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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. River is having a good time, while Jethro and Jayne talk. Also Zoe has something to think about. Sorry about no second bite Friday, but I hope this makes up for it! Read, comment, rate and enjoy!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1314 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Inara walked down the steps into the liner’s ballroom, and for once didn’t actually feel like the centre of attention. Oh, she was beautiful, she knew that, dressed in dark red velvet, long gloves to her elbows, but it was River, wearing one of her plainest gowns, her glossy dark hair swept up into a low roll at her neck, who had caught everyone’s attention.
The dress, a deep gold, was cut on the bias and hung from thin straps, curving around her slight figure. However, it was the girl inside the dress, the lightest touch of lipstick all that adorned her face, that had all the men watching her, and all the women wondering who she was.
Captain Branscombe stood up from his seat, the other men at the table following, as the pair walked towards him. “My dears, you both look stunning.”
“Thank you,” Inara said, inclining her head a little.
“Please, sit.” He pulled out a chair for her, pushing it in as she sat down.
River, smiling, took the seat next to Inara.
“River, no,” Inara breathed. “You wait until someone holds out your chair for you.”
“Oh.” She stood up again, and Captain Branscombe laughed.
“Please.” He bowed a little as he did the same for her.
“River was allowed to run a little wild,” Inara said. “And I wasn't around to make sure she learned some of the finer graces.”
“I think your sister is refreshing,” the captain said. “So much nicer than a lot of these old fuddy-duddies,” he added in a whisper.
“I do hope you don’t include me in that,” Inara said, laughing gently.
“My dear, I would never call you a fuddy-duddy.” He smiled into his beard. “Now, can I help you to some wine?”
River watched, her eyes wide, as Inara played the table. It wasn’t obvious, even if you were looking, but the older woman knew exactly how to make people feel at ease, as if she was speaking only to them. It was so subtle, just a look or a gesture, and each man felt she was smiling for him, and each woman believed she could be a friend.
It was like magic. Inara was weaving a spell that encompassed everyone around her, and River was taking in every moment. She made it look so effortless, and yet it had taken years of training, of observing, of being taught how to recognise when someone was in the least bit uncomfortable, and being able to rectify it.
And not one moment of it was because she read that person’s mind, just their body language, the way they spoke …
As she sipped her wine, River smiled. As much as she was sad she’d missed Jethro’s romantic gesture, this was something she never thought she’d see first hand. A Companion, even if not in name, at work. And it was wonderful.
“You okay?” Hank asked, pouring himself a coffee.
“Fine,” Zoe said, staring at the inventory in front of her.
“Do you want one?” He lifted the pot.
“What’re you doing?” Hank came and sat down opposite her.
“What does it look like?”
“Just making sure we don’t need anything.”
“And if we did?”
“Just like to keep on top of things.” She hadn’t looked at him.
“I said I'm fine.”
“Only, from my long and varied experience of women, I’d have to say something was troubling you.”
“I'm working!” she snapped at him, finally glaring at him.
He sat back. “Oh. Okay.” He sounded surprised.
“Hank, just let me get on with this.” She looked back to her list.
He took a mouthful of coffee. “Zoe, we ain't gonna be anywhere you can resupply for a few days, so why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?” He leaned forward again, reaching out to her. “You were going to earlier, before Jayne interrupted us. “Honey, whatever it is, you can tell me.” He swallowed. “Are you sick?”
“No.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “Ain’t sick.”
“Then what is it?”
She forced herself to look at him and smile. “I just want to get this done. Then we can go to bed.”
He brightened a little, but there was still concern in his eyes. “All for that, but –“
“Don’t you have something to do on the bridge?”
“Still waiting for that Halliday to get back to me,” he admitted. “But the autopilot –“
“Give me an hour. Okay?” She put her hand on his. “An hour.”
“Then you’ll tell me what the problem is?”
“Hank, there’s no problem.”
Hank gazed into her dark eyes. “Whatever you say.” He stood up. “An hour. Or I'm coming to find you.” He smiled for her, but it wasn’t his usual wide grin. Strolling, apparently nonchalantly, across the galley and up the steps, he glanced back at her. She was still sitting, her head down, staring at the inventory. Whatever it is, he thought to himself, trying to take a page out of Freya’s book and reaching out with his mind, I’ll be there for you.
Zoe waited until she heard him climb the bridge stairs, then sat back, rubbing her hands across her face and through her hair. Why did this have to get so complicated? Why couldn’t life be smooth for a change? Why couldn’t things just carry on as they had been, without …
She stood up quickly, her chair squealing on the floor, and strode out in the opposite direction.
Simon was finishing up in the infirmary when Zoe stepped inside.
“I’m going to bed,” he said quickly before she could speak. “No need for Kaylee to send out the big guns to make me.”
“Am I a big gun?” Zoe asked, momentarily distracted.
“Well, you carry one.”
“Not right now.”
