BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KAYNARA

Bed and Wine: Part 26
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Developments. NC-15


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3420    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Bed and Wine: Part 26 By Kaynara *** Developments. NC-15 *** Thanks to Grimlock. *** She poked her head around the Chinese screen and once more scanned the quiet shuttle. Satisfied that she was alone, Inara crept out from behind the curtain. Only when she stood before the full-length mirror did she allow the robe to fall from her shoulders, pool on the floor in a puddle of gold silk. It was silly, really: this sudden bout of modesty. Mal had made it abundantly clear that no one was to enter her shuttle--theirs now--without knocking. “Know what’s missing from this ship?” he asked at breakfast one morning. “Food that’s actually food?” Jayne suggested. “Well, yeah,” Mal agreed. “But I was gonna say--” “The infirmary’s running low on a few things,” Simon offered. “Right. Fine. But I was talkin’ ‘bout--” “A karaoke box would be real shiny, Cap’n!” “A karaoke--” Mal looked incredulous. “Kaylee, we are not getting a karaoke box!” “Cap mad?” Raven ventured. Kaylee beamed, settled back in her seat triumphantly. “What? No, Little Chick. Uncle Mal ain’t mad.” He leaned over to pat her head. “Mad face,” she insisted. “That’s his usual face, sweetheart,” Zoe assured. “Mad at Lee.” “Raven, I’m not mad at your Aunt Kaylee.” Mal was getting desperate; he knew what was coming. “Really, Aunt Kaylee and me’s right as rain. Ain’t we, Kaylee?” Kaylee raised a brow but remained silent. Mal rolled his eyes. “Hug,” Raven demanded. “Hug Lee.” “Now listen, Little Chick. I’m the captain o’ this ship, and I say....” He sighed. “I say, least I don’t gotta hug the doc again. C’mere, Kaylee. Gimme a damn hug.” Inara had smiled, reached out to stroke a hand over Raven’s smooth black waves as the captain and Kaylee embraced. She loved watching Mal with his niece, whether it was chasing her around the cargo bay while she shrieked with laughter or bowing to her gentle insistence that they all get along. “Happy now, Little Chick? Can I continue my speech?” She ignored him, busy making silly faces at Jayne over her oatmeal. “Privacy,” Mal continued. “Sometimes I think you people don’t know the meaning o’ the word, and Zoe, did you just snort?” “Sir?” “That a subtle signal that I don’t mind my own?” Zoe lifted a brow. “Really didn’t mean it to be subtle.” “Hey, now. I have to keep an eye on things. I’m the captain.” “Cap mad?” Raven ventured. “No, Little Chick. Now as I was saying--” “Hug Mama.” “Uh, honey, your mama and I--we don’t hug.” “He’s right, Raven. We’re strong soldierly types.” Zoe hid a smile. “No hugging.” “Hug.” She whacked her spoon on the table, brown eyes huge. “Cap an’ Mama.” “Kid’s gonna just love spin the bottle,” Jayne muttered. “Hell, Zoe, what are ya teachin’ her? Some pacifist crap?” Mal reached around Simon to slap the back of Jayne’s head. “Don’t swear in front of the chick!” “Christ, Mal. You said damn not two ruttin’ minutes ago!” “Cap, hug.” “Sure I’ll hug you, honey.” Mal made a move to lift the baby but she shook her head, squirming out of his grasp. “No! Hug Jay.” “Oh, Sweet Ye su,” Mal murmured. “Zoe, this has gotta stop.” Zoe didn’t answer. She was too busy snickering into her oatmeal. “Privacy,” Mal repeated. “Personal space. These are good things....” In a way the shuttle did afford them more privacy. It was set apart from the crew quarters, a fair distance away from the passenger dorms. He’d spent a good portion of the last three months renovating it for her, slipping out of bed in the middle of the night, creeping off to clean and paint and fill the metal cavity with the furnishing that made it a home. He’d even fashioned a double bed of sorts, pushing two bunks together and covering them with an oversized blanket. The extra space was lovely, even if the beds had a habit of sliding apart in moments of passion. More than once, they wound up sprawled on the floor between them, a tangle of sweaty sheets and bruised limbs. “Screw it,” Mal had said the first time, deciding to prove his prowess in the bedroom didn’t require an actual bed. The memory called a smile to her lips. Yes, she liked sharing the shuttle with Mal, sharing a bed and a closet. She liked seeing his neat line of shirts hanging beside her dresses, his trousers snuck in between her skirts. On more than one occasion, the sight of him strapping on his suspenders in the morning was sufficient motivation to jump him. She did, swallowing his surprised ‘oh’ with her lips before pushing his pants down and tugging him back to bed. She liked falling asleep sated from sex and waking up to his kisses. Warm, openmouthed kisses to her chest, quick pecks to the belly, long tingling ones to the curve of her neck. Oh, yes, she liked all that. And it wasn’t as though she were overly self-conscious. She never used to be self-conscious. In the stillness of the shuttle, Inara stood before the glass. With a physician’s keen eye--or perhaps an artist’s more perceptive one--she examined her reflection, naked save a pair of plain black panties. The changes were subtle, so slight that only a select few would notice them at all. Adaptations that were evident solely to her...to her and maybe her lover. Her breasts were fuller now, enhanced almost a full cup size. Already several of her more formfitting tops looked vaguely pornographic. She was hesitant to buy new ones, though. It seemed somehow a surrender to admit her body was changing without her consent. Still, she could suffer the bust increase. The gently-rounding bump of her belly, however: that was harder to ignore. It swelled against the waistband of her underwear, stretching the delicate bikini briefs. She titled her body, studying her new profile. It unnerved her to see it there always, protruding from her body, abnormal, unnatural. Inara