BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

HERMITSREST

Return to Deutschland - Part One
Monday, November 12, 2007

Mal drops in on Badger – looks like another trip to Deutschland, only this time with a potentially unwelcome passenger. 16th 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 1 of 3.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2351    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Author’s Note: A lot happens in this one, folks, so I hope you’re all caught up to date. * * * * * * * * * * * * With a notable bump, Serenity landed at Eavesdown on Persephone, belying the calm weather conditions. Bane shut the engine down and let go of the controls, breathing heavily. She was glad Mal was not there in the cockpit, as she held up her hands in front of her, viewing them as they still trembled. I can’t keep doing this, she thought, as she could not longer see well enough to pilot a ship. That really was putting people’s lives in danger. She had tried to get out of it, but Mal had ordered her to take a turn, broking no argument and she could not bring herself to tell him about her failing vision. “Can’t hide it from me now,” stated River. Bane swivelled around to see River in the cockpit, looking decidedly angry. River had been standing there during the whole landing phase, finally able to read Bane’s mind while it was occupied with a distracting task. “Hide what?” Bane tried. River gave her an irate look. “Didn’t trust me to help you, but thought you’d try and kill us all instead?” Bane opened her mouth, but did not know what to say. River searched her thoughts, feeling Bane’s terror, and softened, feeling the old guilt resurface. “It’s my fault this has happened to you, Bane, and I’ll fly this ship from now on.” Bane shook her head to disagree. “It’s not your fault. It was those two agents and whoever sent them. I would stand beside you tomorrow, even knowing the consequences. You know that – you can tell.” River knew, but she still could not understand why Bane did not blame her. As Bane had once done to her, River rested her forehead against Bane’s and willed her reassurances that things would be alright. Bane felt soothed, like cold cream on a stinging cut, and tears of relief forming in her eyes. She knew River would not tell Mal until she was ready, but would keep her secret. River smiled and took charge, mocking Bane’s own speech. “Now outta my chair, Pye, an’ don’t let me catch you in it without my say so.” Bane laughed and gave River a brief hug. “Thank you, River.” River took up her seat again and sat looking out the window like she did often. “Simon could help, you know.” Bane shook her head. “He can only delay the inevitable, an’ I’d rather spend my time trying to work with the sight I do have, than submit to endless and useless procedures.” River could have argued with Bane at that point. Having been brought up on a Core planet, she realised that medical care was taken for granted. Out here on the Rim, it was down to cost and the skill of the doctor. They did not have the cost, but they did have one hell of a doctor. Possibly, in this case it was not enough. Bane started to leave the cockpit and heard her speak again. “Take Karl with you to your Aunt’s. She’ll want to speak to him.” River settled back in her seat to take in the view of the busy dockyard. She was relieved to finally know what had been bothering Bane, as it had been one of the things keeping her awake nights. The guilt she felt still weighed on her, despite knowing Bane felt no such reasoning. The truth was she wondered if she had not been strong enough to take those agents out on her own. River sighed, realising that hindsight was an annoying thing. Now that Bane was no longer putting up mental walls, River had been able to probe her mind fully. Bane had been doing her own research, even got a second opinion – when they had stopped on Greenleaf a few weeks ago, though it had cost her a considerable amount of credit. River realised that those Agents had literally melted the some of the nerves to her retinas and they would only degrade further, until the lights went out completely. The doctor had told her there was an operation that could do a temporary repair, but, like Bane had already worked out, it would not cure the problem, just delay it. In true River style, she switched to thoughts of Stan Togashi penetrated her mind again, making her mood lighten automatically. She had not seen him since their time on Newhall, but the scenes were still so strong in her mind, as if she had captures constantly running through her head. She desperately wanted to see him again and touch his body and mind. ~ * ~ “Little woman not wiv