“Well, no.” He looked into her face. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think I need you to do something for me.”
The waiter put the silver salver down in front of the young psychic.
“Me?” River breathed. “All for me?”
Inara nodded, looking down at the cards spread out on the tray, each bearing a man’s name. “They all want to dance with you.”
“Why?” She turned her big dark eyes on her friend.
“Because you’re quite lovely.” Inara heard the catch in her own voice.
“Unspoiled?” River asked, picking the word from her brain.
“Yes,” the ex-Companion agreed. “Something I never was.”
River grinned, and was suddenly the girl Inara knew and loved. “This is silly,” she said.
“It is.” Inara picked up the cards, making a small pile of them. “But you’ve made something of an impact on them.”
“Except this isn’t me.” River indicated the dress. “This … isn’t me.” She lowered her voice to barely a whisper. “How could this kill a room full of Reavers?”
Inara put her hand on River’s. “You can be both. And so much more. Look at Freya. Wife, mother, lover … yet she was a soldier, a leader of men.”
“But never a murderer,” she added on a breath. “And you‘re more.”
“Me?” Inara was honestly startled.
“You think of yourself as a Companion. And now that’s been removed, you think you’re nothing.”
Inara stared. “No, I –”
“It’s there. At the front of your thoughts all the time. The question. If you’re not a Companion, what are you? That’s why you want to find your son. Because at least then you’d be a mother.” River’s dark eyes seemed to look into her soul. “But you’re more than a Companion. You always were. And it isn’t by others that we are defined. But by ourselves.”
“River, I … I’ve never been anything else.”
“You’re my friend. Mal’s. Freya’s. Zoe’s. All of us on board Serenity. You’ve been our confidante, our conscience, our pain and our survival. You’re Inara.”
“I don’t know if that’s enough.”
“He won’t come for you. Not for that.”
Inara felt the heat in her cheeks. “I know.”
“And you think your son might fill the void.”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head slowly. “But he is my son.”
The orchestra played a chord, long, high and drawn out, making the crystals in the chandelier tinkle.
“What do I do?” River said suddenly, her high spirits back with her youth. She tapped the cards. “Tell me.”
Inara smiled. “Decide you who want to dance with. Then put the cards into the holder.” She pointed to the gilt frame the servant had placed behind River. All the ladies in the room had one. “The lucky men will put the matching card next to it, and whisk you onto the floor.”
“It sounds so formal.”
“Good.” River’s fingers danced through the cards, dividing and selecting. “Can I dance with them all?”
“If you want.” Inara laughed. “The orchestra plays until there’s no-one left.”
A slow smile spread across her face. “Then I will.” She jumped to her feet and proceeded to place each card in the frame.
“Your feet will hurt by the end of the evening,” Inara warned.
“I don’t care,” River said as the first of the young men walked across the floor towards her, lifting her dress just enough to show she was barefoot. “If this is the only chance I’ll get, I’m taking it.” She turned, smiling, and stepped into the man’s arms.
Inara grinned, watching her being whisked away to the centre of the dancers.
Jethro swung the weighted bar back into its cradle and sat up.
“She’ll be okay,” Jayne said from the catwalk above.
“I know,” he said, picking up his towel to wipe his face. “Inara’s a woman of the world.”
“I weren't talkin’ about her. And you know it.” The big man walked slowly down the stairs. “River.”
Jethro glared at him. “How … how could she do that?” he asked, the words spilling out of his mouth. “Just go off like that? Without a word to anyone?”
“And you’d’a let her go if she’d talked to you first?”
“Of course not!”
“Then I figure that’s why she didn’t.” Jayne crossed the cargo bay. “River … well, this is her family. ‘N’ if one ‘ppears like they’re in trouble, she don’t look on it as interfering. Just being family.”
“I know, but –“
“Ain't no buts, Jethro. You gonna be with her, you gotta accept that.” The big mercenary picked up one of the weights, lazily doing arm curls. “From what little she’s told anyone, her family – her real family – didn’t even look for her when she was hurtin’. Simon did that, got her out, risked his own life to save hers. Boy did good.” He looked at the young man. “But don’t you go tellin’ him I said that.”
“Would he believe me?”
Jayne laughed. “Nope. Don’t reckon he would. But the point is she’s more at home here than anywhere she’s ever been. And we’re … they’re the family she never had.”
“I’m worried about her.”
Jayne sighed. “I don’t think there’s a one on board who ain’t.”
“So if I stay, she’s going to be doing this a lot?”
“Worrying ya? Jethro, all the whores’d go to church before she stopped.”
Jethro blushed a little. “You have a … colourful way with words.”
Jayne slapped him on the shoulder. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I think I'm going to have to.”
“So, you gonna put some proper weights on that thing? Or you as panty-waisted as the doc, and pussyfoot around pretending?”
“I do not pussyfoot.”
“Good.” Jayne picked up two heavy metal discs. “Let’s see what you’re made of.”
