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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Dinner on Lazarus, and the idea of a cruise is discussed. Or rather, argued about. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1093 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
That evening everyone congregated in the back drawing room to eat, Mal having made it clear that he wasn't intending to be kept out of things that much. Simon had been insistent that the captain wasn’t going to be walking anywhere as yet, so with Jayne’s help Mr Boden had whipped up a table from nowhere, added chairs, and everyone was crowded around, eating as much of the good food as they could get into their mouths.
Kaylee was talking about Serenity. “In some ways it ain't as bad as I first thought,” she was explaining. “Lot of systems died in that EMP pulse, but most of ‘em I got fixed already, and those that I've bypassed I should be able to replace.”
“Good work, mei-mei,” Mal praised, and his mechanic blushed happily.
“But the problem’s gonna be what I can’t see,” she went on.
“Can’t see? You?” Inara smiled at the young woman.
“Kinda like Mal and that Quicksilver. It did something none of us could see, and it weren’t until … well, you know …” She suddenly realised it might not actually be tactful to mention recent events, but everyone was nodding, although Freya was gripping her fork harder than was strictly necessary.
“You mean there might be damage that won’t show up until it gets worse?” Hank suggested.
“’Xactly.” She grinned at him, glad to get away from a sore subject. “I mean, Bethie’s helping, a’course, since she hears Serenity like I do, but we can’t be sure we’ve got it all.”
“So how do we fix it?” Zoe asked.
“Can’t. Not ‘less you wanna put into one of the major shipyards, get a top line computer diagnostic run on all systems.”
“Then we can’t afford it,” Mal said, wiping a hunk of bread around his plate and popping it into his mouth, chewing contentedly.
“But Cap …”
“Just have to rely on you to fix as and when,” he mumbled somewhat indistinctly. Simon had been very firm in denying him the steak, at least for that day, but he’d had fresh vegetables, gravy … all in all, not too bad. He swallowed. “Might be able to swing for some of them spare parts you’ve been on about, though.”
Kaylee brightened up. “I’ll make a list.”
“A short one.”
“In which case I’ll make two. One of the things I want, and the other of the things we need. Maybe we can agree some place in the middle.”
“You never know.”
“I’ll help, Momma,” Bethie said, then yawned hugely, only remembering to cover her mouth at the last moment. “Sorry,” she added.
“I reckon we’ll let it go tonight.” Kaylee smoothed her daughter’s honey coloured hair. “But you remember next time.”
“Yes, Momma.” Bethie grinned. “But I can help with the lists.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you want we need, and you can write it down.”
The little girl nodded proudly.
“But not tonight,” Simon put in firmly. “I think young ladies - and gentlemen - need to get their sleep.” He nodded towards Ben, who was leaning against Hank, his mouth open as he dozed.
“Good idea,” Kaylee said, starting to push her chair back.
Mrs Boden materialised out of nowhere. “Madam, let me,” she suggested.
“How does she do that?” Mal stage-whispered to Freya, who shushed him with a glance.
“Would you?” Kaylee looked grateful that she didn’t have to get up, not with her advancing pregnancy, as well as all the food she’d eaten.
“It‘s my pleasure, Madam.” She lifted Caleb from Jayne’s lap and settled him on her hip, where the little boy laid his head on her shoulder and snuffled, his arms wrapped around her neck. She smiled at the other children. “Come along.”
Hope poked Ben, who woke with a start. “Bed time,” she said softly.
He grinned at her. “’Kay.” He climbed from his seat, took her hand, and followed Mrs Boden to the door.
Bethie snagged a last dumpling from the platter and pushed it into her mouth, chewing quickly before jumping down. “You gonna come in and say goodnight?” she asked her mother.
“Of course.” Kaylee leaned down and kissed her forehead. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t.”
Bethie grinned, then grabbed Ethan by the arm. “Come on,” she ordered, and they all trooped out, the door closing quietly behind them.
