Back Stories I, Chapter 14/14 (repost)
Thursday, November 8, 2007

A brief visit with each of the main players before Book I ends.


Many thanks: to several members: LEEH and VERA2529 for hours of beta reading and entertaining discussions of many things. LEIASKY and TAMSIBLING have provided additional beta time on the early chapters. The talented MPHILLIPS did the lovely Mal artwork. (Ain’t it nice?) FEI and provided many colorful Chinese phrases. One of AMDOBELL fine fics provided a useful plot bunny. (I won’t tell which yet!) Finally – kudos to GUILDSISTER for her inspirational fic The Blue Sun Job.

Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ) and Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ). Timing, Pairings, and Canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

Previous chapter | Book II

Back Stories, Book 1

by Mal4Prez

Chapter 14/14

A brief visit with each of the main players before Book I ends and the tired writer takes a break.:p

Ziyuan Landing Field, Sihnon

Trevor Marone stepped out of a hired city transport and walked toward the interplanetary cruiser that the Alliance had supplied for his personal use. He moved with slow, even steps, forcing himself to remain composed and unruffled in his outward appearance.

Marone wasn’t a man to get angry, and on the rare times he did he had no idea what to do about it. At the moment, his whole body ached with the strain of holding his frustrations in check. When he reached his cruiser, he released the lock and opened the hatch gently, ignoring an urge to swing it back hard enough to make it slam against the outer hull. He wouldn’t allow himself to behave like that – a tantrum did no one any good.

“What’d she tell you?” Will Cantone asked as soon as Marone entered the craft. Will was sitting in one of the soft gray leather chairs in the main cabin of the ship; his partner, Ginger, was further back. She was watching a vid screen – some kind of sporting event by the sound of it.

Marone ignored Will’s question and Ginger’s curious look. He knew better than to undermine his own authority by taking his anger out on his subordinates, and that was all he was likely to do if he opened his mouth at this point. He went straight into the small private cabin in the front of the ship, closing the hatch behind him gently, with only a barely audible click.

But then he didn’t know what to do. He stood in the center of the room, his anger growing as he thought his situation over.

Inara Serra had walked out on him.

Part of him raged at her, and at the other Companions who’d kept him tied up with frustratingly indirect responses to his questions and demands. But the bulk of his anger was aimed squarely at himself; he should have known better than to try to manipulate a Companion. Perhaps he’d thought that the past was enough to guarantee her trust, and that had blinded him. Clearly, he’d underestimated the strength of her protectiveness toward the crew of the Firefly.

He also hadn’t counted on the OPR being involved. Those fools must have done something to frighten her, to make her abandon the interview so suddenly….

That thought finally provided him a fitting target for his anger. He keyed on the cortex, allowing himself the satisfaction of pounding on the hapless pads of the keyboard.

The woman who answered his wave appeared to have been woken by it. “Mr. Marone?” she asked blearily as she pushed her dark hair back from her face.

“Agent Alvarez,” he answered tightly. “I want to know what the hell you’re doing getting involved in my case.”

She squinted at him. “Your case?”

“You interviewed Inara Serra,” he said, the words coming out with all the force of an accusation, “without notifying me! Did you threaten her in any way?”

Alvarez rubbed her eyes, feeding his irritation by not replying immediately. She was silent for a few long seconds, staring to the side thoughtfully, and when she looked at the screen again she seemed more focused.

“Mr. Marone, this is not entirely your case. It never was. We have our own responsibilities, and Miss Serra’s input could be very valuable–”

“You did threaten her,” he said. “And now she’s gone!”

The agent’s eyes widened; she suddenly seemed very awake. “She’s what?”

“She left! Oh – the Companions gave me some excuse about her needing to take care of her family. I’m sure you’ve done your research as well as I have, and we both know that’s a lie. She ran to avoid questions about the crew of the Firefly.”

Alvarez didn’t argue with his assessment; she seemed eager to take action. “When?” she asked. “How long has she had?”

“They kept me waiting in that parlor for nearly an hour, and then it must have taken another half hour until I got them to admit that she wasn’t–” He stopped when he checked his watch, shocked at how much time had passed. The Companions had kept him occupied longer than he’d thought. “Bù găn xiāng xìn – it’s been nearly three hours since I saw her.”

“How far have you tracked her?”

The question made Marone sigh and slouch, his anger wilting as he realized how truly careless he’d been. All this intrigue simply wasn’t his thing. “I didn’t have anyone set up to watch her,” he admitted. “I never expected – ”

“I’ll see what I can find,” Alvarez interrupted. She looked away from the screen, her hands busy outside his view as she continued to mutter distractedly. “I just hope it hasn’t been too long. I’ll contact the House. We may have no choice now; if you’ve lost her, I’ll have to bring charges, just to force those gorramn women to help–”

“Charges? Against a Companion?”

Alvarez looked at him sharply. “We have to get her back, Mr. Marone. Any way we can.” With that, she cut off the transmission.

Marone fell back in his seat, his anger spent. He really had made a mess of this. Maybe he should have been candid with the Companion, and to hell with the consequences. He might have told her the truth, if she’d just given him more time…

Something grabbed his attention and he looked back at the cortex screen; an icon was blinking in the corner of it. He had a message, tagged as urgent.

What it said did much to improve his mood, and he let out a long sigh of relief. He’d had his people scouring the Border worlds for information about the Firefly, and they’d found something. This might make it possible to succeed at his real goal – to find Captain Reynolds – with or without the Companion’s help.

He returned to the main room to give Will and Ginger new orders.

* * *
Ginger Larkin avidly watched the viewscreen that she’d unfolded from the bulkhead beside her. Marone’s fancy transport had all manner of entertainment: games, vids, a long list of funny or dramatic or adventurous shows going back to before her grandparent’s time. She’d never learned to care for the ups and downs of a bunch of play-actors – she couldn’t see them as anything but pretenders – but she’d found a live broadcast of a sporting event. That was working just fine.

She’d never understood the rules of polo, but the game wasn’t the point. She liked the men. She liked how the muscular shapes of their thighs showed through the fabric of their white pants when they stood up in their saddles. She liked how they moved with their horses as if it was all one creature, pulling up and changing directions in a perfectly balanced half a second, then racing across the grass, mallets swinging from well-formed arms and chests….

Ginger sighed. She did enjoy men – their bodies, anyhow. The thought made her a touch down-hearted, because her days of that kind of fun could very well be over. An occasional lay just wasn’t worth putting up with the crap that men had in their heads.

Not that she’d ever thought highly of what any man could bring to her life, but in the past few weeks she’d been burned hard, and the sting wasn’t fading. She’d thought she had a good arrangement with Will. She’d thought she was keeping herself free and clear while she took what she wanted from him. But she hadn’t seen to the root of the real game Will played, and she’d lost in the end. Now she didn’t have the freedom that was all she’d ever asked of life; that bastard held her reins as sure as if she’d handed them over with a please and thank you.

Her bitter thoughts were cut off when Marone came back out of his private room; he nodded at her with his usual blandly pleasant smile. It made her uneasy. No matter how Marone dressed up and acted smooth, he had to have the same kind of twisted thoughts in his head that Will did, and Ginger didn’t trust him a bit. She’d learned the hard way that men who smiled were just playing out a ruse, trying to get at something they didn’t want to be open about. She’d be damned if she let herself get caught up with the lies of any man this `verse had to offer.