yer?” asked Badger sarcastically, referring to Zoe. Mal had only taken Jayne with him this time to see the disreputable dealer. On the walk over, they had both been having a scarily normal conversation about women, without it degenerating into Jayne’s usual coarse humour. Mal reckoned that Esper was about the best thing that could have happened to the man. Since the Quaker job - and a certain shipyard mechanic - he had been feeling kind of mellow lately too. Mal brought himself back from his thoughts to answer Badger’s question. “She wanted to, but jus’ couldn’t work herself up to it,” Mal retorted, smiling inwardly at Badger’s frown. Badger, however, was not in the mood for Mal’s patronising banter and swore at him eloquently in Chinese. Jayne stood straighter at the tone and Mal held up his hands in placation. “What’s the problem, Badger? I can go an’ get her if you really want.” Badger swore again and stood up. “I don’t like you, Cap’n Reynolds. An’ I don’t like you stealin’ my business.” Mal looked at him confused and suddenly very wary. “You’ve got me. What’ve I bin stealin’?” “Don’t play dumb, Sergeant. I waved those Deutschlanders for more goods an’ they only wanted you doin’ the pickup. Wouldn’t deal wiv me else.” Mal shrugged. “Must’ve made a good impression.” “Gûn kāi!” said Badger angrily. “I find out you’ve stiffed me on this, that’s us done. I’ll ‘and you ova to the Alliance sooner n’ spit.” Mal maintained his peaceable attitude, but was cautious as Badger’s threats were genuine. “How can I stiff you? You get the goods, I get paid for the transportation.” “Those ruttin’ Deutschlanders wanna pay yer sep’rate. If I dint know better I would fink you slept with the gorram mayor or somefin.” Jayne snorted like a pig and Mal glared at him. “What can I say, Badger? Guess they jus’ trust us to get the job done.” “Or maybe they jus’ like the way Mal smiles at ‘em,” put in Jayne. Mal decided it was time to leave, before Badger put a few bullet holes in them just out of spite, especially if he knew that he had twelve thousand in platinum burning a hole in his pocket. ~ * ~ Karl walked beside Bane as they entered her aunt and uncle’s store. Margaret Pye took barely seconds to spot her favourite niece and came running towards her. Karl touched Bane’s arm and she turned, seeing her aunt as well. They both got a warm hug and virtually all the family gossip before being ushered upstairs to the inner sanctum. Lo, on the balcony reading a broadsheet, got up and welcomed them. Karl could see Margaret was just as insane in her activity as Bane was. Bane was in familiar territory and Karl relaxed for the first time in a while. Watching Bane incur countless bruises from bumping into things, as well as her general stubbornness, caused him a considerable amount of stress as well. Other crew members had commented on her clumsiness, and Karl realised it was only a matter of time before Simon came into earshot of one of those comments. After a delicious meal, her aunt remembered something and left the room briefly. Lo got up, offered Karl a cigar and they moved out to the balcony companionably. Despite seeming like a quiet man, Lo had some interesting stories, including one about how he met Bane’s aunt. “You think Bane never sits still for a minute – should have seen my wife in her youth.” Karl smirked. “I never thought I’d catch hold of her.” “Let me guess – whirlwind?” Lo sniffed in amusement. “Tornado,” he corrected. “She may not have been born a Pye, but she was bought up amongst the Pye Fleet clans and her ancestry carries some of the blood. I’ve known her for near my whole life, but it drove me plum near crazy when I realised I wanted to marry her. You know, I fell in love with her as she held a gun to my head,” he explained with a reminiscent smile. “She was a beautiful woman. My daughter Anna is the spit of her younger self, but Laura has her wild temperament. An’ she coulda had any man. Made for some interestin’ times.” Knowing Laura Pye from Jayne’s sexing stories after Tony’s wedding, Karl’s eyebrows had raised and he looked at Lo, not able to imagine the two old people having wild space monkey sex like him and Bane. Lo spoke again, chuckling quietly. “I ain’t suggestin’ you should rope yourself to Bane – that’s between you an’ her, whatever my wife might have planned in that busy head of hers.” He turned outwards to look at the view of the busy street. “Just know that bein’ there solid-like gives Bane somethin’ to hang on to. Lord knows she’s bin through enough in her life.” “You know about that?” said Karl warily, glancing indoors. “Not until the trial, Tony always refused to tell us. They said she was sold to a brothel an’ I know it