BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GIRLFAN

Even Roses Have Thorns, Chapters 11-20
Sunday, January 7, 2007

All already posted before, just posted together for convience of new and (re) readers. Overall rating NC-17, but first seven chapters are PG/13. Chapters 11-20 cover Simon and Kaylee starting to patch things up, a job, and a date that goes wrong. 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: 1733    RATING:     SERIES: FIREFLY

Even Roses Have Thorns

*** *** *** Chapters 1-10 *** *** ***

Chapter Eleven: Spemque metumque inter dubiis (hover between hope and fear)

Inara moved purposefully toward the engine room, her strides perhaps a little too long for such a non-urgent task, but in truth, even she was tiring of Kaylee’s funk. When Inara arrived, Kaylee was still at the task that Mal had given her. Inara knocked. Kaylee, startled, whacked her knuckles off the engine. “Ow! Come in, ‘Nara.” She put her hand to her mouth.

“Well, Mei-mei, I have good news.”

“’Nara?”

“I’ve spoken to River, and she tells me that Simon got the earrings for her to give her for her first menses, which apparently started last night.”

“Oh. Oh!” Kaylee was shocked. “Ya mean, she’s never, ya know, before?”

“Apparently not. It’s not uncommon in girls as underweight as River had been.”

Kaylee had heard of this, in hindsight. There were a few rumours of girls with eating disorders back home, but she’d never known of anyone for sure, though she had over heard some teenagers teaching one of their friends to throw up at the harvest fair one year.

Half to herself she spoke, “She’s nearly eighteen though, ‘Nara.”

“Yes. I would think that Simon is very relieved.”

“Oh – Simon. Did he, you know, River?”

“I’m not certain that I understand the question. River seems fine and I’m sure the facts of life and womanhood were not so hard to understand for someone as bright as her.”

“Simon prolly didn’t even need ta explain.”

“Possibly.” Inara paused to collect herself. “Darling, you know I love you, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Kaylee looked puzzled.

“Well, I say this with love. I think you should consider your recent worries about Simon’s slights – I think that you will discover you’ve been assigning motives to him that he simply does not have. As I said this morning, I don’t think it would ever occur to Simon to give something to River to hurt you. I don’t think what he said last week was to hurt you. I think he really does just want to be friends.”

“Well, I don’ wan’ ta just be friends!”

Inara’s mask slipped a little, and some sorrow showed through. “Mei-mei, just because you love each other doesn’t mean that it’s going to work. There are circumstances…” She hesitated, knowing that she wasn’t saying what she wanted to say in a way that made sense to Kaylee. She reached for her friend’s hand. “You’ve heard the phrase, ‘star-crossed lovers’?” Kaylee nodded. “Well, it might be like that. Moreover, Mei-mei, if you really feel like that, it’s Simon you need to tell, not me.”

“He don’t want ta listen. To him, it’s over. ‘Kaylee, I’m sayin’ I’m not courtin’ you anymore’.” It would have been a passable imitation of Simon if she hadn’t dropped the final gs. She didn’t care.

There was silence for a moment as Inara tried to find even one word of advice or comfort for her friend. She spoke softly. “Kaylee, you were friends before this, and it blossomed into love. If you can be friends again, maybe love will also blossom again.” The Companion paused again. “It’s better than the path you’re walking at the moment, Mei-mei. Only bitterness lies at its end.”

The mechanic was quiet for a moment, one hand holding the other gently. “Do you think I should go talk ta Simon?”

“I think you should finish what Mal’s asked you to do, first, Mei-mei.” The Companion’s voice was soft and gentle, but Kaylee looked a little hurt at the admonishment. Inara pulled the younger woman into a hug. “We all find growing up painful. Still, it can’t be avoided. Grow or die.” She felt, rather than saw, her young friend’s nod.

***

“Simon?” Kaylee’s voice came from the doorway of the infirmary.

He looked up at her, face hopeful. “Hey Kaylee.” She stepped through, into the room, and into the light, and he saw the cut on her hand. He frowned a little. “Do you need a weave on that?” Still, any talking was progress.

“Ah?” Her confusion slipped out before she remembered that she’s hit the engine earlier while talking to Inara. “No… don’t know. Ya can look at it if ya want, it’s not why I came.”

He looked in the drawer for an alcohol wipe and a weave and tried to make his voice casual. “Oh?” He knew he wasn’t subtle, but he tried to put as much suave ‘tell me more’ into his ‘oh’ as he could. He walked toward her slowly without meeting her eyes, but she didn’t say anything more. When he reached for her hand, his heart was in his mouth, but she surrendered it to his ministrations. As he studied the small wound, he spoke, “I didn’t, ah, mean to interrupt your train of thought.” He paused, but still nothing. “You were saying?” He cleaned the wound and slipped the weave on. She still hadn’t spoken, and he couldn’t avoid not looking at her face anymore. “Kaylee?” She was crying silently; when he met her eyes the sobs came loud and fast.

“Kaylee, what’s wrong? Bao bei, please sit.” He guided her out of the infirmary and into the lounge. He sat the two of them down on the couch. “Bao bei?”

“Was so mad at ya, Simon.” She choked out.

“I know.” It sounded stupid to his ears, but nothing else that sprang to mind was even vaguely appropriate.

“An’ now yer gon’ ta be mad at me.” She sobbed a bit more, raggedly.

“I… I don’t understand, Kaylee.” Why would he be mad at her, now? “Kaylee, sweetheart, please tell me what’s wrong.”

“Thought them earrings you gave River were for me… that ya gave ‘em to her to punish me.”

“Kaylee, why would I…? Why on earth would you…?” The confusion lasted only a moment. “Ah, of course, the monster in your head. Evil Simon.” His tone was more resigned than anything, but there was anger underneath.

“Don’t wan’ ta just be friends, anymore, either.” For a moment, he heard, ‘I don’t want to be friends, anymore, either,’ which was sad, but made sense. When his brain and ear caught up with each other, his confusion returned.

“Kaylee, I don’t understand.” Simon’s voice was low, but the tone was hard. “You think I go out of my way to hurt you. You think I planned things to hurt you – to punish you. Why do you want to be more than friends?” She was sobbing harder, but he continued. “I’m going to talk to the Captain.” He stood up for dramatic effect.

“Simon? No! Why?” Kaylee stared up at him, scared.

“Because I think we need to do another Ariel-style mission.”

“Simon?” Kaylee was floundering in her hurt and worries, and didn’t understand. Maybe he was through talking to her? Work was his only outlet.

“I’m serious Kaylee. I think there’s an epidemic. I think there’s something wrong with your brain, too. Something… paranoia inducing. Hallucinogenic, possibly.” He knew hallucinogenic was the wrong word, but he knew she wouldn’t guess. “Maybe the Alliance have inserted an Evil Simon in your brain to talk to you. No! Wait! Maybe they’ve put an Evil Simon on this boat, and you’re not paranoid. Maybe Evil Simon sneaks around being a dastardly cad while I’m up here, quietly working. That must be it. I should go see if anyone else has seen him.”

“Seen who?” Jayne looked puzzled as he walked into the room. “Lookin’ for me?”

To Kaylee’s utter horror, Simon continued without missing a beat. “The impostor. Evil Simon. He looks just like me, but sports a big black moustache.”

*** *** ***

Chapter Twelve: Si vis amari, ama (if you wish to be loved, love)

Jayne had broken the tension by laughing hard at Simon’s stupid sarcastic joke; possibly he was just laughing at the two foolish lovers but Kaylee didn’t really want to think about that too much. Kaylee curled in her bunk, thinking on what Simon had said – and what Inara had said. It was true that most of Simon’s slights – the worst of them, at least – were largely products of Kaylee’s imagination. She was unreasonably sensitive to his thoughts and opinions. Inara’s finery and fanciness were exotic, but unthreatening. Simon’s austerity and propriety seemed somehow more – well, judgemental. But was he? Or was she simply judging herself based on what she thought that he must want?

Finally, after another few rounds of point for point in her head, she tired of her racing mind and padded up the ladder and out of her bunk.

Kaylee made her way to Simon’s bunk and let herself in. She gently shoved him toward the wall, but he woke up. “River, Mei-mei, so help me…” he began wearily but when he opened his eyes, instinct took over and he sat bolt upright. “Ah, hi Kaylee.” He was puzzled, but didn’t voice his annoyance at her not knocking. He’d scolded her enough for one night.

“Shove in, Simon.” Kaylee stated it plainly, clearly assuming that he would do as he was told.

“Ah…,” he groped for words in his sleepy state. Eventually one came. “Why?”

