BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KAYNARA

Bed and Wine: Part 27
Friday, May 12, 2006

Alterations and amendments. PG-13


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3202    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Bed and Wine: Part 27 By Kaynara *** Alterations and amendments. PG-13 *** AN: Anyone interested in beta-ing a Mal/Inara romance/dramedy? If so, e-mail Sarah at: verifying.sarah@gmail.com. AN2: Fight choreography by Grimlock, who’s been begging for a BDR since Part 14.

It’s Joss’s verse--I just borrow it. *** Her fingers curled around his shoulder. “Ahh!” “I thought we’d established that the small, concealable weapons go to the left of the place setting.” “And I thought we’d established that sneakin’ up on a man when he’s got his weapons out ain’t perhaps the brightest notion. Sides, this run ain’t a place for concealables. Bound to be big and bad.” He wrapped an arm around her waist, bending his head to kiss her gently-expanding belly. She recalled her first meeting with Malcom Reynolds--bitter ex-Browncoat, pirate-smuggler. If anyone ever told her that the crotchety man with his suspenders, his foul moods would one day press kisses to her tummy--well, she likely would have cracked a rib or two with the laughing. She slipped from his grasp, moved around the table and took a seat opposite. “Your stepmother sent another wave.” “Huh.” “She wanted our ETA.” “You tell her?” “No, Mal.” She folded her hands over the rough grain of the wood. “I didn’t tell her anything.” “Good. Think I’m being a hwoon dan?” “No. I think you’re hurt. You trusted her, and now you feel that trust was betrayed.” “She ain’t nobody to me.” “But she was somebody to your father.” “Yeah, well. Shoulda known better. Trusting the wrong people’s a good way to get yourself dead.” “Trust doesn’t come easily to you. You have this...this sense of nobility.” He snorted a laugh. “I ain’t exactly noble, Nara.” “Yes, you are! You are in ways you don’t even realize, Mal. And sometimes it frightens me.” He looked up from his guns, and when he spoke again his tone was softer. “I frighten you?” “Sometimes,” she admitted. “Well, that’s just shiny. My pregnant girlfriend is afeared of me.” She let out a sigh. “I wish you’d stop calling me that.” “My girlfriend?” “Your ‘pregnant girlfriend.’ “ She rolled ebony eyes at the ceiling. “As though to distinguish me from all the others.” He smirked. “You’re my one and only, kitten.” “I’m not afraid of you, Mal.” She met his gaze. “I’m afraid of your sense of nobility...of one day violating it.” “You wouldn’t ever keep somethin’ like that from me, Nara. You wouldn’t lie to me for three months.” “Would you ever lie to me, Mal?” He started to shake his head. “Are you sure? What if you thought you were protecting me?” He turned the pistol over in his hands. “That’s playing dirty, darlin’.” Her lips curved. “I’m sleeping with a criminal, remember? Surely, I’ve learned a thing or two.” She walked back to his chair, her heeled sandals clicking on the decking. Only Inara Serra wore heels while she was with child. She made it effortless, glamorous even. Mal tilted his head back to receive her kiss. “I love you.” He caught her hand and squeezed. “Both of you.” She felt his lashes flutter against her cheek as he kissed her again. “I love you, too,” she murmured. “Inara...I need you to promise me something.” “Mal--” “No, listen to me. Please. Next few hours...there’s a potential for things to get bad.” “I understand.” “Do you?” His hand trailed almost absently over her belly. “When Serenity breaks atmo on Osiris, I want you to stay on the ship. Hush, now; don’t fight me. I need you here, Nara. I need to know you’re safe.” She ran her fingers across his temple, skating them lightly over his eyelids. “You can’t possibly know the pain of watching you go,” she whispered, the words flowing out in Arabic instead of English. “Hey,” he said, blinking. “What’d you say just then? What’s that mean?” “It means I’ll do as you asked, Mal.” *** Pain.  A dull, faithful ache, just enough to rouse her from sleep.    She blinked a few times, trying to decide what was wrong.  Mal napped at his desk, passed  out atop his pages with the lamp still burning.  She wanted to call him to bed, cajole him to sleep a few hours before they entered Osiris’ orbit. But something had her hesitating.  Wait.  Wait.  The bed felt wrong, awkward under her back, digging in at spots.  And there was something else  Something…wet.  She put her hand between her legs, lifted it up to see.  The tips of her fingers shone crimson in the lamplight.  Unable to help herself, she moaned.  At the desk, Mal snapped awake.  “Huh-wha?”  He glanced at the bed, eyes still fuzzy from exhaustion, sore from scouring blueprints.  Immediately, he was at her side.  “What’s wrong?”  He tried to stroke her hair.  “Inara?  Baby, tell me.”  She drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them there, trying to curtail the pain pummeling her midsection.  Finally, he caught hold of her hand, saw red.  “Jesus.”  He pulled the covers off her.  Eyes dry to the point of burning, he raked his gaze down her nightgown, let it roam over the bedclothes.  “It’s okay,” he said though clearly it was not.  “I’m just gonna….”    Gonna what?  He trailed off, realizing he didn’t know.  He made a move to part her legs, saw quickly it was the wrong one.  She gasped in a breath and pushed his hands away.  “I’m sorry.  I just…I gotta know how bad you’re….Jesus.”  He stood up, of a mind to pace.  