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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
So, if one of the characters were to quote Spike, who would it be? My pick is Jayne.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3676 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Blue Sun Job, Part 27: Caught
And with this 6500 word section this tale passes the 100,000 word mark, which is the length of a standard 400 page novel. Tzao gao.
Sequel to the Truthsome series (link is to part 1)Blue Sun Job, Part 1: Plans and SchemesBlue Sun Job, Part 2: Into the Lion’s DenBlue Sun Job, Part 3: Going SmoothBlue Sun Job, Part 4: Return to the CoreBlue Sun Job, Part 5: Life That WasBlue Sun Job, Part 6: More Life That WasBlue Sun Job, Part 7: ...and Robberies That WereBlue Sun Job, Part 8: Zoe’s TaleBlue Sun Job, Part 9: More of Zoe’s TaleBlue Sun Job, Part 10: Going InBlue Sun Job, Part 11: Home Again...Blue Sun Job, Part 12: WaitingBlue Sun Job, Part 13: Bushwhacked RevisitedBlue Sun Job, Part 14: Two By TwoBlue Sun Job, Part 15: Give the Devil His DueBlue Sun Job, Part 16: The EdgeBlue Sun Job, Part 17: Going Through the MotionsBlue Sun Job, Part 18: Never LeaveBlue Sun Job, Part 19: The BottomBlue Sun Job, Part 20: CountdownBlue Sun Job, Part 21: PS1467Blue Sun Job, Part 22: X1823Blue Sun Job, Part 23: FalloutBlue Sun Job, Part 24: The Wrong Side of NormalBlue Sun Job, Part 25: In TroubleBlue Sun Job, Part 26: Interactions
“Zoe?” Wash called her name softly as he climbed down the ladder into their bunk.
“Right here,” she answered. She was sitting on the bed, still dressed. “Where you been, husband?” The pleasant softness of her voice made a chilling contrast to the icy tone she managed to weave into it.
Wash studied her closely, wondering how all of a sudden a woman whose body he had explored in exacting detail could so suddenly appear as a stranger to him. He could still see his Zoe, his splendid, deadly, passionate Zoe, but he now saw more, different; saw someone he wasn’t sure he knew. On top of the startling--shocking, stunning, astounding--revelation that Zoe and Mal had once been… uh, more intensely acquainted than Wash had dreamed, he’d just gotten an earful of history, from Mal’s voice, saying things about Zoe Wash had never dreamed possible. His tough, unshakable wife someone’s victim? Impossible.
He’d only listened to that part of the recording--five times over, to be sure. The rest he hadn’t dared hear out just yet, terrified of what other secrets might come out to shatter him and his fantasy image of this woman who held his heart in her grip so completely it positively ached. Wash desperately wanted to think the best, to put his arms around Zoe and soak up all her hurts, past, present, and future, but he had his own streak of stubborn and his own hurts, too. And more than a few of those were wrapped in the other passage on that recording--“Did you sleep with her?” “Yes.” Sonuvabitch. Zoe and Mal, Mal and Zoe… even the gorram Feds saw them as the natural pairing, the partners in crime. The partners in life? How gorram far did that partnership go? Where, if anywhere, did the only-the-husband fit in? Did Zoe regret tying herself to him? Did he…?
“Might ask the same, muffincakes,” Wash said sweetly, crossing over to his side of the bed. “Been looking for you. Woke up and you were gone. Where were you?” He didn’t mean to sound smarmily accusing. It slipped out.
He couldn’t tell what was going on behind her eyes as she said, “I had to get out of here for a bit.”
“Because of me?”
“No,” she snapped. “Because it was just too enclosing.” She softened her tone with obvious effort, trying to be conciliatory to him, Wash realized. Don’t do that, lambykin. Don’t try to smooth everything over. I’m a big boy. Just tell me. Lower, she said, “This being locked up these past few days brought back some bad memories. I needed some open space around me.”
“Yeah,” Wash said slowly. “Old memories like that can be hard to cope with. Say, how’s Mal coping with them?”
Zoe’s eyes narrowed as she stared at him. “Not too well. We had some talk about it.”
“Right,” Wash said, not stopping a hint of sarcasm from creeping into his voice. This wasn’t where he wanted this chat to be going at this moment but somehow he couldn’t stop himself. “Why couldn’t you talk to me about it?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she said.
