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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1018 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The dream followed him on bare feet with a swirly dress. She was like a spirit of storm and wind. He surprised himself sometimes how he'd grown used to the girl's strange whimsy, but then she'd become something familiar too. In any case, wasn't much point yelling at her about what she had no control over, like little Kaylee when an engine or person broke and she took it too hard. He thought maybe they had some innocence left and he wasn't the monster who meant to take that away.
With some detached patience he climbed the stairs, her haunting him all the way like that last glimpse of flashing metal. He turned to her when he reached the top step, just in case their furniture wasn't intact and sword-free. "Go and get that lazy brother of yours up," he ordered. The Tam girl grinned at him, and off she went.
The galley was as it always was, an easy scene for taking their meals like around a campfire, rendered in wood panel and goldenrod with leafy vines stenciled along the walls. No weaponry or impalement waiting for him. He still wasn't sure if he was awake yet or not when Zoë appeared seeming out of nowhere and restless.
Reliable as ever, she took his state at a glance and left him the space to put a kettle of water on the stove. The ritual was almost routine; whenever he couldn't sleep for the gunfire in his mind or when he couldn't find calm in his bunk before he had to be up captaining, he'd wander the ship, then eventually end up in the galley and brew up some coffee. The task distracted him and put him more at ease.
Not to say the stove wasn't a damn aggravation. The burners were so uneven, an unwatched pot would tip over when it boiled, and they had to be constantly nudged upright. With just one threadbare oven mitt and a few ragged towels, there was always a ration of early cussing at breakfast. One time he'd joked that he didn't even need the coffee because he was already awake by the time he got it. Kaylee who loved a homecooked meal and felt responsible for Serenity's every hiccough had pouted at him, and even Wash, after a hard night navigating a rough patch at the helm hadn't any humour to contribute. But they never had money or parts leftover to fix or replace the stove, so in disrepair it remained.
This morning he could still hear Inara screaming for help, and devoted himself with single-minded intensity to the coffee. He couldn't let himself dwell on her, or he'd make himself useless. Wasn't easy to forget her, though, she had a tendency to waltz into his thoughts whenever she felt like it, and damned if sometimes she wasn't welcome. Once he had his hands around a hot mug he was feeling less shaken, and was able to sit by Zoë, dropped into his seat at the head of the table and exchanged a knowing look with her.
In that almost quiet tolerance, it was almost easy to forget their warforged friendship had been ripped apart when Wash's last breath had been ripped from his lungs. That is until he tried to offer her the coffee pot, and she waved him off. After that Zoë's silence kept getting louder, so he made a tactical retreat. He tossed back the rest of the drink, and clunked the tin down, and stood, pushing his chair back. "Better get everyone up 'fore they miss all the crime," he said, and went to the intercom to call the crew.
The Tams were making their way in, River leading her stumbling, half-dressed, and much harassed brother. He watched the young doctor's progress. There was a misery about the boy as he searched around for a couple of bites in the pantry, and Simon kept looking towards the crew corridor like he couldn't decide if he wanted to see Kaylee or to scamper. He looked like a rookie hunter on the trail of his first big game, half eager and half afraid of a mauling. The boy had the steadiest hands on a surgeon he'd ever seen but one sunshine ray of a girl could scatter his wits like so many nutrient bars across a tidy kitchen floor. Mal frowned, annoyed by the display. "Easy, son. She's not a bear."
That seemed to stir Zoë some out of her thoughts. "Hell hath no fury, sir," she quipped, amused.
The boy ducked down to pick up the mess he'd made, on hands and knees reaching around the counter, refusing to acknowledge their teasing. River crouched down nearby, studying his efforts, then snatched one away to her normal place setting.
As the captain, Mal supposed he had some responsibility for Simon and Kaylee beyond making sport of them, both as a couple and for the spat they were having now. Maybe this was something he could actually fix instead of making worse. "If you keep gettin' 'em confused, just remember, Kaylee's the more formidable hugger. Also, they both got a sweet tooth," he supplied.
Simon looked up at him, blue eyes dubious, arms full of wrapped oats, then caught the glance at the pile of strawberry flavoured granola he'd dropped on the counter. "Thanks?" The statement was more question than gratitude.
Mal nodded to the boy anyway, then impatiently hit the com. Hard. "Jayne!" he barked.
A reply was slow coming. "Yeah Mal?"
Another morning routine; getting Jayne up and moving generally required some vague and creative threats. Not even half-hearted meant, though the lummox never seemed to realize it, which Mal supposed was why they still worked as threats. "If you're not in the galley in sixty seconds, I'm sendin' River down after you."
