Title: start the last leaf whirling

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Summary: Under her elaborately coiffed hairstyle, her face is serene, painted in an image of perfection: a doll removed from its nest. Her other layers are not for display this evening. 1700 words.

Spoilers: Firefly through pilot; general Star Wars (with Thrawn trilogy reference)

Notes: Fusion fic! For kerrykhat, for xover_exchange.

This is the part she likes best:

A ballroom glittering with light, with patterned shimmersilk, with music. The cream of the system's wealthy and powerful gather under the eye of the Moff: drinking fine vintages, languorously moving to the beat of the music. Seeing and being seen together.

Conversation, spoken and unspoken, fills the air.

In a corner, clasped in the arms of a young bravo, the girl is dancing.


River was more than gifted. She... she was a gift. Everything she did: music, math, starship mechanics, even dance, there was nothing that didn't come as naturally to her as breathing. No one ever said the words 'Force sensitive' in her hearing... but she was three when the Temple fell, and the whole household knew Mother and Father had been fighting over sending her to the Jedi.

Perhaps her name was on a list; or perhaps she came to the wrong person's notice. As well ask the stars not to shine as advise River to be cautious. She was still only a child when she was 'invited' to join a special leadership program on Imperial Center.

They said it was for the best and brightest; they said it was an honor. Queen Amidala's image smiled at us from the holo brochure, full of promises.

That was the last time I ever heard the sound of my sister's laughter.


She is here to listen, but her feet know their patterns better than her mind knows its courses. She will hear better in motion. Under her elaborately coiffed hairstyle, her face is serene, painted in an image of perfection: a doll removed from its nest. Her other layers are not for display this evening.

Across the room, a younger woman steps and turns in echo. Her hair is red and gold, like flames; the girl knows her, but does not know her, in the way she does and does not know the Emperor's shadow. Eyes like jade chips meet hers as the pattern brings them together, but the girl only curtsies, keeping the secret to herself.

She has cast her words away, like a ladder of hair, and no one has climbed up to return them.

It is fortunate, then, that she needs none of her own to do her Master's bidding.


We saw more of River on the newsfeeds than over the comm in the beginning: in the background of a documentary holo program about the rebuilding efforts, in a showpiece about her classmates' field trip to study the governmental systems of Alderaan, standing with a young boy in an Imperial uniform to address the Senate. A Moff's daughter, and an admiral's son, taking the hand of the Emperor: the faces of the future, in miniature.

But the holos came further and further apart, and stopped entirely before her seventeenth Naming Day. By that time, we hadn't received a personal message from her in years. That night, she sent one last letter to my private comline: a message riddled with spelling errors and references to places we'd never been.

Father wouldn't hear me, but I knew it was a code. I spent hours, poring over and over those few lines, before I figured out what she was saying. And when he caught me in servants' clothes sneaking over to the spaceport-

I used to wonder how an honest man could spurn his lawful government, or betray his parents. That was the day I discovered the answer.


This one's satisfaction floats to her on the Living currents; that one's treachery; every one's fears. Unasked for, ungiven; all her sashes are up, her doors jammed open. She came late to the training (though not so late as the shadow) and did not take so easily to the jesses. Her Master's mind pressed, pressed, pressed until she fit the mold: until something broke.

She sees no futures; hers has never been the Unifying path (a fine joke from a certain perspective, though the long-haired ghost that follows the shadow does not find it amusing). She surfs patterns, sips auras, hears the murmur of thought: a leaf on the wind that slips through the Emperor's fingers.

The girl is a key on a kite string; a sabot in the engine of a Naval Captain ruing his course; a skip of rhythm in the heartbeat of a disloyal Senator (so much more subtle than a ring of Force around the throat). A tool to his hand. Not a Hand herself; she has failed that promise.

But there are things she is good for. And when she is good- the gilded bars press less close.


