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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
All already posted before, just posted together for convience of new and (re) readers. Overall rating PG-13, but most chapters aren't. Chapters 1-10 cover a quarrel between Simon and Kaylee, some growing up for Kaylee and River, a happy moment, some sad thoughts, and some sillyness. Canon pairings, where applicable. Postive comments perfered; any cease and desists recieved will be complied with, and shown off at parties.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2264 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Even Roses Have Thorns
Chapter One: Si sic omnes (if only this could last forever)
Simon Tam sat on the edge of his bed. He was not picking up courage as such, but rather, waiting for his resignation to become total. While he waited, he debated the merits of going to Inara or Zoë for help in putting his thoughts in some order. He was not a fool – he knew that he was not at his most articulate around Kaylee (or, for that matter, around any girl he was attracted to). He wasn’t sure why; Dr. Tam was intuitive, articulate – true, sometimes critical or sarcastic – but articulate – so why did suitor Simon find girls so hard to read, to talk to?
Dr. Tam couldn’t help with suitor Simon’s problem of course. Dr. Tam wouldn’t date his patients, so of course he wouldn’t have problems talking to Kaylee. Inara and Zoë probably could help, but he knew he couldn’t go to them. Inara was too close to Kaylee and Zoë was too fresh in her grief for Simon to consider bothering with relationship concerns. He would have to do it by himself. Ah, there it is. Complete resignation in sight: now he just had to get off the bed and go find Kaylee.
He didn’t move. A small part of him clung to the hope of somehow getting out of going to her. Maybe he should just write a letter? No, not fair when you have to face each other everyday – cowards way out. Maybe he should sleep on it?
A light knock fell on his door, and the door slid back. River’s face appeared, wearing a wry half-smile on her lips, “Insufferable temptation. Stop tormenting yourself.” He noticed that the smile didn’t reach her eyes. He stood up and hugged her, before making his way to the engine room.
He could hear Kaylee tinkering as he approached. Don’t get mad, don’t get flustered, don’t try to be funny. Just say what you mean. He knocked lightly on the open door of the engine room. Kaylee looked up. “Hey.”
“Hi Kaylee.” Simon hesitated. It’s now or never. That’s not true – never mind, focus! He took a deep breath. “May I join you?”
“Sure.” They sat on the floor of the engine room. She bit her lip. “You think about what I said?”
“And I think I understand. I’m sorry. You’re right, when a man asks a woman to marry him, he should be ready to put her first. It’s just…”
“Just what, Simon?” He could hear the edge creeping into her voice. He was tired of fighting, tired of setting her off all the time. In truth, he was getting tired of how easy she was to set off, too.
“It’s just that my situation – me taking care of River – isn’t that unusual. If River were my teenage daughter, instead of my sister, wouldn’t you expect me to put her first? She’s my responsibility, either way, until she’s old enough and well enough to take care of herself. That may never happen.”
“She’s getting better, Simon.” Kaylee murmured – was it hopefully?
“Yes. She’s getting better. But her amygdala will never regenerate – grow back – she’ll most likely be medicated for the rest of her life. She’s getting better, yes,” he repeated. “But I don’t know if that means that she’ll someday be able to live without care. For now – I don’t see how. Things may – or may not – ever get better than they are now. I suppose I thought you understood that when I asked you to marry me.”
“I didn’t.” She met his eyes. “Not really. I mean, I knew what you’d told me, but I guess I thought you were just over reacting.”
I’m not the one who flies off at every little thing! He bit back the tart reply. Their love might not be enough to hold them together, but his frustration wasn’t going to help it meet in the middle.
“You’re not wrong, you know. Not about me over reacting,” he cautioned hastily as her eyes brightened with renewed hope. “You do deserve someone who can put you first. But it’s not me. I can’t, and I can’t promise that the day will ever come when I can.” He hesitated, and watched her face for some sign that he might not have to utter his next words. “Therefore, I… I withdraw my proposal. I apologise, I meant it sincerely when I asked, but I realise now that it was inappropriate of me to ask for your hand.”
“There ain’t no need to so formal Simon,” Kaylee said shaking her head. “I ain’t mad you asked, we just ain’t ready to marry, neither of us.” She gave him a gentle smile, before finishing airily, “Anyway, we’ve barely been sexin’ a month.”
He hid his inward shudder. Really, she could be as crude as Jayne sometimes. “I just… wanted more than sex, Kaylee. I’m sorry if that seems rushed to you – it’s just that everything that’s happened… well, most of it happened so fast. I just don’t want to waste any more time. You never know when you’ll run out.”
He realised instantly, belatedly, as the words slipped from his lips that she would take them suggestively. She took his hand in hers. He didn’t want to pull it free, he knew it would be cruel, so he squeezed her hand gently before letting go.
“Kaylee, I’m not just interested in that. If you want us to be – I guess – friends who sometimes have sex – I suppose I can live with that. I’ll understand if you want to take up with someone else.” She looked more shocked than hurt, but he knew the hurt would come as soon as the shock wore off.
“What are you saying, Simon?”
“Kaylee,” he said gently, “I’m saying I’m not courting you anymore.”
“You’re mad I said no?”
“You didn’t say no,” he reminded her. “I withdrew the question.” He sighed. “I’m not mad, Kaylee. I just, I just realised that we need different things. You need to be put first, and that’s fair, but I can’t do it; I need someone who will understand why they can’t be first and won’t be hurt by that.”
“So you want us to be friends instead?” she asked hotly.
“No, I want us to be married anyway,” he whispered sadly. He cleared his throat. “But since that would only make us miserable while slowly destroying what we do have, let’s settle for being friends instead.”
She didn’t reply immediately. “This doesn’t make me happy Simon.”
“It doesn’t make me happy either, Kaylee. But at least it won’t make us miserable.”
“What’ll we tell the others?”
“It’s not really anyone’s business but ours.”
She looked at him sideways. He sighed.
“No, you’re right. Small boat, little family. Everything affects everyone else. Don’t worry, I’m happy to be the bad guy.”
“Thrilled.” He half-smiled at her. What did I say coming down here? Don’t try to be funny! He corrected himself. “I’m prepared to be the bad guy.”
“Can I tell’em you’re sly?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Would be fun.” For her, of course she meant.
“Sure it’d be fun,” he went along with it. “But when we get caught in that lie, I’d rather not look like an even bigger bad guy.”
“So, not really thrilled?”
“Guess not.” He sat quietly for a moment. “We can just tell them the truth: we had a civil chat and decided to be friends because we didn’t really want the same things when it came down to it.”
“Tell ‘em at breakfast?”
“Let’s… just wait until we’re asked.”
She nodded. Simon stood. He felt awkward – what now? She saved him some trouble, raising her hand up; he grabbed it for a quick squeeze and left.
Kaylee waited until he was gone, then rose, wiped her hands on an almost clean rag, and headed to Inara’s shuttle.
*** *** ***
Chapter two: Curae leves loquuntur ingentes stupent (slight sorrows talk, profound ones are speechless)
Zoë looked pensively at the little plastic device in her hand, watching as the little pink plus appeared. She was pregnant.
She’d had an inclination at least a week before, but really hadn’t wanted to think on it too hard, because, if the test came back negative, the disappointment would be – well, immense.
She couldn’t ignore it any longer, though, when a discrete little brown bag appeared after their trip off ship during the week. Inside the little bag was a box of anti-nausea medication. Someone had noticed that she wasn’t feeling well, and knew enough to spot the little signs and guess why.
She’d tried to puzzle out who it could have been. She knew that it couldn’t be Kaylee, because the words “discrete little brown bag” and Kaylee just didn’t fit in the same part of her brain. Simon would have included pregnancy vitamins and a dosage schedule; the Captain might have said nothing, but he’d have looked her in the eye when he put the pills into her hand; Inara would have left a “if you feel like talking” note, signed in her beautiful calligraphy; instinct suggested that River wouldn’t have left it in the bag, but rather would have wrapped the box like the secret it was and drawn all over the inside of the wrapper. She’d had to conclude, with some shock, that the giver was Jayne.
In hindsight, it made sense – or at least didn’t seem totally impossible. Jayne was from a farming family, and probably had plenty of siblings; they all knew, since the day they’d received Tracey in the mail, that Jayne sent money home, and was closer to his mother than they’d have ever guessed. The words, “It’s from my mother!” were spoken with such honest delight, that they seemed almost naked. And, for all his other faults, Jayne was not unobservant. He was an exceptional tracker, and in areas of personal expertise, a sharper mind than he usually let on.
A nagging ache came unbidden: what if she wasn’t really pregnant? Still, she thought that unlikely. The test might miss small amounts of the pregnancy hormone, but it could hardly invent it if it wasn’t there, could it? She knew that she wouldn’t be certain, despite the signs, despite the mysterious pills, until she’d spoken to Simon. She knew she wasn’t really being rational, but she also realised that she was just too invested in it to believe that it was true if it wasn’t. There would be no second chance, this time.
Zoë thought it over. Clearly, first she had to speak to Simon – after all, if she wasn’t pregnant, then there really was something wrong with her. Then, if pregnancy (she refused to think of it as the pregnancy, yet) were confirmed, she would tell the Captain. Then, she would discretely thank Jayne, and, if she had the Captain’s permission, she would tell the crew. She knew that if she were pregnant, that there was no sense waiting until twelve weeks had passed to tell the crew, because if she were to give the baby a chance, she wouldn’t be able to go out on jobs until the pregnancy ended, one way or another.
