Parting Gifts - Part 5
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Almost there, Flans, almost there! In here, we get some tears, some fears but no beers. Sorry. I keep forgetting to put out the disclaimer, so um, All Characters and Places Not Named Tess Are Joss Whedon's Babies. Treat Them With Care And Respect. And enjoy...comments are always welcome...


River flicked a switch here and shifted a lever there. She watched her hands move, not the positions of the switches and dials. Her mind was elsewhere, in the common area, listening to the echoes of laughter and joy that the stories had produced. No one had been spared; Kaylee told about Simon, Simon told about River, Zoe told stories about Wash that she hadn't thought she was ready to share yet. Inara had even contributed with stories from the Training House, when she had been a novice. Mal and Tess had continued to try to out-do one another in stories of bravado, games and injuries that had healed. Jayne had even told of some of the conversations he and Book had enjoyed. All in all, River decided, it was the cleansing they had needed. The secret stories had been shared, the pain of loss shared and recognized in each other. She was calm as she prepared the ship to enter Shadow's atmosphere. The planet looked inviting from up here. She wondered how inviting it would be to Tess, the only one on board Serenity who still called it home. Instead of descending, she put them into orbit and autopilot as she went looking for the crew. She found them where they had fallen asleep, mid-smiles. Jayne sprawled across the table, a small puddle of drool indicating his unguarded state. Zoe was curled up on her side in the largest, most comfortable chair Mal had found for her months ago. Kaylee and Simon were snuggled against the side of Zoe's chair, with Zoe's gentle hand on little Kaylee's head. River was reminded of a mother watching over her babies as she felt the peace radiating from the trio. And as she turned, River saw her favorite sight of all: Inara and Mal, finally without emotional walls between them. Inara, with her head on Mal's shoulder, clasping his left hand in both of hers, her lips in a half-smile that revealed the true peace she had sought for so long in the captain's presence. And Mal, his arm around her shoulders, keeping her tight against his chest, his face set even in his sleep. River hated to wake them. Tess was the only one she needed, anyway. She went in search of the only body missing from the tableau of familial peace. Tess, the heart of the joys and mirth-filled delight, was sobbing in the shuttle bay. River went to her and silently held the woman as she wept. Tess didn't need to speak; River knew the pain had become nearly unbearable. River had known when Tess had left the room quietly and unnoticed to finally let go of the efforts it took to always smile. The aching never seemed to lessen, no matter how many times she bid her farewells. She let River comfort her. She didn't know why. "It's nearly time," River said. "Are you ready?" Tess looked at River through teary eyes. "When you close your eyes," she gulped, repeating River's first question to her, "what do you see?" "Everything," River smiled. "You'll be just fine." "I know I will," Tess said, exapserated. "But how will everyone else...Did y'see them in there?" "Wanna see something you've never seen before?" River asked, her eyes aglow. Tess wiped the tears from her face. "I surely do," she sighed. "I'm just afraid o'what comes after." River pulled Tess to her feet and together they ran barefoot to the bridge. Tess was exhausted by the time they reached it, and collapsed into one of the seats. She took a breath and looked at the sun breaking over the planet's curve...and couldn't let the breath out. "Is it home?" River asked. "Is it the right one?" "Oh, River," she finally managed. "It's...unbelievable. How did could you have known I was needin' t'see...this?" "I have my ways," River laughed. Tess looked at her in awe. "Keep those ways, m'girl," she murmured. "Maybe you can keep that crew smilin' always." "Ready for a secret?" River whispered. "Ever and always," Tess whispered back. "They don't always understand my ways," River confided. Tess laughed out loud. "No one should ever understand all a girl's ways," she said mysteriously. "Least of all them that's closest to her. Otherwise, how would she remind them o'the fun they once had? You just keep watching them and their day to days. Make 'em laugh at themselves and they'll start pullin' for each other. Keepin' the smiles on their own. And you'll find you've got new secrets to hold for 'em for when they're needin' again." River smiled, not just because she knew what Tess meant, but because she saw that Tess's worries no longer troubled her. * * * Mal opened his eyes first and felt the most stiff he'd felt in a long, long time. He also couldn't feel his right arm, which was odd, but not nearly as odd as the fact that he woke up on the floor of the dining area. He blinked and breathed in Inara's perfume. He smiled, wondering how he'd gotten that lucky...and then saw and remembered how she had drifted off to sleep against his shoulder. He watched her chest rise and fall rhythmically and felt a deep satisfaction in his soul. He had never been so uncomfortable in his life, yet he never wanted to move. He noticed how tightly she held his hand and somehow, that made him even more...content. She stirred. He tried to not move so she wouldn't wake up. He didn't want it to end. Not yet. He wasn't ready to go back to the distance they had set between each other and seemed unable to cross. He wasn't ready to have to be on guard again, to defend himself again, to hide behind words again. And he didn't want her to know he'd been watching her sleep. Inara's eyes fluttered open. She was