“Wouldn’t I?” Wash sighed heavily, rolling over to her on the bed. She sat rigidly unmoving, not looking at him, freezing him out. “Here’s the damn problem, Zoe. Right here. You figure I’m fine for the rolling around in the sheets and the slap and tickle part of being married, but not for the hard things.”
Her lips twitched and Wash suddenly got his unintentional joke. “Knock it off,” he said. “I’m serious. You say you’ve got a bout of the uncomfortables on account of getting locked up again by the Alliance. Tell me about it. Share that with me, Zoe. I will understand.” He raised his hand to stop her protest. “Zoe, I spent longer as an involuntary guest of the Alliance than you did. I would get how you feel.”
She scoffed and shook her head. “You had practically a whole continent to roam around on. They’d shoot at us if we looked out the wrong window.”
Reaching out, Wash took her hand and pulled it over into his lap. He let out a long breath. “Zoe, my wife, my beloved… It all comes down to having your freedom taken away from you. After that it’s just a matter of the details. Yes, I know you and Mal have been through some horrible things and horrible times, but share those things with me--let me understand, make me understand--stop running off to Mal when things are rough.”
“I don’t want to,” she said sharply. Wash jerked back in surprise.
Zoe turned to him, her expression coldly controlled. “You’re shiny, happy, fun, and laughter. You don’t notice things like that I cut apples up ‘cause I’m afraid I might get my head blown off. You don’t see the… the… the murder in me sometimes. You see… a woman. An honest to goodness female type woman. Your wife. I don’t want to taint what you see with the… the…”
“What does Mal see?” Wash whispered, meeting her eyes, not backing down.
Zoe broke the connection, looking away. “You’d have to ask him.”
“Like he’d tell me,” Wash said with a bitter laugh, fingering the disk in his pocket. Mal had told him, some at least. What else was there to know? “Does anyone, or anything, ever come between this thing you two have between you? Even a husband?” He paused, then took the plunge. “Why’d you marry me, Zoe?”
Any other woman would have at least been blinking back tears. His Zoe didn’t even twitch. “Because you made me laugh. You made me love. You made me… forget.”
Very slowly, Wash said, “I don’t want you to forget. Not anything. All that was has made you what you are. And I want to love--I do love--the whole package.” Wash sighed. “You are the most confounding woman I have ever met,” Wash told her, trying to get his wife to meet his eyes. She wouldn’t. “Also the most beautiful, dangerous, and passionate. Listen… There’s more to being married than the humping. Being married to someone isn’t about the fun and games and the laughing and the… the screwing. It’s about being true to another person, loyal to them no matter what, even if you’re so furious at them you could just choke. I didn’t marry half of you. I married all of you.”
Strangely, she laughed. “I’m not so sure about that.”
Darkness. Smothering, suffocating darkness. Silence of the grave. No feeling. Utterly alone. Buried alive...
Mal woke with a start. Dark. Didn’t know where he was. Then a soft voice in the dark steadied him.
Zoe? Mal floated up out of a drowsy haze into a perplexing darkness. This wasn’t a bleak oppressive dark filled with the smells of fear and steel and imprisonment. Rich scents filled this dark--spices and perfumes. Odd...
He turned his head. The darkness wasn’t complete. He could see her shape, the long curls draped over her face. Maybe he was still dreaming. It seemed like a dream, this place. Unreal.
A hand closed on his arm.
“Oh, geez!” He jerked away.
“Sorry.” Not Zoe. Inara’s voice. Soft and lilting. Soothing.
Mal collapsed back. Inara lit more candles, chasing the dark away with their golden glow. He knew it leaned toward the crazy side of normal to do even as he did it, but he cautiously checked to be sure he wasn’t physically restrained in any way. Good. Okay. Just a dream. Yup, bondage games weren’t never something he wanted to play. Had played way too many and never for fun.
“Better?” she asked quietly, returning to sit on the edge of the bed. Her bed. Well... this was new.
“Uh huh,” Mal managed, closing his eyes to try to reorient himself in the ‘verse. Right. Inara. The happy pills. Inara and the petting. Happy pills still trying to suck him back down into the fog. They hadn’t chased the dreams away entirely, just blurred and cushioned them. Well enough, he guessed.
“Go back to sleep,” Inara murmured, starting with the stroking of his arm again. Techniques. That’s all it was. Using her Companion techniques on him. Inara just plying her trade to make sure the ship’s captain didn’t go completely off the edge. Not real. Didn’t mean a damn thing.