She would go to see Simon first thing in the morning. No. She looked at her watch; it wasn’t that late – Simon would probably still be up, tinkering with something in the infirmary. She went to find him.
Inara heard the knock and immediately went to the door; it was definitely Kaylee’s knock. She had her brush in hand as she opened the door, but knew, the instant that she saw her friend’s face, that the girl had not come to play dress up. “What’s wrong, Mei-mei?” the companion asked. The young mechanic responded by bursting into tears. Inara pulled Kaylee into a hug, and shut the door behind her. She guided her friend to the couch, and began pouring tea. As she made the tea, she heard Kaylee’s breath settle and she asked in a low tone, “What did he do now?” River’s refrain of “Boob!” seemed at once both appropriate and inappropriate.
In between her slowing sobs Kaylee managed to state her grievance. “He asked me to marry him!” Even as talented a student of human behaviour as Inara was, she was mystified as to why this would bring tears – and clearly not ones of joy – to Kaylee’s eyes.
“You don’t want to marry him?” For the first time in a long time, Inara actually felt a little stupid.
“It’s not that… I wanted him to want me more, to put me first.”
“So you said no?”
“I didn’t say no! I told him to think about what he was askin’ and whether he really wanted to marry me and such.”
“And he decided that he don’t want ta marry me!”
“Were you just playing hard to get, or did you mean what you asked him, Mei-mei?” Inara was on firmer ground here; she knew that Kaylee had a genuine grievance with Simon on this point.
“Weren’t playing… but didn’t mean it so serious like that either. Now he says he doesn’t want ta court me either, just ta be friends.”
“Mei-mei, of course you’re hurt, but I don’t think that he doesn’t like you. You were right to tell him what you wanted from him, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.” She paused. “It’s like Jayne says – ‘if wishes were horses’…”
Kaylee finished the joke in a whisper, “‘we’d all be eatin’ steak.’” The mechanic looked up, her face tear streaked. “Why’s he gotta be such a hundan?”
“Well, he is male, Mei-mei.”
Chapter Three: Sub Rosa (under the rose; which is to say, secretly, or in confidence)
As she approached the infirmary, Zoë could see Simon making some notes in one of his files. She often wondered how he managed to spend so much time in there – he had, at least recently, blessedly little to do. She noticed that he seemed a little distracted when she greeted him but she said nothing, merely closing the door behind her. At that little sound, he immediately put his file aside and turned his full attention to her. She’d trusted he would. Dr. Tam was never far away when Simon was around. She handed him her little home pregnancy kit; while he glanced at it she spoke. “I’d like you to do a proper test.”
“Of course, Zoë.” He turned and hit the button for the privacy blinds, and put the test on the counter. “I’ll have to give you an internal exam, so please slip off… what you need to slip off, and try to get comfortable on the table.”
I am a war veteran, the soldier reminded herself. This is not hard, she tried to think confidently, but she didn’t find it convincing. “Captain not spare any coin for gowns?”
Simon shook his head. “Sorry, Zoë.”
“Should’a thought to buy my own planet side.” She muttered to herself. Simon, standing solidly on professional ground, knew better than to acknowledge that he’d heard her. He turned around and opened his file on her, making himself busy with jotting down – very slowly – the date and reason for her visit. He heard the sounds of clothes rustling and a thought struck. He reached into one of his cupboards and grabbed a splatter shield, which he held out to her over his shoulder.
“Thanks, Doctor.” He heard the plastic rustling and figured that she was done, but he waited for her. “I’m in position.” Variants on the theme of that sounded so tactical appeared in both of their minds. Simon filed the phrase away in case he ever had to use it, as he turned around.
“This always sounds ridiculous, but please try to relax your muscles as much as possible. It really does make a difference: the more relaxed your abdominal and vaginal muscles, the more comfortable and thorough the exam.” He could hear more rustling as he reached under the table for the stirrups. She slipped her feet in without waiting to be asked, while he put on gloves. He looked her in the eye. “Will I start?”
Simon inserted two fingers into the vagina alongside the cervix while, with the other hand, pressing the lower abdomen, directing the pelvic organs towards his examining fingers. There was both noticeable uterine enlargement and softening. He with drew his hand. “I’m done.” Zoë took a breath, but, hand on her stomach, didn’t move to dress yet.
“I can confirm that you’re pregnant. You get dressed and then we can talk some more.” She nodded, and Simon could see a soft smile on her lips as he turned around again. Simon pulled off the gloves and binned them, before jotting a few more details into her file, before he heard, “You can turn around.” He tried not to notice that she’d definitely been faster while she was dressing. The smile was still on her lips, wider than it had been, though not the widest he’d ever seen it.
“Thank you. What now?”
“Well, so far all I can tell you is that everything appears normal, and you’re about seven weeks along.”
“Does River know?”
“Ah, possibly, she could have heard your thoughts if you where thinking about it. She couldn’t know on her own - I think. The baby’s brain is mostly nerves right now, it doesn’t have a mind yet for River to eavesdrop on.”
“I suppose she knows for certain now.” Implying, with a sweep of her hand their conversation and the exam.
Simon shrugged. “It’s possible, but she went to bed a little while ago – I don’t think she picks up on much now while she’s asleep. I should probably tell you that she knows that she has to respect what goes on in here – it’s not her fault that she can read minds, but she knows that it would be entirely her fault if she were to betray confidences. For what it’s worth, I would guess that she probably knows that you suspect pregnancy. She didn’t so much as hint to me.”
Zoë’s nod indicated a sort of ‘that’s fair’.
Simon spoke again. “I have some questions to ask. I’ll run through the first part pretty quickly, but if I’m wrong about anything, now is the time to correct me. Ok?” Zoë nodded her assent, and Simon began.
“Do you have any medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, asthma, tuberculosis, epilepsy, or heart disease? If I do it is a big secret to my doctor.” Zoë just laughed.
“Do you smoke? If so, how many packs per day? I secretly smoke so much it’s a wonder I can run at all.” He looked up, she shook her head.
“In an average week, how many alcoholic beverages do you consume? Less than Mal, and many less than Jayne.” He could see she was thinking.
“’Bout average I guess. A few beers on the ground, nothing much. Won’t be drinking any now.”
Simon nodded, and said supportively, “That’s good. Now, do you use any recreational drugs?” “No.”
“Do you exercise regularly? Practically non-stop.” He continued jotting. “You know you’ll have to take it easy for now, right?”
“Do you eat a well-balanced diet?” He looked up at her. “You’re fine on that score, actually. Are you taking any vitamins?”
Simon nodded. “Make sure I give you some before you leave. Are you taking any medications, including over-the-counter medications? If so, what are they?”
“None at present. Was on the pill ‘til that time we were at the whore house, stopped around then.”
“Have you ever had any sexually transmitted infections?” There was a noticeable pause. Simon looked up. Zoë’s lips had formed a tight line, and her eyes were suddenly cold, all mirth gone.
“Yes. Had some infections after my time in the camp. Got ‘em treated, was still fine my last exam.”
“Your last exam was when?”
“Just before Wash and I married. Both did all the tests.”
Simon nodded. “Of course.” She leant on a cupboard and looked toward the wall. He looked back at his list.
“Do any medical problems tend to run in your family such as sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, or haemophilia?”
“No. Not Wash’s either that he mentioned.”
“Did you have any problems getting pregnant?”
“Not the way you mean.” Simon didn’t ask.
“Are you having any problems with morning sickness, that is, nausea and vomiting?”
“Yes. I’m taking Nauseaway for it with the last few days.”
“As instructed on the pack?” He resisted the urge to tell her that that counted as over the counter medication for the purpose of his earlier question.
“Are they helping?”
“Ok, that’s fine then. Are you having any bleeding from your vagina?”
“No.” Her answer was almost a whisper. Simon’s uneasiness was growing. His sister wasn’t the only intuitive Tam. He was beginning to guess where this was going to end.
He spoke gently. “Zoë… I have to ask. Have you been pregnant before?”
“Yes.” Her voice was a whisper. “Once.”
“What was the outcome of that pregnancy?”
“Lost her, ‘bout five months along.”
“I’m sorry, Zoë. When was this?”
“Right after the war.”
“Did you get to name her?”
Zoë met Simon’s eyes again. “Called her Hera Allenye – seemed only right. Conceived her in the camps, and lost her there too.”
He dropped his voice too. “Pregnancy due to rape?”
“Zoë, I’m sorry. Did you get any counselling or treatment back then?” She shook her head. Simon could tell that she couldn’t trust herself to speak. He made his voice as gentle as he possibly could. “This isn’t something that you have to deal with on your own. There are places you can go, people you can talk to, if you can’t do it here. You don’t have to decide now, of course.”
The first mate just nodded wordlessly.
“Are you heading to bed?” He asked. She nodded again. “Ok. Get plenty of rest.” He turned to his cupboards and grabbed some vitamins. “These are the pregnancy vitamins. Your diet is fine to keep you and the baby healthy, but you will need to eat a little bit more – that amount will get bigger as the pregnancy goes on. We can keep an eye on that together. My one concern would be that you will need more fibre in your diet, so make sure not to ignore that. Are you planning on telling the Captain?”
“Yes. First thing in the morning.” She had been planning to tell him tonight, but she really just didn’t want to face it now.
“Ok. I’m sure that he won’t mind me adding extra vegetables to my supply list.” Zoë smiled tightly. “If you start feeling weird about whatever it is you’re feeling, try to imagine the advice you’d give to any other woman on this boat, ok?”