“’Cause I said so, Simon.” Kaylee’s tone made it clear that she thought that it was obvious. “Ya said it was okay if I wanted us ta be friends with benefits. Just wan’ ta snuggle, can’t sleep.”

“I did say that.” He muttered it more to himself, but he shoved in toward the wall and pulled the blankets down for her, before he lay back down and closed his eyes. “I hadn’t exactly meant… right after I’d made a jackass out of myself.”

In the dark, with his eyes closed, he couldn’t tell, but Kaylee’s eyes lit up. She rolled towards him, and rested her head on her upright hand. “That mean yer willin’ to make it up ta me?”

Damn. He’d left himself wide open, but he didn’t want to get into another fight, and he wasn’t willing to trick her into thinking that he was willing to go back on what he’d said, no matter how much she might want to be tricked; maybe even especially because he suspected that she did want to be tricked. “Kaylee, if you want to, I guess we can. It’s just, you don’t want to just be friends who sometimes have sex. You want it to be more than that.”

“So da’ you. Otherwise, ya wouldn’t still be calling me bao bei.” Kaylee countered.

“That’s… true. But I already explained that, we all ready discussed this. It just isn’t meant to be.”

“Isn’t meant to be right now, maybe. We’ll see.” She kissed him lightly on the lips, and, reassured by the wisdom of her response, he didn’t hesitate to return it.

***

As breakfast was ending, Inara looked toward Mal, and spoke quietly. “Mal, do you think you could spare a moment this morning? I have some things I’d like to discuss with you in my shuttle.”

Mal, lost in his own thoughts, looked up startled, causing Kaylee to grin and Jayne to snigger. “Sure, ‘Nara. I’ll be down in a bit, if that’s alright with you.”

“That’s fine, Mal. Please excuse me.” She stood and headed back toward the shuttle.

When he arrived, he knocked. It still made her smile. He’d been knocking, unasked and unreminded, since Miranda; one of many changes that had happened since then. “Come in, please, Mal.” He did. “Please sit. Can I offer you some tea?”

As he made himself comfortable he looked around the shuttle again. It was still the same, but somehow always a little surprising. Breathtaking. “Ah, tea would nice, ‘Nara.”

She handed him an expertly made cup, and sat back on the couch with her own. “This is a difficult matter to broach, I must admit.” She swirled her tea in its cup slightly, an indulgence she rarely permitted herself in company.

“This about business?” Mal tried to keep his tone civil, but Inara was too well schooled not to pick up the edge creeping into it.

“Yes, though in some ways, perhaps, more yours than mine.”

“’Nara…” his tone became warning.

She sighed. “Mal, we have to discuss this. You’ll see why when we’re done. If you want to yell at me, please let me know if you’d rather do it before you hear what I have to say, or after, because I’m not going to try to talk over you while you do it.”

Mal looked startled again, but he hesitated only a moment. “After, I guess. Fairer that way.”

“You might not want to yell at me afterwards, though.”

“All the more reason to wait, I suspect.”

“Some people would make that argument, it’s true.” Her tone was amused, but clearly implied that Mal was not one of those she would have normally counted in that camp. She continued, more seriously. “I’ve been approached to broker a deal with you for the Lassiter.”

Mal did not even attempt to hide his shock. “Approached. So you didn’t… let’s see, perhaps accidentally and without meaning to, go looking for a buyer?”

“No, Mal. Nor was I sleep walking at the time, or under the influence of alcohol, or drugs. I was approached.”

After a moment, Mal spoke again. “That’s a mite alarming, ‘Nara.”

“It is. It either gets better or worse after this, I can’t really say.”

The Captain, clearly pondering more than he was listening, interrupted. “Who approached you?”

“I’m getting to that part, Mal.”

“Right. Sorry.”

“The person who approached me is a lawyer on Persephone. It took a while, but eventually I got him to reveal on who’s behalf he was seeking the Lassiter.” Inara paused, clearly expected another interruption. Mal just waited, so she continued. “It’s Durran Haymer.”

***

‘Aiya,’ Zoë thought. She was really uncomfortable. She’d barely made it through breakfast because her pants were so tight. Now, as she rummaged through her things, she despaired of finding anything smaller. Most of what she owned was smaller now that her pre-pregnant weight. In retrospect, this was the biggest she’d ever been. Protein might not taste like much, but at least she’d been well fed since she’d boarded Serenity, and with Simon now aboard, the crew also had excellent health care. On that score, she could have no regrets. But, wo de ma, what was she going to do for clothes? If she’d lost all sight of her hips at eight weeks, what the hell was she going to look like in a few months?

Zoë unbuttoned her pants and threw herself unto the bed. She slipped the too-damn-tight pants to her ankles first, and then removed her boots, and then the gorram pants. As she was finally pulling free of their impossible tightness, there was a knock on her door. “Who is it?” She called. If it was Jayne, she didn’t what him seeing her half dressed.

“River.” The teenager’s voice sounded muffled through the door.

That was all right. “One minute, hon.” Zoë pulled her blanket around her lower half. “Come in.”

“I’m sorry to intrude, but I couldn’t help but over hear…” the girl looked embarrassed. Zoë smiled at what was clearly Simon’s influence. “I just thought maybe you could use some of these…” River handed Zoë a few of her more ‘flower child’ summer dresses. “They’ll be short for you, but they won’t pull around the baby.”

Zoë tuned them over in her hands. Short? The damn things would fall somewhere above her knees.

“I thought about that…” River started. “I’m sorry. I know that I should wait for you to say it out loud.”

“It’s ok. What were you going to say?”

“It’s just that if you wanted, I could get some of Wash’s pants from your bunk, and Simon could adjust them to fit you.”

Zoë stalled for time. If Wash had been alive, she wouldn’t have hesitated. Now, well, it seemed different. “Boy is handy with a needle.” River nodded. “I’ll have to think about it. Guess you knew that already.” River nodded again. “Thank you for the dresses River. It’s kind of you to share – I know you don’t have much for yourself.”

“That’s okay. It was my turn.” With that, the girl slipped back out of the room. Then, in hindsight, and perhaps in response to another over heard fleeting thought, she remembered to call, “oh! You’re welcome.” Zoë smiled and began to undress.

*** *** ***

Chapter Thirteen: Ratio et consilium propriae ducis artes (reason and deliberation are the proper skills of a general)

As her brother passed by her, River looked up from the book she was reading to say, seriously, “All love is unrequited. Everyone loves their lover a little less for who they are and a little more for who they want them to be.”

Simon looked like he wanted to contradict her, but she had already returned her attention to her book.

Later, playing jacks with Kaylee, River paused for a moment, throwing her round. Kaylee looked up, and River met her eyes to say, “I am not a god. Don’t ask me to intervene. I shouldn’t have to and I won’t do it. And if that’s what it takes, it’s not really worth it, is it?” She handed the ball back to Kaylee.

***

When Mal found his first mate standing in the bridge, staring down at the console, checking their course, he nearly fell back down the steps. It had to be his first mate. It was her hair, her skin, her necklace, her boots, her gun. Just the bit in the middle seemed so very wrong. Still, it was definitely Zoë. ‘Better approach this with tact’, he thought to himself, before broaching the topic aloud. “What the hell are you wearing, Zoë?”

She turned, eyebrow raised, and spoke tersely. “A dress. Sir.”

“You always wear pants. Why aren’t you wearing pants?”

“Don’t fit.”

“Neither does that, Zo.”

“No, Sir. But at least I can breathe now.”

“Zo, I’m serious. Has anyone else seen you in that yet?”

“Passed Jayne on my way here. Mentioned somethin’ about slink.”

Mal smacked his hand on his forehead, and swore a little. “That’s cause you look like you’re wearin’ a night slip, Zoë. Want to borrow some of my things ‘til we hit dirt?” His hands went to his belt buckle immediately. Zoë’s eyes followed his hands, before returning to the captain’s face.

“Sir, you’re not suggesting that we swap clothes on the bridge, are ya?” She paused, eyes full of mirth. “Must a’ been something else you came up here for, Sir,” she reminded him.

“Huh? Ta ma de. Yes. Inara.”

“The talk in the shuttle?”

“Yes, wo de ma, the talk in the shuttle. Sit down Zoë.” She sat in the pilot’s chair. She would have been amused, but the topic had clearly flustered the captain. She didn’t like that.

“Sir?”

He flopped into the co-pilot’s chair. He cut to the chase. “A lawyer on Persephone, apparently representing Durran Haymer, has approached Inara to broker a deal with me for the Lassiter. She’s ascertained that the contact really is who he says he is, and she’s certain that Haymer really is the – buyer – if we can even use that word.”

“Sir… How’d they know to approach Inara?”

