BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CHANNAIN

Heartbroken - Part 7
Saturday, August 7, 2004

Mal knows who the trouble maker is on board ship...er, that is, on board ships. He takes care of business, gets an eerie little visit from another Serenity Valley survivor, then he finds out whose heart was broken first.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3252    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Following Part 6
Recap: Adair just tried to have a heart-to-heart with Mal who's more than a little preoccupied right now. It turns out Larkin Hague really was a traitor, but his wife and unborn child have given him two really shiny reasons to atone for it. Ellis might be Book's son, but there isn't enough conclusive proof. Wash is babysitting Jordain, and River is hot on the trail of someone who might just be as mixed up inside as she is.

Disclaimer: All Firefly characters are the property of someone else. All original characters are copyrighted by yours truly. This is not in any way, means or intention meant to infringe on anybody.

Author's Note: MIGHTY BIG THANK YOU goes to WindDancer and MalsDoxy for the quickest and best betas I've ever gotten. Thanks also to Robert Louis Stevenson for "My shadow" and Dorothy Aldis for "Hiding" and to my mother for reading them to me when I was little.

The MIGHTY BIG APOLOGY still stands for anyone who can read and speak French, Cajun or Chinese. The translations as I understand them are included, except the more vicious Chinese swearing. Any browncoat worth their salt knows all those anyway. For the French-Canadians out there please keep in mind if it isn't spelled right enough to be French, chances are pretty good it's Cajun. Glossary - Cajun and French/and mostly Cajun Sil vous plait, Maman - Please, Momma? (he's so polite, isn't he?) Faire attention - Be careful Pa aryen se oublié - Nothing is forgotten Frè - brother Oui, mo frè. Il est - yes my brother, it is Non, fre--couillon - No my brother, don't be an idiot (economical language, Cajun) Dromi... fò dromi - sleep...must sleep Mère d'un Dieu - Mother of God

Glossary - Chinese: qin ài de - my darling Bi zui - be quiet! Lāshî - shit ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Heartbroken - Part 7

