BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

ANDRYSMOR

Episode 4: First Kiss
Saturday, July 19, 2008

A date with River brings more trouble than Badger asked for.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1542    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

Episode 4: First Kiss

Prologue

"Oh, God." Simon drew a deep, labored breath. "I can't take any more of this." He covered his ears and started to walk off, but he couldn't leave me alone. He came back into Inara's shuttle and sat down on the stool.

"Remember, River," Inara said, running a brush through my hair, "you don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"I know."

"And if he tries to do anything you don't want to do, you can always say no."

"What do you mean if he tries something?" Simon said, sitting up and leaning forward.

Inara glared at him. Simon put up his hands, sat back down with a sigh.

I cocked my head at the mirrored image of me. Pretty. Red lips. Bouncy hair. A normal girl. For a second, I forgot it wasn't me. Maybe never could be.

Inara laid a soft red sash over my shoulders. "River Tam, I think you put me to shame."

I smiled and ran my hand over the sash, as it ran from my neck down over the slight curves of my chest and the inward swoop of my waist.

Curves that showed in the orange silk sari Inara had dressed me in. Other men had liked this dress, I could hear them murmur as I ran my fingers over the fabric, strange sounds.

Simon came over, yanked it off me, snapped me out of my little trance. "Does she have to look so..."

"Pretty?" Inara said.

"Not pretty," he said. He turned to me, gave me that puppy-eyed look. "River, you know you're pretty, right? I just mean... Does she have to look so..."

"Whorish?" Mal said, stepping into Inara's shuttle.

Simon frowned, admitted, "Yeah, yeah, that's what I mean."

"Everyone out of here," Inara said, snatching the sash back from Simon and putting it back over my shoulder. "It's bad enough you agreed to this without her consent, Mal."

"We asked her opinion," Mal said.

"After the fact," Inara said. "But since she agreed, the least we can do is make sure she enjoys herself." She smiled at me. "It's not every day a woman has her first date."

Simon gulped. "What do you mean enjoy herself?"

I ran my hand down the other end of the sash. "Boy I met at school. Rory. Tried to kiss me. Told him I never would. Too much wet." I touched my lips. "What if he tries to kiss me?"

"There will be no kissing--" Simon started.

"Out!" Inara pointed to the door.

Simon looked to Mal to back him up. He loved me, couldn't bear to leave me. But Mal laughed at his discomfort and shook his head. There was nothing to do now to stop this. These things were set in motion long ago.

Inara pulled a few curls away from my face and slid an embroidered pin through to hold them in place.

"In case he tries anything, this works as a knife," Inara said.

"What does he want?"

"Oh, yi xiao, what do all men want?"

"He's different," I said.

"Badger? Oh, little one, in what way?"

"Not Badger."

From outside the shuttle came Wash's voice. Anger, shouting. "Why not?"

"You can't just show up here and expect everything to be the way it was," Zoe said.

Wash gritted his teeth. "I expect my wife to be there for me. I expect her to at least be a little happy I'm alive."

Zoe just wasn't his wife anymore. It wasn't that simple. It never had been.

"But you ain't alive! I buried you."

I stood up and walked to the door.

"River, don't--"

I stopped by the door, looked out to the courtyard joining together the warren of buildings Badger called his base of operations.

Zoe and Wash faced each other. Zoe's lip trembled. Tears gathered inside, soon to spill out. She turned away.

Wash grabbed her arm. "Zoe, we got to deal with this."

"Already dealt with it," she said. "Spent too long already makin' my peace with you dying."

"Zoe. Don't you still love me?"

Now the tears fell. "I don't know," she said.

"Come back, River. It's not our business."

"She doesn't love him," I said. "Hasn't felt right for a while. Thing's broken, can't be fixed. Not right."

"They've been through a lot," Inara said. "Things are complicated."

"No, they're not," I said. "Marriage is going to crash."

Wash didn't say anything. Zoe turned away. This time Wash didn't stop her.

