair and his wrong-wayed book (the Bible has 66 books, 1,189 chapters and 31,173 verses), TRUTH in capital letters, with faith and love besides.
Kaylee, smiling at the steady klink of Serenity's engine, catalytic converters and compression chambers (kinetic energy from a fuel source; the first patent for an internal combustion engine was received by Samuel Brown in 1823). Grease and oil and the smell of metal, quiet whir in the belly, steady rhythm soothing and peaceful.
Wash and Zoe, amongst rumpled sheets, slick slide of skin, sweaty and smooth and supple, together, wrapped together, husband and wife and wife and husband (two hundred and forty seven days after Earth-that-Was became Was, the Alliance Charter recognized the formal institution of marriage, consenting adults, ribbons and paperwork) and fate and choices and need and love, filled up, bursting with it, swirling around in their guts contentedly, holding tightly…tightly…tightly.
Inara, cup of tea and a tufted sofa, pulls the drapes back and stares out the window, stars dotted here and there, contemplates life and death and all that's in-between. The splash of red—Sihnon (she'll never set foot there again)—halts her breath in her chest, and she reaches deep inside and tries to live.
Jayne, full of fascination as he rubs, steadily, back and forth, shiny film of oil and wearmarks that match his callouses, click of the cartridge, assembly, disassembly and back again (Callahan full-bore auto-lock with a customized trigger, double cartridge and thorough gauge), fits against his hand, extension of skin and bone, fingers of gunmetal grey stretched through the enemy's chest.
Mal, eyes closed, breathing in Her, his serenity, (Midbulk transport, standard radion-accelerator core, classcode 03-K64, Firefly, licensed to carry up to 164,900 pounds of cargo and 18 passengers, accelerates at 4.2 g, maximum range, 440 A.U.) every nut and bolt and weld his. Home, heart, hearth and blood, reinforced steel (Carbon, basis of Life-that-Was) and titanium alloy, patched and pieced together and imperfect and the best tyen-sa ship in the 'verse.
She can hear them all, their silence a cry she cannot ignore. Thousands others beside, past and present and future, swirling together, pressing against her skin, inside, ouside, over and through, incomplete, surreal, shining happy faces screaming, etched into her bone (osteocytes and marrow).
She knows when they sleep, sees their contented faces behind her eyelids, and she wants to hate them, wants to rip their peaceful dreams from her chest.
Because no matter how many nights she cries, no matter how many snatches of happyhomelovepeace she gleans from their screams, River will find no sanctuary.
When you came right down to it, the de-invitation spell wasn't terribly complex. Crack a book, smudge a few herbs, sprinkle a dollop of holy water, judiciously apply a little witchcraft, and BAM POW WHOOSH, your guest list is minus one vamp.
Yet, staring at the dark beyond her bedroom window, Buffy isn't comforted.
The sill of the window remains pockmarked from nails that her mother's robot boyfriend hammered through the frame.
Because when you come right down to it, the truth about the de-invite spell is that by the time you realize you need it, it's already too late.
Title: Roger Bear and the Little Girl
Roger Bear's Adventure: Roger Bear is going to have an adventure! He loves adventures.
Trembling, she drapes the last pristinely folded blanket from the towering stack in the linen closet betwen the backs of the antique mahogany chairs.
She backs away from it, putting her hands on her hips in a pose that others would find comically adorable, given her age and size, if they were here.
She doesn't find it funny.
Through misty eyes, she surveys her work.
There's a circle of pillows and couch cushions that covers most of the floor, with a mattress dragged inside of it. There are two chairs on either end outside the circle, and enough blankets and sheets draped over them that you can't see the person inside.
Not you. They.
Roger Bear's Big Mistake: Roger Bear is pretty smart. Usually he knows just what to do.
She's gathered a supply of food—potato chips, Crunch bars, Twinkies—from the pantry, and a some cans of Fanta. She has her five favorite Roger Bear books stacked neatly at the end of the mattress.
And of course her Roger Bear stuffed animal is sitting on top of them. She never goes anywhere without him.
She crawls under the blankets, drawing them lower to make sure she's hidden.
She brings Roger closer to her, wiping messy tears off her face. “You see,” she whispers, stroking Roger's fur, “this is a test. I'm trying to see how long it takes them to notice me.”
She pulls Roger's ear to her face, hot breath washing over him, to demonstrate that she is telling a very important secret. “Because I don't think Mommy and Daddy and Nanny really care about me that much.”
She puts him in her lap, unwrapping a Crunch bar. “Not enough to notice, anyway,” she says quietly.
Roger Bear and Betty Bunny: Roger Bear loves his best friend, Betty Bunny.
Three hours later, she is lying on her stomach, idly flipping through Roger Bear and Betty Bunny for the sixth time.
Every few pages, she pauses, and lies perfectly still. She waits for the clack of her mother's heels down the hallway, or the impatient shuffle of her father's leather shoes, or the soft rustle of her nanny's dress.
She waits longer, each time, but the sounds never come.
She's testing them—but as she turns the page to find the familiar sight of Roger Bear and Betty Bunny skipping down the road hand-in-hand—she realizes that she hadn't wanted to be right.
Roger Bear and the Class Field Trip: Roger Bear's class is going on a field trip to the museum! Roger Bear loves to learn things.
Cordelia's frantic nanny rushes into her room to find her curled in a ball on the mattress, asleep, with her thumb stuck in her mouth and a vaguely petulant expression on her face.
She is surrounded by food wrappers and soda cans and haphazardly strewn picture books, and she is clutching her stuffed bear.
Michelle's expression of concern softens into a smile. Cordelia can certainly be a handful, but she's basically a good egg. She knew she couldn't have run off somewhere.
Gently, she gathers Cordelia into her arms, and draws her out of the little hiding place she made. Which is really rather clever for a six-year-old, she thinks.
But it's time to take her to her parents, now.
Roger Bear and the Long Time-Out: Roger Bear is usually a good bear. But sometimes he gets in trouble.
“Why on earth did you think it was appropriate to pull off such a stunt?”
She glances at her feet, and shrugs her shoulders. “I don't know.”
Her father ruffles her hair, grinning. “Come on, Tina, it's no big deal.”
“No big deal? No big deal? Walter, how can you say that? She's clearly trying to make me look like a fool in front of the girls—not even knowing where my own child is, or that she's taken half the pantry and all of our blankets to make some sort of stupid fort!”
“She's just a kid, sweetheart, she's supposed to do these things.”
“Don't you 'sweetheart' me, Walt—you're not going to make this better by standing there with a dumb smile on your face!”
She can tell that they're going to be yelling at each other for a while.
She glances at the office door, and considers escaping back to her shelter—but that would just turn their attention back to her.
And not in the way she's been looking for..
She closes her eyes, and recites the last line of Roger and the Long Time-Out to herself over and over again: “But finally Momma Bear lets him go out to play, and before he does, they hug and hug and hug, and then they bake cookies.”
She's never baked cookies.
And she thinks that maybe she never will.
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