Passing through the storm - Part One (Repost)
Monday, December 10, 2007

As disquiet begins to settle across the 'verse, the gang set their course to a world rebelling against the Alliance.


"Please, mei-mei, don't kill the hwoon dahn!" Simon called across Serenity's cargo hold.

River Tam looked back at him for a moment, not entirely withdrawing her attention from the two space-suited goons who were the subject of discussion. "I wasn't *going* to do anything fatal," she told him in her best witheringly sisterish voice. "Just beat on them a little while."

"Hmm." Simon considered that, coming closer. "Beating is okay. Maiming is not."

Just at this point, one of the goons seemed to have come to the notion that even though this little slip of a girl had managed to take him and his friend by surprise the first time around, there wasn't any chance that she really COULD bring the beat-down now that he was ready for her tricks, and pulled out a knife from a small opening in his trousers, under one thigh. River actually smiled a fierce little smile as she jumped into an arcing roundhouse kick, dashing his face to one side. The sharp blade slid across fingers, drawing blood, before it clattered away on the deck.

By a few minutes later, most of the crew were gathered around the prone bodies of the two mercenary bounty hunters, and River was nearly beaming at the fact that they weren't trying for any more rematches. "Well, umm, that's mighty impressive," Zoe pointed out. "But we're not out of trouble yet. Serenity is tethered to the ship that they came in on, their boss has a small magnetic rail gun at the ready, and I doubt that even you can pilot us out of here well enough to avoid getting the ship riddled with holes, girl."

"Yes, that's a problem," Mal Reynolds said in a low tone. The ship was two days out of Persephone's dockyards, where they'd repaired an awful lot of damage, and only about a day away from the Heinlein planetary system, to return Inara Serra to the Paquin Companion training house where she was an instructor. Mal had been keeping an eye out for trouble, but by the time anybody had spotted the bounty hunter's ship it had been too late - their efforts to evade its intercept course had come to nothing, and the lead hunter had ordered him to send over a tether and prepare to be boarded or the ship would be holed. Mal had done all of that, (they only HAD one tether, to boot,) and had watched nervously as the two searchers had arrived, and quickly headed over to surround River, sounding surprised that she was right there, practically in front of the airlock, and not hiding away. They were also surprised when River immediately took the initiative, and began to use her recently-acquired fighting skills on them.

"C-captain," Kaylee Frye spoke up nervously. All of this fighting sort of stuff usually did seem to make her more'n a mite twitchy. "What... what would Book say if - if he were here??"

Oh, have I managed to do something that would've earned me another sermon? Mal wondered to himself for a moment. But then the other possible interpretation of Kaylee's words hit him. Despite his religious sensibilities, Shepherd Derrial Book had proved to often be a level-headed and sensible voice in a crisis situation, with mysterious know-how about weapons and police procedures that didn't really fit with his stated monastic background - a mystery that would perhaps never be explained, though Mal did have his own suspicions now.

Mal didn't have the specific know-how about criminals or guns, (well, he did have some experience of his own in those fields,) but now that Kaylee had put the question, he realized what the level-headed and sensible thing to say was. "We need to question them, find out their orders and the boss' mission. Everything we do next depends on that."

The wounded men proved disgustingly eager to spill their guts - Mal hoped that he'd never sing so sweetly unless he'd at LEAST been maimed - and the picture came clear. There was indeed a parliament contract out on all of them, but River was the most valuable, and Simon Tam next after his sister. Nobody had thought to include specifics in the bounty about just how dangerous River was hand-to-hand now.

"Then... then I need to get aboard their ship," River suddenly blurted out. "Not as helpless as I seem... you need to deal with them, knock out the big gun, before the Firefly is safe."

Mal turned to Simon, wondering what his reaction to this plan would be. But Simon just smiled slightly - he still felt protective of his little River, but had started to accept the idea that there were some situations in which she was able to take care of herself. Witnessing the scene where a full score of Reavers had all been killed or disabled and little River was the only one left standing probably had a lot to do with that. "So - you'll appear to be restrained, cuffed or something like that, but the restraints will be pre-disabled to make sure you'll be able to, umm, to shuck them easily?" Simon clarified.

"Yeah, that'll help I guess."

They worked quickly, aware that the hunter boss was probably wondering why he hadn't heard any news in so long. The prisoners were initially reluctant to play out their parts, but when Jayne pointed out that Mal and Simon could take their suits and look more than a little like them, while the original owners of the suits could then get shot or shoved out of a different hatch sans suits, a deal was quickly struck. Mal watched nervously as three space-suited figures moved down the tether to the hunter's ship, the small one in the middle unable to grab the line herself and being pushed along from behind and pulled from ahead, like a sack of cargo.