A hesitation. Past events had taught Jayne some fear of the unpredictable and sometimes dangerous girl. "Ain't that a kinda excessive?" The man lowered his voice, though not enough he couldn't be overheard. "She don't fight fair. What if she's stab happy?"
"Then I'll give her the knife!" Mal retorted. The doctor winced, both at the idea of his sister armed and incited to violence, and at having to treat Jayne, who wasn't the best of patients when just getting innocked let alone injured. Mal ignored the objections. "Get up here already. You too Kaylee." She answered with a sleepy affirmative. He pointed at his medic, already set to leave before his not-quite-ex-sweetheart saw him. "And before you run off, I need a list of any meds you think the Alliance onworld might have that we could sell." The girl's hatch opened and Simon was gone. Already in the rhythm of giving orders, the captain didn't miss a beat as the mechanic entered. "What all do you need to get us ready to fly today?"
Kaylee had been only half aware and bed-headed, a rumpled pink shirt hastily thrown on and her cover-all straps handing at her waist, moving absently towards the treats Simon had left out. "Not much, just a few more parts I was thinkin' we could salvage." She picked up one of the snacks. "But we'll need some fuel too, and our powercells been runnin' low."
"You worry about those parts and cells, I'll get us the fuel," he assured her. Some of his new plan to frustrate the Alliance must have shown on his face, because except for River nibbling at an oatmeal biscuit they were all staring at him and a bit unnerved, Kaylee halfway through peeling the plastic off one of the bars, Zoë more than a little suspicious. Before they could ask, he heard the mercenary in the hall. "Jayne, you find any weak points in the blockade when you got back last night?"
Jayne leaned around the corner and squinted at him, then swung his head around to peer at the other crew, looking for help from them as to what was going on, then back when none was forthcoming. "No one stationed in the scrap yard," he answered, shrugging, "Ground's too rugged for a machine gun nest too."
Finally, something going his way. He pushed himself away from the wall where he'd been leaning. "We're heading out then. River, keep your brother out of trouble. Rest of you meet me in the cargo bay, about ten minutes."
- - - - -
The air was dry and already heading towards hot, sun glaring down on them, dust stirred up by the thermals and their passing. Even the capital of Ezra wasn't such a busy town, many of the ship berths were empty, the west end of the port all but abandoned and reclaimed by the dunes. All she could see for a while was the construction yellow of the hovermule and beige, Zoë steering them up, over, and between. The sand shifted around them, seeming almost to sparkle like diamonds. As they approached the scrap yard, there were bits of junk that stuck out, scattered over the field at first then becoming denser, until they were more on top rummage than they were ground.
For Kaylee, all the heaps of twisted metal they were rushing by were good as a playground. She'd get her chance on the way back later, but even the promise of new toys and parts wasn't enough to cheer her. She hadn't seen Simon all morning, and she was afraid what that meant.
Captain had traded usual places with Jayne to sit by her instead of up front with Zoë. She knew he was sorry and wanted to say so. But he was reminding her what she'd done and wished he'd say his piece already.
Once they were out of the secure zone and hadn't tripped any automated defense, Zoë turned them towards the distant spires overlooking the bazaar where they'd been before and Captain cleared his throat awkwardly. "Led you wrong about Simon," he admitted. Kaylee understood. And Inara, he meant, but didn't say, couldn't say without the name and the memory hurting him.
The tears sprung to her eyes, but she blinked them away and set her mouth. She wasn't going to cry, because she could see Zoë and Jayne half listening in, because everyone needed her to be strong. Especially him. "You couldn't help it," she told him, even though she was still mad at him. He couldn't deny the fact, but she continued on before he could think up a way. "Me neither. He couldn't even talk to me 'cuz how I'd react, I been so sure I wasn't good enough." She was more angry with herself. "And whad'ya know, thinkin' that way just made me right."
His mouth dropped with some outrage on her behalf. "Not good enough! What kind of... Kaywinnit Lee, I never seen a better mechanic or more cheerful soul in all the 'verse, even when you ain't doin' much of either." He spoke with an odd mix of stern affection and jest. "I don't know where you get these ideas, but I hear talk like that out of you again, you'll be wearing bows and ruffles for the foreseeable until your head gets full up."
He was trying, but he'd really only succeeded in upsetting her. How could he say that, when he thought he wasn't even worth the bullets shot at him? She looked away, watching houses with colourful hangings and curious locals streak past. "Maybe I should be talkin' to Simon."
He agreed. "Maybe so."