Marone wasn’t fazed by her glare; his smile stayed where it was as his eyes settled on Will, and he spoke up with a light, cheerful voice. “Mr. Cantone, it’s time for you and your partner to return to your own transport. We have a lead. I know where Serenity was as of four days ago, and I’ve learned the name of a man that Reynolds frequently does business with.”

“We’re going after him alone?” Will asked, sounding eager. Ginger wasn’t surprised at that; Will’d never liked working when he wasn’t the one in charge. He wasn’t able to do things his own way when there were folks looking over his shoulder.

“I have things to do here,” Marone answered. “You two will have to track this down, at least for a few days, until I can get free. When you do find Reynolds, keep him in your sights and wave me immediately, but don’t interfere with him unless you’re absolutely certain you can detain him.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to make any contact,” Will said.

“Time is running out,” Marone replied, his smile fading just a bit. “But you have to use caution – if you miss him and he slips away, he’ll go into hiding and…. Well, that would be a shame.”

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Will said with a grin, and he stood up. “Come on, Larkin. Take to get to work.”

Ginger shut down her view screen, barely listening as Marone explained the details. They were going to Persephone, that much she caught. She wasn’t looking forward to the journey, to being stuck in a small ship with Will, but, thankfully, the transport Marone had supplied for them was one the fastest in the Alliance’s fleet. It wouldn’t take more than a day to get out to the Border world.

Then they’d be hunting down a fella named… Badger?

VT-90 Personal Transport, just outside Sihnon local space

Inara Serra settled into the creaking pilot’s seat of her new ship. The small vessel exactly suited her needs; the outer shell of it was old and worn, but the engine had been recently rebuilt. It would get her from world to world quickly and without attracting attention.

She’d had a chaotic time acquiring it. After she’d left the house, she’d spent over two hours looping around the city, trying to ensure that she wouldn’t be tracked. Truthfully, she’d felt like a paranoid fool much of the time, like she was playing out a bad spy story fantasy. But she’d kept reminding herself of the threats of the OPR agents, and of the things that had happened to River and Mal. The beauty and luxury of the city weren’t such a solid promise of personal security as she’d once believed; this knowledge had been enough to scare her into several tricks of misdirection.

She had many friends in the city, and access to places that security cams couldn’t see. She’d made use of all of these she could think of, changing her appearance several times and ending up in plain, shapeless clothes. Finally, she’d found a sympathetic hovertaxi driver to bring her a transport. Inara had explained to the woman that she was a sneaking away to meet her offworld lover, a situation the driver seemed eager to help with, especially since the favor came with an insanely large tip. The woman’d left Inara outside the city and returned in less than half an hour with the VT-90, fully fueled and ready to travel.

Now, Inara was finally out of Sihnon’s local space, and for the first time since Lina had come out to the balcony of the House, she had time to think.

She needed to set in a course. The task she had ahead of her wasn’t easy; searching out one small ship, a mere eight people amongst the hundreds of billions spread across this wide `verse, was hard enough, but Inara was also in a race against a government with nearly limitless manpower and access to information networks that reached into every world. There was only one way she could win – she knew more about Mal than the Alliance ever would.

The letter from Kaylee was sitting on the console, but Inara had read it over so many times that each uneven loop of the handwriting was clearly inscribed in her memory. She didn’t have to look at it again to recall the words:

Looks like we are back to business how we used to do it. We went by Persephone and the captain got some work from Badger. It’s gone good this time. Has so far anyhow, we ain’t quite done yet – things to sell.
Things to sell – on Londinium, perhaps? The letter had been sent from that world. Inara could be there in only a few hours…. But, what then? She had no idea where to start looking, and on a Core world she’d likely be identified and tracked.

No, ever since she’d decided to leave Sihnon, Inara’d known exactly where she needed to go. Mal would have to return to Badger eventually, to sort out the earnings of whatever job he was doing. If she was exceptionally lucky, she might find Serenity on Persephone. If not, Badger would know something about where they’d gone. He might not want to share, but she’d deal with that when the time came.

* * *
Malcolm Reynolds leads Zoë up the back stairs of the Firefly, pausing twice to warn of spots where the metal grill of the stairs is rusted through. He can’t have her breaking a leg on her first tour of their new home. The infirmary isn’t set up yet.

The idea that he’ll someday have his own working infirmary makes Mal grin like a madman. He can’t help it; he’s feeling almost light-headed with optimism. Ever since he laid eyes on this hunk of metal, he’s known what it can be for him, for them both. He hasn’t felt this kind of hope in a long time, but now it’s sparking up inside him like some kind of holiday fireworks, making him feel a good five years younger and decades more innocent than he has any right to be.

Zoë isn’t exactly sharing his buoyant mood. They enter the main room on the upper level of the ship, and she frowns as her eyes run up the aged bulkheads to the broken windows above. She moves into a side space that might once have been a working galley and runs a finger along the counter set in the wall. Her mouth twists in disgust.

“You expect to keep food in here?” she asks doubtfully. “And then eat it?”

“Now, that don’t need nothin’ but a little elbow grease,” Mal replies. He ignores the raised eyebrow that’s asking if he understands exactly how much elbow grease is involved. Zoë’s doubt doesn’t bother him. Doubt’s a healthy thing; it gets to the kind of practical details that are all over a ship like this.

Mal may be feeling optimistic, but that doesn’t make him stupid. This Firefly is going to take all kinds of work, years of it, maybe, before it gets to be how he pictures. It’ll be long, hard days of labor, and lots of money – more than he and Zoë pocketed off the job on Du-Khang. But they’ve got enough to buy this thing, and, as his momma used to say, the only way to finish a task is to set out on it in the first place.

“Cheer up,” he tells Zoë. She flashes him a frown; it’s not often that he’s the one saying things like that, not these days. The oddity of it only adds to his good mood. “This ship’s got all we need,” he goes on. “Cargo space a’plenty, and you know how these birds got all their hidden places, to keep any special kind of cargo out of sight. We got the crew quarters right up here by the bridge, and plenty a’ room for livin’ – we can set up a dinner table in here, and something soft for loungin’ on over in the little side area there. And you seen the dorms down below for passengers...”

He pauses as he thinks about that. It won’t be just him and Zoë on this ship; plenty of other souls are out there, wondering lost and needing a place to shelter from the changes that have come over the `verse in the past few years. It could be that some of those might find their way to this ship in the years to come, and they’ll leave marks on their own on this hunk of metal.

The thought brings him an intense longing, an almost unbearable impatience that burns in his belly. He wants to see it, the group that will someday gather in this very room, sharing a meal and a few laughs in the warm glow of lamplight, with the freedom of the empty Black outside the windows above…

“Come on, Captain. You need to help.”

Mal felt a solid arm sliding under his shoulder and lifting him. He didn’t want to get up, not at all, but the tone of Zoë’s voice was insistent.

“That’s it. Right on your feet. Just a little help…. We got the rest.”