“Disturbing, ain’t it? That was all ‘Nara knows.”

“Sir… it’s gotta be Saffron’s doin’.”

“No. We are not getting dragged into anything more with that woman!”

“Sir, it’s gotta be. She would have to have been picked up by the authorities. Why wouldn’t she have given us away? And she knows who Inara is.” Mal swore loudly, a long string of Chinese. Zoë just pretended indignant maternal shock and pantomimed covering the unborn baby’s ears. Mal saw the gesture and stared.

“Ya’ll right, Zoë?”

“Just missin’ him a little more today, Sir. He’d a loved seein’ me in this dress.” She smiled. “And he’d a loved seein’ your face, Sir, seein’ me in this dress.”

Mal smiled too. “I think he would at that, Zoë.” He looked out at the black for a bit, until Zoë spoke again.

“We can’t ignore it, Sir. What ever reason he’s got, he’s approach Inara and not the Feds.”

“We don’t know that Zoë.”

“Ok. We don’t know that for certain. Why don’t we ask Inara to contact Haymer directly, Sir?”

“’Cause I don’t want ‘Nara involved, Zo.”

“Already is, Sir. No changing that now.”

“Ai ya. I know.”

“Want me to talk to Inara, Sir?”

“No! I want you to find some pants, Zoë. I’ll go talk to ‘Nara.” He rose.

She turned. “Yes, Sir.” She paused. “Sir?”

“Yeah, Zo?”

“Would you bring me up a couple pairs a Wash’s cargo pants from my bunk?”

“If that’s what it takes to get you outta that dress.”

“Sir?”

“And into some pants, Zoë. Not, you know, generally.”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll likely be in my dorm when you get back, Sir.”

He walked off. A moment later, he popped back in. “Wan’ a try my dress on for size?”

Zoë – barely – kept her face straight. “No, Sir. A little frou-frou for me. Wash’s pants will be fine. Thank you, Sir.” Mal walked off again. Zoë listened until his footsteps trailed away, and then allowed herself the luxury of a laugh. Maybe Wash’s old chair worked as a kind of talisman for her. She patted the console and the back of the chair gently before making her way to her room.

*** *** ***

Chapter Fourteen: Gladiator in arena consilium capit (the gladiator is formulating his plan in the arena, which is to say, too late)

Inara composed her face to its most relaxed and (supposedly) unguarded mask as she waited for the connection to open to Durran Haymer.

“Mr. Haymer. How do you do? I am Companion Inara Serra.”

“Miss Serra.” Haymer nodded bluntly, but wary rather than rude. “I am well. How are you?”

“I am also well, thank you.”

“Miss Serra, I am uncertain of how to state this, but if you have heard that I am in the market for a Companion, this is not currently the case.”

Inara smiled. “What I have heard is that you were in the market for this Companion to act as a broker for an antique of some value to you.”

Haymer shifted visibly on his chair. “Indeed. I had hoped to be more discreet, but I should have guessed that you would have the resources to establish that I am indeed the buyer. It’s true. I would like the Lassiter back, and I am willing to pay a considerable sum for it.”

To Inara’s trained eyes, Haymer read as – if uncomfortable – at least uncomfortably open and honest. Vulnerable. ‘Why in the name of earth that was would Haymer be vulnerable?’ She let the question slide from the forefront of her mind as she formulated her next response.

“I am certainly willing to do all I can to help you to acquire the piece.”

Inara noted that Haymer seemed to visibly relax at this. Again, the question ‘Why?’ could not be avoided. Inara kept the puzzled frown of her mind from appearing on her face.

“I believe the piece is currently the property of one Captain Malcolm Reynolds, of the vessel Serenity. Unless there are two such vessels, I would assume that it is the ship you have contracted your shuttle from.” ‘An odd choice of words,’ Inara mused. ‘Not, currently in the possession of?’ But Haymer continued to talk, cutting off her train of thought. “I understand that a Guild fee will apply for this service, which I am happy to pay you now, if you wish.”

“That would fine.”

“Transmitting now.”

Inara glanced, momentarily, elsewhere on her screen. “Received. Thank you.” Inara paused again. “What offer would you like me to make on your behalf to Captain Reynolds?”

“Three-quarters of a million credits.”

“I’ll be in touch.”

Haymer nodded again, this time with greater ease, and cut the comm. Inara pulled the curtain down over her screen, before she turned her attention to Mal and Zoë, seated out of direct sight of the vid pick up.

Mal spoke up. “It’s worth more. Do you think he expects us to bargain up for it?”

Inara shrugged. “It’s worth more to him, and possibly to others, but not to you, and if you can’t sell it, it’s not worth gose.” She regarded Mal seriously for a moment. “What do you think he was talking about? He didn’t sound like someone trying to buy back his own stolen property. ‘Currently the property of?’ why acknowledge it as your property? It’s your possession, but it’s still his property, you only stole it.”

Mal looked like he wanted to argue, but in the privacy of the shuttle, and just the three of them, it wasn’t worth it. “I know. Doesn’t seem right, does it? Do you think it’s some kind of trap?”

Silent up until now, Zoë finally spoke, slow and quiet. “What if, Sir, you never stole it?” Mal and Inara looked at her like she’d gone space mad. “What if it was a gift to you from his wife?”

“Zoë, that woman’s been married to everyone. No way she can make her marriage to Haymer stick, even if the guy wasn’t some Alliance poster boy.”

“What if she doesn’t have to, Sir? From what you said, it did seem he loved her.”

“Yeah…” Mal looked thoughtful. “He did. Wanted to help her. Knew she was crazy. Still, she’s crazy-dangerous. You’d have to be crazy yourself to trust her.”

Zoë and Inara just sat very still and avoided glancing at each other.

Mal sighed. “Yes, I do know what that says about me.”

“No-one’s sayin’ he trusts her, Sir. Just that he loves her – maybe he wants to help her. We can understand that, Sir.”

Inara nodded, understanding immediately where Zoë was going with her train of thought. She spoke, almost to herself. “Not so very unlike Simon and River.”

*** River half-strolled, half-danced into the lounge where Simon was curled up.

“You don’t mind, Simon?” River asked her brother as he carefully stitched Zoë’s – Wash’s? – Zoë’s pants.

“Why would I mind, Mei-mei?” Simon’s tone indicated some perplexity, but he didn’t look up from his careful stitches.

“Because I told Zoë you would help before asking you.” Simon hadn’t looked up, so he didn’t see, but River was quietly biting her lip and looking at her hands.

“Zoë told me that you’d said that I could help, not that I would help.” He looked up and smiled at his sister. “Or was our fearless first mate covering for my naughty little sister?”

It was River’s turn to be puzzled, but it was momentary. “I did say ‘could’, yes.” She drawled, before continuing honestly. “But I meant ‘would’.”

“You didn’t say it River. That’s what really matters.”

“I answered her question before she asked it.”

“That’s going to happen, sometimes, Mei-mei.” Simon spoke gently.

“I want to be a real girl!”

“You are a real girl. You have the earrings to prove it.”

“Ugh, Simon!” She frowned at her older brother. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

Simon looked down and added a few more stitches while he thought about what to say. River waited in companionable silence until he looked up and spoke again. “It’s going to take practice. And for what it’s worth, all teenagers practice – it’s mostly what being a teenager is for, Mei-mei. Practicing to be an adult. Making mistakes. Deciding who you want to be. Learning who you are and who you will be. Growing.”

“Grow or die.” River muttered.

“I guess that’s one way of putting it.” Simon turned his attention back to his work.

***

It seemed to Kaylee that Jayne really was beginning to get the hang of the engine’s workings. She’d begun, also, to see better how special she was, gifted, mechanically – though her father had always said so – as she was trying to teach Jayne. He was trying to learn, where to her it sort of came naturally. She couldn’t always explain it. It was an insight, too, into some of River’s frustration – knowing something that she couldn’t communicate easily to anyone else.

“Ya outta think about talking to the Cap’t, Jayne. Ya keep at this, you’ll be worth another bit of a percentage ta him, soon.” She added affectionately, “More ta Serenity, a’ course.”

Jayne didn’t look up from the part he was examining. “Ain’t gonna get extra Kaylee. Mal wants us all ta be able ta help out.”

That was true, Kaylee knew. But that Captain hadn’t meant anymore than ‘help out in an emergency that isn’t particularly hard to fix’ if his two hours of cross training was the standard used to judge it. Jayne was already well past that. Still, Kaylee didn’t know whether to say anything. He often didn’t have much to do between jobs, and she wondered if Jayne was perhaps lonely, or bored. She decided not to say anything. After all, he seemed to like working away at the engine, and she liked the company.