Adair was muttering obscenities under her breath as she went back up to the cockpit to collect her son. She had to bite her lips once she got there. No sense giving Jordain any further insight into the more colorful aspects of Chinese when his education in Cajun was already heading in that direction. "Let's go, qin ài de. We should leave Wash to do his work." Simultaneously, Wash and Jordain turned to give Adair identical stricken expressions. "AW." Wash looked down at the boy now standing next to the console then back to Adair. "Couldn't he stay a little while longer?" "Sil vous plait, Maman ? I am about to attack ze in...in..." "Invaders," Wash whispered helpfully. "Oui!" Jordain squealed. Seeing a grown man holding a small plastic reptile in each hand, and Jordain with two others, Adair found herself biting her lips for an entirely different reason. Zoe's husband would make an excellent father, she decided, despite being very childlike in his own right. He made it very easy to give in. Smiling warmly, Adair shook her head in amazement as she stepped in to give her son a kiss, and then moved to drop a quick peck on Wash's cheek as well. Jordain resumed the bashing of plastic heads with enthusiastic and fearsome guttural roars, while Wash could only look up at her with a somewhat sheepish grin. Adair gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "Zoe is a very lucky woman." He beamed as she turned away and started for the access way just in time to see Zoe emerge from one of the crew cabins. Light from the overheads gleamed off the sawed-off rifle worn in a holster on her hip, which Adair was quite certain she hadn't seen there before. At nearly the same time, the large brute with the goatee came up from the next cabin down. He was also armed and carried a flashlight. They moved together down the access way, focused and intent. Mal emerged shortly thereafter and was about to follow, but paused and turned to look up toward the bridge instead, once again showing her the haunted eyes of a stranger. There was longing as well; a stark desire, perhaps, for what might have been. What if he had returned to her, undamaged but not quite whole, what then? Then without a word, he was on his way. Breathing a sigh, Adair folded her arms before descending the stairs from the bridge, leaving her son and his new honorary uncle to their high jinks. She went into the galley where some of the Sayabec refugees were still huddled in groups, talking and finishing their meals. Roux seemed to have made himself a permanent fixture in Serenity's kitchen and had apparently begun preparation for the next meal. He had taken it as a personal affront when Rene told him that conserving ship's power meant that he couldn't cook. After three days of forced inactivity, the man was fair to bursting with culinary energy. Adair smiled as she watched him stop stirring long enough to taste a mild sesame glaze that smelled so savory it actually made her mouth water. In the lounge corner of the galley, the Shepherd was delivering a stirring rendition of Goliath's defeat at the hands of the smaller but wiser David that seemed to have riveted the Sayabec children in place. He looked up as she passed by and gave her a wink as acknowledgement. She smiled back and made a note to find him again once Rene was awake. The corridor to the engine room was clear of people except for two figures standing near the entrance. Recognizing Doriane Faure Hague and her husband Larkin engaged in what appeared to be an intimate discussion, Adair did her best to quiet her steps on the way to the rear access way to the cargo bay. "Look, there ain't no getting around it bao bei, I gotta go," Larkin said. "How long are you going to let this Reynolds have control over you?" Adair froze and turned her head back to listen. Larkin breathed a long sigh. "What I did before--during the war--I nearly got him and his killed. Used to be a time I wouldn't have given a hang about that, but it’s all different now. There's no making up for it, but maybe by doing this I'll be able to live with it a little better." After a pause, there was a catch in Hague's voice when he spoke again. "Maybe…maybe then this here little one won't have to grow up ashamed of me." So it was true. Reflecting on Rene's less-than shiny opinion of the man--something else he and Mal agreed on--Adair made her own vow, then and there, to keep what she knew to herself. Every man deserved a chance. Doriane's voice was softer as she spoke with reluctant resignation. "Will you be long?" "Can't say. Mal's man said he's in the engine room, though, and there ain't no way out of there. Chances are I'll get to say 'that's yer fella there,' and then...well, duck." "Then you make sure it's the right one, and duck quickly," she said. Her voice turned slightly acerbic. "Behind Reynolds, if you can." Adair heard Larkin chuckle as she continued down the stairs, all the way to the cargo bay catwalks. From there she went across to Inara's shuttle and stepped inside. Hearing voices, she held back before entering the main cabin area and realized it was Rene, speaking in Cajun. Although she couldn't speak it very well herself, Adair had come to understand quite a bit of it over the years. She also recognized the restrained irritation in the tone of Rene's voice. "...Had you told me this before. We could have dealt with him quietly, before anyone was hurt." " I did not know this!" It was Cezar who roared in answer. "I did not believe him capable of such things." "Whether you believed it or not--even if nothing had happened--don't you think I would have wanted to know?" Rene persisted. "He was like a brother to me and to Ellis, you know that." "How would I know you would not have turned him in?" Cezar asked. His voice was growing rough with emotion. "You have done so before, for the reward." "That was different, as you are very well aware." Cezar wasn't hearing him. "And if it had been Jordain--what would you have done?" "I think you would do well not bring our son into this." Adair's maternal instincts pulled her into the cabin to give Cezar the same glare that used to make Benardo Cariveau apologize. Rene's eyes flickered with regret but his fury was clearly evident. He was sitting up on the edge of the bed with the covers across his lap and had already reached for the