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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Where did Mal meet Adair, what is it about Larkin Hague that irritates Mal so much, and just how WELL did Book know Ellis Rhodes' mother?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2820 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Following Part 5
All Firefly characters are the property of someone else. All original characters are copyrighted by yours truly. This is not in any way, means or intention meant to infringe on anybody.
MIGHTY BIG THANK YOU goes to Defender--my partner in crime who has always come through to help me make this thing the best it can be.
The MIGHTY BIG APOLOGY still stands for anyone who can read and speak French, Cajun or Chinese. The translations as I understand them are included, except the more vicious Chinese swearing. Any browncoat worth their salt knows all those anyway.
Glossary - Cajun and French/Cajun (if it doesn't read well in French, chances are it's Cajun)
Sil vous plait, Maman - Please, Momma?
Fils de putain ce maux - son of a bitch
Byen vrè - very true
Maudit - Goddamn
Mersi to - Thank you
Glossary - Chinese:
Gāxìng jìandào nî - Pleased to meet you
Wo hai gāxìng - I am pleased to meet you
Ni ke yi qin ài de - you may, my darling
Zhuhe ni - Congratulations
xiâo péngyou - little friend
Xièxie nî mèimei - thank you little sister
Zhùzuî ni - you be quiet
Xing - fine
Xei-xie - thank you (if you're a browncoat, you should've known that one)
yige angzang danxiaogui - a filty coward
Zhè, dà ge - here, sir
sishengzi erzi - Bastard (not an insult)
Heartbroken - Part 6
He's here. One in a crowd, alone but not in his own mind. A wolf in disguise, living among sheep who had no idea what he was, what he could become.
River moved among the people from Sayabec--not all, for there had been more on Pont Breaux who could not fathom leaving Acadia behind and did not recognize the claim of the one who dared call herself Archon. These who flew away from the station on board Zirondelle were the faithful who believed the new Archon would lead them well and understood the one called Cariveau could be trusted with their safety. Even when they feared they were on the brink of dying the slow death of space, they trusted him.
And among them was one, a traitor who once wore the face of a friend.
* * *
"Didn't take much to get Kaylee out of Zirondelle's engine," Zoe was saying. Leaning back against the console behind Wash on the bridge, she used a fork with her jambalaya, savoring every bite. "I made mention that Inara had been taken to the infirmary and that was it. I knew privates under mortar fire in the war that never even dreamed of moving that fast."
Wash held his bowl in one hand as he adjusted sensors with the other. "Yeah, would've been like saying it was her own sister." He scowled thoughtfully as he scooped in another bite and spoke around it. "Does Kaylee have sisters?"
Zoe nodded, finished chewing and swallowed. "Four. Couple of brothers too, but she’s the youngest. I can't imagine growing up with that many around."
"Certainly does teach a fella the finer point of interpersonal dynamics." Wash turned to smile at his wife. "Particularly when it came to reserving significant blocks of shower time."
"Those sisters of yours went and spoiled you something fierce," Zoe replied, only half teasingly. She scraped the side of her bowl. "Gave you just a little too much insight on how to go about pleasing womenfolk too."
"Could be that's so. Could be we'll just have to stop in sometime, so they can regale you with a few tales and give them a chance to thoroughly embarrass me. They enjoy that so much." Wash grinned as Zoe lowered her lashes and added an enigmatic smile for good measure.
"I'm...sorry. I'm interrupting."
The turned together to the hatchway leading to the bridge where Adair was standing. She had Jordain by the hand, but only barely as the boy leaned in, wide-eyed, to take in every inch of the place.
Wash took one look at him and beamed. "Say! Who do we have here?" His gaze switched to Adair briefly, then to Zoe in askance as he set his bowl on the console.
Zoe was smiling warmly. "Wash, this is Adair Quan."
"Adair!" That was all it took to get Wash out of his chair. "Gāxìng jìandào nî--Come on in. How about that? The woman behind the captain behind the helm of the Zirondelle."
Adair reached out to accept Wash's hearty handshake with a bright smile of her own. "Wo hai gāxìng ." She returned and looked down at her boy. "This is Jordain, my son."
"And isn't he just the little heartbreaker already." Wash hunkered down in front of the boy. "Hey little man."
