BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MERRYK

Crew, But Not - Chapter 5
Monday, November 12, 2007

Simon and River struggle to find their place in Serenity's crew. Mal and his team finally meet the client, while Wash and Kaylee spend some time with the new crewmembers and Book.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2116    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 5

Simon spent the rest of the day watching over River—he sometimes wondered if he would ever feel comfortable leaving her alone. Their lives, so unstable now, might suddenly move into utter chaos, and he did not feel he could afford not being on the alert if it happened. It was different at the hospital, where machines and assistants kept him constantly alert on the progress of his patients. Now he had only one, but he was the only one who could help her.

Simon dozed a little, letting his head rest on his chest in a manner he found uncomfortable upon waking. In his dreams he heard voices, calling out to him to come and join them, and when he woke he was not sure who he heard calling. From above he heard interesting noises: the constant sound of the engine, the trills of laughter occasionally, the deep rumble of voices telling long stories, the clinks and thumps of chairs and equipment shifting around. Then River woke, her eyes still blurry.

“Simon?” she asked, fearfully quiet.

“Everything’s all right,” he assured, holding her hand in his.

“Frightened,” she said. “Heard voices in the dark.”

“You had nightmares,” explained Simon, marking that she was finally acknowledging her troubles.

“Don’t want to sleep again,” she said, shivering a little. “Don’t want to let them in.”

“I know,” said Simon. “But you have to sleep—you have to sleep sometimes until I can help you get better, until I can help stop the nightmares.”

“How long will it take?” she asked, miserable and resigned.

Simon squeezed her hand. “Not long,” he lied, not knowing what else to say. “I—I have something for you.”

As he reached over for the package, River slowly sat up. “Shopping,” she said, a faint smile on her face.

“Yes,” said Simon, smiling. “I bought some things to keep you warm, and this.”

River took the package from him, brushing the brown paper with her fingertips. Then she slowly removed the paper to reveal the sweater. Simon waited, a little nervous as she said and revealed nothing. She held it up so that the light came through the tiny holes, and then suddenly hugged it close to her.

“Do you like it?” asked Simon.

She nodded, playing with the tassles on the ends of the sleeve. “Warmth—and love,” she said. “A good color.”

“I’m glad,” said Simon, thinking that the sweater looked a little less ugly in the lighting on the ship.

“You have medicines now,” added River. “Ready to go, if we have to?”

“Go, yes, we’re leaving the planet soon,” said Simon. “But River, we’re not leaving the ship, not yet. Don’t you remember, you said it was our little home.”

“You didn’t believe me,” she answered. “You want to be ready.”

“River, you were the one who modified the shuttle, right?” Simon had no doubts, but he wanted to hear her answer.

“Just made it ready,” she said, a little confused.

“Well, the captain needed that,” said Simon, gently reproving. “You shouldn’t have touched it without permission. Something bad could have happened.”

“It won’t happen,” said River, almost as a promise.

“Good,” said Simon. “Just don’t go near the shuttles, and you’ll be all right.” He paused. “I also got you some socks.”

River frowned. “Don’t like socks. Can’t feel anything.”

“Hm, well, you don’t want to feel the chill though. It gets cold up in space.”

“There is no cold,” River said with a little sigh, and she brought up her knees to rest her chin on. “It’s the absence of heat.”

Simon gave her the equal parts of smile and sigh that he had always given when she corrected him, and then noticed how tangled her hair was, not brushed since yesterday evening. He brought a comb from his pocket and, sitting next to the table, began carefully untangling the ends.

It was too quiet.

“Do you remember when we went up in the mountains three years ago,” he murmured, not really expecting a response and so not waiting for it. “Mom told you to stay within the camp site so you would keep clean, and the first thing you did was climb one of the trees and get sap and pine needles everywhere, and it made your hair stick out all over the place so that you had to scrub it in the icy stream water. I don’t think they ever believed it was an accident.”