Inara touched my shoulder. I looked deep into her eyes.

The whole thing sparked the need for confession in her. She hated complications, suddenly hated herself for the mess she had created.

Nothing would have made her happier than to tell me what she wanted to tell Mal. But she was afraid to say. Afraid I already knew. Afraid HE already knew.

She shook her head, shook off the idea. "Let's show you off to the crew," she said. "It's important to keep a man waiting. We'll let you make an entrance."

She took my hand and led me into the mess hall. Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee sat at the table eating pieces of apples. Simon chewed on his fingernails in the corner.

Kaylee jumped up, clapped her hands. "Oh, River, you look so...jing tsai!"

"Now that is just gorram creepy," Jayne said. "Killers ain't supposed to give a man -"

Inara threw him a look and he stopped mid-sentence.

"Just sayin'," he said. "Man gets his mind set on somethin', somethin's gonna happen. 'Specially in a dress like that 'un."

Simon shoved his chair back and came for me. "All right," he said, shaking his head, flailing his arms. "This whole thing's off. Captain, you tell him--"

"He's here," I said.

A knock came at the door.

Simon glanced at Mal, one last, hopeless appeal. Mal shook his head.

Simon opened the door to Badger's toothy grin. He clapped Simon on the shoulder and stepped inside. "Where's the lady at? Ah!" He held out a bouquet of flowers. "Well, go on," he said. He gestured to me. "Take'm."

I took the flowers. Terraformed mutation of tulips. Orange like my dress. I don't remember if I smiled.

Badger grinned ear to ear. He leaned in to Simon as though they were brothers about to share a secret. "She's gonna be a wild one, I can tell."

Chapter 1

"What do you mean you ain't 'eard of the name Badger Rose?"

The host of Goteiraku rolled his eyes. The simple scent of Badger irritated him. "Shen meh, tyen tsai." He closed the electronic book of reservations. "I assure you, Mr. Rose, your name is not on the books. We do not have your reservation."

"First of all, call me Badger." He slapped the host on the arm. "Second, 'course we don't 'ave a reservation. Come 'ere." He gestured for the host to come close. The host refused, so Badger grabbed his arm and pulled him close. He whispered low enough he thought I couldn't hear him say, "Case you 'aven't noticed, I'm on a date. What say a gentleman 'elp a gentleman out, aye? Prepared to make it worth your while." He looked back at me and smiled, hoping to distract me while he attempted to palm the host so much money it would cover at least the first half hour of his shift.

The host snorted. "Sir," he said, twisting the word into an insult. "I will call security if you do not leave--"

Everyone treats me like I'm a kid. They treat me as though what the Alliance did to me somehow stunted my growth, somehow kept me from knowing what I want and how to go for it. Like I always have to be taken care of.

I went on this date because I wanted to. No one was going to stop me. And I was going to take care of things for once.

I stepped in front of Badger and told the host, in a lowered voice, "Perhaps you'd like for me to tell you a little about the Rose family?"

"Girl, I got this--" Badger started, but I shushed him.

"Madam," the host said. "I am sure it is a very important family, indeed, but--"

"But you don't care for the business of Goiteraku? You don't care that turning him away means his money will instead go to Shou Lu?" I gestured for him to come close. He didn't hesitate. His brown eyes were wide as plates. "You don't care that this could mean the end of your entire career?"

The host smoothed his jacket, swallowed, but I smelled his panic, salty in the air. "Well, I have a reputation. Something no one could tarnish with a simple opinion."

"The last person to deny Mr. Rose didn't just lose their job. They lost everything. That reputation you cherish? Imagine being known as the person that closed down Goiteraku. You have one more chance. If you tell us to leave again, we will go straight to your boss with our apologies for having to shut down the restaurant. Because of you."

The host looked at the ground, contemplating what I had told him. Could he risk refusing us? What harm would he really cause by giving us a table? On the other hand, what benefit could he gain if we were telling the truth? If Badger Rose could shut down the restaurant because he was denied, what benefit could he instead offer the host by receiving the finest service he could offer?

