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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Tales & stories come out into the open--more than a little dark. But not to worry, Jayne, the philosopher, also explains women.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3281 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Blue Sun Job, Part 31: The Heart of the Matter
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: InteractionsBlue Sun Job, Part 27: CaughtBlue Sun Job, Part 28: A Preacher, A Whore, and a Thief…Blue Sun Job, Part 29: …And the Thief Said…Blue Sun Job, Part 30: All Kinds of Wrong
Mal took the stairs two at a time. There weren’t enough stairs. And not enough ship. No place to run. No place to hide. Wouldn’t matter no how--wasn’t the here and now he wanted to run from.
Stopping on the landing, Mal sank back against the wall and concentrated on breathing. One breath after another. Keep going one minute to the next. 他妈的. This talking on the bad times was supposed to make ‘em all shiny again? Well, when? ‘Cause it sure weren’t happening now. Another breath. Get a gorram grip, Reynolds. It’s just words. Past. Nothing. Don’t mean nothing. He took the rest of the stairway at a slow trudge. Was this accomplishing anything except to give the preacher nightmares too?
Wash sat alone on the bridge, not doing anything, sunk down in the pilot’s seat staring out at the stars. He didn’t look up as Mal entered. Quite an array of stars it was. They were near the galaxy’s edge--the place of nothing--but were aimed to look at a fine display of stars. Mal frowned at it. He preferred the Black.
“You turn us over this way?” he asked Wash.
“Yeah,” Wash answered shortly, still not looking up at Mal.
“Feeling a need for a good view?” Mal persisted.
At that Wash did look up at him. The man wore an expression as distant as the stars themselves. Hell, he wasn’t ignoring the captain just because he was pissed at him. He was lost in his own gorram woods.
“No,” Wash said distractedly, turning away. He jabbed aimlessly at a few controls. “Just making damned sure no one’s on our tail. Might make a habit of that from now on. Change the ship’s attitude now and again. Doesn’t take but a twitch of the maneuvering thrusters. Maybe call it a ‘Crazy Wash’.”
“Fits,” Mal commented dryly. Wash hadn’t even tried to punch the joke. 他妈的 hell… Mal stepped up closer, to the center of the bridge. He leaned against the stair railings, peering upward out the windows. “Listen,” he said, the words trailing off before he could even really form them. It was harder to say than he’d thought it would be. Mal took a deep breath. “I’m sorry about the baby.”
Mal felt Wash jerk, startled, to stare at him.
“It… um…,” Wash stuttered, “it wasn’t really a… it was just, uh… You know, not really a ba--”
“Yes. It was,” Mal said sharply, staring hard at Wash. “It was and you don’t gotta go pretending you think otherwise.”
Wash’s shock at Mal’s words--and at his attitude, Mal knew--smacked back like a recoil. “You…? Um…” Wash stopped and shook himself. He swallowed hard and blinked rapidly. Mal fought the need to look away. “Zoe doesn’t… She doesn’t think it was anything at all.” Wash gulped. “Just what Simon kept saying… just a bunch of cells. Not meant to be…” He turned away from Mal, looking away out the windows.
Mal closed his eyes for a split. Leave it be. Walk away. Easiest all the way around just to avoid the whole damned mess. But Book’s words and ways nagged at him. He needs to know.
“Wash,” Mal said very slowly, very carefully, “Zoe may say that, but she don’t believe it. She’s lying to you, and she’s lying to herself.” He pushed on the back of the pilot’s chair, spinning it around so Wash faced him. Mal held Wash’s eyes. Straightening, Mal fixed a fierce look on Wash. “Don’t let her get away with it. Don’t let her bury it like it never happened. Like it never meant…” He blinked hard himself, “…like it never meant a thing.”
Abruptly, Mal strode away, off the bridge.
Wash’s voice caught him at the doorway. “Captain?”
Mal stopped and glanced around. A dozen questions played over Wash’s face. He opened his mouth to ask and Mal didn’t know how he’d answer any of them.
“Uh… thanks,” Wash said shortly, twisting his seat back around to stare again at the cool, distant stars.