*** *** ***

Chapter Fifteen: Crudelius est quam mori semper timere mortem (it is more cruel to always fear death than to die)

“Would you perhaps like to try one of my robes?” Inara began carefully.

“No, thanks Inara.” Zoë stood. “I’ll take that as my cue to go see if Simon’s managed to alter Wash’s pants yet.” She left the shuttle with as much dignity as she could muster.

Mal watched as she left, before turning back to talk to Inara. “Brave girl, my Zoë. Always said that.”

“You do.”

“Still, that dress? Looks like she lost a bet.”

“Oh, come on, Mal! It’s not that bad.” Inara was surprised at his comment.

“I didn’t say bad, ‘Nara. But Zoë, wearing that dress? You know Zoë, you see her in that dress, you got ta wonder why. That’s all I’m saying.” He shifted his saucer a little.

“Well, it’s not as if you don’t know the answer. She’s pregnant, Mal.”

“She’s only a little bit pregnant.”

“You can’t just be a little bit pregnant.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. Some women just get bigger than others, and some do it faster. Zoë’s tall, she’ll likely have a big baby.”

“What sized babies do you think you’d make, ‘Nara?” Inara wasn’t entirely certain whether to classify his tone as playful or not.

“A woman’s first baby is usually about the same size she was when she was born. Later babies are usually bigger. I was nine pounds.”

“Nine pounds.” The Captain let out a low whistle. “And look at you now.”

“Well, yes, we all do grow,” Inara began. “As much as I love our… awkward and inane conversations, I really…”

Mal cut her off. “Do you really?”

“Really what?”

“Love our conversations?”

Inara was taken aback, and growing flustered. She knew that she shouldn’t let him get to her. “Well, yes… but…”

“But you’re gonna give me the polite ‘go away now’ excuse-me, aren’t ya?” His tone was quiet and almost friendly – she’d heard it before. ‘Truthsome’ he called it. She braced herself.

“Mal, please.”

“’Nara, no one in this shuttle but us. And I’ll leave if you want me to. But I don’t see why we can’t talk, even if we don’t do it so well. I wonder why that is?” His eyes swept away from hers for a moment before returning.

“For the same reasons Simon and Kaylee don’t do it so well.” She let it slip out; it wasn’t quite an accident.

“Yeah, I think so too.”

***

When Mal walked out of Inara’s shuttle later, he saw Jayne working out. That wasn’t unusual, and his brain barely noted it. As he came closer, however, his eye told his brain to turn around and take another look. He did. A man didn’t live long a life like his if he didn’t pay attention to his body’s instincts.

“Jayne, you provoke Kaylee?”

Jayne hooked his weights in their cradle and sat up. “Naw. Why?” He towelled his head a bit, oblivious to the grease coming off onto it.

“You look Kaylee cleaned the engine with you.”

“We did clean the engine.” Jayne was puzzled.

The Captain frowned a little. “What do you mean?”

“I mean we was cleaning the engine.

“I meant you looked like she used you as a rag to clean the engine.”

“Well, she did make me do some of ‘em hard to reach parts…” Jayne began defensively.

“Jayne, are you saying you helped Kaylee clean the engine?”

Jayne’s confusion deepened. “Yeah.”

“Zoë tell ya to?”

“No.”

“Kaylee ask you to?”

“She mentioned she was doing it.”

“And you just offered to help.”

“Yeah. Like cleanin’ a gun.”

The comment jogged Mal’s memory. “You like helping Kaylee with the engine?”

Something in the deep, ancient part of Jayne’s brain, having no word for ‘airlock’ notified him as best it could of impending danger. Jayne proceeded with what little caution he could muster. “Yeah. She’s been teaching me bits an’ pieces like you said. Ain’t nothing untoward, Mal.”

“Huh.” Mal raised an eyebrow and walked off. Jayne couldn’t help but notice that it was in the general direction of the engine room.

When Mal arrived, Kaylee was lounging in her hammock.

“Hey Kaylee,” Mal announced himself as he walked in. “Just passed Jayne, looks like you’ve been putting him to good use.”

Kaylee looked a little guilty. “He seemed to like it, Cap’t. Didn’t like to say no.”

“He asked if he could help?”

The girl shrugged. “Can’t remember. Why?”

“You can’t remember.” The Captain’s tone was incredulous.

“Na. Is it important? He’s been helpin’ out like you said.” Kaylee knew that she was fudging a little here, but the Captain was being weird, and Kaylee didn’t want anybody getting into trouble. The memory of cleaning cargo bay had not yet begun to fade.

“I did say that. Didn’t mean more than basic, though, Kaylee.”

“I think he likes it, Cap’t. It’s kinda nice spending time with Serenity and he don’t have much ta do between jobs.” Mal’s face softened slightly, and Kaylee remembered to put a good word in. “He’s gettin' good at it too, bit by bit. Soon you’ll have a second mechanic.”

“Ya serious, Kaylee? ‘Bout him being good, I mean.”

“Cross my heart, Captain. At least as good as Bester, real soon.” Mal was not reassured by this, but Kaylee didn’t notice. “Prolly better, with time. He realises the importance of keepin’ it clean. Won’t let nothin’ go tacky, jam up the workings.”

“Huh.” *** *** ***

Chapter Sixteen: Ventis secundis, tenete cursum (the winds being favorable, hold the course)

“Don’t much like this, ‘Nara.” The Captain didn’t bother to hide his annoyance.

The Companion answered with a shrug. “There isn’t anything I can do except relay information between the two of you.”

“He could just talk to me.”

“Like a man?” Inara’s voice wasn’t low enough to mimic a man’s well, but Mal took the hint.

“We talked before.” The voice came half-heartedly half defensive.

“When you were stealing his priceless antique!”

“Alright. That might dampen a man’s mood.”

“It might.”

“So what’s he saying now?”

“Three-quarters of a million, into your hand. You just have show up at his estate and make the exchange. You don’t even have to go. He’s willing to accept me as an alternate. He might even prefer it.”

“His estate’s on Belleraphon. It’s well guarded. This could be a trap, ‘Nara.”

“It could be. In which case, he – or the Alliance – will just keep coming after us. Anyway, I don’t think it is - at least not on Haymer’s part. I’m willing to go alone.”

“I’m not willin’ to let you!”

“I know.” She sighed.

“Why are you so sure?”

Inara decided to skip the reminder of her years of training, and go straight to the heart of the matter. “He says that he can’t – won’t go elsewhere because he won’t leave his wife. His sick wife.” Inara threw Mal a mock-significant glance.

“That woman will torment me to the end of my days!”

“Well, that is a traditional consequence of ‘til death do us part’.”

***

“Why, do ya think, it’s just Zoë?” Kaylee posed her question thoughtfully, curled tight next to Simon in his bed.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Kaylee.” Simon absentmindedly stroked her hair, but moved his hand when she turned to face him.

“I mean the Captain’s always Cap’n, or Sir, or I guess, Sarge, sometimes like with Tracey, but Zoë’s always just Zoë. Cap’n introduces Jayne as Jayne Cobb, but Zoë’s always just… Zoë. Even with Tracey. Called the Cap’n Sarge, Cap’n called him Tracey, Zoë called him Private, but he called Zoë… Zoë. Not corporal. What do ya think that’s about?”

Simon thought about it. “I don’t know, bao bei. Maybe it’s cause the Captain is more used to thinking of Zoë as Zoë Allenye rather than Washburn – it might just feel odd to use her married name.”

“Don’t explain why Tracey called her Zoë. Didn’t even know she was married.”

“That is kind of odd. Maybe it’s just one of those Mal-Zoë things.”

“I guess.” Kaylee ran her hand across Simon’s chest. “I think we should do some Simon-Kaylee things.”

“Like what?” Simon hid his slight wariness behind a warm smile.

“’Nara mentioned that there’s a play in the Skyplex off a Belleraphon. Doing a run a ‘classical fairy tales’”.

“I like classical fairy tales.”

“I know. They’re doing Cinderella, the day we’ll be there. Wanna go? It’s my favourite.”

“I am not surprised.”

“Why?” Her smile hadn’t faded but her eyes were going suspicious, like they did whenever she thought he might be making fun of her.

He pressed his finger to her forehead and spoke, “You are hard working,” to her lips “loving,” to her heart “forgiving,” placed his hands on her hips “and like big full gowns.”

She giggled. Simon liked that sound more than he could bear admitting to himself. He spoke again, quietly, seriously. “I should warn you, I’m no prince charming.”

“That’s okay,” Kaylee said softly. “Don’t need glass slippers ta ‘take in’ a play.”

