BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KAYNARA

Bed and Wine: Part 28
Sunday, May 21, 2006

The song of angry men. Rish.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3122    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Bed and Wine: Part 28 By Kaynara *** The song of angry men. *** As always, I’m indebted to Grimlock. It’s Joss’s ‘verse.... *** Mal dropped down in the seat, dismissing Zoe with a nod.  Beyond the cockpit, the Black loomed like a shield.  He couldn’t help but wonder if the armor would hold.  “Mr. Kane.”  “Malcom.”  Kane offered a weary smile.  “I apologize for the delay in returning your wave.  Things have been…frenzied.”  “Just glad you got back to me at all, Sir.  Me and mine ain’t exactly popular these days.”  “From what I hear, you and yours are a bit *too* popular.”  “Yeah.  Yeah, that too.  Anyways, I am grateful.”  “Please.” Kane held up a hand.  “I hope you’ll consider me a friend, Mal.  Your father did.  Now, what can I do for you, son?”  “Actually, Mr. Kane, was hopin’ I could do for you.  Now I ain’t claimin’ expertise as to the nature of your business.  So you just tell me if I’m overstepping. But I been doin’ jobs for you these past months—transport hauls and runnin’ guns.  Didn’t ever ask any questions—mostly ‘cuz I wasn’t looking to know the answers.  Now though…well, guess you could say my priorities have shifted.  I’m done running, Mr. Kane.  I aim to end this now.”  Kane tipped back in his chair, puffed thoughtfully at his cigar.   “May I ask what prompted this move?”  “You know ‘Liance is after Serenity?”  “Yes. I’m afraid a fresh warrant for your arrest came in off the Cortex.”  “Good capture?”  The older man smiled.  “No worse than the ones on your last couple warrants.”  Mal smirked. “Yeah, well.  Ain’t much for bein’ bound.  Tends to sour my mood.”  Mal shrugged, his expression turning serious.  “This time…well, things is considerably worse.  The Alliance ain’t ever gonna quit lookin’.  See, I got somethin’ belongs to them.  Least they think it belongs to ‘em.”  “Oh?”  Kane leaned forward, one scraggly white eyebrow arching with interest.  “And what would that be?”  “My children.”  Mal pressed ahead, intent on dodging the man’s questions.  He couldn’t handle an interrogation just then.  “It’s a long story and not the shiniest.  Suffice it to say, I’m lookin’ to protect what’s mine.  Ain’t opposed to dealin’ out some pain in the process.”      “I can’t say I’m surprised, Mal.”  Kane smiled.  “You’ve always been a Browncoat, even if for awhile you tried not to be one.”   “One key difference betwixt then and now.”  Mal leveled the older man with a steady gaze.  “This time I aim to win.”  “I aim to win too, Mal.  If you’ll just give me a moment to….”  Kane hesitated, scanning a set of pages.    “Forgive me,” he said at last.  “The situation here is a bit hectic.  You see, we’re leaving Bellerophon tonight.”  “Trouble?” “Then you haven’t heard yet?” “ ‘Fraid I missed the news ‘port.” “This morning, Shadow’s Neo-Independent group launched coordinated attacks on three Allied Bases. A complex of science labs was also hit.” Mal nodded slowly. “Huh. Those labs...wouldn’t be Blue Sun, would they? Located ‘round the forty-fifth mile?” “Our intel confirmed the presence of BSAFD agents on the premises. We believed the facilities to be property of Blue Sun Brigade.” “Mr. Kane, Sir. Got reason for thinkin’ there was children in those labs.” “You...you know this for a fact, Mal?” “I do.” “I see.” Kane reached for something off-screen. A moment later, he filled a glass tumbler with dark amber liquid. He sipped once, twice, and then downed the contents. He paused to pour a second ration before speaking. “The Feds fled Shadow after the bombing. There’ll be a backlash, surely; the trick is to strike again in the confusion. And be assured, Malcom, strikes are planned. As a precautionary measure, I’m moving my people off Bellerophon this evening at eighteen hundred. If you’re decided, Mal...if this is truly what you want....well, I won’t turn you down.” “Reckon this ain’t been about want for some time.” “I imagine you’re right. Malcom, I can’t possibly express...this will make a difference. You will make a difference.” “That’s what we fought for, Mr. Kane. Different.” “There’s something more, Mal. Two somethings, in fact. First, I’d like to send a team to collect your sister.” “Carly? What’s she--?” “She’s a way to get at you, Mal. She makes you vulnerable.” “Ta ma duh...you don’t think they already...?” “Not yet. But we need to act now.” Mal jerked his head. “Do it.” “Consider it done. There’s one more thing, Mal. Esmerelda Fitzgerald. According to my sources, she’s been missing from her home on Osiris for several days now.” He had to clutch the console; elsewise his hand would have shook. “Alliance?” “I think so, Mal. I’m afraid so.” “Then they’re hurting her. They’re hurting her ‘cuz of me.” “Malcom, you don’t know that--” “Can you find her?” “My people are looking into the matter as we speak. I hope you’ll forgive me--you see, I’ve hoped for this, even gone so far as to plan. I’m sorry for your troubles, of course. But I’m so very pleased that you’ve come back to us, to our very noble cause. And it is that, Mal: noble. The Browncoats are rising. And when we do, Mal...when we do, I want you there with us.” “What’s next on the agenda, Mr. Kane?” “I think it’s time we meet.” “You got friendly dirt in mind?” “The Alliance sows every field, and beneath every rock is a mine. We’ll meet in the Black.” *** Something was changed. She put on a good show for the crew. She smiled and did up her hair. She wore dresses what cost more than the whole of his wardrobe--okay, that weren’t sayin’ much--and helped out around the ship with chores and dinner-fixin’ and the like. First day Doc let her outta bed, she went and found River. Inara caught the girl in the corridor, shook her head dismissively at River’s murmured apologies. “I might have known,” River whispered. “...what would happen to you.” Guilty, Mal flattened himself against the wall, listening. “You...oh. Honey, this isn’t your fault.” “You’re sad.” “Yes.” When she spoke again the breathy quality was vanished. “I’ll be fine. Now will you let me see your beautiful babies?” “Might not be beautiful.” Mal wondered if River really fell for Nara’s charms or if she was just doin’ the nice thing and pretending. “Might be ugly.” Inara laughed, almost genuine. “Oh, well. In that case, let me see those hideous babies.” River frowned. “Simon