She chewed on her lip a little, and the worry she'd been trying not to give voice to slipped out. "What if he don't forgive me?" She almost said it in a whimper. Amazing what one boy could do to a girl. A real shuài boy, and nice, and polite, and smart, and so good, with those pretty eyes and smooth cheeks and those hands and his mouth and that body. He was perfect, she thought. Maybe a little shy, but then she could surprise him, and oh, he was a quick learner. There were so few boys she ever wanted more than having a little fun with, and she just couldn't stand it if he didn't like her anymore.
A snort, almost a laugh. "Wouldn't be Simon if he don't," he answered, matter of fact.
Kaylee wasn't sure if she believed him, but that made her feel better anyway. She smiled and Zoë drove on.
- - - - -
The two teenagers laid their brother to rest in the sandy churchyard, while the priests and the stark edifice of the temple behind them officiated, stone-faced and world-weary. They'd wrapped the boy in linen because they couldn't afford a coffin. There was only a small gathering - anything larger attracted the attention of Alliance patrols, and at the center, the open grave was given wide berth by the other onlookers except for the lonely and abandoned pair of kinfolk.
No pomp, no honours, one of millions that died in the verse, but Zoë saw how those gangly young pall-bearers carried themselves. She'd been born and raised military, couldn't be any other way. When the Alliance had gone after the traditional militias, joining up on the other side had been part professional necessity, part retaliation for the betrayal. But once the war ended she had nothing else to do, and she joined the Dust Devils to keep fighting.
So she knew what they were. These children, young as they were, they were soldiers. That boy, being put in the ground, that could very well be her own someday if nothing changed. She crossed her arms around herself, felt an anger like a sickness at whoever could use them like that.
The captain and the crew all remained seated to show their respect, but she couldn't watch anymore. She rose out of the driver seat and and swung herself over and onto the ground. Mal was wondering at her, but she didn't answer. He wanted to consort with the type made little kids fight their battles for them, she'd have no part of it.
She stared down a young priest trying to get her to put a scarf over her hair, and pushed by when he'd given up. Despite the tall facade out front, the chapel was rather humble on the inside, a one story collection of rooms made out of the sandstone and adobe the locals had available. In the main hall, instead of artifacts, there were refugees everywhere, laying on bedrolls and waiting for their second chance. Not unlike a number of other houses of worship they'd holed up in that had gotten desecrated by both Independent and Alliance shrapnel. Far as Zoë could tell, except for the end of the war, there'd been no karma or divine backlash. She figured if there were any gods up there between the stars that disapproved they'd be more direct.
Mal might think he was subject to some wrath still, but that wouldn't stop him, any more than all the other hardship and near death. Didn't much matter to him where he was smote. He strode into a church nowadays like it was a challenge to the almighty.
He found her easily. She hadn't gone far from the archway, spotting a group of foundlings dressed like Inara had been the night before, white scraps of barely there and no other clothing to their name. Former slaves.
The youngest of them had skin like coal, and the other girls said she'd been injured in the explosion. Zoë knelt by her and stroked a hand over the frizzy little head of hair, and the child slept on in some kind of exhaustion. She'd spent long nights in the med tent like this, but these kids hadn't chosen this, hadn't volunteered or gone through boot camp. This was the only life they'd known.
Mal was hovering nearby and hadn't said anything yet, just watching her. She tilted her head up at him and narrowed her eyes. "Captain," she prompted, ready for the next fight. The title slipped out of her mouth like a bad habit. At this rate it would be the first word her baby said.
Instead of impatience, like she'd been expecting, he looked stricken. "Zoë," he answered, and then his eyes flicked down to her hand, still on top of the little girl's head, and like always, she followed his lead. "Wash was a funny guy - in all sense and meaning - but he was there when it counted," Mal said, like he needed to tell her. "Good pilot, good man, I'm assuming good husband." The Reynolds brand of sympathy, annoying and ironical, but also sincere. "He'd have made a good father."
The man never made anything easy, even being angry with him. But she had to, else her child and Wash's would never have a chance. As his corporal for two years in the war and his second in command for almost a full decade after, she was the only one he allowed to question his orders, call him out on his shén jīng bìng plans, even insult him, but none of those confrontations had ever felt this final. She took a deep breath. No time like the present.
"I'm pregnant." She covered her belly; it was all she had left of him. A wistfulness came over her, some kind of grief, the first time she'd admitted the fact. But there was a joy at the realization too, unexpected but real. "Go into that base, take down the Alliance, save her if you can. But I'm stayin' behind when you do."
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