I emptied the household accounts that night and paid passage to the Core on the first disreputable looking transport I could find. The sort that didn't ask any questions; rather the same way I found you, in fact. No insult intended. Once en route, I called up every friend I could think of with a dangerous secret to hide, and by the time I landed on the hub world of Brentaal I knew how to locate my sister. Disaffected second sons can be a marvelous source of information.

Ours is not the only family the Empire has torn apart; and not every man who strives to thwart the Emperor's will must necessarily be a member of the Rebellion. I struck a bargain with the first similarly desperate individual I could find, and used my father's money to fund a mission to find River.

A month after my disownment, I made planetfall on Aargau to retrieve a very special package.


The girl exchanges her partner for another, the silver at his temples reflecting that lining his pockets. Metaphorically, of course. Material weight would adversely affect the buoyancy of his footsteps.

She is displeased; she had calculated another five point four turns of the floor before her path brought her to him. But his path has brought him to her instead: for she is lithe, young, and dark of hair and eye. Her Master did not send her simply to dance; the Admiral has known tastes.

When the musicians change the measure, the dance continues, but her partner does not. He has lost the rhythm, and it is her duty to remind him. When he draws her aside, arm curving taut about her waist, she waits until they are alone, then leans up to murmur of his stumbles in his ear.

He stiffens, but denies nothing, grasping for a blaster: more evidence of the lack of creativity that sent her to him. She pries his arm away as she plucks the names of his coconspirators from his mind, then scratches his neck gently. The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds, given adequate vacuuming systems; but she is limited to more mundane methods, in this milieu.

She watches as his eyes roll back and he collapses against her, twitching. Then she staggers backward, wailing at the top of her lungs.


It wasn't that simple, of course. What was done to her... my contacts had means they would not describe of damping her abilities, or they'd never have survived ambushing her on her return from a mission. You've seen what she can do while disoriented; now imagine her with a blaster, or a lightsaber, and full awareness of her actions. She's always been a being of extraordinary grace...

No, no; she's no danger to you. I swear it! Not like that. When we woke her, when she realized she'd been taken, she cried for hours about hearing nothing. She kept asking for orders, and spoke at length of hands sparking blue... I think she was desperately afraid of being punished.

She still is. She doesn't want to be found, to return to the Empire; I don't think she truly realizes yet that she's free. I'm not sure she even can, not after what they did to her. But that's all I want; all that I ask of you. Take us beyond the reach of the Navy, and I'll give you anything within my power.

My skills. My contacts. All the credits I have left, provided my accounts are intact; I'm sure you can use them. I intended no harm; I take full responsibility for the actions of the agent that followed us. Just- help me save my sister. Please. I'll do anything, if you'll help save my sister.


The girl returns to her skiff, comforted and petted by the Moff's empty headed son: a success. She smiles and swirls a dance step as she transmits the lock code. In that moment of distraction, someone cheats.

The world goes quiet- everyone around her, every breeze and mote of dirt, every insect, every engine: all of it silent!- and then she feels the prick at her neck. She collapses like a marionette with strings cut.

She is a stone. Deprived of accustomed input, she cannot quantify, she cannot manipulate. She does not function. Not even when she wakes, all her moorings torn loose; she is not in the palace, her explicit orders have expired, and her implicit, standing orders have fetched up against the one anchor she has left in the 'verse.

Simon. He is here! It is her last wish come true, unlooked for. But to stay with him would be to betray the Master... But to return to the Master would betray him... But to obey the Master would be to kill him... But to kill him would kill what remains of her soul. She screams, covering her face with her hands.

"River, it's me. It's Simon," he coaxes her, smoothing a hand over her hair. "It's okay now. I found you; you're safe now. It'll be okay."

He is a boob. He does not understand: the Master will find them. But-

Before she can complete the thought something shifts. The voice of the world rushes back in, bringing Simon's with it. Force; current; life. Words folded in his pocket, carried like a talisman: he's really here.

"River," he murmurs, thoughts thick with sorrow and love. The word sparks like correction from the Master's hands.

The girl's name- she had forgotten; how could she forget?- is River Tam.