Mal stared at his pilot’s back for a moment. A strange kinship. So strange…
As Mal walked quietly down the corridor toward the dining area, he realized he hadn’t heard Wash joke or laugh in some time. Strange kinship, indeed.
A little twitch of a smile touched the corner of Mal’s mouth as he came to the dining room and saw Kaylee at work behind the kitchen counter. At least his living ray of sunshine would brighten the bleak gloom that had settled over the ship. Then he heard the suppressed sob and Mal groaned out loud.
Kaylee glanced over at him, quickly wiping her eyes and pasting on a badly faked smile.
“Hey, cap’n,” she called, trying to sound cheerful, but her voice cracked a mite as she did.
Crap, Mal thought, heaving an inward sigh. Not so much what he wanted to be dealing with right at this very time.
Cussing fervently to himself, he didn’t break stride but went right over to her and wrapped his arms around her. As he expected, Kaylee melted against him, breaking into heart-wrenching sobs. Just 他妈的 great.
“Mei-mei,” he murmured, stroking her hair. “Tell me these waterworks ain’t on account of those Feds.”
She didn’t make whole words, only disjointed sounds, but Mal felt her nodding. “I killed ‘em,” she finally managed to get out between sobs.
Gorram 他妈的 hell. “Kaylee,” Mal said insistently, trying to get her to look up, but she kept her face buried tightly against his chest. “As I hear it you weren’t alone in the doing of it. The others had a hand. No need for you to be all guilty over it.” Another innocence shattered.
Sniffling loudly, Kaylee said, “I set that shuttle to blow. It’s on account of me they’re dead.”
“Okay,” Mal said, firmly shoving her out to arms’ length. “So you killed ‘em. You made the decision that’s what needed doin’ and you did it.” Kaylee looked puppy-eyed at him, startled at his bluntness. “You come up with any different options on the situation? Huh? You’ve obviously been workin’ at it. You work out any different ways that scenario could have played out that would ease your conscience?”
Sniffle. “No,” she said in a small voice. “I mean… maybe. We could have, you know, taken them on Serenity and tied them up and…”
“And what?” Mal asked harshly. “Killed them later? You’d’a rather I did it? Or Zoe? Or Jayne? ‘Cause we woulda. Would have had to. You know that. Weren’t no way we could let them live.” Mal dropped his grip on her arms and leaned on the counter with a sigh. “Damn it…” He turned to face her, studying her sternly. “Kaylee. You know the way of it. You know what we face out here and how we live. These ain’t secrets to you. Can you live with it? Or do you want me to take you back home?”
“Cap’n! No,” she squeaked. “This is my home. Serenity’s my home.” She crumpled in a bit on herself and Mal had his own battle not to just hug the girl close and tell her it was all alright. Lie to her. No. She had to come to her own terms with it. All the memories brought up to the surface swept Mal back in time and he saw the parade of young faces and the looks in their eyes the first time they had to kill. All the training in the ‘verse couldn’t change the impact of that moment. By and by they grew numb to it. Somewhere, somewhen, he’d become numb to it, too, callous, indifferent. Didn’t mean a thing. But Kaylee… Kaylee felt with a deep, raw intensity.
Mal eased his stern stance. This girl wasn’t a soldier. Hardening her wasn’t really what he wanted for her. Not for her, and--selfishly--not for him. “Come here, mei-mei,” he said gently, holding out his hand. Leading Kaylee over to the lounge area, he sat down in one of the cushy chairs, pulling her down next to him. “I wish you didn’t have to deal with this. You’re a brave girl, and a strong as any I’ve ever seen, but you’re no killer and I regret like hell that you had to be, especially on my account. Weren’t a thing I ever wanted you to have to deal with.”
Nestling in close, Kaylee whispered into his neck. “I ain’t brave. Don’t see you or Zoe going all to pieces like this.”