had never considered herself particularly vain. Now thought--now, she felt grossly unattractive. She kept waiting for Mal to notice, say something. But he seemed wholly oblivious to her changing shape. If possible, the man was hornier than before. Neither would he accept her attempts to keep her nightgown in place while they made love. Not that she’d tried terribly hard.... “Pretty,” he’d said politely of a black satin number with scalloped sleeves. “Thank you.” “Uh huh.” He nibbled her ear. “You mind if I take it off now?” “Mal, do you have any idea what lingerie costs? Once, I’d like to wear a piece for more than thirty seconds.” “You make me strip down. Now, see, what if I was wantin’ to wear somethin’ special.” “Mal.” She would *not* giggle. “Well, alright. What would you like to wear?” He thought about that for a few moments. “Your gowny thing.” She nearly choked. “Excuse me?” “Off with it.” “Mal--” “You said I could.” “You’re crazy.” “Well, yeah. Still.” He motioned her to hurry up. “C’mon now.” Shaking her head, she shimmied the nightgown over her head, laid it in his lap. “Well?” He appraised it a moment or two, clearly stunned that his argument had the desired effect. Finally, he knotted it around his head like a bandana, let the skirt fall forward to veil his face. “How do I look?” “Like you belong in a harem.” “A harem, huh?” He pretended to consider. “Think they’d take me?” She bludgeoned him with her pillow. Similarly, he seemed averse to her dressing immediately after sex. “Cupcake, you got somewhere to be?” “No. I’m just a little chilly.” In an instant, she saw her mistake. Mal tended to take such statements as a personal challenge. “Huh. Let’s see if we can’t warm you up,” he said, dragging the sheet down to her ankles and replacing the thin satin with his hard naked length. As mistakes went, that was one of her better. Lost in her head, she barely heard the door slide open. She hadn’t time to cover herself before he appeared behind her. “Starting without me again?” “Ha--” The second ha died on her lips as he spun her around, sealing his mouth to hers. “Missed you somethin’ fierce.” His hands slid over her back, grazed lower to cup her butt. “It’s only been an hour.” “Well, yeah, but...you were naked.” “I’m not naked.” She stood on tip toe to brush his lips. “I’m wearing very chic undergarments.” “We gotta do somethin’ ‘bout those,” he agreed, looping his fingers through the waistband. She expected him to haul her off to bed then. Instead he turned her about, held her still before the mirror. He ran his hands over her chest, watching their reflection to gauge her response. “Still sore here?” He cradled her breasts in calloused hands. She couldn’t evade his eyes in the glass, didn’t bother trying. “Only a little,” she murmured. His thumbs swept over her nipples, and she shivered. Her skin flushed, the pink bloom a fusion of lust at his touch, unease at his naked exploration. “They’re bigger...mind you, I ain’t complaining.” “Oh, how noble of you.” He just smirked. His hands slid down her ribs, stole under the sides of her panties. Gently, he eased the scrap of satin over her thighs, left it to dangle around her knees while he studied their likeness. Apparently satisfied--or perhaps not yet sated--he stepped closer, pressing his swollen pants-front against her bare bottom. Plain, unabashed desire coursed through her. “Mal,” she said. It sounded suspiciously like a plea. “God, you’re beautiful.” One hand spread to cup her belly, the fingers of the other delving between her thighs. “More so every damn day.” Her knees shook. “I--Mal, I can’t--” “Go ‘head and fall.” He suckled the flesh of her neck. “I’ve got you.” *** Inara found the younger girl in the common room.  She was lying on the sofa with her legs in the air. “Hi, sweetheart.” River looked embarrassed, though for some reason Inara doubted the girl’s shame stemmed from the pillow thrust up under her blouse. River didn’t offer clarification, nor did she remove the artificial bulge as Inara sat down, folded her legs under her butt.  Inara chose not to ask; she was already dizzy with nausea and navigating the twisty bends of River’s brilliant mind was a challenge on a good day. “Do you mind if we chat for a few minutes?” she asked instead. “I’m not crazy,” River said quickly. Inara looked surprised. “Of course you aren’t,” she said firmly. River smiled. “That’s what they tell crazy people.” “You are *not* crazy.” “See things sometimes.”  She shook her head.  “Wish I didn’t.” “That’s not crazy, sweetheart.  It’s…gifted.” “Doesn’t feel like a gift.” Soft brown eyes regarded Inara sadly.  “Sick?” “I’m sorry?” “Morning sickness.  Don’t look well.” Inara nodded at last. “To be honest, sweetie, I don’t feel so well.” River smiled, appreciating the irony. “I’ll make *you* tea.” “I—thank you.  River, wait.”  She reached out, laid her hand atop the younger woman’s own.  “I’ve intended to say this since Mal and I learned about….”  Inara gestured to her rounding belly, her expression whimsical. “He’s happy,” River murmured.  “Proud.”  “I—we’re both happy,” Inara protested. River lifted a brow. “You weren’t at first.  Now you’re all muddled.” “It’s just…the timing isn’t….” River nodded gravely. “Sweetheart, this—Mal’s and my baby—it doesn’t change anything.” “Changes everything.” “Well, yes.  In a way.  But not for your child—yours and Mal’s.  The captain won’t ever stop looking for the baby that was made from you and him.  The kind of man he is...one life can’t replace another.  He’ll do everything in his power to find your child and bring it back to Serenity.  Bring it back home.” “Then what happens?” River asked, her voice very small. “I—I don’t know.” Inara tried to smile. “Everything goes a little fuzzy after the climax.” “Sometimes the real story starts in the denouement.” “I thought the denouement was the ending.” “Not always. You have to swear.” Amused, Inara lifted a brow. “What do you want me to swear, River?” “To finish,” she said as though it were obvious.  “Promise you’ll finish the story no matter what.” “I—I swear.” “Thank you, Inara.”  River slid the pillow out from under her blouse, returned it lovingly to the sofa.  “It’s starting.” ***  “It’s starting,” Rebecca whispered.    Her words disappeared into the whirl of the ceiling fan, echoed in her ears with each humming revolution.  She looked over at Rex, sleeping soundly, his face mashed into the pillow.  In the glow of the nightlight—his purchase to prevent her from tripping in the dark—she found herself marveling at how old he looked.  He was still indisputably attractive, but recent years had turned his once slate hair almost entirely gray.  Last month, they went out for Italian on their anniversary.  While Rebecca was in the ladies’ room, the waitress had asked Rex when his daughter’s baby was due  He told Becca the story over antipasto when she returned.  They laughed, and she teased him about wearing those awful corduroy pants and letting his beard grow in.  But the truth was he did look changed.  They were both changed.  Now, Rebecca pressed a hand between her legs, feeling the damp spot on the mattress.  It was almost a whole month ahead of schedule.  Matty said twins often came early.  She imagined the babies conspiring, brother and sister encouraging each other to get out already.    “It’s okay, guys.  Mom’s ready.”  Becca  had alerted Emmy to the possibility of an early birth, and they were prepared.  All the pieces were in play.   Sometimes she resented deeply that her life had become this: a high-stakes game of Tall Card where strategy was everything.  Still, she was a realist.  She held the Tall Card in her hand, carried its burdensome weight.  Every move had to be made with an understanding of her disadvantage.    “I want to go now,” she’d protested three months earlier, lying in Emmy’s lap while the older woman stroked her hair.  “But where would you go, Becca?  You have to be smart, clever.  We need time to plan.”  “Won’t it be harder?  Leaving after they’re born?”  “Not necessarily.  If it was made to look like a kidnapping…?”  “No.”  “There may not be another way.”  “We’ll find one.  I won’t abandon them.  For God’s sake, they’re my children.” She no longer cringed at the blasphemy.  Where was God in all this anyway?  “I’m going with them, Emmy. They’re a part of me.”  “Except….”  She could tell it hurt Emmy to say this.  “Except, truly, Rebecca, they aren’t.”  In the end, they contrived a plan.  Esmerelda had a friend from Sihnon, a Companion of House Ushas by the name of Lilah Sun.    “Lilah has many affluent clients and does well for herself.  She owns several homes in addition to her suite at the Guild House: a cottage by the sea on Sihnon, an apartment in Ariel City.  She also keeps a condo on the other side of this world.  If we can find a way to  take you there after the babies are born…even the Alliance would have trouble connecting Rebecca Gray back to Lilah Sun.  It’s a start at least.”  “Emmy…if I’m right and these children mean what I think they do—we’d be putting your friend at great risk.”  “Lilah knows the consequences of crossing the Alliance. She’s seen them firsthand.”  Emmy had looked away, as though struggling to regain her calm.  When she spoke again, she murmured something about seeing those consequences strewn over the lawn.  “That’s one of the reasons I asked her, Becca.”  “What would the Guild do? If her superiors learned of her actions....”  “Try to help.  A Companion of Lilah’s status is well-respected among the Council of Priestesses.  Unofficially, the Guild would provide money and resources.”  “And officially?”    “Officially the Guild would claim ignorance.  If the Alliance was to learn of her relationship with you, the Guild would offer up her neck.”  “Dear God.  Is everyone in this ‘verse scared of the Alliance?”  Emmy had smiled then, her eyes lighting with a much younger girl’s spark.  “I’m not scared.” Three months later, Rebecca wasn’t scared anymore either.  “Rex.”  She touched his face, smoothing back the wispy-soft hairs from his forehead.  A little awkwardly, she rolled closer, pressed her mouth against his in the darkness.  It was too soon to say goodbye, but in her heart she did it anyway.  I’ll miss you, Rex.  You who taught me the breaststroke in your parents’ pool, taught me to ride a hover bike over the streets of New Venice and to make love in a small bed and breakfast with hard, narrow beds.  You who taught me to lie.  “Beck?”  She smiled, marveling at how easy it was to love and hate someone at the same time.  She kissed him again, harder this time, and told him it was starting. *** She strode toward the galley and the sound of her daughter’s laughter. She thought she’d find the captain with her, teasing out those light peals with tickles, or Kaylee maybe, playing peekaboo from behind a curtain of unkempt hair. Even Jayne seemed fond of evoking the baby’s giggles. He and Simon had a routine. The doctor would mime shooting Jayne in the chest--something the former seemed to enjoy--and Jayne would collapse in a fit of death rattles on the table top. Raven would shriek with laughter while Mal rolled his eyes and tried to hold his coffee mug steady through the shaking. She didn’t expect to find what she did: Gideon sitting beside her little girl, conjuring up the baby’s giggles with inventive dino-play. Raven had taken to carrying one or two around, their skinny necks clutched tight in her plump fist. It made Zoe smile, eyes going wide with something that wasn’t quite tears but wasn’t quite not. She knew what her other Baby would say, wincing at the treatment of his friends. “Rave.” She thought he’d call their daughter such. “Gentle, Rave. Let the little guys breathe,” he’d encourage, trying to pry her hands free. Zoe watched Gideon march the miniature reptiles over her daughter’s arms. “Grrr. Argh.” He let the snapping T-Rex nibble at her fingers. It was that sight--combined