Parting Gifts - Part Two
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Second verse, same as the first; a little bit louder and a little bit worse. Mal's childhood friend ingratiates herself to the crew, an answer to posed questions about Simon/Kaylee and Zoe's possible knowledge of Tess, and, as before, comments are appreciated and looked for.


Mal was humming to himself contentedly as he made his way from the passenger rooms to the bridge. Kaylee, who had taken over for Simon and River on the dishes, looked up. "You seem perky, Cap'n," she smiled. "A lot perkier than you were just now, tellin' us all to leave the passenger alone... Somethin' good happen?" "Not anything too special," he replied, still smiling. "Just seems to not be as bad as I thought." He picked up a towel and started helping her, still humming. She looked in awe as he seemed lost in his own little happy world. "Jayne didn't seem too happy before," she murmured. "Any chance your happiness could rub off on him?" "Probably not," Mal shrugged. At Kaylee's look, he added, "But we'll see what we can do. Where is everyone else?" "Zoe went up to the bridge to keep River comp'ny and Inara was here a minute ago, but took Zoe's tea up to her." "Her stomach bothering her again?" Mal asked, concerned. Mal had somehow taken to worrying about Zoe more than he had ever thought possible. Zoe had always been...well...Zoe. She had taken care of things. Now, she needed care of her own. It had thrown him into foreign territory. Well, a new foreign territory. "Just a little, she said," Kaylee replied. "But the tea helps. And 'nara's helping her a lot. She knows a lot about this, I guess." "I guess." They continued putting away dishes as Inara entered the room. Seeing Mal in a seemingly better mood, she smiled. "How is the passenger?" she asked carefully. Mal looked up. "She's awake and back to her old self again," he smiled. "In no time at all, she'll be wandering about tellin' stories, just you watch." "Is it permitted to ask who this passenger is?" Inara asked, noting how Mal had smiled just a little more when he spoke of the woman in the passenger bunk. "She's an old friend from long ago," Mal said cryptically. He still hadn't looked up to see the effort Inara was putting into maintaining her usual calm exterior. "Oh?" she asked as nonchalantly as she could. He looked up. He saw. "Another friend from the war?" Kaylee asked. Mal shook his head. "No, she never joined up. Said she had to take care of her daddy." He put down the towel and went in the direction of the bridge. "Well, shiny," Kaylee said, trying to remain positive. "An old friend of the cap'n's on ship and stories promised...might be exciting. Doncha think so?" Inara, her gaze passive, nodded. She smiled for Kaylee. "I believe stories were promised. It should prove...interesting." She glanced in the direction of Mal's retreat and left Kaylee for her own shuttle. If she happened to pass by the mysterious passenger, then so be it, she said to herself. She met the doctor coming out...followed by a small slip of a woman with fair hair and large green eyes. Simon turned and smiled at the woman. "It was wonderful meeting you," he said shyly. "And if there's anything I can do for you..." "No need," she smiled back. Her eyes were bright as she waved his offer off. "I've done all I can with what I have. But remind me and I'll be sure to send you those books." Simon nodded and, still smiling, passed Inara. The woman turned to Inara. "Where can a girl get a bite to eat?" she asked. "I'm near falling over from hunger." "The kitchen is back there...why don't I take you?" she offered. "My name is Inara. You are?" "Oh, sorry, my manners!" she was smiling. "I'm Tessa Ban. I grew up following Mal Reynolds around his mother's ranch and I have plenty of embarrassing stories about him." Inara smiled back warmly. "Then I'm sure we'll get along just fine." * * * Mal and River had been flying in companionable silence for some time when River turned to Mal and said, in her usual manner, "You're going to want to go back there, now." Mal, jolted out of his calm reverie, looked at his co-pilot and nodded. He stretched as he stood and made his way to the kitchen, where the most frightening sound an outnumbered man can hear washed over him: women laughing. Most probably at his expense. He braced himself as he entered. Zoe was finishing the story...he knew all too well. His shoulders slumped. "And the first words he said as he came out of it was 'Is it Christmas?'" Kaylee, Inara, Zoe and, yes, even Tess were all exploding with laughter as they caught sight of him. At least Inara, Kaylee and Zoe had the sense to try to stop laughing when they saw him. Tess only laughed harder. "I would like to point out that she was naked and rather...good at what she did...and..." he gave up. Tess was laughing too hard to hear him. But he knew how to play. "Did Baby Girl here tell y'all about the time she tried to seduce her dance teacher?" Tess's jaw dropped in mortified embarrassment. "You swore you would NEVER tell that story!" she accused. "I have it on the best authority that the dance teacher was twice her age, married and quit the very next day." "Mal's first kiss was with the girl who walked with a limp!" Tess proclaimed. "She was not!" Mal insisted. "Was so!" Tess shot back. "Well, then, you have got one amazing way of covering that limp of yours!" he snapped. Tess blinked. She appeared to think. "Oh, that's right, it was his first true love. She did walk with a limp. You have to admit." Tess's eyes were filled with laughter. Mal looked at his crew, who now were quietly observing the unfolding of his life back on Shadow. He shut his mouth and smiled. "I will have you know she was a very sweet girl and the limp was not terribly noticable," he muttered. He made his way to the coffee, knowing Tess was miming the limp that had been quite pronounced behind his back. He turned around to see Tess stop and place her hands in her lap primly. "Where is your wife now?" she asked sweetly. Based on the sudden interest in the floor, Mal guessed his loyal and ever-faithful crew had