“You don’t have to face this alone?”
“Well, that in the general… but whatever your advice would be in the specific, too, whenever something comes up. Sometimes we get to used to looking out for others, putting ourselves second that it helps to pretend that the needs we’re looking after are not our own – so we can deal with them – squarely.” He would have said fairly, but he wanted to pick a word that would resonate with her. He thought he might have guessed right by the softening of her expression. “Zoë, I know you’ve said you’re heading to bed, and I know that this… Ok, I think Zoë, if you were willing to I’d prefer if you moved into the passenger dorms for the duration. A slip on the ladder could be fatal to the baby. I know that you’re going to tell the Captain in the morning, but if you were agreeable, I’d prefer if you just avoided the ladders, beginning now.”
Zoë knew that Simon was a worrier, perhaps even a worrier surpassing her Wash, but she knew that he was right on this point. She couldn’t face the thought of losing this baby. “Best get the Captain up here, then. Can’t be where he can’t find me.”
Simon nodded and paged the Captain. He didn’t offer to leave. Zoë would have met the Captain elsewhere if she didn’t want Simon present. He turned back to Zoë to wait with her. Zoë spoke almost conversationally. “I’d actually been thinking of boxing my things and letting you and Kaylee have my bunk if you to would like. More room and what have you. I could use Kaylee’s.”
“That’s… very kind of you Zoë, but it’s early for us to start thinking on those lines.” Simon was definitely not going to burden her with his troubles right now. She nodded agreeably, as she had meant to keep the offer a little longer, but if she wasn’t going to be in her bunk, they may as well have it. Simon continued. “Plus, you should have enough room for a nice nursery in there.” She hadn’t thought of that. Zoë smiled at him.
Mal’s long gait took him quickly to the infirmary room door, and a fast glance took in its contents. “Where’s the emergency Simon? Not that I want ta see my crew shot, but as a general rule they’d want ta be before I go getting out’a bed.”
Zoë spoke up. “It’s me, Sir.”
“Zoë, you don’t look shot to me.”
“I’m with child, Sir.” She registered her Captain’s look of surprise. “’Bout seven weeks along, all normal.”
“That’s… that’s good, Zo.” He pulled her into one of his rare hugs, and Zoë could feel the emotion welling up again. She didn’t want that. “I’m happy for ya.” He let her go. “Been feeling sick?”
“A bit. Just normal stuff, Sir. Doctor here thinks it’s best I bunk in the passenger dorms, just wanted to make sure that’s alright with you.”
He looked a mite puzzled as to why, but he wouldn’t deny her something so simple. “’Course, Zoë.”
Simon spoke up. “It’s the ladder Captain. It would be dangerous for her to climb up and down.”
“Right, of course. Anything you need particular tonight Zoë? I can go down and get it.”
She looked grateful. “I’ll write up a list, Sir.”
“You do that.” Mal said, and Simon wordlessly handed her a pen and paper. Mal continued, “I’ll go make up a passenger dorm, will I?” He gestured over in their general direction.
Zoë’s voice was her tactical one, but a gentler version. “Before that, Sir, I should point out that we’ll need to talk about my role on Serenity for the duration. I won’t be able to go out on jobs, a’course.”
“Not fighting you on that Zoë!” The Captain’s voice was as excited as Simon had ever heard it. “You’re gonna be the most pampered woman on this boat, I swear Inara will look fretful and run off her feet by comparison. There’s plenty of first-mate-y things you can do without riskin’ the baby.” With that the Captain headed to the passenger dorms to make up the bed Zoë was perfectly capable of making up for herself.
Simon looked at the bemused smile on Zoë’s face, as she started to write her list. “First mate-y things, are they much like Captain-y things?” the young man asked.
She looked up and shook her head. “Couldn’t rightly say.”
When Mal got back, he said, “I’ve made up the dorm two down from Simon. Got the list ready, Zoë?”
“Yes, Sir.” She handed it to him. “Sir?”
“I was wondering if you’d mind if I tell the crew at breakfast.”
“Whatever you want Zoë. Anyone says anything, you send’em to me or the doc.” Simon raised an eyebrow, but wisely said nothing. “I’ll go get your things, and put ‘em in your dorm.” The Captain headed away again.
Simon was relieved at how easily everything had gone with the Captain. Zoë seemed to read his thoughts from his face. As she turned to leave, so, Simon suspected, that he couldn’t see her face, she said, “Captain knows about Hera. Good night, Doctor.”
“Good night, Zoë. Sleep well.”
Chapter Four: Perfer et obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim (be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.)
As Kaylee left Inara’s shuttle, she could see Jayne working out with his weights. She slowly made her way down to the cargo deck floor and wandered over to him. “Can I join you?”
Jayne grunted, put the weights in place and sat up. He swung his left leg over the bench so that he was just sitting on it, not straddling it. “Sure.” He gestured to the spot next to him and took a sip of water from his bottle.
Kaylee sat. “Rayne’s a pretty name for a baby, ain’t it? If it were a girl, ‘course.”
Jayne eyed her warily. “Sure. You plannin’ on having one?” He took another slug from the bottle.
“No. Thought maybe you and River might.”
Jayne just about managed to swallow the water in his mouth.
“Since when am I makin’ babies?” He looked at her askance. “Plus, I’m fair sure I ain’t sexin’ that girl. Why, d’she say somethin’?” (Working out always made him think of Book, never truly far from Jayne’s mind. Sometimes Book’s sayings would slip out of the mercenary’s mouth; he didn’t know whether to feel awkward about it, but no one ever said anything – unless, of course, you counted eyebrows, Serenity’s third language).
“No, just thought would be pretty.”
“Me sexin’ River? You been hittin’ the engine wine a little hard, Kaylee?”
Kaylee gave him a playful slap. “No, not the sexin’! Pairing up, pairs all over.”
“Like ‘two by two, hands of blue’? Pairs ain’t always a good thing. Plus, you can’t make pairs outta the crew a’ Serenity.”
Kaylee paused. “I think it would be shiny. She’s legal in a few weeks, you know.”
Jayne was beginning to feel more than a mite uncomfortable. “Look, you know it ain’t about legal out here – it’s about right and wrong. Why not suggest I go chasing after Zoë? She’s legal, free, and we got more in common than me and River.”
Kaylee looked shocked. “She’s a widow Jayne! Folk don’t do that.”
“And folk don’t sex girls younger than their sisters, neither! She may be legal in a few weeks, but I’d bet ya a stack a’ chores that she’s still drawing pretty pictures a’ dolls then. She lost a bunch a’ years in that school, you gotta give her time to catch up, only got back to herself with a month. Sexin’ crew only gonna tangle that girl more, and I ain’t having it on my head.”
“She’s real pretty,” Kaylee said wistfully. Jayne decided it was past time to bug out of this whacked out conversation.
“Ain’t an ugly girl on this boat, Kaylee. Don’t make it my job to sex ‘em.” He trailed off to the kitchen.
When he got there, he poured out a shot glass of whiskey and surreptitiously – even though no one was there to see – saluted Book’s old chair, before knocking it back. He poured a second shot, to sip. He thought quietly, a prayer, really, though he wouldn’t have called it that, “Preacher, won’t never know now what you saw in me, but ah, if yer listening, Serenity could sure use some help, we’re plenty mixed up with out ya.” He thought for a moment on Kaylee’s odd topic of conversation, and what to say to Book about it. “And, ah, ya might remind the doc to buy Kaylee some new batteries, she’s acting all weird. I’m going ta bed, soon. ‘Night Preacher. Hope you’re comfy in Heaven.”
Zoë could see Jayne’s lips moving as she walked through the door of the kitchen, but didn’t feel it was her place to say anything. She poured herself a glass of water before turning her attention to Jayne, quietly sipping his whiskey. She walked back toward the door, glass in hand, where she turned again to face him; she spoke quietly. “Jayne, I’ve spoken to the doctor and the Captain and I’ll be announcing it at breakfast, but I just wanted to say thank you, it was mighty kind of you.”
The mercenary met her eye, a trace of nervousness there. “Weren’t nothing, Zoë. Ah, good luck an’ all.”
She nodded and turned back to go to bed. How do you tell someone like Jayne that it’s not nothing? She certainly didn’t know. She called, “Good night Jayne” over her shoulder, and heard his easy reply. “’Night Zo.”
When she got to her dorm, all the things she’d asked for were neatly folded on her bed, as if she were a Corporal again, awaiting inspection. She changed into her nightshirt quickly and lay down to talk Wash and the baby awhile before falling asleep.
Chapter Five: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human, therefore nothing human is strange to me)
Simon woke instantly at the extra weight on his bed and sat up. River was sitting gently on the end of his bed. “Get dressed. Kaylee’s cooking breakfast. Don’t make it weird, and it won’t have to be. Offer to help. Here are your clothes.” She gestured to a pile of folder clothes next to her. Clearly she’d been in the room a few minutes before she’d woken him.
“Are you going to leave?”
“You’re not naked under there, don’t pretend.” She rolled her eyes. “I’ll turn around.” She stood up and did.
“River, this is…”
“You’re a doctor, stop acting like normal person.”
Simon rolled his eyes, but got up and started dressing. “What’s Kaylee making?”
“I suggested waffles. You should be able to mix batter without ruining it.”
“Do we have a waffle iron?”
He couldn’t see, but River rolled her eyes again. “Kaylee’s a mechanic, I’m sure that she has something that she can use.” Simon didn’t want to think too hard on that.
