BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

HERMITSREST

Firstborn - Part Two
Monday, November 12, 2007

Zoe gives birth on Serenity during a raid on an Alliance facility, but with one of the crew hiding a serious handicap, will it all go well? 14th fanfic featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Grateful thanks to BlueEyedBrigadier for the beta. Having feedback is like charging my battery, please comment. Part 2 of 2.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2307    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal strapped on his holsters in the galley of Serenity. He was already late and needed to get a shift on to join Monty outside the facility. This job was setting off all kinds of alarm bells in his head, but so far it had all gone like clockwork. This could be a whole lot more trouble than the Takoma job though, then again that was one of the reasons he had hired Bane in the first place. Of course there were other aspects of this job that had been downright pleasing, and he doubted he would have the opportunity to take more advantage of a certain mechanic’s wiles, but it had certainly cleared some clouds from of his mind. Mal looked up as Zoe spoke. “I know I ain’t had your back for a while now an’ you’ve been alright. But you take care tonight, won’t you, sir?” Zoe said, sipping some water. He gave her a reassuring smile, thoughts of the wild Katya disappearing, as thoughts of the job took over. “I’ll be fine. I’m not the one going –“ Zoe dropped the cup and leant forward groaning. “Zoe!” he said coming around the table. He looked briefly at the pool of liquid at her feet, before she grasped for his arm. “Help me to my bunk.” “Maybe I should get the doc first,” he queried. Zoe gave him a look that said if he did not do what she said she would rip out his heart. He brought his other arm around her back and helped her out of the galley, towards her quarters. “You go down first,” she ordered and then groaned again, using the bulkhead to brace herself. Mal obeyed without question. He jumped down the last few steps and waited for her to descend. Zoe paused once to deal with the contraction assaulting her and then got to the bottom of the ladder. Mal helped her over to the bed and Zoe hit the alarm. Nothing happened except for a small fizzing sound. Gorram it, he thought heading for the ladder with the intention of going for Simon. Then he heard a sound he knew well; a gun cocking, and he turned slowly. “You’re not leavin’ me on my own, sir.” “But I gotta get the doc, Zo’,” he explained, still intending to go and not believing that Zoe would shoot him. But then he saw the fear in her face. All those years they had fought alongside each other, he had never seen that kind of fear. “Doc’ll come. But I can’t do this alone.” Her voice shook at the last words and Mal stepped away from the ladder, realising with a grimace, that he had left the com on the table in the galley.

As discussed, Bane walked ahead of Jayne and Rocky down the corridor looking official and pissed, with Bane brandishing a clipboard. She rapped it noisily against the security window of the inner sanctum. The two security guys inside were virtually asleep. If she had not already disturbed them, she would have been tempted to do the job another way. “Bun tien-shung de ee-duai-ro! Get up, you lazy bastards. Call this a security facility, my fluffy ass!” Both men jumped to standing to attention. She flattened the clipboard against the window so they could see it was an official looking form. Bane looked around at her companions, face full of sarcasm. “Can you believe they get away with this on the night shift?” “Lieutenant would have our hides if we did this on day shift,” answered Rocky in a perfect Core-bred accent. The two miserable-looking security guards waiting for the Sergeant to speak again. She looked real pissed. One of them wondered if all the day shift looked like they had rods up their asses. “Now you can help me do some work, ‘stead of sitting there on your pretties. I’ve got to move some crates from D-Class ready for pickup at five thirty this morning, ‘cordin’ to this. The Lieutenant doesn’t want any of you lazy lot dealing with it in case you manage to shoot yourselves in the process.” “Yes ma’am,” answered one of them enthusiastically. “MA’AM!” Bane shouted angrily, pointing to her stripes, “I