He tried to focus, but he was so tired that his gorramn eyelids wouldn’t stay up. The things he managed to see stayed at a distance; even Zoë’s voice in his ear was far away, though she was right up against him, wedged under his arm.

Someone was on Mal’s other side, too. Mal turned his head and caught a glimpse of a gray tunic and gray hair on a dark-skinned old man. Old, but tall and solidly built, and being just as pushy as Zoë. Mal needed the help – if he was truly supposed to be standing, that was. At the moment, laying down seemed like a more natural state of being.

But Zoë and the old man didn’t leave him much choice, and he hadn’t the energy to complain. They got him up and guided him through a door in what he barely saw to be a little yellow room, a bunk of some sort. They were following after a young man with dark hair; Mal was a vaguely curious about who these men helping Zoë were, and where they were all taking him, but it was far beyond him to put together actual questions. So, so far beyond him…

This ain’t a natural kind’a tired, he realized faintly. I’m doped.

He couldn’t rouse himself enough to be properly mad about it. “Wanna sleep,” he mumbled to Zoë.

“You’ll be sleepin’ all you want,” she replied, her voice still coming from a distance. “Just need to get you to your bedroll.”

They turned a corner and climbed a few steps, then they were in a large room, and he recognized it. It pulled him a tiny bit more awake.

“S’all cleaned up,” he said. “You… cleaned her up.”

Zoë didn’t reply. She and the old man just led him on, through the Firefly’s cargo bay and toward the light of a dull, drizzly day.

* * *
Hoban Washburn set down a box holding a few heavy iron pots; it was the last of the gear that needed to be moved off the ship. He would have appreciated help from someone other than Kaylee in carrying it all out, but no one else was available. Simon and Zoë were busy getting Mal set to go, and they’d called for Book’s help. River was firmly settled on the catwalk above the infirmary hatch, stretched out on the walkway and staring at the ceiling, lost in whatever thoughts had been occupying her these days. Jayne, in true form, had disappeared as soon as the work started. After all, no pay was involved.

But the carrying was done now, and Wash stood and stretched the cramped muscles of his back as he surveyed the campsite. That was Zoë’s name for it. To be honest, he thought the title was generously given, and he wasn’t especially thrilled to be leaving his wife here. The place was bleak. More than bleak – it seemed like what life had managed to take hold should just as well give up and die. It couldn’t be enjoying its existence on this ugly rock.

The moon was tidally locked, which meant that each local day had the same length as a full revolution around Highgate – nearly three standard weeks. The weather patterns were fixed to the same schedule, but in a way that didn’t exactly make for nice vacationing.

Zoë had chosen to set up on a part of the moon currently seeing late afternoon. Despite the thick cloud cover and continual drizzle, it was the best weather that the slow days offered. High noon, off beyond the western horizon, was hot and continually thrashed by violent storms. The dark of night to the east was dangerously cold. The twilight rim of the world, at this latitude, was fairly stable and comfortable – if an endless gray drizzle could be called that.

The odd weather of the moon didn’t do much as far as encouraging vegetation; the only thing somewhat close to living on the upper stretch of this hillside was the hardy brown moss that coated the stones. Wash’s boots slipped on it as he climbed up to the rim of the low hill that rose from the camp. As soon as he cleared the ridge, a chill breeze cut right through his coat and sweater. It appeared that the rocky hill sheltered the camp from the worst of the cold blowing in from the moon’s nightside.

He braved the wind for another moment so he could turn back and look down at the camp, and he saw more wisdom in his wife’s choice of location. The slope flattened out to his right, providing a landing pad for Serenity, but a deep gulley to his left would carry rainwater away without flooding the site. Further down the slope, the dark, stunted shapes of trees crowded the valley. The wood would be needed, Wash just wished he had the time to gather a pile of it. Zoë, Mal, and Book would be going through a lot to keep themselves warm and dry, but Zoë had been adamant that this stop be as short as possible. She wanted the ship to move on.

Kaylee had apparently decided to ignore that order. She'd gotten herself busy anchoring four supports so she could stretch a tarp over a flat space between a few boulders. Wash slipped back down the hill to help her; it was better than standing around shivering.

Working together, they finished quickly, and Kaylee wordlessly continued with chores, inflating one of the sleeping pads. Wash dug out another tarp to stretch over the pile of gear and supplies, but he barely set to it before he heard voices approaching from the ship.

Simon came down the ramp carrying a small med bag, followed by Zoë and Book, who were guiding Mal. Wash abandoned his task to watch; they hadn’t drugged the captain enough to knock him out, just enough to make him malleable, and the result wasn’t pretty.

“You like her, don’cha?” Mal asked drunkenly.

“She’s a fine ship, Sarge,” Zoë replied in a low, soothing voice. “I take it all back. You did well, buyin’ her. Needs a little work though – Wash’s gonna take her to get fixed up, and we’ll stay here. She’ll be runnin’ fine when she gets back.”

“Damned right,” Mal slurred with a smug grin. “Run smooth, someday. Ain’t no death trap. She’s…” He tried to stop and turn back to look at Serenity, but Zoë and Book led him on. Wash stepped out of their way; he wasn’t sure how to handle this situation.

Kaylee wasn’t so shy. “Spot’s ready for him. Zoë,” she called out, pointing at the little shelter she’d put up.

“Thought I told you not to bother with all this,” Zoë said.

“Captain needs a place to sit,” Kaylee replied stubbornly. “`Sides, didn’t hardly take a minute.”

Zoë didn’t reply, but she and Book led Mal over and set him down on the sleeping pad.

“Gonna be a home,” Mal mumbled as he smiled at Serenity. “Ain’t no one gonna … Hey – who’s takin’ my ship? Wash?”

Zoë looked up and caught Wash’s eye. “That’s right, sir,” she replied patiently.

Mal snorted. “That a person?” he asked. “Odd name if I ever heard one…”

* * *
Kaywinnet Lee Frye could see that Zoë didn’t want any help with the captain, but she wasn’t about to be put off. The man was too weighed down by Simon’s drugs to take note of who was tending to him, so there wasn’t much danger that she’d make him act up by just sitting with him. Besides, Zoë’d got herself busy talking out the last of her business with Simon. Kaylee wouldn’t be holding up the ship’s leave-taking if she stayed for a bit.

“Wash,” Mal mumbled. “Hog-wash.”

He smiled to himself like there was a joke that he wasn’t awake enough to explain. Kaylee couldn’t help herself; she put a hand on his cheek, wishing there was a way to say a proper goodbye.

The touch made his heavy eyes focus on her. “I know you?” he asked.

“You will someday,” she told him.

He nodded, as if that made perfect sense. But then he smiled and muttered again: “Gorramn hogwash.”

Kaylee looked up at Wash. The poor man was standing aside from the camp now, his arms folded against the chill as he waited for his turn to talk to his wife. He hated this; Kaylee could see that well enough. She hated it too. It made no sense to leave the captain out here in this cold and ugly place. He needed to be cared for, and that’d be so much easier on the ship.

But Zoë must of had her reasons to keep him here. Same as Inara’d had her reasons for leaving like she had. Same as Kaylee’d had her reasons for pushing Simon away.