took her brother near five years to find her. Don’t take a mind-readin’ genius to work out what coulda happened in between.” He looked into the room at his niece sitting on the sofa at first alone, and then joined by his wife. “I’ve seen the dark side of this ‘Verse, an’ it pains me to know that Bane was stuck there, unable to break free. Though she must have tried so many times.” Karl took a sharp intake of breath, Lo had no idea how close he was describing what was happening to Bane now. He had spent many long nights following Bane around Serenity, as she tried to learn getting around the ship blindfolded, just so she could keep up the pretence as long as possible. Bane’s uncle brightened as he saw the two women laugh, and Bane waved them both indoors. “You can’t chain the wind forever though.” “Got a parcel from that Major Wladek,” she said enthusiastically as they came indoors. “It’s a copy of the documentary they did on the Pye Fleet in 2504.” Karl sat down beside her again and Margaret took the disc and placed it in the reader. “I’ve never seen it before, just the bit they showed at my trial.” Karl took her hand, thinking that this would probably be the only time she would see it, as her eyesight was getting worse as the weeks went by. Margaret gave him background on all the Pyes they saw on the screen, so by the time they actually got to the bit with Bane in, Karl had been as well versed as any non-family member in the Pye genealogies. The documentary told him many things about how Bane was built genetically and why blood ties, and being in the Black, was so important to her. He laughed when he saw her in a muddy dress fighting with her brothers. “Remind me not to get on the bad side of you,” he chuckled. Bane grinned, still totally absorbed in the documentary. There was another clip of a Pye wedding like the one he had been to, only on a much grander scale. It showed the Sunset Dance, the acrobatic hypnotic movements were the same, and bought back some of the carnal thoughts he had on that night. When it had finished, Margaret took the disc out and handed it over to her niece. “You keep it, auntie,” Bane said with a warm smile. “It’ll be safe here. ‘Sides Tony and the Rosalyn will want to see it as well, an’ I don’t know when we’ll next see them.” Margaret, agreeing, told her husband to go with Bane to pick up some food to take back to Serenity. Once the door closed behind them, she fixed Karl with a look that told him if he lied she would drop him over the balcony, and he believed it. “How bad is it?” she said, putting her hands on her hips and challenging him to dispute her. Karl sighed, actually relieved that he was not the only one keeping the secret anymore. “She can still make out light and dark in her left eye, but has lost the ability to distinguish shapes.” “That’s why you always stand on her left side,” answered Margaret for him and Karl nodded. “Her right eye is still okay, but she has blackouts which get longer and longer each time.” “What’s that doc on your ship say?” “She refuses to go to see him anymore, just avoids him with excuses. We went to see another doc on Greenleaf, he said there was an operation he could do that would give her a little more time, but the outcome will still be total blindness. She thinks that Mal will put her off Serenity once he finds out.” They had already had numerous arguments about it which kept ending the same way; Bane running away, working like a demon for a week resulting in her having another blackout. The more blackouts, the quicker the deterioration. So he had finally stopped arguing and just supported her as much as he could. He felt like he was lying to the whole crew though, and it still did not sit well with him. “Will he put her off?” she asked. Karl shrugged. “Captain needs to earn a livin’ too. She’s tried makin’ the munitions blindfolded, but so far she can’t get it consistently right.” Margaret raised a grey eyebrow, Bane’s other skills had never sat entirely comfortably with her, however, that was her parents’ fault, not hers. “All I know is that when it finally happens things are gonna change.” He could not keep the little shake to his voice. Margaret pulled him down for a hug and Karl found he really needed one, returning it warmly. After a short while Margaret stood back and looked at him. “She’ll work it out, or she’ll find something else to do. You’re a good man, Karl Jacobsson - sorry, Washburne it is now, isn’t it? An’ I’m glad she’s got you with her.” Karl felt embarrassed and Margaret noticed, continuing. “I can’t believe she refuses to tell anyone though.” “If I hadn’t found out on my own, I think she’d still be tryin’ to hide it from me.” ~ * ~ “Er, Cap’n,” said