work for a livin’, Private. You don’t Ma’am me.” “Sorry, ma- Sergeant,” he twittered. “What’s your name?” Bane said, her voice sounding more gentle. He brightened, earning himself a ‘teacher’s pet’ look from his partner. “Lawrence, Sergeant.” Bane looked at the other one, pissed expression returning. “Eckley,” he paused and then remembered, “Sergeant.” “Come with me,” she ordered, and the five of them continued down the corridor. Further down a few more corridors they passed the door marked A-Class, but did not stop until they reached the one for D-Class. Bane turned to Jayne and Rocky, alias Finbar and Santos, positioning herself so that Lawrence and Eckley were the ones nearest the door. She looked down at her clipboard. “Now, we’ve got ten crates to shift to the delivery area and,” she inspected further down, “Five crates to move into A-Class on account of them being re-classified.” She looked up at them, “Can you believe that – Buhnders are now classified as A?” “No, Sergeant,” answered Jayne dutifully, casting a ‘so what’ look at the two night shift workers. Bane glanced and then did a double-take at the two men behind her. “Well, get the friggin’ door open then!” she strode up to Lawrence holding the keys, “Do I have to put you on report, both of you?” She shoved her face up into his and he flinched dropping the keys. Bane swiftly knelt to pick them up before Lawrence, shaking her head. “I guess I have to do everything around here myself.” Bane looked at the keys quickly and picked the right one to open the door. She walked through and was relieved to see that the lights came on automatically so she did not have to find a light switch. The brightness made her shut her eyes quickly in reflex as the others came in behind her. She ripped the paper off the clipboard and handed it to Jayne. “Here’s your list, I’m going to check there’s space still in A-Class for the Buhnders. Get these two useless human beings to help you an’ we might be able to get home earlier.” All four of them sighed audibly when Bane left the room. Jayne walked towards one of the crates. They were clearly marked and he had no idea how Bane knew what was stored there. “She always like that?” asked Lawrence. Rocky snorted and replied. “Pretty much. Even the Lieutenant doesn’t like her, but she gets the job done.” “She definitely needs to take a smoother,” muttered Eckley. Jayne lifted the back end of the first crate nearest Eckley and he took the other, leading the way. Rocky did the same thing with Lawrence. “Word is she needs to let her hair down real bad, if you know what I mean,” Jayne said suggestively. Eckley’s eyebrows raised. “Really? She don’t have no one?” Rocky and Lawrence were now following them out the door with another crate. “I always thought she was sly, Fin?” asked Rocky. Jayne took a few seconds to realise Rocky was talking to him. “Nah. But Sergeant Karl tol’ me she was a real hot piece, specially when she was riled.” Jayne heard them all chuckle.

Mal held Zoe’s hand while she panted and groaned, wondering if he would ever be able to use it again. He had done everything she asked, got clean towels, stripped the bed, everything. Now all there seemed left to do was wait for nature to take its course, he hoped. “Need you to look down there, sir,” said Zoe through her teeth. She was bathed with sweat. “Look down where?” Mal replied, having an extremely bad feeling about what she was asking. Zoe indicated with her chin. “Down there. Need you to see if I’m dilated enough like the doc said.” “Wha-? No, way. I ain’t goin’ nowhere near down there.” Zoe groaned and growled with anger at the same time. She brought the gun up she had been holding in her other hand and cocked it again, before pointing it at him. “Don’t make me shoot you, sir.” “Shoot me, please! Let the doc have two things to deal with when he finds us. I ain’t lookin’ down there!.” Zoe cried out in pain and her face turned to him in pleading. “Mal, this baby’s coming now – I need you to look so’s I don’t start pushing too soon.” Mal searched around the room desperately, and then his face brightened. “How about that mirror? You can look yourself then.” Zoe could see that Mal was trying and she could almost laugh out loud, if it wasn’t so gorram painful. “Whatever, just do it,” she said, thinking that was going to be the least of the Mal’s worries if the doc did not arrive soon.

