ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2011-12-12 01:40 pm
Entry tags:

Fake News: Castles In The Sand, chapter 9

Title: Castles In The Sand (9/10+epilogue)
Rating: PG-13
Pairings/Characters: Olivia/Kristen, Jon, c!Stephen/Tad/Amy, Allison, (skip) Rebecca Drysdale
Warnings: (skip) Tentacles!
Disclaimer: Characters belong to the Report. Names of real people are used in a fictitious context, and all dialogue, actions, and content are products of the author's imagination only.

Apparently all my Olivia fics are going to make her cry at some point. Not that anyone else escapes the angst in this chapter.

Amazing beta job by [personal profile] queenfanfiction. Decorative capitals by Daily Drop Cap. Chapter index: Table of Contents




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When all of this was over, Allison was seriously considering moving to the mountains and spending the rest of her life farming alpacas.

"As you may have noticed, we were harboring an out-of-control firebug," she told the gathering of her entire crew plus Stephen. "I say were because Ms. Schaal will be riding behind us in the skiff for the rest of the voyage."

Puffs of ash swirled around her boots as she paced the charred surface of the lower deck. Quick thinking from Amy had created a vacuum that starved the fire of oxygen before it could eat the boards through, leaving them sound enough to walk on but a horrible eyesore. And it wasn't like Allison could bring Kristen back on board to scrub them.

"The only reason we aren't turning around this minute is because the End of the World is closer than the Eagles, and she's agreed to take her chances that the Elementals can fix her. If not, she's on her own. Mr. Stewart, who provoked this latest outburst, will continue to ride with us, but will be confined to the brig until such time as I feel like letting him out."

Jon's imprisonment was also partly because Allison wanted to put some distance between him and Stephen, and she didn't have as much of an excuse to lock Stephen up. Or so she thought, until the Vulpine man blurted, "I'm sorry, Captain. I'm so sorry. It's all my fault."

"Explain," snapped Allison. She couldn't imagine how Stephen factored into this. Unless of course he was about to admit to fathering Olivia's baby after all. (The princess herself had run off and hidden somewhere, which Allison thought was more than sensible of her.)

In his fast-improving Commedien, Stephen said, "I should have told you about Kristen."

Allison stopped in her tracks. "You knew? Which means Jon knew! And probably Olivia too, unless all three of you managed to keep her out of the loop. And none of you saw fit to mention it?"

Amy bobbed a foot or two off the deck, so that when she raised her hand it could be seen. "I might have kinda sorta implied to them that I could handle it."

Tad didn't say anything. He didn't have to. The guilty look on his face spoke volumes.

"Good gods, whose Report is this, anyway?" demanded Allison. "Anyone else want to admit to keeping potentially life-threatening secrets? Out with it!"

She glared at Buttons, Bobby and Alan, Meg and Jay. Of the group, only resident mage-expert Bobby shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "I had a few suspicions. Didn't want to press."

"If I didn't have a ship to run here, I'd throw you all overboard." Allison kicked a tuft of ash with her heel. "At least now I don't have to flip a coin to decide who's going to clean this deck."


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Up at the top of the tallest mast, Olivia sat cramped in the crow's nest, arms folded over her knees and head sunk low. She shouldn't have been visible from the deck, but just to be sure, her ninjutsu of invisibility (or, to be more technical, her ninjutsu of Somebody Else's Problem) was on in full force.

She wanted to be noticed. She wanted to be cared about. Just not, at that moment, by anyone on the Report.

"It's not me," she said out loud. "Is it me? Is there something I'm doing wrong that makes normal people descend into flaming ship wars because of it?"

No, that couldn't be right. Could it?

"Well, it's not you, anyway," she said to the air, resting her hand on the curve of her stomach. "All you did was show up. Not your fault everyone had to get all crazy over it."

Aside from the fact that Shadow-Beasts were definitely on fire, it was the only thing she felt sure of any more.


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Flat on her back in the skiff, its prow tied to the Report by a single long and sturdy rope, Kristen stared at the sky.