“Is this all for me?”
“No. I want waffles, too.” River turned around.
“River!” Simon exclaimed.
“You’re dressed, dumb ass.”
“Language, River.” Simon frowned at her.
“Didn’t think references to mammary glands would be appreciated this morning.”
“Right.” He sat on the bed to pull his shoes on, and River sat next to him.
“I’m sorry. Am I forgiven?” She asked softly.
“Yes. Please don’t call me that again.” She kissed his cheek.
“I love you, Simon.”
“I love you too. Let’s go make breakfast. Or watch, or whatever.”
When Mal filed in, everyone else was already in the dining area. Zoë, Jayne and Inara were sitting at the table, making light banter as River set the table. Kaylee was cooking, while Simon hovered nearby. Given the amount of flour on the pair’s clothes, Mal guessed that cooking had not been their first priority this morning, but that didn’t matter, because nothing was going to spoil his happy family moment. Except maybe Jayne. Or a snarky comment from Inara. Or something creepy from River. Or Simon saying something dumb to Kaylee. Well, a man could hope.
As he settled himself in his chair, River gave him a quick smile and dropped into her own chair. Kaylee called “breakfast’s ready!” as she and Simon brought over a plate each stacked with waffles. Inara, Zoë and River murmured appreciative ohhs and aahhs over the less than perfect waffles; Jayne heaped on his own, perhaps more sincere, praise by just grabbing the top three from the stack nearest himself.
Mal waited until breakfast was nearly over, and carefully eyed Zoë, who smiled a little and nodded. He nodded back and pushed his plate away. “Thank you Kaylee, Simon, the waffles were timely. Seems we’ve got some good news to celebrate.”
Everyone’s attention turned fully to the Captain. He stood, smiled widely and spoke again. “Ladies and menfolk, I would ask you to turn your attention to our own lovely Zoë.” He gestured grandly towards her and sat down again.
She just looked at the table for a moment, composing herself, but there was a pleased smile on her face. She looked up and around the table. “Wash and I are having a baby.”
Kaylee squealed with delight, as the others offered their congratulations. “A baby! There’s gonna be a child on Serenity!” Kaylee was clapping and laughing.
River gave her an odd look. “There will be children on Serenity, you mean.” Everyone turned immediately to River, and her apparent prophecy.
Kaylee’s wide eyes went wider, but Jayne just asked casually, waffles in mouth, “Ya havin’ doubles, Zoë?”
“Not that I know, Jayne.” Zoë’s voice was dry as she glanced between River and Simon.
River rolled her eyes. “There’s been a child on Serenity for most of a standard year now.”
“You’ll be an adult, Mei-mei, before the baby’s born.”
“Truth in law and truth in fact are not the same. Maturity does not correspond precisely with legal responsibility.” River glanced, not pointedly, but nonetheless noticeably, between Kaylee and Jayne.
“Well said, lil’ albatross. Now, if you all can focus, there’s gonna hafta be some changes for a bit.” He looked around the table. No one was objecting, yet. “Zoë ain’t going out on jobs – I think it’s pretty clear why. Also, Zoë’s moving to the passenger dorms ‘til the baby’s born… though that’s kinda incidental to what I want to talk about.” He paused again, trying to figure out how to phrase the next part without making it scary. “I’m a little concerned about our ability as a crew. Now, we are very lucky to have a capable crew, better than capable. But there’s not enough overlap. Been thinking on it a bit for a while now, but kinda seems timely to deal with the problem. Right now we’ve got one mechanic – anything happens to Kaylee, and there ain’t anybody to perform any essential repairs, hold us together ‘til we hit ground. When Wash was here, didn’t have to worry on that as much. We’ve got a good array of pilots, but I want all crew to be able to get Serenity up and down and the same with the shuttle. I’m thinking on our med crew too. Zoë can do first aid, but I ain’t resting so easy with just Simon and Zoë knowing this, especially since anythin’ happens to Simon, only River and Inara seen a baby being born and that was only once.”
“Na un.” Said Jayne. “I seen birthin’.” All heads swivelled his way.
“I don’t mean cattle, Jayne. Was talking about actual women-folk.”
Jayne didn’t even glance at the captain. “Don’t gotta be snitty. Ain’t like you weren’t birthed your own self.”
The Captain rolled his eyes. “Anyway, on that matter, I want to schedule some cross-trainin’ so we can help each other out, all do the essential in a pinch. Kaylee, you busy this mornin’?”
“No, Cap’n.” She shook her head.
“Ok. Jayne and I will follow you down after breakfast. Give us a tour of the parts of the engine and common problems and fixes and the parts and such. While we’re doing that, River, Zoë, and Inara if she’s agreeable, will go with Simon and brush up their first aid. In two hours, Simon and Inara, you can come down and Kaylee you start again at the beginning, two hours after that Zoë you go to Kaylee.”
“Hey, why’s Zoë goin’ on her own? She ain’t big yet.” Several smiles went around the table at Jayne’s comment.
“’Cause Zoë ain’t picking up heavy parts unless she’s the last conscious person on Serenity!”
Simon added seriously, “And anything could happen in four hours.” Several laughs erupted. The Captain glared, but River spoke.
“Zoë’s on her own, because the Captain forgot someone.” Mal did a quick check on his fingers, as the girl rolled her eyes.
Simon leaned close and whispered to her, “They’ll get stuck like that. I’m a doctor, I know.” She stuck her tongue out, and the Captain looked up.
“Sorry, River. Ok, first Jayne and I, than you and Simon, then Zoë and Inara. No, that’s a bad plan, you’ll just tease Simon and Kaylee, and nothing will get done. First Jayne and I, than Simon and Inara, then Zoë and River. Two hours apart. Got that?”
The group, half-humouring him, nodded. “After dinner, Jayne, Kaylee and I will join Simon in the infirmary for some more first aid lessons. At the same time, Zoë, Inara and River will brush up on the differences between handling a shuttle and Serenity herself. We can talk about that at dinner. Any questions?”
Nobody said anything for a moment, but then Simon spoke. “It’s not a question, but it is something that should be brought up: blood, and blood donation. Wash was our only universal donor – meaning that he could donate blood to anyone.” The crew, barring perhaps Mal, knew this because of Simon’s frantic testing when they found Mal unconscious abroad Serenity after the engine outage. Zoë and Inara knew immediately were the conversation was going. “Captain, you have a rarer blood type, B-, and no one aboard Serenity now can donate to you. River and I can donate to everyone bar you, and we can receive from each other. Kaylee and Inara are A+ and can receive from River or I, or each other, and donate to each other and to Jayne. Zoë is B+, can receive blood from River or I, or from you, and she can donate to Jayne. Jayne is AB+, the universal recipient, and can receive blood from any of us, but can’t donate to any of us.” Jayne preened happily, as if this was something he had personally accomplished. “The science behind this is actually a bit more complicated than this, and if we were talking about plasma it would be the reverse… but that’s basically how we stand on the subject of emergency blood transfusions right now.”
It took Mal a moment to digest this. “Simon, I know there’s no way there’s a medical problem on this boat that you know of and haven’t set to fixin’. When you get back from engine class, I want you to work on that until dinnertime. Get me some suggestions on how we might fix it.” Simon nodded. “Ok, crew, let’s get started. Square away what you have to, and be in the engine room or infirmary in half an hour.”
Simon waited until Jayne was alone to corner him. “All joking aside, Jayne, have you been present at childbirth?” the doctor asked quietly.
Taken aback mostly at being taken seriously, Jayne stammered a hesitant, “Yeah…”
“And?” Simon prompted.
“Uh, well, the first time…”
“How many have you seen?” Simon’s tone betrayed his surprise.
Jayne voice took on a note of pride. “Two.”
“That’s a lot.” Simon stammered. Jayne stared at him. “I mean, unless you’re a doctor… I mean, that kind of doctor.” He stopped rambling abruptly. “Please go on.”
“Well, like I said, first time Mother was birthin’ and Daddy’d gone to git the doctor. Mother was poppin’ ‘em out pretty fast by then I guess, so the doctor didn’t get there in time, and Mother called me and told me how to grab it and catch it. Weren’t breech or nothing, just left it come out by itself.”
That wasn’t too shocking. That sort of thing could happen easily enough, and did, especially on the Rim. “How old were you?”
“Were Matty’s birthin’, so I guess eleven and a bit.”
“Right. And the second time?” The mercenary blushed a bit. There was a lengthy pause. “Uh, Jayne?”
“Yeah, well, second time was when I was still with Marco, and we was holding up a bank. We kinda got stuck in there, and had a bunch a’ citizens in there with us, and we’d been holed up there most of a day when this lady started screaming. Marco yelled at her to shut up, ‘an I probably did too, it was a mite tense in there. So, turns out she was poppin’ and no one there’d ever seen a birthin’ – couple folk just got all squeamish about it and passed out.” Jayne met Simon’s eyes at this point. “Guns pointed at ‘em all day. One bitty woman talkin’ ‘bout havin’ one bitty baby and they just keel over. Anyway, she was really small, not proper pregnant looking at all, and I was scared the baby was too early, but wasn’t nothing I could do ‘bout that. Baby came out ok, bit small but breathin’ fine.” Jayne smiled. “Lady called ‘er Jayne, too.”
“I’ll bet she did.” Simon managed to stammer.