With a chuckle, Mal squeezed her. If only you knew. We each got our own ways about it. “It’s got nothin’ to do with ‘brave’, Kaylee. You think it didn’t affect me, first time I killed someone? Think it didn’t trouble me?” Kaylee didn’t answer but twisted her neck to peer at him, puzzled. “I’ll tell you, sweetie… I didn’t hesitate, no more’n you did, ‘cause it needed doin’. And I didn’t regret it. And I don’t regret it. But I saw that fellow’s face in my head every waking and sleeping moment for some time to come. I still can if I go lookin’. And it ain’t ‘cause I felt I’d done a wrong in taking him out--I’d already seen that particular one kill my neighbor and my own bestest friend. Even still I felt guilty about ending him.”
Kaylee scowled up at him, suddenly concern for him dripping out of those melty eyes of hers instead of tears. Mal gave her an extra little hug. “You ain’t never said nothing like that before, cap’n. That happen back on your home world?”
“That it did, mei-mei. Alliance landed a force meaning to put us down. Didn’t work out that way for ‘em. At least not that time,” Mal said. He looked down at her seriously. “There’s a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. And that’s the way the ‘verse is, only it’s long on the killing and weeping and mourning and short on the shiny things. But you’re one of the shiny things and I want you to keep to those. 懂吗? Don’t let yourself get mired in the muck.”
Regarding him a long time, Kaylee seemed to be considering what he’d said. At least she’d stopped crying. Finally, she asked, “Did you just quote the Bible at me, cap’n?”
Mal thought for a second, then wryly said, “It ‘pears I did at that.”
“Do you think that’s like to happen again?” she asked.
Shaking his head, Mal repressed a chuckle as he said, “I shouldn’t think so.”
“Mmmm….” Kaylee’s eyes played over him, her curiosity probing into him. Mal couldn’t help but give a small smile. “It’s kinda unsettling, you doin’ that,” she said.
Holding his expression bland, Mal said, “Have to agree with you there.”
She nodded, still studying him. “Okay, then. So, how old were you?”
Mal shrugged. “Eighteen, I guess.”
“Younger’n me,” Kaylee said softly. She looked down and away and the tears started leaking again, silently this time. Oh, gorrammit.
“Hey, lil’ Kaylee…” Mal tilted her chin up. “What is it now?”
She sniffled long and loud. Burying her face back against his chest, he felt her tears soaking into his shirt. In a tiny voice Kaylee said, “Ain’t just that I killed ‘em, cap’n.” She sniffed. “It’s that I wanted to.”
Mal held her, frozen and silent, as Kaylee’s tears dripped onto him. He was saved from thinking of something to say--there was nothing coming--by Jayne tromping down into the dining room, sniffing the air like a hound on the trail.
“Supper ‘bout ready?” Jayne called, casting about. He stopped when he spotted Mal and Kaylee. “Thought Kaylee was cookin’.”
“She was,” Mal said, giving Jayne a firm watch-what-you-say look. “Finish up for her, Jayne. Stuffs all laid out.”
Jayne stared a moment, as if pondering his inevitable protest. Mal knew a crying Kaylee was a powerful thing, even to an insensitive galoot like Jayne. Maybe especially so.
“Ain’t much here,” Jayne said, examining the half-prepared meal. “Emergency protein rations.” He held a package up toward Mal. “Yuck.”
“Just fix what there is,” Mal ordered impatiently. “We’ll be landing in a few hours and can resupply.”
With a predictable string of low grumbly complaints, Jayne set about ripping open packets and dumping them into the pots Kaylee had started. Hard to say, Mal thought, if he was putting the stuff in the kettles Kaylee had intended or not, but figured it didn’t much matter. It wasn’t set to be no gourmet meal anyhow.
“What’s Kaylee all in a fluster about?” Jayne called. “Tell me she ain’t still upset about blowin’ up them dumbass Feds.”
“Jayne.” Mal shot a warning glare at him but Jayne the philosopher-shrink appeared to be back on duty. Kaylee burrowed in tighter against Mal and he felt the hot tears renew. 他妈的.