with the pleasing music of her baby girl’s giggles--that made her strike out. After, she’d analyze it all, washing away his scent with warm water. She started this first fight, anticipating the satisfaction of the other. He wouldn’t disappoint her in any forum that day. It was easy to nudge him into a challenge: “You surprised me. I was...distracted. You distracted me,” he corrected, remembering that Christmas Eve spent in the middle of space. “Sure my knee in your groin was plenty distracting.” “You caught me off guard. In a fair fight, I’d kick your...butt,” he amended, glancing at Raven, cheerily consuming her pancakes to his left. He waited, delighted, for the mother’s eyes to flash. “Really.” It wasn’t a question. Her eyes shone dark and gleaming--fiery pools of oil in a beautiful furious face. It would seem indignant anger agreed with her. “Yup. Your butt, my kicking.” To his right, the captain was shaking his head. Gideon chose to ignore the warning. “Gideon. You implying I couldn’t take you out in a stand up fight?” “I’m not implying anything, Zoe. I’m promising.” “Oh, holy hell,” Mal muttered. “Come to the cargo bay,” she said cooly. “Shuh muh?” “Kaylee?” Her eyes never wavered from his. Gideon wondered how many men she’d downed just by looking at them “Um, yeah, Zoe?” Kaylee looked flustered, spatula still in hand. There was a spot of flour on her nose. “Mind keeping an eye on my kid?” “Um, okay.” “Zoe?” “Sir?” “You kill him and it makes a mess...well, you’re cleanin’ it up.” “I’ll do that, Captain,” Zoe said, mouth expressionless. What just happened here? He’d only meant to get her riled, watch those jet eyes snap with amusement and annoyance. He certainly didn’t want to take her out. Helplessly, Gideon turned to Mal. The captain held up his hands in a blatant show of ‘Don’t look at me.’ Or maybe it was ‘You made your bed.’ Mal’s nonverbal communication with Gideon tended to alternate between the two. There was something else this time, a sentiment hidden around that smirk. Gideon thought he read ‘You’re screwed’ there. “Gideon?” Zoe lifted a brow, one slim hip cocked in impatience. “You comin’?” He rose with the dread of a man humping himself out of getting humped in the near future. *** He sat by her bedside, waiting for her to wake. “Shh,” he said when she stirred. With shaking fingers, he combed damp hair away from her face. “It’s okay, honey.” “Hurts,” she whispered. “I know it does, Becca. But it’s almost over. The pain’s almost over.” He removed a syringe from the pocket of his coat. Heparin. He hid the label under his thumb. “So tired....Matty, what’s...what are you....?” He depressed the plunger into her arm, averting his gaze as he imagined how the anticoagulant would flow through her veins. She’d be unconscious when the bleeding began in earnest. He removed a second hypodermic and repeated the procedure in the opposite elbow, trying to ignore the way she winced. “This should dull the pain, make you sleep.” “I don’t wanna sleep.” She fought to keep her eyes focused, lucid. “I wanna see the twins.” “You will, Becca. Soon.” He gripped her slim, trembling hand in both of his. Mindful of baby-soft skin, she’d cut all her nails short, buffed them to remove rough edges. “I--I hardly even got to touch them....” She squeezed her eyes shut as tears streaked her cheeks. He watched them sluice over golden freckles, disappear into the curve of her throat. “They’re sleeping now, honey. It’s been a long day for them, too.” “Yes.” She blinked, tried to sit up. “Where’s Rex?” “He’s with the babies, Becca.” “Matty, is something wrong? You’d tell me, wouldn’t you?” “Nothing’s wrong.” “They’re okay?” “Better than okay.” He fought to keep his voice steady. “They’re rutting perfection, Rebecca.” She smiled, her free hand reaching out to pat his arm. “Don’t swear, Matty.” “No. No, you’re right.” “I’m so tired. It doesn’t hurt so terribly now.” “Good.” He had to force himself to swallow. “That’s good.” “They really are beautiful, Matt. Have you ever seen such beautiful babies?” She laughed. “I never have, Becca. Have you...have you chosen names?” She smiled, eyes closing, mouth soft and dreamy. “Yes,” she answered. “The boy’s called Devon.” “And the girl?” Rebecca sighed, already sinking into a dream. “She’ll be Epiphany.” *** He wouldn’t let them wash her first. He insisted on seeing her as she was. The blood soaked her hospital gown, stained her smooth white thighs and colored the sheets. Now it reddened Rex’s hands, dyed his hair where he’d raked his fingers moments before. To Matty, grief wasn’t that sickening black-crimson. Grief was blinding white light: an absence and a dearth. He pressed his temple to the glass, watching his friend of twenty years cradle his dead wife’s corpse in his arms. Lovely, vibrant Rebecca with her pixie hair, her kind smile. She was still lovely. Pallid and feeble as the frailest Poe heroine. Death at its most delicate. “I met someone.” The words came back to him now, idle chatter from the past. “Screw her yet?” Matty had asked over a pint. “No.” Rex had shrugged, unoffended. “I’m gonna marry her, Matty.” “You’re drunk.” “Yes. She reads, Matt. Novels from Earth-That-Was. She says she’ll lend me some, and we can have coffee and discuss them.” “What was the last thing you read, Rex?” “Before the wine list? Some rambling diatribe on Defense budgets.” “Well, buddy.” Matty had raised his glass. “Best of luck with the book club.” A year later they were wed. Now, the glass felt cool against his flesh, kept him from being sick so far. He smelled the woman’s perfume--roses, not sweet so much as potent--before he heard her footsteps. “Hello. Are you Matt?” “Can I help you?” he asked in case he was wrong. But he thought he knew her. Registered Companions didn’t tend to put in appearances at Alliance Hospitals. The rich jewel tones of her gown stood sharply against the white sterility of this place. She sniffed then, somehow made it graceful. “Without intending