"Are you ze pilot?" Jordain asked earnestly.
"Why yes I am. You want to look around? Maybe try your hand?" He smiled at Adair and continued in the same confiding tone. "As long as your mom says it's okay?"
Jordain looked up at his mother with eyes that would have made Adalai Niska go all soft and mushy. "Sil vous plait, Maman ?"
Adair couldn't have resisted if she wanted to. "Ni ke yi qin ài de."
Impressed, Wash watched Jordain dart past him to the console, before making to follow. "Wow--he speaks three languages?"
"Four," Adair said as she stepped in. She gave a shrug that was apologetic even as her eyes shone with a mothers pride. "Although most of his Cajun is the swearing he picks up from Cezar."
“While Jayne can barely manage to grunt coherently in the one language.” Wash chuckled as he stopped Jordain from touching one of the controls. Swinging him high up into the air, he settled the boy on his lap as he sat down. "Maybe he can teach me a word or two."
"Probably shouldn't encourage him, dear," Zoe said, well aware she was being ignored as both males were absorbed by their study of the flight controls. She rolled her eyes as she turned to Adair. At the inquiry in the other woman's eyes, Zoe smiled. "Wash Warren; master pilot, precocious oversized child.”
“And husband to the incomparable Zoe,” the pilot said with a broad lopsided grin, as he leaned around to smile at the woman beside him.
Adair beamed. "Zhuhe ni !" When she reached out her right hand, Zoe took it in her left and accepted the warm squeeze of her fingers.
"How long?" Adair asked.
"Little over five years now, "Zoe said, smiling warmly in return, as she turned to watch Wash and Jordain pretending to steer the ship away from some nefarious villain, complete with sound effects. "He's beautiful, xiâo péngyou ."
"Xièxie nî mèimei . He is my joy. So like his father in far too many ways."
Watching Jordain leaning forward to peer out at the stars, his little hands placed inside Wash's on the locked steering column, Zoe angled her gaze back to Adair. "More than a little like his momma too, I reckon."
Adair nodded with complete adoration. "He does love ships. Rene's father would've adored him. He's a chip off the Cariveau block."
"Where is Cariveau?" Zoe asked.
"Still asleep, hopefully." Adair breathed a long sigh of exhaustion. "I was drifting off myself until I realized I was being watched. Opened my eyes and there he was." She waved a hand vaguely in Jordain's direction. "Staring right at me."
Zoe chuckled, enjoying the image as much as Adair enjoyed the telling of it. "No getting him back to sleep?"
Adair shook her head. "Already did that once. He's slept as much as he's going to. I meant to come over before to meet Wash. That why I was over here when Mal decided to exercise a bit of his frustration on Larkin Hague's face."
"I do recall," Zoe said.
"So I thought I'd try again," Adair concluded. "One of us should be able to catch up on some sleep, right?"
"Long as you get a turn," Zoe said in agreement. Her gaze turned pensive. "I expected that we'd cross trajectory sooner or later, being in the Black. Wondered where you'd be with your life when we did."
Adair returned a long thoughtful gaze of her own and frowned before quietly asking, "Did he ever tell you?"
Zoe let her compassion for Adair cross through their still joined hands in a light squeeze of her own, wishing she didn't know what that meant. Thinking back on the days on Pacquin in basic training during those tense months right before the war, she remembered how Mal seemed to find a refuge in Adair. The two women had talked once about how Mal had a certain charisma about him--that intangible thing that made men strive to follow him. Zoe had responded as a soldier, devoted to him in the service of the cause. Adair had responded as a woman, devoted to his heart and soul. Zoe often wondered what sort of man Mal would have turned into if he had been more devoted to the woman, and less to the cause. In the end, all she could do was shake her head. "He doesn't speak of what was before, and I don't ask. No point to it when he won't answer."
Nodding slowly, the sound of Jordain's bright laughter drew her gaze back to the boy. Wash was making motor sounds through his pursed lips that sounded more like a mule than a Firefly. After a quick laugh, Adair breathed a sigh. "He did what he had to do. So did I."
"Comes down to it, that's all any of us can do," Zoe said by way of agreement. It earned her another smile and light squeeze of her hand before they separated.