This weren’t the War, and she surely weren’t one of his squadron.  “I’m gonna get you a towel, shi?  You can put it between…okay?”  She nodded, pupils dark as the Black, dilated so far as to swallow the whites of her eyes.  He wondered if she were going into shock.  He went into the washroom and got a towel.  For long, sweaty moments he considered shattering the mirror with his bare fist. He envisioned how the jagged shards would slice up his flesh, the satisfying sound they’d make, falling like hail against the sink.  Sucking in air, he resisted the urge to do violence.  Losin’ it now would only upset her further.     “I’m gonna get the doc.”  He laid the towel at her side, careful not to touch her again.  “Okay?”  He didn’t know why he’d asked that.  Regardless of how she answered, he’d be getting Simon.  “Will you get Zoe too?” she whispered.  “You want—?  I’ll get her.”  “Thank you, Mal.”    Her face disappeared into the curve of her knees, shoulders heaving with silent sobs and something else, something what hit him harder than fists. Fear. Ai ya, she was scared. And he couldn’t say a single thing to soothe her. He went for Simon, his own impotence here a stinging blow to the heart. *** “Hit me.” She hit him. He blocked the punch with his mitt, watched her dance back on nimble toes. “Faster,” he called, moving the mitts in random circles. “Harder.” She smiled. “You sound like Zoe did last night.” He took a minute to digest that one. The slip cost him the use of his kidneys. “Sorry, Gideon.” She pulled him to his feet, a grin tugging her lips up at the corners. “You certainly look contrite,” he told her, bending to catch his breath. She nodded, adjusting her boxing gloves. He shook his head. “That was my sarcastic voice, River.” “It was good.” “Brat.” “Coma boy.” “Let me come.” Her eyes softened. “Not up to me,” she told him. “Screw Mal.” “Already have a boyfriend.” He glared at her, blue eyes warring between annoyance and amusement. Finally he gave up, lowered himself to the floor of the cargo bay with a long-suffering sigh. She sat beside him, legs bent Indian style. Rocking forward, she reached out a hand to pat his knee. “Gotta stay with Serenity, Gideon. Keep her safe.” “And you, River? Who’s gonna keep you safe?” She smiled. “I like you, Gideon.” “I--I like you too. Not, you know, romantically, but in a--” “--totally platonic except for that one time we had sexual relations sort of way?” He smirked. “I’m not your brother. Or Mal. It takes more than that to make me blush, River.” “So I can tell the rest of the crew about your tattoo?” “I--oh, that’s just evil.” “It’s okay.” She stared at him, wide-eyed innocence. “Space Hellions really do rock.” *** At the entrance to the shuttle, Zoe paused, laid a halting hand on his chest.  “Wait here, Sir.”  “What?  Zoe, she’s my—”  He stopped, realizing he didn’t have an appropriate way of ending the sentence.    *What is she, Mal?  Wife, girlfriend, lover?  How ‘bout the woman whose life you’re steadily destroying, thieving another piece every day, taking and taking until there’s not a rutting thing left to take?  You cost her the job she loved, made her feel it wasn’t good enough.  Too low for the righteous Malcom Reynolds, even though everything she was, everything she is and ever will be, is greater than you.  You cost her friends: too many to name.  Nandi.  That name stood out.  And now, ‘cuz she made the mistake of knowing Malcom Reynolds, she’s lyin’ on a bed bleeding.  She’s hurting, and someone like her shouldn’t never hurt.  She oughta be in a garden somewhere, swaying in her silks and inhaling the lilacs.  Dear God, she shouldn’t be here.  She shouldn’t be with you—no.  No.*  He forced himself to draw an unsteady breath.  That was the old Mal talking.  The one went into Hell and opted to stay there.  And if Inara could hear the old Mal right now—well, she’d have no qualms over chewing out the new one.    “I know,” Zoe said, and he wondered if she really did: if she knew all his poisonous thoughts.    “You…you go be with her.”  He choked a little on the last word, though both ignored it.  “I’ll do that, Sir.”  She left him in the hall, left him staring after the spot where she disappeared. On shaky legs, he lowered himself to the floor, rested his back against cool metal.  “Cap’n?”    Kaylee, shivering in thin pajamas.  A cheerful cherry-print: very Kaylee.  “Nara gonna be okay, Cap’n?”  Mal cleared his throat, tried to make his face reassuring.  If her expression was any indicator, his face just weren’t built for reassuring.  Prolly didn’t help none, him cowering on the floor.  “Doc’s in with her now, Lil’ Kaylee.”  “Simon’s the best, Cap’n.”  She sat beside him.  Musta made her legs ache, sitting on the cold floor in just her shorts.  “Don’t you worry.”    Just who was comforting whom, here?  He felt her hand on his knee and lowered his chin to his chest, eager to hide his eyes.  “She….”  He had to start again, concentrate on the words themselves so his voice wouldn’t waver.  “She wanted Zoe, not me.” “Well…of all of us, Zoe’s the only one been through havin’ a baby.  Maybe she—”  “She’s three months along, Kaylee.  Nara ain’t havin’ that baby.”  And saying it, he realized its truth.  “Jesus,” he whispered.  Next thing, she was holding him, rubbing his back while he wept into her lap.  “She’s strong, Cap’n.  The both of you always been so strong.”  “I gotta—”  He sat up, wiping his face with the back of his hand.  “Still the job to do.”  That’s what it was: a job.  