offense, Doctor, I highly doubt that.” “None taken, Ms. Sun.” “You should really call me Lilah.” Lilah pressed her nose against the window, a tiny circle of condensation appearing where she breathed. “After all, what’s more intimate than murder?” “How’d they get you?” She lifted a delicate shoulder, extending her arm to show him the bruises. “Torture?” Her lips quirked. “That was superfluous. You see, I have a niece: my sister’s girl. She’ll be sixteen her next birthday.” “Oh.” He turned back to the glass. “And you, Doctor?” Matty watched her watching Rex, her mouth making a small ‘o’ as he sprawled out beside Becca on the narrow mattress, curled her empty body into his chest. “I’m not so noble as you, Lilah. Torture was enough to sway me.” He averted her eyes and their sympathetic scrutiny. He didn’t tell her the truth, didn’t reveal that they hadn’t tortured him at all. They didn’t have to. “We’ll stop the program.” The vid message was waiting on his Cortex. It came not from BSB but the Alliance itself. “We will kill the program and destroy all subjects.” The subjects were twenty children, babies really, between the ages of two months and thirteen. Matty and his team observed and tested the engineered babies, assessing intelligence and medical health over the course of the first year. At that point, the children were put up for adoption. Matty wasn’t a virtuous man. He’d done indecent things, things that weren’t at all righteous. But twenty little bodies, twenty little souls haunting his dreams every night--that was more than even he could hope to survive. He killed Becca to save not their lives or his own, but his very sanity. “And the twins?” Lilah asked. She’d turned to go, fingers sliding through the mesh sleeves of her wrap. “A girl and a boy. Healthy.” She nodded and moved with fluent grace toward the exit. *** She moved with the fluent grace of women and warriors. “Show me what you got,” she invited. He chose speed over strength, hesitant to put marks on the flesh he wanted to taste. Taste again, for he’d sampled its flavor once before. She landed twice on top of him, sinewy arms spread to pin his hands to the mat. “Give it to me,” she demanded. She wasn’t even out of breath. She should have been out of breath, and they both knew it. “You’re holdin’ back.” “Zoe--” “Take me!” They scrambled on the mat, each seeking dominion over the other. Now she was perspiring, beads of wet trickling over her temple. She rolled them both, her legs locking around his waist, wispy black curls pulling free of her ponytail. He felt himself harden against her, knew she must have felt it too. When she raised her head to meet his gaze, he used it, took the opportunity to flip her, pin her. Furious, she struggled against his chest, trying to wriggle free. One knee crept up between his thighs. He forced her legs apart and settled in the space between, effectively preventing her from doing what she intended. She glared at him, wide-eyed, chest heaving. She was enraged. She was overpowered. Something stirred in her belly. “I win,” he said softly and started to ease off of her. She didn’t explore her own thought process; she didn’t care to. She grabbed his face in both hands and lowered his mouth to hers. Secreted away in his bunk, it took forever to undress each other. He fumbled with her vest so long she tore his hands away, set them instead to the task of undoing her belt. He jerked it open and scrabbled for the zipper. He thrust his hand inside her underwear, plunged two fingers up and into her and caught the resulting whimper with his mouth. “Now!” she demanded. Her fingers moved efficiently over his fly. “No.” He went back to her vest, working to release her from the leather. Once again her eyes flashed with rage and something new: need. He drew his lips along the curve of her jaw. “I want you bare,” he whispered, filling his hands with her breasts. It was fast and frenzied, and she came twice, biting her tongue to keep from sobbing another man’s name. After, she tried to leave. He caught her wrist, tugging her back down beside him. “Stay for awhile.” “Some of us have work.” “I could hold you. You might like it.” She snorted out a laugh but lied back beside him. His kisses felt nice on her neck: light as a butterfly’s touch and tickly warm. She reached around to cup his head, grateful her back was to him and he couldn’t see the tears. “You’re amazing,” he murmured into her hair. Recycled air puffed in through the vents. She let the flow of it dry her face. ** “No.” “But--” “Mal.” He huffed out a breath, the warm air tickling her neck. “You’re bein’ all manner o’ unreasonable.” She wiggled in his lap, knowing the friction would distract him, perhaps save their child the terrible fate its father intended. He moaned softly into her ear, and she angled her neck back, twisting to reach his lips. “Kiss me,” she murmured. He leaned forward to taste her. It was several seconds before he recalled the flow of their argument. “Huh.” “Hmm?” She kept her lashes low, her eyes soft slits underneath. “I can’t believe it.” He shook his head, feigning disgust. “The woman carrying my child is sitting here in my lap--sitting in my own cockpit, mind you--and usin’ her wiles on me.” Inara lifted a brow. “That’s a little overdramatic.” “It’s just the right dramatic! My pregnant girlfriend is tryin’ to manipulate me with her womanly wiles. I think I got reason to be rattled.” She abandoned the charade, more annoyed at herself for being caught than at Mal for catching her. “You can just stop, Mal. Stop right now. No way in this ‘verse will you convince me to name our daughter Serenity.” “It’s a nice name!” “For a ship, yes. For a little girl on the other hand....” “Ain’t like the other kids gonna make fun, darlin’.” “Mmm.” She reached around to stroke the back of his head. “Do you ever think about the future, Mal?” “How do you mean?” “I mean...desires. Plans. Do you think about those?” “Sure I do. Like in a few minutes, I plan to pick