Mal wondered if he'd have been able to handle himself on the tether as well as those men. He hadn't had much experience in using it lately - the omni-latch docking ports like the one around the cargo bay airlock were truly ubiquitous, and it wasn't very hard with modern nav computers and micro-jets to match courses and seal the hatches together. Even an old ship like Serenity could do it. Tethers were becoming a holdover from an older time, although they still had their uses. In this case, it was useful for the hunter ship to have Serenity stuck like a fish caught on a hook, while still being far enough away to be able to aim its gun, which would have been much more awkward with the two ships clamped together.

All sorts of memories of recent events washed over Mal like a tide that he couldn't fight off. Running away from Reavers on Lilac. Seeing River in the bar on Beaumonde, surrounded by tough customers who she'd beaten the crap out of without even trying. The man with the spectacles, the Operative, smiling so condescendingly at him in Inara's room at the training house. Book as he lay dying, surrounded by the ruins of the Haven settlement. The horrible stillness of a Miranda street. Wash cheering about being a leaf on the wind, after landing Serenity near Mister Universe's home...

"Come on, captain." It was Zoe's voice, cutting through his reverie, the only person who could bring him out of his own thoughts when he was in so deep - or was she really? "River's calling us from the mercenary ship."

"What, already?" He looked up, and Zoe just smiled tightly at him.

"She wants to know if we're going to take anything of theirs before crippling their engine," Kaylee reported. "I'd sure like to have a look-see in their spare parts box, if they've got one."

"We can see if they've got anything that's really worth eating," Zoe added in.

Mal thought about the fact that he hadn't been the one to order this round of looting, and decided to ignore that. A good idea was a good idea, after all. "Okay, umm... I'll be in the cockpit, just checking to make sure that they don't have friends coming by to help."

"They don't look so much like friendly folk - captain," Simon pointed out.

"Oooh, I wonder how much work it'd take to strip that rail gun," Jayne put in. Zoe stared at him. "Yes, I realize that we probably can't mount it on ourselves. But there's no point in leaving them with a big gun, is there? We can leave it here in the cargo bay, and sell it somewhere, maybes."

"Just make sure that you figure out a way to turn it off before leaving River alone with it," Zoe said, laughing, as she reached for her space suit, and then reconsidered. Looking out the airlock windows, she smiled slightly. "Looks like she's bringing the other ship in for a docking."

"River knows how to fly an unfamiliar ship after, what, four minutes?" Mal complained under his breath.


"We can't go back to Paquin, or anywhere near Heinlein," Inara argued forcibly. She'd been the one member of the ship's company who hadn't been around earlier, and now the last of the looted goods were being carried through the open airlock doors. Simon was suiting up, getting ready to help Jayne bring the rail gun in once the ships decoupled again. "It's much too dangerous. Everything that those shiong-tsan sha-shoo said -- they and their boss were just the early birds. There are others - Alliance special ops and much better prepared mercenaries. They'll be waiting for us at Paquin, at the ruins of Haven, at Beaumonde and anywhere else they expect you might go. Probably we only just got out of Persephone quick enough to escape a special hospitality committee."

"I said that I'd get you back to your girls, and..."

"Not if you get us both killed, you won't!" Inara flared, and then immediately offered up a slightly apologetic smile. She was as lovely as ever, and that beauty and presence hit him with more force than usual. She was wearing an outfit that was fairly different from her usual sophisticated trousseau, just rough brown pants, soft gray jacket over a somewhat low-cut white undershirt, but somehow that just made her appearance enticing - because she seemed a little more approachable than usual. Probably she had just used up whatever clothes were in that forgotten trunk, and had borrowed some things quietly from Zoe. None of them had had much time for little things like laundry, and she'd been through much that would tend to stain fancy fabrics. No, if she were running low on wardrobe, she could surely have found something more suitable on Persephone, and Inara would have credit to draw on... "I, I release you from that obligation, Mal. I'm in no hurry to get back to the Training House, and I wouldn't want anyone else to get hurt on my account."

No hurry to get back? Mal had to try hard not to smile at that. He hadn't really been that eager himself to see Inara back to her new home, in truth, because recent events had forced him to admit to himself some of what he felt for the lady, but he'd gone ahead with those plans because it seemed like the right thing to do - and in hopes of provoking a confession that she didn't want to be seperated from him either. She hadn't said that in so many words, but he would take what had been said at face value.