has them,” she said, biting her lip. Mal was there when she did lay eyes on ‘em for the first time. Was later that night, after they’d eaten. They all trooped down to the passenger dorms. Mal watched from the doorway. “Howdya like that? Critters finally awake.” “Oh, they’re awake plenty, Captain. They’re awake at two and again at four. Often, they wake us at six as well.” “Si-mon.” Kaylee nudged him; Simon looked remorseful, and Mal looked at the floor. River seemed oblivious to the tension. She sat cross-legged on the floor, eyeing the blinking bundles through the bars of the cradle. “Girl one looks like me. Pretty.” “Sure is, honey,” Kaylee agreed. Simon rolled his eyes. “When she was four, she used to tell us she was the most beautiful little girl on Osiris.” River stuck out her tongue. “I was precocious.” She poked her finger through the bars, and Mal watched the boy clasp the digit tight in his fist. “Boy one looks like Simon.” “That mean he’s pretty, too?” Jayne quipped. The others laughed. “She has your eyes, Mal.” Inara crouched on the floor, skirts fluting out to hide her feet. “Blue eyes and dark hair--it’s an unusual combination.” “They ain’t exactly usual kids,” Mal murmured. Kaylee broke the silence, cutting through the throng to take hold of his arm. “Cap’n? Wanna feed one? Epi needs her bottle.” “Epi?” Kaylee turned pink. “I didn’t mean...just that...Epiphany’s real pretty, Cap’n. Just a big name for such a little girl.” “It’s fine, Kaylee.” “You’re the one who gets up with her, Kaylee.” Simon kept his tone purposely mild. “I would think that entitles you to naming privileges.” There was a second heavy silence in which Kaylee looked stricken and Mal looked something between angry and shameful. Inara looked all manner of undefinable, and River didn’t look up. “Their birth mother picked out the names. Figured she’s entitled to that much of ‘em.” Mal cleared his throat. “Anyway, I think Epi’s fitting. You gonna show me how to do this, Kaylee? For some reason, I can’t recall the Chick bein’ so tiny.” “Sure, sure, Cap.” Bubbly again, Kaylee escorted him to the bed, pushed him so he was sitting. When he was settled, she snuggled the baby in his arms. “How’s she feel?” “She...I....” He caught a glimpse of Nara across the room, her wide dark eyes expressionless. The baby squirmed in his lap, and he looked down, checking to be sure he was holding her head proper. Kid did have his eyes, how ‘bout that? When he looked up again, Inara was gone. He stared after the spot where she’d been, where now there was just air and the smell of her incense. “I, uh....” His eyes blinked between Kaylee and the soft squirmy thing in his arms. “I’m not sure--” “You’re doin’ fine, Cap’n.” Kaylee gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Just fine.” *Oh, Kaylee. Ain’t nothin’ about this that’s fine.* *** He fell asleep inside her, those long, limber legs encircling his waist, her spearminty breath puffing cool and sweet ‘gainst his cheek. He woke alone, clutching the pillow steada her hair. The room was cold, and Jayne shivered a little, tugged the blanket over his bare ass. How was it something so scrawny could keep him so toasty? Didn’t make no sense, in fact. He made a hollow effort to drift off again but just wound up staring at the ceiling. Muttering, he tugged on yesterday’s clothes and mounted the ladder. He found her in the dorm was designated as the twins’. She was by her lonesome with the babes, lacking Kaylee or the doc or Mal, even, for company. Course that there weren’t much of a shock. Cap’n hardly looked on the kids since smuggling ‘em on board. It irked Simon, Cap’n not aiming to be Daddy o’the Decade. Really, Mal weren’t so different from Jayne in that they both understood you could love a person somethin’ fierce, be willing to die for ‘em, and yet not want ‘em around you in the day to day. He wondered if Mal knew how alike they were in that way, whether knowin’ it would rankle him some. Weren’t dislike what made him distance himself. Jayne liked everyone on Serenity well enough. He liked most of ‘em. Well, he liked Kaylee and Nara. Raven was a sweetheart when she weren’t makin’ him hug Mal. And then, course, there was River. Sometimes Jayne thought he’d rather die for River than sleep by her side ten years. In ten years, you could find a thousand little ways to fail someone. Not that he thought she’d keep him ten years. Hell, odds was he didn’t have ten years to give her. Most like, he’d meet his end in a bar fight, or on some job gone wrong. Maybe Jayne Cobb weren’t the brightest of men. Still, he knew his limits. He knew he wasn’t gonna grow old someplace quiet. He’d die young--in earnest, was a wonder he made it this long--and he’d die bloody. Only thing he hoped for was that she wouldn’t have to watch. When it happened, when his time came, he’d go out alone. And if you planned on dyin’ alone...well, seemed you oughta live your life the same way. All sounded shiny in theory, but Jayne weren’t a liar. Well, he lied now and then. As a boy, he’d lied to the priest ‘bout swearing and ‘bout drinking, ‘bout putting his hand under pretty Mabel Marrow’s pretty cotton skirts. Sometimes he’d lied to his Ma, too, tell her he was goin’ to school but then skip. He’d spend the whole day sinkin’ his fishing rod down by the creek, or shooting pellet guns behind Tommy Pinkerson’s barn. She beat him blacker ‘n tar when she found out--didn’t stop him from ditching though. Jayne even lied to Mal the first day he met ‘im, promising to be good and keep in line. He’d meant to shoot Mal in the back, just that he never got around to it. But he made it a point not to lie to his own self. And his own self had feelings for River Tam that might just fall into the category of fuzzy. He reckoned those feelings weren’t the loud, messy sort, like how Mal felt for Nara. Neither was they soft and cuddly, like the kind ‘twixt Simon and Kaylee. Hell, he never did have many words, least of all the right ones. But he reckoned that even someone with a whole book of words might have trouble finding one for him and River. Maybe he didn’t have a word for how he felt. But it was real, and it was something. And that something weren’t just sex. “River?” She looked up. Not surprised, definitely not surprised. He cleared his throat, careful to keep the whining edge from his tone. “Come to bed, girl.” She flashed a sweet little smile and trotted toward the cradle. She was already hovered over it when the first cry sounded. “Hush, Little One.” She