"So," Adair looked around the bridge and started forward. "I don't suppose you have the luxury of an operations officer on this boat?"
"Not so far," Zoe said. She got up to stand beside Adair and watched her study the helm console. "Got us an A-Grade mechanic, though."
"So you figured how to connect both consoles over here." Adair nodded. "Same set-up we have. Rene can switch on the Ops console, though, when he needs to see what I'm doing. I don't much care to havefrettin anyone breathing down my neck when I'm trying to fly."
Finally tuning in to the conversation, Wash stopped making mule-like sounds as he glanced up at her. "Yeah, Kaylee worked it so the Zirondelle's systems show up on that side now. Anything happens on your ship, we'll know about it--say, where'd you train?"
"Persephone Aviation Academy."
Wash whistled, impressed. "Ivy league."
"My family's there," Adair said, adding a diminutive shrug. "My folks moved out to Pacquin for a few years, tried their hand at a starting a frontier franchise in the space port. They did pretty well for themselves until the war. Then they had to cut their losses, to save the rest of it. They're running a general protein supply business back on Persephone now. We were taking a shipment out to Beaumonde when the call came from Acadia. Lucky the storage pods are hermetically sealed, or we'd be out some serious coin."
"And your client won't be getting tetchy over the delay?" Wash asked. He looked up to meet Adair's gaze. "Wouldn't want any bullets exchanged or anything."
Adair smiled knowingly. "The client's an old friend of my father's. I waved him on the situation and he's willing to cut us some leeway--for a discount, of course."
"Well that's neighborly of him," Wash said.
"Haggling's a tradition where I come from," Adair said. "My father is Chinese, my mother is half Armenian--that means I'm genetically geared to find a better deal and fight for it if I have to."
"Plus you're what?" Wash turned to give her a quick and completely platonic once-over. "Five-four, five-five?"
Adair raised an eyebrow and pulled her shoulders back to gain just a bit more height. "Five-four and a half and a bit."
Wash nodded confidently. "In my experience, the less a woman has in height, the more she makes up for it in pure feistiness." Leaning back, he gave his wife his most endearing grin. "Present company excluded, of course, sweetie."
Zoe met Adair's gaze as she looked over. "You're right. He does know more than any man should about women, doesn't he?"
"Mm." Zoe was glowering down at Wash, but with a hint of a smile and a gleam in her eye that promised she would be discussing her feistiness with him again in a more private fashion.
Sensing Adair's shift of position, Zoe watched her move over to the operations station across from Wash to look down at the readings. As she folded her arms and gazed up at the stars, Zoe thought Adair seemed infinitely more relaxed on the deck of a bridge than she ever had with Mal on Pacquin.
"My family always worried about me being out here, even before I met Rene," Adair said. "It's always, 'Be careful--space is dangerous,' but I could never imagine being anywhere else."
"Yeah, me neither," Wash agreed. "So raising this little knibblet in space isn’t a problem for you?"
Adair continued stargazing as she answered. "Rene was raised on a ship. He was born on Acadia, but Cariveaus have been independent freight haulers since Earth-That-Was. Bernardo used to tell tales about ships that sailed across vast ocean-seas between continents. To hear him tell it, you'd think his ancestors had been pirates. Rene's mother was the one who made him go to school on Sihnon, to get a business degree. She was what Acadians call byen genteel, very sophisticated. I've heard some say she married beneath her."
Looking back at them, Zoe saw her gaze switch between the two of them as if coming to a conclusion, and smile.
"I couldn't take Jordain away from Zirondelle, I wouldn't want to. He belongs to the stars as much as I do, maybe all the more for being born here."
Zoe smiled down at her husband, only to find him already gazing intently up at her. Reaching up, he took the hand she had placed by habit on his shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. Seeing the spark in his eyes, Zoe could hear what he was saying without his having to speak a word.
"Oh. Looks like Cezar's back in the engine room."
Starting suddenly, as if he'd forgotten she was there, Wash looked at Adair. "Whu-huh?"
Adair pointed down at the section of the operations console that controlled the automatic seals for the hatchways. "The engine room hatch just opened."
Zoe moved to stand behind Adair and saw that the light marked for the engine room was indeed green when it should have been red. She looked over at Wash. "Captain ordered everyone off that side."