The host checked the books again, pretending surprise. "This is most unusual."

I stepped back by Badger's side, comfortable and confident. "Is it."

"Indeed, I apologize. Somehow, I have skipped over the esteemed name of the Rose family, who it appears our owner placed on our list with a permanent reservation." He checked my face, noted I still did not look pleased. "A permanent reservation at the center table." Still not pleased. "With complimentary wine." Still not pleased. "And, of course, the finest dessert tray, compliments of the house."

I allowed a small smile. The host's shoulders finally relaxed. He smiled a little, too, a mixture of anxiety and relief. The panic subsided, but his heart was still beating very fast.

"You can show us to our table now," I told the host.

Badger struggled to come up with some line to assert his masculinity. He ended up settling on interrupting the host mid-bow to demand, "Go on, the lady told you to show us to our table!"

The host straightened back up. He nodded, a short snap of the head. "Of course, sir. Right this way."

Badger followed close behind me as the host led us to our table.

"Oy," Badger said. "You are one wild piece of girl! I 'ad no idea."

"No. You don't."

Sydney showed us to our table.

Badger chuckled the whole way there. He pretended to be upper class, but outside of sneaking inside to steal food as a kid, breaking a safe as a man, he had never set foot in a fine establishment. Without me, he never would have.

Sydney pulled my chair out. As I sat down, he pushed it back under me and whispered into my ear, "Mr. Badger is lucky to have one so worldly as you." He stood up, again professional and impersonal. "Your waiter will serve you in just a moment. Should Goiteraku be able to do anything else for you, please. You have but to ask."

He made a short little bow and withdrew. On the way back, he stopped a waiter and barked for him to drop everything and everyone else. The waiter made a quiet show, arguing to at least deliver the food in his hands. But our host shook his head, took the tray from the waiter, and pushed him toward us.

Our waiter wore an elaborately embroidered shen i, and he almost tripped over the hem of the long robe as he stumbled towards us.

"Welcome to Goiteraku. May I start you off with something to drink? Some local vintage, perhaps? I suggest a warm house-blend sake, or perhaps the Montrose Valley's red-"

"Mudder's Milk," Badger told him, interrupting. He turned to me. "Picked up a taste for it as a kid, can't 'elp myself."

The waiter's jaw dropped.

"Mudder's...Milk?"

"You 'eard me."

The waiter looked back at the host, who had him under careful watch. Sydney's glare said it all: Anything they want. Anything.

The waiter couldn't suppress a snort.

"I believe the cook may have some for when we have the occasion to grease the delivery car."

"Now was that so hard?" Badger asked, winking at him.

The waiter started for the kitchen, so eager to be away he didn't bother to ask me what I wanted.

I grabbed the waiter's wrist and looked at Badger. "You're supposed to order for me."

"Well, what do you want?"

I shook my head. He wanted to drink and I wanted to drink but that couldn't happen like this.

"That's not how it works. You aren't supposed to care what I want. Just order something."

Badger cocked his head. "Aggressive girl, ain'tcha? TWO mudders milks," he told the waiter, holding up two fingers. "No, wait. Jus' bring the jug, aye?"

The waiter held his smile in place. "Of course. Will that be--"

"Yes, yes," Badger said, waving him away.

The water bowed and retreated.

Badger grinned. "Now, on to the real business." He pushed a vase out of the center of the table so he could get a better look at me.

I grabbed the arms of my chair. Blue arms screamed escape from the vase, demanded someone listen. "What are those?"

"They're flowers. Orchids, I think." He pulled one out and sniffed its blue scent. "Want a sniff?" He held it out to me.

I shook my head.

"I don't want it. Laboratory is too close."

The smell of blood blew through the front doors. I didn't turn to look. I couldn't.

"Get them away," I told Badger. "They'll hurt you! Qing ri, smells like death. Toxic if you eat them."

