BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

LATTELADY6

Voices And Visions - ch 6/12 - Caught In The Moment
Thursday, October 26, 2006

The importance of many of the things River said pre-Miranda is brought to light. Mal discovers what Inara has been hiding from him since the fight at the Training House. River and Jayne's friendship deepens. - Chapters linked -


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1407    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: They all belong to Joss Rating: PG-13 Beta: Huge thanks to Ceslas she has the patience of a saint!

Back to ch 5 - Battles Won Battles Lost

Voices And Visions

By

Lattelady

Ch 6/12 - Caught In The Moment ..........................................

River wasn’t quite dreaming, but she wasn’t awake either. She could feel herself floating. It was that wonderful time of day, when sleep and reality met on common ground.

“River,” a voice called to her. “River, wake up.”

“Daddy?” she smiled unsure if she whispered the name or if it was pure thought. As reality stepped to the foreground and sleep vanished, she nodded, recognizing the timbre and cadence of the man’s words. “Daddy,” she mumbled and patted the hand that was gently trying to waken her.

“No, Little Albatross, I’m not your pa.” Malcolm Reynolds gripped River’s fingers in his. The child was obviously still sleepin’. “Wake-up, Little Witch, you got some pilotin’ to do. ‘Sides ‘Nara’s almost got breakfast on the table.

“Good morning,” she yawned and stretching her arms above her head. Her movement sent something sliding to the floor with a plop. She blinked at her surroundings and realized she was still on the couch in the lounge. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep here last night.”

“Jayne’s gun magazines will do that to a person.” Mal leaned over and picked up the fallen item. “It isn’t your usual readin’ material.”

“Huh,” she blinked at him and shook her head. The last thing she remembered was Jayne sitting beside her, holding her tightly. When he’d run his large hands through her hair and over the skin of her shoulder and arm, it had unlocked something inside. She’d leaned into his touch and for the first time in almost three years relaxed enough to let her guard down completely. She must have fallen deeply asleep. When Mal straightened and dropped the fallen object onto the end table, River was sittin’ rubbin’ her eyes. “Whoa, girl, if you’re gonna be sleepin’ anywhere but your own bunk, you gotta wear more clothes.”

“This top is almost the same as the ones I wore working in the ducts.” She pulled the blanket around her shoulders, hiding the article of clothing under discussion. Inara had scrounged some tank tops for her to work in. Though cut the same, the camisole she’d slept in was made of thinner material. “Well, almost is almost, and the same is the same. So don’t give me any of those word games you use on your brother, dong ma?” He scowled. “’Sides you were always deep in those holes. Not just sittin there hardly dressed. I’m sure your brother would agree with me.”

“Agree with you about what, Captain?” Simon leaned against the hatch frame. His arms were folded across his chest as he tried not to smile. Watching someone else go head to head with his sister was much more amusing than when he was doing it

“’Bout what she’s wearin’ or hardly wearin’.” Mal frowned as River rolled her eyes and stood to slip past him. The older man sighed in relief when he saw the girl was at least wearin’ pajama bottoms, like a normal person.

“Good morning, Simon.” She gave her brother a kiss on the cheek and headed toward her room in the passenger dorm. She never slept there anymore, but kept her clothes in the drawers and closet. It was handy and added to the ruse.

“Actually, my concern was that she wasn’t sleeping behind a locked door.” The Doc sighed.

“Yeah, that too, Little Albatross,” Mal shouted as she climbed the few steps to the dorm.

Neither man noticed that River buried her nose deep in her blanket and inhaled the fragrance of leather, gun oil, whiskey, cigar smoke and Jayne. She smiled and knew it would help her sleep tonight.

“Doc, I got one other concern.” The Captain waited until Little Albatross had closed her door before he spoke. “I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, ‘cause she was half asleep when she said it, but she called me daddy?”

“Ohhh, that,” Simon chuckled and pulled on his ear. “I wondered if you’d ever find out. Remember the time you transported those stolen cattle and River and I were kidnapped, then almost burned at the stake?”

“That’s not somethin’ I’m liable to forget.” He laughed at the memory. “Jayne hangin’ outta Serenity’s belly like some gorramn avengin’ angel. I bet he and Vera put the fear of the devil into all them nice religious folk who thought stealin’ people was a Godly thing to do.”

“It’s amusing as I look back, but at the time it was terrifying.”

“But what’s that got to do with your little sis mixin’ me up with your pa?”

“Actually, she isn’t. That night when those people had us, we were both exhausted. I was worried sick about River. But she seemed fine. All she wanted to do was feed me Hodgeberries that she’d collected. Then she looked at me and said that I needed my strength because we wouldn’t be there long. Daddy was coming for us to take us home.”

“Ohhh, that must’ve been a mite worrisome.”

“No, what worried me was that when she said it, she’d never looked so sane or content.” Simon’s brows rose and he rocked on his feet. “I didn’t know it then, but she wasn’t having a moment of dementia, she was having a precognition. She was talking about this boat as home.” He fondly patted the bulkhead nearest him. “And you as….”