Bane kept her eyes closed as she unlocked the door to A-Class and then opened them slowly as she heard the lights flicker on. She hoped that she would not have a blackout this time, and please could it be held off for just a little longer while they got out of the facility, then she promised Buddha that she would rest. She scanned the crates looking for the flash rods, or Quakers as they were sometimes called. This was on account of them being able to literally shake a building to nothing but rubble and twisted metal. The door was not quite closed as she heard the others stomp past it with the first crate. Once Jayne and Rocky knew where the delivery bay was they could leave Lawrence and Eckley standing there. She found the right crates – there was four of them and she had definitely not expected that many, neither had Monty. She broke the seal and opened it up. They looked like mini fluorescent lights, but were decidedly more dangerous. Fortunately four small crates of Quakers could be unloaded carefully into one of the D-Class crates. She did not have to wait long. Jayne and Rocky opened the door, carrying two crates stacked. They offloaded the top one and carried on down the corridor with the other. Bane pushed the door to again, unsealed the crate and took out the guns, stashing them behind some of the shelving in the far corner of the room. She heard all the men walk past the room again and she worked quickly. The flash rods had to be handled with care and she first had to use the lining from the smaller crates to make sure they were not jolted too much. She felt the sweat running down into her shirt. All she could hear was Jayne, Rocky, Lawrence and Eckley pacing back and forth past the door, chatting companionably. She looked at the watch she had borrowed and held it close to her face so she could see it better. Half an hour so far. She was about half way through stacking the rods when she realised she better make an appearance or they might get suspicious. Shoving the crate behind a stack, she walked out after they had gone past the door, turning into the delivery bay. “Santos – I’ve started clearing some space in A-Class, so when you’ve finished that you can start stacking the Buhnders.” She walked up to Lawrence and Eckley. “How have these two been behavin’?” Rocky smirked, unable to keep a straight face anymore – Bane had balls of rutting titanium. Bane gave him a death stare and he wiped the smile off his face, clearing his throat. “Er, okay, Sergeant. Reckon they might do well on the day shift.” Bane turned to see Lawrence nodding avidly, day shift would at least mean the opportunity for promotion. Night shift was where they stuck all the useless people, like Eckley, he thought to himself. Bane nodded sagely but kept her council. The light in her vision faded and she snapped her head up. “Well, get back to work! Once it’s over I might be inclined to give you a break.” She dashed off in the direction of the bathroom, which she knew was off another corridor. She had memorised the whole layout of the building just in case. By the time she got to the bathroom she could see okay again, although she knew that the real light was brighter than the one she was seeing through her eyes. She looked at her watch again. Time was running out. In about twenty minutes there would be a team of people coming to do a routine inspection.

Simon hummed happily to himself as he cooked his food in the galley. It was supposed to be his turn to cook for everyone, but fortunately they were all out on a job and he had the place to himself, which meant a nice dinner for one. Even Kaylee and River were not on board, being over on Monty’s ship doing some repairs. It was just him, some lovely non-protein rations and, he presumed, Zoe sleeping in her bunk. He dished up on to a plate and took a mouth-watering whiff, before walking over to the table to sit down. “Mal! Where the ruttin’ hell are you!” came Monty’s voice through the com. Simon dropped his fresh made dinner on the floor, cursed and picked up the com. “Hello?” he said tentatively. “Who’s this?” came Monty’s voice belligerently. “Simon.” “Where’s Mal?” “Thought he was with you?” “No, he ain’t.” It was then Simon heard a baby’s cry from the crew quarters. He dropped the com, no longer caring about Monty’s eloquent profanity, and ran up there. He climbed down the ladder to Zoe’s bunk and saw something that would stay with him forever. Mal was laughing like a loon and holding a newborn baby, which was screaming it’s head off. Zoe looked exhausted but happy. “Why didn’t you call me?” he asked, rolling up his sleeves and going to the sink quickly. Mal looked around, not even realising he had appeared. His face was filled with the same joy as Zoe’s. He nodded briefly towards the alarm. “Alarm dint work an’ Zoe was real particular ‘bout me leavin’ her alone.” He placed the baby gently in her arms as Simon moved in to take over. “You should have fetched me anyway. Anything could have happened,” he said angrily. Mal gave Zoe a smile, pressed her shoulder as she held her child for the first time and then went to wash his hands. Zoe closed her eyes briefly and then opened them, looking at Simon. “I wouldn’t let him fetch you, doc.” “I can’t exactly see how you could stop him,” muttered Simon. With her free hand Zoe bought up the pistol she had been holding and pointed it at the doc. “Like this,” she replied. Simon glanced up absently and then flinched, making both of them chuckle like the old comrades they were. Simon looked at them both, mouth open. “You threatened to shoot him?” he asked and Zoe nodded. “You’re psychotic!” Zoe laughed, exhausted, and then let her son feed at her breast for the first time.