Kaylee nervously, as Mal strode into the cargo bay companionably with Jayne. “What’s up, mei mei?” he said, almost too distracted to be interested. He had to go tell Zoe that they would be going to Deutschland again, sooner than expected. “’Nara’s here,” she replied, almost too quiet to hear. Mal stopped in his tracks and looked around. Kaylee watched his face turn through several emotions, finally settling on angry. “Is she now? And where might she be hiding herself? Cuz she can just take her jewelled butt and jump off. I ain’t leavin’ Persephone with her on my ship.” “She’s in her old shuttle, but-“ “Her shuttle, is it? Well we’ll see about that.” Mal stormed off before Kaylee could explain anything. “Nee boo goo gah, nee hwang chian!” she yelled after him. “What’s he all riled about?” asked Karl, coming in with Bane. “Inara’s back.” Bane touched his back as she passed him and went off upstairs to her bunk, saying that she was going to take a nap. “Oh. That’s gonna cause some fireworks,” he replied to Kaylee, watching her go. “You ain’t kiddin’,” Kaylee retorted. Karl was glad that at least he had managed to persuade Bane to rest when she was tired now, instead of trying to get as much done until she collapsed, or had a blackout. Watching that documentary had also given him an idea. “Bin meanin’ to ask. Can I borrow your capture-maker?” Kaylee gave Karl a sidelong glance full of mischief. “Oh, yes? An’ what would you be needin’ it for?” Karl flushed royally under her scrutiny, but persevered. “Well wouldn’t you like to know, Miss Nosy,” he replied, recovering and figuring what she thought it was being used for was as good an excuse as any. ~ Mal stomped to the shuttle and stopped at its open door. He could hear Inara talking to someone and was ready to order the crew member out, so he could talk to her alone. He heard Inara laugh and it ate into him. Damn the woman, why did she have to intoxicate him so? He had as good as got her out of his system, especially since the Quaker job. Now she was back to fog things up again. Well, he was determined for that not to happen now. He had found a nice uncomplicated diversion on Boros which suited him down to the ground and Inara could just fly off to someone else’s bed. Mal stepped in to the shuttle and saw that she was talking to a young boy, who turned around at his noisy entrance. It was like looking at a copy of Inara, the boy was a child of her loins. “Who’s that, mother?” he asked, causing Inara to swivel around in the pilot’s chair. Her joy-filled expression changed to one of seriousness. She stood up and Mal noticed that she was not dressed as richly as normal. “His name is Captain Reynolds.” “Then this is his beautiful ship!” the boy exclaimed. Mal smirked, but it was without humour. “You teach him to say that?” he directed the question at Inara harshly. Inara put her hand on the boy’s shoulder and turned him to her. “Go down and see Kaylee and I’ll follow in a minute.” The boy gave a worried look at his mother and then a stern one to Mal, before obeying her request. Mal found himself amused. “How old is he?” Inara smiled. “Twelve,” she replied. “Funny, you never got to mentionin’ you had a child?” “There are probably many things you’ve never talked to me about either.” Mal nodded in acknowledgement. “So you feel like explainin’ now?” he folded his arms. “I’d prefer it if we were in the Black first.” “An’ why I should be doing that? You dint seem so keen to come with me last time, an’ I asked real nice.” Inara could hear the bitter unforgiving tone to his voice. “Where are you off to?” she asked evenly. “Deutschland.” Inara had vaguely heard of the planet, but she persisted in her own stubborn way, as stubbornly as Mal in fact. “Then I’ll pay passage for two for Deutschland. That way you won’t be out of pocket.” Mal’s nostrils flared, but he could not find the words to order her off his ship. Suddenly things had got a whole lot more foggy again. “Fine,” he said finally and stormed out of the shuttle, just as abruptly as he had entered. He shouted at the first person he saw, which happened to be Jayne. “Is everyone on board?” Jayne looked up. “Yep,” he answered amiably. “Then close her up and tell River to get us into atmo.” He did not wait for Jayne’s agreement or disagreement, but stormed through to where the crew quarters were. He pressed the button for Zoe’s quarters and the hatch opened without too much delay. He stomped down the ladder and his tension filled the room. “It went well with Badger then?” she asked, amused, and Mal remembered what he needed to talk to Zoe about. He could not help pacing the room though and Zoe could see it was more than just Badger’s job. When