"Okay then," he called out in a louder voice. "What's our safest harbour, then, if we're not continuing on to Paquin?" Zoe perked up at that, drifting closer, and Kaylee hurried to dump a brimming basket of dirty machine parts so that she could join in the conference. "Inara has pointed out that anywhere the Alliance would expect us to be going is not a good idea - like Haven, or Mister Universe's place, or Beaumonde, or back to Persephone."

"Right," Zoe joined in. "Neither should we head to the inner worlds, as unexpected as that might be. Despite some rumblings from the broadcast, the Parliament's forces are still quite strong there."

"What about Boros?" Kaylee asked. "Not going to be many Alliance troops worrying about chasing us there."

"Boros?" Mal repeated. "There were planet-wide riots reported on Boros - gunfire in the streets."

"According to one of my sources, the situation has quieted down," Inara said. Wait a gorram minute, Mal thought to himself. Since when does Inara have 'sources'? "Things were, umm... a bit unsettled, but anti-Alliance forces appear to be keeping the peace. In fact, there are impromptu festivals going on there. We would probably be welcomed and protected." She sighed. "Of course, the Alliance 'puppet theater' is denying all of that, since they can't admit that they've been chucked out, but..."

"And Boros isn't far off of our present heading," River said, startling Mal - he hadn't seen her come back or join the group. Looking around, Mal realized that the airlocks had been disengaged. Jayne and Simon weren't around - probably they were wrapping a long plastic 'bag' around the detatched rail gun, which was the only safe way of getting it inside a ship since it was too long to fit in the airlock. "I can start pointing us there."

"Hmm." Mal considered all of this. "Alright, make the course change, sweetie." He didn't want them to land on Boros without checking the opinions of the last two members of the crew, and maybe finding out some more details about the situation there if they could, but they had enough fuel to make the change now - it would take them away from any other nasty surprises on the route to Paquin after all.

"No making course changes until my brother's inside the ship," River pointed out, and Mal mentally kicked himself for not thinking of that one. If Serenity's engine started to burn, the two of them might get left behind. "And Jayne, too, I guess."

Mal shook his head and headed for the upstairs front hall. He could do with a bit of shut-eye.


Simon logged off of the Cortex, feeling that he couldn't take any more news of upheaval and dissent. He'd been trying to find out any specifics about his parents, back on Osiris - he hadn't spoken to them in years, but something about this situation, and the odd vindication he felt from River's sudden turn towards mental health, had impelled him to investigate.

The news wasn't good. He hadn't been able to get any answer at the old communications number for Gabriel Tam's house, and the planetary 'person-finder' network was apparently overloaded, or sabotaged, and wasn't giving him any sort of responses. The news reports said that Osiris was relatively quiet compared to the 'unrest' on the outer planets, but that there had been well-organized acts of violence against Alliance officials - and his father had been one of the regional administrators for the Alliance terraformation commission - the same branch of the bureaucracy that had presumably implemented the Miranda Pax project in the first place. Simon hadn't even remembered that detail until after the broadcast had been sent out, but if what they'd done - if what River had helped them discover had led to their father's death, maybe mother's as well...

No, even if that was the cost, it had been the right thing to do, though Simon detested the thought of mob violence taking their fury out at convenient scapegoats. (And how easy was it to 'pay' that cost, thinking of parents who he had been estranged from for so long, after all?) Leaving his room near the stern of Serenity, Simon climbed up the back stairs, and checked into the engine room before heading up towards the forwards hall.

He didn't need to go forwards. Kaylee was sitting in the engine room, as he might have expected, her legs crossed on the floor opposite from the hammock that she still kept just inside the doorway here. She was surrounded by piles that she had made of the looted parts from the bounty hunter ship, and Simon smiled as a very old expression came into his head: 'As happy as a clam in mud.' He wasn't actually sure about clams, but thought that they were shellfish that were farmed only on New Melbourne for food. Might have originally come from Earth-that-was, come to think on it...

"Simon!" Kaylee exclaimed enthusiastically when she saw him, and tried to get up, but Simon made a gesture encouraging her to stay where she was, and managed to balance sitting in the hammock, staring back at her.

"So, are we well stocked now??"

"Well, we're not really stocked until I get everything stowed away in its proper place," Kaylee replied. From his vantage point, a small V of cleavage could be seen down the neck of her shirt, exciting him deep down. "Doing alright, about as well as ever or better around here. Of course, I wouldn't say no to picking up a spare for the main drive feed, not to mention a transistorized diagnostic rod so that I can get instant readings on the reaction chamber, but - well, fixing ourselves up on Persephone took enough coin. I wouldn't ask the captain for no more..."

"Maybe I can find some way to help when we hit Boros," Simon said slowly. Kaylee immediately stared at him, a mix of surprise and childish longing on her face. "Now, I just said maybe."