“Don’t know if I’m picking up on the psychic stuff,” Mal said gently, “but I’m still seeing a wedding in the future.”
“Who, Bethie and Ethan?” Simon asked, his eyebrow raising. “Because considering how she treats him -”
“Nope. Ben and Hope.” Mal lay back, a devious smile on his face.
“What if they just want to live together?” Freya asked, taking his plate and putting it onto the makeshift table.
“Not having that kinda thing on my boat.”
“I’m so glad you have a plan, then. Especially seeing how well that’s worked so far.”
“Then maybe it should be starting as we mean to go on.”
“I think we’ve got a while ‘fore anything like that happens,” Kaylee put in.
“Yeah, but … you know, being on a boat n’all … livin‘ all close like we do …” Jayne made a sucking sound through his teeth. “Might be sooner than later.”
Kaylee swatted him on the arm, and River did the same the other side, but he didn’t look at all abashed.
“Just sayin’,” he went on. “Being in proximity …”
“Zoe, does the septic vat need doing?” Mal asked, ignoring the fact that he’d broached the subject in the first place.
“I believe it does, sir.”
“Fine, fine,” Jayne grumbled. “I’ll just sit here and shut up, then, shall I?”
“Good idea. And the vat still needs doing.”
“Can I finish my dinner first?” he asked, plucking two large hunks of bread from the board and wedging yet another thick slice of meat between them.
“Where do you put it all? I mean, all that energy it must produce … how do you burn it off?” Hank asked, shaking his head in wonder, then saw the look the big ex-merc and his wife exchanged. “You know, on the other hand, I don’t need to know.”
“By far the best idea,” Zoe agreed.
Val coughed, just enough to get their attention. “Actually, now they’ve gone, there’s something …” She paused, then looked to her sister for support. Phoebe nodded, and Val went on, gazing intently at Mal, “There’s something we wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Mal tried to sit up a little more, and Freya pushed another cushion behind him. “You planning on getting wed yourself?”
“No!” Val turned pink, taking a deep breath to make her heart stop beating quite so fast. “No,” she repeated, much more in control. “But it is something that … I know we don’t have to ask permission, not now we’re eighteen, but …” She stopped, her mouth dry.
“Val, whatever it is, just say it,” Mal urged. “I’m a sick man, here, and all this suspense ain’t doing me any good.”
The young woman looked stricken.
“Ignore him, Val,” Freya said. “It’s about the cruise, isn’t it?”
As Val nodded, Mal said, “What cruise?”
Phoebe stepped in. “We want to go on a cruise, Uncle Mal. Maybe visit the Core. We’ve never been to the central planets, but we’ve been looking at the Cortex, and there are some lovely places. Sihnon‘s main city, for instance, is coming into its summer period, and in a couple of months there’s the Solstice Festival, and that looks so interesting, and -”
“Whoa, whoa, there,” Mal interrupted, holding up one hand. Phoebe could be relied on to chatter until the end of time, once she’d got started. He glared at Freya. “You know about this?”
His wife gazed evenly back. “I suggested it.”
“Really. Really.” He looked at Inara. “Did you know?”
“No,” Inara admitted. “But I think it’s a marvellous idea.”
“You do.” He shook his head. “Ain’t there anyone in this room thinks there’s a problem with this?”
“If it’s the money you’re worried about …” Val began, but stopped as Mal’s cobalt gaze settled on her.
“No, it ain’t the money. I know you’ve come into your majority. Kilbrook wrote, told me about the accounts. Intimated there was a pretty fair chunk of cash in them, too, so no, I ain’t thinking you can’t afford it. I’m thinking it ain’t safe.”
Sam stirred. “Not safe? Mal, cruise liners are perfectly safe. I’ve often travelled by them. So has Inara. They have their own engineers, security staff … I don’t see the objection.”
“I weren’t much older when you took me on board Serenity, Cap,” Kaylee pointed out.