Mal’s annoyed voice suddenly intruded. “Jayne! You’re late, get your rutting pigu to the gorram engine room, or I’m feeding you to it next we land.” Simon made a face at the mental image, but Jayne just shrugged. “It’s Mal,” he said by way of no-hard-feelings explanation and wandered off.
Chapter Six: Experientia docet stultos (experience teaches fools)
Simon and Inara walked from the infirmary to the engine room together. Inara was always observant, ever watchful – it was her training. She could no more stop that than Simon could stop worrying about the health of the crew. Still, Simon’s stiffness told her that, among other things, he was aware of that… and not particularly enjoying the thought at the moment.
‘May as well break the ice,’ she thought. “Simon,” she said in a quiet but conversational tone, “there’s no need to feel so… like a zoo specimen. Serenity has an observant crew, all of us in our own way – you included. People will notice less if you stop acting suspicious around us.”
“I just don’t want to be the subject of rumours.” He looked toward her. “I’m not saying that Kaylee shouldn’t have spoken to you, I’m glad that she has you to confide in. But what you think of me isn’t really any of my business.”
Of course Simon would have guessed that Kaylee would go to her. “Ah, touché. Well, I don’t think anything bad about you, in case you’re curious. I don’t think anyone will, particularly.”
Simon’s eyebrow shot up to the far reaches of his forehead. “Yes they will, Inara. They already do.”
“Well, it’s not like Mal’s going to shoot you.”
Simon considered this. “I suppose as heart wounds go, this type isn’t generally fatal.” His serious tone was almost morose.
“Simon,” Inara made her voice gentle. “Do you have… anyone to confide in, as you would say?”
“Well, there’s River.”
“And you do talk?”
He looked away. “It’s actually rather more efficient than talking. I think sad thoughts, and River makes faces at me.” He paused, and caught Inara’s eye. “We’ve always been very close – no need for words.”
She knew that his sarcasm was intended to cover his loneliness, and she didn’t really know how to answer either; nonetheless, as they had talked, Simon had lost most of his extra stiffness. They walked in silence the rest of the way.
When they arrived at the door, Mal and Jayne were only just leaving. Inara smiled, pleased to have someone else to talk to. “So late! Did you two enjoy yourselves?”
Mal glanced toward Jayne with an amused look. Jayne was almost hyper. “Ya know, ‘Nara, it’s like Kaylee says – ain’t too hard when you think of it as carin’ for a really big gun.”
“The engine?” Inara tried to hide her own amusement.
Mal added in a conspiratorial stage whisper, “Even better – there are explosions.” Inara did laugh at that.
“Ha ha ha. You’ll see. Just like a really BIG gun.” Jayne said to Inara, before he wandered off.
Mal looked at Jayne’s departing back, and asked Inara, mock-seriously, “Do you think we should warn Vera about Jayne’s cheating heart?” He gestured with his head. “Best you two get in there. Can’t have you holding up River and Zoë.”
“Of course not,” Inara smiled, and swept into the engine room.
Kaylee was immediately taken aback. “’Nara, you can’t wear that playin’ with the engine!”
“Will I be playing with the engine today, Mei-mei?” Inara’s tone of amusement hadn’t worn off.
“Well, you’re not gonna learn anything if ya don’t touch the workin’s.” Kaylee looked at her friend appraisingly. “Git. Go to my bunk and change into a spare pair a’ coveralls.”
“Is it really necessary, Kaylee?”
Kaylee looked at Inara as if she’d suddenly gone half-mad. “Cap’n said ya only gotta do this if yer willin’ ‘Nara, but I ain’t ruining nothing so fine.”
“Very well, Mei-mei,” Inara said indulgently. “Don’t start without me.”
Elsewhere on the ship, River couldn’t help but roll her eyes, even though, like the tree falling unheard in the forest, no one was there.
As Inara walked off, Simon realised that he was going to have to make conversation – alone – with Kaylee again. He knew that it shouldn’t be hard; he also knew that it would be.
“The waffles were nice.”
“You helped me make ‘em.”
“Not really. I – ah – mostly watched.”
“Don’t gotta be awkward Simon.” Kaylee turned to the engine to tinker. Her voice verged on not-quite-hurt. Simon knew from experience that full-blown-hurt was only a moment and a mouthful of words away. He tried to avert it.
“Right. So… are you enjoying teaching class?”
He should have stopped there, but River had warned him that if he didn’t make things awkward, that they wouldn’t have to be; it didn’t occur to him immediately that silence might be less awkward. “I was surprised to see that Jayne enjoyed the lesson so much.”
“He’s not a dummy, Simon! Ain’t his fault he ain’t over educated!”
“Kaylee, I didn’t say anything like that!”
“Yes you did, you are always making fun a’ Jayne, lookin’ down on him ‘cause he’s Rim.” Her voice went tight and her eyes narrowed.
“No I don’t!”
“Yes you do!” the mechanic shouted.
“Kaylee, I don’t have anything against people from the Rim. This boat is populated with them – I don’t – look, I’m the one constantly being harassed for being too Core. Not Inara, not River. Let’s stop pretending that this is Core versus Rim. This is you thinking that I look down on you and your friends and your family and your home, and you don’t trust me enough to believe me when I say I don’t!” His voice was getting louder too.
“You act like I’m a whore!”
“What? Where the hell did this come from? That word has never passed my lips, Kaylee.”
“You think all I care about is spreadin’ and sexin’! You don’t think I’m any kinda lady.”
Inara, unnoticed, returned from her trip to change clothes. She had hurried, so not to waste time, and was shocked at how quickly the conversation had turned bad. They’d seemed fine, if a little forced, together at breakfast.
Simon’s voice went quiet, and totally cold. “If you think that, I don’t understand why you’d even want to talk to me.”
Inara decided to intervene. “Mei-mei, I don’t think that Simon…” she began soothingly but Simon interrupted. His voice was very formal.
“Thank you Inara, but there’s no need to speak on my behalf. In any case, you’ve arrived, and I’m sure it would be best if we just got on with the class.”
“I ain’t teachin’ you! I ain’t talkin’ to you!” Kaylee’s voice erupted in angry disbelief.
“That’s a matter to discuss with the Captain, Kaylee, it has nothing to do with me.”
“Well, I’m tossin’ you outta my engine room, and that’s something to do with you!” She tossed her head and pointed at the door.
“Good day, then, ladies.” Simon pointedly left, but inside, under the anger, he was shaking. He could almost deal with Kaylee’s childishness – after all, he knew that she easily riled and that he didn’t exactly have a way with her – but he hadn’t been so hurt in years. That she might actually think *that* of him, was just beyond his comprehension. He knew that he should go to the Captain or Zoë about the missed class, but he just couldn’t face the idea of looking like he was tattling on her. He went to sit in his room. River joined him almost immediately, without even a hint of a knock. She curled up next to him, but gave him one of her ‘boob’ looks. “River, please. Everyone always takes her side.” He sighed. “And we were having such a nice morning.”
“You got weird.”
“That’s no excuse for what she said, River.”
“You hurt her feelings.”
“No, see, River that’s exactly what I didn’t do. I didn’t hurt her feelings, she hurt them all by herself this time.”
“And then she hurt yours?”
“River, this isn’t an appropriate…”
“See, this is why I make faces.” Her eyes willed him to remember his earlier comment.
“I’m sorry, you’re right.” He pulled her close to him, and kissed the top of her head. “I want things to be friendly between us, but when she gets all – riled – I guess, I just can’t deal with it. I don’t know what to say. Half the time I can’t manage to talk to her when she’s happy. What am I supposed to say when she wants to pick a fight?”
“‘I’m sorry, you’re right’?” River pulled a passable ‘Simon’ face. He laughed, but not much.
“I can’t say that when what she’s saying is that I think she’s…” Simon hesitated. He really didn’t want to say it.
“A doxy? Floozy? Harlot? Strumpet? Tart?” River supplied.
“Loose woman, I suppose.”
“You didn’t even notice that I listed them alphabetically.” River pretended to pout.
“That’s… true.” He looked at his hands. “Why does she think I think that?”
“She doesn’t. She just worries that you do.”
“But why? I’ve never not treated her like a lady – that’s the one thing I’ve never not done.”
“You’re talking like Mal now.”
“Well, we have been here for nine months.”
“I meant, like whining about Inara.”
“What? River, he… he uses that word all the time!”
“Good point. Bad analogy.” She sighed. “Simon, it comes down to this: trust isn’t earned, in the end, it’s given freely, or it’s not. She loves you, but she doesn’t trust you.”
“Because I’ve hurt her too many times?”
“No. You haven’t *broken* her trust, she just hasn’t given it to you yet.”
“What can I do to earn it?”
“What did I just say? You can’t earn trust; it’s the wrong word to use. I trusted you to help me when I was stuck in the academy – afterwards, you proved yourself worthy of it, but it wasn’t earned – it was just there. Awarded. Given freely… and until she stops worrying that she’s a bimbo, she’ll never believe that you would think that of her. Just like until you stop worrying that you’ll never be able to give her what she wants, you’ll never believe that you can give it to her.”
“River, I know what she’s said.”
“She knows what you’ve said too.”
Mal’s head popped unannounced around the doorframe; Simon could see Zoë standing behind him, her hands on her belt. “What are you doin’ in here Doctor? I’m sure that you’re supposed to be in the engine room; it’s not like I can keep you out of there when you’re supposed to be elsewhere.”
Simon’s lips pressed together mostly automatically.
“I had a quarrel with Kaylee. She threw me out of the engine room.”