Simon kissed her softly on the cheek to hide the sadness in his eyes. “Sounds good.” He knew that they were trying too hard, but he didn’t trust either of them enough with each other’s hearts to let his guard down. ***

“But Cap’n, I already bought the tickets!” Kaylee’s voice was disappointed.

“Kaylee, I don’t think it’s safe.”

“’Nara thinks it is.”

Mal took a leaf from Zoë’s book. He was not doing to get mad. Just this once. It wouldn’t help. “I know. I don’t agree, Mei-mei, and it’s my job to protect my crew.”

“I really want to go. We haven’t done anything in ages.” It was the sadness in her voice, the absence of anger, that really pulled at Mal’s heartstrings. Like they’d all let her down, and she knew her sunshine little girl magic didn’t work so well on them anymore.

“Kaylee, it might be a trap. The Lassiter ain’t a wobbly-headed geisha doll.”

“We don’t have to set foot on Belleraphon. You can drop us going in, and pick us up on the way out.” She wasn’t even looking at him anymore. She was just staring at her toes. Mal knew what it was like to gaze down at his boot as if they were the most interesting thing in the whole gorram ‘verse. He didn’t want Kaylee feeling like that.

“Not happenin’ Kaylee.”

The girl just gave up and nodded. She promised herself that she wouldn’t cry until she got back to her bunk. It was a waste of good coin. She’d know better – known to ask before buying them. She just really, really wanted to go. “Yes Cap’n. I better get back ta work.”

“No, Kaylee, that’s not what I meant. You want to go see this play, you can, but you gotta be sensible about it. You and Simon take the shuttle. You think you’re up to flying it?”

“Yea! Zoë and River showed us lots. ‘Nara’s been teaching me too.”

“Ok. You take the shuttle, and be careful. Neither of you are to drink anything. Have any problems with the shuttle, ‘fess up and I’ll have Zoë or ‘Nara come and fly it back. Dong ma?”

“Yes, Cap’n. Xei-Xei!” Her face had exploded into happy light.

“Ok. Take a comm and stay in touch with Zoë and River on Serenity.” He gave her a little smile. “Go ask ‘Nara if she’ll run through the atmo sequences with you again, and I’ll get Zoë to show Simon in the other shuttle, just to make sure.”

If he were honest, he would have to admit that he was almost completely certain that it would be safe, and it was so unfair to deny her such a little treat, over some niggling worries, wasn’t it? The non-com in him knew better, but he’d never had to deal with such a cheerful soldier before. *** *** ***

Chapter Seventeen: Hinc illae lacrimae (hence these tears)

“Simon Tam, you are the most insufferable man!” He’d seen the horror cross her face almost as quickly as she’d said. Not, of course, because of what she’d said – she’d said harsher things – but because of where she’d said it, and the volume at which she’d said it. That was her first mistake.

It was her second mistake that had been fatal. When the older gentleman approached what he’d rightly assumed was a lover’s tiff, it was probably just to make sure the offending young man knew better than to harm a lady. Kaylee had recognised him, and it unnerved her: the man looked like a story-book old sheriff; there wasn’t one on the Skyplex, but that only made things worse. She knew that he was most likely a retired Alliance officer. So, to diffuse the situation, to get him to go away quickly, Kaylee stepped up to the plate to let him know what he thought was happening wasn’t – “Oh, no, Sir. It’s nothing like that. I’m his sister.”

Simon didn’t miss the penny drop in the man’s eyes before he nodded and walked away, appearing satisfied. Apparently, Kaylee hadn’t either. “God, Simon, he’s gone to get the Feds. We gotta run.” She hastily whispered, pushing her chair back.

“No. You walk out of here, nice and quiet. Call Zoë, tell her what’s happened. Get to the shuttle. If I’m not right behind you, get back to Serenity. I’ll stay a minute, pay the bill, then leave. Go now. Like everything’s ok. Go.”

“Simon, I can’t leave ya!”

“At least one of us has to make it back to Serenity. Go. They’ll follow me. They’ll try to follow you, but they’ll be looking for the wrong girl.”

Kaylee still hesitated. Simon, silently cursing her delays, suddenly understood how Mal felt when what he needed was trust and timely obedience, and he was only getting arguments and questions. He didn’t let it show. He knew her delays meant only that it was more likely that this would be the last time he would ever speak to her. “Nice and quiet. Please, Kaylee. Go now.”

Finally, she nodded. She stood, and made her way to the door. Simon waited until she’d left before walking up to the register to pay his bill. As the cashier rang up the total, Simon said many prayers and made many cosmic promises. ‘Please let her make it back to the ship.’ ‘I’ll never question the Captain’s orders again if you just let her make it back to the ship.’ ‘If we make it back safe, I’ll never leave the ship unless it’s absolutely necessary.’ ‘Oh, my god, would you hurry up? Please make this guy hurry up.’

Simon was more than ready with his wallet when the cashier announced the amount, but it was too late. Feds burst into the little diner through every door. “Simon and River Tam, you are hereby bound by law!” Wallet still in his grasp, Simon raised both hands. He thought silently, as his wrist were roughly bound, ‘River, if you can hear this, please don’t do anything stupid, and don’t let Zoë risk the baby. I’ve been caught by the Feds. I think Kaylee’s gotten away, she should be on her way back to you.’

***

River didn’t need her brother’s warning, but it came through loud and clear, while she was already reaching for the comm. “Zoë, we’ve got trouble! Simon’s been snatched.” She tried to keep her voice calm, but Simon’s fear, though he tried to push it down, reached her, and she choked on it, like acrid smoke.

Zoë was already heading for the bridge. “I’ve got Kaylee on the comm. She’s heading for the shuttle, and then she’s heading toward us. Get Inara on the line. Where are they?”

“They’re on their way back.”

“Raise’em.”

***

“Dammit, Zoë, the job was supposed to be the hard part!” Mal was still ducking out of the shuttle when he’d started yelling.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Kaylee back yet?”

“Soon.”

“What’s taking her?”

Zoë gave him an impassive look. “Sir. She’s flying the shuttle for the first time. She’s never actually docked with a ship before. Her lover has just been snatched by his worst nightmare. You want to yell, go ahead, Sir. Get it out of your system. Then get up to the bridge and talk her through the docking sequence.”

“Isn’t River…”

“Not the voice she wants to hear right now, Captain.”

“Okay.” Mal took a deep breath and walked quickly toward the bridge.

Inara waited another moment before she stepped out. She knew that her presence – any other presence – would disturb the Mal-Zoë dynamic. So she waited until Zoë looked directly at her. Inara spoke as she stepped forward. “Poor Kaylee.”

Zoë nodded. “Poor Simon, poor River, poor Mal. Got it out of your system?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Go back in there and see if you can figure out where they’ll take Simon.” Inara nodded and moved to obey. Mal might sometimes disagree, but there were moments – and matters – where Inara absolutely was crew.

Zoë heard the second shuttle docking and made her way over to it. They might all have a right to fall to pieces, but the only person Zoë was willing to let do it now was Kaylee, and the girl all but fell out of the shuttle.

“Oh, God, Zoë, they must a took him. He said he’d be right behind me, or I was to take off.” She was still crying and shaking. “I should a’ waited longer. What if he was comin’?” Kaylee’s words, as her thoughts, were tumbling about, and Zoë didn’t bother to try to answer them.

“We’re going to get him back, Kaylee. Captain’s on the bridge right now.”

The girl was still shaking. Zoë laid a steadying hand on Kaylee’s shoulder. Kaylee spoke again, weakly, “We got a plan?”

“Captain will do, soon.” She studied the girl another moment. “Go throw some water on your face and get to the engine room. Ya might be needed.” Kaylee nodded and Zoë went back to the bridge.

There, she found Mal alone, in the co-pilot’s chair. He felt, rather than heard, her approach. “Relieved River. Got up here, she was crying as hard as Kaylee. Sent her to lie down.”

Zoë stood behind the pilot’s chair. “Yes, Sir.”

“Kaylee alright?”

“She’s plenty shook up, but focused on the plan, Sir.”

Mal nodded and was quiet for a bit, before he spoke again. “This is my fault, Zoë. I knew something would go wrong. Honestly thought it would be the job. Shoulda known that boy’d be recognised.”

“Sir, we weren’t even sure if he was still wanted.”

“It was too much just to hope for.”

“Sir, the job go smooth?”

“Yea. Put the money in my hand. A little pissed about having to pay for his own stuff, but not too much. Glad to have his wife back. Knew we didn’t do it for him, but grateful for it all the same.”

“Not married anymore?”

“Never was. Haymer’s lawyer assured him that – Yolanda – being married to him, couldn’t contract any further legal marriages.”