Mal forced his eyes open. She was still dressed in gown and robe; didn’t appear to have been sleeping. “I should leave,” Mal muttered but somehow couldn’t translate the thought into motion.
“Sssshhh… Just stay here and relax.” Inara’s voice was seductively insistent.
“Not right,” he said, not sounding as forceful as he’d have liked. “Hadn’t ought to keep you from your rest.”
“It’s fine,” she said, shifting back to that hand-rubbing massage. It was nice. “This isn’t the first time I’ve sat with you all night like this.”
Well, that cut through the fog. Squinting, Mal stared at her. “Huh? Think I’d remember a thing like that.”
Softly, Inara said, “Actually, I’m not sure you would. It was after you got shot.”
Mal groaned. “Which damn time?”
“You do seem to make a bad habit of it,” Inara said with a chuckle. He liked the sound. Musical. She rested her hand lightly over his abdomen. Her touch didn’t touch him. Maybe he’d gotten her out of his system. Or maybe it was the pills. “Here. The first few days after it happened someone was with you all the time.” She shrugged and pulled her hand back. It all had a calculating air to it, her actions. What did she expect, that he’d just roll over and take her? Is that what she wanted?
“I usually stayed with you in the night,” Inara continued in a husky whisper. “You didn’t wake up too often. And when you did you were usually too out of it to know or care what was going on around you.” In a hypnotic murmur she recounted her tale. He suspected she didn’t pay much mind to which words she told him; was just trying to lull him back to sleep. Mal listened anyhow, weighing what she said and how she said it.
Frowning as he concentrated, Mal shook his head. Damned if it didn’t sound a bit like the tale Zoe’d told him just a few days ago about their first robbery--minus the getting chased by Feds. Zoe had tended him during the long nights then. Okay, Inara talked fancier--taught her at whore school how to knock a man’s feet out from under him just with her voice--but he could hear pieces of worry and concern over him slipping in. Zoe’d acted more annoyed with him than anything else for getting in such a fix. But then Zoe didn’t need to sound like she was fretting over him for Mal to know she was fretting. She was a pro at it. Speaking of pros… Inara. Inara and Zoe… Hmmm… new thought… Alike? It was a funny thought in a lot of ways. Hilarious, actually. The primped, preening courtesan and the no-nonsense soldier alike? Zoe had been softer once upon a time, laughing and joyful. And Inara had grown tougher, showing more gumption and spunk in her belly than he’d thought one such as her could ever have. Like Inara is, Zoe was?
“You’re still leaving, aren’t you?” Mal asked very quietly.
After a pause, Inara whispered. “I have to. But not just yet.”
Hmmm… Inara wouldn’t stay and Zoe would never leave.
Zoe… the night came back to him, what had happened. Mal squeezed his eyes closed and rolled over away from Inara. In the golden red delusion that was Inara’s shuttle, memories of a long ago time and world, filled his mind. A glow of red and gold colored the landscape, and a sparkling girl with long black curls framing her face, smiled at him. He could hear her laughter echo across time, merging with his own. On the sound Mal floated away into the numbing haze again.
Zoe hung her head down, not watching as Wash's feet disappeared upwards. Though it wasn't possible to slam the door of their bunk, somehow he managed to make it bang into place with more than its usual force. Damn. Damn. Damn! What was wrong with them that each and every time they started to have a civilized conversation they ended up shouting at each other? Was it her? Was she the word he'd called her back on Harken's cruiser? Or was it Wash? Was he so 他妈的 insecure in her love that he couldn't accept that she had another man in her life and that simply wasn't going to change...
Uh... okay. Argh! Why the 他妈的 would a husband be upset that his wife was tied so closely to another man? 狗屎.
She hadn't even gotten to tell him about their almost-baby. Don't lie to yourself, Zoe. You could have found a way, forced it out. But then you'd think about her, the other lost one and then you might have cried and that wouldn't do... and...
Zoe sprang up from the bed, needing movement, action, to pull herself out of the black hole of feelings dragging her down. She needed to shoot someone or hit someone. What she wanted--needed--was to seek out Mal, whether a word passed between them or not, he'd understand. How could she make Wash--her husband, the man she'd chosen to wed--understand that she needed Mal and would never leave. Don't ask me to choose. Not that kind of choice.