you up and haul you off to bed.” “I’m serious, Mal.” “Inara...I quit plannin’ for the future when I realized I weren’t owed one. When you’re growin’ up, there’s a tendency to assume you’ll, well, grow up.” Sure he saw death from time to time. Horse had to be put down when he was eight. Kitten was born too small. Frail old woman owned the theatre in town and a classmate who drowned himself in the lake. Still, those folk were them--Mrs. Brattle and Benny Liu. They weren’t him. He was young and healthy and strong. He wouldn’t wind up in a narrow little box made outta wood. He saw an awful lot of boys just as young, just as strong, go home from the Valley in boxes. ‘Course some of ‘em never made it home. “Not no one’s entitled to nothin’. And God--well, he don’t take kindly to planners. Hell, he’ll laugh in your face ‘fore he honors your noble intentions.” “So, what, then? There’s no sense in trying to plot your own destiny? What about free will?” “Oh, it’s there. You can choose to work or can choose to starve. Me, I got a powerful need to eat.” “Oh, well, that’s a lovely attitude. I hope our child inherits your sun-shiny outlook.” “Better than her believin’ in a lie.” “I’m not saying you should look to Him for help, Mal. I just wish you’d stop assuming He’s out to screw you.” “Ain’t such a leap, sweetheart.” “What about me, Mal? Hmm? What about us?” “Us?” His tone softened. “Us means somewhere those million monkeys with their million computers finally finished that sonnet. Us ain’t logical or sensible. Us sure as shit ain’t likely. But it’s the most beautiful, miraculous thing I’ve seen in the whole of this ‘verse.” “And that doesn’t imbue you with some measure of faith?” she asked, gently. He was silent a moment. “Guess maybe it lets me hope,” he said at last. “Is that enough?” “It’s enough,” she told him. “Huh. Hope.” He raised a brow. “That’s sorta pretty-sounding.” She turned to meet his gaze, lips curving. “Hope,” she appraised. “Hope...Reynolds?” She smiled, nodding her approval. “Huh. Well, look at that. Named our kid without even coming to blows. Honey...I think we’ve grown.” “One of us, at least.” She spread her fingers over her belly. “I’m sorta likin’ it. In fact, thinkin’ I might just keep you this way. You know, barefoot and--” “I will hit you, Mal. Don’t mistake my delicate state for weakness. One more sexist syllable, and I’m going to let you have it.” He smirked, snuggling her closer to his chest. “Are these the mood swings?” He managed to dodge the elbow to his ribs. “Whoa, ho! No need to get nasty, kitten. ‘Specially when I was gonna give you my special back rub later.” “You don’t have a special back rub.” “Well...yeah. Still, that don’t mean--” “She can’t live on this ship, Mal. Not forever, at least.” She blurted it out, then froze. She hadn’t intended to say it in that way. Carefully, she slid off his lap, turned around to face him. He waited, as though expecting her to go on. When she didn’t, he cleared his throat. “You talkin’ ‘bout our...Hope?” “Yes, Mal.” He stared out at the Black, eyes distant and difficult to read. “Where else would she live, Nara? I ain’t sending my kid away to strangers. Not a chance!” “That isn’t what I mean.” “Maybe you oughta say what you mean.” “I’m trying!” “Well? I’m listening.” “No, Mal. You’re shouting.” “I am not--” He trailed off, lowered his voice to a more muted volume. “--shouting,” he finished, somewhat awkwardly. He stood then, took hold of her shoulders and lowered her forcibly into the chair he’d just vacated. “Should be sitting,” he muttered, no quite meeting her gaze. She sighed, too touched at the concern to bristle at his manhandling. “Mal...you don’t really believe we can stay here forever, live out our lives on Serenity.” “In fact, I do. This ship’s my home, Nara. You know that.” “I know, Mal. And I love her almost as much as you. But you can’t honestly think this is an appropriate place to raise children.” “Ain’t never troubled much over what’s appropriate.” “Alright, well what about school? Raven will be ready in a few years.” “So? She can learn stuff right here.” “She needs to interact with children her own age, Mal.” “Well, we’re givin’ her a little cousin! And hell, it’s only a matter o’ time ‘fore the doc and Kaylee start hatchin’ stuff.” “You’re right. They will want children one day, probably soon. And what happens then?” “Whaddaya mean, what happens? It’s a big ship.” “That’s not really the point.” She sighed. “This is a smuggling ship, Mal. The nature of your work mandates a certain amount of danger. How would you feel running jobs with children on board? Not just one child, but several maybe?” “I...I don’t--” “What if something breaks down? It’s happened once. We came very close to dying that day.” “Don’t gotta remind me.” “It needn’t be today, Mal. Or tomorrow. But someday. That’s all I meant to say.” “Figure this ain’t a topic I wanna be talkin’ on anymore.” His eyes were cool now, almost pure gray in shade. She nodded. “I understand. I do love her, Mal. Not as much as you, perhaps. But I’m grateful for everything she’s given me. And for all she’s given you.” “I know y’are.” “Will you come to bed?” He shrugged, turned to stare sulkily out at the sky. “Think I’m gonna stay up awhile.” “Alright.” She stood on tip toe, brushed a kiss over his cheek. “I love you, Mal.” She kissed his lips to stopper any reply and left the bridge in a swirl of silk and perfume. Alone, he collapsed back in the vacant pilot’s chair, stacking his boots on the console before him. Deliberately at first, then almost instinctively, his fingers caressed the worn leather of the arm rests, his eyes following the pinpricks of light: faraway stars floating endlessly through an ocean of sweet-shielding black. He was half asleep when the message alert sounded, indicating an incoming wave. He flipped three switched and shook his head to clear sleep-fogged sight. “Yeah,” he said by way of greeting. Squiggly lines zigged and zagged before her face