Every instinct and mental muscle she had turned toward reaching her powers again was in hard reverse. The last thing she wanted was to be responsible for the death of anyone on the ship. Especially Olivia, no matter who it turned out she had slept with. And if some subconscious part of Kristen felt otherwise...if these untrammeled explosions of fire weren't just accidents...then she didn't dare use the least spark of power until the Elementals either fixed it or took it away entirely.

It was the first time since her powers matured that she had ever really felt cold.


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Look at it this way," said Amy, handing Stephen another bucket of seawater. "You're getting a perfect representative sample of the exotic life of a shipboard grunt."

Stephen took the bucket and sloshed its contents across the slowly-clearing deck without replying.

"Hey," said Tad a few minutes later, scooting up to scrub the boards next to Stephen's knees. "It wasn't really your fault. You get that, right? There's enough blame to go around, but with great power comes great responsibility, and you are not one of the people with great power, here."

Stephen made some noises that he hoped sounded thankful. He knew Tad was only trying to help. It might have worked, too, if Stephen didn't know all too well what real powerlessness felt like.


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I did want to have kids at some point," said Olivia.

The baby didn't respond. If you could even call it a proper baby by this point. Olivia was pretty sure it wasn't a blastocyte any more, but it was probably still more a little flippery paddle-thing than anything else.

And it was the only listener without an agenda she'd had in weeks.

"Especially a couple of adopted kids," she continued. "Because there are so many out there that deserve better parents. Even when I was like five, I remember feeling so helpless, thinking I had to get away...somehow...."

A cloud passed over the sun. Olivia rubbed her eyes with a corner of her skirt.

"But I wanted to have some of my own too, you know? Eventually. When I'd settled in. When I knew I was prepared to take care of you."

Not that it looked like that was going to be possible any time soon. And the worst of it was, she almost thought she could have been prepared right now if there was anyone to back her up, but that idea had fallen apart on her like a cheap bootleg model kit.

Why had she resolved to come all this way for Kristen's sake in the first place? Her dedication obviously meant zip where Kristen's trust was concerned. Why had she let Jon's promises get her hopes up? She could have guessed he wasn't at his most stable lately. As for Stephen...that didn't even bear thinking about.

"I'm sorry," whispered Olivia, hugging herself as the sky faded to grey.


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Cooldown stretches only ate up so much time, leaving Jon alone behind wooden slats with only his neuroses to keep him occupied. He was relieved when someone finally came to visit, and only slightly less so when the visitor turned out to be Stephen.

Jon stood to greet him.

Stephen looked as if he'd grown years over the past few days, with tired eyes set in a scruffy, unshaven face. His tunic and trousers were grimy to the elbows and knees; his hands were worked pink and still damp as he spread them in penance. "I'm sorry...I wanted to come down earlier, but Allison made us scrub everything. Including her boots. Even the ones she didn't get ash on."

"I see," said Jon. "Sorry I wasn't there to help."

"Not your fault."

The brig fell silent. Neither of them had the energy for small talk.

"I wanted to check in," said Stephen at last. "To make sure you were okay...."

"Singed a little. Nothing worse. Amy acted fast."

"...and to say I believe you. About the baby. That it isn't yours."

"Of course not," muttered Jon.

Stephen twisted the hem of his tunic in his hands. "I heard the fight was really bad, though. Funny how that works. How it got so bad, so fast, even before Kristen broke out the char-broiling."

"I've been under some stress," said Jon sharply, and watched the sting land.

Stephen marshaled his strength and continued. "Jon...are you so worried about this baby because you think it's...?"

"Hm?"

"Because it's not! I know what you must think of me now, but I never would have...she's a friend, that's all, and even with Tad and Amy, I never did anything behind your back. I swear!"

With a heavy sigh Jon sat back on the scuffed wooden bench that was the lone piece of furniture in his cell. "Stephen. I believe you never cheated on me, with Olivia or anyone else. If you had, I would have known."

"Thank you for trusting me," said Stephen softly.

"It's not about trust. I'm telling you, I would have known."

Stephen's face went still as a portrait.

Jon turned his head away.

"Then...when you were fighting, you were feeling...?"

"Brilliant," snapped Jon. "Someone get this man a medal."

"I never wanted to hurt you," whispered Stephen. As if that made it better, not so much worse.

