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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
Another day in Deadwood. In which you will find tea, toddlers and tension.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 984 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mal watches River consume another plate of dian xin. For a skinny thing, she can sure eat.
Long’s had not been hard to find. The house fronted onto the street, the room beyond already crowded with folk at the small tables. The roof is of a design old on Earth-That-Was, but the eaves of the pagoda are not wood, but curved metal, reclaimed spars from some old craft, strung about with lights. River had greeted the waiter with impeccable and formal ritual, and instead of ending up near the kitchens, they have a table out back, overlooking the courtyard, with its small carp pond. Mal ain’t used to spending ten minutes deciding on tea, either, but this is River’s evening out, and when he sees her small face so serious, yet somehow alight, he ain’t gonna snuff that flame. Never had a blend called ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy‘, neither - makes him think of Zoe. River smiles sadly at him.
“She is going to bathe, and cry a little, then drink a bottle of wine to his memory, and tonight, she will sleep peacefully.”
“You know too much, li’l albatross.” He sighs. “She gonna be okay?”
“One day. Takes time to heal.” It’s an adult look on her child’s face. “Tomorrow, she will strap on her armour again, but tonight, she is the widow, not the warrior.”
“An’ it’s my fault.” Words slip out.
“No. Wash chose to fly.” Hand touches his. “We all did, once we saw the stars.”
“You love to fly, don’t you?”
“Best dance in the whole ‘Verse.” She assures him, knows his worry. “Can catch your fish for you.”
“Let’s not think on that no more this evenin’. I want some of them rice pastries afore you eat the lot. Don’t want a chubby pilot weighin‘ my ship down.”
Her look of indignation is rather marred by the sugar on her chin. He reaches out a finger, wipes it away before he thinks.
From the kitchens, eyes watch them.
“Hmph. I tell you, that is not his daughter.”
“No.” The other waitress sighs. “Lucky girl. He is so shuai.”
“Sad eyes.” The first girl peers again. “But a smile to break hearts.”
“And such a cute pi gu.”
They giggle, until Long himself comes into the kitchens and chases them back to work.
“She ain’t what we’d expect you to be bringin’ home.” Terrell Paulding smirks at his cousin. “More brains an’ less tits.”
Jayne reaches out a none-too-gentle hand, but Mattie, an arm’s length nearer, punches his cousin first.
“You mind your mouth ‘bout kin.”
“You done married her?” Terrell’s face changes comically. “Gorram, I’m sorry, Jayne.”
“Dunno why folks is so surprised.” Jayne grumbles. “Man gets to a certain age, he starts to think on settlin’.”
“’Sides,” Mattie grins, “She’s the ship’s cook, Ter.”
There’s a swing seat one end of the back porch. Ilargia, escaping, as she thinks, from the rather overwhelmingly domestic conversations, sits down there, whereupon a small child climbs up into her lap and introduces itself, rather incoherently. Jayne watches, rather relieved that she don’t seem to be clucking too much over the little ones. In fact, the face she turns to him is rather desperate.
“I don’t know who it belongs to.”
“Reckon it’s one of Loretta’s brood.” Jayne stuffs it carelessly under one arm, eliciting shrieks of delight. “Gorram, it’s sticky.”
“Which one’s Loretta? Wait, is she the middle one of your Uncle Franklin’s kids?”
“I can’t keep ‘em all straight.” Jayne has good reason to know which one Loretta is, but he ain’t too keen on ‘xplaining that to Larji. Puts the squirming bundle down, punts it in the direction of other folks. “You see that nice lady in the pink gown? Reckon she might have some sweeties for you.”
“Oh, that was cruel.” Ilargia watches the toddler launch itself at Emmie-Lou.
“Yeah.” Jayne grins. “Em’s bin sittin’ there, niggling at Jo all evenin’. She’s so keen on kids, thought she might like a real one to deal on.” He sits down on the seat, gets comfy. Ilargia pulls her feet up, curls against his side.
It’s a nice place to be, Jayne reckons. Just one toe on the ground, keep the seat swinging gentle-like, and an armful of wife.
“Ooh, look.” Ilargia laughs softly. “Real fireflies.”
Sunday morning. Knocking on the door, and Mattie’s voice.
“Ma says to get on up, or you’ll be late for church.”
“Church?” Ilargia mouths to Jayne. He looks vaguely guilty, and she narrows her eyes.
“Means a lot to my Ma.”
“I...” She stops. How to say it? A thousand years ago, your kind of people burnt my kind of people? Perhaps not the best time to bring it up. She sighs. “I’d better wear my new skirt, hadn’t I?”
She’s surprised at herself. Conciliation is not usually in her nature. But neither can she find it in her to be rude to her hosts. Gives her a slightly twitchy feeling, though. Like losing bits of herself. And she remembers this feeling all too well, the snake of fear uncoiling in her gut. The moment passes too quickly to grasp; Jayne is already heading for the bathroom, leaves her sitting there, suddenly a little lost.
Years roll back for Jayne. The same walk down the same dusty street, same church. Company built the school, the store, the hospital, but this is theirs, the Settlers’. Never thought to be walking back here, an’ with a wife, too.