clothes she had folded and left by the bed stand. He still looked exhausted and part of his temper was likely attributed to being awakened from his first sound sleep in weeks. In deference to her, he switched back to English to tell her. "I know who stabbed Ellis and Inara." Seeing the expressions on both men--Cezar's despair and Rene's rage--Adair decided she could take her explanation later. "Then you'd better get over to Zirondelle, because I think Mal just went to find him. He's taking two of his people with him, and they're all armed. Mal's asked Larkin to go along too, but I don't know why." Cezar's dark eyes went round with alarm. "Larkin was the supervisor--he knows his face. Rene, you cannot--" Rene turned a sharp glare of his own on the old mechanic that silenced him instantly and switched back to Cajun to tell him. "This is on you, Cezar. Whatever happens next will be my responsibility, but it was you who put me on this path. I wonder how you will explain that to your wife?" Shock seemed to freeze him to the spot. Adair figured that throughout all his efforts to save Armand--for whom else could they be speaking of--Cezar's true ambition had been to save his wife from whatever further pain could be wrought by seeing what remained of their son. Thinking of Mal, Adair thought that only God would know what had happened to the boy Rene grew up with--what manner of methods had been used to turn a happy-go-lucky Cajun into a murderer. "Go," Rene said in Cajun. "You have said your piece." Cezar did as he was told, his head hanging from his shoulders as he went. Rene stood up to dress, letting the covers fall away. Adair indulged herself a bit, in appreciating the generous male beauty he displayed so casually before he pulled on his boxers, then his trousers. It had been some time since they'd had so much as two quiet minutes alone together. She hadn't realized until just at that moment how very precious they were. After yanking on his boots Rene grabbed his shirt and slipped into it quickly. He started for the hatch while fastening the front buttons on his trousers, and was pulling his braces up by the time he reached Adair. When he bent down to her, Adair met his ardent kiss and returned it with equal fervor, dimly wondering how it was that she seemed to always be sending men off to fight. He pulled back with the same abruptness and moved confidently to face whatever lay ahead. "Rene." When he stopped, it was to look at her with such love in his eyes that it made her heart swell. "Faire attention." He left her with a quick and brilliant smile. * * * Zirondelle was reminding Mal very disturbingly of that converted short-range transport they found nigh onto a year ago, loaded with dead folk left behind by Reavers. At least this time they were fairly certain to not find a human meat locker, but there was nothing in the 'verse that compared to the utter silence of an empty ship. Jayne moved ahead on point with a flashlight and his prize Colt 357. Mal followed at ten paces, his Independent-issue 45 drawn and at the ready, with Zoe and the sawed-off 22 never more than five paces behind him. Hague brought up the rear, poised to hit the deck at any given moment. He was calmer than Mal expected, but those wide green eyes indicated he was completely on his guard. Considering the precarious occupation he led during the war by selling information to both sides, Hague's sense of self-preservation was probably even more sharply honed than Jayne's. At the maintenance access ways for all six pods, they paused; Jayne shone the light down the shaft before Mal went in, searching the narrow corridor and airlock with the light while Jayne covered him and Zoe stood lookout. They went down the length of the cargo access that way, finally reaching the engine room. The hatchway was standing wide open, but no lights were on, and no engine noise. Zirondelle continued to sleep. "I'm hiding...I'm hiding and no one knows where..." All three of them shifted their guns and lights at once, all aiming at the same point beyond the hatchway. Silence ruled as three beams reflected benignly off of the engine's shinier bits. Hearing a strange male voice in disembodied speech, however, didn't surprise any of them nearly as much as when River answered. "All they can see are my toes...and my hair." Jayne was the first to frown and lean slightly toward Mal so he could whisper. "Wuzzat the moonbrain?" River's delighted giggle seemed to echo through the ship, giving them all cause to look at each other in trepidation. "Maybe she's got him cornered," Zoe whispered. "Should I be worried that I'm hoping she's packing this time?" Jayne asked. "Bi zui," Mal whispered sharply. They stood still for five seconds before Mal nudged Jayne and motioned him forward. Jayne glared back, clearly uncomfortable with River's participation, but he did as he was told. Thinking of the time when River formulated the plan that pretty much did away with the larcenous intentions of one Jubal Early, Mal found himself hoping she had something in mind. Even if it was only to draw out the fella they were after, and then dance around when the shooting started, that would be enough for him. Then River spoke again. "And I just heard my father say to my mother... 'But darling, he must be somewhere or other'... 'Have you looked in the ink well?' And mother said, 'Where?' 'In the inkwell,' said Father, but I was not there'." The male voice replied. "'Wait!... cried my mother... 'I think that I see him under the carpet.' But it was not me. 'Inside the mirror's a pretty good place,' Said Father, and looked but saw only his face." River picked it up from there. "'We've hunted,' sighed Mother... 'As hard as we could... And I am so afraid... that we've lost him for good.'" "What manner of crew you folks got on your boat anyhow?" Hague asked softly. When Mal glared at him, he combined a sardonic expression with an explicit hand gesture that made his meaning clear. "Not lost. Not lost," River said, still in a sing-song tone. "Not forgotten. Never that. Pa aryen se oublié, oui?" After a long pause, the male voice spoke. "Pa...pa aryen se...pa aryen se oublié. Pa aryen se oublié." Mal frowned, suddenly caught in a most peculiar sense of déjà vu, and felt a chill go right down his spine as his mind spiraled backward more than seven years.