She sighed and shook her head, still upset with herself. It seemed like everyone had all kinds of reasons, all kinds of Bad that had happened to them, and that made it okay for them to act however they saw fit. The way the Bad got handed on made life get all kinds of complicated. And yet, no one ever seemed to just let the past go. Well, no one but the captain.

“Lots of cleanin’,” he said to himself. “Cleanin’… and a mechanic. And a pilot. I’m gonna get her up and flyin’...”

“No,” Kaylee said softly. “You’re gonna forget her.”

Mal didn’t reply; he closed his eyes and sighed, and his smile slowly faded.

Just a few days ago, Kaylee’d told Jayne that the captain’s memory loss could be seen as a blessing. She’d thought that maybe Mal’d be better off if he didn’t have to hold on to all the Bad things – the evils he’d seen, and the evils he surely had done, because all kinds of Bad must happen in a war.

Now, she was thinking that life wasn’t so easy. The captain was losing out on so much, the good right along with the bad. It seemed you couldn’t have one without the other, not out here in the Black. Maybe there were still nice places where folks could live without hating, without knowing that they might hurt each other, but Kaylee wasn’t living in one of those anymore. No matter how the captain and Zoë tried to protect her, and themselves, bad things got through. Kaylee couldn’t hide from it. And she couldn’t hide from the bad parts of herself that rose up in answer.

Have you ever been raped?

Kaylee sat back against a rock, fear and disgust twisting her stomach as Jubal Early’s words played in her mind.

Ain’t nothing but a body to me, and I can think of all manner of uses for it.

Her body, the only possession that was really and truly hers, and her only way of being part of this life – just a thing to him. A thing he wouldn’t think twice to hurt. Destroy, even, if he was in a mood to do it. He’d made her feel so helpless, and so very useless. If she’d been a better, stronger kind of person, she’d have been able to fight him. Sure as anything, Zoë wouldn’t have ended up laying on the deck, her hands tied behind her back and tears on her cheeks.

Kaylee took a deep breath as the fear in her gut turned into something else, something she’d gotten to know well by now. She was mad; she was mad as hell. She was mad at people who’d push themselves into her life and force her to make decisions like she had in the past few months. Be a victim, or be a killer – which one was she supposed to feel better about? What if she didn’t want to be either one?

But what she wanted didn’t matter; they hadn’t left her any third choice.

She looked down at the captain again – he still had his eyes closed, and was quiet. He sure never chose to be a victim, but here he was, helpless as a newborn babe. And Zoë, with all her strength and iron will power, had nothing to do but care for him and hope that the others would come through and save him.

Kaylee’s eyes shifted to Simon, who was still talking to Zoë. He was trying so hard; he always did. He’d spent every minute of their trip in the infirmary, studying the imager results, maybe not even taking a break to sleep. Now his eyes were dull and his face was gray, but he still spoke to Zoë patiently, showing her medicines from the bag he was holding. There was no judgment in Simon, only a will to heal and to make things right, best as he could.

He had to be living a lonely life, Kaylee realized, all caught up in his complicated doctor thoughts and his worries about River and Mal. And that careful control he had over himself… that he’d almost lost. Twice now, she’d brought him to that point, but then she’d backed away. She’d been the one to make it end. That was the sad truth of it – Simon wasn’t the one being afraid here, she was.

And that was stupid. That was bào xīn jiù huŏ. Kaylee’d been doing nothing but looking at how things were going for her, and she was seeing the Shepherd had been right about what he’d told her when they visited his Abbey on Persephone. Hurting is a part of life. There wasn’t any sense in trying to keep yourself back and clear from pain, from either receiving hurts or giving them.

Kaylee understood that now. She knew how she could be hurt, and she knew how she could do hurt, too. It didn’t matter that she didn’t want to. Maybe she’d been a fool to think she was above that, that she wouldn’t ever take part in it.

This is life, she told herself. There’s no use playing pretend. I gotta face what’s real.

She looked over the crew again, the people who were as close to family as she had in the here and now: Mal so sick he might not ever get better, Zoë and Book about to stay in this horrible place, Wash standing alone and shivering in the rain, and Simon slumped under the weight of everything he was trying to do.

River and Jayne were still in the ship somewhere, maybe hiding so they wouldn’t have to say any painful goodbyes. Kaylee didn’t want to be like that; she didn’t want to hide anymore. She took the captain’s limp hand and stared off into the gray of the sky.

All this awfulness is real life, and I can’t ever go back to not knowin’ about it. I got to live in this ‘verse, whether I like it or not. I got to make do, as best I can. Right here and right now.

* * *
River Tam creeps through the shadows in the depths of the forest, the darkest places where the trunks are the thickest. She makes no sound; her feet tread on pine needles and her hands gently part the branches just enough for her slight black-clad form to slip through. She’s almost free now. She’s almost completed her Quest. But she can’t get over-confident yet - she sends her special senses out before her to find the obstacles which she knows will be waiting….

There are five of them, right on the edge of the forest. River hears them waiting – she picks up the soft hiss of their exhalations and the louder violence of their thoughts. These men are trained to hurt; the handing out of pain is all they know or care for.

She attacks from the shadows, silent and nearly impossible to see because of the black shinobi shozoku that covers everything but her eyes. Two of them are down before the others can even react. The other three are defeated in quick succession: a blow to the head, a handful of broken ribs, a crushed larynx.

River continues her escape on silent feet, clutching her precious burden against her side. She has to bring it back in time. To her brother, and to Him.

The high grasses of the meadow provide cover for a dozen more fighters, but they are spread out and she never faces more than three at a time. Not that any number of them could stop her, but fighting many at once would take longer, and she must hurry.

The grass whispers as she passes through, and down they all go – a broken leg, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder… on and on, she does her dance and wins her way.

The stream crossing can only be earned by defeating four more. These last are elite warriors; they wear red robes. Like poisonous frogs, they openly declare their presence rather than trying to hide. River respects that by approaching along the path, letting them see her and prepare.

This battle takes a full minute to finish; she takes a few blows, but carefully positions her body to protect the prize she’s fought so hard to win. Iit amounts nothing more than bruises, and in the end she leaves the Red Guard’s broken bodies behind her.

She reaches the other side of the river to find her brother and the others waiting. She immediately hands Simon the thing she has gone to such lengths to find. He unrolls the strip of silk; what it covers is wrinkled and ugly, but it draws a gasp from at least one of the group that gathers around.

“You found it!” Inara says. “The heart of the ginseng!”

“The rarest form,” Simon says, and he caresses the root once before he turns to carry it into the tent. River pauses to unwrap thesanjaku-tenugui from her head before she follows him, but a hand of her arm stops her.

“You did it,” Inara says, her brown eyes wide in amazement. “I can’t believe you found it, and got back so quickly…”

“I have skills,” River says, standing so tall that she nearly matches the older woman’s height. “Not just skills. I have… powers. But my powers are used only for good.”

Inara drops her head, looking toward the tent where Simon is working, the same tent that holds a very sick man. “You’ve saved him,” Inara says. “I could never have done it. You… deserve him.” Without saying another word, Inara turns and leaves, her head bowed in grief. For a few seconds, River stares after the woman in pity – she isn’t the type of person to gloat in victory over her rival. River is kinder than that. She is Good.