Mal got like this there was only one cause; a woman, and as they were on Persephone, Zoe mused, it could only be Inara. Mal walked to the small cradle and viewed the sleeping Marcus. It calmed him and he touched a callused finger to the boy’s cheek. More than anything now he realised he wanted to settle and what had he got? A woman who kept him teasing in the wind like some gorram scarecrow, or an uncomplicated fong luh mechanic on Boros. Zoe waited patiently for Mal to tell her what was going on. “Badger’s job was another run to Deutschland.” “Oh.” “How do you feel about seeing that Hans again?” Zoe shrugged. “It’s gotta be done sometime, may’s well be now. But that ain’t why you’re all riled up.” Mal took a deep breath. “Inara’s on board. She wants passage to Deutschland.” Zoe’s eyebrows raised, nothing was ever that simple. “And?” “And she has a son.” “A what?!” “You know, a son – like that little scrap over there, only older.” “How old?” said Zoe, ever so carefully. Mal caught her look. “He ain’t mine, no way.” “You sure about that?” she replied. Mal frowned seeing Zoe’s disbelief. “He’s twelve years old, Zo’ – I’m pretty sure it ain’t possible to age that fast.” “Oh. Well then, what’s the problem?” “Cuz I know she’s gonna have some real damn peach of an explanation an’ then I’ll have no excuse.” Zoe could see that Mal was on the very edge of his emotions. “No excuse to not take her back,” she finished for him. Mal leaned on the cradle and looked at her sleeping child as if to soak up some of his blissful peace. “No reason why she’d want you to, sir,” said Zoe, “Maybe she just wants off Persephone.” Mal nodded grimly, not taking his eyes of Marcus. ~ * ~ “You wanna see the captures of my weddin’?” Kaylee said enthusiastically, as soon as Inara came into the galley to find her son. “You got married?” she exclaimed. “Dint you get my letter? I tol’ you all about it in there – an’ the honeymoon.” “I’m sorry, Kaylee, I didn’t get it. When did you get married?” Kaylee could never keep sad for long and talking about her wedding was one of her favourite topics. “Last year, in September. River was my bridesmaid…” Before Kaylee could launch into the whole story, Jayne strolled into the galley. “Who’s the midget?” he asked in a way Inara remembered well, and not fondly. Her son was not shy about introducing himself. He held out his hand and walked forward. “My name’s Ishmael G-“ “Just Ishmael,” Inara interrupted. Jayne viewed the boy’s hand with interest and then shook it. “Is that your knife?” Ishmael asked, eyes wide. Jayne had sat at the table, taken his knife out of its holster and started to clean his nails with it. “Yup. That there’s a gen-you-ine Bowie huntin’ knife. Stole it off a dead guy that came to kill me.” Inara opened her mouth to protest and then realised it would have no effect. Ishmael it seemed, was no more afraid of him than the knife, and he reached out his hand to touch it, until was grabbed by Jayne. He spoke to him gruffly, but without anger, “You touch another man’s weapon, you ask permission first, or you pry it from his cold dead fingers.” Ishmael’s eyes grew wider and he regarded Jayne seriously. “You must forgive my rudeness, Mr- Mr- er – sir. I would very much like to have a look at your knife.” Jayne blinked, unsure whether the boy was making fun of him or not. Kaylee giggled and Inara could not stop herself either. Jayne gave them his women-interfering look and un-strapped the knife holster. He then proceeded to give Ishmael his first lesson in knife-care. After her encounter with Mal, Inara was already wondering if she had made the right move by coming aboard this particular ship, Jayne was only adding to that thought. She commented to Kaylee how Jayne seemed less – she could not find the right word – but it was less something. “Oh, he’s got a sweetie,” Kaylee explained, her attention still diverted by watching Inara’s son listening intently to Jayne’s instructions. “How come you never said nothin’ ‘bout him?” “It’s a very long story, mei mei, and I owe the first telling to Mal, if I can get him to listen.” Kaylee understood. “Jus’ tie him to a chair. Works for Simon,” she joked. Inara laughed and then her eyes filled up with tears. “I’ve missed you Kaylee. I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch better.” Kaylee gave Inara a hug. “That’s alright, ‘Nara. An’ don’t you worry ‘bout Cap’n Tightpants, he’ll come around. He’s probably with Zoe an’ the baby now, but there’ll be a chance later to talk to him, I’m sure. Takes at least four days to get to Deutschland.” Inara thought she had misheard. “Baby?” “Oh, Lord, you have got a lot to catch up on,” said Kaylee, leading Inara nervously out of eye