“Hell, Kaylee,” Jayne went on without a break. “Them bastards didn’t feel a thing. There’s lots worse ways to go.” He noticed Mal’s black glare and blushed slightly. “If I’d’a known it was gonna bug you so gorram much, I’d’a popped ‘em myself afore we closed up that shuttle,” Jayne added.
Sure as hell wish you had, Mal thought. Simon came into the dining room on the tail end of that comment, leading River. He took in the scene at a glance, exchanging a quick look with Mal. Apparently he got the ‘shut-up’ message Mal shot at him because, for once, he had the sense to not blurt out some excessively intrusive question. Instead he quietly seated River and himself at the table. Inara entered from the other direction, also keeping her peace after meeting Mal’s eyes for a split. Book, Zoe, and Wash filled out the table, all staring over at Mal and Kaylee. Zoe’s look at Mal was long and consisted of an entire conversation between them. Mal saw her well-concealed twitch of memory that matched his own before she looked away. Mal noticed Book’s quick back-and-forth glance between Zoe and Mal. Was the preacher learning to read their no-talking talks? Book settled his expression into a solemnly thoughtful one and said nothing.
“It’s about supper time, Kaylee,” Mal whispered to her, stroking her hair. “Come on. Get yourself together.”
Kaylee shifted against him, pushing herself upright, swiping at her eyes. “Sorry, cap’n,” she murmured.
“Nothin’ to be sorry about,” Mal told her evenly. “Just come on and eat.”
When they were all seated, Jayne inelegantly plopped the pots from the stove down onto the table, dropping a couple ladles down beside them. Mal could just picture Momma Cobb serving up her vittles with as much propriety. Plates were filled with the unappetizing glop, handed around the table until everyone had a serving.
Shepherd Book bent his head for his inevitable, though silent, saying of grace. For the first time, Mal waited until he’d finished before settling in to eat. No one else noticed save Zoe, who gave him a studied examination.
He picked up his spoon and poised it over the plate. The grey mess on Mal’s dish bore an unpleasant resemblance to the 狗屎 the Alliance fed prisoners. The sight called to mind too many things… Images… In the brig of Harken’s cruiser, he’d seen it crawling with… Oozing with… Mal shook himself and set the spoon down abruptly. Why would this…? He hadn’t even been thinkin’ on it. It was just a 他妈的 plate of food. That’s all. Why…? He knew a damned flashback when he felt one. It wasn’t in the seeing. It was in the feeling. The sensations. Helpless. Despair. Trapped. Out of the blue. No warning. Why would this…? Just a plate… Mal snatched up his cup and took a gulp. Weak tea. Yuck. Used both hands to steady the trembling.
“Captain?” Book’s voice came as a low murmur beside him. The tone, low and calm, steadied him. Mal took another gulp and glanced up. No one else was looking, each absorbed in their ownselves and their own worries. Kaylee stirred her food aimlessly, not eating. River built a little landscape out of the grey lumps, humming as she did. Wash’s eyes remained fixed on Zoe, eating methodically without paying any attention. Zoe ate with a cool eat-to-survive-and-never-mind-what-it-is air about her. Simon nibbled, seasoning and reseasoning the mess between each reluctant bite.
“This ain’t half bad,” Jayne announced, ladling another dishful out of the pot with a loud scraping to get every bit.
Mal let out a slow breath. He flicked a brief glance at the Shepherd, then picked up his spoon again.
“So, what’s wrong, Kaylee?”
Mal fixed a deadly glare on Simon. Well, give the boy credit, he’d held back on the intrusive questions for a couple whole minutes. Kaylee sniffled. Mal moaned. Zoe shifted her chair with a slight scraping that she somehow managed to make sound threatening. Wash’s eyes darted around, baffled, like he’d been woken from a dream and didn’t know where he was. Inara sighed softly. And River giggled as her protein mountain collapsed under its own weight wiping out the valley she’d constructed.
“Ah, hell…” Jayne started and Mal tensed.
“So did they court-martial you, captain?” Book cut in abruptly.
The ‘verse jumped tracks. Mal blinked. Everyone else turned to stare.