“It’s not her engine room to throw you out of!”
“With respect Captain, if I asked her to leave the infirmary, I would hope she would do so.”
“’Cause it’s your happy place?”
“No, because fighting is not conductive to surgery – or, I suspect, engine maintenance, though the class didn’t actually get that far.” Simon’s tone had become acerb again.
Unexpectedly, Zoë intervened. “There’s nothing wrong with either of your hearing, but I think you’re both hard of listening. Not you, Sir.” She paused. “Simon, people fight. Doesn’t matter whether you’re at fault, go apologise to the girl.”
Simon was going to argue the point, but then he realised – if he lost Kaylee – suddenly – like Zoë lost Wash – it wouldn’t matter to him that she’d never said she was sorry – only that he hadn’t. His voice was low when he answered. “I’m not courting her anymore. I just want us to be friends.”
Zoë remained impassive. “All the more reason. Sir, I’ve got some first-mate-y things to discuss with you on the bridge.”
Normally Mal would just follow, but he turned to her and asked, “Can it wait?”
River spoke up. “Deliberation of jurisdiction. The husband is head of the house, but the wife is head of the table.” From behind Mal, Zoë smiled at the archaic reference. Mal did not.
“Lil’ albatross…” his tone was warning.
“It’s alright, Sir. She wasn’t talking about you and me. She was talking about you and Simon and Kaylee. The ship is your house, but your doctor and your mechanic have to their authority respected in their own areas.”
River nodded. “Like the gods of old.” Zoë nodded in return, and left Mal standing there; with one final look at the siblings, he turned and stalked off.
River turned to Simon. “That went well.”
Simon put his head on his knees. “Yeah. I’d better go find Kaylee. She still mad?”
River thought for a moment. “As hell.”
Simon kissed his sister again and stood. “Oh good. I intend to grovel.”
Chapter Seven: Ense et aratro (with sword and plow, which is to say, citizen-soldier, one who serves in war and peace)
Zoë reached the bridge before him; that wasn’t particularly a surprise, she’d aimed to, so that she could talk to him alone, both for privacy’s own sake and because he had always had less need to posture when he was alone with her. She stood behind the pilot’s chair staring out at the black. She heard him stamp up the steps, though he didn’t intend to sound angry.
“Zo, I honestly don’t know what I’m gonna do with that boy.” He sat into the pilot’s chair and looked up at her. “Been a sore point with me since day one, Zoë. She got shot on his account, and he didn’t hurry to fix her either.” It was clear that he was just gearing up for the larger part of the rant… this was just the pre-rant warm up venting. Zoë didn’t bother to look down.
“Might say he ‘had a legitimate conflict of interest’, Sir, what with him trying to keep his sister safe and away from cruelty we’ve known – and possibly some well past it - and as I recall that phrase saw a bit of use on that particular day.
“It did Zoë.”
“He wasn’t crew then, Captain.”
“There a plenty o’ days that boy still acts more like a spoiled child than a crew member.”
“You know that’s not true, Sir. In fact, I think your eye has a tendency to gloss over the crew member with the most history of acting like a spoiled child.”
He interrupted. “Now, Zo… even you told that boy to apologise.”
“Of course I did. There’s a fight, ain’t never gonna start to make up if one of them don’t apologise. That’s relationship advice from someone who’d time to make her one mistakes, and executive advice on crew relations. Got a few more first-mate-y duties to discharge, Sir, such as to point out that even a good captain is two bad decisions away from a mutiny.”
“Where am I?”
“First one, Sir.”
“Zoë, for the love of Book’s God and Inara’s Buddha, just speak your piece.”
“Simon and Kaylee are both right in thinking that they have to have some authority over the things they have responsibility for. Couldn’t work otherwise.” Mal nodded and Zoë continued. “Now, once you allow that, it follows that Simon had to leave her engine room – he obeyed her legitimate – if tentatively held – authority on the matter. Couldn’t ask the boy to do more. Now, Kaylee may have had a good reason, a bad reason or no reason for she did, but if we don’t go down there and talk to her about it, that’s telling the crew that it’s acceptable for Kaylee to disobey your orders. Remember the stunt Wash pulled in the shuttle before the Niska jaunt?”
“Zoë, I ain’t ever gonna believe that lil’ Kaylee hurt Serenity. Girl would take a bullet for that engine.”
“That image alone don’t trouble you none, Sir?”
“Sir, it’s gotta be done. Discipline’s gotta be maintained. Not suggesting you flog her like the days of yore, Sir, be we have to ask some questions, look like we noticed and cared, and let her know that tantrums, if that’s what this turns out to be, are not acceptable.”
“You think that’s what it is?”
“’Fraid so Sir.”
“And I’ve always been set against intra-crew fraternisation?”
“Dead set, Sir.” Mal was not cheered by her choice of phrase, but she continued. “Has Jayne ever told you how Marco used keep discipline on his ship?”
“He had ‘em beat. Several crews Jayne’s been on I believe. I’m not suggesting we start, but I think we can handle giving lil Kaylee a much-deserved slap on the wrist. Now, Sir, crew relations have always been a part of my job, so I can talk to her if you like. But it was your orders she disobeyed.”
“Ah, I think I’ll delegate this to you Zoë. Need practice for the baby and what.”
“Like as not, Sir.” She about turned and quietly left the engine room without ever having met his eyes. Mal half turned to watch her go, and smiled. She really was his right and left hand.
Simon stood as close to the engine room door way as he possibly could without entering. “Kaylee, I would like permission to enter the engine room to speak to you.”
“Don’t much wan’ ta talk to you.”
Inara spoke up. “I think I’ll leave you two it, then.” Inara calculated her exit from the room to cause Simon to step into the room to let her out. As she walked away she heard him scamper backwards immediately, back outside Kaylee’s territory. Inara smiled. He really was a good boy.
“Kaylee, I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’ve done to make you think that I don’t respect you, because I do. I don’t know what I’ve make you think that I think you’re a loose woman, because I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with being from the Rim. It’s just where you were born. I may not understand your customs, but I try to respect them.”
She interrupted. “Na you don’t. You’re always saying how crude Jayne is.”
“Bao bei, Mal and Zoë have both had plenty to say on those lines, and seeing as their both from the Rim, they probably know better than me what’s Rim custom and what’s just Jayne.”
“Yeah, just they’re from the Rim, that’s different.”
“If that were the case you’d get just as mad at the comments Inara makes about Jayne and you don’t. What it comes down to is that this is about something else.” He paused, as she stared at him. He was pretty certain that she was a moment away from shouting again. “So, I apologise for my part in your hurt, but I will not pretend to be the monster you’ve created in your head. When different customs meet, tolerance makes the best treaties. When you’re ready to stop thinking of me as a shui core-bred hundan, I’ll be ready to talk. Just please stop putting words in my mouth. They don’t fit, as my feet are usually already in there.” He bowed and walked away, pretending not to hear the sound of something banging off the doorway.
When he got back to his room River was still there. He sat on his bed next to her. “How was I?”
“Less wormy and more Simon. Not true grovelling.”
“You mean I have to do it again?”
“No. I suggested an apology – you suggested grovelling. Grovelling is unnecessary and sort of kinky.”
She threw her hands up, and said, “Hey, it’s true.”
Zoë saw Simon walking back from the general direction of the engine room and smiled. He would make someone a fine husband one day. She headed down to talk to Kaylee.
“Miss Frye, time for a word.” Zoë allowed the tiniest edge of to creep into her voice. It wasn’t to be mean, but it was important to let the girl know that this was *that* sort of conversation.
“Zoë?” Yes, the girl had picked it up just fine.
“I see Simon is not at class. Bumped into him earlier, asked why. He said you two had quarrelled and you’d thrown him out of the engine room. This the case?”
“It’s a yes or no question, Kaylee.”
“Now, the Captain and I spoke, and he agrees that you and Simon have to have some authority over the areas for which we hold you responsible. Thus, Simon was right in leaving the engine room at your request. But I’d like to know why you made that request, given that you knew the Captain’s orders.” There was a lengthy silence. “This is your chance to explain, Miss Frye. Don’t give it to me, and I’ll have to assume it’s ‘cause there isn’t one.”
Kaylee fiddled for a moment. She didn’t want to get Simon into trouble, but she didn’t much like being in trouble her own self, especially as she considered the whole thing his fault. “Well, Zo’ just he was making fun a’ Jayne and you know kinda takin’ shots at Rim folk and how he’s so tolerant. Can’t feel like a lady around him, always so proper and two-faced.”
Zoë just stared. “Kaylee – a word from a woman who’s been a wife – you can’t be pickin’ fights all the time and expect him to endlessly apologise. The boy’s who he is, and if you can’t feel like a lady around him, ain’t a soul going to do it for you. The boy’s proper, it’s just who he is. It’s as silly to expect him to act like Jayne as it would be to expect Jayne to act like Simon. Lovin’ you isn’t going to make him perfect either – those big feet a’ his like as not still goin’ to spend plenty a time in his mouth. Now, that’s all I’m goin’ to say on that. You pickin’ fights with Simon is ultimately a matter between you two. You don’t get to throw tantrums when it comes to Captain’s orders, though, and you did that this morning.”
Kaylee hung her head. Zoë nodded, though Kaylee couldn’t see.