Bane opened the door to A-Class and, as swiftly as possible, unloaded the two remaining crates of Quakers into the big crate, resealed it and shoved it behind the door. She returned to the delivery bay to find Rocky and Jayne sitting around while Lawrence and Eckley stood nervously. “Hey! I didn’t say you could sit down. What’s left?” Jayne stood up moodily, getting a little cheesed off with Bane ordering him about, even if she was playacting. “Just another crate of these an’ then the ones to move into A-Class.” Lawrence and Eckley started to walk forward but Bane held up her hand. “You boys have earned yourselves break – unlike these two here.” She walked up to Rocky and stuck her face up close, “You wanna get posted to night shift, is that it?” “No Sergeant,” answered Rocky seriously. As she walked back down the corridor, Jayne turned to the two men and smirked. “See what I mean about gettin’ riled?” he said before following. Eckley turned to Lawrence. “There ain’t no way I’m transferrin’ to day shift. I pity any poor bastard that has to put up with that.” Away from the unsuspecting guards the three of them worked fast. Both of them carried the swapped A-Class crate to the delivery door and placed it on the floor, but not before sending the other two men back to D-Class to move the Buhnders from D to A. “I feel like we’re playin’ musical chairs, only I’m not sure where to sit,” said Rocky to Jayne. Jayne hit the button to open the door and then stopped it as it raised enough to shove the crate out. He then closed it again. The closer it got to the end of the job the more worried he got. The pay-off would be more money than he had ever had at one time and he could set Esper up in a home, but the consequences of failure would mean he would never see her again. Bane came around the corner, checking behind her to make sure the others were out of earshot. “Go,” she said. “You sure you’ll be alright?” asked Rocky. “I’ve gotta make sure I scramble the cameras, otherwise we might find ourselves landlocked.” Jayne noticed that Bane was squinting a lot even though it was not that bright. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” he asked. Bane blinked once more and then opened them wide. “Nothin’ – just got some of that packing dust in them, that’s all. Now go.” She turned on her heel and went back down the corridor. Jayne opened the door again and they both stepped outside, making sure it shut automatically behind them. The crate full of flash rods was still there in the darkness. Brazen it out, Bane had said to them both. Rocky walked up to the security gate booth where the single guard, a woman, was reading a broadsheet. He lit a small cigar and offered her one. She gave a brief look at the cameras and then took it, leaning up into the window sill so she could see him better. Anything to relieve her boredom. “Do you know Sergeant Karl?” asked Rocky. The woman shook her head. “Sorry – where are my manners, my name’s Santos,” he held out his hand. The woman put the cigar in her mouth and shook his hand. “Georgia.” “Georgia,” he mused, “Now that’s a nice name.” Georgia looked at him unimpressed. “Can the sweet-taking, I’m married. What about Sergeant Karl?” Rocky launched into an epic about Sergeant Karl getting married to a stripper called Delilah and how on earth they could come up with a decent stag party. Short of using finger puppets, Rocky was really convincing. “Well we sorted out some choice items for the night, but so’s he din’t find out me an’ Finbar hid the stuff in one of them secure crates. Worked real well until we realised there’s an inspection tomorrow. Lieutenant ain’t gonna like it if he opens one of them crates and finds handcuffs, blow-up dolls and panties in it,” Rocky gave Jayne a thumbs up behind his back. He yawned, “I better make sure that I get a good night’s sleep tonight, otherwise I ain’t gonna be in any condition to celebrate. Wish Finbar would hurry up with that crate.” On cue Jayne appeared out of the darkness carrying the crate and sauntered up, bold as brass, to the booth. “Who’s yer lady friend?” he asked grinning. “Leave it, Fin – she’s married,” giving Georgia a conspiratorial wink. Georgia shook her head. The day these boys stopped being horny was the day she would hang up her hat. She pressed the button to open the gate to let them through. When Jayne was through, Rocky jogged back to the booth with the item that Monty had almost refused to acquire. He took the pink fluffy handcuffs out of his jacket and popped them through the window. “Little something for Mr Georgia,” he said, earning a laugh from the guard. ~ “So what are you going to call him?” asked Mal. He had briefly gone up to the galley and spoken to Monty. The job was done, despite his lack of attendance, and