Book gave a casual--extremely casual, as if nothing was off kilter here--shrug. “I was just wondering about the rest of the tale. You never said if the Independents court-martialed you or not. Did they?”
Mal stared at Book. Everyone else stared at Mal.
“Uh… no,” he said, still staring at Book. What was the man playing at? He’d sworn he’d keep their confidences. “They, uh… We, uh…” he took a breath, “…started a new offensive ‘bout then. It all got dropped.”
“Hmmm…” Book looked back down at his plate. Every other eye at the table was still locked on Mal.
“Why for were they gonna court-martial you?”/“What were they going to court-martial you for?” Jayne and Simon in unison. Mal flicked back and forth between them. That was its own kind of scary.
Zoe looked at Mal, her face blankly controlled but her eyes richly expressive.
Mal took a gulp of the crappy--now cold--tea. “Disobeying orders,” he said shortly.
“You?!” When did Jayne and Simon start operating off the same page of dialog? Stop it, Mal wanted to shout at them. It’s creepy.
“Just that once,” Mal muttered in a surly ‘drop it’ tone.
Zoe’s derisive snort punctuated the moment. Mal glared at her.
“Yes, sir,” Zoe said complacently, looking back down obediently, then she chuckled. “‘Just that once’,” she echoed. No mistaking the ironical tone. Mal scowled. “The brass flat-ass ordered him ‘no’, but Mal went on in anyhow, never minding the orders or what they’d do to him later.” Her look became distant. “He got three whole platoons shot up bad, a landing craft destroyed, and damned near got killed his ownself.”
Mal held his breath.
“What’d he do that for?” It was Kaylee’s voice ringing in.
Zoe smiled serenely at her. “To save me.”
A wordless murmur rippled around the table. Inara gently urged Zoe to go on with the tale.
Mal sank back in his chair and gave Book a long, dark look. “Just trust me, son,” Book murmured so low no one else heard. “Let her talk.”
Shoving his untouched plate away from him--Jayne noticed and reached over to snag it--Mal listened to Zoe tell the story. Wash sat rigidly beside her, staring at her, his face pale, eyes wide. He knew the dark side of this story now, from Mal’s words to Harken. He’d never heard Zoe tell it before. And what she told differed radically from what Mal had, not in the basic facts, but in the way the story was told. Zoe spoke with the same pleasant, melodious way she always did with the war stories, as if they were light, happy tales, no matter how grim the subject. Walls of bodies, rib cages, stolen moustaches… all the same. Mal had never really noticed before how she told these tales. Huh.
“That first one you killed there, on your daddy’s ship,” Kaylee said in a low voice, “Did you… did you regret it?”
Zoe gave the girl a gentle smile. “Only that he died fast,” she said. Her smiled broadened a touch. “The next one I got to take a little time with.”
“Hmmph.” Mal made the sound before he could stop himself. Everyone turned toward him. “Uh…” he stumbled, “her little project like to got me killed is all.” He looked down uncomfortably.
With a smile, Zoe said, “Sarge let himself get distracted there for a moment. Let one of the Feds put a bullet in him…” She went on with a censored version of how Mal found her in the complex and how they fought their way out.
A silence settled over the table.
“Why’d the Feds have you separated from the others in that rec room?” Simon asked, as ever, without thinking first. Mal could see him fill in the answer for himself even before he finished the question. “Oh.” He stopped abruptly, blushing and looking down.
Zoe’s calm smile remained frozen in place. “Yes,” she said smoothly. “They were having their way with me. Happened to more’n a few of the women who were captured. Then and… later.”
Mal forgot to breathe. Wash looked like he’d forgotten how, too. Inara wore a shocked expression. Mal understood it. Jayne looked like he’d like to go back in time and gut a few of the bastards himself. Mal understood that, too. River… River was elsewhere, though Mal had a hunch the girl was listening and understanding more than it appeared. Only Zoe remained the picture of unruffled serenity.
“They raped you?” Kaylee’s voice was faint.
“Yes, they did, Kaylee,” Zoe said steadily.