Adair frowned. "Then who's over there?"
* * *
"Mal, really, this isn't necessary, I can walk."
"Yeah but your legs are shorter than mine--it would take too long," Mal returned. He strode easily up the ramp in the passenger dorms and went right into Simon's room as the young doctor trailed along behind.
"Gently," Simon cautioned nervously. "Captain--be careful. Please?"
"Quit your frettin', Doc. I am aware this is not a sack of potatoes I'm carryin'."
"Your regard is so overwhelming," Inara said dispassionately.
"Zhùzuî ni ," Mal replied. He waited for Simon to go first and turn the bed down. "You're the patient, dong ma? You don't get any kind of say. Isn't that right, Doctor?"
"Generally I would say it would depend on the condition of the patient and ability to consent. But in this case?" Simon straightened up and looked at both of them. Seeing two brands of stalwart determination, he decided to side with the wiser version. "No. You don't."
Inara sighed and rolled her eyes. "Xing ." She looked at Mal. "Could you at least put me down now?"
"Reckon I should at that," Mal agreed. Looking at her, he thought of the moment on the catwalk when he found her bleeding and felt his heart stop. Meeting her fathomless eyes, he tried to think back on a time when one person's presence made such a difference and found himself at a loss. Not even with Adair had he shared such a precious connection that held fast in the face of every pithy insult they tossed at each other. Truly a thing of wonder.
Mal took the greatest care in putting her down on the dormitory bunk. The mattress was sound, but the simple cotton sheets were bound to feel rough compared to Inara's normal bedroom accoutrements. The flannel nightgown was something of a change too. If those severe creases were anything to go by, it was probably something Kaylee's momma sent along to keep her baby warm in space only to spend the subsequent years folded up and forgotten in a drawer. The china blue suited her, but the tiny white flowers were a bit ludicrous. Made her look more girlish than companion-like, even disarmed her a bit. Mal drew the covers up too before she could object, figured the least he could do was tuck her in.
"Xei-xie." Inara sharply took the covers herself to finish, pulling them up under her chin as if she'd caught him looking at her stark naked.
Raising his hands, Mal stepped back. "Just all part of the service, ma'am," he said, trying to sound as flippant as he could. Catching bewilderment behind that imperiously indignant air, Mal tossed her his cocky smile as well before he turned and left, sliding the door shut behind him.
As he tried to set aside the idea that one woman could fold herself into his heart so easily, Mal headed down the ramp and took a right toward the common area steps. He took them two at a time to head up, hoping Doriane Faure was still in the kitchen and that folks had settled somewhat. Hearing footsteps on the stairs coming down, he looked up and found himself staring not at Faure, but none other than her newly wed mister, Larkin Hague. Mal felt his hackles go up again, just to look at him.
Hague stared back the way Mal had seen a cat do when it was caught by surprise. He seemed indecisive about his next move; go down and risk getting a shiner that matched the one he already had, or turn around and head back up, yellow streak showing all the way. Ultimately, Mal had to hide his own surprise when Hague hesitantly continued down the stairs.
"Hague." Standing still as stone with one hand resting on the railing, Mal knew he was blocking the entire passage way and didn't care a bit. "I believe I said I'd kill you if I ever saw you again."
For his part, Hague wasn't stupid enough to get too close and stopped once he was six steps above the landing. "I'd have to say I wouldn't blame you if you did, but I got cause now to wish you wouldn't."
Mal gave him his best sardonic smile. "Yeah, and how is it a chûn xiâo liúmáng could manage to get himself hitched to a girl like Doriane Faure? Don't the Acadians have rules about their women marrying yige angzang danxiaogui such as yourself?"
Hague's mouth pressed into a thin line and his right hand clenched and unclenched. He already knew he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell against Mal's more practiced ability to beat the tar out of him, but it was something of a surprise to see that he might consider trying his luck. Could be that folks could change after all, if only to get more lame-brained.
"She asked me to marry her, not that it's any of your never mind," Hague said. "You ever try talking an Acadian woman out of something she wants? The Battle of Du-Khang was a gorram clam bake by comparison."