“Yeah, but -”
“And I was crewing on a Lancaster,” Freya added.
“That’s not -”
“Hell, you don’t wanna know what I was doing at eighteen,” Jayne put in.
“And I was crazy,” River breathed. “Still am.”
Jayne put his arm around her and squeezed.
“Then it sure as hell is catching,” Mal said, shaking his head.
“And what were you doing when you were eighteen?” Sam countered.
“That ain’t the point.”
“I think it’s exactly the point.” Sam had never let Mal intimidate him, and he wasn’t about to now. “By that age I know a lot of young men out in the Borders had got married, had children, started their own ranches … or is that just because you were a man?”
Mal glared. “No.”
“Then why shouldn’t these two young ladies enjoy themselves?”
“Because bad things can happen!” He remembered all too well what could occur on board one of those fancy boats, from Inara and River being threatened on the Marrakech, to … a wave of sadness crossed quickly across River’s face, and he knew she’d picked up on his thoughts.
Sorry, xiao nu, he thought carefully.
She smiled a little. Don’t be. Jethro was only meant to be mine for a while. And now I have Jayne and Caleb.
Didn’t want to hurt you.
None of it was your fault.
Still, he couldn’t help it. And now knowing that Val and Phoebe intended heading off on their own, maybe getting into mischief he wouldn’t be around to get them out of …
Freya took his hand in hers. “Mal, that wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
He knew she’d read the thoughts as clear as day in his mind, even the conversation between himself and River, and for once it annoyed him. “People die, Frey.”
“No, they don’t. Not always. Do you want statistics? Because I’m sure I can find you some.”
“What about … pirates, then? Those liners are a magnet to ‘em. Wealthy folks, more money’n sense … what’s to stop ‘em getting boarded?”
“What’s to stop Reavers attacking Lazarus?” she countered.
He stared at her. “Frey …”
“I know this is because you care. I understand.” She pressed her thumb into the back of his hand, using one of the acupressure points to try and calm him down.
“Are you saying Valentia and Phoebe have no common sense?” Inara asked, looking at the two girls. “Because I can assure you, they have.”
Mal sighed. “Not saying that. Gorramit, I know you’ve done a good job, Inara. But this is … diyu, doesn’t anyone get it? They wander off, get into trouble, there ain’t gonna be no-one around to save ‘em!”
“We weren’t planning on wandering off, or getting into trouble,” Phoebe said softly. “We just wanted to see the ‘verse a little.”
“’Sides, I’m thinking they’ll be taking Crystal and Grace with ‘em,” Jayne added.
“Who?” Mal’s brow furrowed, then he realised. “And don’t think I’ve gotten over you giving them those guns.” On their last trip to Lazarus Jayne had bought each of the girls a pistol, small enough for them to handle and keep in their purses, but enough stopping power to be of some use, and then had to endure a verbal battering from his captain.
The big man shrugged. “They can look after ‘emselves, Mal.”
Inara was nodding. “I hated those gifts too, but at least they are capable of defending themselves.”
“You too, huh?” Mal shook his head and leaned back onto the pillows. “You too.”
“And you can’t keep them children forever,” she added.
“I think perhaps this discussion should be held tomorrow,” Simon said, not happy with the way things were going. “Mal needs to rest right now and -”
“I’ll rest when I’m dead, doctor.” Mal stared into the ceiling.
“Which could be sooner than you think if you don’t take it easy.” Simon moved to the bed, taking the small scanner he always seemed to carry from his pocket. He waved it over Mal’s chest. “Or I will give you a smoother.”
“Uncle Mal …” Val swallowed, going pale.
“Tomorrow,” Freya said quietly, but her voice filled the room, feeling Mal‘s pulse beating a little too wildly beneath her palm. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry, I just thought …”
Val nodded, looking miserable. “Yes, Aunt Frey.” She stood up, smoothing her dress. “Good night.” She swept out, every inch the young woman Inara had been teaching.
