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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
So the Zirondelle sent a distress call and Serenity answered it...now what?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2475 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Picking right up where Part 1 left off.
All Firefly characters are the property of someone else. All original characters are copyrighted by yours truly. This is not in any way, means or intention meant to infringe on anybody.
MIGHTY BIG THANK YOU goes to Defender for another killer beta.
MIGHTY BIG APOLOGY goes to anyone who can read and speak French. An online translation program was liberally used. Any and all helpful suggestions/heckling would be cheerfully accepted.
Shulian - skillful
wangu - stubborn
All other use is stock language and/or swearing.
Feedback? Oh yes - the more, the better.
Heartbroken - Part 2
Mal reacted instinctively. As the blade came from his right, he grabbed the arm by the wrist, twisted and swung his body completely underneath it, then plowed his attacker headfirst directly into the bulkhead.
Jian groaned in pain and Mal tightened his grip. "Well now. Fine development this is."
Having his face mashed into the bulkhead made it difficult for Jian to speak. "Lemme go," he managed to mumble.
Mal smiled, feeling more than a little smug. "I figured there was something amiss with you. Didn't figure it was a murderous inclination."
"I said, let me go." Jian struggled, but to no avail. "I wasn't going to hurt you."
"No?" Mal bent down to pick up a small knife and admired the dual-sided inlay design on the hilt of the four-inch safety blade; polished wood on one side, and some kind of black and green stone mosaic on the other. "Well, alright. I would have to say this here sure ain't no respectable assassin's weapon. More like costume jewelry. Downright embarassing to my mind--hey now!" When Jian tried to struggle, Mal shoved him into the bulkhead again. "No squirmin'."
Jian had managed to squirm himself into position to send a steely glare over his shoulder. "Look, I think you and I both know what your game is, so let's not kid each other."
"You know, a fella in your position shouldn't let himself go getting all snippy. Now why don't you go ahead and enlighten me some? That way we'll both know what I'm up to."
Jian spit out a bit of blood. "Simple really, lull the captain, find out where his food stores are, then clean him out, fake the repairs and leave us to freeze."
"There's a little hole in that patch of thinkin'. How about all them people making bivouac in my cargo hold?"
"Right--like I don't know a slaver ship when I smell one?" Jian growled disdainfully.
Mal shoved him again before he said another word. "You listen and you listen good, boy. Zirondelle sent a distress call and I'm answering it, simple as that. And not that it's any concern of yours, but that smell is hanging on from a job we did involving our first and last shipment of prime bovine. Now, you gonna take me up to the bridge all quiet like or make me knock you down and drag you?"
Jian held back a groan of pain and managed to nod. "I'll take you up."
"Fine. You don't mind, I'll hang onto this little trinket for you."
He released Jian and took a step back. Giving the knife another look, he turned a puzzled scowl to Jian and had to ask. "Just what did you think you were gonna be able to do with this anyway?”
Sheer embarrassment made Jian's cheeks turn bright red. Setting his mouth in a firm line, Jian turned to head toward the bridge without a word. He had long legs and was making good use of them, so Mal had to hurry to keep up.
"No, seriously, I'm all curious now."
They were walking into the bridge before Jian could answer, and Mal figured he meant it to be that way. In a quick glance around, Mal noted that the bridge itself had seen better days. The Dragonfly class had seating for four instead of two, but like the Firefly, the Dragonfly's pilot sat on the starboard side. A determination Mal was able to make because it was the only seat currently occupied.
"Quan, this is the captain of the fei-oo latched onto us."
A loud, dynamic stream of Chinese exploded in the same smoky voice as the distress call. Mal only managed to catch something about sucking with regard to the reproductive organ of a donkey. The pilot, a slim woman with sleek black hair cut just below the nape of her neck breathed a long sigh of exasperation before speaking again, this time in English. "It's a Firefly, not a garbage scow, Jian, and it might have just saved your ass."
"Ain't no might about that, I’d say,” Mal drawled. He watched the pilot's slim shoulders stiffen before turning his best smart-ass smile to Jian. "Wasn't for us, you'd likely be lying on the deck gasping like a fish on the beach. But then as you say, I'm just a Tah-mah-duh pirate. Oh and a slaver too. Sorry, forgot that part."