they were all hopefully on their way back to Koz’s shipyard. Zoe, cleaned and refreshed, looked down at her sleeping son. “Marcus Kifelder Washburne,” she said quietly. It was the names of her daddy, her son’s daddy and the daddy he should have had. “Sounds perfect,” sighed Kaylee who had returned with River from spending the evening with the Bishky sisters, very annoyed at missing all the excitement, but not holding it against either Zoe or the Captain for more than a few seconds. River eyed the baby critically, like scientist. “Big name for a tiny baby,” she said. Zoe snorted softly. “He was big enough, thank you.” She touched his tiny chin with her finger. “Wonder who you’ll grow up to be, my little browncoat?” “Looks like you’ve got someone else’s back to watch now,” added Mal, leaning over for another inspection. He was still in awe of the fact that he had just delivered a baby and did not want to leave the room again just yet. Zoe, who was clearly tired and wanting to sleep, managed a smirk for the Captain. “That’s the great thing ‘bout bein’ a woman, sir, I can multitask.” Mal raised an unamused eyebrow at the comment while Kaylee sniggered. “Okay, people. I think Zoe’s had enough of visiting for now. Time to let her sleep,” ordered Simon. ~ Crates moved, Bane followed Lawrence and Eckley back to their booth and stepped in there with them. “I wanna thank you boys for your help this evenin’. Made my job a lot easier.” Lawrence was feeling bold. “Will you put in a good word for us with the Lieutenant – ‘bout movin’ onto day shift?” Bane took her hand carelessly out of her pocket and leaned on the table, behind the monitors. She looked at them both and smiled. “You want me to?” Lawrence nodded, but she could see Eckley was not so keen. She shrugged and put her hand back in her pocket, flicking a glance at the clock on the wall. “I’ll see what I can do. Right now, I’m off duty. I’ve told Finbar and Santos they can go, but I think they’re out the back havin’ a smoke,” she continued, “Might get one in at the bar afore I head home.” She stepped out of the room and past the window, waving. As she turned the corner the inspection team passed her and she saluted the Lieutenant who barely gave her a second glance. Then it all went black. ~ “Where’s Mal?” said Jayne as he approached the mule. Monty held back the tarpaulin so that Jayne could put the crate on the back. He then hopped on followed by Rocky who had come up behind him. “Deliverin’ Zoe’s baby apparently,” grumbled Monty, “I’m certainly gonna be havin’ words ‘bout priorities when we get back.” “And Bane?” asked Karl, before Jayne could ask further about Zoe. She was supposed to circle around to meet them from the side exit. “She went out the other way as planned to take out the security cameras.” Rocky grinned, his voice ripe with praise. “Shoulda seen her – woman’s got more balls than a brigade of infantry. Practically had them Feds eatin’ outta her hands.” Rocky started to give the account of their escapade as Monty started up the engine. Karl jumped out of his seat, worried. “You guys get a move on – I’ll go around and wait for her, then we’ll come back together.” Monty agreed, he had to get the goods onto his ship and into the Black as quick as possible. The payoff and for them all would be later anyway. He turned the vehicle around and then switched on the lights. Karl walked around the outside of the complex to where the dog meat counters, as Bane called them, traded. They were all shut up at this time so he loitered in the darkness and waited for Bane to appear. ~ Bane reached out for the wall and tried to hurry along, keeping her fingers touching it. In her panic she was desperately trying to remember the way out, but kept second guessing herself. She forgot to turn another corner and ran straight into the wall, smashing her nose painfully. She took some deep breaths, calming herself, and tried to recall the plans in her head. This dark spell was much longer than the others had been. She heard a door slam to her right and footsteps coming forward. She knelt to do up her shoe laces, hoping they would pass her by. They stopped. “You alright, Sergeant?” a male voice sounded, “You’re bleeding.” Bane touched her finger to her nose. “O-Oh crap,” she said, standing up and smiling. She bent her head and blotted her nose with her sleeve. “You know I’ve had so many this week, I’ve stopped noticing.” “Best see the medic, Sergeant,” he offered respectfully. Bane tried not to look in his direction in case she got it wrong. “You’re right of course – but that medic an’ I don’t get on,” she replied, avoiding using ‘he’ or ‘she’ unless she make a mistake. She brushed lightly past him and headed in the direction she had heard him come. “Thanks for telling