contact with Jayne and her son, and into the small seating area. “Now had Bane an’ Karl got together when you were last here?” * * * * * * * “I don’t’ believe it!” exclaimed Simon. “He’s won again.” Karl grinned, seeing the triumphant smile on Ishmael’s face as he showed his hand. “Little man’s a born poker player,” Jayne said proudly. Mal gazed at Inara’s laughing face and his mood grew blacker. In the end he could not stand it any longer, he got up and went to the cockpit. Kaylee looked over at her and Inara took her cue and followed him. Bane shared out her chips between those that were left and also got up from the table. Ishmael looked up at her. “Where are you going?” he asked innocently. “Um. I’m going to work out in the gym,” said Bane, who was really intending to go to her workshop. After she had left the room Karl got up as well. Ishmael asked him the same question. “I’m going to my quarters an’ then I’m gonna go to the gym as well.” “You gonna spot Bane on the weights or just spot Bane,” suggested Jayne with a smirk. Ishmael was quick to pick up on his new friend’s tone. “Are you going to have sex with her?” he asked. Kaylee spat out her mouthful of cider. “I don’t think that’s your concern,” said Simon, trying to sound stern amidst the laughing. Karl shook his head in amusement and went to his quarters. Ishmael fell silent again as River came back into the room, his thoughts falling to how pretty she was. “I’m too old for you,” said River, going to the counter for some food. Ishmael blushed in embarrassment. ~ Bane ripped off her blindfold as the hatch opened, then saw Karl’s head poking through the hole and relaxed. Karl crawled through and stood up, and Bane felt the familiar sensation she always did when he took up all the space. “You come to distract me?” she asked smirking. Karl noted the eagerness in her voice and smiled back. “Possibly – but I was gonna suggest this,” he said, showing her the capture maker. Bane flushed and shook her head. “Oh no, I’m not comfortable with you filmin’ us doin’-“ “Not that!” he exclaimed. “Honestly, you women have got dirty ruttin’ minds. No, I borrowed it so I could film you makin’ the grenades blindfolded, an’ then you can watch it an’ work out where you’re goin’ wrong.” Bane’s mouth had opened in touched surprise. “I knew you weren’t just a pretty face,” she grinned, sliding her hand up his arm. “Can it, Pixie, or I’ll make you pay later,” Karl replied good-naturedly. He turned the capture maker on and Bane re-tied her blindfold. ~ “How long you plannin’ on standin’ there?” grumbled Mal. Inara took it as her cue to step into the cockpit. “Kaylee said I should tie you to the chair,” trying to keep her voice light. Mal did not respond so she walked in further making sure he could see her clearly, but he made a good job of looking everywhere else but at her. “Mal. I need to tell you why I wouldn’t come with you before.” “Don’t bother,” he replied angrily. “But you have to know.” She failed to keep the pleading note out of her voice. Mal finally looked at her and Inara could see the wall was up. “No I don’t! You’re a passenger, you’ve paid your way – I don’t need to know anything.” “Mal –“ “Leave me alone!” he shouted, unable to rein his emotions any longer. She was here to fog things up again and he did not want her to, it was over. Inara left quickly, surprised and upset by his outburst. By the time she reached the galley along the short corridor, she had brushed away the tears that had formed and dropped onto her cheek. She saw her son look up at her from his cards, his face looking concerned. “What’s wrong, mother?” he asked. “Nothing, Ish – I’m just tired. I’m going to lie down for a bit. Make sure that you come to bed before eleven.” “Yes, mother,” he replied dutifully, watching her go. He turned and looked towards the cockpit thoughtfully. Like he was twice his age, Ishmael put down his cards and stood up. “Where you goin’?” asked Kaylee. “To ask Captain Reynolds to stop upsetting my mother.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Simon. “Yeh,” agreed Jayne. “They’ve got a whole lotta history an’ some of it ain’t pretty.” “Have they known each other long?” “You know your Ma used to live on this ship,” began Jayne. “Jayne,” warned Simon. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to-“ “Why not? He’s got a right to know that ‘Nara and Mal love each other, but are too stubborn to do anything about it.” “Hark at you, the relationship counsellor,” put in Kaylee. An argument broke out between Jayne, Simon and Kaylee, until River informed them that Ishmael had already gone. Mal turned when he heard the tapping on the cockpit door. “Passengers aren’t allowed into the cockpit,” he stated kindly. Ishmael stepped in anyway. “I will know for next time, Captain, thank you for telling me.” “Polite, ain’t you?” “It’s how I was brought up, sir.” Mal turned around and continued to pretend he was doing something, instead of just brooding. “What can I do for ya, since you asked so nice?” “I wish to ask why you made my mother cry?” Mal bit back a retort as he looked around at the boy. “It’s complicated, son, and maybe it’s a question you should be asking her.” Ishmael sat down in River’s co-pilot chair and swivelled to face him. “The crew say that you love each other.” Mal frowned. “The crew! Well they should mind their own,” he said angrily. Ishmael had inherited his mother’s perception and his father’s ability to calm any situation. “Life is complicated, Captain, and though I don’t know you well enough to judge for myself, my mother has always talked of you in the highest regard.” Mal looked at the boy silently, forgetting his was only twelve years old. “The least you can do in return is take the trouble to listen.” Ishmael got up and went to leave the cockpit. “Wait,” said Mal, and then found he did not know what to say. He looked like Inara, spoke like her and yet was nothing like her. Mal found himself warming to him without too much difficulty. “Yes, Captain?” “Now that you’re a poker playin’ genius, would you care to have your first lesson at pilotin’ a Firefly?” Ishmael became a boy again. “Really, Captain? You’ll let me fly?” Mal nodded and laughed at the boy’s enthusiasm. Maybe he would listen to what Inara had to say, but it did not mean he was obliged to do anything about it. ~ * ~ Heads touching, they both watched the small capture screen playback. Bane gasped. “That’s it, I did it again.” “Did what?” asked Karl. She turned to him, facing shining with new knowledge, the strains of the last few months receding from her expression. “I’m trying to do too much with one grenade before moving onto the next one, so I forget where I am.” Her mind was already buzzing with solutions and she reached up to the shelves and bought down some of the smaller trays, emptying out their contents. “If I get methodical about this then I turn it to a mini-production line.” Bane ripped off the labels and stuck on new ones, writing in large letters and talking at the same time. She placed six scaffold shells in the first tray. “What are you doing?” “Well, the first tray is the start. I take one out of here and fix in the chips and solder the wires. I place it in the next tray, while I do all these other five the same way. Once I’ve done them, I then work on the second tray to install the timers – that’s the tricky bit. The last tray is where I install the quick activation button and seal them all up, before placing them in the crate.” “Wanna give it a go now?” he suggested, but Bane was already tying on the blindfold. He turned on the capture again to record. “Are you filming this?” she asked. “Yup, you just concentrate.” The next two hours were tense for them both. The task took Bane far longer than normal, but it looked to Karl that she was getting it right – though he would honestly not be able to tell either way. Bane could feel her hands sweating with anticipation inside her latex gloves. Now that she had separated the tasks she could see clearly in her mind what needed to be done. When the last of the six was sealed and dropped in the tray, she took off the blindfold and Karl stopped the capture. She picked up the small screwdriver again and turned to Karl before taking it apart, hands trembling a little. “I’m scared,” she said in a whisper. “Don’t worry. If it’s wrong we’ll jus’ look at the film again. Might take us a couple of tries, but we’ll get there.” Bane realised how much Karl was giving her in terms of support and she swallowed. “Thank you for this, Karl, I know it’s not bin easy – I’ve not been easy. I just want to know whether or not I can do this. If not, then I guess I’ll have to look around for something else to do, though I don’t know what.” Karl smiled at her fondly, remembering her aunt’s words, and he cleared the rising emotion in his throat. “You’ll always find something to do, bao bei, you ain’t one for sittin’ still.” Bane snorted softly and started to unscrew the first grenade. She laid them all open out in front of her and examined them. She could not believe her own eyes, eye – she corrected, holding each one up to her left eye for closer inspection. “They’re perfect,” she whispered in awe, and Karl tilted his head to see that she was crying. He put his hand on her shoulder. “Of course they are, Mal doesn’t pay you to be anythin’ but perfect.” Bane rammed her face into his belly, hugging