Just like any other….  “Can I count on you, Kaylee?  Take care o’ things while I’m gone?”  “Always could, Cap’n.”  Even now, she tried to smile for him.  “Good girl,” he said roughly.  He patted her shoulder and strode off to ready the crew. *** They sailed in on Shuttle Two, her sleek silver body cutting across the blue of the sky.  Seemed to Jayne it was always clear and sunny on the Core.  ‘Liance prolly found some feng luh way to manipulate weather, too.  Hard as it was to swallow, Mal was right.  Someone had to stop these folk.  Not for the first time, Jayne wished someone weren’t him.   He watched River fly, her small hands shaking on the controls.  “Cap’n.”  Jayne jerked his head in the girl’s direction.  Mal gave a short nod.  “Check the ammo, Jayne.”  He knelt by River’s chair.  “How we faring, Lil’ Albatross?” he asked quietly.  “Scared.”  She smiled an apology, white knuckles clutching the yoke.    “Good.  Anyone ain’t scared on a day like today…well they’s either stupid or crazy.”  “Hell, Mal.”  Behind them, Jayne loaded his rifle.  “I ain’t scared.”  Mal found his lips curving.  He met River’s gaze.  “See?  Hold up a sec: this is it.”  He craned his neck, eyes scanning the landscape.  “That’s the gray estate, just ahead.”  “Take her down in the woods?” Jayne asked.  “Maybe approach from the west?”  “Nope.  You’re gonna land her right there on that finely-manicured lawn, Lil’ Albatross.”  “Jesus, Mal.  We just gonna march on up and ring the bell?”  “Lest you’re of a mind to slide down the chimney, Jayne.”  “Quite the stealthy plan, Cap’n.  Must took you a whole five minutes to come up with that bit o’ genius."  “Oh, but it is genius.  They’d never expect us to be so ruttin’ dumb.  That’s the geniusy bit.”  “I don’t wanna go!”  Both men looked up.  “Oh, God,” River wailed. “Don’t make me!”  Jayne tried to go to her, but Mal’s arm shot out, blocking his path.    “River?”  He squeezed her shoulder, ignoring the merc’s menacing glare.  “Tell me.”  “Ones called the Triumvirate.”  She grasped his forearm, nails gouging deep enough to draw blood.  “They’re here to guard the children.”  He stood slowly, oblivious to the crimson crescents adorning his arm.  “Sweet Ye su.  You—you’re sure?”  “She’d know,” Jayne muttered.  “They’re waiting for me,” River murmured, her eyes soft and dreamy now.  “They wanna end Sister’s suffering.”  Mal stared at the small girl curled in the pilot’s seat.  She wasn’t the fierce warrior what slew all those Reavers.  She wasn’t the brilliant kid who outwitted Early nor the sure shot what took out Niska’s men.  She wasn’t even that child he found stashed in a box: precious cargo, his for the keeping.  She was crazy then, small and helpless and hurting.  The girl who sat before him weren’t crazy.  Neither was she helpless or a child even.  She was just too damn tired.  Mal collapsed in the co-pilot’s seat, seizing control of the shuttle. “Jayne,” he hissed.  The big man seemed to understand.  He caught the girl under the arms and dragged her tight, lithe length against his torso.    “Gorammit listen to me, girl.”  River scowled. “Don’t hafta shout, even your thoughts are loud.”    “Aw, you don’t know what I’m thinkin’.”  Her eyes flashed in annoyance. “Do too.”  The swayed as the shuttle went down.  Jayne grasped at the wall to stay upright.  “Jayne.”  Mal’s laugh was short, humorless.  “If you think now’s the time for a lover’s spat….”  “Prove it, girl.”  Jayne shook her hard enough to have her head lolling back.  “What am I thinking?  Dammit, River, say what I’m thinking!”  The shuttle hit dirt, or in this case, fresh sod.  Jayne let go of the wall.  Without releasing his hold on her, Jayne jerked the girl’s chin till their eyes met.  “River--”  “—that I’ll win.  You think I’ll win.”  She slid her gaze to Mal.  “Time to misbehave.”  The hatch opened with a creak, sending sunlight shooting into their eyes.  If you had to go out…well, might as well go out on a day like today.  Course Jayne had no intention o’ goin’ anywhere.  They were fanned out in front of the porch: a generous wraparound with ivy climbing the sides.  Three of ‘em, and they didn’t look like much—just kids an’ not much older than Crazy Girl…River.  Two boys and girl.  One of the boys had a scar, a shiny pink line that ran the length of his face.  The other was stockier, blond.  The girl wore her hair twisted in a ponytail.  They dressed all in blue, a pale shade of it not unlike the sky that day, with matching stockings and clean white boots.  How’d they keep their boots so spotless? Jayne mused.    ``You be the three punks what beat on my pilot?'' Mal asked.  The ignored him, a feat Jayne found mildly impressive seein’ how he’d never be able to do the same.  ``Last time we had orders to bring you home, 07.''  The one with the Scar spoke directly to River.  ``Not this time.”  Mal eyed Jayne subtly.  Jayne raised a brow.  Somewhat less subtly, Mal jerked his head at Jayne’s weapon, motioned to the trio. Jayne nodded.  With impressive symmetry, they shouldered their rifles and opened fire on the three.  Was like shootin’ at mosquitos through a fog.     The blond and the girl with the ponytail twisted and weaved, while closing the gap between themselves and the shooters. One minute Mal was aiming his weapon at the gold-haired one what moved like River, and the next—well he wasn't precisely sure how he ended up face-down on the lawn with his own rifle pointed at his head, but it might have had something to do with sharp pain in his belly.    