BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Masks - Part V
Sunday, October 11, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. The crew arrives at Lazarus, and Mal comes to a decision about the cruise, with one minor adjustment. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1402    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

“Mal, we’re coming up on Lazarus. Be about fifteen minutes to touchdown.”

Sitting at the old wooden table in the kitchen, Mal heard an odd echo as Hank’s voice came over the com, then a split later wandering down the corridor from the bridge. He smiled a little, then turned his attention back to the information scrolling slowly on the portable Cortex link Freya used for lessons.

‘Come join the Empress of Sihnon in her signature cruise! Taking in the Winter Festival on her home world, the Empress also voyages through the darkest of nights to the ruins of Ling Miao on Aegis, where a son et lumiere presentation brings the ancient temple to life! Then it’s on to Londinium, and who can resist the call of the premiere Opera House, an exact replica of La Scala from Earth-that-was? And no trip to the Core would be complete without visiting Osiris, Ariel, and just a hint of the untamed with a visit to Persephone and Beaumonde … why, there’s so much we might not be able to fit it all in! And that’s without even mentioning all the activities going on aboard the Empress herself … you won’t want to leave!'

He always distrusted anything that had that many exclamation marks. And Ling Miao? Why would anyone want to go there? He shuddered slightly, just the thought of that place bringing back memories of wooden plaques, spikes, curses, and 40th birthday parties. Oh, and balloons. He still hadn’t forgiven Jayne for that.

Hands snaked down his chest, and someone breathed in his ear, “I love you.”

“What for?”

“Doing what you said you’d do and look at the cruise brochure.”

“I still think it’s a bad idea.” He moved enough to look over his shoulder at his wife. “You know there ain’t any prices on this.”

Freya laughed lightly. “Of course there isn’t, Mal. If you have to ask the price you can’t afford it.”

“Then –”

“Valentia and Phoebe are very wealthy young women. You saw Kilbrook’s last estimate. They could buy a dozen tickets and not feel the pinch.”

“That ain't the problem.”

She slid around him to sit on the seat next to his. “I think they’ve been very patient. It’s been weeks since they broached the idea, and you’ve been procrastinating.”

“I ain't never procrastinated in my life,” he protested. “My Ma would’ve tanned my hide if she’d caught me procrastinating.”

Freya had to smile. “Now, we both know you know exactly what that means.”

He sighed. “I know, honey. But … out there, in the middle of nowhere, nobody to hear if they get into trouble …”

“On a ship with several hundred other people. And guards.”

“What about when they get to these places?” He tapped the screen. “Who knows what might happen to ‘em?”

Freya clucked. Twice.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

“Mother hen. Wanting to keep all her chicks under her wing and not let them grow up.”

“Is that wrong?”

“No. Just impossible.”

He sighed again. “I know.” He glanced at the representation of the Empress of Sihnon orbiting a green planet. “And I'm blaming you.”

“I fully admit I suggested it.” She leaned on her elbow on the old wood. “They’re young. They should be able to go out and enjoy themselves. To taste life while they can. And thanks to you, they have the money to do it, too.”

“My own worst enemy,” Mal muttered. He wanted to argue more, but … “Hang on a sec. Did you just sigh?”

She looked up from watching the screen, an expression on her face almost identical to her daughter’s when she’d been caught out in some minor misdemeanour or other. “No.”

“Then you exhaled with meaning.” His eyes narrowed a little. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous. That you’d like to go cruising on that … that.”

“Maybe,” she conceded. “A little.”

Some of her words rolled around his brain again … young … enjoy themselves … taste life … A metaphorical lightbulb when on over his head. “You would have, wouldn’t you? If’n you hadn’t gone to that place …” He didn’t mention the Academy, calling it ‘that place’ about as close as he managed if he could help it.

This time she nodded. “It was a tradition.”

He moved his chair closer to hers. “Wanna tell me about it?”

“Just something else I missed out on.”

“Frey …”

She gazed into his blue eyes, at their softest now. “Okay. It was something that had gone on for generations. As soon as a Rostov girl had celebrated her eighteenth birthday, she was taken out.”

“Out? You mean like abandoned?”

“No.” She grinned as she thumped him lightly on the pad of his arm. “Back on Earth-that-was, girls used to become debutantes and went to any number of balls and parties. Out here, though, it was traditional to take a cruise.”

“And the more it cost the better it looked to the rest of your high-falutin’ society?”