When she ducks into the tent, she sees that Simon has already extracted some precious golden juice from the ginseng. As she watches, he lets a few powerful drops of the fluid fall between the sleeping man’s lips. River falls to her knees beside the bed as her beloved’s eyelids flutter, and then he focuses on her. In his eyes, she sees recognition, and she knows that she’s done it. She’s saved him…

River smiled and rolled onto her side, looking down into the cargo bay.

“I will be nice,” she said to herself. “Only do good. I have power. I’ll save him...”

She’d been so busy in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed Jayne come into the bay. He was sitting on a box against the bulkhead, paying no attention to her. Busy with his own thoughts, too. She left him alone and closed her eyes again.

Mal lifts a hand up to her cheek and smiles at her, then she leans down and kisses him, tasting a hint of the potent ginseng on his lips…

* * *
Darriel Book didn’t take part in the discussion between Zoë and Simon, but he stayed close enough to hear what the doctor had to say.

Simon had barely slept during the trip, and his weariness was making him speak slowly and often repeat himself. Zoë, on the other hand, seemed to be running in a faster speed than usual, as if she was jittery with worry and impatience. With good reason – it seemed that every minute that passed meant days of Mal’s memory were lost.

“I do have some ideas as to why he’s getting worse – ” Simon said, but Zoë interrupted him.

“You’ve covered that, but we don’t have time for details. I’ll give him all this…” She looked into the bag that Simon had given her; it was full of syringes and a few vials of clear liquid.

“It’s all labeled, in case you forget –” Simon said.

“I won’t forget a thing,” Zoë said firmly.

“ – but if you keep him to the schedule, this medication will slow down all his thought processes, including the deterioration. Not a lot, but…”

“Any bit helps. Thanks, Doc.” Zoë gave him a dismissive nod.

Simon didn’t take the hint – it seemed he had one more thing to add. “Zoë,” he said, “Mal’s not likely to be a whole lot more aware when the sedation wears off, not with these other drugs in his system.”

“Your point?”

“There’s really no reason for him to stay here. Especially in these conditions; he’d be so much more comfortable on Serenity, and I could monitor him –”

That sounded reasonable to Book, but Zoë would have none of it. “It is how it is, Doc, and the plan ain’t gonna change. Is this all you got for me?”

Simon nodded, resigned. “Yes, that’s all.”

Zoë turned away, looking toward Wash. Book understood – she needed a private moment. He put a hand on Simon’s shoulder and turned the doctor back toward the ship. Simon easily went where he was led, an expression of confusion and weariness on his face. The sight made Book feel a tinge of pity and concern for the young man.

“Thank you, Simon,” he said. “You’ve done a lot of work in the past two days. But I hope you can get some rest before you reach Highgate.”

“Oh,” Simon distractedly. “I will. At least, a little. The clinic is on the night side. We won’t be able to meet our contact for several hours.”

“You’re not going to speak to this woman yourself?” Book asked, feeling a little alarmed. Surely, Simon couldn’t be tired enough to have forgotten that he was a fugitive.

To his relief, Simon shook his head. “No, I can’t let her know that I’m here. I’m sure she’s heard about me by now, and knows that I… I…. Someone else will go.”

Simon looked into the cargo bay, and Book could almost hear his thoughts. Simon didn’t have many options; besides his sister, there would only be Wash, Jayne, and Kaylee left on the ship. “Maybe… Wash,” Simon said softly.

Book couldn’t be helpful with that; Simon would have to do this on his own. Book didn’t fear it – he had an idea that Simon was up to the task, even as exhausted as he was. The young man was quite capable, maybe even more than he knew himself.

He gave Simon’s shoulder a squeeze. “Good luck, son,” he said. Simon replied with a faint nod before he turned and walked back toward the infirmary.

Book had one more bit of business that needed to be handled. He was about to use the comm to summon Jayne, but then he saw that the merc was in the cargo bay already, perched on a box against the port bulkhead.

* * *
Jayne Cobb wasn’t about to get into any long goodbyes. But sitting up top, acting like nothing was happening and this was a day just like any other, was too unsettling for him.

He made his way down to the cargo bay, sneaking in after all Zoë’s stuff was unloaded. He took special care to avoid River; the girl was on the catwalk doing her usual empty staring thing, and he’d had enough of that to last him a while.

He looked out the open doors once, just long enough to get a glimpse of the shithole moon that Zoë had some wild hair to camp out on, then found himself a place to stay holed up inside – still in the bay, just close enough to see what was happening but hopefully out the way. He didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Idiots, all of them; that’s what he’d decided. The gears in his mind had got to turning and hadn’t stopped once during the long, empty hours of this trip. (It was probably that gorramned girl’s fault – maybe thinking too much spread like a flu bug, and he’d caught it from her.) In the end, no matter how he tried not to, he’d thought this whole mess through, up one side and down the other, and he’d worked a few things out.

The main point was, he hadn’t joined this ship to play nurse to some bitter war vet who couldn’t keep his own head together. Jayne had signed on for the money, and he’d stayed because – this he’d only worked out this morning, and it’d been a painful thing to admit – he’d stayed on because Malcolm Reynolds knew how to run a crew. No matter how much folks on this ship griped about complications, Jayne hadn’t ever been in a place where so many things were right. And maybe he’d spent a good bunch of his own time mouthing off about this and that, but when in his life hadn’t that been the case?

The truth was, Jayne liked it here. Well, he used to like it here. He didn’t like it any more.

He straightened up with a shake of his head when the Shepherd came up the ramp into the cargo bay, leading Simon along like the doc couldn’t walk a straight line on his own. Jayne tried to make his face empty – he didn’t want anyone see what he was thinking and figure out his plan.

First chance he got, he meant to gather his things and slip away. It was best to do it clean; if the crew knew, they’d argue, or to make him feel bad over it, or – worst – get all sad like they’d miss him. He could see Kaylee doing that, or the Shepherd, if he gave them the chance.

When Simon went on into the ship, Jayne dropped his head and crossed his fingers, hoping that Book would leave him be. But the old man walked right over.

Jayne swore under his breath, then lifted his head and spoke gruffly. “Y’all set up?”

“Almost,” Book replied. “There’s one more thing – I have a favor to ask of you.”

Common sense told Jayne to refuse outright, not even give the preacher a chance to wrangle him into anything, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He might not be seeing the Shepherd much anymore, and that did grate on him. He couldn’t deny that he’d taken a liking to the old man. “What’s that?” he asked.

Book came up close and talked quiet, like this was some kind of secret. “It’s about River.”

Jayne frowned; he hadn’t been expecting that. He suddenly wished he had just said a quick No way. Or better yet, stayed put in his bunk.

“I fear that all this…” Book tipped his head toward the camp outside, but then he paused when Kaylee came in. She didn’t seem to notice them – she was walking fast, her eyes straight ahead like she had a purpose. Like she had things to do. She passed right through and out the aft hatch, and Book went on.

“I fear that all this business with the captain has distracted the crew somewhat. River is still in danger, and Simon’s in no place to be keeping track of her now.”