“Her pa?” Mal gasped in surprise, unsure how he felt on the matter.

“A precog-what?” Jayne strode into the Lounge. “Your little sis borrowed my magazine last night and didn’t return it. Sorry to be interruptin’.” His eyes searched the room. He’d been hopin’ to talk to Girlie before the others did. Since ‘Nara had changed the touch-code to the shuttle when she came back and he knew River didn’t want to be sleepin’ in her old room in the passenger dorm, he’d left her on the couch. Though he’d never admit to anyone that he’d sat there holdin’ her ‘till almost dawn. Then he’d gotten his latest copy of ‘Guns and Ammo’, and set it next to her to make it look like she fell asleep readin’. That way she didn’t have to do no explainin’ if they discovered her there.

“A precognition,” Simon sighed and rubbed his eyes. “It’s like intuitiveness, knowing that things are going to happen before they do. We’ve seen it time and again with River, Often, before Miranda…too often…” He shook his head at his shortsightedness. “We…I…thought she was just spouting craziness.”

“Like on your birthday,” Jayne had found his magazine and stuck it in his back pocket. “She said ‘fire’. We all sat around like a bunch a hundans, waiting for you to blow out your candles. The next thing we know, Zoë’s blasted across the room and the flames of hell is roarin’ at us.”

Chun,” Mal gritted his teeth. “We all missed it.”

“I just wonder how many times we….” He shook his head in pain. “I can’t believe I failed my sister so badly.”

“She really does see the future don’t she, Doc?” The Mercenary tried to ignore the burning in his stomach, but it wouldn’t go away. It was confusin’. It seemed like Girlie knew what she was talkin’ ‘bout, but what if he didn’t want the future that she’d seen for him. The idea of havin’ a woman of his own and kids someday was somethin’ he’d spent hours starin’ at the ceilin’ of his bunk thinkin’ on the last few days. But he just couldn’t picture it. He’d never met a whore who he’d trusted enough to kiss on the lips, let alone into his life, and he’d met a passel of whores in his time. What the hell was he gonna do?

“Oh my God,” Simon whispered as he remembered something from long ago. “River are you dressed?” He stood on the steps that separated the lounge/infirmary area from the passenger dorm.

“I am decent,” she called out as she opened her door and walked toward him. She was wearing a dark green dress with a soft wooly short jacket of some kind. Her hair was neatly brushed and pulled back from her face with the clip Inara had given her. “How may I help you?” She kept moving past him and through the lounge, knowing that she should be on the bridge.

“Do you remember when you were about eight years-old and you used to play with my old toy soldiers? You liked to make up battles between the Independents and the Alliance.”

“Of course,” she smiled and shook her head. “I’d hide behind the settee in the morning room, so our parents wouldn’t see me. They thought I should be playing with dolls instead.”

“In your games, whenever the Independents won a battle, what where they riding?”

“Dinosaurs,” River grinned remembering the way it used to make her brother laugh, but as another newer memory filled her mind, she shook head in denial. “No...It’s not….it couldn’t have been….” she gasped picturing Wash playing with his toys as he flew the ship. Her eyes slammed closed as the importance of what she’d always thought of as a silly child’s game, hit home. “Oh no…” Her already fair skin went almost white. “It was only a game wasn’t it? I wasn’t seeing the future, Simon, I wasn’t!”

“She’s going to faint, get her head lower than her heart!” Her brother yelled and stumbled against the Captain as both men tried to reach her at the same time, but Jayne was closer and quicker.

“No, I’m all right.” River argued as the room swam around her. Jayne had one hand on her shoulder but she hardly felt it. “Don’t tell Zoë,” she gasped.

“Don’t tell me what?” The Warrior Woman came striding in from the cargo bay.

“Oh!” The girl wheeled around to face her as she moved toward them. Then the genius killer, who moved through life as if she were dancing, crumpled like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

“I got ‘er!” Jayne’s arm went ‘round her waist pulling her tightly against him. He tangled his free hand deep in her hair, protecting the back of her head as he quickly bent forward at the waist. “Easy there Riv…ah…Girlie, not gonna let ya fall.”

He felt her small hands gripping his arm, as he kept them balanced. Her breathing was quick and shallow as she fought the visions in her head.

“Get her into the Infirmary.” Simon demanded.

“No, not there!” she yelled. With her eyes tightly closed, she was filled with guilt that she might have prevented Wash’s death. A thousand images shot through her mind. There was a little girl with dark silky hair; a teen strapped to an examination chair as she screamed while they tortured her mind; that same girl as she fought and killed, her fists red with blood of the dead; a bar on Persephone, littered with bodies as her skills controlled her body instead of conscious thought. “Never again,” she whispered and felt the reassuring tightening of the arm around her.