“Something like that.”

“I'm figuring, being a Rostov, yours would’ve been pretty extravagant.”

“Probably. But there was a purpose behind it, too. Girls were meant to have a good time, but also to be on the lookout for a suitable, and suitably wealthy young man, although my grandmother always said it was the best opportunity to fall in love with someone who was anything but.”

“So I’d’ve still stood a chance with you?”

“If you’d been a waiter, or a steward …” Freya’s eyes flashed with mischief. “I could have had my way with you and nobody would have been any the wiser.”

“You still can.” He leaned forward and touched her lips with his. “But this ain’t gonna make me feel any better about letting Val and her sis out alone.”

“Not alone, Mal. I’ve been speaking to Dillon, and he’s got several possible bodyguards in mind.”

“Still don’t like the idea.”

“And they’ll hate the idea of someone watching them all the time, so I think you’re even.”

He smiled. “You’re evil, Freya Reynolds.”

“And just you remember that.” This time she kissed him, although after only a second it was difficult to tell who had initiated what.

“Gorramit,” Jayne muttered, wandering into the kitchen for a snack. “Place gets more and more like a whorehouse.”

The couple at the table ignored him.

---

As always, Bethie and most of the other children were poised by the cargo bay doors as the Firefly made planetfall, and Simon had to smile. His little daughter – his eldest child, as he had to remind himself – was never going to wait patiently for anything, and he could see man-shaped trouble in the future. A long way in the future, he hoped, then added a prayer that at least it wouldn’t be someone like Jayne. Then he yelped and grabbed his arm.

“She could do worse than have a man who loves her for her,” River said quietly, watching him rub where she’d pinched him. “My Jayne is my rock. He ties me to the now when my brain wants to fly to the corners of the ‘verse.” He eyes narrowed slightly, and an expression swept her face that he recognised. “Of course, corners is the wrong word. Can a possibly infinite space have corners? Is infinity possible in and of itself? What is outside?”

Simon grinned. This was his sister, easily distracted. Except when she pinched him again. “Ow!”

“And I still know what you’re thinking.”

“I thought you weren't supposed to peek?” He knew he was going to be bruised.

“Get Kaylee to rub it for you. And you’re my brother. Boob.”

Simon rolled his eyes.

Jayne laughed as he came down the steps from the shuttle, taking his time because Caleb was attempting to traverse the stairs on his own. When the kids started walking, Mal had had the ex-mercenary string nets under all the open catwalks, but accidents could still happen, so the big man was taking extra care.

“She beating up on you again, doc?” he asked though.

Simon was rubbing hard, but it still hurt. “Yes. Can’t you control her?”

“Nope. Never learned how. And neither did you, from the looks of things.”

“I know.” Simon sighed. “I just wish …” He looked at his sister. “Less with the pinching, okay?”

“Okay.” She slapped him instead.

Jayne had to swallow back the guffaw that threatened. “Riv, honey … don’t draw blood.”

“Yes, Jayne.” She smiled sweetly, then turned to watch her son.

“You listen to him, but not your own brother,” Simon groused, then flinched as she held up her hand, her thumb and forefinger making a pinching motion.

“Mama!” Caleb gazed at her, his eyes wide, chuckling to himself. “Mama!” he called again, negotiating the last step before standing proudly on the bay floor.

River scooped him up into her arms. “Who’s a clever boy?” she murmured. “Who’s his Mama’s clever Caleb, then?”

The little boy kissed her cheek.

“Guess one of us has to be clever, ‘cause it sure ain't me,” Jayne growled, slicking his arm around his family. “And won’t be long before he’s runnin’ us ragged.”

“I don’t mind,” River said.

“Me neither.”

Caleb wriggled to be put down, and mindful of her son’s wishes River set him on his feet and watched as he ran, a trifle unsteadily, to the other children. Fiddler looked up at him and gave an experimental bark, as if wondering what the delay was.

“Okay, folks, we’re down.” Hank’s voice filled the cargo bay. “If you’d like to –”

The doors were already sliding open, Bethie’s hand on the button.

“Will you stop doing that?” the pilot complained.

As soon as the ramp touched the ground the children were off, yelling greetings to Inara standing waiting patiently, but not pausing in their race to get to something much more exciting, the little brown dog yapping excitedly at their heels.

“Where are they off to?” Inara asked, seeing Caleb trying gamely to keep up, Jayne and River not far behind.

