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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Serenity's headed for Harvest, and both Inara and Mal ponder a little.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2363 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
There are zealots and preachers and readers of dreams / The righteous yell loudest and the saved rise to sing / The lonely and lost are just waiting to hear / Any moment their purpose will be perfectly clear
- Mary Chapin Carpenter/"The Calling"
THE FIRST CLUE: HARVEST
Inara slipped quietly unto the bridge and paused a little just inside the door. Mal was in the pilot's seat, but judging by his laidback body language, River was the one flying the ship at the moment. She was perched at the edge of the co-pilot's seat, both hands on the stick, staring intently through the viewport; at what Inara wasn't sure. She saw no obstacles out there.
"So, Harvest?" she began, and almost kicked herself at the lame remark. Lately she'd seemed to be losing her ability to strike up conversation casually.
Mal glanced back at her. "Seems like. We'll be there in five days."
"Four," River corrected him.
Mal frowned at her. "Four? What route did you plot?" He leaned over and brought up the charts on the Cortex screen. His eyes widened. "How the hell did you come up with this?" he exclaimed.
"I didn't," River replied. "He did."
"Wash?" Mal echoed before he seemed to realize what she meant. "Ah, you're using his notes. Well, we can't go that way."
"Because," he pointed to the screen, "it'll take us straight through the Motherload asteroid belt! Now, that was a walk in the park for Wash, but I can't maneuver this boat through that."
"I can," she simply replied.
He just stared at her for few seconds. "How'd you know? You've never tried!"
"It's all numbers."
"Oh yeah," Mal mumbled. "Killing us with mathematics." He raised his voice. "Not going to happen. Plot a way around it."
"But…" River began.
"I gave you an order!"
Inara flinched. She was pretty sure she'd never heard Mal talk to River this way before, at least not directly. Mal must have noticed the sudden tension in the room, because he lowered his voice – though he still sounded strict – as he continued, "If you're pilotin' my boat, you're on my crew. And if you're on my crew, you'll have to learn to obey the captain. Dong ma?"
River actually smiled. "Yessir. Plotting new course, sir."
Smiling too, Inara kept studying the back of Mal's head. Six months after she'd told him "I don't know" she was still with him, much to her own surprise. Looking back, she wasn't sure what she'd expected back then, but whatever it was she'd never gotten it. Things were still pretty much the same between them; tense, unresolved, though just a tad less awkward, she had to admit. Probably because she'd stopped taking clients.
She'd stopped taking clients…
Had it been a conscious choice? She wasn't sure. But she knew it wasn't for him, though she might have done it for him if he'd asked her. She'd just stopped. And she didn't miss it. Much.
Perhaps it had been all those innocent deaths? In the light of all that suffering her old life had suddenly seemed to silly. So hollow and unsubstantial… so totally without purpose.
Was this her purpose then? Staying with a man who didn't turn her away but never expressed his love for her either. Onboard an old mid-bulk transport on which she might or might not belong. Where her job was… what exactly? She cooked sometimes, kept watch at the helm on occasion, but mostly she was just… there.
She loved him.
That was the easy answer. That's why she stayed. That's why she didn't take clients. And that's why she'd run away in the first place. Because loving a man this much was scary… scary, scary indeed.
Footsteps approaching in the hallway behind her awoke her from her thoughts. Too loud to be Zoë, not heavy enough to be Jayne. She glanced over her shoulder. Sure enough, it was the new arrival – Jo. The woman stepped inside the room, took up a stance right next to her and barely offered her a glance because she was too busy staring at the stars outside.
"Wow," she breathed.
Inara smiled. "Breathtaking, isn't it?" She'd been introduced to Jo Cobb earlier, but in all the fuss caused by the shepherd's package she hadn't yet had the opportunity to really take her in. Get to know her, so to speak, in the Companion's way.
"Yeah," Jo replied. "The people who took me to Beaumonde wouldn't let me on the bridge. I saw nothin' but walls for a week." She threw a hesitating look at the captain. "I am allowed to be here, right?"
Mal glanced at her. "Sure. Jus' don't touch anything."
"'Course not. That'd be stupid."
"It's just that your brother has this habit of… Oh, never mind."
Jo took another step forward and glanced upwards through the window overhead. "Makes you feel kinda small."
Inara suspected Jo didn't feel small often. She was even taller than Zoë, with broad shoulders and muscular arms she, just like Jayne, had squeezed into a t-shirt a little too tight.
"Why aren't they moving?" she asked.
"What?" Inara said.
"The stars don't move." The reply came from River. She had turned to look at them. "We do."
"I just figured…" Jo began, but interrupted herself. "Hell, what do I know?" She tensed a little and began rummaging through her pockets. "Oh, I nearly forgot. I have somethin' for you, River." She paused as she finally found the right pocket and pulled something out of it. A shadow of sadness crossed her features as she added, "From Mattie."
River had turned her chair around and wordlessly accepted the gift. It was a bracelet of some kind, made up by a simple string of leather and a little star hammered out of some form of metal.
"He made me promise you'd get it," Jo finished.
"It's beautiful," Inara smiled, and meant it. She knew the true value of a gift had nothing to do with how much it sparkled or how much money one had paid for it.
River only held the string up in front of her face, carefully studying the little star dangling from it. Then a small smile slowly caressed her face. "Stardust," she whispered.
"Shall we put it on?" Inara asked, stepping forward. River never answered, but allowed her to tie the string around her wrist, and then she abruptly stood and walked off the bridge.
"Okay, then, I'll take the helm," Mal sarcastically called after her. He pushed a few buttons and sat back in his chair, throwing another look at Jo. "You settlin' in alright?"