Jayne weren’t doing so good himself. He still held Vera at high port, but the ponytailed girl stood behind him, pointing the merc’s own Bowie knife at his throat.  Through the whole of the exchange, River’s eyes never wavered from the sad, steely gaze of the one with the scar.  He flicked a dismissive hand at the two men being held by his comrades.  ``This is the reason for your desertion?  They aren’t blood to you.  They can’t possibly understand who we are or why we fight.”  “They understand.”  She looked at Mal, a ghost of a smile lifting her lips.  “They just don’t comprehend.”  “They’re pathetic.  Coarse criminals.”  “They have their moments.  Still.”  She shrugged.  “Family’s family.”  “Once we were your family, 07.”  ``Not anymore.  Big brother and sister-in-law. Friends.  Lover.”  Her gaze flickered over Jayne in a way that made him far less uncomfortable than he was…well, comfortable with.  “Babies in their beds—shouldn’t have been made.  But they did it.  Foolish men playing God, cutting out bits, taking and shaping.  Selfish men, send children to fight their wars.  My children.  Mine….I’m taking back what’s mine.”  “You can try….”  “…but you’ll fail….”  “…and we’ll kill you.”  He moved like a lynx—small and fierce, catlike in his grace.  He stood before River, the others releasing Mal and Jayne to join him.  ``Run if you want to live,” he intoned. “We’ll kill you when we’re through with her.”  Mal rose slowly, watching the trio circle.  ``Get our babies, Captain,'' she said quietly.  Mal wasn’t used to taking orders from, well, anyone.  Certainly not his little albatross: ninety pounds in wet clothes.  Pride aside, Mal knew full-well the kid was capable of giving himself and every member of his crew a good and solid ass kicking.  Still, he was the captain.  Shouldn’t he have at least the illusion of authority?  Maybe he couldn’t protect her—any of them—in the long haul.  He’d already lost one life today, though.  He surely didn’t mean to lose another.  “River—”   “Go!”  He saw something in her eyes then.  Like she was a dam and somebody opening her floodgates.  Oh, he’d glimpsed this side of her before.  Power and purpose and conviction.  He’d seen the warrior woman what took down those Reavers. But this—put-upon mother, fighting for her family, for kids she ain’t never asked for, babies shouldn’t rightfully be there—well, that was bound to be something new.  He almost felt sorry for those three. Uh...no.  ``Jayne...'' he murmured, his voice not quite a question because he didn’t have to ask.  ``I got her back.''  Mal abandoned his empty rifle in favor of his pistol and sprinted for the house.  *** The knob turned easily in his hand.  Mal stared down at it, dumbfounded.  A trio of assassins but no door locks.   “Rich people,” he muttered, unholstering his pistol.  Inside, he searched the first floor for signs of life.  Eight rooms, nine maybe?  All of it smart as a showroom, pretty too, or Nara woulda said so anyways.  Inara.  Can’t think on that now.  Gotta focus. Focus on the here and now. Do the job, Mal. Do the job. He weaved through the dining room, with its candlesticks, the bowl of bruised fruit.  Everything was eerie-quiet.  Like a dollhouse…like a tomb.  He started toward the kitchen, felt something rise up to halt his path. It was a baby gate, the white plastic smooth and hip-height.  Awkwardly, he hopped it, noting the way the sides hugged the wall, protecting curious little hands from the dangers of…what?  Dear God, he hadn’t a clue what kids could get into.  How in the nine Hells did Zoe do it?  He wandered past the icebox, stopping to pluck a capture from the door. A woman, red hair cut short as a boy’s, eyes soft and crinkly.  She was laughing, half her freckled face hidden by her hand as though she were motioning the Captographer away.  Someone musta left it on auto-play, first muting the sound.  Mal didn’t adjust the volume.  Something told him he’d never get that woman’s giggle out of his head.  Careful to keep his boots from creaking, he climbed the stairs to the second floor.  Another gate waited at the landing, placed to safeguard babes who couldn’t roll over yet, let alone crawl.  Someone planned for these kids, loved them before they were born.  Don’t matter none, he told himself.  That they were wanted don’t change that they were stolen.    He knew where they were soon as he spotted the sign.  Hand-painted on a wooden rectangle, the blue and yellow letters curved around like a bow:  NURSERY.  He nudged the door open with his shoulder and froze.  Casually, he lowered his gun to his side.    If the rest of the estate were in an art show, then this room was the pièce de ruttin’ résistance. He didn’t belong in this place, all light and airy and expensive.  And yet the thieved fruits of his loins slept soundly in their cradles, neither one aware that all these riches weren’t rightly theirs.  For another thirty minutes or so, they was the wealthiest little babies this side o’ the Sun.  He pondered that awhile, how seemingly unjust it was, cradling their fates in his work-roughened hands. All this was beautiful, really and truly. But none of it—not safety gates, cradles, pastel sleeper suits nor sweet baby mobiles—should rightfully exist.  Was all of it stemmed from deception.   Not two weeks old and already the mother that bore them lay under the ground.  He’d rescue them from this, but rescue ‘em to what? In truth, he couldn’t predict.  Weren’t he helpless here as when Nara lost Hope?  He couldn’t save that child, nor preserve her mama from pain.  