I grabbed my head, a sudden rush of images pounding into my eyes, eclipsing anything else. Blue hands cradling me. Blue hands setting me into a chair, asking me what I remembered. Blue hands peeling off another card, face-down, insisting I tell them which one would come next.

"River," Badger said, a real touch of concern in his voice. "You all right?"

"Fifty-two cards, always red and black," I said. "They're not going to leave us alone this time."

"If it's cards you're worried about, ain't a man 'cept a couple back at 'ome that could best old Badger. You know, I made my first bundle of cash cheating the local casino when I was just a lad?"

I pointed at the door, where our gracious host Sydney waved his arms like mad, insisting the three suited men attempting to enter instead turn away.

"They don't want to play cards," I said.

I didn't have to look. This time, I didn't want to.

"Who are you talkin' about?" Badger asked as he turned around to where I pointed.

The Alliance pushed the host out of the way. The head officer shouted to the crowd, "We got one person in mind when we came here. None of you show us any trouble, we won't cause any."

Chapter 2

Sometimes, I lie awake at night wishing I had the courage to make myself stupid. Then the Alliance would leave me alone. When they took me, they didn't care that I was a girl who just wanted a normal life. They didn't care that I was a girl at all. They just wanted my brain.

And even though they weren't here for that now, I slumped to the floor, crying because once again my existence had caused them to come after us.

"Ah, niu fen, stay down," Badger said. He slipped to the ground with me, out of sight of the Alliance. He absorbed the area in a second, a man accustomed to getting himself into tight fixes fast and having to get out of them just as fast. "No wonder you're upset. Just 'old my 'and, love." He slipped his hand into mine, a natural gesture. His hands were sweaty, hot. Pulse was fast. "We'll get you out of 'ere." He lifted my head up, looked me in the eye. "Trust me. I'm good at this sort of thing."

"Don't care about me," I said.

"Now, that's not true. Badger cares, and Badger's gonna get you outta 'ere."

"Doesn't matter," I said. "Just go."

"Now, there's one thing Badger knows, it's that you never give up when you got another bullet, and you never waste that bullet when you ain't got no men to back you up in case you miss. We ain't got no bullets, so we're gonna run."

A gun cocked behind Badger's head.

"Badger Rose, you are ordered into our custody."

"It's all right," he said, both to me and the man behind him. But his voice betrayed his worry. Despite feeling his concern, despite knowing why he felt it, I still found it hard to believe, and a little flattering, that he didn't care what happened to him.

He was worried about me.

He whispered, "Gonna get a bit dangerous for a minute, darlin'."

"Don't," I said.

"Badger Rose, raise your hands and stand!"

Badger lifted his hands and got to his feet. Put on a smug look as he stared at the tall, solid Alliance officer in front of him. He glanced down at me. "Sweet of you to care, but ain't a man 'cept a couple back 'ome that could beat me in a--"

I warned Badger, "He is three-point-five inches taller than you and is four percent body fat. And he weighs more than you do."

Badger smiled, unconcerned. " 'ow much is more?"

"Two hundred and fifteen pounds and seven ounces."

He frowned. "Two fifteen?"

I nodded.

" 'e don't look that big to me."

"He is."

"Enough talking!" The officer grabbed Badger's wrist, yanked him closer, and unlatched a set of cuffs from his belt. He laughed. "They said you'd be an easy catch, but this is almost shameful--"

Badger answered by twisting out of the officer's grip and swinging his fist into the man's jaw.

The officer reeled--

But otherwise didn't move. Over two hundred pounds. Velocity insufficient to break his jaw. Minor annoyance by a little gnat.

"I take it back," the officer said. "It is shameful."

Badger kicked the man in the groin, a place no man of any weight could ignore.

He reached behind to take my hand and run--

The vibrant hum of stun-guns charging swept over the room. The other two officers aimed their guns on both sides of Badger. The third officer moaned on the ground, cradling his swollen testicles.

Badger gulped. "Stay under the table, River." He held one hand up while the other reached into his pocket.