"Now, just how would you be doing such a thing as that?" Kaylee asked. "You don't have 'Verse-wide credit that we know about, or contacts among mechanic retailers." Her eyes bored into him. "I won't have you pawining your medic's kit, or something like that, just to..."

Simon had to laugh. "No, my darling my heart, it's nothing like that. But - you remember what our initial heading was when I first booked passage - with River in the cryo box??"

"Umm... from Persephone to Boros, yeah," Kaylee said slowly. "What with Dobson turnin' out to be a fed, an' me gettin' shot, and the detour to Whitefall, and Reavers showin' up, we never did make it there, not since you've been on board after all." Simon nodded. "After leaving Whitefall, we moseyed on over to Regina, where Mal met with Niska the first time and we pulled the train job." Something suddenly occured to her. "You... you'd made plans for something after arriving on Boros, of course you would have. And since you never made it, on account of you stayed on the ship with us, those arrangements are still -- you figure that they're still good, after everything that's happened?"

Simon nodded slowly. "Not everything, of course - I'd had some notion to take a long-haul ship out from Boros to the Laranan outposts - the inquries I made about that don't amount to much by now..."

"Laranan?" Kaylee asked, trying to place it for a long time. "Ohh, the Alliance mining camps circling around another star?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "It's our sun's companion, actually, not too far compared to all the other stars in the sky. I thought that I could wake River up and sign up as a doctor - they need professionals like that, and by the time any of the crew discovered that we were fugitive, maybe they'd be far enough away from the worlds not to care. Of course, that was before I realized how messed up River really was." Kaylee nodded. "Anyway, there *is* somebody on Boros who's holding some valuables for me that I was able to ship from Osiris. I don't imagine he'd be much inconvenienced by the unrest there, and he was told as a man who'd live up to his obligations."

"Alright, good enough," Kaylee agreed. "But - well, you don't need to spend that money on me..."

"I'm not going to blow it all on your engine room, right away," Simon quickly disclaimed. Kaylee quickly tried to hide her disappointment at that. "But... but picking up a few things, if I can, would be something that I know will make you happy." He leaned down closer to her. "And, in case you haven't picked up on it yet, I really love to see you happy."

Kaylee giggled at that. "Alright." And she started to rearrange the spare parts with purposeful movements. "Say, why didn't you suggest we fly past Boros sometime, if you had shinies there you wanted to collect?"

"I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, I suppose," Simon said. "After all, once I'd taken the post of medic, I was crew, and crew aren't really supposed to have a say in where the ship ends up." Kaylee considered this and nodded. "Also, well, I knew that the stuff would keep okay, and figured it might be best to leave it until it was needed, or at least until there were other reasons to make planetfall at Boros."

"Fair enough." With that, Kaylee moved over a bunch of flat, vaguely card-shaped metal devices and stood herself up. "So, your room or mine?"

Simon burst out laughing. "Umm... I always like spending time in yours." Kaylee's eyes twinkled and she led the way out and through the ship's dining room. "In fact, well... I've sort of wondered if it makes that much sense for the two of us to have our own quarters - me way in the back and you way in the front, and all."

She turned back to look at him, and bumped into a chair, nearly tripping over it... "You - you mean, you're wantin' to shack up with me already? Move... move in together, I mean?"

"'Already'?" Simon's face fell. "It was too soon to bring it up, huh? Sorry, umm... I never can manage to say the right thing at the right time, can I now? I guess it'd be too much to ask to forget I said it, but... huh?" It suddenly occured to him that Kaylee, who had straightened herself out with Simon's help, was now very firmly pushing him back towards the three-quarter-circle couch in a corner of the room. "Hmm?"

"Just figured I'd go for the nearest spot that we could talk this through, and not have any more accidents," she pointed out. Simon sat down on the couch, expecting Kaylee to take the spot opposite him and look into his face, but she surprised him again by planting her butt down right next to him, his skin thrilling to her touch. "First off, I didn't mean to give you that impression just by using the word 'already.' Yeah, we've only really been together for a few days I s'pose, but we've been friends and all for much longer than that, and I... well, actually, I'm not sure what I think of as an appropriate time to be movin' in with a fella, because I never have gone and done it."

"Me neither," Simon agreed. "Well, with a girl - or a guy, come to think of it - if you discount my freshman year at the medical school, where all the underclassmen got assigned into double-rooms by the computer." Kaylee snickered.

"And I guess... well, I know that River is doing much better lately, but I thought that you would still want to be staying next to her," Kaylee continued. "Just in case she has some sort of problem in the night..."