“But you’re so… strong. Tough.” Another tear rolled down Kaylee’s cheek. “That bounty hunter threatened to do that to me, ‘cause I was so weak,” she whispered. Mal looked at her, startled. He hadn’t known that. He should have known that. A glance at Simon told him that the doctor did know, and that others at the table suspected. “I was so scared. I felt so helpless.” She looked up at Zoe. Her voice firmed up. “I wanted to kill those Feds on that shuttle. I wanted to. ‘Cause I wanted to do that to him and I couldn’t.”
Book’s hand on Mal’s arm stopped him from moving or speaking. From the corner of his eye, Mal saw the preacher give him a slight shake of his head.
Zoe reached across the table to take Kaylee’s hand. “It doesn’t make it go away. The vengeance, the revenge. ‘Cause taking their lives doesn’t put back what got took. There’s always stronger. There’s always gonna be stronger. You be strong in yourself and it don’t matter--to you, the real you--what someone else does to you,” Zoe said softly to Kaylee as though they were the only two people present. “Time. People you trust,” she flicked a brief glance at Mal. Wash saw it. “People who understand.”
Kaylee sniffled deeply. “He didn’t even really rape me… I mean, it ain’t like I’m no untried virgin or nothing. Shouldn’t be so…”
“It’s not about sex, Kaylee,” Zoe said, the words coming out of her fast, like she hadn’t really thought them before but they were sudden truths just tumbling out of her. “It never is. Never was.” She fell silent, turned inward.
“Kaylee, mei-mei,” Inara’s soft voice flowed out of the silence. “What I do isn’t about sex, either, at least not for the Companion…”
“Well, that’s purely disappointing as hell to hear,” Jayne muttered.
No, it’s not, Mal thought.
Inara scowled at Jayne. Mal guessed she’d have smacked him again if she were closer. Curious relationship those two were forming. A whore and a mercenary… well, they did have that in common.
“It’s about perceptions, perceptions of self, yours and theirs,” Inara went on to Kaylee. “And letting those perceptions be created in a way that doesn’t cause you to lose the power that is yourself regardless of what’s happening to your body.” Weird that Inara would be thinking ‘bout her job when the gals at the table were talking about rape, Mal thought. Is that what her work she did meant to her? Controlled, paid for, abuse? And she got nothing from it but being demeaned for money? It was an ugly thought. Went way the hell beyond his notion of whoring.
Zoe’s smile had faded away. “It’s about destroying that power in you. It’s about helplessness. About taking away all your power and control over your very own self, hurting you and making you helpless.” She turned and gave Mal a long, studied look that he didn’t understand. “What they did to Mal there, at that prison, was the same,” Zoe said, her voice still quiet and low. Mal remained so fixed on her, he scarcely noticed the others turn toward him. “Locking him up there in the dark for so long, helpless and hurting. Trying to drive him mad, take away himself. It’s the same.”
People who understand… Huh, Mal thought.
Mal slipped away from the table the instant no one was looking directly at him. Zoe, Inara, and Kaylee had continued talking--Zoe in cold pragmatics, Inara in vague off-in-the-ether philosophies, but Kaylee in an ever more perky, engaged way. It heartened Mal. That lil’ gal just needed to talk it out with some womenfolk that understood. The sunshine was still there, just needed the clouds pushed back away. She’d be changed by it all, no denying, but she’d still be Kaylee… the real Kaylee.
There was one for the preacher’s scorecard, Mal thought as he walked down the catwalk in the cargo bay. And, just maybe, one for getting Zoe to finally talk on what happened to her so long ago. Would helping Kaylee out help out Zoe too? It was good notion, Mal decided. Book had got ‘em talking on it so easy, with one simple question. No deep ‘now let’s have a big serious confession session’, just kinda natural. Not too shabby.
In Inara’s shuttle, Mal snatched up the pill bottle he’d left there the night before. He wasn’t set on taking any more, but lacking any decent liquor--and not like to find any at a religious Sanctuary--he thought it might be a good idea to have them on hand in case any more dinner plates got to acting spooky on him. Then there was the whole issue of sleeping, too. He gazed thoughtfully at her bed before turning away.