Jon meant to pull himself together and ask how Olivia was doing. And Kristen, for that matter. Even if he wasn't likely to have a civil conversation with the fire mage any time soon, he wanted to know that she was okay.

He was almost on the point of doing so when Stephen blurted, "If you ordered me to—"

"Don't finish that sentence."

illustration

Stephen shut up mid-word. It didn't stop him from radiating guilt.

"I don't want a pet, Stephen," said Jon bitterly. "I don't want to be your damn security blanket, either. And Tad and Amy don't deserve a third who cares so little about them that he'll dump them at the first sign of trouble! Do you love them?"

A soundless wave of feelings told him all he needed to know.

"Then don't you dare make that offer, Stephen Freem. And if you feel tempted to try, don't stay here. Get away from me before you go and do something that makes you completely unworthy of them."

Stephen clapped both hands over his mouth and fled. He didn't look back.

Jon knew they could both guess the words he'd left unspoken: Get away from me before I take you up on it.


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Did I do something wrong? Because you could have just told me!"

Her skiff was far from a proper chapel, but Kristen had never been the most observant of mages.

"A lightning bolt would've done it!" she yelled at the sky. "Or a note! You ever think of that? And I'm not talking about carving things into stone tablets, either. I mean something you could stick under my door! Are the great and powerful Elements too good for parchment?"

On the deck of the Report high above, the lanterns were starting to come on. Kristen wondered if she was going to get a light. While she couldn't blame the captain for leaving her out here, for safety's sake as much as anything else, leaving her in the dark felt like cruel and unusual punishment.

"Speaking of punishment!" she continued, stamping her foot uselessly against the basin of the skiff. "What did I ever do to deserve to have my powers taken, huh? And to give them back like this, where it's a miracle they haven't killed anyone yet? What gives? Are you just screwing with me, is that it?"

If all this was part of some cosmic practical joke, there was no telling where it ended. Maybe the outburst of flames on-deck hadn't come from her at all, but been sent down from on high. Maybe Amy's powers would go on the fritz next. Maybe even Olivia's pregnancy was part of the game. Did the lore ever mention anything about parthenogenesis? Kristen couldn't remember. If only she had paid more attention in school, instead of sneaking Femme Fatale paperbacks inside her textbooks.

"Well, if you're doing anything to her, stop it!" she shouted. "If you're mad at me for not going to chapel enough or whatever, fine! We're almost to the End of the World. We can talk about it then. But leave Olivia out of this!"

illustration


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Gi Foar had an old tradition. Well, superstition. Well, national quirk, to be honest. A ritual sometimes observed in cases of heartbreak.

Olivia hadn't brought anything sharp with her, so she borrowed a piece of the crow's nest railing and called up her by-now flawless wood-shaping jutsu. Temporary though the scissors were, any damage they did would be permanent.

The first hunk of dry, dark locks landed unassumingly on the boards at her feet.

Once she had gotten started, the rest was easy, if slower than she had expected. She had hacked around below her right ear and almost to the back of her neck when the tears started. Since vision wasn't exactly key to this endeavor, she kept right on going, littering the blurred floor around her with wavy black swooshes of hair.


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Coughing politely failed to get Alan's attention, so Buttons began scratching the galley door. A moment later the cook ushered him in. "I hope this is important. Leftover stew is a delicate dish to prepare."

Buttons swished his tail in disapproval. "I only wanted to make sure you were setting aside a portion for Olivia. And something to be delivered to Kristen, of course."

"Amy took the fire mage some sandwiches earlier. As for Olivia...she can come in whenever she wants. Never had a problem doing that before."

"Has she come in yet today?"

"...No."

"Then there needs to be a real meal waiting for her. She has to keep her strength up."

Alan ladled a portion of the simmering stew out of the pot. "You realize, of course, that if she's keeping the baby we're going to either need to ration this more closely or start catching that much more fish."


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Kristen was sitting now, watching the lamplight glint in tiny fractions across ripples in the water. Olivia would have trailed her fingers in the boat's wake. Kristen, not a fan of water, twirled them in her curls.

How had it started?