“How’s that my problem?” Jayne asked, trying to sound grumpy enough to make Book drop it, but the Shepherd seemed determined.

“Jayne, you don’t understand. None of us really understand what was done to her, or how badly those who once had her might want her back.” Book looked to his side and up; Jayne followed the old man’s stare. The girl was still up on the catwalk, lying on her back and moving her arms above her, jabbing them into the air. Almost like she was dancing. Or playing at fighting.

“Please,” Book said in almost a whisper, “don’t let her out of your sight while you’re on Highgate. Or at least, see that she stays on the ship. The things that have been happening lately have been getting to her, and she’s been different. I fear that she might try something foolish. And that could… lead to very bad places.”

Jayne was still sure that this shouldn’t be his problem, so he was surprised as hell to find himself nodding his head. “I’ll look after her,” he said. He was immediately annoyed, and tried to back up a bit. “Much as I can, that is. I got to job to do myself.” He cleared his throat and tried to sound serious and focused. “Responsibilities and such.”

“I understand.” Book gave Jayne a smile that had something like… pride. And maybe even trust. It made Jayne grit his teeth.

But hell, it’d only be a day or two, then everyone would be back together, and Simon’d have what he needed to get the captain on his feet. They’d all be back to business as usual, or close enough. And then, no matter what else happened, Jayne’d be on his way. He’d been here long enough.

* * *
Simon Tam leaned against the infirmary counter and rubbed his eyes, trying to decide how to spend the next few hours. The thing he wanted most was sleep, but he had to come up with a plan of what to do when they landed on Highgate.

He’d barely even thought about it. For the past two days, he’d done little but study the imager scan, trying to understand why Mal was getting worse and what kind of treatment might slow the problem. But that was out of Simon’s hands now, and it was time to move on to the next step.

As a fugitive, he couldn’t just walk up to an old classmate and ask a favor; he’d have to send in one of the crew. He didn’t trust Jayne at all, so that left him two options. It would be so much easier to work with Wash, but it was common sense that the pilot should stay on the ship and be ready to move.

No, it really needed to be Kaylee who went in to the medical clinic on Highgate. Simon would have a lot to explain to her, to prepare her…

The thought of Kaylee sitting beside him had his body thinking about things that his mind had no time for, and Simon muttered the worst curse word he could think of. This was exactly why kissing her had been such a bad idea. For just a few seconds, he had given in to his desire, let himself forget that the only true goal of his life was – should be – finding safety and security for his sister. That brief loss of control had brought him nothing but more obstacles in his way. He wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to prepare Kaylee when she was barely willing to talk to him, and he couldn’t go anywhere near her without being distracted in an almost unbearable way.

But there was no avoiding it; Kaylee had to be the one to go, and he had to be the one to explain it all to her. He rubbed his eyes again and sighed. The next several hours were going to be hell…

Kaylee chose that exact moment to come into the infirmary. Simon straightened, then shifted uncomfortably and looked away from her.

“Come on,” she said, and she held out a hand to him.

“What?” he asked uncertainly.

She didn’t answer, but stepped close enough to grab his hand, twining her fingers in his. Her grip was light; it would have been easy to pull away, but he didn’t. Her face was serious – there was no smile, no sign that this was any kind of mischief. There was no anger or defensiveness either; she was acting like there was a task to be done, and she wanted to lead him to it. Maybe she’d made some progress with building the generator?

But she took him right past the stairs that led up to the engine room, heading toward the dorms. It was only a dozen steps, and before his tired mind had time to even make a guess, she pulled him into his own room. She dropped his hand and turned to close the door behind them.

“Kaylee – ?” he began to ask, then she stepped toward him. One of her hands slid up his cheek, and she leaned in close and kissed him.

Despite the regrets that had just been weighing so heavily on him, Simon was too tired to do anything but go along. He went right back to where they’d left off a few days ago and felt the same rush of pleasure and relief, though it wasn’t quite as sweet as it had been then. Now, Kaylee had an intensity of need that made him think that she had every intention of going someplace with this. Going someplace that was…

Simon pulled his mouth free of hers. “Kaylee, what are you…?”

Her hands ran down his back as she nipped at his jaw. He didn’t have to finish his question – there was no need to say the words. He got his answer from the way she pressed against him.

“Are… are you sure?” he asked, his voice now a little breathless.

She pulled her head back enough to look him in the eye. “Sure as I ever been `bout anything,” she said.

Her hands kept moving over his back, her touch firm and warm, then he felt her fingers in his hair. She pressed lightly, as if she wanted to pull him into a kiss again, but she didn’t. Even through his exhaustion, Simon understood – she was letting him decide.

It was hell of a choice for him to handle now, when he was so physically exhausted and mentally drained. Wú yí, he wanted her. He wanted her so badly that his body seemed to ache with it, from the soles of his feet to the blood that tingled in his scalp. But he couldn’t be weak now – there was so much at risk, so many lives in his hands. He couldn’t be getting into an even more complicated mess with Kaylee.

Sex would be great. Sex would be… phenomenal. But what would likely come after – the self-doubt, the confusion, the awkwardness – could be more than he could handle. Like Kaylee had told him before, now wasn’t the time to get into this.

He felt her slide a gentle hand to his cheek, and she made him look her in the eye. “Hey,” she said, “it’s okay.”

What he saw in her face was something new. It wasn’t quite the Kaylee he’d known during his first months on board; there wasn’t that eager, joyful light in her eyes. But, thank the gods, this wasn’t the heart-broken husk of a woman who’d been hiding in corners ever since Niflheim. The hazel eyes holding his had something knowing in them, a wisdom that spoke of a solid center in the core of her. It was as if whatever happened now, whatever wrong thing he did or said, she wouldn’t be running away.

As if she wanted to prove it, Kaylee spoke up again, her voice calm and comforting. “Quit thinkin’,” she said. “Ain’t any need for it here.”

“Right,” he replied with a quick shake of his head.

But why was it right now, and not two days ago? He might have asked that question, but Kaylee’s hand was on his chest, pressing through his shirt to heat his skin.

“It’s safe, Simon,” she said, her forehead against his and her lips just a tilt away. “Ain’t nothing bad gonna happen. Not here. Not now.”

“Right,” he said again, and then he finally let himself wrap his arms around her and pull her into a kiss.

Months of pent-up need broke loose, and once he gave in to it, he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t get her close enough, or hold every curve of her at once, and her eager reactions only added heat to the fire that flashed up in him. The solid and very real shape of Kaylee’s body, right up against his, with no doubts or caution in the way, was nearly overwhelming. He tangled one hand in her hair and let the other slide down to grip her backside, pressing her hips into his, and he felt her gasp into his mouth at the contact. A very distant part of his mind might have been shocked at how he was manhandling her, how he moved his body against hers in an almost animalistic way, but she was whimpering in her own need, and her body was so warm and pliant in his arms that he couldn’t care. She obviously didn’t mind.

She pulled him across the room, their feet tangling in a few clumsy steps, then they fell onto the bed. They had to separate for a moment, and Kaylee took the opportunity to pull her shirt off. Simon found himself hovering over her, one of his hands moving on its own to explore her bared skin, then he leaned down to have a taste, starting at her neck and moving down as she arched up against him. Dimly, he realized that she was opening the fastenings of his pants.