"Well, not that it does her much good if I'm spending more than half my nights in your bunk," Simon pointed out. "But yeah - I guess that I want to talk to her about it before we move ahead with anything. I hope that you don't mind that notion."

"Not a bit," Kaylee agreed with a bright smile. "It's funny to be talking about it at this point, actually... as long as I've been on this ship, there's been a couple sharing a room - being Zoe and Wash, I mean."

"Really?" Simon was surprised how interested he was in this tidbit about Serenity before he'd arrived. "They were married back when Mal took you on?"

"Engaged, but they was bunkin' together." Kaylee winked at him. "And, well, now that Wash isn't here any more, it seems weird that we should be talkin' about trying to take their place, in an odd way."

"If it makes you feel too uncomfortable, like we'd be rubbing Zoe's nose in what she's lost," Simon hastily said, "then we don't have to..."

"Well, we'll see honey," she said, patting his hand.

"Do you know how quickly Wash and Zoe got together?" Simon asked. "I mean, I heard the story about him 'rubbing her the wrong way' when Mal was recruiting him... and that mustache." Kaylee giggled and shook her head. "And I never thought that Bester was here for that long before the captain decided he wasn't working out. If Zoe and Wash were already engaged by the time, umm, by the time Bester showed you his engines..."

"I, I'm not too sure," Kaylee admitted, laughing. "Maybe two-three months, from the time they took their first flight, before I saw Serenity. Bester had been working on the ship a few weeks before, and Wash wasn't on the payroll long before the firefly flew. I don't really know at what point in that period... when Wash started rubbing Zoe the RIGHT way. Probably not a good time to ask her about it now - the Cap'n might know."

"Well, maybe we talk to him tomorrow," Simon said, pulling the prettiest girl in the entire 'verse closer to him, and she eagerly met him with a kiss.


Jayne stomped up to the cockpit in the depth of the ship's night, and blinked in surprise when he saw someone sitting in the pilot's chair. "Oh, hi Jayne," Zoe said a bit faintly. "What are you doing up?"

Jayne wasn't quite sure if she meant 'up' as in awake, or 'up here in the cockpit,' so he tried to answer both at once. "Ehh, couldn't sleep much after that surprise we had earlier. Figured I'd come by and see if any little red lights were blinkin' or anything."

"Nah, everything seems quiet." Zoe herself didn't seem to be touching any of the controls, just watching them occasionally and looking out through the big glass forward windows. "I couldn't get to sleep either - don't think I've got more than half an hour of shuteye ever since..."

"Yeah," Jayne grunted. Zoe looked up at him. "Well, not that I understand what you're goin' through or anything... I never have had a little woman that I care for a quarter as much as Wash meant to you, know that much." He considered. "Not sure if I've had a crewmate who meant anything like that much to me, come to think on it."

Zoe raised an elegant eyebrow. "Who would you say you are closest to, out of... well, out of our crew? I'm curious - not that you should feel you need to share, or anything..."

"Nah, it's a fair question," Jayne said, trying to lean comfortably against the wall. "Let's see, Mal -- wouldn't be the one." Zoe spluttered and laughed a bit. "Nothin' against him - since bringin' me on board he's always tried to do right by me, lived up to his word - but sometimes he is just the 'verse's biggest dumbass, you know?" Zoe hesitated before nodding slightly. "Now, the preacher, if I'm allowed to include him, would be a contender. Didn't think much of him at first, but... well, those last few weeks before he left, we was spending a lot of time together. Good man, and more to him than there seemed. But still - well, it was like somebody ripped off a little finger when I saw him die, I guess, but we hadn't known each other that much, and neither of us were in a mood to share much over that time."

"Alright," Zoe said. "Go on."

"Kaylee...." Jayne drawled, and Zoe raised an eye. "Not sure if I can explain what I think of her, because it isn't all of a piece. Sometimes I kinduv think of her like a little sister that I never had, grownin' up. And then there are other times..."

"Yes?" Zoe prompted when Jayne hesitated. Without a word, he spun away from the wall and crossed the cockpit, making sure that nobody else was coming up the passage into the cockpit, because he certainly didn't want another soul to hear this.

"Sometimes I wish it was ever possible t'were me she looked at with those moony eyes, instead of... instead of the Doc. And hope that I'd ever be able to treat her well enough to keep her, if she gave me a chance."

Zoe thought about that for a moment. "Do... do you think that that might have had something to do with your decision back on Ariel?"

"What, you mean that I was more interested in removing the competition than getting..." Jayne did a double-take. "Wait a second - you didn't know about what I did on Ariel!!"