They were three weeks out from the Eagles, more or less. They had spent a week on the islands. Three weeks to get there from En-by-the-Sea, a week after they had set off from Commedia Central, a week after the play that seemed like a lifetime ago. If the pregnancy was really a normal one, Olivia must have conceived at some point during the performance's run, or slightly before.

She remembered the planning sessions at Sam's bar; the one rehearsal the crew had allowed her to watch; the joyful rush of opening night. The alertness in Olivia's eyes, vigorously arguing with Stephen about some point of Ring cycle canon. The bond among everyone who had worked on that play, criticizing and refining it in their own conversational shorthand. The tenderness in Jon's hands, catching Olivia by the waist and swinging her in a circle.

All that, and Olivia had gone home with Kristen. Had had fantastic victory sex with Kristen, even. And had stood by her after, when her powers first faltered, and...

...and...

...and it was ridiculous. Kristen was a hopeless fool for even thinking of it.

Although the Earth Elemental had been waiting for a prophecy. One about a person who was not named Olivia Schaal.


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By all rights, Olivia should have been chilly.

The fact that she was downright cozy, even in the cool night air, was completely unfair. For one thing, she wasn't getting the kick in the pants she needed to climb back down the rigging, if only to go straight to her empty cabin. For another, the warmth felt far too much like being in Kristen's arms.

Either she wasn't paying attention, or the real sailors were lighter in the rigging than she was. She didn't hear the ropes creaking until a few seconds before someone tried to climb into the crow's nest on top of her.

"Sorry!" exclaimed the newcomer, when Olivia yelped at the foot being stuck in her face. "Didn't know there was anyone in there...Olivia?"

Through bleary eyes Olivia squinted at the speaker. "Hi, Bobby. Don't tell?"

"Whoa, now. I know I'm rocking the soft butch look here, but 'Bobby'? Really?"

Olivia rubbed her eyes and tried to look more closely. Sure enough, although the stranger sounded almost exactly like the first mate, she was female, with a snub nose and friendly face under a thatch of unruly dark brown hair. Something like a miniature lantern on her wrist illuminated her features in the gloom, as well as a loose wool tunic of a cut Olivia didn't recognize.

Unfortunately, the light fell on Olivia's face as well. "Geez, no offense, but you look awful," said the stranger, wrinkling her nose. "What's going on? Anything you want to talk about?"

"Life sucks," summarized Olivia. "Who are you?"

"Oh, wow, I'm sorry! Have we not met yet?" The stranger offered her hand, yanked it back, brushed it off on her tunic, and held it out again. "I always lose track of these things at the worst moments. Hi, Olivia. I'm Rebecca Drysdale. Time mage."


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Turning down sex had been easy with Jon, who backed off the instant he felt that Stephen wasn't in the mood. With Tad and Amy, who had no such sensitivity, Stephen wasn't sure how he'd manage it.

It turned out to be easier than he'd feared. He froze up in uncertainty when Amy kissed him; Tad offered cuddling instead; Stephen leaped at the suggestion with gusto.

Their bodies were warm on either side of him. Tad's hair smelled nice. Amy's had glitter in it.

The bed was too small to sleep like that (and too small to cuddle like that, really; he looked at it from the outside and marveled that they'd managed). Stephen excused himself to the top bunk, still warm, and waited there until the breathing from below grew slow and even. No use in worrying them, after all.

Then he crept out of the cabin and went to check the room that had been Kristen and Olivia's.


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Unfortunately, fire mages were not immune to rope burn.

Even so, it took a few solid minutes for Kristen to give up trying to haul the skiff back to the Report by hand. When she abandoned the plan to sit back and blow on her raw, stinging palms, it was only because she needed time to think anyway.

Getting back on deck couldn't wait. Everyone on that ship was in danger, and Kristen was the only one who knew it.

It didn't take long to figure out her next step. Alone, bereft of her powers, which wouldn't have helped much in this case anyway, there was one trick left in her arsenal. And if that meant running the risk of summoning cranky sirens...or doing something that, thanks to what was left of her magic, was about as pleasant as jumping into a sewer...it was a price she'd have to pay. She didn't have the luxury of time to fret.