He hadn’t a single assurance these kids wouldn’t suffer the same end as the little sister they’d never know.  He couldn’t promise.  But, ai ya, he was gonna try.  First he had to do somethin’ ‘bout that gun leveled at his chest. “Gray.” “Captain Reynolds.”   He looked older than Mal remembered. Dark half moons swallowed the undersides of his eyes, and his pale face was unshaven. “Forgive me, Captain. I know I should play the villain of this piece and harangue you with witty dialogue. Unfortunately, I’m not feeling particularly witty today.” “No.” His voice was tight. “Seems neither of us is havin’ a good day.” “Esmerelda sent me a wave. She said you were coming, and that I should go.” Man weren’t all there, eyes flickering on a point far away: somethin’ he and no other could see. “She also said that woman was ill--Miss Serra. Inara, is it?” “She was pregnant. Now she’s not.” “I’m sorry, Mal.” Mal nodded. “Thank you.” For once his words lacked a snappy edge. “And I’m sorry ‘bout your wife. Emmy said she was somethin’ special. Guess she musta been.” “She was.” Without loosing his grip on the weapon, Gray lowered himself to the rocking chair, upholstered with some soft-looking cushions the color of mustard seed. He swayed, back and forth, back and forth. After a moment, he gestured to a matching yellow bench seat under the window. “Sit if you like.” “No, thanks. I prefer to die standing.” Gray glanced down at his hand: the one holding the gun. “Are you thinking it too?” “That this is oddly familiar?” Mal raised a brow. “Thought did cross my mind.” “That girl...River Tam. It wasn’t personal.” “Felt pretty personal to her brother. Reckon it was sorta personal for me ‘swell.” *** River twisted, trying to maintain visual for her ever-turning trio of opponents.  Jayne watched her move, her short skirt bouncing over smooth and shapely thighs.  She was wearin’ shorts under there, but still.  Gorrammit, he weren’t jealous.  Right.  He comforted himself with the knowing that these three wouldn’t live to say what they seen.  ``You handlin' this, girl?''   “Handling it, Jayne.”  The strike came without warning, quicker than Jayne expected, worse than he could stomach.  Move, girl! MOVE!   Feet and hands flew at his lover faster than anything he’d seen. Trio kept right on comin’ at her, every punch and kick synchronized, as though they was the same ruttin' person and not three. But it didn't make no difference. River stood in the center of the torrent. Like she decided that that was her spot and she weren't bein' moved. She leaned and twisted and swayed, flowing to her own internal rhythm, while the three around her did their level best to beat her down.  Jayne paced around the perimeter, tying to get an angle on one of the tree.  But there weren't no line of fire that didn't include River, and he'd only slow her down if he tried to help, hand-to-hand.    “Girl?”  “Little…busy.”  “Ain’t just sex!”  She tilted her head, giving her best incredulous face.  “You know…case we die.  Not that I think we’re gonna!”  He made an effort to look sure for her. Wounded his ego some to admit it, but she didn’t seem to need no assurances.  He said it anyway, just in case.  “Not nobody’s dyin’ today, girl.”  The music guiding her moves seemed to shift. And just like that, girl changed the rules. Instead of dodging, she turned on the offensive, flinging her body horizontal in a fluid butterfly kick. All three attackers stumbled back, reeling from a fist or a foot to the head. “Wrong, Jayne.  Somebody always dies.” *** He rocked softly, one hand holding the pistol, the other wound ‘round a small plush bear. Seemed to Mal he cradled the gun while aiming the teddy like a weapon. “Do you like my house, Mal?” “Shuh muh?” “I take it you’ve had a tour by now,” Gray prompted. “How does it strike you?” “It’s ducky. Every fine brick and brack worth its weight in Browncoat blood.” “Do you think I’m an evil man, Mal?” “No.” Mal let his eyes wander the walls. “’Bout now, I reckon you’re just a broken one.” *** Scar flew at her in a rage, leading with a punch. River easily bowed out of his way and grabbed hold of his wrist. Twisting to lock out the joint, she whirled him around, positioning him between her and his comrades. Now she used Scar as a shield.  Caught off guard, Blond and Ponytail managed to pull most of their blows. Most of the blows. River attacked with impunity, kicking around Scar's body, raining down a ceaseless  series of blows. Finally she pushed the scarred assassin into his comrades’ arms and back-flipped away.  Giving herself space for a running head-start, River charged, somersaulting elegantly over Scar's head and cuffing his ears in the process. Blond and Ponytail, who were flanking their leader, turned to face her. Ponytail actually managed to throw a punch which River easily caught, while simultaneously snapping a long back kick to Blonde's temple. Coiling her leg in, she shot it out again, this time angling forward and driving her heel into Ponytail's stomach.  Blond didn't appear to be moving after that kick to the head. River left the brunette to deposit the remains of her lunch on the lawn and swerved her focus to Scar.  She whirled just in time to see his fist shooting straight at her face. River didn't bother to block or dodge. Instead, she simply tucked her chin to her chest and leaned into the blow. Instead of hitting the soft bones of her face, Scar's fist collided with the solid crown of her skull. Even Jayne cringed at the crunch of bones and cartilage.  ``Stay down,'' River murmured, watching Scar’s legs quiver as he attempted to stand.  He rose unsteadily to his feet.  She hit him again, a robust round house to his head. He swayed violently, collapsed forward and was still.  River shivered, slender arms wrapping around herself, as she stared into Scar’s wide, unseeing eyes.  ``Told you to stay down,'' she whispered as Jayne stepped forward to embrace her. *** “She had names picked out. Devon. Epiphany.” Gray pointed to each of the cribs in turn. “Then that’s what we’ll call ‘em,” Mal said quietly. Gray nodded. Slowly, he rose from the rocker and started for the door. Passing Mal, Gray pressed the butt of the revolver into the younger man’s palm. “I won’t report you. It might buy you the time....” “Don’t mistake this for caring, Rex. ‘Cuz I’m fairly sure I don’t. But you not reportin’ us--well, that’d be suicide.” Not a trace of emotion crossed the agent’s face. “The solar system’s a big place, Captain. Try to lose yourself in it.” Alone, Mal stared at the babies, first one then the other. They were so very small. He was afraid to carry both at once. “Captain.” He jumped. River stood in the doorway. Her hair was mussed a bit more than was usual. Otherwise, she appeared unharmed. “You, uh...we win?” River ignored this, looking past him to where the babies slept. She padded across the plush carpet in her bare feet--When did she lose her shoes? Mal wondered--and hovered over one of the pair of matching cribs. She lifted the boy in her arms, cradling his small head against her chest. Mal scooped up the sister in a similar fashion and followed River out the door. *** She’d been sleeping, or maybe dreaming was the better term. Her head swam with visions: shiny scarlet blood coating creamy white thighs. In her dreams, Rebecca didn’t die. She laid on a wide, white bed, crying out to Emmy for help. Sometimes it wasn’t Becca’s freckled face, but her own. And always Malcom was there, glowering from the corner. “Inara.” That was what he called her, the words bursting from his lips in soft mewl. After, it was Emmy who woke weeping. The doorbell sang out, the first few notes of La Marseillaise echoing through the big empty house. She loved the anthem, its symbolism her own private joke. Sometimes those jokes, private ones, were the best kind. She started down the stairs, hastily donning a long silk robe over her nightgown. She cracked the door, sunlight piercing puffy, sleep-deprived eyes. “Yes?” The men were suited, solemn: haloed in the white morning light. “Esmerelda Fitzgerald?” “Yes.” “You need to come with us, ma’am.” She tried to close the door. A hand shot out to widen the gap, another snapping forward to ensnare her wrist. “Do you know your hands are blue?” Her only answer was the encroaching darkness. *** Simon stood watching her from the doorway of her bedroom. He hadn’t changed from earlier, and specks of blood sullied the pure white of his tee shirt. River blanched, not wanting to think about the owner of all that blood. She waited for the joke that never came, the brotherly affection disguised with gentle ribbing. He stood unyielding, blinking against the harsh fluorescent overheads. Finally, she sighed, lifted both arms straight in the air in mock surrender. He crossed the room in three strides. He dragged her up against him, squeezing her in a fierce embrace. “I’m okay, Simon.” “I can see that.” “Are you okay?” “You’re safe,” he answered, brushing a kiss over her temple. “Home now.” She smiled “Inara?” “Medically speaking, she’s doing fine.” In every other way, she wasn’t at all fine. “River, did you know?” “Never know...not for sure.” “But you thought she might miscarry?” She looked at her hands. “Why didn’t you tell me, mei-mei?” “No good tainting the present with the future. In the end, it’s all past.” “River--” “Aren’t my babies pretty?” His jaw relaxed, blue-gray eyes going soft. He followed her gaze to the cradle Kaylee and Jayne hastily assembled by the bed. The infants slept side by side, swaddled in blankets and snuggled close, as they must have been in the womb. “They’re beautiful, River.” “Help me, Simon?” He looked at his sister. There was just one thing to say. “Always, River.” *** He didn’t know what he expected to find upon entering his shuttle. Not this: Inara dressed and shined, the crown of her hair still damp from the bath. She wore a loose blouse the color of peaches and silky black pants that tied with a drawstring. Not exactly her normal attire, but the shirt hid her belly. And the pants--well, Mal figured that was on account of her panties being stuffed with cotton. Least that’s how the doc explained it, goin’ over all that cold clean medical jargon in his soft, soothing voice. Mal had just stood there, waiting for it to be over, concentrating all his energy on not breaking down right then. After, he had to stop by the head, pat cold water over his cheeks to keep from retching. Only mildly shaky after, he made his way to the shuttle. She was perched up against the headboard, back supported with pillows. A book lay open over her lap, but the spine was down. Mal caught a glimpse of the cover before she set it aside--Baby’s First Year: What to Expect. He flinched visibly, unable to help it. “Where’d you get that?” He didn’t mean to say it like that. She didn’t seem offended, merely surprised. “It’s Zoe’s. I asked awhile ago if I could borrow it.” “Inara....” “You should probably read it too, Mal.” Her eyes were glassy, unfocused. “You’re