straightened with a squalling newborn clutched to her chest. He didn’t know if it was the boy or the girl. He couldn’t tell one from the other, wondered if River knew even. They sat together on the bed, River rockin’ the kid in her arms. Jayne leaned against the doorjamb, watching. “He’s lonely,” she murmured. So she did know after all. “Missing his mama.” “His mama’s right here, River.” She smiled again, sorta indulgent this time. Then she laid the kid out on the bed. Wordlessly, she unbuttoned her blouse. She wasn’t wearin’ a bra. Slack-jawed, Jayne watched her lift the fretting babe to her breast. “Girl....” “He isn’t hungry yet.” She smoothed the dark, downy hair. “Just wants to nurse. Wants the comfort.” Sure enough, the kid latched on. His eyes drifted shut almost immediately, his smooth cheek coming to rest against her small breast. One tight little fist clamped around a hunk of her hair while he suckled. “Jesus.” Jayne sank to the bed beside her. “Christ. Can I...?” He reached out a tentative hand, using his finger to trace the arc where the boy’s head met River’s chest. The black of his hair was a startling contrast with her whiteness. Impulsively, Jayne bent his head, pressed a brief kiss to her collarbone. When he met her eyes again, she looked torn. “Want I should go?” he asked. She curled into his side by way of response. *** “Okay.”  He lowered the sheet over her legs.  “Everything looks fine.”  He turned his back so she could dress, feigning an interest in his medical bag.  Sweet Simon.  “I appreciate you seeing me in my…Mal’s and my shuttle.  The infirmary feels so, well, clinical.”  Inara lifted a shoulder in apology.  “Not that your bedside manner’s to blame.”  “Believe me, I understand. I think even the captain hates that room.”   “Perhaps because he’s spent so much time there.”  They shared a smile.  “Inara….”  Simon lowered his gaze to his hands, fumbling for the words.  “I…there was one other thing….”  “I thought you said everything was fine?”  “No, no.  I mean, yes, physically, everything’s…well, your BP is a little higher than usual, but--”  She smiled.  “Perhaps doctors make me nervous.”  Teasing was healthy, wasn’t it?  “Inara…I don’t think there’s much in this ‘verse that makes you nervous.”  He hesitated, making a face.  “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”  “Simon.”  She smiled.  “You’ve enough on your mind right now.  Please don’t add me to your list of worries.”  She recognized that look in his eyes—she saw a variation of it in Mal’s.  Of course, Mal’s penetrating blue stare carried the added component of raw fury. Fury at the circumstances.  Fury at his own helplessness. Fury at a God in whom he no longer claimed to believe.  “I know I’m only your medic by necessity…I mean, it’s not like you’ve got a catalogue of OB-GYNs to choose from out here.  And this definitely isn’t my specialty.  River used to tease me…said I opted to be a trauma surgeon so all my patients were unconscious.  You know, because I don’t always say…anything resembling the right thing.”  He smiled, sheepish. “It’s just…I’d feel like I was being…remiss…if I didn’t recommend that you speak to someone….”  “A counselor, you mean.”  It wasn’t a question.  And this conversation wasn’t entirely unfamiliar.  The story was the same, just with new names and faces.   “Some therapists treat patients over the Cortex….Or, if you wanted, I could try….”  She smiled again, a softly-sad lilt of the lips that fell short of her eyes.  “I just need some time, Simon.” She reached out to squeeze his hand.  “Thank you…for everything.”  “Of course.”    When he was gone she took a lingering shower, letting the heat of the bath pervade her bones.  Mal found her at the dressing table some time later, combing out her wet hair in long, even strokes.  “Hi.”  He bent to kiss her, a chaste lip brush that glanced over her temple.  Something about his greeting undid her, and she bowed her head, eager to hide her eyes.  It was silly, really.  He often kissed her hello, his embraces ranging from quick pecks on the cheek, lips, brow, to greedy invasions in which his tongue plundered her mouth, his hands ravaging her body.  Sometimes he’d come to bed late, after hours spent scouring star maps, inspecting the bridge or the engine room.    “I need you now,” he’d say, and he’d throw her back on the bed with a ferocity designed to excite.  Sometimes she’d tease him.    “That’s rather apparent, Mal,” she’d whisper, filling her hand with the front of his trousers.  Other times she didn’t say anything at all, just fisted her fingers in his hair, dragged his face down to the curve of her throat.    Sometimes she’d be laughing, anticipatory laughter: giggles of surprise and delight as he fought off her pajama pants, tugging her underwear down with them. He’d torture her with lips and fingers.   “Mal. Oh, Mal.” “Not yet.” He’d make her wait sometimes, refusing to enter until she was soaked, slippery beneath his hand. They hadn’t made love since it happened: since she lost their baby. “So, uh, ran into Kaylee,” he said now. “She mentioned you were seein’ the doc this afternoon.”  “Yes.”  She lifted the comb to her crown, dragged the teeth from root to tip.   “So…everything shiny?”  “Everything’s fine, Mal.” “Good.  Good.”  She watched his eyes focus in on a spot three feet over her head.  “Are you still…is there bleeding?”  “Simon says I should stop soon.”  Root to tip, root to tip.  “Good.  I’m…that’s good.”   “I need a little more time, Mal.”  She met his eyes in the mirror.  She needed the degree of separation the glass provided.  “Before we make love…I need some time.”  “Huh? Ohh.  Hey, now, I didn’t mean—”  Her eyes widened.  “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have implied—”  “Inara.”  Mal stilled her wrist.  Slowly, she lowered the comb to the dressing table.  “You and me never did do polite too well.  Mostly ‘cuz polite’s just not sayin’ things oughta be said, and I reckon we left too many things unsaid over the years as it is.  I don’t aim to go back to that place.”  She lowered her gaze.  “Still, I shouldn’t have…you’ve been very understanding.”  “Understanding,” he repeated.  “That’s funny. Funny ‘cuz I don’t understand a damn thing.” “I don’t know what you mean.” That was a lie--she thought she did. “I mean…ai ya, what I mean’s I...I miss you.”  “I’m right here.”  “No, you ain’t.  You ain’t here at all.”  She was getting annoyed.  Why did he insist on fighting with her now?  “Then where am I, Mal?”  “In earnest, darlin’, I ain’t rightly sure. But this--you paintin’ on that smile with your lipstick--you won’t even let me touch you.” “I told you....” Her voice shook; she fought to steady it. “I need some time before we--” “I ain’t referring to the sex.” He sighed, his expression softening. “Inara. Let me help you.” She sighed, all her pretense draining with her anger. “You can’t help me, Mal.” She resumed combing her hair in long, slow strokes. She half wanted him to fight her, force her. He didn’t. She heard his boots cross the floor followed by the sure sound of the shuttle door sliding closed. Carefully, she laid the wide bone-comb down by its matching brush. Even though she’d just bathed, her face felt hot, perspiration a silky sheen on the skin. Her pulse pumped at her neck and wrist, beat wild and erratic at the tops of her legs. Suddenly very tired, she rested her head atop her arms. She felt the warm streams of wet before the sobs started. On the other side of the door, Mal stood motionless. He listened to her cry, hard, racking sobs that filled his ears and his brainpan, trickled like tiny razor blades over the gut. In that moment, all he wanted was to kick in the door and go to her. He’d sit down on the floor and force her into his lap. He’d make her stay there until she cried, sobbed out every single tear right in front of him. After, he’d use his mouth to kiss her cheeks clean. And when she was ready, when she was stronger, he’d take her to their bed and make love to that impossibly beautiful body. Least lovemaking was proactive. Weren’t nothin’ could make a man feel impotent like standing in a dark hallways, listening to a woman sob. *** Guilt.  It poured over her, flooding her wave upon wave.  She could choke on it.  She'd hurt him.  Not just his pride but his feelings. Would they forever shut themselves off, she and Mal, intent on keening their hurts in seclusion?  She'd chastened him for that: the instinct to lick his wounds in private.  She'd spent months trying to draw out his trust, make him trust *her*.  He was so possessive of his pain.  For years, he hoarded it, held it to his chest and refused to share an ounce.  She never knew they had that in common.  True, she was a private person, maybe even a bit of a loner.  Mal never understand that--how she could be lonely in a throng.  He could be dense that way, insisting a butterfly must enjoy the attention her wings garnered.  The first time Inara Serra left Serenity, she attended the Emperors' Ball in Sihnon City the same month. Now she could scarcely recall who escorted her: some Alliance general or another.  Wealthy. Distinguished.  Handsome in the way wealthy, distinguished men so often are.  She accepted his invitation purely out of spite: she knew doing so would enrage Mal. And, oh, how she wanted him to suffer.  Of course, he would never know of the engagement; in fact, she'd have opted for death by firing squad before she told him. Somehow this fact slipped her mind when she made the contract.  The Emperors' Ball was held ostensibly in honor of the twin rulers of Sihnon and Londinium.  In truth, it was a pretext for the wealthy and wealthier to gather together and flaunt their wealth--merciful Buddha, she sounded like Mal just then--as well as a public show of Anglo-Sino camaraderie. Additionally, the Emperors' Ball made the party on Persephone look like a five-year-old's birthday. Of course the Alliance had good reason for channeling funds into the Ball; traditionally, it earned back twice the credits spent in donations.  The Ball dated back many years, before the War, before anyone even spoke of Unification, and invitation was a tremendous social boon.  In her youth, Inara's mother had danced there; Inara herself had attended the Ball three times before her twenty-fifth birthday.  Wandering the polished floors on the general's arm, Inara couldn't help but think the ball had lost some of its sheen.  It was nothing tangible; the wines were still sweet and full-bodied, the food rich and delectable.  She could still taste the heady aroma of the flowers: lilacs and lilies and night-blooming jasmine.  But something very pertinent was lacking.  She'd realize it later, upstairs in a satin-trimmed bed wide as a lake, crushed between artfully strewn rose petals and the equally artful body of her general.  He came with a grunt, and with her single tear came the comprehension of what she was missing.  She didn't need flowers, fine foods or bed and wine.  What she was missing just then was a bad-tempered ex-Browncoat with an irritating sense of nobility.  She spent three days with the general, accompanying him to dinners and political functions, flattering him and charming his friends.  In the entire seventy-two hour period, she had hardly a second to herself. She'd never felt so devastatingly lonely.  A week later she'd accepted the position at the training house.  But of course that was before Miranda, before the Alliance hijacked Serenity and took River away.  It was before Shadow, before her father and that awful hospital.  Before she and Mal had found Hope and then lost her.   She wanted his hands on her: work-hardened ones with their callous-tipped fingers.  Wasn’t running people off Mal’s prerogative and not hers? She couldn't be in the shuttle.  The realization hit her like a slap, summoning her to her feet. She needed to walk, breathe.    She wandered along the catwalks, her feet conforming to well-traveled paths.  Serenity was freezing—Inara was freezing.  She didn’t mind; she liked the bite.  She wandered on to the bridge, found it deserted.  She had the very real and yet utterly inane desire to wave her dead mother.  *I need you, Mama.* I need you.  Three small words—why couldn’t she say them?  She sank down into the pilot’s chair, her eyes as black as the dead space on the other side of the glass.  Ridiculous to want her mother now, and not just because the woman’s grave was cold.  No, Inara had lost her mother long before they laid her in the ground.  Liliana Serra, prima ballerina and dazzling beauty.  After Inara, she had two miscarriages in quick succession.  Both children had been boys.  How much of the parent’s past was the child destined to repeat?  Mal echoed his father in many ways, some more unsettling than others. Before she lost the baby, she’d meant to wheedle Mal into visiting Emmy’s world. Something about Mal’s descriptions of his stepmother intrigued her, not so much the words but the emotions behind them. She had a strangely ardent desire to meet this woman.  