He had gotten the lower tangles out, and began gently working at the larger ones in the middle. “Dad made a great fire that night, and then we roasted marshmallows, and you took yours and heated them until they got warm and sticky and then made them into a sort of snowman. Then you lit it on fire when he wasn’t looking. I thought I would have bald eyebrows for the rest of the trip. And then Mom and Dad tried to tell you how dangerous that was, and how it could have burned something important, and you kept trying to tell them that you had taken account of the wind and height of the flames before you had lit it. It—It sounds more believable now.”

Simon paused, frowning as he realized at the same time that there was one very tough tangle in River’s hair and that these experiences were the only ones he would ever have of the like. “I-I don’t remember what we did after that. Just that we had to turn back after getting halfway home because one of my medical books was left behind.”

“You left,” said River.

“Yes, I went back to school after that,” said Simon, glad not to be talking to himself. “Are you hungry?” he asked, changing the subject.

She shook her head, and he continued combing. “Do you want to do something? I have books, and pencils and paper, and music.”

“Drawing,” she said, a softness in her face that was as close to a smile as he got now.

“That sounds good to me too,” he said warmly, running his fingers through her hair to get out the last of the tangle.

Simon didn’t know how long River drew as he wrote—hours flowed endlessly and yet all in a minute out in the black. There was not even a clock to judge by. River used much of his paper, sketching this and that, filling each piece with lines and shading. He didn’t notice what she drew, caught up in his own worries and struggles to find connections in the facts he recorded. Eventually he looked up and noticed Kaylee watching them from the doorway.

“It’s all so quiet down here,” she said, and then added, “Shuttle’s fixed. She didn’t do no damage to it, just reprogrammed it.”

“I’m glad of that,” said Simon.

“She ever been in a Firefly afore?” Off Simon’s look, she answered her own question. “No, I guess not. Just gifted is all, like ya said.”

“There never was a computer that she couldn’t understand,” said Simon, apologetically with a little shrug.

“D’ya think we upset her?” asked Kaylee suddenly.

“No,” began Simon. “Well—I just don’t—I have very little evidence to—but no, I don’t think so.”

“They were talkin’ about that, up there,” said Kaylee. “You ‘n’ River come up, an’ things are ok, and then something goes wrong, and you disappear down here f’r hours. You think it’s them as are causin’ it, they guess.” She twisted her hands a little. “Don’ wanna tell on anyone or nothing, but it got me kinda worried.”

“It couldn’t be the crew,” said Simon, turning in his seat to face her. “It has to be something less obvious for it to be a realistic trigger. It’s just—I know there’s nothing in the quiet that can upset her.” He frowned, tapping his pen. “I don’t know what else to do.”

“She’s all right around you, right?” ventured Kaylee hopefully. “Cause you’re family.”

“I’m familiar to her, at least,” said Simon, a little hesitantly.

“So maybe if you let her around us after she’s calmed down, she might see us—” Kaylee stopped as Simon felt himself tense. “Well, it’d be nice to see ya more,” she added, stumbling slightly. “We ain’t afraid of her.”

“We—can come up more,” said Simon, trying to shake off the stiffness he had felt when he thought she would say the word ‘family’.

“Good,” said Kaylee, smiling nervously, and then turning to leave.

Simon began tapping his pen to the paper again, not thinking about anything. The murmur of voices came drifting down the stairs and through the floor again. He decided that he didn’t like feeling like the naughty one banished to the basement. Kaylee was right, in a way.

River looked up. “Almost dinner,” she said.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“Don’t take shuttles for granted,” said Mal, as the sun blazed off the landing platform and right through his windshield. There was a little jerk as they landed, and Mal let out a breath. “That’s good advice, Zoe.”

“I’ll remember to write it down,” answered Zoe. “They’re expecting us, I assume?”

“Called her yesterday,” said Mal. “She seemed almost a might tickled at our predicament; said it would be fine to reschedule.”