“She married him first?”

“I don’t know. That one’s Haymer’s problem, and I’d say he’s more than capable of taking care of it. Coin’s good for that.”

“Yes, Sir. Might even help a little with our current predicament.”

“Well, I’m sanguine.”

***

Jayne found Kaylee in the engine room later. She was done crying by the look of it, just staring sadly at the ceiling from her hammock. “Did the right thing, Kaylee. Both of ya.”

“Shoulda stayed with him.”

“Naw, Kaylee.”

“Shouldn’ta run. What was I thinkin’? Just like with Early, letting my fear rule me.”

Jayne’s voice was low, and uncharacteristically gentle. “Kaylee, you ain’t a coward. Doc ain’t a coward. But he’ll be a lot braver if he ain’t watchin’ ‘em cut on you. Your running lets him be brave.”

“It was my fault, Jayne.”

“Weren’t, Kaylee.”

“It were.” She dragged herself out of her hammock to face him. “I yelled at him. Called him by his name.” Jayne winced. It was a mistake he’d made often enough. ‘Every heist he’s gotta start yellin’ my name.’ But he listened as Kaylee continued. “Some old Fed over heard and thought he was hassling me. Don’t think he even recognised the name straight away. So I told him everythin’ was fine, and… and that I was his sister. Guess that was the magic word for him. Name and crime, right there. I turned him in, Jayne.” That was an uncomfortable topic of conversation for Jayne, though Kaylee didn’t know. “They’re gonna beat on him, and cut him up, and it’s my fault.” *** *** ***

Chapter Eighteen: Ignis aurum probat (literally, fire tests gold) Part I

Simon Tam reminded himself that he was used to dealing with pain. Mostly other people’s, of course. Pain that usually had a relatively easy solution: pain killers. Still, he tried to focus on the ephemeral quality of pain. Pain was only frightening because the body was terrified it was being injured – damaged. Simon wished that he could be confident that they would only hurt him – rather than damage him; use him as bait for a trap – until Mal and Serenity came to get him back.

*** Simon was marched down a corridor and into a yet another cell. This was clearly the cell, the place where the nightmare would really begin. Two guards manhandled him into the metal chair, while another secured Simon’s cuffs to the chair. Across the desk from Simon sat an impassive looking dark haired older man, not unlike Simon’s father. It was not a happy association on any level. The guards saluted and left.

The interrogator pointed to the tray full of standard surgical equipment. He began easily. “Usually, we begin by showing prisoners the tools of our trade. Sort of a softening up process. I know that you won’t be terrified by the sight of a few surgical tools, because they are not nameless, sharp mostly unidentifiable objects to you, Dr. Tam. No, you see them as the tools that they are – not intrinsically good, or bad – not intrinsically anything. You know that it is the hand behind the scalpel, the mind behind the hand that makes the cut – the cut is merely done through the scalpel, not by it. Would you prefer if I called it an incision? No, I see by your eyes that you do not. You’re right, of course. We are serious men, and do serious deeds. Petty games are to aid the understanding of lesser minds, and would only distract you from the harrowing truth I want you to concentrate your mind wholly on.”

“I’m not going to betray my sister.” Simon’s voice was flat.

“No. But you will give her up, eventually. I imagine that the amount of pain you will allow yourself to be in before then will help assuage your guilt.” The interrogator tented his hands on his desk in front of himself. “Dr. Tam, you’ve given her a considerable head start. We can skip any further heroics and have you moved to a holding cell for arraignment. You just have to answer a couple simple questions.”

Simon decided to use the questions to figure out a plausible story that would throw the searchers off of their track. He swallowed, mostly for effect. “What questions?”

“We’ve turned the Skyplex inside out. River Tam isn’t there. How’d she get away? Where would she go?”

Simon decided that the answer to that would be fast burn rocket shuttle. The only place that could get from there was the planet. But he would wait to tell the interrogator that. All his lies would sound more plausible when given under pain.

“Where is Serenity?”

Simon decided to tell them that he and River had left Serenity a few weeks ago, when they thought that the warrants had been quashed.

“See? No need to suffer, or risk death. No need to prepare yourself for martyrdom.”

Simon licked his lips carefully before speaking. “Tell me, are you familiar with the works of Shan Yu?”

The interrogator just stared.

***

As Zoë walked toward the passenger dorms, she felt trapped by the patent irony that what River most needed to comfort her, her valiant ge ge – couldn’t come to her. She stood outside the girl’s room, wondering exactly how often Simon had had to do this. Everyone, herself included, had helped from time to time, but Simon would have stoically borne the burden alone. She wondered too, if this had been the easy part; the two years before he’d rescued his sister must have been a nightmare far surpassing the one he presently found himself in. ‘I take it back,’ she thought. ‘Simon’s probably only been snatched by his third or fourth worst nightmare.’ She knocked on River’s door, and gently slid it back.

“Ninth worst.” River said. The voice came from behind Zoë, and the older woman turned. River was standing in Simon’s doorway. “Nightmare 1: River is snatched and turned into an evil weapon, with no possibility of rescue or retrieval. Nightmare 2: River is snatched and never heard from again. Nightmare 3: River is snatched and tortured into a permanent vegetative state. Nightmare 4: River is snatched and tortured to death. Nightmare 5: Simon and pregnant Zoë are snatched. Zoë’s baby is put at risk by Simon’s torturers. Nightmare 6: Simon and Kaylee are snatched. Kaylee is put at risk by Simon’s torturers. Nightmare 7: Inara or non-pregnant Zoë and Simon are snatched. Inara or Zoë are put at risk by Simon’s torturers. Nightmare 8: Mal or Jayne and Simon are snatched. Mal or Jayne are put at risk by Simon’s torturers. Nightmare 9: Simon is snatched.”

Zoë’s heart skipped a beat. The flatness of the way the girl said it made it painfully clear that Simon had actually thought about it. Sat up, working it out. Weighed each life, each relationship. She was touched, too, that her baby – unborn and unknown to all of them – would warrant such a protective urge from the boy. ‘Women and children first,’ she thought. Simon was such an old fashioned boy. Instinctively, she gathered the girl into a hug. “He did good, getting Kaylee away.”

“He doesn’t think he’d give me up for Kaylee. Scared she’d find out, hate him for it, for what he let them do to her. What he let them do to her while he watched.”

“Doesn’t think?”

The girl shrugged, but Zoë saw the emotion in her eyes. “He’s never been tortured before.”

“He never lets himself have a moment’s peace, does he?”

“Zoë.” The older women barely heard the girl’s so-soft voice. “I have to sit down now. The torture will start soon.” Zoë could see the sadness vying with frantic terror in her eyes, and guided her back to Simon’s bed.

“You sure this the room you want to be in?”

River nodded wordlessly.

“Okay.” Zoë thought for a moment. “Want me to sit with you?”

“No. Too scary. Don’t want you to hear. Simon would be mad.”

“Okay. Call me if you need anything.” She turned and headed toward the door.

“Zoë.” Zoë turned to face the girl again, it pained her to hear how the girl was struggling to keep her tears back and her voice steady.

“What, hon?”

“Promise me.”

“Promise what?”

“No drugs. I might be needed. I don’t know how much help I can be… but no drugs. Tie me up, if you have to. Gag me. Cut my vocal cords… but no drugs. In case I can help Simon.”

“No one’s cuttin’ on you. No one’s drugging you. I promise.” Zoë sat on the bed and held River.

“Zoë, please go. I have to scream. The pain… Don’t want you to hear. Don’t let Mal or Kaylee hear. Please, please go.”

Zoë held the girl tight once more before walking away without looking back. As the door slide into place, River’s screams poured out as a keening wail.

Zoë walked quickly to the engine room, where she found Kaylee and Jayne sitting together in silence. “Kaylee, go help Inara in the shuttle. She’s trying to find any leads on Simon, and she hasn’t had any luck so far.” The girl left wordlessly without ever meeting Zoë’s eyes.

“Jayne, got a favour to ask of ya.”

The big mercenary stood. “Yea, Zo?”

“River’s pretty bad right now. I’m sure you can guess why.”

“Yea.”

“I’d like you to go sit in the passenger dorms. Next time River stops screamin’ to take a breath let her know you’re there if she needs somethin’.” Zoë saw the fear cross Jayne’s face then. “Gets too much, gag her if you’ve gotta, but you know not to leave her alone for even a minute if ya do?”

“Yea, Zoë, know about that stuff… but, uh, couldn’t we drug her? No need for her to be feelin’ all them things they’re doin’ to ‘er brother.” Zoe could see that he couldn’t quite meet her eyes, either. “Zo… Ya know I don’t like listenin’ to her scream, Zoë. I ain’t patient like the doc. And gaggin’ ‘er’s kinda… cold.”