“So, your free time is rescinded until further notice. You’re not in here doing your job, or at some task as assigned by the Captain, or at chow or in bed, you’re to be scrubbing the common areas of the ship – including the cargo bay. I mean scrub. Floors and walkways and stairs washed in the cargo bay, floors cleaned and wet dusting elsewhere, the walls in the kitchen washed, everything in the cupboards in the kitchen washed, dried and put back neatly. Dishes and other chores are still as per the rota, but you’ll have to do your own. When you think you’ve finished, come get me. I’ll inspect it. When I find you’re done, you’ll get your free time back. Ya understand?”
Zoë held in her smile at the impromptu ma’am. “Alright. Best get started then.” Zoë left the room.
Chapter Eight: Etiam capillus unus habet umbram (even one hair has a shadow)
When Jayne walked through the cargo bay, he was a mite confused as to why Kaylee was scrubbing down the steps.
“Ah, Kaylee, doncha got nothin’ better to be doin’?”
Kaylee looked up, embarrassed. They would all know eventually, of course. It was going to take her *days* to finish everything Zoë had told her to do. “Zoë’s makin’ me do it.”
“Fight with Simon.”
“So what’s the doc cleanin’?”
“Oh.” Meaning, this was Kaylee’s fault. Jayne was mystified, but thought better of saying anything about that. “Mal always gives me septic vac,” he offered sympathetically.
“Captain’s prerogative, Jayne.” Zoë’s voice came from the walkway. “Best you don’t disturb her, she’s got plenty to do.” Zoë walked off.
Jayne waited until Zoë was out of earshot. “Gotta clean the whole cargo bay, huh?”
“Yeah.” She looked up again, and Jayne wasn’t sure that her face wasn’t a little tear streaked. “Plus wash all the common floors and dust everywhere, and clean the whole kitchen, ‘cluding the walls and the cupboards and everything in the cupboards, before I get my free time back. Whatever I do first’s sure to be filthy again before I finish. I’ll never be done.”
“I’m sorry Kaylee. I’ll uh, try to uh keep ma boots clean.” She looked miserable, and started back scrubbing. Jayne, with nothing more coming to mind to say, walked off.
When Zoë walked into the dining area a while later, she was surprised at what she saw, but she made her voice very casual. “Jayne, you wouldn’t be cleaning the kitchen, would you?”
Jayne waved a damp sponge in Zoë’s direction. “Can’t clean ma guns in here Zoë, there’s all that flour from breakfast might get in the workin’s.”
“Jayne, you’re washing the walls.”
“It does.” She paused. “This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with the conversation you were having with Kaylee, earlier, would it?”
“No Zoë, why would Kaylee care about ma guns?” Zoë slowly made a cup of tea in silence and sat at the table drinking it. Jayne continued to scrub, looking over at where Zoë was sitting occasionally. When she was finished, she stood and again, slowly, left. Jayne watched carefully and was just about to call ‘she’s gone’, when the pantry door slid open and River stepped out. “Ya should have hid in the cupboard.”
“I wouldn’t have fit in the cupboard.” She picked her sponge out of Jayne’s bucket and set back to work. “Don’t tell Simon, okay?”
Jayne looked down at the girl, puzzled. “Why? Was yer idea.”
River gave him one of her ‘it’s obvious’ looks. “Because I’m on *his* side, of course.” She looked at the bucket. “It’s time to change the water again.”
Jayne nodded. “This place really is filthy.”
Just as she was about to fall asleep, River heard her door slide open – just a crack. Simon stepped in and quietly shut it again, and put his finger to his lips. He waited until he was right next to her before he spoke. “Mei-mei, I need a favour, please?” She already knew what he was going to say, and rolled her eyes in the dark. “Come to the kitchen with me where we can talk.”
“We can talk right here, Simon.”
“We might disturb Zoë.”
“Okay.” She slid out from under the covers, and the two Tam siblings padded silently on cold, bare feet to the kitchen. Simon remarked, “Hey! It’s not too bad in here – do you think Kaylee already got to it?”
“I suppose. Did she tell you?”
“No. She looked miserable in the first aid class, so I asked her afterwards, but she still wouldn’t talk to me. Jayne told me. I feel terrible.”
“For fighting with her?”
“I just feel like this is, you know, a little bit my fault too.”
“But you know it isn’t, right?”
“Yeah.” Simon sighed. “Let’s check the lounge area.”
As they walked, River asked. “Simon, you’re not suggesting we clean the lounge for her, are you?”
Simon looked a little guilty in the dim lighting. “Well, I was hoping you’d help, as a favour to me.”
“We might get caught by Zoë or Mal.”
“I was planning on telling them that I had insomnia.”
“So you decided to clean the lounge?”
“Uh, yeah. Come on, they already think I’m obsessive compulsive!”
River looked at him sideways. “That’s because you are, Simon.” She yawned. “What about me?”
“You could hide.” River suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. He didn’t know.
Simon misinterpreted the look, and amended his last statement mildly. “You could go back to bed if you want, of course. It’s just, you know, Kaylee’s our friend.”
“She’s being mean, Simon.”
“Very astute, little genius. But she’s been our friend since the moment we got here, and one day doesn’t change that. You’ve been bratty for years.”
River contemplated this. “True. But she’s not your little sister.”
“Thank heaven. One is plenty.”
“You don’t think, though, that Zoë might have had a point?”
“As long as Kaylee thinks she’s been punished, what harm is there? It’s the same thing, psychologically.”
She knew he would say it, but still, having him utter it aloud was weird. It was like – admitting it. “You have issues, Simon.” River said finally.
“You know, I’ve spent the last three years hiding, law breaking, terrified for myself and my sister. I’ve spent nine months as a fugitive, and eight months of those trying to repair my sister’s damaged health – without marked success I might add. A month ago, two of our only friends in the ‘verse were brutally killed. The girl I love thinks that I think that she’s… a bad girl. As a doctor, every wound I see is on someone I personally live with, which is kind of the opposite of what’s supposed to happen. All things considered… I’m really pretty okay, River.”
River nodded. “I’ll go get a bucket and some sponges.”
On the bridge, the Captain asked, “Do you think Kaylee looked a little bleary eyed at breakfast?”
“Probably cried herself to sleep, Sir,” his first mate answered.
“Do you think she slept? She’s getting through the chores you gave her mighty fast.”
“Oh, I’m sure *she* slept, Sir.”
Mal turned and frowned at her. “Zoë, you’re not suggesting…”
Zoë turned a wry look on the Captain. “Sir, you recall boot camp?”
“Aiya. You think?”
“Well, yesterday I walked in on Jayne scrubbing the kitchen walls. The way he was staring at me, waiting for me to go, I think there was someone in there helping him.”
“Simon? Inara maybe?”
“No – Inara wouldn’t have hid, she’s brazen, like Jayne. I’m guessing Simon.”
“That is… very Simon. How’d he talk Jayne into it though?”
“Oh, Jayne’s always been sweet on Kaylee. Also, point of interest, he saw her moping while she was moppin’ in the cargo bay. Looked all manner of sorry for herself.”
“But Simon and Jayne?”
Zoë shrugged. “Seem to be getting on alright since Miranda.”
“You think we should stop them, let them know it’s Kaylee’s to be doing?”
“No. Unit cohesion, Sir.”
Mal suggested, “And just maybe make Kaylee think a little before running her mouth off again at her friends?”
“Wouldn’t know about that, Sir.”
Mal turned back to the controls. “’Course you wouldn’t, Zoë.”
Chapter Nine: In loco parentis (in the place of a parent)
As Simon lay in bed, reviewing the events of the day, he noted that while Kaylee still wasn’t talking to him, she’d started to acknowledge his presence, and that cheered him unreasonably, even though it was clear that she wasn’t over her nearly week long snit (so far) just yet. Nonetheless, Simon tried to look on the bright side. It might not be much, but as Mal would say, it was enough – for the moment, at least.
Later that night Simon awoke to the sound of River’s frantic whispering, “Simon, wake up! I’m bleeding!”
She’d turned on his lights and was kneeling by his bed, near his face. He was instantly alert. “Where, River? Can you walk to the infirmary?”
River suddenly looked down at her hands, wordlessly. Insight dawned that she was embarrassed, which meant – . He spoke gently. “River, are you bleeding from a place only girls have, or a place that girls and boys share?”
“Girls,” the seventeen year old whispered.
“River, this is good news. It means you’re finally at a healthy weight, Mei-mei. Please don’t be scared.”
“Simon, it’s gross. There’s ichor!”
“It’s not ichor, Mei-mei, it’s just old blood. In a day or two it will be fresher blood, redder. You’ll see.”
“Make it stop!”
“I can’t. And shouldn’t, either. When you have a few normal cycles – say three – then we can have a look at birth control and menses suppression options. Okay?”
“I want it to stop!”
“Come on Mei-mei, let’s get you in the shower. When you’re clean and dry, you’ll feel better. I have some things for you.”
“Well, first the practical stuff. Then I have a present.” He got out of bed and reached under to pull out a box of things for her. “There’s some – uh – pads in here, and some information on birth control and cramps and stuff like that to read.” He sat back on the bed and patted the space next to him. She sat. He held her gently. “Uh, we never did have that talk about the facts of life, did we?” She shook her head. “And mother never, you know, before you left?” She shook her head again, and began crying.
“Sweetie, it’s ok. We should talk about it, though.” He tried to brace himself. “Uh, first, make sure you dispose of the pads properly – no throwing them in the toilet. I can incinerate them for you, or show you how to do it.” He took a deep breath. “Okay: menstruation is the body’s way of getting a woman ready to have a baby.”