But River was caught in the moment, fighting to overcome conditioned mental training. One hand held securely to Jayne’s arm as he steadied her, the other snaked toward his thigh. But before it could reach its destination she heard his quiet voice in her ear, “Easy there, Girlie.” His face was pressed into her neck and she felt the raspy tickle of his goatee. With it came another memory, but this was of the future. She could see, stacked before her, all the thousands of nights that he’d wrap his body around hers, as he was doing now and they would sleep, his whiskers rubbing gently against her tender skin.

In that moment she let go and gave herself over to Jayne’s strength. “Please, I’m all right,” her words were breathy, but clear over the confused panic that filled the room.

“Ya sure ‘bout that?” The big man straightened slowly, but never took the protective arm from around her waist. His eyes locked on the Doc’s.

“Her color is back to normal.” Simon gave Jayne a reassuring nod. “But I need to check her over.”

“No!” the word came out much louder than she’d meant them to. “No exam chair. This has to stop now.”

“But, mei-mei….”

“Stop, just stop, no matter what I do, your drama always causes loud confusion. It swirls around me and won’t let me think.” Pulling in deep breathes she looked over her shoulder at the big man who was still holding her as if he was afraid she’d crumple, if he let go. “Please, Jayne, I’m fine.”

When he released her, she fled past Zoë who looked on in surprise. The pilot kept on going until she was surrounded by the peace and quiet of the bridge. Stars blinked at her from the Black as she took her place in Wash’s chair. Her fingers shook when she ran them over his dinosaurs.

No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t blot out the image of a smiling blonde man with blue eyes watching over the shoulder of a small dark haired girl, as she made the pre-historic Earth-That-Was creatures march in neat battle formation. “It never happened like that. He wasn’t there,” she whispered to Rex. “I would have remembered.” ………………………………….. River concentrated on flying the ship and tried to ignore the voices that would occasionally drift her way from the galley. They were talking about her, and all the things she’d said that they may or may not have misunderstood. Why couldn’t they just leave the past in the past? They already knew she’d been….crazy. With effort, she made herself say the words out loud. “I was crazy.”

Saying them only made her grip the controls tighter to keep from trembling. It didn’t make the insistent buzzing that came from the galley, go away. She looked straight ahead and concentrated with all her effort on the star pattern in front of her to block it all out.

She jumped when she heard Jayne’s angry voice over all the rest. “’Nuff of this go se!” he yelled. “The Doc told us when they first came aboard, that she’d have her moony-brained days. I got the scar to prove it. But we all knew she weren’t like that all the time. We missed some stuff, ‘cause we didn’t trust her, but things ‘er different now.” He’s shoved back his chair and slammed his dishes in the sink. “I don’t see what all the fuss is ‘bout. Talkin’ it into the ground ain’t gonna change the past.” As he headed toward the stairs to the cargo bay, he thought of River sittin’ all alone on the bridge. He turned back to the group at the table his face screwed into a tight scowl. “And if’n you think she ain’t feeling what’s goin’ on at this table, then you all are as nuts as she used to be!” The clomp of his heavy boots on the steps echoed through out the ship.

Moments later Zoë entered the bridge. It felt empty without Wash and it took her breath away. She’d been avoiding this room unless she was alone. It was strange to see someone else sitting in her husband’s place.

“Little One, you should eat this before it gets too cold.” She handed the girl a plate and a mug. “Inara’s a darn good cook, but once protein mash gets cold, even her magic won’t help it any.”

“Thank you.” The young girl’s hands moved through the sequence that would put Serenity on autopilot before she reached for her meal. “It’s not magic, ‘Nara added cinnamon and nutmeg.”

“Ahhh…” Zoë nodded. “It’s going on eight or nine years since I’ve tasted those. I thought I was imagining the flavor.” She took a seat at the co-pilot’s station. “Where’d she ever get spices like that?” It was easier to talk about trivial things than what she’d come to say, though it wasn’t her usual style to avoid an issue.

“One of the things Inara was doing on her shopping trips, while we were working on the ship, was searching the market place for things to make our meals taste better.” She took a bit of her breakfast enjoying the improvement to their usual morning fare. “The merchant she bought these from didn’t know the treasures he had. It was the same place I purchased the squirt guns.” River laughed in delight. “That I can understand, because Persephone has to ration water eleven months out of the year. But he should have known about the spices. Inara found them in jars collecting dust between the cigars and a rack of pipes.”

“The stall owner thought they were for smoking? The man was a fool!”

“He was from Dyton Colony, what do you expect?” River shrugged. “Badger’s from there.”

“Ahhh,” Zoë nodded and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. A sure signal that she was about to get to the real reason she’d stayed to talk. “Simon told us about the game you used to play as a child.”

“I could just kill my brother sometimes,” the young pilot sighed and leaned back in her chair staring at the ceiling in distress.

“Oh please don’t.” The dark woman smiled. “He’s a mighty fine doc, and can be real entertaining when he gets an idea in his head that runs contrary to Mal’s. ‘Sides it would break Kaylee’s heart if anything happened to him now.”