me. I reckon a shot of brandy at the bar will cure it.” The man said nothing, thinking that the way she was weaving she had probably had a few already – the night shift were all rutting drunken layabouts, although he had never seen this Sergeant before. He was about to say something and then changed his mind; if she was drunk on duty then that would get her demotion quicker than a tale-telling report by a lowly Corporal. Bane heard him walk away. She slowed her pace and reached out her arms. She found the door and felt around for the swipe pad, fumbling in her pocket for the card. There were more footsteps behind her, but she got the door open and stepped out into the night air. The door clicked softly behind her and she touched the wall. The alley way she remembered to the left was probably the safest bet until her sight returned, if it returned. It was pointless to try and go anywhere else. She almost screamed as someone grabbed her arm and pulled her the rest of the way to the alley. “Holy Christ, Bane, what took you so long?” said Karl, and she let all her breath out at once with relief. “I’m fine. It just took longer than expected, that’s all,” she said, trying to keep her voice normal. Like crap it did, thought Karl. He paused while they heard the side door go again then he whispered harshly. “You say that, but you’re not fine. You’re shaking for one thing.” Bane did not even realise she was and pulled herself together. Karl whipped off her hat and Bane shrugged off her Fed jacket. “Did they get away?” Bane asked, changing the subject and reaching for Karl’s hand again. Karl felt her vice grip and knew she was scared – and unable to see properly. He had seen it from the moment she had stepped out the door. “Yes, everything went like clockwork. Now are you gonna tell me what’s the matter?” “Like I said, it’s just nerves,” she insisted, getting a little angry in her tone as well. Karl had enough of her stubbornness and wrenched free of her hand. “Fine, then let’s go,” he said, stepping back from her. There was enough street light to see the sheer panic and terror on her face and he almost caved. Bane reached out, unable to touch him. “No – wait. Karl!” “What? Come on,” he said, making it sound like he had moved a few more steps away. “I can’t. Please,” she begged. “Why can’t you?” he said, watching her face go through changes in panic, desperation and terror. Bane moved forward, still unable to reach him and a sob escaped. “I-I can’t see,” she stammered, and Karl wrapped himself around her firmly and safely. Bane held him tightly and then broke down, weeping. Fortunately the noise was muffled against his chest. “Fang xin, tian shi, I’m here. It’s okay.” He continued mumbling platitudes until she calmed herself. ~ “These crates aren’t due out until this afternoon at five thirty!” said the Lieutenant looking at his paperwork, “Aside from the fact that they shouldn’t be left in the open like this anyway. Where the hell were you trained?” Lawrence spluttered weakly and Eckley sighed, wishing he had pulled a sickie today like he had intended. The officer did not wait for them to give pathetic excuses. “Move them back again,” he ordered. “But they –“ “Shut it,” Eckley hissed to Lawrence, picking up one end of the first crate. They walked back again down the corridor to D-Class. “I suppose we’ll have to move the Buhnders back again as well,” whispered Lawrence. “You shut your mouth ‘bout them too. I happen to like night shift, even if you don’t. You mention them and they’ll have us cleaning toilets.” Lawrence agreed and kept silent. “Besides, it ain’t our fault that them officers couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.” “Still,” replied Lawrence, more cheerfully, “It would’ve bin nice to see that Sergeant all riled up again. What was her name?” Eckley shrugged, not really interested, and they carried on moving the crates, not noticing that there was one shy of ten. In the unmanned security booth the vid screens flickered and then cut out, courtesy of a Pye trick called a Scrambler. ~ * ~ Bane’s vision was still darkened, but as least she could make out the pinpoint brightness of the street lights. Karl kept his arms comfortingly around her shoulders. She was glad she had told someone, as it felt like a weight had been lifted, but it also brought up a few more worries for her. “Karl, I don’t want you to say anything to the Captain.” “He’s got a right to know – you could have put us all in danger tonight,” he reminded her gently. “I know, but it went okay. Next time, I’ll take more care.” Karl felt like shaking her. “Next time! Ye soo, Bane. You need to let Mal know now.” “I can’t – he’ll put me off the ship. I just need time.” “You don’t know he’ll do that for sure.” “Please, Karl, I just