Phoebe followed suit, motioning her other two sisters to do the same. Letitia and Rosemary mumbled a hurried “’Night,” then almost ran out of the room.
There was silence for a moment, stretching to a minute, then Hank exhaled heavily. “Well, that went well, don’t you think?”
“Don’t,” Zoe said.
“Why not? You scared the daylights outta the younger girls, and I think it’s a fair bet Val and Phoebe are probably going to cry themselves to sleep right now. Good job.” He sat back in his chair, his arms crossed.
Mal spoke quietly. “I’m lookin’ out for ‘em. That’s all.”
“Mal, we get that,” Inara said. “But Val was right. They don’t need to ask your permission. She and Phoebe could just as well have packed their bags and caught the next ship off Lazarus. But they didn’t. They wanted to speak to you, to explain why … and you made them feel about five inches tall.”
He sat up a little. “They’re eighteen, ‘Nara.”
“I became a Companion on my eighteenth birthday. By now I had already seen a dozen clients.”
“And you of all people know what I’m talking about.”
“Yes, Mal. I do. But you can’t assume the same thing is going to happen again.” She got elegantly to her feet.
“And what if it does?”
Kaylee absently rubbed her belly. “You can’t keep ‘em wrapped in cotton wool, Cap. There’s gonna come a day when Bethie wants to do something like this, and I know I’m gonna feel just the same as you do, but I know … I hope I’ll be strong enough to let her go.”
Simon looked at her, his total love shining in his eyes, proud of her.
The door opened slowly, giving barely a squeak, but everyone turned to look. “Daddy?” Ethan stood framed, his hands twisted into his pyjama tails.
Mal felt a wave of shame wash across him. It hadn’t occurred to him that his son might pick up on the tension, but he should have known. “Ethan, you’re supposed to be in bed.”
The little boy shrugged, tugging his pyjama top up. “Arguing.” When he got worried, his vocabulary tended to be reduced. “Don’t like it when you argue.”
“I’m sorry.” Mal patted the bed next to him, and Ethan ran across the room, clambering up to lie next to his father. “I shouldn’t … sorry.”
His son snuggled down. “Don’t do it.”
Mal had to smile, just a little. “Yeah. I’ll try.”
Sam watched them, and wondered if it was different with a son. He never remembered Dhira being like that, not with him. “I think it’s time we all got some rest,” he said softly.
“Good idea.” Kaylee levered herself to her feet. “I got a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
“I can always help out.”
Everyone turned to look at Inara.
“Sorry? Was that you offering to get yourself all messed up?” Mal was almost lost for words, but only almost, immensely grateful for her changing the subject, even though what he really wanted to do was argue until everyone saw his point of view.
“I have been known to get my hands dirty,” the ex-Companion said haughtily.
“Not sure we wanna hear about that, ‘Nara.” He managed a twinkle.
“I mean fixing things.”
“Sure you did.”
“Daddy, what does incorr .. inc … incorr …” Ethan couldn’t get his tongue around the word.
“Means I’m all cuddly and lovable,” Mal explained.
“In your dreams,” Inara said firmly.
The atmosphere eased noticeably.
“Well, I’ll be grateful for any help I can get,” Kaylee said. “Come on, Simon. I need a back rub.”
Simon looked down at Mal. “I’m not sure I shouldn‘t stay -”
“Go to bed,” Freya said firmly. “I’ll call if Mal needs you.”
“If you’re sure …” He yelped as Kaylee grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the door.
“Us too,” River said, jumping up.
“But I was just -” Jayne motioned towards the makeshift sandwich he still had left.
“Bring it with you. For later.” She ran a finger across his collar bone.
“Oh. Yeah. Right.” He grinned and followed her out into the hall, his plate held carefully in his hand.
“Sir?” Zoe looked at Mal.