Simon wandered out into the warm sunshine. “In order of priority, I’d say it was … checking their rooms, seeing if Mrs Boden has any cookies, then making sure the treehouse is still there.”

Inara laughed lightly. “I'm sure you’re right. Although I was hoping you could get Bethie to leave Fiddler on board.”

“Why?”

“Giselle’s just come into season, something she appears to do with monotonous regularity. I’ve already had to beat the neighbouring dogs off … and you can take that look off your face.”

“What look?”

“The one that says you’re visualising just such an occurrence.”

“Well, an ex-Companion thrashing around with a stick … you have to admit, it’s pretty good.”

“Just don’t. And since Fiddler has already had his wicked way with her once … three dogs I can just about manage. Any more and I'm likely to take to my heels and run for the hills.”

Simon tried unsuccessfully to banish that image from his mind as well. Something about this elegant and normally sure of herself woman … but back to business. “As it happens, you don’t need to worry. At least about Fiddler. I did wonder, so I chemically castrated him.”

Inara’s eyes widened. “What?”

“It’s all right, it’s only temporary. But for the next couple of weeks it doesn’t matter what he does, we won’t be leaving Giselle with any little gifts.”

“And it won’t hurt him?”

“Only his pride.”

Inara laughed lightly, and he could see a speculative gleam in her irises. “Could you do that for Giselle?”

“Well, not this time. If she’s already in season it wouldn’t be efficacious. But I can certainly prepare something for you for next.”

“That would be wonderful,” Inara said gratefully.

They could hear Fiddler barking happily somewhere in the orchard.

“Not that I could have stopped her bringing him anyway,” Simon admitted. “She never listens to me.”

“Of course she does,” Inara said, patting him on the arm. “When it’s important.” She looked around. “Where’s Kaylee? And the new arrival?”

A look of pride warmed his face. “My wife is getting my son ready for his grand entrance.” The emphasis he put on the word ‘son’ made Inara smile.

“Well, I can’t wait to see him.”

Mal appeared at the top of the ramp. “Hey, there ‘Nara.”

“Hello, Mal.” She smiled up at him.

“Where’s Sam? You finally worn him out and buried him in the orchard?”

Inara looked back at Simon. “By the way, does that injection work on ship’s captains as well?”

Simon’s laughter echoed through the bay, while Mal looked on, suspicious that he was being insulted but now quite sure how.

---

Valentia and Phoebe Reilly didn’t say a word, just welcomed the crew and played with the children.

“They’re bursting to know your decision,” Freya said to Mal as they got ready for dinner.

“Really? I kinda figured they’d lost interest.”

She turned on him, her hands on her hips, wearing nothing but a pair of panties. “Now, you know that’s not true.”

He smiled, watching her in the mirror as he shaved for the second time that day, at her insistence. “You stand there like that and I’m liable to cut my own throat. Or at the very least give myself a scar to rival Jayne’s.”

“You’re standing there pretty much the same.”

He glanced down at his bare chest. “Yeah, but it might have escaped your attention, but I’m a man.”

She wrinkled her nose at him, but grabbed the seafroth coloured dress from the bed, slipping it over her head. “Better?”

“No bra?”

“I thought I’d go unfettered.”

He groaned slightly, having to put down the naked blade, not trusting his hand. “Honey, please. If’n I know you’re all … free under there, I ain't gonna be able to hold a civilised conversation.”

“Fine.”

Pulling the dress off again, she quickly slipped her bra on, adjusting herself in the cups while he watched her reflection, wondering if he could take a cold shower before heading to the dining room. A twitch of her lips suggested she’d picked up on his stray thought.

“Stop that,” he chided gently.

“Not doing a thing,” she said, sitting on the bed and strapping on flat sandals. “And you’re not going to change the subject. I think Val and Phoebe have been very restrained. Personally I’d have tied you up and not let you go until you’d told me.”

“Another image I’m going to enjoy later.” He grinned, then went back to shaving, taking the lather from the left side of his face.

“They could still go without your permission.”

“I know.”

“And I’ve been thinking.”

Yet again he put the razor down. “Is that a good idea?”

“You’re probably not going to think so.”

---

“Where are they?” Simon asked as he took Bethie’s knife and fork from her. “Just wait, sweetie.”

“Hungry, Daddy.”

“I know. But we have to wait for everyone to arrive.”

Inara, sitting at the head of the table, shrugged. “I don’t think we need to. I have no idea what they’re up to.”