Slowly coming down the stairs into the cargo bay, Mal heard the clanking of Jayne’s weights.
“I escaped right after you,” Jayne said when he spotted Mal approaching. “All that talk of guttin’ fellers for wrong touching ain’t good for a man’s digestion.”
Mal chuckled. Sometimes a bit of Jayne-wisdom weren’t a half bad thing. Weren’t half good neither, but at least it was forthright and crude and that was something.
“I hear that,” Mal said, then decided to tweak Jayne a bit more. “And ‘gut’, well now, that there’s the dainty way to describe what Zoe really did to them fellas.”
“Ewww…” Jayne cringed. Then he snorted, giving Mal a knowing up/down look. “Explains why you weren’t never keen to carry on with Zoe. Seeing a thing like that’s gotta make a man a mite standoffish. That little man she married’s braver than I thought.” He snorted again. “Maybe braver than he thought.”
Jayne eased back and hoisted his weights up and held them. He wore a serious, pondery face. “Don’t rightly understand why any man would do a thing like that to a gal, not when there’s willing women all about, free or pay.”
Though he already knew Jayne wasn’t the sort to do such a thing to a woman, it was comforting to hear it said. For all the ways he didn’t trust Jayne, there were ways he did, or he wouldn’t have him on his boat no way, no how.
“It’s like they said, Jayne. Ain’t about sex,” Mal said.
“It’s what Zoe said about power and helplessness.” Book’s voice came from above. Mal glanced up at Shepherd Book coming down the stairs.
“They still talking?” Mal asked.
“Yes,” Book answered, joining them by Jayne’s weight bench.
Jayne grunted as he pressed the weights. “Just the girls left up there, huh?”
“Well,” Book said judiciously, “Wash feels obliged to stay on account of Zoe. And I think it’s important he does. And Simon…”
“Is one’a the girls,” Jayne put in quickly, snorting at his own joke. Mal, and even Book, had a brief struggle not to laugh. Mal lost the struggle.
“River won’t leave and I suspect Simon’s finding the discussion useful in understanding her,” Book said. He moved to sit down on the steps.
Jayne’s weights landed with a loud clank. He sat up suddenly. “You saying that little girl was molested too, preacher?” Jayne demanded. Mal stared at him in surprise. Jayne defensive of River?
Book shook his head. “Not sexually, no. But you’re aware of what was done to her--the invasions and violations to her body, her mind, her spirit. There are corollaries.”
Jayne stared blankly. “Cora-who?”
“Similarities,” Book amended. He glanced at Mal. “It’s like the point Zoe made about what was done to you. Designed to manipulate the mind and break the spirit.”
“So we’re all freakin’ moonpies on this boat,” Mal muttered, wearily rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Gorramit. That’s what I’ve been sayin’ all along,” Jayne said. “Why don’t nobody ever listen to me?” He waggled a finger at Mal. “You just gotta keep that crazy focused on thievin’. 懂吗? Big, crazy scores. Then everything’ll be just fine.”
Mal scowled at Jayne but grinned at the preacher. “That your assessment too, Shepherd?” he asked teasingly. “Thou shalt not steal, right? But it was the smuggling we got caught for, not the thievin’. Don’t recollect a ‘thou shalt not evade tariffs and port inspections,’ huh? Illegal ain’t necessarily sinful, that so, preacher? Smuggling goods to folks what need ‘em probably not even a sin in your book.”
“Well…” Book said slowly with a twinkle in his eye Mal couldn’t quite interpret. “I do have some notions on that subject. Some as may surprise you, I suspect. We’ll talk about them after we land.”
Footsteps on the stairs distracted Mal from probing into these notions of the preacher’s. They looked up to see Wash descending the stairs. His hair stood up every which way, as if he’d been raking his fingers through it repeatedly. Wash gave the men watching him an eye-rolling, totally overwhelmed sigh.
“They finally cracked you, huh?” Jayne asked, grinning.
“Zoe made me leave,” Wash said. “They started to get technical into things a man hadn’t ought to hear.”