“I know Jayne. But she doesn’t want to be drugged. Wants to be able to help Simon any way she can.”

Jayne looked at his boots for a moment and spoke. “What ‘bout lil’Kaylee?”

“Inara’s got her, and she can’t hear River from the shuttle.”

Jayne nodded and headed past Zoë out of the engine room.

“Jayne, ya don’t have to do this. Ain’t somethin’ I’d order ya to do.”

“‘Preciate it, Zoë, but I’ll go.” As he turned back toward the exit, he said quietly. “Ain’t no favour either, Zo. Ya don’t owe me.”

*** Jayne strode quickly toward the passenger dorms, if only to put some distance between him and Zoë. The girl was still screaming her lungs out, but it sounded as if she was trying to muffle it with a pillow. He parked himself in Book’s old dorm, hoping the old man’s calm would rub off on him. Penance. It was a good Book word, and probably the best description of the hellish scenario he was now in. Whatever what Kaylee had done could be called – and Jayne didn’t agree about the ‘turning in’ part, it had been by accident. He’d once done if for real, for money. If anyone should be made to hear the suffering of the Tams under torture, he knew it should be him.

*** *** ***

Chapter Nineteen: Ignis aurum probat (literally, fire tests gold) Part II

Jayne wasn’t watching the clock on purpose, but he was more than vaguely aware of the amount of time passing. River had screamed for well over thirty minutes, nigh-on solid, since he’d first sat down on Book’s old bed. In that length of time, Jayne had considered Zoë’s words, gagging River, what he’d done on Ariel, and prayer. A small part of him was envious of how she wasn’t scared to love, to let go, to scream and to sob. Jayne knew pain – not, necessarily, pain like this – but pain all the same. River trusted that it didn’t say anything bad about her that she felt it. He wondered, too, how much of the screaming was her sharing in Simon’s pain, and how much was a release of her grief at feeling him endure it.

When the screaming finally broke, Jayne was pacing again. He hurried into Simon’s room, to find River face down on the mattress, panting heavily, tears streaming down her face. He didn’t know what to say. “Simon out cold?” He blurted. ‘Shouldn’t be asking them questions, Jayne,’ he scolded himself silently.

“No. Alone now, doesn’t know for how long. Alone to think. Worry. Hurt.”

“River, ya ain’t gotta be alone.” Jayne half-cursed himself, knowing that meant that he was volunteering to stay.

“I was talking about Simon.”

“Yea, well, I was talkin’ ‘bout you.”

“Can I have some water, please?” Jayne nodded and got her a glass from the washroom. She sat up and took it when he handed it to her. “Thank you, Jayne.” He watched as she rubbed her face with her forearm. He went and grabbed a towel and handed it to her. “Thank you,” she said again.

“River, ain’t no reason to be feelin’ all this.” He nodded toward the door. “Let’s go fetch ya some of Simon’s drugs.”

“No drugs. I want to help Simon.”

“An’ Simon don’t want ya to suffer. He’d a loaded ya up with somethin’ by now if he were here.”

“Simon won’t betray me.” Her voice was so soft, that even Jayne – skilled tracker that he was – nearly had to bend down to catch what she said next. “And I won’t betray him.”

That took a moment for the mercenary to parse. “Hey, now, River, it ain’t betraying your brother to take a shot of somethin’. Ain’t natural, you feelin’ alla this.”

“He’s suffering because of me.”

Jayne was starting to get angry. Not at River, just angry in general. Like tears for River, anger was a natural response for Jayne. “An’ if I was talkin’a him, he’d say you was suffering ‘cause a him.”

River nodded. “Thinks it’s his fault we’re fugitives.”

Jayne stared down at the girl, open mouthed, then looked away. “Yeah, on reflection, that don’t surprise.” He knelt down on one knee so that she could see his face. He regretted looking into her eyes immediately, but he just took a deep breath and continued. “Ain’t your fault yer fugies. Ain’t his fault. Ain’t your fault he’s bein’ beat on, and it ain’t his fault. Ain’t Kaylee’s neither. Ship carries so much gorram guilt around on it, it’s a wonder the ruttin’ thing even flies.” River rolled her eyes, but didn’t bother to correct him. “Three a you done so little bad in yer lives ya gotta go borrowin’ it? Ain’t no one’s fault ‘cept the hundans who think it’s just shiny to cut up little girls.”

She didn’t reply. Jayne stood up again. He had no idea what to do. He noticed the chair that he’d last sat on just before he’d closed the two siblings in away from Saffron. The irony of it totally escaped him, but he sat down. She hadn’t asked him to go, and he didn’t think that she would ever ask him to stay. He tried to strengthen his resolve by reminding himself that she wouldn’t seem much quieter from Book’s room.

His resolve shattered shortly, when she rolled onto her side, crying and whispering, “Ren ci de shang di, qing dai wo zou! Wo xiang mei er, mei xin, bian shi tou.”

He remembered in vivid detail exactly where he’d last heard that, and his blood went completely cold, but all he managed for comfort was, “Not without drugs, yer not gonna!”

She curled into a tiny ball, and began screaming. He’d been wrong. It really was louder in here. He stood and started to pace again.

***

“Ain’t fair, ‘Nara.” Kaylee looked half-shocked to Inara.

“I know, Mei-mei,” her friend said as she lit some incense for relaxation. “Can I give you something to help calm your nerves?”

“Naw, ‘Nara, Zoë wants me ta help you search for Simon.”

“Well, I’m running a through Cortex search at the moment. There isn’t really anything to do right now except to wait.” She plumped a cushion. “Would you like to lie down, rest while it’s running? We can go through it together when it’s done.”

The mechanic was silent.

“Kaylee?”

“Na, ‘Nara, thanks though.” She started to cry again, softly. Inara was too well trained to ask why or to suggest that she stop. She merely pulled the girl toward her, and stroked her hair. “Heard River screamin’ and cryin’ on my way here. Don’t think I’ll ever get that sound out of mind. Like it were Simon’s screams comin’ outta her mouth. I did this to him.” Kaylee turned her face toward her friend. “’Nara, I think I wanna die.”

***

It was over an hour later when she finally stopped screaming again, her small body shaking. Jayne couldn’t take it anymore. He’d decided some forty minutes ago that he couldn’t take it anymore.

“River, you can’t scream no more. It’s like to damage a man’s calm.” The girl continued to sob and Jayne went to refill her water glass. She drank some down, wordlessly. “River, let me go get some a Simon’s drugs. Or some a ‘Nara’s. Or some booze.”

“No.” Her voice was low, raspy. She sipped some more water.

“River, you gotta.” He looked away from her, although she wasn’t meeting his eyes. “River, can’t listen to this no more.”

“Go drug yourself, then.” She met his eyes, defiant, but saw only shared grief and fear. She dropped her gaze. “I’m sorry, Jayne. I shouldn’t have said that.” She handed her glass back to Jayne, who put it back on the side table. “No. Drugs.”

“River…”

“No drugs. Zoë promised.”

“River…” he stopped himself, momentarily, but realised that waiting was pointless. Best to say it when she would understand him. “River, he comes to, they come back, they start on him again – whatever is happenin’– you start up that screamin’ again, and I will gag you.”

She nodded. He couldn’t fathom how she could be so reasonable about the unreasonable and yet so unreasonable about the reasonable. He settled back into chair. Silence reigned for a while. She got up, and used the washroom. It wasn’t long after she settled back down on the bed that she lay down on her side again, moaning softly. Jayne knew what was happening and stood. River pointed behind herself to Simon’s dresser, as she wailed – comparatively conservatively – to herself. Jayne rummaged through Simon’s things, grabbed a sock and then found a clean large enough handkerchief and knotted it in the middle. He sat on the bed behind her, half turned toward her, and he swallowed.

“River, don’t want ta do this.”

“No drugs.”

“Ok.” He sighed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some small change, putting it into the sock. He knotted the end of the sock. “You’re gagged, not gonna be able ta understand ya. Ya need something, water, the head, gag loosened, whatever, you drop this. It’ll jingle, and I’ll know ya need something.” He hoped that she didn’t know it was a whore’s trick. ‘Go se. Girl knows now.’ “I’ll take it off anytime you like, but ya can’t scream. Ya ask me ta take off the gag, I will. But ya start screamin’ again and I’m carrying ya up ta the infirm’ry and knocking ya out.”

River whimpered. “No drugs. Told Zoë. You can cut my vocal cords.”