“That’s just wrong,” said Jayne.

“Won’t disagree with the general sentiment,” said Zoe. “Quirks, you said.”

“Quirks,” said Mal. “And might I remind you that one of them is no late fees? Good job, it’ll pay well.”

“Let’s get movin’, then,” said Zoe. “Jayne, follow behind, and don’t let your gun be too conspicuous. This is more a mansion than a blackout zone.”

“Why’d ya bring me along anyway,” growled Jayne, but Mal noticed that his gun was tucked in the back of his belt—there was only one, too.

“Tactics,” murmured Mal, as the three strolled up to the door.

The sun shone brightly off the metallic exterior of the fine house, set a fair distance from the town where it overlooked the brush plains of this part of Boros, and they all squinted a little at the glare. The design was wavy, overly abstract, and expensive, with large windows plainly to be seen on most of the walls. The security guards were dressed in silver—thankfully not metallic—in a style more smart than traditional Alliance uniforms.

“Malcolm Reynolds and cohorts,” said one guard as they approached. “My lady has given you leave to enter.”

“Sounds good,” said Mal, though turning to mouth ‘cohorts?’ to Zoe. She shrugged and said nothing. “Might we be escorted to her now?”

“No need, she has given you full freedom on her property,” said the guard. “Walk straight and take two lefts. She is waiting for you.”

“Right,” said Mal. He paused, waiting for something more. It didn’t come. He walked on, through something that was more an arch than a door, following the directions.

“Right,” added Zoe more suspiciously when the security guards were behind them.

“Just—flow with it,” advised Mal. “Jayne, not a word.”

After going down the corridors, and wondering among such curves whether they had really taken a “left”, they came to what looked more grand than anything else.

“Must be this,” said Mal.

Automatically the doors opened, and they felt a slight breeze as they walked into a room that might have been mistaken for an art museum, but with windows opened wide to let in the air. Lady Tembriar came forward, her shimmering grey dress tinkling from the thousands of little silver hangings sewn on all the edges and her several long necklaces.

“Welcome,” she said, smiling wider than Kaylee. “Sit, please, and drink of the tea that has been prepared for you.” She giggled a little. “How quaint, you are, and so perfect. Sit, sit!”

Zoe eyed Mal, and they both sat. Jayne stood behind them, apparently trying not to fidget.

“You don’t take tea, I suppose,” Lady Tembriar said conspiratorially. “But I couldn’t really serve anything else—wouldn’t be genteel. There’s a limit for everything.”

“You have a job for us, ma’am?” asked Mal, holding one of the teacups, even if uncomfortably.

“Straight to business, then,” said Lady Tembriar brightly, giggling a little. “How wonderful! It’s a simple job, really. My husband just left for Greenleaf, and he was so thoughtless to leave all his things behind. I thought I’d suprise him and send them before he realizes they’re gone, what do you think?” She leaned forward, smiling expectantly.

“Very thoughtful of you, ma’am,” said Zoe, filling in while Mal merely blinked.

“Greenleaf, then,” said Mal. “Fair ways from here, it’ll be a nice trip.”

“Yes, I’m sure it will be lovely,” said Lady Tembriar. She giggled again. “It’s so nice that you brought your weapons, and hidden, too. Such an air!”

“Glad—you—approve,” said Mal, not as smoothly as he would have liked.

“What a lovely experience this will be,” she mused. “Well, the goods are all ready for you, and I will send a message to my husband with the bill we discussed. That businesslike enough for you?”

“Quite satisfactory, ma’am,” said Mal, rising and giving a stilted little bow.

Lady Tembriar rose and smiled. “Good! So good.”

“We’ll just take a look at the cargo, then, and we’ll be back to pick it up this afternoon,” said Mal.

“Just out in the back,” said Lady Tembriar. “I’ll see you again, some time, maybe.”

Mal gave a crooked little grin, and turned to leave. Zoe followed silently, and Jayne also, after glancing suspiciously around.