Kristen leaned over the side of the boat, took a deep breath, pinched her nose, and stuck her whole head underwater.

Then, in the most dulcet tones she could still carry, she began to sing.


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Finding no sign of Olivia in the cabin, Stephen went up on deck. It was quiet at this hour, abandoned except for Allison up at the bow turning the wheel.

His search here was more thorough than it needed to be; he still dreaded the idea of climbing the rigging, especially alone. For Olivia, though, he'd get up the courage eventually. She wouldn't want to be alone right now, and their other traveling companions were both locked away from her. So it was his duty as a friend. Once he worked up the nerve.

He was looking over the starboard railing, on the slim chance that she was cunningly concealed on the side of the ship, when the water began to bubble.


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Novan-army-knife scissors in hand, Rebecca sat a few loops up in the rigging from Olivia and set to work trimming her hair to something more presentable.

"Are you sure you're not, I don't know, mucking up the future by doing this?" said Olivia. Her voice was hoarse, as if she'd been crying on and off for a good while.

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"Give me some credit, here," said Rebecca, in lightly accented Gi Foarese. "I've been doing this a lot longer than you think. Besides, your hair being fabulous is a given. If anything, I'm keeping the timeline in order."

The princess laughed. That, too, was hoarse. "My hair hasn't been great recently. Thought it was the ocean at first, but looking back, that was probably the pregnancy too."

Rebecca nearly dropped her Novan army knife. "You're pregnant? You're carrying—" She stopped herself just short of saying the name, as her instincts balked at the strain it would put on the timeline. "—right now?"

Olivia went stiff under her hands. "D-does that mean I keep it?"

"Oh, no. I'm not screwing up any more of the future than I have to. At some unspecified point in time, you have some unspecified amount of children. Whether or not this is the first one is up to you. And your doctor and Kristen, of course. But mostly you."

"Kristen isn't really in the picture right now," said Olivia bitterly.

"What? Why not?"

Olivia told her.

For once, Rebecca managed not to blurt out what she was thinking. As if to be contrary, the timeline yawed under her senses, threatening to warp into something unrecognizable with greater certainty for every second she held back.

Giving the relative quantum forward flow of the universe the metaphorical finger, she snipped the last jagged tuft of hair into submission, brushed off Olivia's shoulders, and said, "Honey, there's something you really need to know."


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Captain!" cried Stephen, stuck in Gi Foarese in his agitation. "All this time we spent arguing over Shadow-Beasts, we should have been worried about—!"

The tentacles burst from the water on all sides, thick at the base as the length of a man's arm, their tips towering over the tallest sails in silhouette against the nearly-full moon.

"It's all right, Stephen! Kraken are friendly," called Allison, keeping her Commedien simple and loud, as much to hear herself over the rush of noise as to make it comprehensible to Stephen. "They don't attack people! Of course, they don't usually get this close to ships, either...."

A great rolling tentacle fell down almost across the deck: not to hit it, but to drop the empty skiff, which thudded sideways against the wood amid a sloshing wave of seawater. The rope still hung bedraggled from one end.

The tentacle that lowered Kristen had slightly finer motor control. Drenched, openmouthed, hair plastered to her head like a wet cat's, she landed feet-first and tottered, gasping for breath.

Before anyone could speak, the air rippled and Olivia swirled out of it: hair shorn so that it flew about her face, feet splashing in the makeshift surf, dress rippling out behind her like a cape.

Unfazed by the tentacles, unheeding of any other audience, she charged arrow-straight across the ship and decked Kristen across the face.

Time stopped. Metaphorically, at least. Literally—but then Allison caught the silhouette of Becky out of the corner of her eye, and knew not to be surprised by anything right now. Not even when Kristen reeled, caught her balance by a thread, and panted, "I deserved that."

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"You know?" wailed Olivia.

"Well, now I know! I only figured it out like five minutes ago! Frak, Olivia, if I'd guessed before—I never—"

Olivia muffled her next words in a viselike hug.

"Does anyone want to tell me what's going on?" said Allison, with a pointed glare at Becky.