“Well in that case,” River rolled her eyes. “I’d never do anything that would hurt Kaylee. She was my first friend.”

“It’s all right, ya know. Wash would have loved to hear that story. Not just because he would have seen the irony in it, but he’d have wanted to play the game too.” Zoë pointed toward the dinosaurs. She relaxed into the co-pilot’s chair and watched the stars her husband had loved. “He always regretted that he wasn’t in the War.”

“That’s because of the closeness it had caused between you and the Captain.” The girl knew there was a bit more to it than that, but it was one of those private things she’d picked up before she’d learned to control where her mind went. She refused to bring the thought out and examine it.

“No he never…well not since Niska, anyway. That little adventure cured him right quick,” Zoë admitted honestly. “But it was more than that. Wash came from Cassandra. It was one of the first places settled when Earth-That-Was was left behind. But by the time my man grew up, it was so polluted, he said, that most nights he couldn’t see the sky. He wanted off that rock in the worst way. While Mal and I were fighting in the War, Wash was getting an education and training to be a pilot. It was his ticket out of there. If he knew about your game, he could have had his War.” Zoë gripped her hands together and took ragged breaths. What she was saying, she’d never told another living soul “See if he’d really fought, it would have killed him, maybe not his body, but his soul.” She closed her eyes as they filled with tears and whispered, “Part of what I loved about him was his lightness of spirit.”

“Like a leaf on the wind,’ River murmured, unsure where she’d gotten the thought, but she knew it fit Wash.

“He sure was.” Zoë wiped at her eyes with fingers that shook at the memory of her husband’s last words. “Damnit girl, I always end up crying when we talk.”

“When there are deep wounds that need to heal, sometimes tears are the only things that help with the pain.” River put her dish and empty mug aside unsure if she should go to the older woman or not.

“I guess that’s something you have an understanding of too.” Zoë nodded and pulled an ugly red handkerchief out of her pocket, to blow her nose. When she looked at the young pilot she was back in control. “Now I got one more thing to say and you need to listen to it good. Those men mean well, but you’re right. They’re real good at cooking up drama where there isn’t any. But they only do it ‘cause they care about you. I’m a little unsure why Jayne wasn’t yelling like his usual hundan self, but Mal and that brother of yours were making enough noise for all four of you.” The First Mate was doing a little fishing for information along with the advice she was giving. It had made a mighty interesting picture to see the big Mercenary holding tight to the tiny woman. It was even more interesting that neither the Doc nor Mal had said a word about it.

“Jayne understands me,” the girl shrugged. “We are both killers. He’s always seen me for what I am. Simon and the Captain have known it since…Miranda,” River whispered the name of the planet that haunted her dreams. “The knowledge is in their heads, but they don’t want to believe it in their hearts. They understand, but do not comprehend.”

Zoë nodded and reached for the empty dishes to take them to the galley. She made it as far as the hatch when she turned and looked at the serious young woman’s back. “You know Wash and I loved each other something fierce.”

River swung her chair around nodding, unsure where this was leading.

“Well he was bit younger than I am, and not just the year or so we admitted to. When I first met him he was wearing a terrible mustache ‘cause he thought it made him look older and dashing, but he just looked kinda foolish.” She smiled lovingly at the memory. “Once we took to the Black, he shaved that thing off, and brought out the dinosaurs. It confused me no end. I was older than he was, and he had a sense of humor that could drive me batty, but what he did to my heart?” A look of pain and joy crossed her face as she slowly shook her head. “I knew almost from the beginning that he was the man for me, but I knew it here first.” She thumped her chest. “It took a mite longer for my brain to catch on. I guess you’d say I comprehended, but I didn’t understand. I wasted a lot of time ‘cause of that.”

“I…” The young pilot could feel the many layers of love, understanding, loss and something that she couldn’t place radiating from the older woman. “I am unsure…”

“I know you are.” Zoë smiled gently. “Out here in the Black it can get lonely and if you’re lucky enough to find someone who…” her words broke as she felt Wash very close to her. “Well I’m just sayin’ that age difference is just a pile of go se and that you should remember that…well…if you ever need to.” She turned and quickly left the bridge, unsure what was happening to her. She had been positive her heart had died when her husband had. She was the last person who should give advice on lovin’ to an eighteen year old girl.

‘But someone has to, Lambie-toes,’ a loving male voice filled her mind. ……………………………….. Kaylee and Simon were noisily doing the dishes. Mal looked around the table and discovered he was still doing that gorramn head count he’d been doin’ since comin’ outta that ruttin’ Alliance hospital. This time he was doing it at the table.

River’s chair to his right was sitting empty, ‘cause she was in the cockpit. Jayne always sat on the far side of the girl. That was something new, but it did lead to some entertainment at mealtimes. The Merc was in the cargo bay settin’ up things for their war games.

Zoë had taken to sittin’ at the foot of the table opposite her captain, something else that was new. He figured it was her way of puttin’ some distance between herself and the others, without actually leaving an empty chair at her side. She had brought River’s breakfast dishes back moments ago and gone to help their hired muscle.