often the first to wake after an appointment. It wouldn't do to have the customer see her with her mask off. She breathed in...Mal's scent. It was a clean scent of soap and gunpowder and...that indefinable Mal. She felt him tense under her, his hand twitched with dreams. That confused her. Not as much as the scent...and certainly not as much as what she saw. She was not in her shuttle. She was in the common area. And she knew in whose embrace she was. She prayed he was still asleep. She prayed everyone else was, too. She didn't want to move...she didn't want to be awake. She wanted to stay in his arms, in his embrace, with his hand in hers. She wanted his unguarded sleep where there was no verbal sparring. She wanted her unguarded sleep where she felt loved... They lay like that, neither admitting to be awake, both hoping the other was still asleep, for only a few moments, but it felt indescribably long and far too short, nevertheless. Mal's arm twitched. She risked a glance...and immediately wished she hadn't. He was watching her. His eyes...his face was so impossibly close to hers. All she had to do was lift her head just a few inches and...he was going to meet her...his mouth was so close...he could breathe in her essence...the warmth from her... Jayne coughed as he woke up, sending the two of them to standing positions in a matter of seconds. Neither of them knew how they did it. Jayne didn't see, he was too busy stretching his neck and back and rolling his shoulders. His rude awakening had also startled Zoe, Kaylee and Simon out of their sleep. Zoe saw her captain and Inara and guessed what had almost happened. Instantly, she wanted to throttle Jayne. Of all the stupid ways to wake up, she thought bitterly. "I guess I'd better, um," Mal was stammering, edging towards the corridor. Inara was fussing with her hair. "I have some things I need to, that is," Inara was trembling as she edged towards the corridor leading to the shuttle bay. No one seemed to notice. The two fled the scene. Simon helped Kaylee up, then offered his help to Zoe. When she was up and stretching, he put his arm around Kaylee's shoulders and mumbled his good morning's in her ear. And then realized Tess was nowhere to be found. "Where's Tess?" he asked, suddenly concerned. At Jayne's shrug, he started towards the shuttle bay before hearing Tess's voice float into the room. He turned to see her enter the room, laughing. "Tess is here," she was saying. "You lazies ain't gonna b'lieve where we're orbitin'..." She looked around. "Where's Mal?" "I think he was lookin' for you," Zoe lied. She cleared her throat. "He went off in that direction." "Oh, well," Tess smiled. "Maybe he just went t'clean up before we land. Speakin' a'which...y'all are more'n welcome to rest a whiles once we've landed. I think y'could use the break from these walls. Even for a day or two...the fresh air down on my property will do you some good." "Fresh air?" Jayne scoffed. "Is that all?" "Well, I could try to throw some dust up in the air you breathe," Tess offered. "But I'd get mighty tired 'fore too long." "Oh, let's see what the Cap'n says," Kaylee yawned. "It'd be shiny t'see the places you talked about an'where you grew up. Maybe he'll let us stick around for a while. Y'know, just till..." Her voice faltered as she realized what she almost said. "Just till I get sick of y'all and scare y'off," Tess said, ignoring the possibilities of sadness. She squeezed Kaylee's hand as she whispered, "There's no need for you to see what my house looks like after I get bored o'chores." Kaylee smiled, grateful for the light spirit Tess offered. "Where did the Cap'n wander off to this time?" Tess sighed, looking around her. "It's not like him t'take so long in findin' me." "That's only cause you talk so loud it's hard to lose you," Mal said from the doorway. He was buttoning a fresh shirt and pointedly ignoring everyone's eyes. Only Zoe and Tess noticed. "Fresh clothes," Simon breathed. "That sounds like a wonderful idea. If you'll excuse me..." He bowed slightly and made his exit. Jayne, Kaylee and Zoe followed his example. Mal looked at Tess finally. "You been cryin'," he said softly. "You been lyin'," she replied. "Me?" he laughed, coming into the room more. "What am I lyin' about?" "You love her," Tess pointed out. When he didn't turn around, she continued. "Mal, don't lie anymore. To me, to you, and most of all to her. Life's too short." "Baby Girl," he warned. "Don't. You don't know what it is you're talkin' about." "Mal, if you don't do something you'll lose her!" "I lost her a long time ago," he said softly, still not facing her. "She made her choice." "Did she?" Tess asked. "The same way I made my choice when the War started?" "Tess, you don't know what has gone on here," he hissed. "You think 'cause you sat here and collected bits and pieces of stories and funny lil' anecdotes that you've figured out what we've done and lost and experienced. I've been shot, stabbed, tortured, married, chased by Reavers, not to mention the Alliance and their top men. I've lost crew and friends and now I'm losing you...and... You don't know what you're talkin' about." "Don't lose her again," Tess pleaded. "She needs you. I can see it when she looks at you. I can see how you need her when you look at her. Damn it, Mal, y'love her!" "And what can I give her?" he demanded, turning on her. "A life on the fringes of space? The Alliance chasin' us down again and again 'cause that's all I can find for work? She don't belong in my world. And I don't get along too well in hers." "Life is too short," she insisted. "You see Zoe? Her love continues on, growin' with her." "I can't leave 'nara like that," Mal whispered. "I...I can't." "Who says you will?" Tess argued. "Look at you!" Mal gulped. "Look at Zoe! Anything can happen out here and--"