Their cabin was still in disarray from the Alliance search of the ship. Lacking any other outlet, Zoe began picking things up and putting them back into their place. She arranged three of the dinosaurs in a diorama with two on either side trying to pull the middle one apart. No, that wasn’t fair. Wash might ask her to choose a separate life with him away from Mal and Serenity but Mal would never ask. He hadn’t even asked if she’d come with him on Serenity in the first place. He just showed her the ship and talked about how they’d live on it, a little anxious and hopeful that she’d buy into his dream. Of course she did. It was her dream too. Her place would be as it had been for so long, at his side. Zoe smiled at the recollection. Maybe he hadn’t dared ask in case she said ‘no’. Or maybe he didn’t think to ask; just knew the answer without saying the words. He was right.
Funny to hear Wash echo words Mal had spoken to her a lifetime before on the nature of marriage. It’s about being true to another person, loyal to them no matter what… Wasn’t life, the life she and Mal had shared before she married Wash, about that too? About being loyal no matter what? It was the rule Mal lived by, no matter what else he may do. She and Mal had never discussed being together, staying together. The loyalty was absolute and unbreakable and no one--not even a husband--could end it.
Zoe gave the two outer dinosaurs a fond stroke. Wash was fun and bright and shiny. Mal was dark and moody and troubled. She loved Wash’s laugh. It tickled her soul and brought a light into it. Yet… oh, here was the strange thought, she remembered Mal’s laugh too. Before. Though he had often tried her patience, Mal had been fun and cheerful and ever-optimistic. Had been. Before. Glancing up at the ladder, Zoe frowned at the new thought--why exactly had she picked Wash? Who had he reminded her of?
Wash rubbed his fingers through his hair as he stumbled down the steps into the dining area. A noise from the kitchen almost made him trip on the last step.
“Hey, preacher,” Wash called softly. “You’re up late.”
“Or early,” Book answered with a chuckle. “It’s nearly morning. Thought I’d get a start on breakfast, and maybe inventory our supplies, see what we have left to work with.”
“Yeah,” Wash said. “Those Federal boys have sticky fingers. More interested in thieving than searching for evidence.”
Book laughed richly as he sorted through the food stores. “Judge not lest ye be judged.”
Wash stared at him a blank moment. “Oh. I get you. ‘Cause we’re crooks, we shouldn’t be too mad at the Feds for swiping things from us. Fair’s fair.”
“That would be one interpretation,” Book allowed.
“There any others?” Wash asked, pulling out a chair and sitting down facing the preacher.
“Perhaps that if you don’t think well of those that steal from you, it might be that you shouldn’t be stealing from others,” Book suggested gently.
“Huh. Well, there’s crazy notions going around everywhere tonight, isn’t there?” Wash said.
“Hmmm…” Book poured two cups of coffee and carried them over to the table, seating himself near Wash. “Yes, I’ve sensed there are some, one might say, issues among some of the crew.” He looked pointedly at Wash. “Among you three, in particular.”
Wash laughed, with just a touch of hysteria creeping in. “And which three might that be, preacher?”
Smiling, Book said, “I’m not blind, son. I could see you and your wife and the captain had a case of the vexations going on between you. Why don’t you talk to me about it. I might be able to help. At least give you a sounding board.”
“Oh, thanks, preacher, but you know I’m not much with the religion,” Wash said, his eyes darting away from Book to fix on his cup. How the heck much of what was going on did everyone on the ship know?
Casually, Book stood, crossing to the kitchen. From beneath the counter, he pulled out the near-empty bottle of Kaylee’s ‘shine. “Found this on a catwalk in the cargo bay,” Book commented, returning to the table. He poured a generous dollop in Wash’s coffee, and a trace in his own. “Don’t think of me as a Shepherd. Think of me as your friendly, neighborhood bartender, who’ll listen to your tale, maybe throw in some advice you won’t take, but will absolutely keep your confidences. How’s than sound?”
Wash didn’t look up at the preacher as he gulped down a swallow of the Irish. It burned on the way down, hitting his stomach with a thud. “They’re sleeping together,” he muttered, surprised he could get the words out.
The preacher’s shock was audible. “The captain and your wife?” The silence stretched long and thick. Wash gulped down the rest of the cupful. Book refilled it from the bottle before asking, “What makes you think that?”
“They told me.”