He stood on the top of the hill, looking down into a crowd of nearly one hundred and fifty faces, the sad remains of a valiant resistance. Most were being supported by someone else and every single one was on the shadier side of living. He had to say something to them, they were all waiting on it. How does a fella sum up the end of the 'verse as he knew it in three gorram minutes? "They're coming for us. Don't know the colors, but that don't much matter. Fighting's done, ain't no going back. Now they may try to make the 'verse forget any of this happened, but we ain't gonna let 'em. Long as we live, long as we remember, it ain't gonna be forgotten." Looking up, he watched the ships come in and swallowed back his own trepidations over what might lie ahead. "Nothin's forgotten." "Pa aryen se oublie." Hearing it, he looked out again, and saw a smallish fella with dark features staring back at him with black eyes. He watched as a bitter tear streamed down through the dirt caked on that fella's face.

"Sonuvabitch." Meeting Zoe's eyes, he fell back on their military training and gave her two separate hand signals. First he held up one index finger, palm outward, and then twisted his knuckles outward--one enemy--followed by the flat of his hand pointed in one direction--you take the left. Zoe nodded smartly, and waited for the signal to go. Turning to look at Jayne, he jerked his head to indicate he should go the other way and got an affirmative nod. Turning to Hague, Mal raised a hand sharply to indicate he was to go no further then waved back toward Serenity. Hague frowned, clearly confused, so Mal turned his pistol on him. Hague threw both hands up in the air and started backing up immediately. Mal waited until he was headed down the access stairs to the intersecting hallway before he turned back. Pointing to the center of his own chest and then forward, Mal indicated he was going first. Once they both nodded, he started forward. Mal half expected a blade to sail through the air, or bullets to come flying toward his head at any minute. He moved slowly but surely to the left and felt Zoe and Jayne move in behind him to take up stations on either side of the engine, closer to the hatchway. Zirondelle's engine room was bigger and the workings were proportionate to the size of a Dragonfly class freighter, but configured much the same as Serenity's. That meant there could be a crawl space behind it, which matched with the distance and volume of the voices. He was nearly there when he spotted River, standing feet together, bent at the waist, reaching out with one hand as if offering it to the engine. "'I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me..." the male voice said. "And what can be the use of him... is more than I can see'." Slowly, River crouched down and touched the deck with one hand curled into a fist, the palm turned downward. Then she put her index finger out and moved it from side to side. She knew they were there and was warning him back. Mal held up one hand to Zoe who did the same to Jayne. Looking at River again, he saw she had turned her hand over and wiggled her fingers once in a subtle come hither. "'He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head'..." The male voice continued its eerie-ass recitation, apparently oblivious to River and everything else. Mal swallowed, bolstered his courage a bit and stepped slowly out, gun in front of him. He was a smallish fella, more so for being all curled up into a ball and precariously balanced on his feet. Fairly smartly dressed too, compared to the rest of the Sayabec folk, like his clothes were newer and not quite so lived in. His forehead rested on his knees and he seemed to be trembling badly. There was a knife in his right hand, looking to be a kitchen knife roughly the same size as Jian's pocket knife. Fresh blood coated the blade. "'And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed'." River smiled as she continued the game. Mal caught himself wondering who had written the verse, since it seemed so strangely familiar, while she happily went on. "'The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow'." The fella looked up sharply, with eyes as black as space itself, staring right at Mal. They were distant at first, glazed and unfocused. River seemed to have lulled him into some sense of submission with her little poetry exchange. Maybe making him focus on the Mother Goose had helped detach him from the insanity a bit. Thinking of River's darker moments, Mal didn't care to think about what might happen if there wasn't anyone around to rein the boy in. "'Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow...'" The fella seemed to be trying to focus, although whether it was on River's words or on him, Mal couldn't say. "'For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball... And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all'." Then he blinked and stared hard. "Sergeant?" Lāshî, was Mal's first thought. He recognizes me. Now what? That was when Cariveau took a slow, tentative step out from the other side of the engine. Zirondelle's captain was wearing a double shoulder holster, one of which held the shiniest pneumatic Independent-issue 357 that Mal had ever seen. Cariveau was holding the other pointed upward. The look in his eye indicated he wasn't letting any of this go down with out some say of his own about it. Mal could respect that. He also found a deep appreciation for the Acadian's uncanny sense of timing. "Pa aryen se oublie." Hearing the fella's whisper, Mal looked at him again and saw the dark eyes from Siobhan Garzon's locket staring out of