“Go on.” He glanced down at Ethan, whose eyes were already closing. “I don’t think Frey and me are gonna be fighting. Not with him here.”
“Good.” She nodded. “See you in the morning.” She strode out, her back straight, Hank at her side.
Sam waited until they’d gone, then looked at Mal and Freya. “If you want to talk …”
“Oh, I’m thinking there’ll be plenty of that,” Mal said, his lips twitching.
“I mean professionally.”
“Well, thanks for the offer, but I had me enough of that back on Ariel.” Mal stifled a yawn, but Freya noticed.
“If we need help, we’ll ask,” she said quickly.
Inara nodded. “Come on, Sam. Kaylee isn’t the only one who needs a massage.”
He grinned. “Your wish, as ever …”
“Go,” Mal said firmly, “’fore I throw up.”
“And tell Mrs Boden not to worry about cleaning up,” Freya put in. “I can -”
“No, you can’t.” Mal took her hand. “You’re coming to bed.”
“But I can -”
“In the morning. It ain’t like Jayne left a whole load of food to spoil anyway.”
Inara hooked her arm through Sam’s and looked into his olive face. “I just want to check on Val and Phoebe before we turn in.”
“We both will,” he said, putting his hand on hers.
Mal shifted uncomfortably. “Tell ‘em … tell ‘em I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to … I was just thinking of … you know.”
Inara looked down at him. “They know you care. And they’ll make allowances for you not being quite yourself. But you will drive them away if you carry on like this and then you won‘t know where they are or what they‘re doing.”
“It ain’t like I’m trying to spoil their fun on purpose, ‘Nara.”
“And you’re not an eighteen year old girl with more money than you know what to do with,” she pointed out.
“Inara.” Sam only said the one word, but she nodded.
“Yes, well, we’d best be going.”
Freya saw them both to the door, but Sam paused.
“Are you sure you don’t want one of us to stay awake?” he asked, glancing past her shoulder to where Mal was easing himself on the bed.
She smiled slightly. “No. It’s all right. Kaylee’s rigged a comunit, so if anything happens all I have to do is press the button and Simon will be right here. But nothing will.”
“Of course it won’t.” Sam leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. “Good night.”
“Careful,” Inara warned. “I might get jealous.”
“Then you’d better come to bed and remonstrate with me,” he responded as they crossed the hall towards the stairs.
“I may very well do that.”
Freya shook her head, smiling slightly, before closing the door and going back to the bed. She looked down at Ethan lying next to Mal, his hair mussed, his blue eyes tight shut. “I think he can stay here tonight,” she said softly.
“He’s comfy,” Mal agreed. “So, are we going to talk?” he asked, watching Freya divest herself of her outer clothing.
“Looks like.” She climbed into bed, still wearing her bra and panties. She didn’t lie back, though. “Mal, if I thought you’d react like this, I would never have suggested it.”
“Then why did you?”
“A cruise. On a liner. Amongst people with money in a controlled environment. Honestly, I don’t think there would be a much better place for them to test the waters.”
“Why can’t they do that here?” He could see her flame tattoo, rioting up her back, but it looked slightly grey. Probably all the worry about him, he surmised. “Inara can throw them a ball, we can invite the local gentry, and no-one has to leave.”
She dropped onto her elbow to look at him. “Then what?”
“After this ball. Where everyone gets the impression that Val and Phoebe are for sale.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But that’s how it looks. I know. My parents were invited to one once, when I was about eight. One of our neighbours had a daughter who’d just reached eighteen, and he threw what he called a ‘coming out ball’. Alex and me snuck over, watched from one of the windows. The poor girl looked terrified, and all her father did all evening was tell various eligible men how much money he was going to settle on her.”
“That’s not how it would happen, Frey.”
She carried on regardless. “Whereas, if he’d sent her off on a cruise, she could have blossomed in her own time, and had some fun, before settling down with the right man. If that’s what she wanted.”