Still Pastor Lowndes, preachin’. Smaller and greyer, but as hell-fire fierce as when he called on God to witness seven-year-old Jayne Cobb pinchin’ his baby brother during the service.
Ilargia doesn’t like churches. They always give her an uncomfortable sensation of being watched (and probably disapproved of.). Here, the watching part at least is true. She’s not sure about the disapproval. Looks up at the ceiling. Takes her eye a moment to realise what she is seeing. The whole vault of the ceiling is a section of hull plating, girders as crossbeams. The first settlers turned their rocket into a roof.
It’s a bit of an ordeal, since she doesn’t know the responses, or the hymns, and she’s overcome with a terrible urge to giggle, an urge that fades rather under Pastor Lowndes’ steely eye. Reminds her very vividly of a teacher she once had. Something slightly surreal about sitting on the hard wooden bench, listening to someone else’s myths. Warmth against her leg is her husband, and she looks up sideways. Jayne is intent on the preacher, that little frown between his brows. She files his faith away as another surprising thing about this man she’s married. Feels small and lost, a little adrift.
Neither of them are expecting the next bit.
“And I would call upon this congregation here present to join with me in giving thanks for the safe return of one of our own, and to bless his union with a woman, who, though a stranger to us, is known unto God as one of his lambs. In the sight of the Almighty, and witnessed by us all, Jayne and Ilargia Cobb, a blessing on you, and be true to one another under the vows you have taken.”
Ilargia makes a noise rather like a mouse being trodden on.
“Kinda stuck with him now.” Mattie whispers, wickedly.
After Church, there is to be a Family Dinner. And it will be Family, with the capital ‘F’. All the Cobb siblings together around a table. Mattie sighs dramatically.
“Guess I’m the odd one out, Ma.”
“You just need to find yourself a nice girl.” She swipes him fondly. “Not one of them dancers.”
Ilargia finds herself sat between Jayne and Calhoun. He gives her a slightly froggy stare. She knows that he can’t quite make her out. He’d like to condescend to her, but doesn’t quite dare. Settles for a few stifled comments about the weather.
It’s not a comfortable meal. The Websters are clearly used to being the centre of attention, and deferred to. They can’t quite place Ilargia in their minds. Wife of the not-quite-prodigal son, and a ships’ cook, but there’s something more to her, a touch of refinement.
Tyler, allowed a glass of wine with the adults, manages to spill it, and Emmie-Lou rolls her eyes, makes some quiet comment about upbringin‘, which Ilargia doesn’t quite hear all of, but which makes Jolene flush angrily. The poor boy is scarlet to the ears, makes more of a mess trying to clean it up. Carrie shoos him up to the bathroom to change his shirt.
“Poor kid.” Ilargia means the comment for Jayne, but Calhoun jumps in.
“It’s as I was saying, you see. The young need discipline. Strong male role models in the home and community.”
“Calhoun is hoping to run for town councillor.” Emmie-Lou informs her new sister-in-law. Ilargia daren’t catch Jolene’s eye, as she nods politely. Jayne makes a small rude noise, and Emmie-Lou glares at him. “Leastways he’s doin’ something for the town, instead of running off and leaving other folks to manage.”
All the Cobbs break out at that.
“I send money back...”
“Don’t see you from one week to the next less’n it’s for a chance to swank...”
“How’s sittin’ in a meeting help to put food on the table?”
“Don’t you speak to your sister like that...”
“Enough!” Ray bangs his hand on the table. “We’re gonna have a quiet dinner, and I don’t want to hear no more bickerin’ about who got what. We all got what we been given, and we best be grateful for it. Now, pass on up the potatoes to Larji, Mattie.”
Tyler sidles back into the room, manages to sit down without pulling the cloth. Ilargia smiles at him, and he smiles timidly back. He is so much like Jayne, even down to the little frown between the eyes. Has his uncle’s sweetness, as well as his scowl. When he stops destroying everything he lays his big hands on, he’s going to be a heart-breaker.
Tyler likes his new aunt. She don’t make him feel like a big mistake. After dinner, she actually talks to him like he’s a grown-up, nothin’ about school or a lecture ‘bout being a good citizen despite his disadvantages. An’ she’s married to Uncle Jayne. He vaguely remembers the man, an’ Ma has plenty of stories about her big brother. Run off to space, and makes a livin’ protectin’ folks. Ain’t nobody kicks him about, Tyler reckons.
Ilargia, folding some of her new clothes into her little bag, finds a parcel she doesn’t recognise.
Jayne peers at it.
“Be a present from Ma. She’s prob’ly knitted you a hat.”
“Oh, that would be sweet.” Ilargia bites her lip. “Do you think she likes me, then?”
“Why wouldn’t she?” Jayne is mystified.
“Oh, nasty foreign creature stealing her beloved son. I don’t always make a good first impression. You thought I was a ‘gorram pest’ when we first met.”
“I never.” Pause. “Did I?”
“Yes. You wanted to throw me off the ship.”
“Well, I done got some sense after that.” A beat. “What’d you think of me, then?”
“Big. Scary. Sexy. My opinion didn’t change.”