"Yeah," she replied. "Got me a room in the passenger dorm. I'll be comfy."
"Good. You have five days before we reach Harvest. Let Jayne fill you in on the things you need to know. Not that Harvest is a particularly interesting place."
"Places tend to become interesting when you show up," Inara pointed out.
Mal smiled a little, as if it actually amused him. "I guess that's so."
Five months earlier
They have finally left Haven when the news arrive. They're seated around the table for dinner, and Inara walks in from the bridge and says there's a message on the Cortex for the Eagle.
And she knows what it says. And there's a big hole inside of her, and the food turns to ashes in her mouth, and all the sounds disappear – and then reappear louder than before. And the Eagle returns and he looks sad, but they all look sad these days, some try harder than others to hide it but no one's really able, and he says nothing, just sits back down on his chair…
She speaks the words herself, and they all look at her…
Kaylee, Simon, grief and ecstasy warring inside…
Zoë, stoic face can't cover the turmoil in her soul…
the Life, that she still doesn't know about…
Inara, screaming out for the captain…
the captain, purposeless, screaming back…
Jayne, the Eagle, who feels, feels, FEELS…
and the hole grows bigger and consumes her, and she's hot and she's cold, and she wants to leave – and she hears the Eagle's confirmation as she does so.
Later Simon finds her, curled up next to Serenity's heart, listening to the beats…
dum du-dum… dum du-dum… hum… hum… hum…
She doesn't cry.
"River," he says, reaching out to touch her. "You knew he was sick. We knew this would happen."
She looks up to see his eyes. They're widened and sympathetic, and his words are not right, he doesn't mean it this way.
She asks anyway. "Is that supposed to make me less sad?"
And regret and honest sadness color his face. "No, mei mei," he says, and pulls her closer, wrapping his big brother arms around her. "No."
And she's crying now.
Harvest was, as the name suggested, an agricultural world. As the fourth planet out from the Red Sun, it had a few big cities, but no metropolises to speak of. People here were mostly farmers or otherwise involved with the food processing business. Flying over it, it seemed like every square inch of its vast plains were ploughed and cultivated. It was a patchwork of various hues of yellow and green, split up by rivers and oceans and the occasional mountain ridge.
Kaylee's hometown bore the name Iowa, and was located almost in the dead center of the western continent. It was the largest town for hundreds of miles around, but by no means did that make it big in the strictest sense; less than a couple of thousand people lived there. Mal had only visited the place once before, back when they'd first met the mechanic, but he remembered it well. It had a spaceport of sorts, and he landed the ship there (as River apparently had decided this was a simple enough task for him to perform on his own).
It had been a languorous journey. Uneventful, except for a somewhat brutal sparring match between the Cobbs, that honestly had been quite entertaining to watch, but also had done some damage to the cargo bay interior, and therefore he'd asked, or rather ordered, them not to repeat it.
And speaking of the Cobbs, the addition of Jo had done wonders to the atmosphere onboard. She kept Jayne occupied, so that he did not bother the doctor, which allowed the doctor to relax a little, which meant more one-on-one time for him and Kaylee in the engine room, which made Kaylee happy. She and Zoë talked a lot – conversations that provided his first mate with some much-needed distraction – and also Inara seemed comfortable around her, and Mal suspected she had some effect on him as well. He'd heard her play her banjo one evening, from behind the closed door of her alcove in the passenger dorm, and he'd stopped and listened and actually enjoyed it, and it had dawned on him how quiet this ship had become lately.
Well, some fresh blood had never hurt.
Kaylee was terrible at hiding her feelings (or would have been terrible at hiding her feelings if she'd ever actually tried it), and came across as extremely exited but also a little uneasy as the bay doors opened and the ramp was lowered, and the near suffocating summer heat of her hometown rushed in on them like a wave. The port here was rather busy; Serenity was just one of several ships currently parked there and didn't draw any special attention, and the young mechanic seemed to appreciate this as she took a moment to just take in the sights.
"Strange to be back?" Zoë mildly asked her.
"Yeah," Kaylee replied with a mutter, and absentmindedly wiped her hands at her overalls. As Simon stepped up next to her, she threw him a short glance and smiled nervously.
Mal was not one for just hanging around reminiscing. "Should be quite possible to find a job," he declared, and tried to ignore the 'you-could-at-least-have-given-her-a-few-moments' look he received from Inara. "What you reckon, lil' Kaylee, does Mayor Ryan still call the shots 'round here?"
"Got no reason not to think so, Cap," she replied. "He was still in charge when my folks left. Then again, that was more'n three years ago."
"Guess there's only one way to find out," Mal said, checking his gun and pockets. "You comin'?"
"I'd rather not."
Her answer surprised him and he glanced up, frowning. "No? A familiar face might help us get a deal."
"Not mine," she stated, clearly uncomfortable under his and, he noticed, the others' scrutinizing glares. "He don't like me."
Simon's face particularly gave the impression that he found this piece of information completely implausible, and Mal guessed his own mirrored the same expression.
"It's nothin', really," Kaylee hurriedly added. "An ol' dispute 'tween our families, is all. Some people do love to hold a grudge." She smiled reassuringly. "I'd rather just look around the ol' neighborhood, if you don't mind. 'Sides, I got this clue-thingy to search for."
"Sure," Mal nodded and then turned to address the others, "Jayne, Jo, you're with me. Shore leave for the rest of you, but see if you can help Kaylee look for… whatever it is we're lookin' for."
And with that Mal, flanked by his two mercenaries, headed down the street towards the mayor's residence, still silently wondering how it was possible for anyone to not like Kaylee Frye.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012 2:55 AM
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