"Seeing as how you had a hand in how that turned out, you should know more than a little about that," Mal retorted. "I reckon the Feds never did figure out you were working both sides, or we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?"
Hague surprised him by showing a flash of annoyance. "The Feds weren't as smart as you--or should I say, as smart as Zoe. She must have been the one who worked it out."
"Well, you know what they say about feminine intuition. The new Mrs. Hague must be a little short in that department to give you more than a second look."
"Not for my lack of trying," Hague replied.
Mal frowned. "You told her? All of it?"
"Had to, it was my last resort. Hell, she's a browncoat through and through--I figured she'd shoot me herself, put us both out of our misery. Then she had to go and say she already suspected as much and didn't care. I mean what the hell is a fella supposed to do when a woman like that tells you she believes in you?"
What would I do if Inara said that to me? Mal shifted uncomfortably as the thought struck him and he had to work to shove that notion aside. He knew what she thought of him already...didn't he?
"Next thing I knew, we were married," Hague went on. "I been still trying to figure out how to make her see reason, only now she told me she's pregnant and whatever you think of me, I ain't the kind of fella who goes leaving a woman carrying my child."
Never mind that Hague was so blindly in love with Doriane that he couldn't leave her even if he wanted to. The evidence was in his eyes, his demeanor--basically crawling all over him. The fact that Mal envied him for it didn't exactly improve his mood. "I don't know as I'd take a chance on letting some helpless soul get raised by you, but I guess I can hang on to the bullet I've been saving, for the mother's sake anyhow."
Hague sneered. "Thanks, Reynolds. You're all heart."
"Yeah, I got folks telling me that left and right. Listen, you know everyone who worked the Sayabec fuel station, right?"
Startled by the abrupt change in subject, Hague blinked first. "Yeah, sure I do. I was foreman for the past four years. A lot of them are like family to Doriane--why?"
Mal took out the locket, opened it and held it up. "You ever seen this fella?"
Scowling, Hague moved down two steps, his eyes never leaving Mal's face. When Hague focused on the picture, Mal was sure there was a spark of recognition, but the chûnrén decided to counter with a query of his own. "I heard Cariveau received some news a bit ago that set you both running." He looked right at him. "You even had a good ten-meter lead. Interesting thing, seeing captains run off like their tails caught fire--makes folks a might uneasy."
It seemed Hague had acquired some guts in the time since they last saw each other. Mal decided to humor him. "It's a given you heard what happened to Cariveau's first officer."
"We heard. Siobhan says he's on the mend."
"So far. Unfortunately, one of my crew is also in our doctor's care under similar circumstances. So I figure we got someone on board that needs dealing with before the doctor is busier than he's got any need to be."
Hague gave him a thoughtful look before nodding toward the locket. "And this is your suspect?"
"He is now."
"Then the man you need to speak to is Cezar Garzon," Hague declared.
"And what would that old space monkey have to do with this fella?"
Hague folded arms in a way that was more thoughtful than defensive. "Cezar and the Archon were pretty tight--grew up together. About five years ago, Cezar came for a private meeting and after cigars and brandy in the library, I was told to put some dāì ruò mù jī chûnrén into technician training."
"Hold on--an Archon and a Cajun mechanic? How exactly does that happen?"
Hague shrugged. "It's an Acadian thing. Doriane says the Cadie gentility is never too far removed from their frè Kreyol or brother Cajun. Her mother was Cajun, and her aunt, the Archon's sister, married Bernardo Cariveau who was about as bottom-of-the-pot Cajun as it gets. So when they say Cadies look out for their own, I reckon you get the full meaning?"
"That I surely do. Beings you married a Cadie yourself, you fall under that same creed do you?"
"Comes with the ring," Hague replied, holding up his left hand to show off a heavy band of shiny platinum. Doriane Faure knew how to mark her man.
"Right. Well, much like you and that woman of yours, I got my own to look after--so does Cariveau, in point of fact, and right now he and I both got fairly undesirable ties to this fella, who's been causing more than his fair share of strife. Plus, I got other information just now that says this same fella may have been hiding out in Sayabec as one of your technicians. Now unless you want some of your own keeping company with Cariveau's first mate in my infirmary, you best share some of your own insight. Dong ma?"