a father now.” “Just stop it.” “Shuh muh?” she asked, her tone painfully lackadaisical. “Ai ya, please stop,” he whispered. “I don’t understand.” “I wanna hold you.” She stiffened. It was subtle--a slight tightening of the shoulders--but he saw it. He didn’t wanna beg. He would, though. If she wanted, he’d plead on his ruttin’ knees. “Inara...let me in,” he murmured. She sighed, a soft flutter of breath. “You should be with them...your children. You should stay with them their first night on Serenity.” “Doc and Kaylee lookin’ after ‘em.” “They’re not Simon and Kaylee’s, Mal. They’re yours.” “I know whose they are!” He exhaled, tried to drag in air more slowly. “We both lost her, Nara. Why won’t you let me mourn with you?” Her face crumpled then and he caught her against his chest, lowering her lips to a spot just over his heart. “You, uh...you want her with your mama maybe? On Sihnon?” “No.” She cried but wouldn’t sob, long streams of tears sluicing silently down her cheeks, wetting his shirt. “I want her with Wash.” “Wash?” She pulled away, already fighting for control after the all-too-brief release. “Raven’s my goddaughter. It’s only fair.” She tried to smile. “With Wash, then,” he agreed, throat thick with emotion. “I’ll speak to Zoe.” “Thank you.” She slid over, giving him space to sprawl out beside her. He did, not bothering to undress. He was grateful for this at least: being allowed to sleep next to her. “Do you hurt?” He hesitated, amended the phrasing. “I mean, is somethin’ in particular hurting?” “Simon gave me an injection for the pain.” He nodded. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.” “I didn’t want you here, Mal. What you saw this morning...that was bad enough. That Simon had to be there all day, do what he did...he’s very kind, but....” She trailed off, embarrassed. He tried not to feel stung. “Ain’t anything to be ‘shamed over.” “Zoe stayed through everything...held my hand....” She yawned, already fading. “She’s a good friend.” Mal held her hand. For now, he’d be content with that. He watched over her while she slept. *** In the early hours of the morning, Mal prowled Serenity’s halls. A ways away, he heard the distinctive holler of hungry newborns, the hum of voices, feet moving around the galley. Would be Simon and Kaylee, heating bottles of hastily stocked formula from their stopover on Boros. They knew what they were doin’ surely, Simon bein’ a Core-bred doctor and Kaylee bein’, well, Kaylee. Caregivin’ came naturally for her as breathin’. Still, didn’t make it right. Kids were his. He couldn’t pass ‘em off on crew forever. Sooner of later, he’d have to take responsibility for what was his. Operating on what amounted to three hours of dream-plagued sleep, Mal stumbled up to the bridge, collapsed bleary-eyed in the pilot’s chair. “Sir.” “Ai ya!” Mal willed his heart to be normally as he regarded his first mate across the cockpit. “Ain’t right, sneakin’ up on a man that way.” “Point of fact, sir? I was here first.” “Well...still.” “Mmm.” She rose from the co-pilot’s chair and crossed the bridge till she stood before him. She leaned back against the console. “How’s Inara?” “Oh, how you’d expect, I guess. Sleeping now.” He looked up, meeting her fixed, even stare. Always unreadable, Zoe was. “Thanks. For bein’ with her when I couldn’t....” “Don’t have to thank me, sir. Nara’s a friend.” He nodded. “You okay, Captain?” “Uh-huh.” “Look like hell.” “Thanks for sayin’.” “Captain...Mal...what is it?” He fought for control. “You know what I did today, Zoe?” “What’d you do, sir?” “I damned us all to Hell is what. ‘Liance ain’t never gonna quit lookin’ for us now. I just signed our gorramn death certificates.” “Shh.” He let her hold him, press his face to the crook of her neck. She smelled nice and clean--like baby powder and the living. Hadn’t he told the chick that him and her mama didn’t hug? He guessed there was an exception for days like today. “I didn’t ask any of ‘em whether they wanted to do it, whether they wanted to give up their lives today.” “Got a good crew, sir. Do just about anything for you.” “They have. More ‘n once. Ai ya, they shouldn’t. You and me, Zoe. Hell, we been damned since the Valley. We never left it. But the others? Kaylee and the doc. Inara...Oh, God, Inara....” “Sir? Mal.” She turned his face, compelling him to meet her gaze. “Do you remember Niska’s train job? Way back when? You recall returnin’ those med supplies to that sheriff?” “Feels like an eon ago.” “Wasn’t that long, Sir. That lawman--he said something to you. When a man learns all the facts of somethin’...he has a choice to do what’s right or not. And you know what you said, Sir?” “I really don’t.” “You said you don’t believe he does have a choice.” She leaned forward, pressed her lips to his temple. “You made the only choice you could, Mal.” “Things are gonna get worse, you know.” She snorted. “Seems they always do.” “I ain’t just gonna roll over an’ take it this time.” His eyes flashed with barely-contained fury. “The want a fight, I’ll show ‘em one.” “Some things are worth fighting for, Sir. Dying for.” “That they are, Zoe. ‘Cept I ain’t of a mind to die.” “Been with you since the Valley, I’ll be with you till the end. One way or another.” “Difference betwixt then and now is ain’t nobody gonna say lay down arms.” He shook his head. “No retreat. No surrender.” “So what’s our next move, Captain Reynolds, sir?” Her lips twitched at the last, and he smirked darkly. “Offense, Zoe.” *** TBC in 28. Author pleads for feedback!