the face of a total stranger. His features were sharper, not as round, almost Asian--not bad looking either. Took care of that crooked fighter's nose and everything. "Pa aryen se oublie," he said again and stood up slowly. Even at his full height he was a good head shorter than Mal. "The enemy is here." "Enemy's done with us, corporal," Mal said. "They left us and their own. Ain't no more fighting to be done." "I have seen the enemy. Others have seen it...seen it...seen it!" Seeing fresh blood drip steadily from the tips of Armand's fingers, Mal had a sudden cold realization as to where the blood on the blade was coming from. "Others have seen him...I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me...they saw the enemy and I cut it. I had to cut it out...What can be the use of him is more than I can see." Fella was at least half a bubble off of plumb so far as Mal was concerned. "Frè?" Garzon flattened himself against the engine again, blood splattering from both his arms when he flailed them out. Some of it hit River, causing the girl to cringe. Mal held his hand out to her and she came toward him, reaching out to grip his wrist. When she looked at him, her eyes were dead serious. "Two by two... hands of blue." Mal nodded like he understood and motioned her backward, toward Zoe. He only had to nod toward the hatchway and Zoe nodded back sharply, understanding that she was to take the girl out. With Garzon snuggled so close to the engine, Mal was trying to think of a way that would incapacitate the man without bullets ending up in the engine, or more people getting cut. "He is...he is so very like...like me..." Garzon paused and his chest heaved with several rapid, deep breaths. He held the knife toward Mal, then swung it toward Cariveau. "I see him jump before me...Rene?" Mal saw the shock in Cariveau's eyes, hearing the voice of his boyhood friend come out of a total stranger. He took a few tentative steps forward, holding his hands out from his sides. He even tipped his weapon forward so it dangled from his finger by the trigger guard. "Oui, mo frè. Il est Rene." Drawn by the familiar face, he took one step away from the engine to face Cariveau, only to start shaking his head. "Non...Non... I see him jump before me..." He swallowed hard. "Non... It's trying to kill me, fre--the enemy. It will kill us all." Cariveau's eyes went past Garzon's head to briefly meet Mal's gaze. Mal could only shrug, utterly in the dark as to what the little man was talking about. "'The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow." Garzon put the knife to his own throat, hard enough that an extra line of red oozed onto the blade. Cariveau froze in his tracks, scowled severely and spoke sharply. "Non, fre--couillon." Mal shifted closer, thinking maybe he could get the blade away so long as Cariveau kept him distracted. "Dromi... fò dromi," Garzon said softly, with the desperation of a man dying of thirst. Garzon's arm moved to plunge the blade in. Mal lunged for him at the same time Cariveau flipped his weapon back into his hand and fired without taking time to aim. Garzon jerked to his left and backward directly into Mal, sending both men tumbling to the deck. Mal grabbed for the knife and got a handful of blood along with it. He snatched it away, then shoved Garzon aside before he got to his feet. Cariveau moved to Garzon, gun still in hand, as he knelt down and took his childhood friend by the shoulders. "Mère d'un Dieu. Armand! Armand!" Garzon's black eyes were unfocused in a haze of too much pain. His right arm wasn't working right, which probably meant his collarbone was broken. Then he stared straight up and Mal saw a dim spark of the little Cajun who used to break regulations for fun. "Nothing is forgotten." Mal nodded again, unable to speak until after he watched those black eyes flutter closed. "Nothing's forgotten." * * * There were people waiting outside the infirmary on Serenity again, only this time Mal was looking out, wishing he was there with them. Simon was focused on the task of extracting the bullet and needed an extra pair of hands to keep the bleeding under control. "Good of you to miss any vital organs or veins entirely this time," Simon commented. "Sponge please." Mal frowned indignantly and did as he was told. "Fella gets shot and you automatically pinch me for it?" "Consider the precedence, Captain. The first I saw you kill was an Alliance agent, and the second was one of your own comrades from the war." Simon made a face as he finessed the instrument a bit. He had to be getting close. "The common denominator in both cases was that both men posed a threat to the ship and crew." He had a point. "Well, just for the record, this wasn't me," Mal said firmly. Looking past Armand's feet, he saw Cariveau pace back past the windows again, arms folded and head down. "Little bitty part of me wishes it had been, though. Doesn't do the soul good to do what he did." "Hm," Simon's tone was positive. "That would imply you still believe you have a soul." "Yeah, well, so long as the Shepherd isn't any the wiser. Be no living with the man after that." Simon was pretty relaxed all around, actually. Mal figured it was a good sign. "Just about...there." Removing the slug, Simon held it up to the surgical light to give it a look. "That's a larger caliber than yours, isn't it?" Mal nodded. "Apparently, Cadies like their guns big." Simon dropped the slug into a metal basin and traded the extraction instrument for a pair of clamps, a curved needle and sutures. It took a few minutes to stitch up the damaged tissue and the incision, but all in all the procedure went