him hard until he felt the dampness from her tears soak through his sweater. Karl felt a lump in his own throat. She was a perfectionist, which was why she had been killing herself to still keep in the trade, even though she was going blind. “Now how about we take a rest?” Bane lifted her face away from his stomach, eyes drying and smiled up at him. “Okay.” ~ Karl stroked the top of Bane’s head with one hand and rested his other on her stomach while she chatted up at him. They were sitting in the couch area opposite the Med Bay which was often quiet at this time of night. Bane was lying face up with her head in his lap, flicking through her journal. Her idea of resting, he mused. “I could probably make these easily as well, though I haven’t done it for years.” Karl tilted his head to look. “You’re gonna have to tell me, cuz I can’t read that mess.” Bane swivelled her eyes upwards to look at him. “Adhesive electronic door releases. My Ma used to call ‘em Sesames. They’re real easy to rig up on the run, so to speak, but Monty could make some money from ‘em too.” Karl lifted the book out of her hands and placed it out of her reach. “Rest, pixie,” he soothed. “Why’d you keep callin’ me that?” giggled Bane. Karl wiggled his moustache and then laid his head back against the rest, looking up at the ceiling. “The first night we - you an’ I - shared a bunk on Whittier, I woke up an’ you were sewin’ naked at the table with your hair all short. Looked like a mythical pixie.” In the six months since that time Bane’s hair had grown into a shaggy mess that just touched her shoulders. She had taken the habit of wearing it down, sometimes covering her face and her eyes, and Karl had to admit he liked it all layered and wild. “So you’re the Viking and I’m the Pixie?” mused Bane, playing with the hand Karl had laid across her belly. Karl looked down at her laughing, it was the first time in a long while he had seen her so carefree. “I guess so,” he said gruffly, moving his hand under her clothing. Bane arched herself against it, her eyes closing in reflex. “Hello,” said Ishmael coming into the area from the cargo bay. “Hello,” said Bane cheerily, relaxing her body. Ishmael studied them both. “You don’t look like you’ve been in the gym or having sex.” Karl’s eyebrows raised. “You seem to have that on your mind a lot, little man. Any partic’lar reason?” Ishmael shrugged and sat down, picking up Bane’s journal curiously. “My mother used to be a Companion, I’m not ignorant of the facts of life,” he said, trying to sound as adult as possible, but not fooling anyone. Apparently there were some things that he acted his age on. “What writing is this?” he asked, changing topics just as quickly. “That’s my writing. It’s a secret code.” Ishmael’s eyes lit up. “So no one can understand it?” “No one but me,” she explained. “Will you teach me? I-I mean – sorry, I don’t know how long we’ll be here.” Bane could see he was eager for things to do, and she could also feel Karl’s hand moving further up under her top. “Yes, I’ll teach you, if you really want. Not now though. How about sometime tomorrow?” Ishmael took a last longing look at the strange code and put the book down carefully. “Thank you,” he replied and settled into his seat, clearly not going anywhere. Karl blew the air out of his nostrils frustratingly. “Init your bedtime?” He asked as nice as he could. “Not tired,” replied Ishmael in true childlike style. Bane moved her head and viewed him from her upside down position. She could tell as sure as a neon sign that Karl wanted them to be left in peace. “How ‘bout a story?” she suggested. “I’m too old for bedtime stories,” replied Ishmael, wrinkling his nose. “Oh this isn’t a bedtime story,” she assured him, and gave Karl a grin, before closing her eyes to begin. “Tell me, Ishmael, have you ever heard of the great Pye Fleet?...,” and Bane launched into an epic tale, her eyes closed and her hands animated. She was yarn spinning again and Karl knew in that moment that he loved this insane wonderful woman. He felt the comforting glow of it in the pit of his belly, like a shot of brandy on a cold night. Then he found himself entranced by the story as well, with the added embellishments for the ears of a twelve year old. “He’s asleep now,” Karl finally whispered. Bane sat up and saw that Ishmael was slumped sideways on the couch. She reached for the quilt, which always hung over the back of the seats and covered him. “That dint take long,” she whispered back. “Pity we can’t use the same trick on you,” he retorted with a smirk.

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Monday, November 12, 2007 11:54 PM

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