filled the screen. “Malcom.” “Emmy.” He sat up straighter. “Hi.” She smiled through the cortex. If vid quality were somewhat improved, he’d have seen the tight little lines around her mouth, the dark smudges that half-mooned her sleep-starved orbs. “Hi, Mal.” “Been meanin’ to wave you. Got some news. Thought maybe we could stop by your world sometime soonish. If you wanted, I mean.... Seems I’m gonna be a daddy.” “I have news too, Mal.” From a million miles away, Emmy averted her eyes. “It seems you already are.” *** It was just sex. Didn’t matter how comely she was, how brave or beauteous or brainy. Didn’t matter that sometimes, when it was just the two of ‘em, she liked holding his hand--her delicate little digits stroking his, their palms cupping in sweaty, unseemly pleasure. Didn’t matter that she slept in his tee shirts, slept curled on her side like a kid, clutching his arm like he was some gorramn teddy bear. Didn’t matter that he let her. It was just sex. It was damn good sex. And if sometimes they snuggled some after and talked ‘bout their days and such...well what was wrong with that? Gettin’ her those gifts, though--that was the kind o’ think folk could misconstrue if’n they was nosy and didn’t know better. “It isn’t my birthday.” “Know that.” “Hmm.” She’d eyed the bag suspiciously. “Ai ya, you gonna open it already or stand there starin’?” Weren’t anythin’ to make a fuss o’er, really. A handful of butterfly clips for her hair. A music box with a battered ballerina who wouldn’t dance. He offered to fix it. She said she liked her broke. Just a few trinkets, just ‘cuz he happened to see ‘em. Anyway, the sex was good. She smelled good, too. Like Serenity kinda. Smoke and ozone and electronics. Oil. Metal. Coffee the Cap’n favored and Kaylee’s famous cinnamon rolls. Doc’s antiseptics and Nara’s heady incense. Course, girl had her own smells. Light sweat after a workout. Or a romp. The pleasing, powdery scent of her bath soap. One whiff of her had his John Thomas saluting. Like now. Girl looked mighty good in his bed, his big tee shirt slipping off her skinny shoulder, her hair all strewn across the pillows. If’n she didn’t look so ruttin’ relaxed he mighta woke her with kisses, coaxed her into a little play. As it was, he didn’t have it in him to disturb her. Probably he was just tired. Long day an’ all, what with the Cap’n bein’ crazed. In the dark, he stripped off his shirt and trousers and tossed them over a chair. He crawled into bed in his skivvies, took up his place on the fringe. G’ramn girl slept right in the middle o’ the mattress. He fell asleep listening to her breathe, woke up to the wound of her whimpering. He let her thrash like that, she’d wake half the ship. He wrapped his arms around her torso, trying to keep her tight little fists from cuffing him in the face.  This was the worst one so far.  Ever since Mal’s bombshell last week, she’d been actin’ strangely. Point of fact, she weren’t the only one. Cap’n was damn near out of his head. “We’re goin’ to ‘Siris, Cap’n?” “That’s what I said, Kaylee.” “Jesus Christ,” Simon muttered. “Sir...we’re just gonna land there, Sir?” “Mal, this is crazy. You can’t just storm into a woman’s house and demand her baby!” “She’s dead, Nara. The surrogate: she died last night.” For a long moment, no one spoke. “Somethin’ else,” Mal said after a beat. He cleared his throat a few times, tried to meet River’s eyes. Girl wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t even raise her chin off her chest. Jayne knew then--knew that whatever was gonna come outta Mal’s mouth, girl already knew it her own self. “There’s two of ‘em,” he said softly, in a voice he used to speak to the dying. “They made two.” Kaylee blinked wildly. Simon looked sick. River hadn’t done a ruttin’ thing.... Eventually she quit flapping beside him and was still.  He thought maybe she’d drifted off again.  Relieved that the nightmare was past, he bent his head and pressed a kiss to her crown.  “Thanks for trying,” she murmured.  He froze.  He felt guilty, though for what he wasn’t sure.  “Hell, girl.  Didn’t do nothin’.”  He thought a moment.  “Musta been a pretty bad dream.  Thinkin’ on tomorrow’s fight?”  “No.”  She burrowed into his side, her narrow back digging into his rib cage.  Kid couldn’t get much closer if she tried.  “One from yesterday.”  Three months and he was startin’ to have a handle on her word games.  By yesterday she musta meant that massacre all those months back.  He felt sorta smart for seein’ into the truth of it right off.    “What was it like?” His tongue felt dry, big and heavy and awkward in his mouth.  He didn’t wanna know the specifics of what was done to her—had seen it all plenty clear from the bruises.    “Like drowning.  Water all around.  Water in your eyes and your ears and your lungs.  Can’t breathe.  Choking. Burning.  Try to breach the surface, fill your lungs with cool clean air.  Most you can do is suck in a breath.  Not enough.  Water slaps at your ribs.  Pain.  You’re sinking.  You’re dying.”  “ ‘Cept you didn’t die.”  He stuck his hand under her nightshirt, pressed it against the bare flesh of her chest.  “Hear that, River-girl?  Engine’s still runnin’.”  “Parts missing.”  She didn’t look like a weapon now.  She looked like a rag doll, all long limbs and long hair.  Fragile warrior.  Fierce child.  “They won, beat me.”  “You didn’t get beat, girl.  Just lost is all.  And there’s a galaxy of difference betwixt those two.”  “How?”  “Kept gettin’ up till you couldn’t get up no more.  Kept fightin’.  Even though there were three of ‘em and one o’ you, you didn’t never give up.  Way I see it, they don’t win till you let ‘em.  They didn’t beat you, baby.  You lost is all.”  She seemed to think on that some.  “Stronger now,” she said finally.  “Yep.”  She rolled over in his arms.  Her eyes were huge as the ‘verse, bright as the ruttin’ stars.  “Show me the other side of pain.”  He slid on top and did his best to show her.  ***