already told his childhood friend where Saffron - or Yolanda or Bridget or whatever she was calling herself now - was. "Where is your husband?" he asked in return. When she didn't respond, he continued in a softer tone. "You said we would talk later. I still want to know why you were looking for me." She blinked at him for a moment, then turned to Kaylee. "You never finished telling me what happened with that fancy party he brought you to. Do you still have the dress? I'd love to see it." Kaylee looked to the captain, then the passenger, and smiled. "I still got the dress, but I think right now I have somethin' I need to be gettin' to in the engine room. We'll finish up later. Or Inara could tell ya. She was witness to more'n I saw..." Kaylee got up and squeezed Tess's hand as she made her way to the engine room. "I, too, have things I need to tend to," Inara said warmly, getting up and absent-mindedly patting Tess's head. "We'll finish filling you in later." She, like Kaylee, refused to look Mal in the eye as she made her way out of the main room. Tess turned to Mal and stuck her tongue out at him. "You've gone and scared them away," she complained. Mal looked to Zoe. Zoe looked back blankly. "I'm eight months pregnant and comfortably reclined. If you want to have a private conversation, you are going to have to have it somewhere else, sir." Mal nodded as he walked to Tess's chair. She looked up at him petulantly. "Don't you want me to learn all about what you've done since you left us all those years ago?" "Not particularly," he answered. "And I don't think you need to be teaching them about all those years ago, either." "Oh, but you were such a cute child!" she proclaimed. Zoe's smile was barely controlled as she focused very hard on not paying attention. Mal tried very hard to not notice. He gestured for Tess to follow him to the shuttle bay. She ignored him. "You remember that time we went swimmin' and I made you get out first 'cause I told you I thought there were summa the ranch hands waitin' for me to get out?" "Baby Girl, if you do not get up soon, I promise you we will leave here and you will be uncomfortable." He tried to look intimidating. It was rather difficult to accomplish with Zoe covering her smile and looking away. Her shoulders were shaking from the silent laughter, too. "Are you threatening me, Malcolm Reynolds?" Tess asked, the picture of innocence. Mal leaned down to whisper in her ear. "If I remember rightly," he said meaningfully, "And I think I do, it isn't the first time I've threatened you with none-too-idle threats. Remember your eleventh birthday?" Her eyes widened. She looked at him meaningfully as she stood haughtily and sashayed past him. She turned at the door and addressed Zoe. "I was a very good little girl until I met Mal," she announced. "So was I," Zoe responded, her face void of any emotion. "He is a bad influence, isn't he?" "You met me when you were just barely walkin', don't try to make me out to--" he turned to Zoe, suddenly. "And you! You can't blame me for..." He sighed, defeated. He looked at Tess and shook his head. "Not ten minutes on board my ship and already you hijack my crew." "I can't help it if you're not well-liked," she teased. "No one asked you to become a mean, old man." "Forward, Mrs. Ban," he ordered. She curtsied and followed his order. He looked to Zoe for sympathy. "She's right, sir," she admitted, still controlling the laughter that was bubbling up inside her. "No one asked you to become a mean, old man." Mal, knowing when to retreat, followed Tess with a shake of his head. He was not terribly surprised to hear Zoe's laughter follow him. But, he thought sadly, she should laugh more. Wash wouldn't have wanted sadness to follow her. Maybe Tess's presence on ship would be a good thing for the others...even if it was mostly at his expense. Tess was waiting for him in the shuttle bay, sitting on one of the staircases. She looked tired, he realized, with her head leaned against the railing and her eyes closed...he could see the shadows in her face where moments ago, there had been exuberant mischief. He started in immediately, hoping to let her think he hadn't seen what the years had done to her. "A captain needs his crew's respect," he insisted. "You goin' around, tellin' them tales about naked swimming pranks and first loves that were slightly misguided and where does that leave me? And you know you were the first kiss, we planned it out for weeks before you finally let me!" She sat up straight, her exhaustion fading into the mischievous grin he grew up knowing. Her eyes danced with impish delight as she stood and placed her hands on her hips. "I knew I was your first kiss, I just wanted to see if you even remembered!" she shot back. "And as for respectin' a captain, tellin' them tales of tricks we played on each other and the world in general only lets 'em know who trained you to be so underhanded and obnoxious as you are!" "Underhanded and obnoxious?" he repeated. "Yeah, y'are that on occasion. Course, with you, every moment is an occasion, but who am I to say such things?" She smiled at him and sat back down on the steps. "Come sit with me," she offered. "We'll take a break from catching up on the arguments." "Fair," he admitted, relaxing. "So, Mrs. Ban?" "You still don't recognize the name, do you?" she asked softly. He thought for a moment; it had sounded familiar, but it was a common name... "I married Barnaby's nephew from Sihnon," she finally admitted. His jaw dropped in surprise. He looked at her again, to see if she was lying. She wasn't...or he couldn't remember all her tells. He closed his mouth. "Percy wasn't as awful as we thought," she sighed. "I mean, he couldn't ride bareback and he cringed every time I did, but he could be very sweet and extremely stubborn. And he cared for me. He really did. He tried to protect me from a lot, but in the end...well..." She sighed. "Percy?" Mal repeated. He still couldn't quite believe it. "Percy Ban who wore silk shirts to the ranch and wouldn't get within spitting distance of a horse? Percy Ban who we called the Core Bore?" "The very