pretty quickly. "You figure he'll be all right?" "Physically, he should recover." Simon placed the instruments on the tray and removed his gloves before pushing it aside. "Psychologically? It would be the same as attempting to predict River's prognosis. You've seen how adept I've been at that." The doctor's sarcasm wasn't lost on Mal. "Buck up, doctor. You didn't have a hand in this mess any more than you did in your sister's, and on the bright side of this little hell, this one won't be dependant on you to fix." "But are his parents prepared for this?" Simon looked him in the eye. "I'm a trained medical professional, and I've seen what they did to River. The same methods could have been used on him, or he might be the result of something entirely different. From what you describe, it sounds as though his mind has split. He's aware now that the face in the mirror isn't his, but he doesn't know why. And this?" He gestured to the bandages on Armand's arm, covering what turned out to be several long knife wounds. "Self-infliction--a classic sign of late-stage schizophrenia." "He's their son," Mal said softly. "The one they thought they lost. Don't you think they'll do whatever they have to; to help him be the boy they remember?" Simon wasn't convinced. He looked down into Armand's altered face and shook his head slowly. "He'll never be the boy they remember." After a long sigh, Simon went to the door to talk to the family. Mal stood at Armand's side, marveling again over the kind of people who believed they had the justification to manipulate whatever and who ever they felt they needed to as a means to an end. Siobhan slipped past Simon to stand just inside the door. She stared at the young man lying on the table, fully aware that this was her son, and not quite able to accept it. Her husband came in behind her and took her shoulders with his square hands. Mal stepped back from the table, nodded to Cezar and made his way out. Cariveau was there, hands on his hips, reluctant to follow them. Mal folded his hands under his arms and went to stand next to him, following his gaze into the infirmary. "You going in?" Mal asked. "I have not decided if it is my place," Cariveau replied. "I am the reason he is there." "You're also the reason they're watching him breathe right now instead of crying over a corpse." Cariveau's gaze turned to him sharply, and Mal could tell there was no reason to explain what he meant. It needed saying anyway. "I would've killed him," Mal said. He sent a quick, poignant look to the matched pair of guns Cariveau was still wearing. "In my place, you'd have done exactly the same." Looking up again, he flashed a quick smile. "You didn't hurt him too bad, and the best part is he'll be easy to keep tabs on, being bed ridden and all." Cariveau gave a short chuckle. "You do not know Armand. He will be railing to get out of bed the moment he wakes up." "So? You'll just shoot him again." Mal smiled. "Or at least make him think you will." Smiling, Cariveau shook his head. He still didn't move. "Listen, in a little while you and his folks are going to find out first hand from the doctor there what living with a challenging sort is like. Meantime, you should enjoy the quiet while it lasts. Something tells me they won't be holding you accountable for this. Might even welcome your support when they start to find out what it is their boy was turned into." He breathed a sigh and nodded, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "Quiet sounds like a nice change of pace." "Does, doesn't it?" Starting forward, Cariveau paused after a few steps and turned to look at Mal. "When I went over to Zirondelle, Adair was still in Inara's shuttle pod." "Yeah, your boy was up with Wash when I left. She might be up there now," Mal replied. "I feel I should tell you she has asked to marry me." That it didn't hurt him in some small measure would have been a lie, so Mal didn't try to fabricate one. "Bout time you made it official." That made Cariveau smile. "She has wanted to talk with you for some time, about how things ended between you." Mal frowned. "She told you that?" "No." Cariveau looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and then scowled down at the floor. "Bernardo once told me that I was not meant to receive things easily. The most precious things in life are the ones you have to fight for, he said. Then of course le bâtard had to die of a massive stroke and rob me of the opportunity to tell him I had come to understand what he meant. Now as I watch my son grow, I have an inescapable and very frustrating urge to introduce him to the finest grandson a man could ever have." Cariveau's voice caught a bit and he glanced down at the floor. "I understand regret. It would do you both well if you do what you can to avoid it." He didn't wait for acknowledgement or denial, just went on his way into the infirmary, behind and to one side of the Garzons. Mal saw Siobhan look up and smile at him and it encouraged Cariveau to rest a hand on her shoulder. Turning from that warm scene, Mal headed up the steps into the cargo bay. He scanned the crowd on his way to the catwalk steps, just to make sure Adair hadn't come down to spend some time with the refugees. He met Larkin Hague's gaze in the midst of it all and saw the boy start in surprise. Seeing his expression, Doireane turned to see what he was looking at and Mal could all but see the daggers fly from her eyes. Mal inclined his head in a gentlemanly bow in response, causing her to raise an eyebrow before turning disdainfully away. Someone had come up with a neutron stove and Mal could smell coffee brewing. Looking