It took Book a long time to answer again and then Wash couldn’t help but notice how carefully he spoke--didn’t believe him. Hell, he had a hard time believing it himself. “Wash… did they directly tell you they were having, uh, intimate relations?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Is it at all possible you might have misunderstood? Or jumped to a wrong conclusion?” Book asked him.
Wash shook his head. He had Zoe shouting at him during one of their battles that she had shared a bed with Mal on that moon but that it ‘didn’t mean anything’, whatever that meant. But then there was the captain’s own words telling Commander Harken that, yes, he had slept with her down there. Those words Harken had promptly thrown back at Wash, claiming he had evidence of what was going on between Mal and Zoe. Wash scratched his head. He hadn’t actually seen any of the evidence, had he? He knew Mal and Zoe had been equipped to scan that room for sensors and bugs. No one could match Mal for sheer paranoia. Yet he had got caught by Harken on other things, so hard to say how good he’d covered his tracks on this...
Book nodded at him thoughtfully, saying, “While the captain certainly is a bit of a reprobate--by both definitions of the word--in many regards, he does still adhere to a rather exacting set of principles in other ways. And primary of those principles has to do with loyalty, betrayal, and trust. I suspect--no, I’m certain--he’s wound up on the wrong side of both of those things a time or two before. I find it extremely hard to believe he’d betray you, or violate your marriage vows to Zoe. I don’t believe he’d do that to her. Or that Zoe would do so to you.”
Wash sighed. “And yet…” He pulled out the small disk and spun it on the table like a top. It flashed light spears across the Shepherd’s face. “Mal’s on there telling that gorram Fed that he slept with Zoe in that hotel while they were on the job. He was hooked up to a 他妈的 lie detector when he said it, so what am I supposed to believe?”
The Shepherd’s lips twitched.
“What’s so funny?” Wash demanded.
Book chuckled and looked away. “I’m sorry. Just the thought of Captain Reynolds hooked up to a lie detector strikes me as extremely amusing. I would have liked to ask a question or two myself.” He coughed discretely and put on a somber expression. “Son, I truly think you may be jumping the gun here, so to speak. The captain was, no doubt, playing a very specific game with Commander Harken in which exact meanings could make lies into truth. Remember he was trying to save lives--yours among them. There are many euphemisms for the sexual act of which ‘sleeping’ is one of them. Sometimes, however, a cigar really is only a cigar.”
With a smile, Book said judiciously, “They probably just slept.”
“Well… maybe… I sure would like to think that,” Wash said. He spun the disk on the table again. “He said he loved her. Or, rather, he said he didn’t and the lie detector nailed him on it.”
Book refilled Wash’s cup with the last from the bottle before answering. “Do you doubt that Mal and Zoe love each other?”
Wash shook himself all over as he downed the last of the ‘shine. “Now, preacher, you’re turning around and getting smutty just when you’d about talked me out of it.”
“Not at all. There’s nothing smutty about loving another person. And the deepest truest sorts of love have nothing to do with the physical act. Mal and Zoe have been together for a long time…”
“So I keep hearing,” Wash inserted dryly.
“…and they’ve been through tremendous hardships and traumas together. They have lost the sort of history and connections that anchor most people in the ‘verse--home, family, friends--leaving only each other. They stay together for a reason and though I would be surprised if they have ever expressed it even to each other, that reason would be a deep and abiding love, each for the other,” Book said. “At the risk of upsetting you further, they seem to have a form of marriage between them, so deep are the ties that bind them. But I sincerely doubt they’ve ever expressed that bond at the level of physical intimacy.”
Wash pondered as he spun the disk on the table. What Mal had told about rescuing Zoe after her father’s ship was captured certainly fit into what the preacher said. It ain’t love or screwing… But, damnit, Zoe herself had said they had…
“Zoe did tell me that they used to know each other when they were kids, back on Mal’s world, Shadow,” Wash said slowly. “And when I say ‘know’ there’s no word games to it--it was your Biblical ‘knowing’.”
“Oh, my,” Book said. He caught the disk out of Wash’s fingers and laid it flat on the table.
Wash laughed bitterly. “So I guess it’s like I said to Harken when he was badgering me with this, got us a three-way marriage going on here.”
“Well, there are worlds where that’s considered accepta…” Book began.
“Oh, fergawdsake, preacher! Please tell me Shadow ain’t one of those worlds,” Wash burst out.