“Easy!” he said with a gasp when she reached inside. The thought flitted across his mind that there’d been a very different reaction the last time a woman put her hand in that particular spot.

“This may not… last… if you do that,” he managed to say when her fingers closed tightly around him.

Kaylee surprised him with a carefree laugh. “Oh… we’ll doin’ it twice,” she replied. She pushed him onto his side and bit at his neck, and Simon dropped his head back – he suddenly didn’t give a damn about any marks she might leave on him. “At least twice,” she added, a warm smile in her voice.

“G… good,” Simon stuttered breathlessly, and he laid back and gave in to the firm grip of her hand.

* * *
Zoë Washburn stood still after Book and Simon left, waiting for Wash to make his way to her. The only person around was Mal, but the captain wouldn’t be noticing much. She had all the privacy she could want for a proper parting with her husband.

Thing was, Zoë’d really prefer to skip this part. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t miss Wash. She knew very well that she’d miss him something awful, and she’d be wanting his smiles and wise talk, as well as his warm hugs and comforting touches, in the time to come. If this thing of Mal’s went where it was sure to go, she’d be wanting Wash real bad. But she wasn’t about to explain that to him. She wasn’t about to tell him about any of it.

Wash clearly had his own worries getting in his way. He stopped a meter away from her. “I heard what Simon told you,” he said, a note of something bitter in his voice. “You don’t need to stay here.”

She dropped her head, wishing he’d just leave this be. “The captain wanted to be off the ship, and I agreed.”

“But… that’s just stupid!” Wash snapped. “I get that Mal doesn’t want anyone seeing him like this, all sick and everything. But you can keep him in his bunk, or one of the dorm rooms. You can protect his precious pride just fine, without leaving the ship.”

Pride ain’t half of it, Zoë thought, but she didn’t say that out loud. “Husband, this ain’t any of your business. I ain’t gonna fight you over it, and I ain’t gonna stand here and explain myself.”

“Zoë, what you don’t get about the whole husband/wife deal is that you do need to explain. I don’t think it’s asking too much for you include me in whatever this… thing is!”

Zoë sighed. She knew that he’d been holding those words back for days. And maybe he’d chosen a bad time to give in and say them, but he was right. It wasn’t fair for her to holding herself apart from him the way she’d been. Thing was, the part of herself that could laugh and love with Wash, the part that was free and careless and full of joy, was so gorramn precious just because it was separate from her past. She didn’t know how to make Wash understand, not without ruining what she had with him.

She folded her arms around herself and stood rigid, feeling brittle. “We can’t do this now,” she said. “I can’t do this now.”

Wash stood silently for a moment, his face set in anger and something like a pout. It frustrated her at the same time that it made her love him all the more, this mix of man and boy that could take all she gave without breaking, and always left her feeling safe and unburdened in the end. There wasn’t a person in the `verse who could do for her what Wash did.

Maybe, if she said these words to him, this storm would blow over and they’d be able to have the right kind of goodbye, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She could only hold herself tightly closed and hope to get by.

To her relief, Wash gave up the fight. He let go of his anger with a long exhale, and stepped close to wrap his arms around her. They stood like that, quiet in the soft rain, until Book returned from the ship. The preacher went to the camp and began sorting through bags, keeping his back to them. But his tact wasn’t needed; there wouldn’t be any passionate kisses between the Washburns today.

“Honey…” she started. Wash understood; he let go of her and stepped away. She let one hand trail down his arm to catch his hand. “Get back quick,” she said.

Wash squeezed her hand and looked her in the eye long enough to nod, then he let go and turned to climb the ramp. Zoë watched as the door closed; she kept her eyes on the man who was the joy in her life for as long as she could.

Then the door sealed and he was gone. She was stuck with the stark reality of this thing that was happening, with no barrier to keep her distant from the darkness that Mal was spiraling toward. She’d thought it was behind them both for good, but whatever controls the fates of the `verse clearly had other things in mind.

Her stomach twisted with dread, because she knew that Mal wouldn’t be going on his journey alone. She’d be right along with him. She’d be going back to places that she’d hoped never to see again.

* * *


bào xīn jiù huŏ:   carry logs to put out a fire - adopt a wrong method to save a situation and end up making it worse
shinobi shozoku:   ninjitsu clothing
sanjaku-tenugui:   three-foot cloths
bù găn xiāng xìn:   unbelievable
wú yí:   no doubt; undoubtedly
* * *

Previous chapter | Book II



Recovered feedback – because so much thoughtful commentary shouldn’t be lost! (And many thanks to google cache for saving this for me to find!)

2x2       Friday, June 29, 2007 - 04:19 *Claps*

I know I commented over on LJ, but seeing your 'teaser', I just had to say, I am *all for* a 'whole lot of Inara and Zoë' !!! :oDDDD I am anticipating some fascinating story telling coming up! Fantastic!

Leiasky       Friday, June 29, 2007 - 05:0 You already know I like this. And I've read it a few times now. Lets see if I can leave a more detailed review than I did in e-mail.

I really like Marone being all pissed off at the Agent. I'm hoping he'll be a bit sympathetic to Inara when he finds her - or, maybe he won't!

I do like that you have every character a little scene here. It ties everything up as nicely as I think you could since you've got so many loose ends!

Definitely want to know why Zoe chose that moon to camp on while Serenity just flies away and leaves them there!

You DID fool me with Simon and Kaylee getting together finally. I totally thought he was going to push her away like she'd done to him. Thanks for the pleasant surprise. I'll just hope there's none of that awkwardness in the morning that Simon was so fearful of!

How they got to that place, with Kaylee finally growing up a bit and realizing that life is full of bad things and it just couldn't keep her away from the good that's still left in the 'Verse, was an important revelation for her, and well timed.

Zoe and Wash, I like her thoughts on their relationship and what he does for her. She's so serious all the time, she really needs him so that she can relax. Now, just what is she going back to that has her so scared?

misswhatsis       Friday, June 29, 2007 - 05:17 Oh, honey, don't leave us hanging here for too long. This is breaking my heart -- altho I am glad to see Kaylee make a choice for joy.

AMDOBELL       Friday, June 29, 2007 - 05:22 Loved this, I was so excited to see another chapter up and you don't disappoint. My poor little heart is breaking for Mal, I do hope Zoe and the crew manage to find a way to help him so he can recover. I felt sorry for all the crew but happy that Kaylee had finally thought through her relationship with Simon and was going to give it another go. At dark times like these they need all the love and comfort they can get. Please let there be some light at the end of the tunnel for our Captain soon. Ali D :~) You can't take the sky from me

Platonist       Friday, June 29, 2007 - 11:11 Mal and Zoe going for a ride down Memory Lane...oh shit! not gonna be pretty. And probably, not something she wants to share with Wash. When I read something like this it gets me thinking on why Mal was so adamant about Inara staying clear of his life of crime with Zoe and his crew. Nasty doings... I'm surmising.