across the crowd, he spotted Shepherd Book sitting in with a circle of rig workers. His bible was put away for the moment, and he was laughing over something as he lifted a tin cup to his lips. Blowing across the steaming brew, he took a sip and launched into a story of his own. Jayne was still with the same group of boys Mal had seen him with in the galley. They were organized into a circle and were passing the basketball back and forth according to numbers being called. Another man was standing with them, presumably the boys' father. River and Kaylee were sitting on the floor together with a group of late adolescent girls, laughing and chit chatting about whatever it was teenagers found important. Kaylee had produced her jacks set as well, but there seemed to be only moot interest in the game, except for Jordain who was more interested in bouncing the ball than learning the rules. All was indeed quiet on board Serenity, for a change. Mal could only hope it would remain so for the rest of the trip. Turning his gaze upward, he took a moment to survey the bulkhead and followed the planes and curves of his ship, noting that they seemed to be holding these lost people in a warm embrace. It gave him cause to grin as he climbed the steps with his sights set on the bridge. Wash probably knew where Adair was, and he figured he should check in with the pilot anyway, see how things were going. Climbing the steps at a brisk pace, he reached out to pat one of the heating ducts as he went, indulging a bit of pride in his crew and his ship. Maybe things hadn't gone entirely smoothly, but they hadn't ended entirely badly either. There was comfort in that. As he passed by the crew quarters, Mal was brought up short when he noticed the panel above Zoe and Wash's quarters was showing that their door was locked. After they brought Armand back over from Zirondelle, Zoe had informed him that she was going to wash up and get some shut eye before something else went amiss. Could be her husband had taken the cue as well, but there's no way he would go and leave Serenity's helm unattended. That meant only one thing. * * * Adair pulled one foot up into the pilot's chair as she surveyed the readings and tipped her head back to get a look at the stars through Serenity's bridge view port. When she heard footsteps behind her, her eyes rolled automatically. "Wash, I thought I told you to go get some sleep. Do I have to tuck you in myself?" "His wife might have a thing or two to say about that." It was Zirondelle's bridge all over again, his low-timbered voice filling the space and his presence causing the hairs on the back of her neck to tingle. Swiveling around, she looked up and found him standing just inside the hatchway. When their eyes met, his hands came together, knuckles of one into the palm of the other, as if he couldn't figure out what else to do with them. "I see you're taking a turn?" he asked, unnecessarily. Adair nodded. "It seemed fair. He needed the rest, and it kept my mind off things while you were all over on Zirondelle." He frowned at that and the intensity of his look made her a little self-conscious. "When's the last time you slept?" She smiled. "Worried I'll harm your ship, captain?" "No, I just know how you like to keep your hand in things. Or...I remember, I guess." An awkward silence budged its way in between them. Mal shifted his hands to the back pockets of his trousers and stared at a spot on the floor. "So, you heard, right?" Mal asked finally. "About Armand?" "I heard. I was up here when we heard the shot, so I heard when you called in your report." She frowned. "Did Rene really have to shoot him?" "It was either that or watch the fella slit his own throat. Doc says your man's a good enough shot, though; made the patching up easier by not hitting anything important." Adair couldn't stop the surprise. "My man?" Mal shrugged a shoulder at that and started across the bridge. He avoided the operations console chair, choosing instead to sit on the edge of the console itself so they could face each other and talk more privately. "I hear congratulations are in order," he said. Adair sighed and rolled her eyes again as she sat back. "I wish he'd let me tell you." "Well, he did make it sound like your idea at least," Mal said. "He also seemed to think we need to have words. Maybe trade a little truth." Leave it to Rene to find the crux of contention in any situation. "In fact, of the three of us, I reckon he's the only one who's been truthsome about his feelings all along," Mal went on. She had to agree with that. "He was upfront about how he felt just about from the beginning. He scared me a little, actually. He reminded me so much of you, but was, well, a little more controlled, if that makes sense? I, on the other hand, probably lied to him from day one." "What, that you loved him?" "No, that I didn't. Or more to the point, I thought I couldn't. I had this torch, see? I lit it that night I gave you that cross." "Maybe so, but you put it out too, didn't you?" Mal's eyes were intense, showing her the echo of the pain caused by one letter. "'Dear Mal... this isn't what you want to hear...' Ring any bells?" "I was pissed off when I wrote that. After getting that last letter from you that had the words 'one more tour' in it, I flew right off the handle. Having you out there in the thick of the fighting, praying you'd make it out alive only to have you rejoin not just once but twice?" She shook her head at him. "I couldn't handle it. So I wrote that gorram letter. My biggest mistake was actually sending it to you." "Had to be honest, didn't you?" Mal asked. "Just like