Book laughed. “No, son. The Shadow settlers were very… ‘traditional’, might be the best word.”
“Yeah. What other words were you thinking?” Wash asked skeptically.
With one of his twinkles, Book said, “The words ‘straitlaced’ and ‘puritanical’, also came to mind.”
“Mal? Psychotic rebel outlaw criminal mastermind Mal?” Wash corrected, “Petty criminal mastermind Mal who’ll kill a dozen folks without blinking to save a whorehouse? That Mal?”
“That Mal,” Book said. “And I’m fair certain he soaked up a lot of learning on that world. Hard for someone to leave all the teachings of their youth behind, no matter how hard they try.”
Wash pointed a finger at Book. “You’re crazy too, preacher.”
“I am here, aren’t I?” Book said with a chuckle. “Get on back to your wife, now, son. Put aside all your doubts and just do what your heart tells you is right.”
Wash nodded. He glanced at the disk, with all the many more secrets it might reveal, then nudged it toward the preacher with one finger. “Thanks, Shepherd,” he said. His head spun a bit as he stood. “You’re a good bartender.”
Climbing down into their bunk as quietly as he could, Wash saw Zoe finally slept. He glanced around. She’d tidied up a bit. He sat on the edge of the bed and regarded the scene with the dinosaurs she’d created. Hmmm… Zoe playing with his dinosaurs. That was new. Would there be shadow puppets next? Or goslings? He gazed over at her, letting his love for her overcome the apprehension and doubt. The Shepherd’s words, and the alcohol, helped. Then he studied the scene she’d created. One dino in the middle with two attacking from either side. In front she’d placed two small dinos and tipped them on their sides. It didn’t look random. Now what in hell could that mean?
“Mmmm…” Mal moaned. Inara’s shuttle was brighter this time. “Is it morning?” he asked, despite years in space still unthinkingly equating ‘brighter’ with ‘daytime’.
“And then some,” Inara said, presenting him with one of those ridiculously dainty teacups. About one swallow and not enough caffeine to make it worth the effort.
Sitting up, he rubbed his face. “Breakfast time?” He felt pretty good all things considered. Ready to get on with the day--which, with all the mess with Zoe and Wash looked to be a doozy even without any other problems to throw in the mix. Hopefully she’d gotten that all squared away and everything could get back to normal. Normal-ish would do.
“It’s a little past breakfast,” Inara said and Mal wondered at her amused expression. “A little past lunch, actually.
Zoe looked up from the table as Inara swept down into the dining room. Interesting, Zoe thought, how she ‘swept’ into a room, rather than just tromping on in like normal folk. Anyhow, she swept in, all perfume and coifed and silk gown swishing about, trailed a second later by the captain.
In contrast, Mal looked all bleary-eyed and rumpled, still half-asleep. A little advice-taking going on?, Zoe wondered. Which advice? And had it really been such a bright idea after all?
“Told ya!” Jayne exclaimed, jabbing a finger at the preacher. “Lookin’ a little hung over there, cap,” he said with a leering smirk. Mal gave him a dirty look.
Kaylee positively beamed at Mal and Inara. No doubting where she stood on this new development. River stared with a lost-in-the-woods expression, but then, Zoe thought, whoever knew what path that girl was on. Simon also looked curiously contemplative, apparently not jumping straight to Jayne’s conclusion. The preacher somehow managed to combine surprised and pleased, shocked and disapproving, with wryly amused all into a hint of a smile. Wash… well, Zoe didn’t look over at Wash, but he sure didn’t have any funny comments to share with the gathering. She’d woken up wrapped in his arms, which was good if a touch claustrophobic. Now they stood at the formally polite truce stage, only necessary words spoken with exaggerated courtesy.
While Inara began fussing with some froufy beverage, Mal went straight for the coffee, clutching the cup like it was his dearest friend.
“How ‘bout them techniques?” Jayne whispered, excessively loud, to Mal as he sat down at the table. “What’d I tell you, huh?” Inara smacked Jayne across the back of the head on her way past to her seat. “Ow! Whatcha hit me for, ‘Nara?”
“Because I don’t have a gun,” Inara said.
Mal scowled but said nothing. Zoe met his eyes and she saw him give the barest flick of a glance at Wash with a question mark in his look. Zoe gave him a slight ‘no’. She hadn’t told Wash, and hadn’t resolved things. Mal’s scowl deepened. She countered with a question of her own about Inara, which got a ‘hell no, it was just you making me swear to take those gorram drugs’ in return. Expressed with the slightest of ‘no’ flicks toward Inara, a different one at Simon, and a more than a little accusatory glare for Zoe.