Hague stared back at him, clearly determined to hold his own. He had a look in his eye that gave Mal the impression that he fully expected to have the information beaten out of him and he was even prepared to take that if he had to.
"Mal, it's Wash."
Reaching back, Mal unhooked the hand comm from his belt. He kept a watchful eye on Hague as he switched it on. "Mal--go."
"There's movement on the other side. Someone's just opened the hatch to the engine room."
Mal gave Hague a hard look, daring him to say he had some idea what was going on. Hague remained silent and simply stared blithely back. Mal decided it was a shame he couldn't shoot him out of pure principal. It might have made him feel better. Instead, he spoke into the hand comm. "Zoe with you?"
Wash's voice switched to Zoe's. "Zhè, dà ge."
"Get Jayne and meet me at the airlock, heavy on arms. Dong ma?"
Mal glared up at Hague. "You meet me at the airlock too, absolutely no arms. I so much as smell gunmetal on you, I will shoot you."
Climbing up the steps, and just to satisfy his need to do the younger man a harm, Mal plowed his shoulder solidly into Hauge's, hearing Hague's grunt of pain with some fiendish satisfaction.
"The hell do you need me for?" Hague called after him.
"You're my hound dog, Larkin," Mal called back. He kept on climbing. "If we find our fella on the other side, you get to identify him before I shoot him."
He stopped and looked down to meet Hague's gaze.
"Dupris," he said reluctantly. "He's going by the name Mataeo Dupris."
Mal nodded his thanks and turned to continue. He had to get armed and get moving. The last thing he expected was to see Adair standing on his very own bridge.
Seeing her stopped him dead in his tracks. No fancy lady to be certain, but something of a peculiarity on a planet like Pacquin. Dressed like a spacer, she walked like a queen. The light caught her hair just so, and gleamed when she tossed it out of her face after the wind decided to have its way with it. She was tucking the last errant strand behind her ear when she looked up and their eyes met. Mal felt his heart stop in that instant and the power of speech left him wanting. He actually let her get by.
She was the one who stopped. Setting her weight on one hip, she paused, then turned to look over her shoulder at him. Her dark eyes moved slowly, taking him in from his boots to his hair and returning to his eyes. Whatever it was she saw must have pleased her, and by all that was holy if she didn't have a smile that would make angels weep to see it.
"You off duty, soldier?"
He'd forgotten he was in uniform, but then he'd only had it for six weeks. What was six weeks when he'd just met the woman he was going to spend a lifetime with?
Their gazes met briefly and she said a few quick words to Wash before leaving to come down the stairs, directly toward him. Wash leaned out to watch her go, until a small voice raised in a delighted squeal turned his attention forward again. Apparently Adair's son was up there as well.
"Mal." She always added an extra half-syllable to his name, drawing it out. Inara did it the same way when she wanted to get his attention. "We need to talk."
Mal shook his head and skirted her approach to head for his quarters. Anything to keep from meeting her eyes up close again. "Got no time for talking right now."
"Then when?" she asked.
He pushed the hatch open and started down without looking at her. "Soon as I know, I'll tell you."
His feet barely touched the deck before he went to the footlocker at the end of his bed. Opening it, he pulled out his gun belt and fastened it in customary position around his hips. Drawing the pistol, he loaded the magazine with quick efficiency, re-holstered it and grabbed the semi-automatic and a single clip out of the footlocker before he felt someone behind him and turned.
Adair was standing right there with her arms folded, glaring up at him. She wasn't the kind of woman to take flippant answers and he should have known better than to toss one her way. This time their eyes did meet, just as they had that first time eight years ago, and then a second time only a few hours ago on Zirondelle’s bridge.
"Adair, I have a situation that needs sorting out," Mal said.
"So do we."
“Well, it can’t be right now.”
“Then when, Mal?” she asked again.
Since she was being so obstinate, Mal reciprocated in kind. “When I can call up your boy’s father and tell him none of his or mine will be bleeding out in my infirmary, that’s when.”
Adair was giving no quarter. "I thought that since we'll have to co-exist for the time it takes to get us to Beaumonde, you might want to get this out of the way, but if you’d rather drag this out longer than it has to be--"
"Look.” Mal drew in close to her, lowering his voice to a level that used to predicate killing. “I let him have you, didn't I? What the hell more do you want from me?"