It was Olivia who answered, still clinging to Kristen like her life depended on it. "My girlfriend went and got me knocked up."
ladyjaderains: (Default)

[personal profile] ladyjaderains 2011-12-12 08:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Okay, so even with all of the pieces falling into place in this chapter I am curious to see how it will all wrap up with just one more installment and epilogue. I certainly wouldn't complain if it took more than that:)

Olivia having Kristin's fire baby is freakin' awesome! Good for her for standing up to Kristin after all of the doubt and worry she went through.

Was Stephen asking Jon to order him to break up with Tad and Amy? Or was that more of an offer to be Jon's pet permanently so that he doesn't have to feel responsible for the consequences of his choices?

It kind of seems like he's trying to invite some sort of punishment on himself throughout this chapter. Now that he knows Jon can tell when he's with other people I'd be surprised it his guilt doesn't grow a mile long. If the shoe was on the other foot, I don't think he could handle it.

Poor Jon! I'm torn between being proud of him for doing what's best for Stephen and wishing that he would have given in to his own selfish urges where Stephen's concerned.

Oh Allison, I have a feeling your long tried patience will have more trials and tribulations before this is over.

Can't wait to see how Neil deGrasse Tyson and his long awaited prophecy stir things up!
ladyjaderains: (Default)

[personal profile] ladyjaderains 2011-12-13 06:16 am (UTC)(link)
Yay!!!!!!

It's a GIRL:)

You may want to edit that out of your post as it is spoilerific (I will check back and if you do, edit this response) but I must say I was hoping that's what it'd be! I'm sure she will have a legacy to rival that of Princesses Leia, Lucy, and Mononoke combined.

I don't doubt that Stephen would rather be back in a situation where it was okay for anyone to hurt him than have to deal with accepting responsibility for Jon's pain right now. I'm hopeful that Tad and Amy will be supportive if/when he returns to Jon.

I know! That's the whole problem, the war between what is morally right and what is emotionally selfish. Stephen is lucky that Jon is such a good man because I'm sure you're right and it will be that much more rewarding if/when Stephen comes back on his own terms. Still... I'm only human:) A less morally righteous human than Jon, especially when it comes to fictional worlds and unrighteous ideas of a Sir Jon with a pet Stephen. *returns to senses* Yes, yes I'm sure it's for the best ¬_¬

I had a feeling that a charred ship may be the least of her concerns considering her feelings toward the melodramatic ^-^
ladyjaderains: (Default)

[personal profile] ladyjaderains 2011-12-14 06:16 am (UTC)(link)
I was so excited but alas, my access is denied (that happens quite frequently I'm afraid). I totally hear you, for this fic it would not be right but it's still a fun idea. Thanks for the link though. Maybe some day I'll figure out how to get that goat to stop razzing me:)
ladyjaderains: (Default)

[personal profile] ladyjaderains 2011-12-14 07:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow that was incredibly easy. Thanks a bunch! I feel silly but happy to be able to finally see the fic I'd been missing out on. (now to track down all those links). Super ironic how that short fic was exactly the kind of comparison playing around in my head when I left that long post to the last chapter. It was like I just got bit by the need to have a little fun putting a different AU Stephens together or somethin. Hope you didn't mind my rant:) Thanks again!
kribban: (Default)

[personal profile] kribban 2011-12-12 09:39 pm (UTC)(link)
It's called blastocyst. For that matter, a woman two months into her pregnancy does not show at all. Science schmience. :)

Then...when you were fighting, you were feeling...?"

"Brilliant," snapped Jon. "Someone get this man a medal."


Oooh!

I'm so happy Jon is standing up for himself. I feel bad for Kristen in that boat, not even books to read or a lamp. I understand about Alison putting her there though, and putting Jon in the brig. Alison is growing on me, by the way.

Time Wimey stuff?
fenellaevangela: text: Kirk & Spock & Bones & some guy in a red shirt. (Default)

[personal profile] fenellaevangela 2011-12-16 11:12 pm (UTC)(link)
I had planned to save my comments for the end of the story but asdfghjkl; YOU INCLUDED REBECCA DRYSDALE! I was hoping from the first reference that she would show up as a full character and yaaaaay, she did! (I'm very thrilled, as you can see.)