Kaylee usually sat to Zoë’s right, with Simon next to her. That wasn’t all that new. The Mechanic had been sittin’ close to the Doc every chance she got, since the man had come aboard. Though lately those two had been a source of entertainment at meals, as well, though not the kind the Captain wanted to watch.

But what took Mal’s breath away was that Inara always, always sat to his left. It seemed like almost the moment since he’d woken up in that hospital she’d been just an arm’s reach away. It was mighty unsettling and something he wasn’t ready to look at too closely especially in light of the little conversation he’d overheard their last night on Persephone. True to form she was sittin’ there now with a cup of tea in one hand and a pencil in the other, going over a list of some kind.

“‘Nara,” he spoke quietly so as not to get the attention of the couple who were getting as much water and soap on each other as they was the dishes. “Were you serious ‘bout helpin’ us out on that next job? ‘Cause if you are, I’d really like to take you up on your offer. I’m worried some ‘bout how the exchange might go down. Havin’ River there as a reader and a gun hand, could make a difference.”

“I would have put a halt to the discussion last night if I weren’t.” She slipped out of her chair and moved toward the storage closet on the far side of the room.

“I’m not real comfortable with it.” He shook his head in doubt. “’Cause if we were caught, it wouldn’t be quite like River had tried to make it sound, like as not you’d be arrested too.”

“I was already aware of that.” She stood silhouetted in the doorway, staring back at him. “I’ve always known it was a chance I was taking. The agent who came after the Tams when they first boarded said as much. I believe he told you we were all culpable. If I hadn’t realized it then, it would have been made very clear to me when the Alliance took us into custody while you were attempting a salvage job on that ship that had been attacked by Reavers.” She watched as he stood, crossed his arms and closed the distance between them.

“Well it’s a mite harder to convince an Alliance officer of your innocence when you’re sittin’ in the pilot’s seat, than if you’re up in your shuttle lookin’ all Companiony.” He was so close he could feel her breath on the back of his hand. “I still got your rental agreement locked up tight in my safe. It’d prove you’re a free agent and not part of the crew.”

“You do?” She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly. How could he believe that she hadn’t been, and wasn’t now, part of the crew, no matter what it had said on paper? Or that she wouldn’t do everything in her power to help him. She’d followed him into battle on Mr. Universe’s moon believing she’d die. Didn’t that mean anything? “I knew exactly what type of ship this was when I answered your advertisement for a shuttle lodger.” Her eyes were caught in the deep blue of his and she remembered that moment like it was happening all over again. “Our interaction that day only served to underscore all the dangers involved. I knew where it…” she licked her lips and fought for the words she needed, afraid she was going to cry if this went much further. “I just knew.”

“Oh ya did, did ya?” He grinned and rocked toward her, sure she wasn’t talking about the physical danger, but a more personal one.

He was standing too close and she needed breathing room. “Ahh…yes I did.” She turned away from him not caring what he was thinking. He’d seen too much and she needed to change the subject. “I believe in an emergency I could even break atmo. I’ve done so in the shuttle and if you recall I’ve flown it in open space.” She turned and flipped on the light in the storage closet. He was blocking an escape to the galley, so she retreated into the small room. “I’d be happy to help,” her voice sounded muffled.

“What the hell you doin’ in there?” the Captain sighed in frustration. Every gorramn time a conversation edged on the personal, she skittered away.

“I’m just checking these.” She moved carefully so the slim heels of her delicate slippers didn’t get caught in the grated floor. It had happened more than once when she hadn’t been watchful and each time the jarring to her broken ribs had brought her to her knees. This was not a time she could let that happen.

Mal came up behind her and looked around. He put his hands on her shoulders as if it were a natural thing to do. “What are they?” He gazed at small bunches of greenery that had been tied together and were hang upside-down from the ceiling a foot above his head. “Is that what’s makin’ my boat smell kinda sweet?” He sniffed, but this time all he could smell was ‘Nara.

“Those are spices I’ve collected from the stalls in the marketplace on Persephone. There’re up there to dry. It was Kaylee’s idea. Her mother used to do it to preserve them so they had them all year round.” She could feel the warmth of his hands through her gown and his breath against the back of her neck. She wasn’t sure which surprise her more, the fact that he’d followed her when she’d given them an out, or that he was touching her and she could still breathe.

“Well, how the gorramn hell did you get them up there?” He knew he should say more, make some comment on how much he appreciated that she’d taken over the cookin’ while they were all recuperating and gettin’ the ship back in order. But he was afraid to call attention to it. Afraid she’d stop. Afraid she’d look at him as she had in the past, with that cool smile that drove him crazy, and tell him that as soon as the job on Calderon’s third moon was over, it was time for her to be movin’ back to her civilized world.