She thought of her own female role models:  Mama, Nandi…Dominique.  In her own way, each woman wanted the best for Inara.  She wondered when she’d learned to ascertain her own desires.  She thought it might have been Mal who taught her.  Her fingers glanced over the keys now, recalling the coordinates by rote.  The face that filled the screen was older than she remembered, as though years and not months had passed since they last spoke.  “Inara?”  With the last of her resolve, she made her lips curve.  “Hello, Trevor.” *** With his heel, Simon nudged the cradle, hoping to soothe its fussy occupants. “ ‘S very inconsiderate,” he slurred around a yawn. “The least you could do is synchronize your sleep schedules. But no, Devon has to have his bottle at three while Epiphany prefers to dine at four.” And of course the one’s wailing had a tendency to wake the other. “Do you know the true tragedy in all of this?” Starting to nod, the twins ignored him. “I can’t even blame the captain's genes for this. You see, your mother was a huge brat when she was a kid. As a baby, she insisted on being held all the time. If you put her down for even a second, she’d scream.” He smiled. “Father--your grandfather, I guess--he thought she was afraid of missing out on something. River was always in such a hurry....” “My interrupting?” Kaylee leaned in the doorjamb, her hair tousled from sleep, her pajamas riding low on her hips. She stretched a little, exposing a strip of skin around her middle. “Hey.” He offered her a tired smile. “You should be sleeping.” “Ain’t sleepy.” She padded across the room and climbed into his lap. Automatically, his arms went around her torso, fingers inching under the fabric of her night shirt. “So what was you three talkin’ ‘bout?” “Actually, it seems Dull Uncle Simon put them to sleep. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the captain turned them against me. But since Mal never actually sees them....” “Simon.” Kaylee squirmed. “We agreed we was gonna give him time.” “He’s had time, Kaylee.” “I know, but...just gotta give him some more. Anyway, ain’t it sorta shiny? You and me playin’ at bein’ their parents?” “Except we aren’t their parents, Kaylee. You...you understand that, don’t you?” She stiffened in his lap. “What’s that ‘sposed to mean?” “I just...when the time comes to give them up--turn them over to their real parents--I don’t want you to be...sad.” “Ain’t like we’ll be givin’ ‘em up all together. We’ll still be Uncle Simon and Aunt Kaylee. Honey, why you gettin’ bibbledy ‘bout this?” “I just want the captain to do what’s right. Mal has a tendency not to think things through. He enacted the grand rescue sequence without pausing to consider the practicalities of raising babies...raising them on a spaceship.” “Zoe’s doin’ it. She’s raisin’ Raven just fine.” “For now. But Raven’s not even two yet You don’t honestly believe she can grow up here on Serenity, Kaylee.” Once again, Simon felt her muscles clench. “How come?” she demanded. “What’s wrong with right here?” “Children need schooling, Kaylee. A safe place to call home. I--we haven’t had this fight yet, have we?” “Ain’t a fight.” She sniffed. “ ‘S a discussion.” Simon sighed. “I love this ship, too, Kaylee. It’s what brought me to you. It’s just...raising a child, or two children--it’s a gigantic responsibility. The captain’s so concerned with protecting them, keeping them safe. I guess I worry about the more mundane aspects. I worry they won’t be...happy.” Kaylee studied him, thoughtful. “You weren’t happy, honey?” “Shuh muh?” “Back when you was a boy...you weren’t happy?” “N-no...I mean I wasn’t unhappy. It sounds so childish, saying I was miserable. I had schoolmates. And River, of course. I just wasn’t....” He shrugged. “Dizzy with glee?” Kaylee supplied. Simon smiled. “I wasn’t dizzy,” he agreed. “How come?” “This may come as a shock, but I wasn’t always so smooth when it came to pretty girls.” He kissed her nose, and she giggled. “I never woulda guessed.” “Uh-huh.” He poked his finger under her arm, delighting in her squeal. “So why was you nervous with the womenfolk?” she prodded. “Oh, I suppose I was just shy. It’s funny though....” “What’s funny, Baby?” “I had this friend: a kid named Collin Ng. Quiet and smart. We took all our classes together, and after school he’d come over my house, and he and River and I would play games.” He snorted. “She always won, no matter what we played. Anyway, one day Collin stayed home from school sick. At lunch that day, I approached a table where some of my other classmates were eating. I asked if I could join them.” “I know what happened.” Kaylee looked horrified. “Them other kids told ya to get lost?” He smiled. “No. They said, ‘Sure, Colin. Sit down.’ “ She crinkled her nose, confused. “You two look alike?” “Not a bit. And until that day, I never thought of us--Collin and me--as the same. He was the quiet one, the shy one. For some reason I’d imagined myself loquacious.” He chuckled now at the memory. “It took Collin’s bout with flu to show me who and what I was: another Collin Ng.” Kaylee curled around his arm. “What’s Collin up to nowdays?” “Oh, God. I haven’t spoken to him in years.” “Bet he ain’t a fugitive space-medic.” Simon laughed. “I imagine he isn’t.” She snuggled even closer. “Simon?” Her voice was breathy. “There’s one more thing you got that Collin don’t.” “Oh? What’s that?” She grinned and pressed a searing kiss to his lips. “Me.” *** He’d taken to sleeping in his chair. Bridge weren’t the coziest as bedrooms went, but then neither was his shuttle past few days. He preferred the neck creaks, the aching back, to the other pain: the one came from lying beside her all night. Just across the bed but it coulda been light years. The wont to touch was damn near excruciating. He even made the error once, reaching across a mattress what never seemed so vast to stroke a single finger down the nape of her neck. She didn’t shiver or shudder, rebuke him or pull away even. She simply laid still, pretended like she was sleep even though the both of ‘em knew otherwise. If this was his fate--having and then losing her--well, the liar in him wished never to have had her at all. And the truthsome man--the truthsome man wouldn’t relinquish a heartbeat even if it meant spending the rest of his days with a whole in that particular organ. On a groan, Mal stacked his boots up on the console, squinted at the trajectory. He had time for an hour or two’s fitful rest before Kane’s ship was due. Having