If anyone else noticed the silent exchange, Zoe couldn’t tell it. She settled back in her seat, satisfied that all the necessary communicating had been done between her and Mal. Now it was just to the inevitable thing she was being so terribly avoidy about with Wash. She wished she could just avoid it forever… Mal must have caught her expression for it got a threatening/ordering look from him sent her way.
All the while, Kaylee chattered about how good it was they were all back and on Serenity. She fixed the captain and Inara plates of food while she did, with little nudging comments as she tried to get their story from the captain and Inara. From anyone else it would have come off as nervous prattling, Zoe considered, but from Kaylee it was pure, unencumbered sunshine. It was too bad, in a way, Zoe thought, that Mal regarded Kaylee as a ‘little sister’. Even though she was a little young, she’d have made a nice pairing for him just as Wash had brought a light to her. Impulsively, she squeezed her husband’s hand. He gave her a startled glance, but squeezed it back.
Inara, though… Zoe decided she’d keep her own council on that matter in the future, whether she thought he was making a big damned mistake or not. Well, maybe not. Hell, he wouldn’t be bored, that was for damned sure. But he also wouldn’t be content and at peace. But, then, he hadn’t been for so long, she could scarcely recall the last time. It was on Shadow, that she knew. Long ago…
On Shadow, Years Earlier...
“Oh…” Mal sighed happily. “That just keeps gettin’ better and better.” He rolled away from Zoe. She grinned and pulled a strand of hay out of his hair.
“Don’t be getting too used to it, farm boy,” she said in teasing voice. “We’re lifting tonight. Won’t be back this way for a good six months. If ever.”
He frowned. “I don’t know about this space-faring life you got, darlin’. Never sticking around one place long enough to…”
“Sprout roots?” she finished for him. “Roots tie you down…”
“I’d like to tie you down.” He gave her a saucy grin, grabbing hold of her arms. She promptly wrestled him into submission. Who really won the match, Zoe couldn’t be sure. Mal was bigger and stronger, but she knew some rougher, no-holds-barred moves, and didn’t have his quaint notions about playing fair. Zoe liked that he didn’t mind losing to her. Lots of fellows couldn’t take that.
“I’m talkin’ serious here,” she said as he blew her hair out of his face. “There’s freedom out there in--what’d you call it?--the ‘Black’. You get yourself on out where you can’t be touched or confined or held down. No fences. Free.” She met his eyes, measuringly. “You might like it.”
Solemnly, Mal told her, “We got no fences here. Free range. And no one messes with us but what we can’t handle ‘em. But I will keep your words in mind.” He looked thoughtfully at her for a long time. “You know I can’t go leavin’ here. Got the ranch and the folks on it, and that ain’t gonna change.”
“You won’t go, and I can’t stay,” Zoe whispered. “Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.” She rolled away off of him, stretching out in the hay. Through the big door of the loft she could see the dreamy landscape of Shadow with its golden-red glow of the gas giant casting shadows even in the full of night.
“It ain’t gonna end,” Mal said seriously. “Couldn’t ‘xactly tell you the whys and wherefores of it, but I got the notion the good Lord’s got a plan where we’re concerned and He’s aiming for us to have a lot of knowing of each other in the years to come.”
Zoe scoffed. “You and that religiosity of yours. It’s… kinda nice, actually. But, gotta tell you, seems like you’re doin’ a fair bit of sinning right here with me, by your rules. How’s that notion faring with you?”
Mal contemplated for a long time, then grinned and rolled back over to her. “Guess that’s so. And I ‘spect there’ll be a reckoning ‘bout it somewhen. But for now, danged if I don’t feel so shiny and happy and… free with you, that I guess I’m just’a willin’ to risk that hellfire and brimstone a mite bit longer.”
With a laugh, Zoe wrapped her arms around him. “Why, you know just the words to make a girl feel all melty,” she said teasingly. Their embrace tightened. Then a sound caught their attention. They looked up.
“Momma,” Mal said.
“Daddy,” Zoe echoed.