“River, she’s an amazing climber,” her voice was huskier than she meant it to be so she cleared her throat. “Excuse me,” she turned and tried to edge around him, but her sudden movement caused her heel to slip. She reached out for him with her right hand as her left one pressed against her aching side.

“Steady there.” Mal took the excuse offered him and pulled her close, all the time telling himself he was just holding her to keep her from falling.

“Ohhh,” she gasped and her body jumped slightly as his hand moved against hers and she pressed harder against her ribs than she’d meant to.

“What’s a’ matter,” he looked into her eyes, but wouldn’t let her go, she felt too good.

“Nothing, nothing,” she forced a smile on her face as she tried to catch her breath. “I merely caught my heel in the grating. I need to be more careful.”

“It didn’t look like it was nothing.” He frowned down at her, ignoring her flimsy attempt to side track him. “Sure you didn’t twist your ankle?”

“Positive,” it took all her control to sound normal, so she dipped her head unsure of what he might see on her face. “See.” She let him support her weight, as she slipped her right foot out of her shoe and rotated it at the ankle, and then did the same with the left. “Both ankles are in perfect working order,” she spoke to the button on his shirt that she’d focused on so she wouldn’t feel the pain throbbing in her rib carriage.

“You just leave them shoes off when you’re walking on the grating in here. Don’t want you to break your neck.” He was stunned when she didn’t argue with him, just stepped out of her slippers while he was still holding her. “Never realized what a bitty thing you are.” He smiled at how well she fit against him.

“Mal…I…” She made the error of looking directly into his tender blue eyes. It made hers swim with tears. She’d wanted to tell him how and where she’d been hurt, but she was too embarrassed. It was something she should have done weeks ago but when he looked at her like that she didn’t know how.

“‘Nara,” he whispered while he pulled her against him. He was surprise when she put her right arm around his waist and returned the embrace, but he could hardly believe it when she leaned her forehead against his chest and he felt her tears dampen his shirt. “It’s gonna be all right.” He ran his hands over her back while keeping her in his arms. That was when he felt it, the binding under her dress.

His lids sank closed and he rested his cheek on her curly dark hair. She’d been injured something during that terrible fight. If his guess was correct, it was broken ribs. Something tore lose inside of him. “When?” he demanded and he cupped her face making her meet his eyes. “When!” his voice was deep and gravelly needing to know what had happened.

“At the Training House,” she whispered, unable to stop the words from spilling out.

“That bastard,” the word hissed out in anger, made harsher and more intense because he spoke in English instead of Chinese. “Was that how he forced you to send the wave our way?”

She shook her head as her eyes over-flowed. “He made some threats, but I thought I was safe, I thought you were safe. I made it clear it was a trap. Besides, I never imagined you’d actually come for me.”

“Not come?” He ran his thumbs over her damp cheeks as his fingers dug deep into the curls at the back of her head.

“You didn’t want me here. You said so yourself once you’d brought me back. You said you wished I had never come back.” She was confused and hurt and things were happening much too fast.

Mal shook his head slightly at the memory of his angry words that day. “I didn’t…” He couldn’t tell her that when he’d fought with her, his world had been slipping out from beneath him and she was the one person he’d ever show those feelings to. But he wasn’t a soft man, the kind that could just say things and ask for help, so he’d lost his temper.

“Mal please let me go.” She was out of control and was terrified of what she might say or do with his body pressed against hers.

“No, not this time.” He slowly shook his head, knowing that he’d fight with his last breath to keep her on his ship and as close to him as he could get her. “You still didn’t tell me how you got broken ribs at a Companion Training House. I’m correct, they are broken?”

“Yes…three, according to Simon,” she bit her lower lip and let it slide between her teeth. “It happened during our fight with the Operative.” She did her best to look strong and determined, but the look of pain that crossed Mal’s face told her she hadn’t succeeded.

“Our fight…you shouldn’t have been…” He remembered it then, seeing her curled on the floor, her hair disheveled and her hand pressed tight to her side in pain. With a groan he wrapped his arms around her neck and lowered his cheek until it was pressed against her. “I’m sorry ‘Nara, I’m sorry. I just wanted to keep you safe and you ended up getting hurt. Then I dragged you into a battle that…I’m sorry.”

“Mal,” she whispered his name and gripped the front of his shirt. “After all this time do you really think you could drag me into something I had no wish to be a part of. It was my choice to try and help you fight that man who had invaded my living space. And it was my choice to accompany you back to Serenity. I understood, probably better than you, the things the Alliance and that man were capable of doing.” Her eyes turned dark as she remembered life on Sihnon and the reason she left.

“‘Nara,” he’d seen the way her eyes had drifted to something in her past and he wanted to ask about it, but there was something more important he needed to know. “Why didn’t you tell me about the ribs sooner?”

“Do you have any idea how badly you were injured?” Her hand drifted to his side where he’d received the wound that had almost killed him. “Then when you were up and around I didn’t think you needed to hear anymore bad news about...You care so deeply about your crew and had just lost two of them.”