“Ma likes you fine, darlin’. She done put your name in the Family Bible now, so you’d best get used to being a Cobb.”
She blinks. Such an odd gesture of acceptance.
“The...Church thing. It’s all a bit...new to me.”
“I know. Ain’t no deal, though. We was raised different, is all. Won’t do your soul no harm, a bit of spit and polish. An’ mine needs all the buffin’ it’ll stand. You got kin to take care of you now, anything happens to me.” Pause. “Pa asked if I wanted a job in the Yards.”
She goes still.
“Did you accept?”
“No.” He looks at her. “Did you want me to?”
Ilargia sits down suddenly. She’s spent a handful of days on her best behaviour, and frightened, and this is all a bit too much. She bursts into tears.
“I can’t do this, Jayne.”
“Do what?” He’s bewildered, terrified. She don’t want him no more.
“Church and babies and living here. I know you wanted to live dirtside, but I‘m too old and too different and I feel wrong...”
“Ain’t askin’ you to, bao bei.” He drops to his knees, where he can take her hands, pull them away from her face to see her eyes. “Larji, we’ll live anyplace you chose. An’ I ain’t askin’ you to do nothing but be my darlin’.” Raw panic on his face. “Just...don’t leave me, mi tao.”
“Oh, Jayne.” She burrows into his arms. Jayne holds her fiercely. This little woman has made herself the centre of his ‘Verse, an’ he gets more scared all the time.
“I know I ain’t got any book-learning for how this goes. I ain’t never bin married afore. I’m gonna do dumb things, but you gotta tell me, an’ I’ll try to fix ‘em.”
“It’s not you.” She surfaces, takes a breath. “It’s just...I went through some bad go se before, with a mother in law who didn’t like me.”
“Ma likes you fine. She’s started naggin’ me to be a better husband.” The indignation makes her giggle.
“I don’t think I could have a better husband.” Bites her lip. “Do you want to stay?”
“Bao bei, I jumped planet first time, ‘cos there’s not enough work here.” Runs a gentle thumb under her eyes. “Just wanted you to meet my folks, is all. Ma tried plannin‘ my life for me afore this, an‘ it din‘t work then.” He settles her under his chin, where she belongs. “That’s the truth of it, darlin’. I din’t go runnin’ from the law, or nothin’ romantic. I just din’t want to get married and have a passel of kids, Church on Sundays and the foreman’s job if I was real lucky. I went lookin’ for work and excitement, and I was always handy with my fists. Was always the big, dumb kid in trouble.” Chuckles. “Ain’t much changed.”
She manages a weak little laugh, wipes her eyes.
“Getting myself all wrought up over nothing again.” She burrows up comfortably. “You really don’t mind that I’m a nasty little heathen?”
“Hell, no.” She feels his deep laugh under her ear. “You’re my wicked li’l witch-woman, an’ that suits me fine.” Arms tighten around her. “Now, don’t go scarin’ me like that again.”
He sits on the bed and gathers her up in his lap.
“I reckon we ever live dirtside, we’ll go back to Hecate.” Ventures a grin. “See if that scary friend of your’n needs any muscle about the place.”
The thought of Juno and Jayne ripping up a bar together is quite enough to shake Ilargia out of her gloom. He takes advantage, finds her mouth with his.
Just sitting, curled up together, they have that feeling of being themselves again, a sense that some barrier has been crossed.
A mood broken by something buzzing irritably away.
“Something in your bag is swearing.” Ilargia laughs. “Some of your underwear finally turned feral?”
“Sounds like Mal.” Jayne reluctantly unwraps himself, ferrets around for the comm. “Time to go to work, then.”
Pretty much the whole family come down to the field to see them off, a scrum of kisses and hugs and handshakes.
Ilargia finds herself being hugged by Carrie.
“If you can’t keep him honest, you keep him alive.” The older woman wipes her eyes. “Allus expected him to come home in a box. Never thought he’d get some sense.” Turns and slaps the broad chest for emphasis. “Now, you be good to Larji, you hear me? She’s a fine girl, an’ I want you to write regular, tell me when you got news.” Then she has a little weep. Ray moves her from her sons’ chest to his, and smiles crookedly at Jayne over her head.
“Best get in the air afore your shuttle ends up floatin’.”
Jayne leans back in his chair, flicks the autopilot on.
“Reckon we just sit in orbit, wait for Serenity.”
“Just sit, huh?” She grins at him, that wicked look as turns his heart over.
“Well, now, you got somethin’ else in mind?”
“Oh, I can think of...” Ends in a squeak and a laugh, as Jayne pounces. Been a handful of days under his parents’ roof, and mighty frustrated with it. Now, they got a nice comfy shuttle, an’ time to waste.
Waltz back into the shuttle, and heading for the bed, in a fumble of clothes, when somewhere behind them, in the shadows, a figure moves. Ilargia sees a shape, screams...
Friday, July 28, 2006 5:11 AM
Friday, July 28, 2006 4:24 PM
Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:00 AM
Sunday, July 30, 2006 5:54 AM
Sunday, August 17, 2008 12:56 PM
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