"Brought more than one bullet for just such a situation," he said.

"Keep both hands in the air," an officer yelled.

"You ain't takin' 'er," Badger said. "You ain't!"

The big one let go of himself, managed to get onto one knee. "We don't care about your date. We're here for you."

Badger forgot about the gun in his pocket. "For me?"

The officer got to his feet. "You aren't as good at cleanup as you thought. Didn't really think you could shoot an entire crew of Alliance officers and get away with it, did you?"

Chapter 3

"No, I will not leave!"

"Go away," I whispered. "You're not supposed to be here."

Everyone but me turned to see who was so intent on yelling at the host he neglected to notice the room full of Alliance officers.

"I'm not here to eat," Simon said. "I'm here for my sister!"

He shoved the host out of the way and stomped into the restaurant.

The head officer glared at this man interrupting his almost-perfect arrest.

"Son, who the hell are you?"

"I just... I'm uh, run-tse duh fwootzu." He looked at the ground, astounded that a man who graduated at the top of his class at the most prestigious medical school in our home sector could do something so rash. Something so stupid.

Then he saw me huddled under the table.

"I came here for my sister." He sighed. "But it looks like you already found her."

"This..." The officer grunted at me. "This is your sister?"

"Yes. Listen, to be honest I'm a little tired of the same routine we always go through, so if you're here for--"

"Are you aware she came to this restaurant with a known criminal?"

Simon cocked his head. "Came WITH a known criminal?"

The officer pointed at Badger. "No telling what awful scheme he planned on bringing her into."

"You... You aren't here for..." Finally, Simon caught on. "Yes!" He put on a mean face and stomped towards me. "Mei-mei, this piece of go-se is nothing but trouble. Didn't I tell you he would try to pull some trick? Now look at where you are. I have half a mind to let these men arrest you and teach you the lesson you deserve." He turned to glare at Badger, playing the role with relish now. "Ni bu gou gu, ni hun qiu!" He started towards me, his voice still raised, "Mei-mei, why do you never listen to me?"

The officer reached to stop Simon from stepping into their aim on Badger, but Simon whipped around and told the officer, "You know how many times we told her to stay away from him, he's just trouble? As though what we have at home isn't good enough." Simon pulled me out from under the table. "Sis, you promised you wouldn't! Well, Dad'll just love to hear about this. A record at your age. We'll have to bribe someone just to keep this out of the papers."

The officer chuckled. "Had the same problem with my own sister. Why do you think I took this ruttin' job? Any of those hun dans gave her trouble, well, don't think I have to tell you what the Alliance does to trouble-makers."

"No, you don't." Simon crossed his arms and smiled, pleased with his performance, then remembered why he had come here and what he had walked into. "Well, sir, we won't trouble you any more. I've got my sister now. We'll just be on our way."

He tugged my hand and led me away.

"Simon," I said, trying to pull my hand out of his.

"Just keep walking," he muttered, squeezing my fingers tighter.

I craned my head around and saw Badger, a lone wolf in a den of lions. Then I saw the officer, staring at us as we walked away.

"Hey, son, hold on a second."

Simon stiffened and came to a dead halt. He gulped. "Yes, sir?"

"I don't think you understand quite how much trouble this Badger fellow is in."

"I suppose I don't."

"Not including the many other crimes he's done under the radar, we recorded him from a supply ship in orbit killing an entire Alliance crew."

Simon turned half-way around, keeping himself ready to run. I felt his attention strain toward the door. "An entire crew? That little guy, all by himself?"

"Oh, no," the officer said. "He had help. Rest assured." He forced Simon to look him in the eye. "They won't get away either."

Of course, the deaths he referred to had happened last week, when a rescue attempt gone wrong had left us so desperate the Captain called on Badger for help and used me to bargain with. None of us had killed any of the dead Alliance, but some of us had been there, and with the Alliance that was as good as pulling the trigger.

"Any leads on where they are?" Simon asked.