"And you would have her questionin' your feelings after you're gone?" Tess snapped. "Well, hell, Mal, if that's all it is, why did you ever warm up to anyone? Save us all the trouble of heartache and pain. Save you some, too, I guess. I'm sorry I bothered you at all." She turned and tried to leave, but Mal caught her and pulled her into his arms. "I'm sorry," he whispered. She tried to pull away. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Baby Girl, I'm so sorry." "I know how you feel about me," Tess grumbled into his shirt. "It's her that you need to tell. I grew up with you and your bad communication, y'idiot." He had to laugh at that. She poked him. Hard. He still held her. "I still love you, mei mei," he murmured. "Y'always did have a way with makin' me see that." River's voice crackled over the com. "Breaking atmo," she said. "Captain, I could use your experience in the local landing opportunities." He sighed and released her finally. "This is it, isn't it?" "Almost," she grinned. "You just have to drop me off and profess your undyin' love for Inara and you'll never have me pokin' m'nose in places it don't belong." "I ain't leavin' you to die alone," he whispered. "Everybody dies alone," she replied, stone-faced. "Didn't your Momma teach you that?"


Wednesday, August 9, 2006 2:58 PM


Gets better as it goes along

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 4:31 PM


sigh, i still love this. i love that mal calls tess Baby Girl. and River and Tess's interaction was very sweet in this one. the entire series has a very 'spritual journey' feel without being at all preachy. thanks~

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 6:22 PM


This has been such a great journey for all these characters - I am dying to see what happens once Mal again lands on his home planet ... and if he'll take Tess' advice!

Tess is still one of my favorite OCs that I have ever read. She is written with such vividness, it's easy to picture her and how she fits so well with the crew. Post more please!

Thursday, August 10, 2006 12:40 AM


This was wonderful, I just love Tess and how she sees so clearly the opportunities that must not be missed like Mal telling Inara he loves her. Loved them all waking up and how Mal and Inara were both pretending to still be asleep until our lovable rough rogue Jayne woke everybody up! And River, trust River to be the one to give Tess what the crew couldn't but it was the end line that got me. "Everybody dies alone". Gulp. I don't want her to die, but if this has to be it then she will at least go with grace and with people who love her round her. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, August 11, 2006 5:51 AM


Brillant is their another installment

Friday, August 11, 2006 6:23 PM


Ya know what the kicker for me was here? Tess' final comment in this chapter to Mal. Totally just gutpunched me and left me wanted to hug the both of them at this point and tell them that no one dies alone if they have friends and family. It was especially poignant that the line, first uttered by Mal in "Out of Gas," was a lesson from his mama...Mal strikes me as someone who was deeply in tune with his mother, and this just confirmed it;)


P.S. Please let Mal heed Tess' words! He's gonna need Inara's emotional support soon:(



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