“But you’re not crew.” Didn’t she know how much she meant to him? She was so much more than just another member of his crew. His words rang with the pain he felt at the thought of losing her again, but for once Inara missed the intonations and only heard the words.

“I believe you’re correct, Captain. After all I’m just a wh….” Inara couldn’t say the word. She felt her eyes filling with tears again and she refused to allow him to see how much he had hurt her. Pulled out of his arms, she wrapped herself in all the dignity she had left and walking out of the storage area.

“Wait, ‘Nara…Qu tamade!” He pounded his hand against the bulkhead at his ineptitude as he watched her walk away from him into the back of the ship. “Wait you forgot your shoes.” He grabbed them from the floor and headed across the galley to follow her.

“I wouldn’t if I was you.” Kaylee smiled up at him from the table. “You give them slippers ta her and she’s just gonna fling ‘em at your head, Cap’n.” She took the delicate shoes from his unmoving hands. “I’ll see she gets ‘em.”

“You were listening?” His brow rose in disapproval.

“Couldn’t help it, you two was right there and voices carry on this ship.” The Mechanic shrugged. “Ya can hear a whole passel a things if’n you bother to listen. You was doing right good up ‘til the end there.” She gave him a mischievous grin. “Thought ya might even git a kiss or two outta it.” To ease her words, she stood on her tip-toes and kissed his cheek as she often did. “Give ‘er some time to cool off and let your words sink in. She’s a mite skittish. Her world got shifted ‘round same as ours, lots goin’ on in her head she doesn’t understand. She ain’t used ta that. ‘Sides when you two talk, neither ‘a ya listen real well.”

“Honey, you’re seeing things that aren’t there. Weren’t no way we were gonna be kissing.” But he knew he was wrong, they’d been a step away from it. “’Sides ‘Nara’s a Companion, they don’t get skittish ‘bout nothing.” He’d heard of the word deja-vu, but had never felt it before that moment. He looked automatically toward the chair where River had been leaning against Jayne as they’d talked and her words were as clear as Kaylee’s were now. ‘He broke her heart. To have stayed would have destroyed her. Now he’s brought her back and she can’t leave, but he hasn’t asked her to stay.’

“Cap’n…” She patted him on the arm and smiled. “You need to start listen’ to them voices I was tellin’ ya ‘bout, ‘specially round here at night. Serenity can be a mighty educatin’ place at night. How ‘bout I tell ‘Nara that you’ll give her a lesson at the controls when you take over for River after lunch?”

“You trying to do some matchmakin’ Little Kaylee.” He tried to frown at her, but she always made him smile.

“No, Sir, just want a be sure my girl gets the best she can.” She nodded happily and let the older man wonder if she was talkin’ ‘bout ‘Nara or Serenity. “From what ya said this mornin’ I figured that since River’d be with Jayne gettin’ fitted for weapons, it would be good time, ‘sall.” …………………………………. Mid-afternoon Inara made her way to the bridge, as requested by the Captain. Her cool dignity was firmly in place though it was a battle because the infuriating man kept leaning close over her shoulder as they discussed take-off procedure. She’d let her guard down with Mal once that day and she didn’t plan on it happening again. …………………………………. “Jayne,” River knocked on the entrance to his bunk.

“Come on down, Girlie.” He was sittin on his bed, working on one of his guns and looked up as she came down the ladder. “Best to leave the hatch open. I don’t want that brother ‘a yours getting’ bent outta shape, we just worked things out ‘tween us.”

“Simon is in the engine room with Kaylee, again.” She rolled her eyes at the thought.

“Well hot damn, the boys got more under the hood than I gave ‘em credit for!”

“Please!” she gasped. “Maybe he only wants to become more proficient as a mechanic.” It was hard but she kept the giggle out of her voice.

“Yeah right, and the next time someone gets shot, I’ll be the one gettin’ the slug outta ‘em.” He wiggled his brows at her.

“Let us hope not.” She laughed at the thought, before turning serious. “I am here because the Captain said that you would have the necessary armaments for me.” Then she saw them hanging on the wall in all their glory and they took her breath away. “Oh my….” She knelt beside the big man on his bed and ran her hand lightly over his display of weapons.

“You’ve seen ‘em before.” He turned to snap at her, to tell her she could only touch the guns he was gonna loan her, but suddenly everything stopped. He was fascinated by the way her small hand moved over the cool metal of his collection.

“But never like this. Now I know why you give them girl’s names. They are your lovers sleeping beside you and keeping you company.” One of her hands had dropped to his shoulder and she was filled with a strong image of his large body curled up in his bunk, with his back pressed against his girls. “But they lack the warmth of a real girl,” she whispered.

“Hey, Girlie,” Jayne ran his hand up her arm frowning. “You goin’ all creepafying on me again? It’s like ya wasn’t there all of a sudden.”

“I…” she shook her head, but couldn’t get rid of what she’d seen and she knew that she’d accidentally looked into his mind. “No…I’m right here.”