The officer smirked, came closer to us. "Yeah. A real strong lead. Could say it's right in front of us." He stopped close enough that we could smell his breath. He liked garlic. He stared at us, judging our reactions.

Satisfied with whatever he saw, he said, "Don't worry. He'll talk. Men like him don't go down alone."

"No," Simon said. "They don't."

The officer nodded. "Go on," he told us. "About to get messy."

"Thank you," Simon said. We headed for the door.

"Oh, one last thing before you go," the officer said.

We stopped. Again.

"Seeing as he caused you all this trouble, I'd be happy to let you take a swipe at him. Hard as you like."

Simon let out a breath of relief. He managed to smile back at the officer and say, "That's ok. I'm just happy to have my sister back."

He tightened his grip on my hand and pulled me out of the restaurant.

"Simon, wait."

"Can't stop, River. Last thing we need is for them to realize who they just let go."

"But we can't leave him."

Content we'd closed enough distance, Simon stopped in the street, let go of my hand, and said, "Yes, we can. If things were reversed, he'd leave us for dead. River, don't you understand? That man tried to kill us. More than once! He's not the kind of man you waste a second trying to rescue!"

I just looked at him. He didn't understand. "Sometimes we don't get a choice," I said.

Simon wanted to argue...

But he groaned. I was right and he knew it. Just not for the reasons he thought.

He shook his head and smiled. "When did you get to be smarter than me?"

"Oh, I've always been smarter."

Simon laughed. "Let's give the rest of the crew a call." He started back up the street, away from the restaurant. "We want any chance making it out of there in one piece, we may as well have Jayne with-- River!"

I took off at a full run back to the restaurant.

Chapter 4

I closed my eyes and let the machine do its work.

The machine worked well. Too well.

The officers circled around Badger. The big one snapped the cuffs into place.

The machine came into them, light-footed and unheard. It pushed Badger out of the circle as it judged the exact velocity and snap necessary to kick the nearest officer into unconsciousness while causing him to stumble into the other two guards line of fire.

Snap. Kick. The officer grunted before he knew who had pushed Badger away. Two-fifteen's eyes rolled into the back of his head. He fell like a dead body.

Motion detected behind the machine. Something heavy coming for its head.

The machine dodged the blow and spun around, calculating the arc to knock the gun out of the officer's hands.

Spin. Snap. The gun flew across the room.

The other officer struggled to get a shot, struggled to put the years of training to work. Align the sight. Aim. Find the shot, dammit.

But he wasn't coordinated.

All of the officers were awkward, stupid, and obvious.

Unarmed, the officer adopted a fighting stance and threw a punch at me.

The machine saw it coming before the officer knew he would punch. The machine waited, refused to move. Time seemed slow enough. For the machine, time would oblige.

Twist. His wrist snapped.

Stop, I thought. Stop.

But the machine knew its job and wanted to go on.

The officer dropped to his knees, for a moment consumed with the pain. The machine sent him to sleep.

The last remaining officer dropped his gun and ran. The machine could afford to wait, so it did, allowing him to reach the door and hope to escape.

The pin in my hair came out and like a bullet sliced through the air. It grazed the officer's cheek and sailed into the wall by the his head. He stopped to notice it, then reminded himself how close to the door he was--

But his head slammed into the wall and down he went.

No deaths, I told the machine. It's over.

And as impossible as it seemed to control, the machine knew its job was done. The machine went to sleep.

In the room, someone whispered, "Who is that girl?"

Simon stood in the doorway, stunned... and a little proud. "That's my sister."

Badger chuckled. "That's my date."

Our host, Sydney, cowered by the front podium.

"I don't understand," he said. "You're just a girl."

I pulled the pin out of the wall and started for Badger. "Not any more," I said.

Chapter 5

I angled the pin into the lock. A soft click and the cuffs dropped off Badger's wrists. I pulled him up and we ran out of Goiteraku, leaving Sydney shaking his head and wondering where he would work tomorrow, after he was fired.