same," Tess smiled. "Turns out he wasn't so boring after all. And I guess he really was sweet on me. You were right about that." "How did that happen?" Mal laughed. "I mean, I leave for..." "A long time," Tess supplied. "A long time and I didn't hear a thing from you for...too long. I started goin' to see your mother just to see if I could get more information from her. And then there was the trouble there..." She shuddered. Mal took her hand. "I heard," he answered softly. "I couldn't do anything with everything going on and..." "You remember your mother's locket?" she asked, her eyes still gazing at his boots. "Yeah," he smiled at the memory. Tess moved her free hand to her neck...and removed the chain. "She gave it to me," Tess whispered. "She said if anyone would see you again to give it you, I'd be the most stubborn brat to do so." "She always did have a soft spot for you," he said gruffly, accepting the locket. He held it in his hand a moment, noticing how small it felt and how warm. "This is why you were lookin' for me?" "Partly," she admitted. "I did want to see you again, too. Y'know. Just to continue tutorin' you in bein' overly obnoxious." "Y'know, I was needin' the tutor," he said, trying to sound light. "Things were gettin' too familiar-like around here." Tess put her head on his shoulder, the way they used to sit at the end of a long day - although, they were usually waiting punishment in those times - and sighed. He held the locket out to her. "You should keep it," he said. "Tain't no one else I know could use or appreciate the value of it. 'Sides, she'd want you to have it." "She wanted you to give it to the woman you love," Tess insisted, pushing it back to him. "You know that." She saw his eyes flicker towards Inara's shuttle before returning to the item in hand. A small tarnished gold locket in the shape of a heart. His father had given it to his mother. His mother had meant to give it to Mal, for his love. It was how it passed from generation to generation. "I won't take it back," Tess stated. "So you'll just have to hold on to it. Any woman worthy of your love would come after me, soon as she learned of it, if I did take it. And I'm no match for a fight anymore." He put his arm around her shoulders and noticed how frail she felt. "I won't fight you on this, then," he whispered. He closed his hand over the locket and let her lean on him. * * * Simon was listening to Kaylee re-tell the few things Tess had told about growing up in Mal's company when Jayne came into the engine room. "Any o'you seen the cap'n?" he asked gruffly. "I think he's still in the shuttle bay with Tess," Simon offered. "Naw, he ain't," Jayne answered. "I just bin there." "Oh, well, maybe he's in the kitchen or somethin,'" Kaylee suggested. "Naw, he ain't," Jayne replied harshly. "I'da seen him when I was comin' in here." "Did you try the bridge?" Simon asked. "Why would I come in here," Jayne growled. "Askin' if you've seen him if he's in all these places I already checked?" "Well, he couldn't have gone far," Kaylee responded. "It's not that big of a ship." "He said he wanted to speak with her privately," Simon explained. "Maybe they went to her room." "Yeah, well, I'll just go check there," Jayne responded begrudgingly. As he left, Kaylee looked at Simon meaningfully. "You know they ain't in her room," she accused. Simon could only shrug in response. He had seen them go into the second shuttle, telling each other stories as they went, and he could only figure they simply wanted to catch up in private. Tess, for all the bluster she was, really had kept Mal's secrets even when telling the bawdy stories to the others. She had shown Simon when he treated her that she kept her secrets hidden under a facade of a talkative exterior. She told stories about people he never knew - stories where Mal figured in somewhere, usually just to pull her out of serious trouble - and he felt he was just being distracted by the stories she told. But he went along with it...her stories had been quite fascinating. "But what if we need Cap'n for any some such?" Kaylee asked, putting aside the various parts she had been organizing. She looked him full in the face. "River can always find him," Simon answered simply. Kaylee got to her feet and looked down at the man she had grown to love deeply. He looked up at her with his secret stowed away. "You would keep this from me?" Kaylee asked, pretending to be more hurt than she was. "For a little while," Simon said, a grin slowly spreading across his face. He tugged her onto his lap and kissed her on the tip of her nose. She pouted, waiting. He kissed her again, this time in a way that showed her how deeply he loved her in return. "Secrets, secrets everywhere," River said from the doorway, interrupting the happy couple. "But not a soul to tell." "River, we've talked about this..." Simon began. Kaylee stood up clumsily and went back to the pile of machine parts. "Mal doesn't know," she said, staring at the heart of Serenity, still spinning slowly in the center of the engine room. "Doesn't know what, sweetie?" Kaylee asked, her embarrassment forgotten. "She won't last a month," River said softly before turning rather abruptly to her brother. "You have to help her." Simon, for once, knew what his sister meant. He stood and took her hands in his. He led her to the doorway before talking softly to her. "I can't," he said simply. "She's too far along...she's fought it off as long as possible. There's nothing left for medicine to fight." River looked at his hands covering hers. "She always wanted a sister," she whispered. Simon blinked in his confusion. "I'm sorry?" "Good," she said sternly. River dropped Simon's hands and left in search of more madness to spread. Simon turned to Kaylee, who was searching every inch of the engine room. "What are you doing?" he asked. "She was looking over here when she said she wouldn't last a month," Kaylee whispered hurriedly. "I have to fix it first!" It took Simon a moment before he realized Kaylee thought River had meant Serenity. He took her face in his hands, gently, and looked her in the eyes. "Wrong she."