Zoe and Inara squaring off (or teaming up?) either way, I can't wait for that... and all the while River doing the fantasy or literal rescuing...sweet

Kaylee and Simon...the beginning of the end? I hope not, but in Joss' verse most likely! long of a break?

Hoperules       Friday, June 29, 2007 - 20:33 This is an incredibly gripping, well written and heartbreaking tale. I wait impatiently at my computer for the next book. Although, I must confess, I'm a little afraid of what might be in it.

Katesfriend       Saturday, June 30, 2007 - 02:58 Absolutely loved how Kaylee finally chose to live in the real world as a stronger person than ever before and still maintain her ability to care for others - fabulous!

Poor Mal - I can see you taking him back as far as the first installment of the PTSD but I sure don't envy him the ride. Can something fluffy happen to him in the end?

Simon was so spot on in this I could feel his exhaustion. And you did Simon/Kaylee without making it smut! Thanks!

Zoe and Wash - oh my God. What a perfect example of why their relationship works - he keeps her out of the dark places and she compartmentalizes her life - which is what Mal couldn't do after the war.

Interesting place you're leading Book into. Not sure where this will go to but glad he'll be there when needed. Uh oh - foreshadowing?

Jayne is perfect Jayne in this. Griping and self centered and aware of those facts as the truth, but not willing to change - yet.

River enjoying her fantasy life is like reading a romance novel. Good therapy for her brain!

Inara and Badger squaring of with Will and Ginger. Sounds like a slow motion trainwreck unfolding before our eyes. I hope they get it all right this time. Trevor Marone better be there to help in his own misguided way.

You have certainly left no plotbunnies unturned in this fic. Hope your creative energy returns to your Muse soon!

Chazzer       Saturday, June 30, 2007 - 03:26

I left a longish comment to this yesterday that seems to have dissapeared. Dammit.

I LOVED it, especially (big surprise coming up) the Silee bit! It was so perfect. Loved the mix of heartbreak and hope and sadness... its just so beautifully written. Can't wait for more.

Please post and STAY this time...

Lambytoes       Saturday, June 30, 2007 - 06:56 Oh! Now I absolutely MUST read Book II as soon as possible! I loved your character moments. Glad you thought of it.

mal4prez       Monday, July 02, 2007 - 05:21 > River enjoying her fantasy life is like reading a romance novel. Good therapy for her brain!

LOL! I got into these bits wanting to make fun of romance novels, but I found myself taking them waaay to seriously! Even the pirate thing. I started reading websites about pirate ship construction, and had to make myself leave it alone. It's supposed to be silly and unrealistic, dammit!

I guess I'm just an overacheiver at heart. :) (Or... a work avoider? hmm.)

>How long of a break?

Gah! You know how it is, I have so much done that I'm just dying to post, but so much more to finish up and real life is pretty busy. I'd love to say a month, but I don't think that'll happen. I'll try!

Oh, and I should clarify that Book II has lots of Inara and lots of Zoe, but not at the same time...

As regards to happy endings and fluff: so, I have an ending planned. In fact, the ending of Book III is what I set out to do after I finished the Fish Job, but all these other plot bunnies keep occupying me and pushing it further and further off in the distance. So, I refuse to give away the nature of the ending, but believe me that I have a definite intent with what I'm doing to Mal and I won't leave you hanging. (Um... I must also say that I have no interest in completely destroying any of these characters, so don't be too afraid.)

>I loved your character moments. Glad you thought of it.

Thank you! Me too - I really needed to wrap things up a bit, and this worked so well! I'm also very glad I split it into 3 books - I can't believe how long it's gotten!

BlueEyedBrigadier       Tuesday, July 03, 2007 - 15:07 definitley know how to develop a story cliffie to beat the big dogs, mal4prez! I say this becasue I am seriously hyper at the thought of having to wait a month until Book II starts getting posted and I want to see how Inara and Zoe handle their burdens as they struggle to protect Mal in their own ways;D

On the matter of Kaylee having an epiphany, it seemed kinda...sudden...but it definitely was needed! Simon needs all the emotional support he can get as he tries to find a way to reverse Mal's memory degradation and Kaylee needs to be that source. I don't think it will be a smooth ride, but I certainly have faith in your ability to run our BDHs through the ringer without totally wrecking who they are as characters.


nosadseven       Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 18:26 Well. Sorry for taking so long to comment. I read this a while ago, but didn't have a chance to comment at the time, and without another chapter coming up to force the issue...

Anyway, I am sooooo looking forward to what you have in store. I am always fascinated by how dark Mal can get or has gotten, because we know the core of him, and the darkness just illuminates the depth of his experience and how he has maintained or regained himself. Compelling stuff to me.

I loved Zoe and Wash's relationship to pieces, and you've expertly captured Zoe's psyche here.

To Kaylee: You GO girl! That was such a deep and empowering change in her, and not at all too sudden, IMO. In real life people make life altering decisions, just like that... when they reach that epiphany and take control of their lives. It was like a less funny but far deeper and more meaningful, "Forget this, I mean to LIVE," moment, and I truly enjoyed it. It was well earned.

I don't know if Simon's, "G... good." meant what I thought it meant, but it Cracked. Me. Up. ...lovingly at Simon's expense.

The multi-character POVs stick in my mind like the end of a "24" episode, and worked very well that way. The drizzly twilight set such a mood, as well. If I have to be left waiting on Book II, it's nice to be waiting in this broad anticipatory "One Day More" feeling.

Kudos, and thanks, as always, for sharing.


Thursday, November 8, 2007 10:45 AM


It seemed weird to only the last chapter of Book 1 missing after the BSR hack... I won't repost Book 2 till an official repost day, but couldn't wait with this one.

For new readers, this is some of the blurb I left with the original posting of the chapter back in June:


Regarding all the many dangly plot threads – there are two more books to go. Book II has a whole big lot written, which I need to arrange and fill out a bit, and I have to put together the ending. So I’ll need a few weeks that will probably turn into a month or so. *sigh*

Teasers? Hmm. Well, I think this chapter has plenty of those LOL! But I’ll warn you that, the way it’s set up now, there’s going to be a whole lot of Inara and Zoë. Actually, the main reason I got started on the chapter-from-each-character-POV was because some of the BDHs don’t get much attention in Book II, not for the first half. But I will follow up on them all eventually.

I feel like I should have more to say… heck, I’ll just blog later or something. Thanks for all the lovely feedback, it's been fun!

Friday, August 22, 2008 6:04 PM


I've read all of Book 1 now.

I want to start out with-

I really love this whole thing. It's so emotional and it reaches inside the characters and pulls out all these things the show never got to do.

But poor Mal!! He's like Merlin growing younger, going backward in time while everyone goes forward. I hope that's the correllation I was hoping to make. It was actually from a Star Trek book, Strangers from the Sky.

River... I don't know. Just wonderful. Wanting to grow up, but she really is still a teen, having all these outlandish fantasies.

I love Simon and Kaylee together, how just puts her foot down and makes him relax and well, you

I feel like a hack next to you. I mean that in a good way. Get published already, okay? You write better than most of the junk out in the literary dump bins of America.

Done kissing your ass. Going onto book 2.

Kick ass.



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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.