Badger shook his head as we ran. Felt sick. Wasn't the Mudder's Milk.

Sad little king of a sad little hill, kicked off to the bottom.

We stopped several blocks from the restaurant to catch our breath. "Of all the ruttin' dumb things I done," he said. He rubbed his wrists. "Well, 'preciate ya coming back for me, love."

"We're not finished," I told him.

"Oh, that's where you're wrong," Badger said. "Can't 'ave you around ol' Badger. Not after that."

"He's right, River," Simon said. "It's too dangerous. Not to mention that he's twice your age, probably has a slough of diseases, and--"

"You got me figured all wrong, mate. Could use a woman like 'er, ain't afraid of a lil' danger." He turned to me, reached out and took my face in his hands. Dirt, smell of work. "Darlin'..." Hard to say, but he forced it out. "I'm sorry. You're a great gal, but it'd never 'ave worked out between us. I could never be with a girl that saved my life."

"Well," Simon said, stunned. "I suppose... that's... for the best."

Badger smiled, an apology in a moment of regret, and let go of my face. "Well, let's be off. Figure your Captain's ready to get his boat back."

"Wait," I said.

The universe is chaos. Chaos has an order. Dates must end.

I grabbed his face before he could say no. I put my lips on his--

Sweet--

Strange--

Hot--

And pulled away. I let go of him and went to Simon.

"We can go now," I told my brother.

Badger touched his lips with his hand, then licked the corner of his mouth.

" 'ell, darlin'," he said. "I take it all back. C'mere!"

Simon yelled and jumped between us.

Epilogue

I ran my hands over the floor of Inara's shuttle, the last piece of what had for a time been me, the ship. It smelled crowded, but somehow alone.

Inara set down two cups and poured hot tea into them. "So he knew where Serenity was the whole time?"

Simon took his cup, sipped it. "Guess he needed an extra bargaining chip in case River backed out."

I set the hair-pin on the table. "Red and black, every time," I said. "But this time made a difference."

Inara picked the pin up, then dropped it back to the table.

"Is that blood? River, did you... did he try something?"

I laughed. The sound felt good, so good I couldn't stop.

Simon sighed. "To tell you the truth, Badger probably saved her life." He shook his head. "It's a long story. We probably just lost our best shot at getting rid of him. And I wouldn't have even have had to do it myself." He pulled me close to him, an old, comfortable embrace that quieted my laughter. "But," he said, "I will tell you I'm proud to have such a noble sister. You should have seen her. I was ready to desert him, but River wouldn't have it. 'Sometimes, we don't get a choice,' she told me."

I laughed. "Wasn't noble. Had a date, had to finish it. Wouldn't have been efficient otherwise."

Simon spit out his tea. "You went back just to finish the date?" he sputtered. His face was red.

I nodded. "Don't need dates anymore, though. Kaylee missed dating before you. Says toys are just as good. Sometimes better. Much less complicated, just buttons and switches. No feelings."

Simon put down his tea and scrambled from his seat, headed for the exit. "I don't know which is worse, Badger or you talking about..."

He left without another word.

Inara laughed so hard that she slipped off her cushion. I smiled and let the laughter take me, too.

------- Chinese Translations:

yi xiao [little bird]

jing tsai [brilliant, very attractive]

Goteiraku [Japanese: the Five Pleasures]

Shen meh, tyen tsai [I'm sorry, genius]

Shou Lu [happiness and longevity]

Qing ri [Blue Sun]

niu fen [cow shit]

run-tse duh fwootzu [merciful buddha]

Mei-mei [little sister]

go-se [shit]

Ni bu gou gu, ni hun qiu [you don't deserve her, you fink]

hun dans [bastards]

COMMENTS

Sunday, July 20, 2008 10:13 AM

WILDHEAVENFARM


Finally! It feels like forever that we've been waiting. Don't leave us hanging now, there's much for Wash and Zoe yet to deal with.


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