“Quirky, right,” was all that Zoe said as they walked out to see the goods.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Simon had not slept quite as easily that night, and was easily woken when River had a nightmare. She only had one, though, and words were enough to soothe her fears. She wouldn’t speak to him, only scream and cry, and sometimes her mouth would move wordlessly. The routine was becoming familiar, but Simon hoped that the terror in her eyes never would. He was plagued with restless sleep after that, but though nothing that he could name as a nightmare befell him, his mind consciously created enough horrors. These could not be ordinary nightmares, he felt, and yet so they might easily have been—if Simon had not known how easily they could be crafted.

River stayed in her room the whole night, but though he left her for a moment asleep while he washed up when morning came, he returned to his chamber to find her crouched at the end of his bed. At least it was better than the shuttle.

“Ready for breakfast?” he asked.

“Hungry,” she admitted, standing up.

“That’s good,” he said, smiling. “Come on.”

It was extremely quiet as they walked up the stairs, and Simon’s heart started to race a little. There was no one in the dining room. There was little sign that anyone had been there. And worse, there was no noise coming from anywhere in the ship.

“Food, Simon,” said River, pulling him to the counter.

“Yes, River—wait!” He glanced around nervously, his mind busily going over all the possibilities. They wouldn’t have left for the job without leaving someone behind. Unless the contact had gone wrong, and they had needed help, and no one had thought to warn him. Or something else, or—

“It’s amazing how quickly the loss of an annoyance breeds discomfort,” came the most relaxing thing Simon could have imagined. “You look worried at the idea of peace and quiet,” said Shepherd Book.

“He can’t be alone,” said River, who had taken some protein on a plate while Simon’s thoughts had been elsewhere.

“Ah, the crew are gone,” said Book. “I was meditating and so blocked out other sounds—I didn’t notice when they finally vanished.”

“You don’t suppose there was some trouble, and they forgot to warn us,” said Simon, his brow deeply furrowed. “Why would they leave no one behind?”

“Oh, we’re sorry,” came Kaylee, quickly hopping down the stairs that led to the hall to the bridge, Wash on her heels. “We’re so used to having the ship to ourselves when the others are gone.”

“Terrible, terrible hosts,” added Wash.

Simon relaxed visibly, and joined River at the table. “We just got up,” he said.

“This’ll be kinda nice,” said Kaylee after a moment’s silence. “Most times Wash ‘n’ I just play with Serenity’s parts or talk mechanic stuff unless Inara’s here, which ain’t too often, and then we play chess or dominoes or somethin’.”

“In other words we just laze around being dreadfully bored and wondering why we took this job,” said Wash. “Unless Jayne’s here, and then we ask him why he took this job just to stay behind on the ship. Key word: dull.”

“Why did you, then?” asked Book. “Do you have ties to the Captain?”

“No, thank goodness, no,” said Wash quickly, with a laugh. “My wife does, though, and being in the action with Mal all the time leaves her unappreciative of how boring it can get on a little transport ship like this.”

“You don’t have hobbies?” asked Book.

“Well, yeah,” said Kaylee. “But they involve other people. Me ‘n’ Wash can’t exactly do much by ourselves. But there’s no difference now, since you’ll always be stayin’ behind with us.”

“Right,” said Wash, taking a seat. “So, doc, you wouldn’t happen to play chess? Kaylee just won’t learn.”

“Um, yes, I play,” said Simon, looking up from his breakfast. “It was a family tradition, I used to play with my dad. He was brilliant; even now—” Simon paused and swallowed. “Even recently I won only as many times as I lost,” he finished, almost darkly.

“You should play Inara,” said Wash. “I’m good—but she usually beats me. That is, I let her beat me,” he added.

Kaylee chuckled. “’Course, Wash. I never could catch on t’ that game. You play, Shepherd?”