I was. But if I'd known--" "I thought you were dead." He stared down at her, saw the tears she suddenly couldn’t stop and gave her a pained look. Hating them, Adair wiped them furiously away and took a long breath. "Half-Million Dead--Resistance Ends," Adair lifted one hand to place the words in the air as she spoke, exactly as they had appeared the day after the Battle of Serenity Valley. "That was the cortex headline. We read that, and Bernardo handed me a bottle of scotch pilfered from one of his last shipments. Didn't say a word. I went down into the cargo area and downed it inside of thirty minutes. I thought it might kill me on the spot if I drank it all at once, but Rene found me first. I remember trying to get sexy with him, but he just took me back to my quarters and put me to bed. We had already had the talk, when he told me he was crazy about me and I told him I was waiting for you, but he stayed there anyway. Sat by me all night, held on to me when I threw most of that scotch back up. Gorram shame too--that had to be twelve years old if Bernardo bothered to steal it." Mal listened, staring down at the floor. His hands were back in front of him again, useless. "I figured if the Independents had lost, then you had to be dead. That was why you stayed in, right, because you believed it could be done?" Mal shrugged again and had to take a breath before he spoke. "There was nary an experienced officer left by the time I rejoined the second time. I had to stay, because leaving meant abandoning my men. So instead I abandoned you. If I had it to do again..." Reaching out, Adair took one of his hands. The touch was enough to bring his gaze to hers, showing her the burden of memories so heavy, so excruciating, that they were killing him from the inside. "You've never done any less than your duty, Mal," she said. "You followed your heart and your conscience. I wouldn't have asked you to do any less. That conviction makes you the man you are. It's what made me love you, even when I thought I hated you. It's also what made me fall in love with Rene." They stared into each other's eyes for a minute before she finally smiled. "You're so similar, you know that?" Adair couldn't help saying it, and it was worth it to see him hide his agreement with incredulity. "A little reckless, devoted to ship and crew, and not necessarily in that order. And mule-headed?" "You're gonna go and make me blush," Mal said. They shared a smile then and he squeezed her hand as he gave her a little frown. "You ever wonder what we were meant for? If I hadn't left, if there'd been no gorram war, what might've happened?" "I remember you used to talk about it, about your mother's ranch and all those plans you had for it," she said. That dream was gone now. She had seen it obliterated herself and saw no reason now to bring up what was likely to be another painful bit of his past. "What I didn’t tell you was that all that time while I listened, I was always thinking it would be a nice place to come home to." His brows relaxed from the frown, then rose in surprise. "Come home to?" When she nodded, he asked, "Not stay, though?" Adair shook her head. "I was born in space, remember? My legs don't always work right on solid ground, and I don't feel like I've passed the day right without having the steering column of a ship in my hands. While you were talking about spring birthing season, I was wondering what our children would look like, and I pictured myself holding your son or daughter, but I was always standing on an observation deck under starlight." Mal gave her an understanding nod, as she hoped he would. Turning his eyes down again, he tipped his head back and forth slightly, weighing the differences. Then suddenly he smiled. "I just got a picture of you and Cariveau doing that with Jordain." Any and all mention of her son was reason enough for Adair to smile. "That's where I thought you two were different. Rene was born on Acadia, but he's got space fever in his blood every bit as much as I do. It's the Cariveau side, probably the only trait he got from his father, thank heavens. And yet here you are, out in space just like the rest of us." Still smiling, Mal looked up, and out the overhead view port. "Yeah, still flying. Even got some folks who would rather I wasn't." "Oh, so nothing's really changed, then." They laughed together and Adair sat back. This time when he nodded, she realized it was a gesture of self confirmation that he had found closure, just as she had. Mal let her hand slip free as he turned his gaze back to her and for that single moment, she saw contentment in his deep blue eyes. In a soul as tortured as his, that was a precious commodity indeed.

the other shoe drops in Part 8

COMMENTS

Sunday, August 8, 2004 1:21 AM

AMDOBELL


Excellent, especially the closing dialogue between Mal and Adair. Long time coming but worth it. I really was beginning to wonder if you were going to write any more of this tale so many thanks for doing so. Shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, August 8, 2004 7:50 PM

ARTSHIPS


This had always been an excellent story. I'm glad you've returned to finish it, and to do it such justice.

Friday, September 17, 2004 9:18 AM

BROWNCOAT1


Excellent! And there is another chapter to come too? I can hardly wait! For the sake of my sanity make it soon Channy!

Thursday, November 11, 2004 11:12 PM

CASTIRONJACK


I loved the sing-song poetry between River and Armand. I wondered how or what River would have to defend herself and now that I know, I think it was smartly done.

Keep flyin'


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