TBC in Part 27. Tell the writer what you think!

COMMENTS

Sunday, May 7, 2006 10:40 AM

BROWNCOAT2006


OOooo.. shiney shiney baby speak from Raven... Mal and Inara's little fights... the bombshell on the twins... all so ruttin' GOOD!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 10:48 AM

LEIGHKOHL


I loved the Mal/Inara scene where she brings up the future. Her points were so valid and it's just ike Mal not to truly think about it just yet. A toddler, newborn twins, and a baby on the way! Wow, that's alot of mouth's to feed. Can't wait for the ensuing action! Great installment!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 12:29 PM

AMDOBELL


I absolutely adore baby Raven, and love the dialogue between Mal and Inara, and in fact just totally love the whole gorram lot! Great story and Jayne with River is so beautifully done. And twins! Gorrammit, Serenity is becoming a creche, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, May 7, 2006 1:05 PM

LEIASKY


Oh very excellent. Mal and Inara's conversation was so good. Worried about babies on the boat. There's going to be lots of babies soon and not a one of 'em belongs to the one couple I'd have thought would have 'em first! Simon and Kaylee! hah!

Lovely chapter! Looking forward to the next part!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 2:06 PM

WINGEDRAKSHA


This is so incredibly well written. Keep it up!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 6:33 PM

ANJULIE


Great installment. Poor Becca. Gorram Alliance!! Scary twins.

I loved that the baby will be named Hope. Good Mal/Inara stuff. I like how she challenges him.

Can't wait to see what happens next.

Sunday, May 7, 2006 6:42 PM

SQUISH


I am so in awe of you, I really don't know how you keep coming up with this great stuff chapter after chapter!

I really thought Becca would get away somehow so that was quite a shock. And Zoe and Gideon! I wondered what was going to happen there, and now, will it work? And Jayne trying to help River and falling for her in his own way (liked the part about the broken ballerina, just a nice little touch).

And I have to say that I'm very worried about this upcoming confrontation and I was already worried about the fate of Mal and Inara's baby (and the foreshadowing of doom with the discussion of him thinking God is out to stop anyone who makes plans! NO!!!).

Waiting patiently for next week's episode...

Sunday, May 7, 2006 8:20 PM

ECAMBER


Ok, this has to be my favorite fanfic series here. I love the plot twists... and how do I put this? The moments that in themselves are small, but when added up equal the span of a life. Not sure if that makes sense, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun to read. My only complaint is that you post more often.

Monday, May 8, 2006 6:56 AM

GOLDY


I actually really like your River/Jayne, which is surprising to me, because I don't ususally like them. But... you went slowly, and there was so much buildup, and it's still so uncertain... that it works.

Of course, you do Mal/Inara the best, which should come to no surprise to you, and I literally had to pick my little melted self up from the floor multiple times during this chapter.

[“God, you’re beautiful.” One hand spread to cup her belly, the fingers of the other delving between her thighs. “More so every damn day.”

Her knees shook.

“I--Mal, I can’t--”

“Go ‘head and fall.” He suckled the flesh of her neck. “I’ve got you.”]

Yeah. Seriously. With the melting. *g*

And I *adored* their argument on the bridge. Inara is so, so, so right, of course, and I just love every bit of that fight, because Mal reacted the exact way he would react - irrational, and knowing she's right.

Monday, May 8, 2006 7:27 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Kaynara, I am in awe of your awe-inspiring skills here. I truly mean it. You crafted scene after scene with perfect skill and left us both all melty (from Mal/Inara and Zoe/Gideon) and hurting (Becca's murder, River's conversation with Jayne):D

Can't wait for Chapter 28;)

BEB

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 9:27 PM

JOY


I am sooo in love with you (oh yeah, and this story). I could have really used 2 more hours of sleep, but it was completely worth it! WOW what a plot!

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 9:32 PM

JOY


I am sooo in love with you (oh yeah, and this story). I could have really used 2 more hours of sleep, but it was completely worth it! WOW what a plot!

HAHAHAHA! can you just imagine trying to introduce that crew? "This is the captain's daughter and wife, and that's the captain's other daughter, but her mom is the sister of the medic, but she's sleeping with the merc . . . This baby is their cousin, daughter of the first mate and pilot, no not that pilot . . ."


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