need some time to work on things.” “Work on what?” “Since September I’ve been trying to make my grenades blindfolded.” “And?” he asked quietly. He heard the dejection in her voice. “And so far it hasn’t worked, I keep gettin’ it wrong.” Karl understood what she was trying to do and could sympathise, but she was still putting their lives in danger. “If I can’t get it right then I just have to try and get enough credit makin’ stuff while I still have my sight, an’ I can only do that by stayin’ on Serenity.” They had got back to Koz’s shipyard and Bane turned to him, stopping him from walking further. “Please, Karl. Just don’t tell anyone yet – I promise I won’t go doing any other jobs like that without tellin’ someone.” Karl looked into her upturned and pleading face feeling decidedly uneasy, both on account of keeping her secret and the desperate begging tone to her voice. He was not used to her looking and sounding so vulnerable. Bane waited patiently for him to think it over, as she was unable to clearly see the expressions on his face yet. Karl reached out and touched her cheek. “Okay. But you don’t go puttin’ yourself in harm’s way, lessen you take me with you, dong ma?” Bane leaned against him in relief and he patted her back. “Come on, we’ve got some celebratin’ to do, an’ I wanna make sure Jayne ain’t drunk all the moonshine again. Oh, and Zoe’s had her baby – it’s a boy.” They were the last to arrive back and, as they walked into the cargo bay, Mal placed his hand on Bane’s shoulder, still feeling all joyful and fluffy from the double success of the evening’s events. She could see clearly again, although there was now a degradation in the perception in her left eye, making it seem shaded like she had sunglasses on just that eye. “That was one hell of job you did, Bane Pye, an’ if I never say it again, I’ve never regretted taking you on as crew.” Bane flushed in embarrassment. “I couldn’t have done it without Jayne an’ Rocky.” “Pi hua! You coulda done it with your eyes closed, never mind who was with you.” Bane gave a nervous laugh and slipped away from his praise, going to her workshop. Karl and Mal watched her go and Mal shouted after her. “I order you to partake in some brandy later. Then you can fix my comm. system.” “Yes, Captain,” she muttered automatically, wriggling through the hatch. After it closed with a slam, Mal chuckled. “I’m still comin’ to terms with the fact that it all went so well.” “So’m I,” replied Karl quietly. They both turned in the same movement, as they heard footfalls on the ramp. Mal felt himself grow a little hot under the collar and Karl smirked, not having met either of Koz’s new mechanics, but guessing this was the Katya Mal had been with yesterday. He could well appreciate the Captain being turned by such a woman, specially with the artful grease smudges on her cheek and collar bone. Mal looked over at Karl and his eyes narrowed. “Ain’t you got a munitions genius to attend to?” he asked, with a hint of uncustomary rudeness. Karl smirked and held out his hand to Katya. “I’m Karl.” Katya grinned and shook his hand. “Hey, Karl. Pleas’d ta meetcha.” She turned to Mal and winked, “You got some mighty fine lookin’ men on this boat.” Mal could not help smiling. She was like Kaylee, but whereas he considered Kaylee like a sister, Katya he considered altogether un-sisterly. She had the same free spirit, with a little more hardness, and most definitely no complications. Katya put her arms around his waist and Mal looked around nervously to see if any of the other crew were around, realising that Karl had already disappeared. “You’re thinkin’ again,” she said with a raised eyebrow. “I gotta think, darlin’, I’m Captain,” he looked down at her. “Whoa!” he added, as Katya’s hands found another part of his anatomy. They should really be flying off to go to ground for a while. Katya frowned, and forced his head down to meet hers for another kiss. He broke it off and pulled away. “You certainly have a way of distractin’ me, but I really gotta make tracks.” Katya was not offended, especially as she could feel that Reynolds was inclined to stay. She shrugged and gave him a brilliant smile. “Well next time you bring Serenity up this way, you be sure and come in for a service.” Mal smirked at her innuendo. “You stay outta Fed bars an’ I just might.” Katya stepped off the ramp and Mal pressed the button to raise it. He could admit that she was not his usual type but, boy, could he use uncomplicated right now. * * * * * * “Have you seen Bane, Karl?” asked Simon, walking into the seating area of the galley. Jayne had been giving him lessons on the guitar the night before and he was practising. “She’s gone to bed early, doc,” he explained, “Why?” “I wanted to check out her eyes. She’s not