Sunday, August 6, 2006 3:04 PM


I really like Tess, and I love the dynamic of her and Mal, this is great!

And River's little bit at the end and Kaylee thinking it was Serenity is just perfect. But why does Tess have to die? Poor thing!

Keep writing though, it's good to see Mal getting as good as he gives!

Sunday, August 6, 2006 5:56 PM


Oh, this is sad. Why does Tess have to die? Simon's a good doctor, maybe he can find something?

Kaylee thinking that River meant Serenity was great.

Nicely done for your first fic. keep it up :)

Sunday, August 6, 2006 7:24 PM


Hmmm...on first reading, I was wondering if River was referring to Kaylee, rather than Tess or the engine. But on reading it again, I realize I am paranoid (I hope).

Can we hear some more stories of childhood Mal? I'm sure they'd be quite entertaining. I would assume he got his love of walking 'round naked from somewhere.

Sunday, August 6, 2006 8:55 PM


I really don't want you to kill off Tess, just when the Captain meets back up with someone from his childhood who didn't hurt him you have to go give them a death sentence. Please let Simon find a way to save her if only so Zoe can keep on laughing. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, August 7, 2006 9:13 AM


Don't kill tess!
I love this series, you've done a really good job!

Monday, August 7, 2006 9:41 AM


i had no idea everyone would respond in such a manner...i may have to re-think the ending...most of it's written, i'm just posting it in pieces b/c it's so freaking long! ManicGiraffe: ya got nuthin' to worry about. Kaylee's fine and dandy...i wouldn't dream of killing off a character i have no rights to! i'm just touched everyone loves Tess so! more will appear tonight...

Monday, August 7, 2006 10:23 AM


You can't kill off Tess! She does so much for the crew's sprits, and makes Mal less of a grumpy hundan;)

Besides...she needs to stick around. I get the feeling that she might stimulate Inara and Mal into moving things a bit. Tess giving Mal his momma's locket is like a big freaking hint to struck over anyone's ignorant head;)



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