“Ya sure, ya had me a mite worried this mornin’.” He touched the tips of his fingers to her chin so he could look deeply into her eyes. “Had a feelin’ you was goin’ for my balls again.”

“And you were still willing to keep me from falling?” She blinked quickly to keep under control.

“I gave ya the benefit a the doubt. Hey there, don’t go gettin’ all teary-eyed on me again.”

“The control was thin, but it was there. I appreciate your help.

“That’s what partners are for.” He nodded and got back to work. “Mal and I figured since your fightin’ is all that martial arts type stuff, it would be a good idea if ya practiced dressed like it’s the real thing. Ya know, so you can move easily if ya gotta. I’m gonna weight ya down some. Best take that jacket off so I can fit ya for this here bandolier.”

She hopped off his bed as she slipped out of her jacket and hung it next to his on the hook across the room. She laughed softly at the sight it made.

“What’s so funny?” He looked up and nodded when she pointed to their coats hanging side by side. “Yup, I guess that ‘bout describes us. Me, big hard scrabble leather, that’s old and a mite tired. Then there’s you, kinda soft and delicate lookin’ but I felt the material that thing’s made of this mornin’. It’s rougher and tougher than it looks. Gonna stand up good in a fight, while lookin’ all kinds a shiny.”

“You think I look shiny,” she grinned and couldn’t keep the happiness out of her voice.

“I was talkin’ ‘bout the jacket, Girlie. Come’ere.” He reached for her and pulled her between his spread thighs to fit her with the bandolier, all the while muttering, “First ya think I said ya had pretty eyes, now you’re trying to get me to say you’re shiny. Don’t no one ever pay compliment ta ya?”

“Only Simon.” She reached for his shoulders after he put the heavy leather belt filled with cartridges over her head and settled it between her breasts.

“Hump,” he grouched to hide what he was really feelin’. It took all his concentration to keep his fingers from shaking. When he’d had Girlie take off her jacket he hadn’t realized the top of her dress only had skimpy straps and that the material outlined her curves. “I’m gonna have ta shorten this here thing.” He hoped the words he was sayin’ made sense ‘cause workin’ this close to her was drivin’ him loco. “How’s this feel?” He’d gripped the bottom of the leather strap, shortening it by a good six inches.

“It will work nicely.” River shifted her torso back and forth to be sure it didn’t slip off and to test for ease of movement.

“Gorramnit Girlie stop that!” he growled deep and low.

“I…” she was surrounded by strong feelings that she battled to keep out, but she needn’t have bothered, the look on Jayne’s face told her everything. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean…”

“I know you didn’t, but…well…”

“You can tell me anything,” she whispered and reached for his face. His skin felt smooth and warm against her fingers and his whispers tickled her palms. “We’ve both traveled the same ‘verse.”

“No we haven’t honey.” He wrapped his large hands around her slim wrists and gently pulled them away from him. She was too damn temptin’. “There’s a ‘verse or two that you ain’t visited yet. Now we got work ta do.” He kept his eyes on his hands as he finished marking the leather so he’d know where to cut it. He didn’t see the tears that filled her soft brown eyes or know that she had to work hard to blink them away.

On To Chapter - 7 - Like Puzzle Pieces

COMMENTS

Thursday, October 26, 2006 4:59 PM

TAMSIBLING


Just when you think Mal and Inara might actually move past their pride, Mal says something stupid and Inara misunderstands - oy! They are frustrating!

I loved River's freak-out in the beginning and she used Jayne's solid presence to balance herself out. It was so well described.

Friday, October 27, 2006 7:36 AM

BORNTOFLY


Dear oh dear. Mal and Inara have too much pride and stubborness in them, it's almost beyond funny or caring. Almost. That's what makes watching their little encouters go awry so incredibly frustrating.
And this time they were so damn close! Damn near boils the blood it does.

Would one of them just man-up (woman-up, let's be fair here) and just plant one on the other (while their conscious, naturally) and get all that darned tension and angst out of the air!

River's and Jayne's relationship is so incredibly natural, it's just perfect. That, coupled with the fact that Simon is not being overprotecting of his sister, and is letting her be the young woman she is, is pretty unique, but none the lesser for it. It works so well.

Kudos 'Lattelady6'.

Saturday, October 28, 2006 9:56 AM

AMDOBELL


I want more Mal and Inara! This was great but I felt a might frustrated with Kaylee eavesdropping on Mal and inara like that and then interferring by taking Inara's shoes to hand them back. Her intentions might be good but sometimes folk need to be left to find their way to each other without someone poking their nose in thinking they know best. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, October 28, 2006 11:26 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


I wouldn't worry about Kaylee interfering with Mal and Inara, Alison...Kaylee only wants what's best for the two people who seem closest to siblings to here aboard Serenity...other than River;)

And the Rayne relationship develops ever further and gets ever the more delicious to watch these two struggle with their feelings and their pasts as emotional adversaries affecting their present as partners;)

BEB


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