“Listen,” Mal said, cutting into the conversation. “I ain’t gonna say this but once and then you’re all gonna good and gorram well drop it, 懂吗?” He glared around at them all fiercely, particularly focusing on Jayne and Kaylee. “Ain’t nothing going on between me and Inara. We’re just… friends.” He looked down, pointedly focusing back on his food. It was a weird damn conglomeration, but reasonably edible--cooking showed the preacher’s hand in it. Tastier than most any of the others managed. He ignored the loaded silence in the dining room, shoveling in the rest of the meal.
Then Jayne snorted. Loudly. What 他妈的 gems of wisdom was the big ape gonna come up with now? And would Mal finally be required to space him? Inara was a sore spot and he wouldn’t count out the possibility, even if Jayne had done ‘em good with the whole rescuing thing. Without raising his head, Mal glanced up.
“Hmph! You ain’t friends,” Jayne said, snorting again. “You two been sniffing ‘round each other like a pair a dogs in heat long as I known you. You fight and insult each other and then you make googly eyes when you think no one’s lookin’, ‘specially the other one. You ain’t friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll hump, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends.”
Shepherd Book spoke before Mal could announce Jayne’s impending funeral. “Now, Jayne. I think you’re speaking out of turn, here,” Book began.
“Weren’t no one else talkin’. Figure it was my turn right enough,” Jayne said.
“That’s not what I meant,” Book said calmly, laying a hand discretely on Mal’s arm. Mal didn’t jump but he did glance down. Yes, he was clenching his tableknife awfully tightly. Forcibly, Mal eased up his grip. The preacher never took his attention away from Jayne, but gave Mal’s arm a slight pat and withdrew his hand.
“What I mean, Jayne,” Book went on, “is that not every man and woman who fights with each other is in love.”
“Cigars are just for smoking,” Wash inserted. Everyone turned to give him a blank stare, then turned back to Book.
Book continued, “People with strong personalities may often clash, yet logically for love to…”
Jayne cut him off with another snort. “What does a preacher know about it. Huh? Ask them two about logic--” he pointed to Zoe and Wash “--and love, ‘cause they ain’t got any. Logic, that is,” He added. “They got the hot monkey love goin’ on. I know, my bunk’s next door. Which is what the cap and ‘Nara would have if they wasn’t both so freakin’ uptight about it.” He stared around the table. “Love isn't brains, it's blood... blood screaming inside you to work its will.”
Jayne the psychoanalytical philosopher, Mal thought idly, deciding which airlock to let him ponder his next insights in while the air whistled away around him. Slowly, Mal set down his chopsticks and very, very calmly, exceptionally calmly, stood. It was really so very quiet in the dining room.
“Mal,” Inara said, warningly. Zoe looked ready, as ever, to back him. Kaylee was flustered, wanting to defuse the moment but apparently not finding words.
But it was River who stopped Mal in his tracks by saying in a sing-song voice, “Two by two.” His attention snapped over to her. That phrase meant a whole helluva lot more to him than it used to. “All the animals came on the boat two by two,” she continued. Mal relaxed. She was just talking about the gorram ark.
Then River sudden looked up at the ceiling, staring. Mal tensed again. “They’re here,” she announced.
A loud clank sounded on the hull, reverberating through the ship. Mal clutched the edge of the table as Serenity trembled.
“What the hell…?”
“That’s a grapple just hit us,” Mal said, glancing over at the preacher. He nodded his confirmation.
Mal lit out on a dead run for the bridge, a step behind Wash and one ahead of Zoe. Everyone else followed on their heels.
“Reavers?!” Jayne looked very much not bad-ass as his eyes darted around the ship. “And we ain’t hardly got no guns onboard.”
“Can’t be Reavers,” Zoe said. “Not here.”
“How’d they come up on us without the proximity alarm…?” Kaylee started.
“Came up in our wake,” Wash called.
“Like Early,” Kaylee said and Mal heard the stark fear in her voice.
“It ain’t like that,” Mal said, though he wasn’t sure what it was.
The comm crackled as a looming shape settled over Serenity’s bridge, enveloping the ship. “…Firefly transport. Stand down and prepare to be boarded.” Then the message repeated. “This is the Federal Marshals ordering you to release your helm, Firefly transport. Stand down and prepare to be boarded.”
Mal covered the camera with his hand as he slapped the comm. “Officers. Good day. What seems to be the trouble?”
The comm crackled again in return. “We’re investigating the robbery of the Blue Sun treasury.”
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