Jayne stared upwards, obviously intrigued. “Really?”
Settling down beside Book, Wash gave a full-body shudder. “That was kinda a lot to absorb all at once,” he said. He glanced at Mal, giving him a studied look. “How come Zoe never told me all that before?”
Mal shifted uncomfortably. “It’s what was. You’re what is,” he said tersely.
“Why didn’t you…?”
“Not my place,” Mal cut him off bluntly. Mal turned away, moving to the other stairs, to sit opposite Wash and Book. “Hell… been with her half my life. Learned a thing or two tonight myself,” Mal said with a sigh.
“Females is complicated critters,” Jayne inserted, sounding as though he was making a profound, and newly discovered, proclamation. All the men murmured agreement.
“That may be the most intelligent thing you’ve ever said, Jayne,” Simon’s voice cut the moment of silence. They all looked over at Simon as he strode into the cargo bay from the direction of the infirmary. Simon rubbed his temples as though in pain.
“Well, hell, doc. You’re leaving that coffee klatsch up there one short,” Jayne said with a grin.
“I was reluctant to leave River,” Simon said, giving Jayne a quick dirty look, “with such a, uh… graphic conversation going on, even though technically I suppose she is an adult…” Simon sighed heavily. He came to sit on the steps by Mal. “I’m a doctor,” he announced. “They made me blush.”
All the men chuckled.
“Well, men and women can’t always be completely themselves in the company of the opposite sex,” Book said.
“That why you ain’t got no women in your order there, Shepherd?” Jayne asked.
“One of the reasons,” Book said.
“Suppose that’s really what Inara thinks of her work?” Mal asked low, in the preacher’s general direction.
“Disappointing as hell,” Jayne muttered.
“Not as ‘rape’, certainly,” Book said, clearly measuring his words carefully. Mal studied him. He knew the Shepherd and the Companion spent some time talking, but he didn’t know about what. Society learning and such, he’d always figured. “I don’t think that was Inara’s point. I think she meant more that the, uh, service she performs for her clients, while sexual in nature, is not… ahem…” Mal’s lips twitched with amusement as Book paused for a badly faked cough. “…not sexually meaningful for her. It’s a service that doesn’t touch at the core of her own being, or her own needs and desires.”
“Surely, Jayne,” Simon started and Mal couldn’t help thinking the boy was always determined to step right into it, pretty shoes or not, “you can’t believe that the plethora of whores you engage are actually so overwhelmed by your prowess that they, themselves, achieve satisfaction?”
Jayne glared at him. “Damned straight, I do. And they do,” he added with a brook-no-argument nod.
“Ah, delusions are such useful things,” Wash injected with a grin and a laugh. Jayne scowled. Mal stared at Wash. It was surprisingly good to hear Wash’s old humor. Damned shame there was still one more big whammy waiting to hit the man.
“Preacher,” Mal said abruptly, standing up, “Got something I need to talk over with you.” He jerked his head toward the second shuttle. “Can you spare a minute?”
“Certainly,” Book said, following him up the stairs. Mal didn’t glance back to see if curious looks followed them.
Closing the airlock doors of the shuttle firmly behind him, Mal gave the comms a quick scan to make sure they were off. Book stood near the co-pilot’s seat, waiting for him to settle in and say his piece. Another war story? Another tale of death, despair, and survival? Mal leaned back against door, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. He had to just say it. Blurt it out before he lost his gumption.
“Zoe had a child before,” Mal said quickly. “Years back. Didn’t survive.”
“Oh, dear Lord,” Book whispered, collapsing in the seat. He stared at Mal with hollow shock. Mal swallowed hard before adding…
Friday, October 15, 2004 1:29 PM
Friday, October 15, 2004 9:47 PM
Friday, October 15, 2004 9:49 PM
Saturday, October 16, 2004 3:07 PM
Sunday, October 17, 2004 12:15 AM
Wednesday, October 20, 2004 8:15 AM
Wednesday, October 20, 2004 9:15 PM
Friday, January 12, 2007 7:26 AM
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