She stared back at him, startled but not about to be dissuaded or baited by his temper despite the fire in her sultry eyes. Her voice lowered as well, although the tone was at least twelve times gentler. "I don't want anything from you. I thought maybe you might want something from me along the lines of an explanation. Could be I was wrong, but if you change your mind, you know where I'll be."
Adair turned her back on him then, climbed the ladder and was gone.
Dear Mal... This isn't what you want to hear...
Mal swallowed hard, seeing the letter in his mind as he had for weeks after he burned it. Maybe he didn't want to hear what she had to say, but something was telling him that he should. First things first. Tucking the semi-automatic into his belt, he lifted the shotgun out of his footlocker.
"Time to finish this."
He slammed the lid shut with one foot.
* * *
"How in nine hells did you know my mother?" Ellis made to sit up, trying for a more eye-to-eye vantage with the Shepherd, only to have his stomach wound pin him down right where he was. He groaned, closing his eyes tight against the pain and holding a hand to the bandage. "Fils de putain ce maux."
"Best you just lie still, son. The doctor will be back shortly."
"Yeah." Lying back, Ellis concentrated on his breathing for a bit before he opened his eyes again. "Lemme try asking that in a more civilized manner."
"How did I know Isadore?" Book asked. At Ellis' slow nod, Book breathed a sigh of his own. "It was a lot of years ago on Veritas. She was a...um...well I guess you would call her..."
"She was a whore, Shepherd," Ellis said. His gaze remained steady on the Shepherd's face, not so much as blinking. "She dressed fine, grappled with the high-brows from the plant and charged them for the privilege. Sure wasn't no fancy sort like a companion, but she took care of herself. A 'course it ain't never a hundred percent foolproof, now is it?"
Book frowned, somewhat surprised by Ellis' matter-of-fact description of his mother's chosen profession. "Oftentimes a woman in her profession can take further steps to, shall we say, take care of an embarrassing condition?"
"Yeah, she could've done that pretty easy too, since she had the money and all. Thing is, by the time it happened, she'd already grown weary of the work." Realizing he was rambling again, Ellis stopped and contemplated the Shepherd for a moment. "So, you weren't always a Shepherd?"
Book smiled genially. "No man is born a shepherd," he pointed out. "Moved around some in my youth, saw a bit of the 'verse, such as it was. I actually met Isadore in the marketplace near the plant. We tried to buy the same ginger root. I was supposed to bring it back for the cook, and she was preparing a meal for the local Archon. Since she deemed my need was greater, she let me take it."
Looking down at the hand Ellis still had resting on his abdomen. Seeing the criss-crossed scars Book thought of his own collection, both physical and otherwise, and nodded. "It wasn't until I went to call on Isadore that I found out what she...what her occupation was. I got to her quarters just in time duck under cover as my unit commander was leaving. I heard him say something like, 'same time next week.' Doesn't really take a very intelligent man to determine what that meant."
"No, I imagine it didn't."
"But Isadore, she was one of a kind," Book went on. "The kind of beauty that would launch entire armadas to war on ancient Earth. You're doing her a disservice, I think, to use such coarse language to describe her. Under different circumstances, I believe she would have found a place as a companion. Had she been born closer to the core, I have no doubt she would have been accepted to the academy."
Looking at Ellis again, he added. "Then again, it's probably a good thing she wasn't, or it's likely you would never have been born."
Ellis had to agree. "Byen vrè , Shepherd." Clearing his throat a bit, he angled his eyes at Book and came up with a way to ask. "So. You and her. You never..."
Book nodded, and lowered his voice further. "We did. I arranged my time so I could visit her without anyone else being the wiser." He smiled slowly, savoring a sweet memory even as regret clouded his eyes. "She was irresistible. A true treasure."
Book took a long breath before he went on. Confession was indeed good for the soul, but knowing that sure didn't make the act of it any easier. "We had already left for the seventh moon when she waved to tell me she was leaving Veritas. I had left some things with her and she advised me they were in storage. That was the last I heard of her."
The two men stared at each other for a moment before Ellis chose to speak.