"Not for sure, until now," Zoe admitted, chuckling slightly. "I'm not an idiot, and I had my suspicions. Especially when Simon started treating you differently - he figured it out, right? When we got the Lassiter??"

"Yeah, he did," Jayne admitted. "Had a great opportunity to give me some payback, too, and instead took a road so high that I can't even see it from here. But that's enough talkin' about HIM, especially if I'm going to get back to your question. There's one left in the crew that I do feel close to, maybe closest of all, and that may be a surprise because it's you."

"Not so much a shock, I suppose," Zoe admitted. "We may come from different backgrounds, but we've worked side by side on a lot of different jobs, on a more or less equal footing, which I guess you don't feel with Mal because he's the one giving the orders." She sighed. "And not that it hasn't been fun talkin' with you, but I think either you leave me alone here or I'm going elsewhere alone."

"Hey, you were here first," Jayne said. "I can go down into the bay and get the weight bench set up again."

"Cool, leave it up," she said with a faint wave of farewell. "I'll do some training of my own later."

And Jayne smiled slightly as he got up and left.


River walked into the dining room so quietly that Simon, who had been preparing some breakfast, hadn't even heard her come in. There had been quite a bit of good food looted from the bounty hunter ship - all of the fresh produce had gone the day before, but there were still some baked goods and preserves that had been made from fresh ingredients left. "Oooh! Hey, you startled me there, sis."

"It's fine with me, do whatever you want. Move into Kaylee's room, or have her move into yours. You're a big boy, and I'll be okay."

It took a moment for Simon to get his mental gears running at the right speed. "You know, it's very frustrating to have you open a conversation in the middle like that, responding to something that you've seen inside my mind."

River smiled tightly. "Well, it's very frustrating for me to have to wait for you to say what's on your mind when I can already tell. Can we meet in the middle somewhere?"

"Umm... this is literally the first time I've seen you since talking to Kaylee!" Simon insisted. "You could at least give me a chance to open up and share."

River considered this, and then had to admit, "Okay. I was presuming that you wouldn't tell me, and that isn't fair." Though there was a little twinkle in her eyes that suggested to Simon maybe she knew better than him whether he would have broached the subject quickly. "Oooh, okay, this idea is a little bit involved, I realize, but maybe I can go up and take over Kaylee's bunk. I'm pretty much the pilot now, so that'll be okay. Then Kaylee can sweet-talk Mal into saying it's okay for you guys to break down the wall between my old room and yours. Then you'll have a double-sized quarters. Shouldn't affect the hull integrity in any serious way..."

"Umm, yeah, I'll take that in mind, but it does seem like a little much," Simon admitted. "After all, I kinduv like being snug with Kaylee. We don't need all of that much space." He smiled fondly.

"Yeah, that's what you think now, before she clutters up the drawers so much with parts for her latest cortex terminal modifications and so on that there's no room for your clothes," River giggled. "Well, up to you. Just wanted to let you know that I'm okay with the idea." She sighed. "Seriously. I mean, you've been an idiot about Kaylee for so long, I wouldn't want to do anything to get in the way of this."

Simon's mouth quirked as he started to smear blueberry jam on some rusks. "So, you don't think that wanting to move in together so soon is another example of idiocy?"

She considered that, taking a slice of toasted rye and munching on it plain. "Well, it's not your usual brand of idiocy," she pointed out, "and Kaylee seems to be just about as foolishly eager, so I think that it'll probably work out okay." And with that, she headed fore towards the cockpit.


Mal was wandering around in the cargo bay when he heard some motion in the third passenger quarters. By this point, he'd heard something on the ship's grapevine about the notion of Kaylee and Simon moving in together, though neither of the lovebirds had actually asked him about it straight out. (Not that he minded at all - maybe they'd be more likely to keep their canoodling out of public places when they had a room that was 'theirs.') But the third room was an unlikely place for Kaylee to be going for that reason - it was across the hall from Simon's, yes, but not close otherwise. Curious now, he headed over and poked her head in.

"Oh, hi Mal." Mal was caught between the urge to blink and the impulse to stare, and staring won out for the meantime. It was Inara who was inside, and she just kept on surprising him. For one thing, she was apparently in the middle of tidying a few things, or more specifically, making the small cot up again with blazingly white and fresh linen. Also, she was dressed even more casually than yesterday - well, if 'casual' was the best term to use, Mal wasn't sure. She had on a short silky - an underslip or something like that? Vaguely skirty, anyway, and a matching deep blue-green fancy camisole top or something. Her richly dark hair was pinned back in a simple ponytail, and as she moved away from the bed to sit in the room's only chair, Mal could see that her feet were bare. His gaze also strayed automatically to the other end of her gorgeous legs as she sat, but somehow Inara had managed to arrange herself decorously despite the little that there was to her slip, so that all he could see was a teasing peek at some upper thigh. "Um, was there something in particular you wanted other than to ogle me like this? I might have to start charging you for this sort of thing, you know."