spent his share of years as insomnia’s loyal playmate, Mal knew better. He fixed his eyes on the Black, waiting. *** She was there with the rest when Jayne and Kaylee readied the docking collar. He didn’t know if he was ticked or tickled that Caroline hugged her first, crushing Inara to her body in a warm embrace and speaking softly into her ear. He decided he didn’t care one way nor the other--yep, he was gonna go with that--and made the appropriate fuss when his sister swooped down on him next. “Mal.” She stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “Dammit, woman. Disentangle.” But he held on an extra few seconds, grateful to see her alive, unharmed. “Malcom.” She met his eyes, and he saw his own mirrored back at him. “You stupid, stupid man.” She punched him in the arm and turned to hug Zoe hello, still rolling her eyes. “Ow!” “Going after those babies alone...are you mad?” “Glad to see you, too, Carly,” he muttered, rubbing his bicep. “By God’s good graces,” she murmured, kissing Kaylee and Simon. “Seems it ain’t so much God’s graces as Mr. Kane’s,” Mal observed. He reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Much obliged, Sir.” Kane smiled wanly, squeezed Mal’s shoulder with his free hand. “I wish you’d stop that ‘Mr. Kane’ business, boy. The trouble is you look entirely too much like your father. It confounds the mind a bit.” “Well, none the less, I am grateful.” Mal cleared his throat. “Emmy? She...?” Kane looked away. “She’s alive. She’s sleeping, now. I’d like to have her transferred to your infirmary.” “How...?” Mal had to start again. “How bad?” Simon stepped forward. “Captain, why don’t you let me take a look?” he offered. Mal nodded, grateful. “You do that, Doctor.” “Amos.” A tall, well-muscled blond man stepped forward, rested a meaty hand on Kane’s shoulder. For a moment the pair conversed in whispers. “Malcom,” Kane said at last. “This is Captain Cameron Vespucci. Cam, Captain Malcom Reynolds.” Vespucci nodded. “Captain Reynolds.” “Good to meet you, Captain.” Mal extended a hand. “Welcome to Serenity.” *** They sat around the table, all save Emmy who was sedated and Caroline, who offered to watch the little ones while the others conversed. Inara brewed coffee and set tea to steep, and when she handed Mal a mug, their fingers brushed. Impulsively, he stroked the pad of his thumb along the inside of her wrist. She didn’t return the touch but neither did she pull away. He wondered if that weren’t some manner of progress. Mal waited till everyone was seated and sipping at something before starting to speak. Under the glowy lights of the galley, he thanked them all for being in attendance. He paused a moment, gathering his thoughts. “While back, some of us here saw fit to fight a war. I can’t speak for Zoe, but I myself saw things as pretty black and white then. Freedom versus tyranny, good versus bad. The Independents were right, and the Alliance was wrong. Now though...well, reckon it ain’t simple as all that. Only thing truly black is the Black, and maybehaps that’s why I hid here all these years. But I won’t hide anymore. I’ve lived long enough in Serenity. I aim to break free. Got three little lives that tell me it’s time.” Mal’s gaze shifted from one face to another, came to rest at last on Kane. “I got me a good crew. Best. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to ask this of them. But most of us at this table have seen firsthand what happens when men try to make their worlds perfect. The perfect world is an illusion. But maybe I was wrong to give up on havin’ a better one. Maybe we still got a chance at that. For the sake of my children, I gotta believe in that chance. “This better world...ain’t about fixing people. I don’t hold to the belief that people need to be fixed. Maybe you just gotta give ‘em somethin’ worth living for. Maybehaps that somethin’...maybe that somethin’s hope. “Mr. Kane...Amos...if you believe I can play a role in this--takin’ the Alliance down a notch--I do believe it’s my duty to try.” He took a breath. “There’s a chance, a good one, that this won’t end well. So if any of you all want out of this--” “Sir.” Zoe met his gaze. “Do you honestly think you need to ask?” Mal glanced around the table, taking in the multiple sets of unwavering eyes. “Not even for a second,” he said quietly. “Now: how’s about we talk plans.” *** Mal watched his crew work, unable to ignore completely the swell of pride. Zoe, Gideon and Kaylee were hunkered down over Kane’s blueprints, their heads pressed close in contemplation. Simon seemed to have elected himself official note-taker. Boy was thorough, Mal admitted, peering over his shoulder. Wrote real pretty to boot. He turned his eyes on River, saw her fingers clasped Jayne’s under the table. He waited for the wave of discomfort that didn’t come. Beneath his lashes, he snuck a glance at Inara. She looked like a queen, and, in that moment, capable of anything. “Sir?” He glanced up, guilty to be caught staring. “Zoe?” “Let’s run through this once more. Just to be sure we have all the details.” Mal nodded his approval. “Cameron, you wanna...?” “Right.” Vespucci pointed to the starred location on the map. “As Amos explained, the purpose of this strike is twofold. The obvious intention is to deal the Alliance a severe blow by bombing DOD headquarters in Capital City. As Blue Sun’s Armed Forces Division is housed in the same compound, they’ll be similarly wounded in the assault. The less blatant aim is to rouse fellow Independents across the ‘verse. We’ll accomplish this through the blast itself and, more symbolically, through our second aim: stealing the Independent flag of surrender, currently on display in the Unification Museum in the same compound. The recapture of the flag will be a call to arms. Captain Reynolds will carry it to every rim world we visit, inspiring the people with his story, his heroics.” Across the table, Mal winced. “Ain’t heroics. And I certainly ain’t--” “--a hero?” Kane smiled. “But you are, Mal. More than you know.” Mal looked away, eyes on the blueprints. “We’re sure the museum will be closed that week, shi?” “The Unification Museum is undergoing renovations. Excepting the occasional civilian visitor, the only people on the compound will be Alliance government, high military and BSAFD workers. Surely you understand, we can’t guard against *any* civilian casualties, Mal....” “Surely I do,” Mal murmured. “The best we can promise is that they’ll be minimal. There is another concern,” Kane