been to see me for a while and I wanted to make sure there’s been no change.” Karl kept his face expressionless and tried to sound nonchalant. He bent his head and picked a note. “Is it serious?” he asked. “No, long as Bane takes care of herself and doesn’t over do it.” Simon smirked at Karl’s expression, then continued, “And that’s like asking her to sit still for an hour.” “How long’s she had the problem?” he asked. Simon looked at him, now unsure whether he should be discussing his patient’s condition with someone else. But Karl had been there too when it happened, saved her life in fact. “It was those agents, back when Bane was arrested.” “That time she was bleedin’ from the eyes and almost died?” Karl remembered it with considerable horror. Simon nodded. “Yes. It damaged her retinas, which is the part of the eye that processes the light images we see. Last time I looked she was fine, except she found it painful to be in bright lit areas. Have you noticed anything?” Karl kept Simon’s gaze. “No,” he answered, “You want me to tell her to come an’ see you?” “Yes, if you would. But it’s not urgent. She’s had a busy week or so and taking it easy is the best thing.” Karl fixed Simon with a penetrating look, not liking the last words. “So it’s not something you can fix?” he said perceptively. Simon wished he had not bought up the topic, as he had never outright said anything to Bane, just hinted. “No. It’d be different if we were on a Core planet but, either way, eventually she will lose her sight completely, but I’m hoping that’ll be years away.” “If she takes it easy,” finished Karl, repeating Simon’s words. Both men knew that was not going to happen, it was not the way Bane was built. ~ * ~ Zoe woke, immediately wary for a split second, until she realized it was her son snuffling in his sleep. Her son, she smiled happily, she had made a perfectly formed human. The tears spilled over her eyes onto her cheeks. He shoulda bin ours, Wash, but it wasn’t to be. I know you would’ve liked Hans if we’d met in another time or place. I have to tell him about Marcus – it weren’t no immaculate conception, an’ he’s a right to know. she sighed heavily Yes, I like him, an’ I’ve missed him. Dunno if I love him, don’t reckon I can love anyone as much again. But I gotta see him again, because I can see him again. I wish you were still here with me, but you ain’t an’ he is. I promise he’ll love dinosaurs even if he don’t take to flyin’ in the Black. He’ll probably learn to juggle them geese sometime too. Marcus came awake and started to bawl hungrily. Zoe reached over and lifted him out of his pillow-walled cot beside her. As he clamped on to her breast his eyes opened. They were a bright startling blue, just like Hans, just like Wash. “Hello, little man,” Zoe said softly. Marcus stopped sucking and his mouth broke away, looking up at her in awe. Zoe’s heart twisted painfully as another tear rolled down her cheek and dripped onto Marcus’s unclenched waving hand. “Jus’ promise me you won’t break my heart an’ we’ll get along fine.” ~ * ~ “I think it’s time we had a holiday, Mal,” said Karl, tracking him down to the cockpit after the others had gone to bed. Mal closed his locker quickly and shook his head. “I know I promised a break at Christmas, but we’ve gotta distance ourselves from Boros an’ Monty for a while to make sure we ain’t flagged.” “Bane needs a holiday,” he stated. “Has she said so?” “Well, no.” “Well then she can take her time off like everyone else, in between planets.” “In case you ain’t noticed Bane doesn’t take time off – ever. When she’s not on a job she’s makin’ munitions.” “That’s how she likes it.” “I’m worried about her. I think she needs a proper rest.” “Somethin’ you ain’t tellin’ me?” asked Mal carefully. Karl held his gaze, just like he had held Simon’s earlier. “No – but like I said, Bane don’t get time off like the rest of us and it’s pretty hard to get her to chill out.” Mal scratched his chest. “You better work on a plan to get her to then,” he said amused, “Don’t go tying her up though, cuz she can get awful mad.” Karl smirked without humour and left the cockpit reluctantly. It would not be fair to Mal to think he did not care about Bane, because that was not true, he cared about them all. But Karl could not tell him the real reason without breaking his promise to Bane. After Karl had left, Mal opened the locker again, pulling out the brown paper bag he had been holding when Karl walked in. He opened it up and looked in smiling. “Still there, buddy?” he whispered and reached in. Out came a green stuffed fluffy dinosaur, still all new from when he had bought it several months ago, but with flattened fur in places. “Reckon I’ll name you Quaker.”

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