While Jian's eyes rolled, Mal examined the interior of the bridge, noting the jury-rigged communications system and one cracked window being held together with thick streams of industrial silicon. Blockade running as a profession generated a pretty shiny reputation, and quite a bit in the way of income as a rule. Then again, it had been seven-plus years since the war and not much call for runners anymore. Zirondelle was definitely showing the signs of her well-earned fame, if not fortune. "This here's quite a ship, yes-sir-ee. Salvage from this baby would carry some...well, some pretty sad platinum, actually. Good thing I got too much respect for the man who owns it to pull out the cutting torches and light up. Wouldn't even compensate cost of the propane, I reckon. Yup, ‘at's a gorram shame."
The pilot had turned to look up at him with haunted eyes as fathomless as the black itself. Her soft, full lips parted slowly as she unfolded her slim frame gracefully from that chair to stand. She was staring at him like she was seeing a ghost.
And she hasn't changed. Not one gorram bit.
Mal felt his smile melt away. "Well now. Look who it is."
"Take this. Wear it always."
She put it on him, reaching up to fasten the clasp behind his neck. Her arms stayed there and wrapped tighter around his shoulders as she pressed herself against him. He never forgot how beautiful she was, how amazing. She was the reason he was going off to fight a war. She was the reason he meant to make damn sure he came back from it too.
"When things are darkest, take it out and look at it. Remember me."
He smiled down at her, catching a glimpse of the simple gold cross that glinted in the moonlight. Lifting it to his lips, he kissed it, his eyes never leaving hers. Tucking it into his undershirt so the metal rested against his skin, he framed her face in his hands. "I'd never forget you. I'll keep it safe."
Her lovely mouth curved slowly and drew him in. The flavor of that last, long kiss had sustained him through everything. There were times in the dead of night he could still taste it.
"Don't you forget where home is."
The lump in his throat was tough to get past. "Adair. Long time no see."
Slack-jawed, Jian jerked a thumb toward Mal. "Wait--you know this hun-dan?"
Adair Quan kept right on staring at him, caught in a mixture of shock and disbelief. Since Mal couldn't come up with anything to say either, he stared back thinking how she was even more breathtaking than he remembered. There was a time he would have called her his dark angel come down from heaven. She still was beautiful in that mysterious way--intensely so. She just wasn't his anymore, and that idea was like a knife to the gut.
"Well." Jian's gaze switched between them, reading the clear body language with ease. "It seems you do."
Naturally that was when the comm switched on. "Adair, this is Rene."
Adair started at the sound of her name, then spun around quickly, looking very much like a woman caught coveting her neighbor. She even hesitated before tapping the transmit key. "Adair here. What's the trouble?"
"Do you know where Ellis is?"
"I thought he was down with Cezar."
"He was. Cezar said he was called to the cargo hold. I tried to raise him, but his go-se handcomm is probably out--again. If you see him, tell him I'd like him to speak with the first officer of the Serenity, make arrangements to transfer cargo."
"Does it have to be now?"
"As soon as possible, I would think. It would not do to have Captain Reynolds begin to suspect we are freeloading."
Mal saw Adair's shoulders stiffen again, and realized she was just as aware as he that this conversation wasn't meant strictly for her. She was likely trying to figure out what to say when she felt Mal approach from behind and went completely still. Moving to join her at the console, Mal leaned in much closer than he really needed to, in order to speak into the comm. "I think we can hold off on that awhile, Captain, long as you ain't going nowhere."
There was a moment of conspicuous silence. "I appreciate that, Captain. Rene out."
Switching off, Adair stayed rooted to the spot with Mal's chin all but resting on her shoulder. She shifted a bit, turning her head toward him and the scent of her filled his senses, the same as he remembered. After taking only a long, deep breath, he managed a single half step away, but not quickly nor easily. Granted enough room to turn without touching him, Adair tilted her head back again to bring her gaze to his.
Those chocolate colored eyes, once sparkling bright with promise and persistent mischief were darker than he remembered. There was pain there and sorrow so plain that it stunned him. Impulsively, he wanted to ask her what happened and at the same time found himself reluctant to learn it.
Keeping his gaze locked on hers, Mal shifted his head to direct his words back toward the hatch. "Ain't there something you could be doing instead of standing there staring at the back of my neck?"
Jian hadn't moved a muscle and had seen the entire episode play itself out. "Are you sure you want me out of your sight?"
"Well, I thought me and you had reached an understandin'." Mal turned to look at him, so his meaning couldn't be misconstrued. "Long as you don't go after me or mine, I got no grudge."
Jian tipped his head back to indicate he'd gotten the point. The devious curve of his mouth, however, indicated he would bear some watching. "Right. Guess I'll be on my way then."