began. “It’s about Miss Serra....” “Inara?” Kaylee piped. “What’s she--?” “Inara ain’t part of this,” Mal protested. He could feel her eyes rake his skin, chose not to meet their pointed gaze. “Everything you touch is a part of this, Mal. Everything that touches you....” Kane folded his hands on the table top. His expression was one of apology: the executioner preparing to pull the trigger. “Forgive me, Miss Serra. Truly, you’re a woman of unparalleled beauty and grace. Under ordinary circumstances, you’d be a boon to any man.” “She don’t need to be a boon to nobody.” Mal folded his arms stiffly. “She’s her own person.” Inara and Zoe made lingering eye contact. Inara hid a smile in her tea. She knew Mal was a feminist in his own, chauvinistic way. But this....Her brain waged an internal war, half of her appreciating his efforts, the other half scorning them. In the end, curiosity trumped both flattery and pride. “Let Mr. Kane speak, Mal.” She raised her lashes, boldly meeting the elder man’s gaze. “Please understand that the opinions I express aren’t my own. I myself find Miss Serra lovely. However, there are worlds in this ‘verse where the day of enlightenment has yet to dawn. We are so often judged not by our presents but by our pasts. And the fact remains that she was, for many years, a Companion.” “And now she flies with me.” Mal shrugged, blue eyes fierce. “Ain’t seein’ the relevance in this.” “I think I see your point, Mr. Kane.” Inara’s voice sounded cool and sweet--a glass of iced tea on a sun-shiny day. “You’re suggesting that I’m a symbol of the Alliance and all it’s sovereignty. To put it more bluntly, I’m a whore of the establishment.” She tilted her chin in time to see Mal’s temple pulse. “Some would see you as that, yes. Others would simply question your loyalty. It’s a well-known fact that Companions utilized their...assets on behalf of Alliance intelligence during the War, betrayed the Independents from the vantage points of their own beds. The people don’t forgive easily, my dear.” “Utilized their assets?” Simon asked. “He means sexpionage,” Inara explained cooly. “Mr. Kane feels my presence at Mal’s side could compromise the mission.” “There are others in this room what fought for the Alliance once upon a time,” Mal said quietly. “Things change.” “Your presence would compromise Mal’s authority, just as mine would, Inara.” Gideon stared at a spot over her left shoulder. “Mal’s a symbol to them, a man of the people, one who believes in them, fights for them. A man who sees fit to die for them. When the people learn their leader shares his bed with a common whore....” “Gideon, you don’t wanna--” Zoe began. Mal bounced to his feet, one fist slamming into the tabletop with force enough to rattle plates. “Ta ma da--” “Mal! Mal, wait....” “You got somethin’ to say, darlin’?” He whirled on her. “Cuz I was attempting to defend your honor here.” Inara encircled his wrist. “Excuse us a moment,” she murmured, dragging him into the hallway. “I like this dress, Mal,” she hissed when they were alone. “Meaning?” “Meaning I don’t want your blood staining the silk,” she ground out. “Well, see, I’m plannin’ on it bein’ his blood.” “Not to disparage one of your carefully-wrought plans...but you do realize this boy’s had training. As in Academy....” “You implyin’ I can’t take him--and that...I’m bad at planning?” “I’m not implying anything, Mal. I’m stating facts. He helped create the program that made River. And every time you defend my honor, I end up sporting your bloodstains.” “So, what? I’m just ‘sposed to let him insult you?” “Mal. Do you think his words sting me? They’re just words. And they don’t.” *Only yours ever did.* “Someone oughta teach that boy some respect.” “And I suppose that someone has to be you,” she snapped back. “I’m thinkin’ it does!” She shook her head. “You’re crazed.” “Uh, yeah, damn near!” “If you see that you’re acting like a psychopath,” she began, her tone incredulous, “then why can’t you stop acting that way?” “I don’t like them talking ‘bout you.” “I’m realizing that, Mal.” “Kane don’t got the right...putting you on trial that way....” “No, he shouldn’t have said--” “You ain’t his, Nara!” “Of course, I’m not--” “ ‘Cept lately...ai ya, lately, Nara, it’s like you ain’t mine either.” She arched a brow, compelling him to backstep. “Okay, I know you ain’t mine as in belonging to...but you’re...we’re...dammit, I can’t even touch you! Every since we lost the....” “You’re touching me now, Mal.” He glanced down to the spot of contact: his big hand holding firm to her upper arm. It must hurt her, fingers digging into her flesh that way, squeezing the delicate bone. He released her at once, guilty. Her motions deliberate, Inara lifted his hand from his side, placing it this time over her breast. He felt his palm curve, cupping her through her blouse. Their eyes met. She took a hesitant step forward. He pulled her the rest of the way into his arms. Greedily, she opened her mouth, inviting his tongue to explore its depths. He hadn’t shaved and the rough skin of his face scraped at hers. “We should...go back now,” she managed. “We really gotta go back in there?” “Where else,” she began, pausing to accommodate his lips, “would we go?” He met her gaze, his own soft blue and tentative. “Could go to bed.” It was a question. She took his face in her hands, kissing softly. “Tonight we’ll go to bed. We’ll likely go more than once.” He groaned, suckling her lower lip between his teeth. “Missed you,” he murmured, the words tickling her neck. She dipped her fingers in his hair, ground lightly against the front of his trousers. “I missed you too, Mal.” “Hey, now.” He kissed her again. “I ain’t meanin’ sex.” Her expression revealed that she did not, perhaps, find this claim perfectly believable. He laughed. “Not just sex, anyway. Weren’t just my body was achin’.” She lowered her face to his chest, hesitant to speak for fear she’d cry and embarrass him. “Course that part was achin’ somethin’ fierce,” he said, and made her laugh again. “Sure we can’t just, you know, turn in early?” “Mmm, perhaps. Though wouldn’t that underscore Kane’s and Gideon’s claim?” He shook his head, though his lips twitched. “That ain’t particularly funny, Nara.” She smirked. “I thought it was reasonably cute.” “You’re a brat,” he said, pulling her into a tight hug. “And you’re a crook.” They rocked together in the empty hallway. *** TBC in Part 29. We’re nearing the end, and the author is way too attached for her own good. Leave me feedback!