COMMENTS

Friday, May 12, 2006 8:03 AM

GRIMLOCK


This is me

Friday, May 12, 2006 8:23 AM

LEIASKY


Another new chapter! So soon! This was such a great surprise!

Inara losing the baby was so heartbreaking! And everyone's reaction to it. And them getting River's babies back. Simon and Kaylee getting some practice with babies for when that test eventaully comes back tellin' 'em Kaylee is pregnant next, riiighhhttt? :)

Wow, just chock full of emotion and heartache!

Eagerly waiting for the next chapter!

Friday, May 12, 2006 8:38 AM

TAYEATRA


What did you do?????

Fix it, Fix it, Fix it

Friday, May 12, 2006 8:39 AM

TAYEATRA


Also... this was great as usual!

Friday, May 12, 2006 8:39 AM

LEIGHKOHL


“Lest you’re of a mind to slide down the chimney, Jayne.”

Just loved this line!
And this one wass o sweet!-

“Help me, Simon?”

He looked at his sister. There was just one thing to say.

“Always, River.”

What a wonderful chapter!!! I loved everything about it!! THe Zoe and Mal at the end was heart wrenching. Great Job!


Friday, May 12, 2006 9:46 AM

SERENITYVAL


This is my favorite fanfic series EVER. I check for new chapters several times a day! It's the nearest thing to looking forward to a shiny episode of Firefly!
But BLAST you! You had me crying! Inara losing the baby was portrayed so accurately and painfully.
I think your writing was brilliant " when lnara lost Hope", how much more angsty can you get than that!
More, more, more ..and
sooner, sooner, sooner!!!!!!!

Friday, May 12, 2006 10:41 AM

2X2


Oh, I am sooo crying for Inara... And Mal too, for both of them...

So sad, and so painfully gut wrenching to have Mal and River's babies on board now that Mal and Inara's child is lost...

Ohhhhh *cries*

Friday, May 12, 2006 11:32 AM

TAMSIBLING


This is a great, although I had to pause at Zoe giving Mal a hug at the end, they just don't seem like huggers to me, despite how close they are.

My heart breaks for Mal and his loss, just as it does for Inara. And poor River, she's a child raising children she never asked for. By the way - I LOVE your Rayne, I think they're just great! Post soon!

Friday, May 12, 2006 11:36 AM

FRELLINGBLONDE


Oh, this was just heartbreaking and beautiful.

Not to overshare, but speaking from personal experience, you handled the miscarriage accurately and sensitively.

Part 28...soon? Please?

Friday, May 12, 2006 12:44 PM

PLATONIST


The pain, the pain

Had to pause reading mid-way through, although this is my fav!

Poor, poor Inara, how much can she endure?????
You're going to owe this character some instant karma

Friday, May 12, 2006 1:34 PM

WEREALLJUSTFLOATING


Wow, that was one of your best. So heartbreaking for Inara and Mal. Loved the way you wrote the fight scene with River, and how Jayne stood by her til the end. You definitely have a talent for going to the darkest of dark places, and it's always fresh and yet still true to the characters Joss created. Cant wait to find out what Mal's plan is now....

Friday, May 12, 2006 1:39 PM

LEIGHKOHL


Okay I just noticed that my whole post didn't go through( I am a computer dork, I can never figure these things out). Inara's miscarriage was not only a shock but so extremely sad, this line broke my heart- “With Wash, then,” he agreed, throat thick with emotion. “I’ll speak to Zoe.”

“Thank you.”

So sad and poignant! I can''t wait to see the aftermath of this whole situation.

Friday, May 12, 2006 2:22 PM

AMDOBELL


Oh Wow, poor Inara, poor Mal - *diyu* a whole pile of angst amid the action and loss and more trouble brewing on the gorram horizon. Excellent chapter even if I wanted to bawl my eyes out and I loved Zoe being Mal's unyielding strength at the end. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, May 12, 2006 6:28 PM

RMMC


Tzao-gao! You made me cry. I agree with Tayeatra: Fix it, gorrammit!

Good job, BTW.

*snuffle**snuffle*

Saturday, May 13, 2006 5:16 PM

REALWORLDDOIHAVETO


OMG I knew it, but I still can't believe you did that. Very good but so sad. Thanks for the help with the beta


Sarah

Saturday, May 13, 2006 9:54 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Damn....you have gone and done it....you have gone and made me want to curl up and weep for River and Mal and Inara! Your powers of emotional writing have no limit;)

Truly, this was amazing stuff here, Kaynara! Inara's miscarriage and River's fight against her three fellow Academy students were spot on for the emotions needed in this chapter. And now I need to see how our BDHs are going on the offensive (evil grin)

BEB

Sunday, May 14, 2006 2:58 PM

SQUISH


A 10 is not nearly good enough for this!

I knew something bad was going to happen to that baby, but you did the Jossian thing and went with reality and pain. And it was very moving.

Loved River & Jayne's interactions in this, his support that was all she needed to do the thing. And his untimely mentioning that it wasn't just sex!

Now about this exchange:
“Medically speaking, she’s doing fine.” In every other way, she wasn’t at all fine. “River, did you know?”
“Never know...not for sure.”
“But you thought she might miscarry?”
She looked at her hands.
“Why didn’t you tell me, mei-mei?”
“No good tainting the present with the future. In the end, it’s all past.”
“River--”
“Aren’t my babies pretty?”

Am I reading too much into it, or is River's response a might unsettling? I'm not at all sure what's gonna happen with those two babies on that ship and whatever war they're gonna fight. But that's why we have you, so you can tell us!

Write faster, faster would be better!



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