"Don't go tripping over the hatch on the way out."
The deeper voice at the entrance made everyone turn and had Mal reaching for the gun he wasn't wearing. They stood staring at each other for a second; Adair, Mal, Jian, and the young black man leaning heavily against the open hatchway. Clutching his left side, he scowled hard at all of them while blood oozed from between his fingers to form a tidy little puddle on the deck at his feet.
"Ellis!" Adair shoved Mal out of her way with one elbow strategically rammed into his stomach. Grunting, Mal rubbed the spot that would likely show a bruise later. She always was a hell of a lot stronger than she looked. Funny what a man could forget.
"The hell're you...you two..." was all Ellis got out before his eyes rolled back into his head. Jian was closer and quicker and managed to help him down to the floor nice and easy. Adair got there in time to help pull him inside and crouched down to cradle his head in her lap.
Mal made himself useful by tapping the general PA on the overhead panel. "All Zirondelle crew, emergency on the bridge. I say again, emergency on the bridge." Switching off, he saw that Adair was already checking the boy's neck for a pulse. "Has he kicked?"
"No. He's damn close, though."
"This ship got a medic?" Mal asked.
"Siobhan, our mechanic's wife, is a healer. She went over to help with the passengers."
"Right." Lifting the handcomm, Mal clicked it on. "Zoe--Mal."
The handcomm crackled. "Sir."
"Got a situation on Zirondelle's bridge. Get Simon, find a woman over there by name of Siobhan bring them both over. Man here needs some stitching up. Ma-shong dong ma?"
"Shi dong ma!"
The sound of quick, heavy footsteps coming toward them made Adair look up in anticipation, just before Cariveau ran up and skidded to a stop at the hatchway. His expression changed dramatically from a captain's businesslike concern into pure shock so fast that even Mal reacted to it.
"Wu de tien, ah--Ellis." Dropping down to one knee, Cariveau assessed the situation and started yanking his braided leather braces down. He stripped off a moss green sweater with patches on the elbows, balled it up and pressed it to the wound. "We have to get him to the infirmary." Looking up, he focused on Mal. "Can you help?"
Mal nodded. "I got it."
"Bon. You take his feet. Jian, you hold this and I'll take his shoulders."
"Wait! Stop--don't move him!" Simon stepped in over the wounded man's legs and past Cariveau to crouch down next to his latest trauma patient. Behind him came Siobhan, the older woman whom Mal recognized as Cariveau's point person. One look at the man lying on the floor and she moved to Cariveau's side.
"Rene. Parti. Laissez le jeune docteur le travail ."
"Il est si blanc ," Cariveau replied. He didn't move.
"Partir." Siobhan gave Adair a poignant look that prompted her to lay a hand on Cariveau's arm.
He started and looked at her in astonishment, like he'd forgotten she was there. His eyes focused, and then softened so quickly that Mal knew it had to be an automatic reaction.
"You heard Siobhan," Adair said. "She just said he's a doctor. Let him work. It'll be okay."
Mal watched them stare at each other, and saw how Cariveau responded. First he took Adair's hand and kissed it with decidedly more passion than he had Inara's. Then he got up to follow Siobhan out into the hallway in complete complacency, just as Adair had asked him to. He didn't go very far and when he turned around, he gave his pilot a long look that spoke volumes before he deliberately turned his gaze down to watch Simon go about his trade.
So. Mal decided. That's how it is.
* * *
Mal stood at the window looking into Serenity's infirmary, watching Simon work with his usual calm diligence on Ellis. The wound was deep, but Simon said no major organs or arteries had been involved--a stroke of luck with the rudimentary methods at his disposal on board Serenity. Siobhan was in there with him, assisting with the procedure in the manner of a trained professional, handing him instruments almost before he asked for them. She had also supplied Ellis' blood type, whereupon Simon had drafted Shepherd Book, directly transfusing enough blood to get Ellis stabilized before sewing the tissue closed.
"Good of you to get yourself shot when you did," Simon had said to Mal while he put the intravenous line into Book's arm. "It enabled me to type everyone's blood when I was trying to cross match to yours without having to tranquilize anyone first."
"Happy to oblige," Mal had said, answering the doctor's casual sarcasm in kind.
"Your mechanic is quite the wonder." Seated on the edge of the sofa nearby, Cariveau deliberately broke the oppressive silence that had enveloped them for the better part of an hour. "I think perhaps Cezar may speak to Siobhan about adopting her."