Mal flinched, but at least the words were spoken in a teasing tone. "Umm, well, first of all, I was just wondering who was settlin' in here," he mentioned. "Figured that you were happy in the shuttle."

Inara's full lips assumed a puzzled frown. "The shuttle? I... I haven't really - I mean, I've been inside, you know that, but I haven't been sleeping in there or anything. Not that anybody much was in a mood to sleep in the trip to Miranda and back, but..."

"Really? Then you've been in here the whole time?" Mal was stunned that he hadn't realized such a thing on his own ship.

"Pretty much, yes," she admitted. "The - the shuttle didn't feel like home any more, and I wanted to be near to someone else. Simon felt the same, I figure, and it didn't seem to be disrespectful to Derrial or anything..."

"Book? Oh, no, I guess not." They'd cleaned up the room a little after Shephard Book had meticulously moved his few belongings out to remain on Haven - more for the sake of Alliance surprise patrols than anything else. What with the increased interest on River's reader powers at the time, nobody had been talking about taking on paying passengers. They often did end up to be more trouble than they were worth - just look at Simon himself. (Mal realized that he didn't really mean that thought.)

"Okay, so was there anything else?" Inara said pointedly. She hadn't moved to grab a coverup or anything, and Mal was wondering if she was teasing again, acting upset about the notion of him looking at what she was showing, without doing a single thing to stop it.

"Umm... also curious about some of your wardrobe choices, as of lately."

She rolled her expressive eyes behind their thick lashes. "Most of my stuff, and even the clothes that I borrowed from Zoe, are in the laundry devices. Which Kaylee finally got working again."

"There was a problem with the washin' machines??" Mal asked. Yet one more thing that he'd been too distracted of late to notice. Inara didn't reply, just made a slyly mocking face at him. "And... why didn't you go shopping for clothes on Persephone?" Something from that time he and Kaylee had been to the ball tugged at his memory. "Didn't want anybody to know that you had to buy clothes off the rack?"

"No, actually... I was busy, and knew that you wanted to leave soon - and I didn't realize then that we wouldn't be heading straight back home," Inara answered. All of that seemed to add up, so he took half a step back from the door.

"Well, that's all of my questions answered then, and have a good afternoon. We'll be arriving at Boros somethin' like tomorrow evening. Dinner's at the usual time." He needed to make a bit more of an effort to get involved in routine, he decided.

"Why thank you, captain," Inara called back as he left. "Perhaps we could meet for a drink after dinner? After all, there's probably an escapade or two that I need to get caught up on."

He turned back toward the door, though he couldn't see her from that spot. "Only if you tell me all the gossip about your girls and fellow teachers."

A soft laugh was his only reply. It took Mal a second to realize that the laugh *wasn't* Inara's. "What the heck? Where is she hiding? River!"


Kaylee sighed, logged off of her cortex, headed up the ladder from her quarters - and nearly bumped into Mal. "Oh, hey there, I need to tell you..."

Mal smiled warmly. "It's all right. I don't have no issues with you and Simon moving in together - his room, or yours. Though I'm not too wild about River's idea, with the knocking down of walls."

"Knockin' down walls?" Kaylee snorted. "I ain't even heard that one!"

"Oh, well never mind then..."

"And that wasn't at all what I wanted to say," she pointed out. Mal mouthed 'whoops.' "Just got off the cortex with, umm, with a mutual friend over on Hera. She had word from Regina, and Jesse Sanchez."

"Jesse?" Mal repeated. "What could... oh, did he make it??"

"Yeah," Kaylee nodded. "Apparently he wasn't there when... when Alliance police raided the repair center. They'd moved in quick, not worrying too much about catching everybody in one sweep, and he was able to lose the mop-up squad that went to track him down."

"Hmm." Mal was weighing the import of that news in his mind. "Good for him... but maybe not so good for us. Jesse's got a vindictive streak - he's lost his brother, a lot of friends, and the business that was handed down from his grandpappy. Any notion if he knows that I had anything to do with his misfortunes??"

"No, not really," Kaylee admitted. "But it probably won't be long before he finds out about the other raids - and we're the one element in common between everybody who got hit."

"True enough," Mal admitted. "I didn't even realize that the Alliance knew so much about our dealings. Did - did you let our Heranian friend know where we are, or where we're going?"

"No, I don't think so," Kaylee replied. "And Regina is a long way from Boros, especially at this extremity of disjunction."