“I do,” Kaylee piped up. She’d been the last to table, at least so far, having put David Gabriel (as he was coming to be called) down in the nursery. One end of the baby monitor sat next to her plate. “When I came by their room, they were arguing.”

“Arguing?” Zoe’s eyes narrowed. “What about?”

“I don’t go ‘round listening at doors!” the young mechanic said petulantly. Then she grinned. “Anyway, the wood’s too thick.”

“Maybe I should go and see if they’re okay,” Simon said, putting his napkin down on the snowy white cloth.

“That might be a good idea,” Inara said, worrying slightly.

“No need,” River said, making sure her cutlery was equally spaced and exactly perpendicular.

“Are you sure about that?” Zoe asked.

The psychic didn’t answer, just looked up expectantly at the door.

It opened, and Freya hurried through, Mal only a pace behind her.

“Oh, I didn’t realise we were keeping everyone,” she said, sitting down quickly and smoothing her dress over her thighs.

Mal took the seat opposite. “Yeah, sorry, ‘Nara.”

“Right. Good,” the ex-companion said, far too brightly. “Then I think we can begin.”

“Daddy?” Bethie asked. “Can I have some dinner? Pleeeease?”

As nearly everyone smiled, and Simon sighed, Zoe leaned over towards Mal.

“Sir? Is everything okay?”

“It’s shiny, Zoe. Me and Frey just had a little disagreement.”

“And yet you’re all in one piece.” She looked him up and down. “I'm guessing she won.”

“You don’t have much faith in me, do you?”

“I know how you feel about her, sir.”

“Hmmn.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Nope. Not a gorram thing.” He nodded at the strapping holding her arm down. “You just concentrate on getting better.”

She knew she wasn’t going to get anything else out of him, so it was with reluctance that she said, “Yes, sir.”

It wasn’t until everyone had eaten their fill, and the slight tension had eased, that Mal spoke up. “If you’d all stop bumping your gums,” he called. “I’ve got something I need to say.”

Conversations ceased, and the room fell silent.

“Go ahead, Mal,” Hank said. “We’re all ears.”

Mal glanced at Freya, who nodded. “Okay. Well, as you’re probably aware, when I was laid up after having the doc stick his hands in my chest, it was suggested a certain couple of young ladies might like to go on a cruise.”

Val and Phoebe sat up, and the silence became even louder. “Uncle Mal?” the elder of the two asked.

He went on, “Now, I've been taking a look at the stuff you sent me, and I’ve decided that, well …” He could see them almost vibrating with anticipation. “Inara seems to think it’s a good idea, so I guess that’s good enough for me.”

“Uncle Mal?” This from Phoebe. “Is that … a yes?”

“It is.”

“Uncle Mal!” the twins chorused, getting up so fast that their chairs fell over, rushing around to his side of the table to hug him.

“Hey, now, I kinda need to breathe,” he protested after a minute.

“Oh, sorry, Uncle Mal,” Val said, letting go and straightening up.

Phoebe held on a moment longer, placing a kiss on his cheek, before joining her sister.

“There’s a couple of conditions, though,” Mal said, trying hard to maintain a serious exterior, even though the rest of his crew were grinning wildly.

“Yes, Uncle Mal.”

“Like I told you before, you ain’t going alone. I don’t care what anyone says, it ain’t safe for two pretty young ladies such as yourselves to be out in the ‘verse without some kind of protection.”

“You gonna get Dillon to find someone?” Jayne asked.

“I am.” Mal looked back at the girls. “But I ain’t gonna make you wait. Not no more. We’ll take you as far as Beaumonde where you can pick up the liner.”

“But Mal,” Inara began. “Who’s going to go with them?”

“I am,” Freya said, and everyone at the table stared at her.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Sunday, October 11, 2009 6:12 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


Very good chapter. And why do I think something is going to happen? Because this is your little 'verse. LOL

Monday, October 12, 2009 12:22 AM

AMDOBELL


Loved, loved, LOVED this! But please don't let Frey be brought to the brink of near death for her good deed. I was kind of hoping Mal AND Frey would go with the girls. Sigh. Guess a Captain's gotta do what a Captain's gotta do. Very shiny! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, October 12, 2009 2:34 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


great stuff....though Fret going without Mal could be trouble.

Monday, October 12, 2009 2:35 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


Oops. that should say Frey. :)


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