“Perhaps occasionally,” said Book wryly. “The Abbey also had little action to distract from the mundane. I found many other ways to keep busy, which sometimes included games.”

“Only sometimes,” commented Wash, leaning forward. “What else? A desperate man asks you, Shepherd.”

Book laughed, a laugh that Simon had noticed would break any barriers in the tone of conversation. “Oh I gardened, meditated, lifted weights, sang, read, wrote, drew, aided the poor—what would you find most interesting?”

“What did you read?” asked an interested Simon, at the same time as Kaylee asked, “You can sing?”

“I can,” said Book, smiling at Kaylee. “I sang many a song as we worked—you have time to perfect more artistic talents in an abbey, and that was my favorite.”

“Oh, we have so little music here,” said Kaylee with a sigh. “Jayne has a guitar, but he only pulls it out when he thinks no one’s paying attention. Inara prob’ly has music, but I always assumed it’d be something professional and didn’t want to inconvenience her.”

“I have some music,” put in Simon.

Kaylee looked at him with a hopeful smile. “Really?”

“River’s dance music,” he said. “I brought it for her—not much, I didn’t have space. But if you want—” He looked up to see Kaylee’s face lit up, and smiled a little.

“That’s great,” she said. “I didn’t know River danced.”

“Yes, it was her favorite,” said Simon, looking down to where River was intently eating.

“Don’t suppose you were ever into computers, then, Shepherd?” asked Wash with very little hope. “I remember that was all I could ever get into. Books? Not so much.”

“I’ve no help there,” said Shepherd apologetically. “I dearly loved a good book. Followed one for my whole life, even.”

“Did you read mostly religious texts?” asked Simon.

“No, I read philosophy, and some classics from Earth-That-Was—Shakespeare was a favorite.”

“’O brave new world/That has such people in’t’,” quoted Simon. “I remember my tutor having me learn that—said it was ironic, as we never discovered new worlds, just created them.”

“Wise man,” commented Book.

“Shakespeare,” mused Wash. “That was the fellow who said that long speech about indecision—to be or not to be? A girl in school told me it should be my mantra, that’s why I know it.”

“It doesn’t seem to fit,” mused Book.

“Oh, it did then,” assured Wash.

“Didn’t want to fly,” came River, not looking up from her food.

“No, I didn’t, actually,” said Wash, surprised. “Made up my mind, though, after the first sim.”

“Did you bring any books with you?” Book asked Simon. “The library was the only physical possession I ever coveted and did not care to leave behind.”

“Mostly medical books and an encyclopedia,” admitted Simon. “I didn’t read much other than that. But I have a few other books that River and I read together.”

“Utopia,” said River with a soft half-smile.

Simon eyes rolled a fraction. “Yes, that one.”

Kaylee laughed. “This ain’t bad at all—Shepherd brought food, you brought music and books.”

“That encyclopedia of yours,” added Wash to Simon, “is electronic, right?”

Simon nodded, and Wash grinned. “Notice any problems I could mess with?”

“I suppose I could think of a couple,” said Simon thoughtfully.

“Or make some up, that’d be fine too,” said Wash cheerily. “Great!”

“Wanna play checkers?” asked Kaylee to Book.

“I surely would—it’s been a long time since I played, though, so you might have to go easy on me,” said Book with a grin.

Kaylee got up and went to one of the cupboards. “Don’t worry, Shepherd, I ain’t that good—like to play more than win.”

“Should I get some music, then?” asked Simon.

“Yes,” said River, eagerly, which was all he really needed.

“And could I have a look at that encyclopedia?” asked Wash.

So Simon brought up his small music player and his encyclopedia, and soon strains of folk music were having River sway back and forth as she nibbled at breakfast, while Simon was interested but overwhelmed at the information Wash was giving him about the operating system of his encyclopedia, and Kaylee and Book talked quietly over a loved and worn checker board. The quiet was gone, but as Book had said, peace and quiet were not always as wanted as we thought.

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