COMMENTS

Sunday, May 21, 2006 12:54 PM

TAYEATRA


Ooop...

That would be me above... Taya!

Sunday, May 21, 2006 1:49 PM

WEREALLJUSTFLOATING


I was just thinking as I read this chapter, what a great job you've done with this series. Since your first You've taken the characters on such a fantastic journey, sometimes I forget it's written by a fan. You mention that you're coming to the end but PLEASE don't let that mean you wont be writing any more stories. I want to know what happens down the line, you're certainly not short of ideas. Will you be finishing the 'season' as it were? And if so, tell me you'll be coming back with a fresh set of stories soon??!!

Sunday, May 21, 2006 5:03 PM

LEIASKY


Wonderfully done, as always. I love that Simon is irritated a Mal for not being a proper father to the twins. And his comment to Kaylee about arguing over children being a fight they hadn't yet had!

The Mal and Inara moments were so very touching. You've got such a good handle on them and I, too, wish this story was not coming to an end!

Sunday, May 21, 2006 6:29 PM

SQUISH


Really there aren't enough words to tell you how much I love this story!

This part was so perfect and insightful: "He was so possessive of his pain. For years, he hoarded it, held it to his chest and refused to share an ounce. She never knew they had that in common."

I loved the part with River and Jayne, you have Jayne down so well. And River is still very much worrying me with those children. She can take so much, but I'm not sure she can handle all of that.

Can't wait to see what will happen next!

Sunday, May 21, 2006 9:41 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Damn...you are a freaking genius, Kaynara! I mean...the amount of angst and joy and introspection and pain and ire here just boggles my mind!

And we're coming to the end!?! Say it ain't so! We need more! Things won't just peter off once things have gotten put into motion:D

BEB

Sunday, May 21, 2006 9:44 PM

TAIBHSE


i've actually been reading this on fanfiction.net. i would have reviewed every chapter but you have anonymous reviews disabled and i rarely if ever sign on anymore. anyway, read this and your previous two fics to. you have some very interesting plot twists all the way through, and for the most part capture characters interactions well. i hope you do another sequel when you finish this.

Sunday, May 21, 2006 10:38 PM

2X2


*sexpionage*

!!!!

Best. Word. EVER!

Bwaahaaaaaa!

Some lovely Mal/Inara moments... but, the sexpionage just tickled me so much... heeee... that's too great *G*

An that whole conversation had me wantin' to hit someone too, just like Mal...

Monday, May 22, 2006 2:16 AM

CCKE


*Grin*
There's nothing like getting back to the dorm after a relaxing weekend and find a new chapter of your wonderful story!
Good that Inara is letting Mal back in, slowly. Must've hurt so badly, seeing him with the babies. Poor thing.
And yay Carly!
Can't wait for more

CCke

Monday, May 22, 2006 8:34 AM

AMDOBELL


Love it, loved it, LOVED it! Especially the end part between Mal and Inara. It hurts me when they are not together but I am worried for all our Big Damn Heroes that this upcoming fight may take a terrible toll. Absolutley wonderful story, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 11:20 AM

SIMONSGIRL87


So glad that Mal and Inara are getting back together slowly but surely!

"I like this dress" one of the best ones yet I think.

Everything is great! I don't want this one to end. It is way too good! Love the writting!



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