River interrupted, wailing. “Simon, we can’t! It’s gross!”
That was a point he was ready to concede. “Okay, we can do the facts of life tomorrow.”
“No, Simon, I don’t want to!”
Simon tried to quiet her down. “Sshh, River, we have to. It’s past time. You’re nearly eighteen. But it can wait until morning.”
The door to his room opened suddenly, and Zoë stood there, a look of cold fury on her face. “What’s going on in here?” she asked.
River just turned and, wide-eyed and teary, wailed at Zoë, “I’m bleeding!”
Zoë looked between the siblings, suppressing her original fears at River’s shouts. She saw the box on Simon’s lap, and looked him in the eye. “Would this be normal sort of bleeding?”
Simon hesitated before answering. “Ah – it would be, yes.”
“Come on, River honey, it’s not so bad. Come to my room, I have a bath in there.”
River looked up, still crying. “A proper bath?”
“Just a hip bath. Still, nicer than a shower. Simon can bring us some hot water for it and some tea to drink while you enjoy it.” She eyed Simon.
“Of course, Zoë. Uh – thank you.” He handed her the box and made his way to the kitchen.
He passed the various items Zoë requested through a crack in the door, and went to sit in his room until River came back.
When he finally did, he was dozing a little, head rested against the wall. He woke up immediately, and was relieved to see that his sister wasn’t crying anymore. She looked relaxed, but not really happy. “You mentioned a present?” she wheedled. He would never know why – it’s not like he ever denied her anything.
“I did.” He’d stashed it under his pillow when he’d gotten back from Zoë’s room. He pulled it out; River liked that it was a small box. Jewellery, perhaps? She was trying very hard not to ruin the surprise for herself. “I overhead Kaylee and Inara talking about their first time, once. It’s a big deal at the Companion Houses, naturally and Kaylee’s mother made Kaylee her favourite pies for a week afterwards. I just wanted to do something, you know, to make it special.” He handed her the box. She carefully unwrapped it, and pulled the box free. Definitely jewellery – she recognised the name on the box. Slowly, she opened it. Inside, were a pair of very pretty garnet princess-cut studs. “I know you like red.”
“Red for blood.”
“Oh, ah, is that okay?”
River kissed Simon’s cheek in an answer to his question.
Chapter Ten: Ex gratia (purely as a favour)
Simon went out of his way to find Zoë. It wasn’t hard, as she was sitting in the lounge, reading some paperwork – not a hard place to find, but certainly, a hard place to imagine finding Zoë, mid-morning. “Ah, Zoë, mind if I join you?”
“No. Something on your mind?” She looked up from her papers. He wasn’t trying to glance at them, but she hid them anyway.
“I just wanted to say thank you for last night, I knew it was coming of course, but ah, it’s just so hard to, ah, plan … for … adequately.”
Zoë smiled at his choice of wording. “You did alright.”
Simon stared at her. “No, I didn’t. River was shouting so much when you came in… that you thought I was… you know, my sister.”
Zoë tried not to look too sheepish. “You noticed, huh?”
“Yeah – and I’m sorry that’s what you woke up to.” Simon knew he couldn’t add ‘and I’m sorry that I frightened you’ because that just wasn’t something he could say to Zoë.
“No, that’s not your fault.”
“So, I just came by to say thank you.”
Zoë smiled. “You can get me back later.” She patted her abdomen.
Simon asked wryly, “Never do today what you pay forward fifteen years?”
“You really did do ok. She told me what you said. She was very excited about the present. Didn’t want to guess what it was.” Zoë raised an eyebrow, curious.
“Oh! Earrings. Garnet. Red may not have been the best choice, in retrospect.”
Zoë snorted with laughter. “I haven’t thought about this is in… years, I guess. My first period, I was not quite twelve; little bit early, not too much. And being vessel side, my schoolin’ was a bit sporadic, so I didn’t have a clue – not a clue – no older sisters or girl cousins on board. I thought I was dying, ran crying for my Momma. Couldn’t find her anywhere. So, I thought all this blood coming out a me, I’d be dead soon, like from gun fire, you know?” She paused, and Simon nodded. “Couldn’t find my Daddy either, and I wanted ‘em so bad. Finally, decided just to tell the first adult I could find. Cryin’ my eyes out now… so the first adult is this old hand, guess about half way ‘tween Mal and Jayne, personality-wise... you get the picture. Cryin’ so hard, telling him I’m bleedin’, I’m dying, finally he figures it out, and just picks me up. Now, I was always tall, and he was no Jayne, but he carried me up to the bridge where the pilot was – and she being a the first woman aboard he thought of, just quietly handed me off with the words – my hand to heaven – ‘wimmin troubles’. So of course the pilot understood, and handled things fine, but Momma and Daddy were so mad at each other after that… still don’t know why – both got off lucky, was the pilot had to bite the bullet.”
They were both laughing. “Well, um, boys don’t get that particular drama, but uh, we do, you know, mess the sheets our own way.” Simon glanced at Zoë, who nodded understanding with a tight smile on her face. “I didn’t dare tell my parents, tried to hand wash the sheets before putting them the laundry – they must have been soaking wet and completely obvious to the staff, but of course, I though I was so clever, and of course, I would have just died if I thought anybody knew. So, was in pre-med at the time, and I eventually worked out what had happened, and the facts of life – as told from a uniquely urologist and OBGYN perspective,” at this, Zoë laughed really hard at Simon’s pen picture. Simon paused, and looked serious for a moment, but Zoë could see the laughter was still in his eyes. “So, no word from my parents. Not one. Finally, on my eighteenth birthday, Father takes me aside to give me ‘the talk’. I thought – I don’t know what I thought. It was just… not the kind of thing we talked about. Finally I stammered out ‘I’ve been in medacad for two years!’ and he said ‘Good talk’ and walked away!”
“Good talk?” Zoë was holding her sides.
“I know… who says that? He must have been watching cowboy films right before and thought it sounded so… capably masculine.” Zoë was still laughing, but now, no sound came out, because she was laughing so hard.
Kaylee knocked on Inara’s shuttle. “Come in, Mei-mei!” Inara called through the door, and Kaylee stepped through and sank unto the couch. Inara was sympathetic; Kaylee was definitely in ‘the miseries’ for the past week.
“Didcha see the pretties River had on at breakfast?”
“The earrings? Yes. Really lovely.” Inara poured tea, it was practically a reflex. Once she’d had a particularly vivid dream that she’d slept walked, and done the Companion tea ceremony… given that everything seemed to be undisturbed when she’d awoken, she’d had to conclude that really was a dream, even if she would never be completely sure.
“She told me Simon gave them to her.” Kaylee said, hurt welling up in her voice.
“I suppose he would have had to, Mei-mei. I didn’t, you didn’t, I can’t see Zoë doing it, and Mal or Jayne wouldn’t, for no particular reason.” Inara actually had known; she’d asked River about them after breakfast and been told that Simon had given them to her, and why; still, the girl had asked Inara not to say anything, and it was not in Inara’s nature to break a confidence.
“Do you think they were for me?” the mechanic blurted out.
“No… why do you think that?”
“It’s not her birthday yet, no reason to give ‘em to her.”
“That’s not a reason not to, either, Mei-mei.”
“I know… just, I ben thinkin’, what if he got ‘em for me, but you know, won’t give ‘em to me now, and decided to give ‘em River? And do you think I was meant to know, kinda like, to torment me?”
Inara suddenly felt unbelievably trapped. She knew that wasn’t the case, but how to tell Kaylee without breaking River’s confidence? She prevaricated. “I doubt that Simon would ever *try* to torment you, Kaylee, no matter how good at it he might inadvertently be. Maybe he was just being spontaneous.”
“Ain’t never spontaneous with me!” Inara sighed inwardly. It was going to be difficult to get this latest slight off of Kaylee’s mind.
Mal eventually came and sent Kaylee to the engine room, and Inara immediately took the opportunity to go to River, who was half-folded and half-curled into the pilot’s chair. “River, may I join you?” the Companion spoke from the doorway.
“Please.” The girl indicted the co pilot’s chair with a sweep of her eyes.
“You, ah – do you know why I’ve come?”
“To talk to me.”
“But you know about what?”
“Because if I didn’t you couldn’t tell me.”
“Yes.” Inara answered plainly.
“I know.” The girl met Inara’s eyes.
“Could you perhaps tell Kaylee? I know it’s private, but she’s really hurting.”
“And utterly paranoid.”
“Well, hurt and thus, perhaps, at little unreasonable at the moment.”
“You can tell her. Tell her you asked me and I told you.”
That agreement had been reached so quickly surprised Inara. Puzzled, she asked, “If you don’t mind Kaylee knowing, why didn’t you just tell her when she asked this morning?”
River turned back to the console and adjusted some buttons before turning back and answering. “Because she needs to learn that just because she’s afraid of something doesn’t make it true. Her assumptions aren’t facts.”
Realisation dawned. “You knew that she’d… ”
“Assume the worst? Yes. There are no shadows without sunlight.”
“River,” Inara’s tone was admonishing. “That was unkind. Kaylee is your friend.”
“And now she’ll learn that her fears were unwarranted. Couldn’t figure out how to do it until this morning.”
“And I couldn’t figure out how to do it at all. Still, it seems a little harsh.”
“I feel bad about that.” River said, and Inara felt a bit better. “But only a little.”
*** *** ***
Just Chapter 11
*** *** ***
Friday, December 22, 2006 12:27 AM
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