Jethro shuddered a little. If he had to lift that sort of weight, Jayne would soon know what he was made of, because he’d be throwing it up all over the floor. “A little lighter?” he asked.
Jayne laughed. “That’s it. Don’t let people walk all over you.” He exchanged the weights for slightly smaller ones. “We’ll build up to those.”
Mal closed the door to their temporary home. “Ethan’s asleep,” he said, smiling. “You know, I'm thinking we should get a capture of him and Bethie like that. While they’re all sweet and peaceful.”
He glanced at her as he slipped the suspenders from his shoulders. “Might be worth it, just to drag out when he brings his first girlfriend home. Explain he’d already been sleeping around, from a very early age.”
Mal sighed. “We going to have one of those conversations?” he asked, watching Freya as she sat on the bed, her feet drawn up in front of her. She was contemplating him thoughtfully.
“Maybe for a minute or two.”
“Can I get undressed while you lecture me?”
“Sure. And I wasn't planning on lecturing.”
“No?” He undid his shirt. “Kinda thought that was the intent.”
“Ah.” He sat down next to her.
“I know you don’t want to go back.”
“Told you what I’d do if you went scampering around in my brain,” he joked. “You ain't that big I can’t spank you.”
“Don’t try and change the subject.”
“Frey, honey, I … no, you’re right. I don’t want to go back. It’s too …” He stopped. He couldn’t say it was too painful, which it was, because she’d just say that was a good enough reason to keep going. Instead he said, “I feel better. Got a lot of things out into the open. I don’t need to go back.”
She looked at him, her dark eyes clear and honest. “I’m not the only one with bad dreams.”
“I don’t have –“
“Mal, you’ve been through so much. Losing the war, your home, your men, Alice … me …”
He quickly put his arm around her, squeezing her close. “I didn’t lose you.”
“Nearly. So very nearly. And not just this time either. Mal, this isn’t the first time I've wondered if you’d be better off without me.”
He was so stunned he couldn’t speak for a moment. “Are you –“
“No.” She shook her head. “Not that. But maybe you’d be better with someone like Inara. At least she doesn’t put herself in harm’s way all the time.”
“It wasn't your fault.”
“No. But if I stay, maybe next time it will be.”
“Are you … are you really thinking about leaving me?” He was almost numb with shock.
She gazed into his blue eyes. “No.”
He breathed again. “Then –“
“But it’s something else I need to speak to Dr Yi about. And you have to go see her again too.”
“When we’ve found Inara and River, we’ll come back to Ariel. I know you need to … but I feel like I’ve done my talking.”
“No. What about your bad dreams?”
“I can live with them.”
“I'm not sure I can.”
He stared. “Frey … don’t. Please don’t.”
“I don’t want you breaking down, Mal,” Freya said quietly, her eyes not leaving her husband’s face. “You call out their names sometimes, when you’re asleep. Bendis. Walker. Lu Fong.”
Mal licked dry lips. “Soldiers. Good men.”
“And none of them survived Serenity Valley.”
“And sometimes you talk about meeting the real me.” He’d told her about Niska. About the torture. When she stroked the scar around his ear. “If I could kill him for you, I would.”
“I know.” He gave a shaky smile. “See, that’s the difference between us. You survived. I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
“No, Frey. I died. I wasn't strong enough to stay alive, and I died. The fact that he brought me back ain't the issue. I gave in. And you didn’t.” His voice broke.
“Mal, there’s only so much guilt a man can carry.”
“What if there ain't anything left? If I give up the guilt, and there’s nothing left behind?”
She took his hand, placing it to her lips. Her eyes wet, she kissed his palm, closing his fingers over it. “Mal, I love you. You, not all the guilt. The man inside. The man who makes me feel human. Keeps the darkness away.”
He laughed, just a little. “We’re a pair, ain't we?”
“Deserve each other.”
“God, I hope so.” He leaned in and kissed her deeply.
“When did you know?”
“I … began wondering a couple of days ago. Thought I’d wait, see what happened.”
“And nothing did.”
“Well, you’re about five weeks, as far as I can tell.”
“Time to decide, then.”
“Time? Why, wouldn’t you want to –“
“I haven’t decided anything yet, doctor. But it gives me a breathing space.”
“Are you going to tell Hank tonight?”
“I'm not sure I'm going to tell Hank at all.”
“Just don’t … this is my problem.”
“Zoe, a baby isn’t a problem. Unless you can’t have them.”
“Of course I won’t. You’re my patient. But you’re also my friend, and as that I am telling you to talk to Hank.”
“You didn’t answer me.”
She hurried out of the infirmary, feeling his eyes on her back. This was her decision to make, no-one else’s. And she had no idea what she was going to do next.
to be continued
Saturday, March 17, 2007 3:59 AM
Saturday, March 17, 2007 8:25 AM
Saturday, March 17, 2007 8:49 AM
Sunday, March 18, 2007 6:22 PM
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