“It ain’t safe, Frey.” It was his main point of objection, and he was sticking to it.
“Then how about bodyguards?”
“Bodyguards. To look after them.”
“And who were you thinking of? Jayne? It‘d take a miracle for him to fit in unobtrusively. And River‘d never let him go off with a couple of girls, not even Val and Phoebe.”
“He’s their Uncle, Mal. As much as Hank, Simon … you.”
“Still say she’d say no.”
“Of course she would. But someone like Jayne. In fact, as much like Jayne as possible. Someone big. Intimidating. Likely to scare off anyone after their money.”
“Oh, he’d do that all right. And where were you considering we find this clone?”
“I was thinking perhaps Dillon could help.“
“Yes. He knows a lot of people. I’m sure he could find someone trustworthy.“
“Have to be more than just trustworthy.“
She fixed him with her soft brown eyes. “So you’re going to let them go?”
He held up one hand. “I didn’t say that.”
“When I was eighteen I killed a man because he was trying to kill me.” Her hand went unconsciously to the tiny scar under her right ear, the one only he knew about. “River had already killed a roomful of Reavers.”
“I know what you’re saying, but -”
“Inara’s right, Mal. They can’t stay children forever.”
She had to laugh lightly, wary of waking their son. “And have the ‘verse full of nothing but kids who couldn’t even reach the console, let alone fly a spaceship.” She lay back, pillowing her head on one arm. “Everyone has to grow up.”
“Yes, you did. So did I. It’s just that we choose to act like teenagers sometimes.”
“You mean when we …”
She nodded. “Exactly.”
“I get what you mean. Honestly. But I … they’re not overly mature for their age.”
“They survived their father dying, being homeless, basically destitute, then being herded onto a ship they didn’t know with people who weren’t related to them, then dumped here on Lazarus -”
“Hey, I didn’t dump anyone!”
“Personally I think they’re amazingly well-adjusted, and most of that is thanks to Inara and Sam.”
He lay quietly for a minute, just breathing evenly, until she wondered if he’d gone to sleep.
“They’re going on a cruise, ain’t they?” he said finally, staring into the shadows above him.
“Actually, if you said no, I think they wouldn’t. But I don’t know that I could live with the resentment that would generate.”
She rolled over so she could look at him, and placed her hand carefully on his chest, mindful of the healing incision. “Mal, you’re a good man. You care about your family, and they’re part of it. And I have just one question for you.”
“Just the one?”
“For the moment.”
“What are you going to be like when Jesse reaches eighteen?”
“Not planning to touch down on any planet ever again, I conjure.”
Chuckling, she leaned forward and placed her lips on his. “I have an idea you’re right.”
“Gorramit, Frey … ain’t I ever gonna get my own way?”
“You do. When it’s appropriate.”
“Huh.“ He muttered something obscene.
Mal glanced guiltily at Ethan, but he was fast asleep, curled against him. “So you think Dillon might know someone? Or maybe more than one someone?”
“I’m sure he’d be glad to help.”
“And maybe by the time we get it sorted, the girls will have gone off the idea, yeah?”
“I doubt it.”
He sighed heavily. “Yeah. Me too.”
Freya snuggled down, her head on his shoulder. “Like I said, you’re a good man, Malcolm Reynolds.”
“Nah. But maybe I reflect you instead.” He turned enough to look at her. “Are you gonna tell ‘em, or shall I?”
“Oh, I think you should. And they’ll love you forever.”
“Not sure that’s gonna make me feel that much better about this.” He felt her smile against his skin and closed his eyes, still not sure he was doing the right thing.
to be continued
Sunday, March 29, 2009 7:45 AM
Sunday, March 29, 2009 8:57 AM
Sunday, March 29, 2009 10:09 AM
Sunday, March 29, 2009 12:08 PM
Sunday, March 29, 2009 1:10 PM
Monday, March 30, 2009 1:37 AM
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