"Yeah, I know," Mal muttered. "But still - I worry." He sighed, heading over to the stairway landing. "Frankly, I wish that you HAD been wanting to talk to me about yourself and our Doctor."

"Well, I can give you all sorts of juicy details if you like," she teased. There was a short silence. "Umm, that was a joke - you're supposed to act all big-brother or father-like and express your distaste for knowing anything about my sex life."

"Well, I didn't ask to hear anything," Mal pointed out. They started to walk down the stairs. "Let's say that I'm happy for your happiness and leave it at that."

"It's so easy to tell that things are going well?"

"You have a tendency to wear your heart on your face, Kaywinnit Lee," Mal pointed out, then quirked one side of his mouth. "In, umm, in that it's fairly easy to see what's going on in there - especially for those of us have known you a while." He sighed. "And come to think of it, since your own love life is doing so well, maybe I ought as well bite the bullet, open myself up for future mockery, and ask if you can help me arrange one of my own."

"Really?" Kaylee said, an awestruck expression spreading over her face. "Like, as in, with Inara?"

"As in, just for example," Mal admitted. "She... things are better with her and me than they ever felt when she was renting in the shuttle - you knew that she's living in back now, with Simon and River?"

"Yeah, of course, who could miss a thing like that?" Kaylee asked. Mal tried not to react to that question.

"So, we're getting along better, and even maybe flirting in some fashion, but... but I never know how to get beyond that, how to get a serious answer out of her."

"Have you asked her a serious question?" Kaylee asked. Mal puzzled over that to himself. "Anyway, I highly recommend being honest and forthright. Not that I ever really was - I was too afraid to make it clear to Simon how I felt, and it took the fear of very gruesome death for him to actually say it first."

Mal laughed. "Alright. Anything else?"

"Yeah, look for a romantic restaurant or something once we hit Boros."

He shook his head slowly.



Monday, December 17, 2007 6:44 PM


The good thing about the evil hack is that I am getting a chance to see gret new stuff that I somehow missed the first time around. I am realy enjoying this one.

Monday, December 1, 2008 2:21 AM


This is a wonderful opening chapter Chrisk. Rich in description and characterisation.

I loved the River/bounty hunter fight at the start. 'Beating is okay. Maiming is not.' :D Great line!

I could vividly picture River taking down that bounty hunter with a roundhouse kick..

There were a lot of good interactions with the characters. I enjoyed Jayne and Zoe's talk in the cockpit (especially the part about revealing the betrayal on Ariel), Inara and Mal's discussions, and Kaylee/Simon's.

I also liked the fact that Inara's wardrobe was described a couple times, whenever Mal encountered her. The reader is completely in Mal's head.

I liked the notion of Inara having to dress down, due to a lack of wardrobe after the BDM, and borrowing clothes from Zoe. I can imagine that happening for real in an episode, next movie or comic.

The fact that River could figure out how to pilot the bounty hunter ship so fast, and Mal's surprise was a nice touch.. Funny and completely in character!

Zoe's rail gun comment was funny too.

I've always wondered where and how Kaylee and Simon would bunk together. The 'knocking down of walls' makes sense.

Yeah.. This was really solid storytelling.. The chapter flowed well, holding my attention, and it was written in a vivid, real time fashion.

Looking forward to the next chapter. Will read asap.



You must log in to post comments.



Falling through the Deep Slot - Part Five
Kaylee and Zoe throw a wake for Wash, and River lands them on Hera - a little too hard and in an unexpected setting.

Falling through the Deep Slot - Part Four
The crew rally to save Kaylee when she is knocked out on her spacewalk, but don't get to her before she has an out-of-verse experience.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 10
Kaylee and Simon figure out what their next step is, and Mal gets his bullet wound patched up.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 9
Mal, Simon, and Kaylee have their showdown with Allena of the Santiago, and try to get out of the Conference building with their loot.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 8
Mal, Kaylee, and Simon head off on their daring theft, counting on the fact that the Santiago crew is coming up quick behind them.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 7
Kaylee starts to work her way through the security system protecting the prototype engine, but Wash and Zoe find out that another crew is getting ready to move in on the prize!

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 6
As the scam progresses, Simon struggles to control his attraction to Kaylee, and Inara starts to come up with a plan of her own.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 5
The conference's first night proceeds, and a few dangerous lines are crossed.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 4
The conference starts, and Mal isn't as comfortable going undercover with Inara as he expected.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 3
Mal, Inara, Kaylee, and Simon prepare for their undercover mission at a scientific conference, while Book and Jayne find a new calling as hostager/babysitters.