"She went to Ariel," he said. "The fourth moon. There's an Abbey there called Bathgate. Had a reputable midwife and all, no questions asked. She left me in the orphanage there. Sent money back from time to time. Then that stopped too. I ain't heard from her in a lot of years myself."
Book was frowning with what he hoped was considerable interest. What Ellis had just told him matched the records he had found about Isadore's arrival and departure. Any and all children's records, however, were permanently sealed according to Shepherd law. The nuns could only confirm that there had been a child, but were prohibited from revealing anything more. "How did you end up with Zirondelle?"
"Got fed up with the Abbey, so I went looking for work when I was fifteen. Rene's father had a help-wanted ad out for a cargo specialist and I answered it." He smiled sardonically. "Maudit if I wasn't the cockiest sonuvabitch, moon-size chip on my shoulder too. Didn't know I was working with the captain's own son till I pissed him off enough for him to punch me. Never heard anybody speak Cajun before, let alone swear in it. Next thing I knew though, I was doing it like I'd been raised to it. I knew Cadie was in my blood, but never thought about it until then."
Ellis rolled his eyes. "Maudit." Taking a long breath, he shook his head and rubbed his eyes with the heels of both hands. "Meds that doc's got me on--I can't seem to stop running on at the mouth."
"You don't know what happened to your mother?" Book asked softly.
"Nah. Figure she's either dead or found a shiny new life that don't include a sishengzi erzi." Wrapping his arms carefully around his chest, he gave Book a half-hearted smile. "Doing fine without her. Got a family of my own now, a home-place. Be willing to bet none of the others I grew up with got to leave that moon, let alone be a first officer on a cargo ship."
Running a hand upward along his right arm, he rubbed the scar on his shoulder. Ellis' gaze became apprehensive. "So long as I don't get spaced for deserting service that wasn't my idea in the first place."
"He'll forgive you," Book said.
Ellis looked at him again. "You sound pretty sure about a fella you only just met about eight hours ago."
Book smiled confidently. "I am familiar with the type. Captain Cariveau is a man of compassion, and compassion leads itself down the road to forgiveness. He may need some time, but I believe he'll come around."
"Yeah." Ellis allowed a smile, and seemed to have made up his mind. "What do they call you, Shepherd?"
"Book, the name's Book. But you know it's an interesting thing."
Book felt the frown carve into his brow, pensive now rather than the harbinger of anger it had been in his youth. "Isadore got me to talking once about my father. Angry man, faithless for the most part. Used to take his useless frustrations out on my mother, nearly to death one time. Tried to beat the best out of me a time or two so when I was old enough and big enough, I got him out of that house. Told him if I ever laid eyes on him again, I'd kill him."
"Sounds as though you had a fair share of anger yourself, Shepherd."
"That I did," Book agreed. He'd been looking down at Ellis' hands again, wondering over those scars and pondering the similarities. "So it's interesting to me that she would call you Ellis since that was my father's name."
The two men shared a look. Then Ellis raised his hand and Book took it instantly. More than a handshake, it was a bond formed between men. Book decided that whether this boy was his blood or not didn't matter so much as the idea that Isadore's son had a good soul, as yet untouched by darkness. Truly a rare thing in the tumultuous upheaval that was life in the 'verse, as he was very much aware. "You wouldn't mind if I said a prayer for your mother?"
Ellis smiled warmly. "I'd take that as a kindness." He nodded once. "Mersi to , Book."
Book covered their joined hands, bowed his head and began. As Ellis' fingers tightened in a solid grip, Book felt his heart swell with pride.
* * *
He likes to play hide and seek. It's why they chose him. He's not afraid of the dark. He sees what others don't. Knows how to be invisible.
River walked barefoot down the long passageway along the Zirondelle's cargo section, feeling the distant vibration from Serenity through the deck grating. Everyone was over there on the warmer side of the two ships, resting, loving, living.
But not him. He's here. Hiding. Waiting.
Seeing the door to the engine room standing wide open at the end of the hall, River grinned. "Come out, come out wherever you are."
He went where the voices told him to. The voices were always right. Right about the war...right about two-face Ellis...right about the fancy lady. No one would find him now. No one.
River wasn't even aware she had begun thinking in Cajun.
continued in Part 7
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