Revulsion crossed Jayne’s face. “There’s somethin’ very wrong with ya if ya think… Look ain’t no-one here cuttin’ on you. This here’s plenty wrong ‘nough.” He could see that her knuckles were white from how tightly she was clenching her fists against the pain. He knew that he couldn’t ask her to delay any longer. “Sit up some.” River did as she was told. He placed the gag around her face, watching carefully all the while. “Ya gotta open yer mouth some. The knot’s gotta get in.” She did, and he hated the look of fear in her eyes. He tied the gag tightly around the back of her head. She lay down, trembling, as soon as he was done, sock curled tightly in her left hand, tears running down her face, and with her screams muffled by her brother’s handkerchief.

Jayne sat there, staring, not knowing at all what to do next. After a while, he started to rub her back as she shook.

***

Zoë had to pee again. She felt like most of her time was now taken up with walking to, from or using, the head. She knew that it must have happened the last time, too, but she didn’t recall noticing.

It was when she went to pull back her clothes that she saw it.

She was spotting.

*** *** ***

Chapter Twenty: Ignis aurum probat (literally, fire tests gold) Part III

The sock of coins hit the wall, and River started to sit up. Jayne’s first thought was ‘I hope her brother lasts longer’an that.’ He immediately felt ashamed. He’d been begging for her to take the drugs from nearly the moment the torture started. As soon as the knot slid from between her lips, she began, “Jayne. Help me to the infirmary.”

He hoisted her up.

“I can walk.”

That gave him a moment’s pause. “… Well, ya don’t hafta.”

When they got there, she pointed to the central chair, and he put her down. “Ok. Wadda want?” He started pulling drawers open at random.

She rolled her eyes behind his back and spoke weakly. “Jayne.”

He turned. “Yea?”

“Go to the shuttle. Get Inara. Ask her to bring her box of soothers.”

Jayne was instantly suspicious. He know that there had to be ample soothers in here, as he’d seen the doc giving them to his sister often enough. The walk to and from the shuttle wasn’t a short trip, and he didn’t trust her on her own with the way she was talking before. “No ruttin’ way. Ain’t havin’ ya cuttin’ on yerself.”

She sighed. “I won’t. I promise. Kaylee needs you, and I need Inara, and you need Inara not to be there when you tell Kaylee.”

Jayne was dreading where this was going. “Tell Kaylee what?”

“How big Simon’s heart is.”

***

Zoë splashed water on her face once more, and patted it with a towel. It wasn’t as though she couldn’t put the others off easily enough, she knew. All she had to say was “pregnancy hormones” and they’d all assume that was that.

She knew that she should probably avoid Mal and River for a while. Maybe put her feet up for a while in the lounge. Pop into the infirmary and see if Simon had any notes on what to do, just maybe lying about.

Tears threatened again. She figured she’d better get moving.

As Zoë approached the infirmary she spotted River perched on the examination chair, her own hand clasped across her mouth. She noticed that the girl immediately looked toward her. Of course she would know. Zoë walked in. River’s tear streaked face looked swollen under the bright light. “River, let’s get you back to bed.”

“No. Order of precedence.”

“Precedence?”

“Nightmare 5. Precedence over Nightmare 9.” Zoë’s heart wasn’t certain whether to rise or fall at these words; the horror of the situation just deepening by the moment. The girl bit down on the back of her hand to keep from screaming. “Sent Jayne to get Inara. Her soothers help relaxation but do not necessarily force sleep.” Zoë flipped the folding seat down and sat on it, hands on knees. She went to speak but River cut her off, panting. “Be here soon. Please wait.” Zoë averted her eyes as the girl doubled over, trying to stifle her wailing.

About a minute later, Inara stepped through, quickly hurrying to River’s side. “Here, River. Jayne said that you wanted to try one of my soothers?” Inara kept her voice very gentle, though she was well aware that River could still hear her pounding heart. River thrust her arm forward as a gesture of consent, and Inara dosed her. River kept her arm out, and it took Inara a moment to realise what River was asking. “River, two is a lot of… medicine. Are you sure?” River nodded and Inara gave her a second dose. The girl, to Inara’s relief, dropped her arm. A second dose was sometimes given, it was true… but Inara, like Jayne, could not shake the feeling that River was a candidate for self-harm. “Would you like me to sit with you?”

“Could you wait for me in the lounge? I would like to speak to Zoë, privately.”

“Of course, River.” She left the room gracefully, with a smile for them both, and settled herself in the lounge.

In the infirmary, River turned her full attention to Zoë. Waves of pain still crashed over her, but it was more like hearing a loud argument in the next room, rather than at the next table. She could focus, for now, on something beyond Simon’s pain.

“Threatened miscarriage: bleeding from the birth canal before twenty weeks. The bleeding may or may not have abdominal pain associated with it. The blood loss may be brown spotting, blood stained discharge or bright red bleeding. The amount of bleeding is proportional to the risk of miscarriage, the greater the bleeding the greater the risk of miscarriage. Abdominal pain associated with the bleeding is not considered a good sign. Around one in four women will experience vaginal bleeding in the first three months of pregnancy. Of these women seventy to eighty percent will continue their pregnancies to full term. There is probably nothing that can prevent a threatened miscarriage becoming a miscarriage. Certain strategies are, like bed rest (if symptoms are acute) recommended. Research to date is unclear whether bed rest is actually helpful, and the point of view of the woman must be considered.”

“We can’t do nothin’?”

“We can do this.” River dropped from the chair and grabbed Simon’s stethoscope, put the earpieces in her ears and checking for a heartbeat. When she found it, she took the earpieces out and put them in Zoë’s hands. “Inefficient tool. Poor sound quality. But heart beat present.”

Zoë quickly slipped them in, a smile crossing her face.

“What now?”

“Rest. Let Inara baby-sit Mal.”

Zoë nodded, and stood. She pointed out to where Inara was. “I’m gonna be right there.”

“I know.” As she watched Zoë leave to talk to Inara, River let the wave of pain wash over her, and clenched her fists so tightly that her palms bled. Neither fighting the pain nor feeling it was easy. She stumbled as she stepped forward, but caught herself quickly, a tiny trace of blood on the door frame to mark her passing. She headed toward the bridge.

***

After Inara left, Jayne wasn’t sure what to do. At first, he sat wordlessly next to Kaylee on the couch. Kaylee was unnerving him almost more than River; she just sat, silently, staring out at nothing. It wasn’t right.

“Kaylee,” he started, but she interrupted.

“Were my fault Jayne. Nothing ya can say changes that.” Tears started to trickle down her face again as the thought of River’s screams resurfaced.

“Ain’t yer fault.”

“Turned ‘im in.”

“Naw, ya didn’t Kaylee.” He took a deep breath. “And it wouldn’ta mattered to him iffin ya did, he’d love ya anyway. Forgive ya.”

“Jayne, you can’t say that!”

“Yea, I can.” He tried to catch her eye, but she was mostly somewhere else. Half relieved, he dropped his daze. “He’s got a good heart, lil’Kaylee.” He remembered River’s words. “A big heart.”

“No heart big enough ta forgive that, Jayne.”

“Forgave me.” He expected her face to snap towards him, but a look of confusion just settled on it slowly. He rushed in before she could speak. “Ariel. Got stupid, turned him in. He found out. Guess River musta knew, told him. He didn’t tell no one, could a killed me on his table. ‘Stead, he decided notta, ta put it behind him. Told me ta do the same.” He looked toward her again, saw the horror in her sad eyes. “Did it for money Kaylee. Got him and River both snatched.” He dropped his gaze again. “He still loves ya. Always will.”

If he’d thought about it, he would have guessed that she’d hit him, or curse him, or throw something at him or run from the room. She didn’t. She just cried harder.

*** *** *** Chapters 21-30 Just Chapter 21 *** *** ***

COMMENTS

Sunday, January 7, 2007 2:44 AM

GIRLFAN


All the chapters have originally been posted here, singly or occassionally in pairs.

As new chapters go up, I add links between them, and every ten I bunch them together. It may be a personal quirk, but when I first started reading stories that were already long by the time I got there, it was nicer when I didn't have to load lots of pages etc to get each fix. I tend to read straight through. I suppose this second upload is a nod toward readers like myself.

If you perfer to read a bit at a time, the original chapters are still up with the comments they garnered. Please take a moment to read them, too. Sometimes the comments are the funniest bits.

Oh, and if you add your own comments, that would be shiny.

Thank you to all who've shared this with me, and especially to everyone who's commented.

Monday, January 8, 2007 2:06 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Honestly think you got the right idea going, girlfan...especially for story lines like ScrewtheAlliance's epic mini-series tales and TamSiblings "Day" trilogy;)

BEB


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