Mal glanced over his shoulder at him. "You shanghai my mechanic, Captain, and you and me'll be having words."
Cariveau returned a dry smile. "We will have something. Of that you can be sure."
Arms folded, Mal made a show of considering that statement as he turned to face Cariveau. "You wouldn't be threatening me on my own ship, now would you?"
"I do not threaten anyone," Cariveau replied. "Generally, it is not necessary."
"Right. And I s'pose you don't care to elaborate."
"Not at the moment, no."
After a moment of strained silence, Mal tipped his head backward toward the Infirmary. "That your first officer?"
The heavy pained sigh said it before he did. "Yes. Ellis Rhodes. He has been on board since we were boys. He and I and Armand--Siobhan and Cezar's son--we were friends. Brothers, if you will."
"I'm sorry, did you say Rhodes?"
Looking over to where Shepherd Book was perched on the arm of the sofa next to him, Cariveau's answer was slow and cautious. "I did, yes."
"Name mean something Shepherd?" Considering Book's extraneous knowledge of some pretty interesting and eclectic facts for a man of the Word, Mal had some basis for concern at the possibility.
This time, Book didn't seem to be in a particularly enlightened mood. He only met Mal's gaze long enough to reveal that he was indeed holding something back, but was clearly considering whether or not to share the particulars. "I knew someone by that name once," he admitted. "Nothing worth worrying yourself over, Captain."
"So long as you let me know when I should, dong ma?"
Book nodded and picked up his coat, slipping it on as he looked at Cariveau again. "Captain, I'd like to see to your passengers, if I may."
Cariveau nodded. "Naturallment. There are several who will appreciate some comfort of the Word right now Shepherd."
Book smiled. "Don't we all." He met Mal's disparaging gaze and his smile didn't waver. "Don't fret, Captain. I'm not much for charismatics. We'll try to keep it to a dull roar."
Bible in-hand, Book headed up the steps to the cargo hold like someone had lit his pants legs on fire. Mal, meanwhile, turned his scowl to Cariveau and focused on the business at hand. "Any idea who could've done this?"
"No. I have no other crew. It could be one of the passengers." Cariveau shrugged, shaking his head indecisively. "Ellis was away from us for a time during the war. We landed at Sayabec to refuel and he disappeared. As we were on contract with the Independents at the time, an Alliance patrol forced us to leave before we could find him. A year later, he found us on Whitefall and has stayed with us. The scar on his face--he says that happened during the war, but he does not speak of it."
"What about the other fella--Armand? Any gripes they never got over?"
"If so, we will never know for sure." Cariveau leveled a serious gaze at Mal. "He was a corporal, I believe--Armand Gautier with the Fifty-Fourth Infantry Division, last known position--"
"Serenity Valley." There was a catch in Mal's voice and he looked at his feet as he cleared his throat. "Stocky little guy, dark hair. The bigger the gun, the better he liked it."
Surprise lit Cariveau's features. "You met?"
"Not formally. Gautier had a reputation is all, mostly for getting busted back to private something like three times. Little problem with authority, but damn good asset in a firefight."
Cariveau smiled sadly and nodded. "That does sound like Armand." On a sigh of unmitigated exhaustion, he stared off distractedly, caught in a melancholy boyhood memory. Catching himself, he used both hands to scrub at heavy-lidded eyes and raked his fingers roughly through thick reddish-blond waves. "Merde go tsao de. Just when I let myself believe that rutting war might be over and done."
Mal had to admit, the man's ability to speak three languages--and swear in all of them--had to be a right handy skill in times of strife. "Some aftershocks do come visiting a might late."
A short, bitter laugh and cynical roll of his eyes indicated Cariveau's agreement.
Hearing footsteps behind him, Mal recognized Zoe's purposeful stride. "When this is all said and done, you and me oughta sit down for a friendly drink, captain-like."
Cariveau nodded slowly, his eyes thoughtful. "Yes. We should."
"Sir, Kaylee's back." Zoe stopped on the stairs and met Cariveau's gaze with the same look that always preceded the worst of news. "Your mechanic's with her. They got grave news."
"Of course they do," Cariveau said and stood up, muttering as he passed Mal. "If it were good news I would probably die from the shock."
* * *
"It's more than just the coil, sirs," Kaylee said. Her eyes softened in sympathy as she looked up at Zirondelle's beleaguered captain. A half step behind her, Cezar Gautier stood looking more than mildly annoyed. He was a grizzled old space monkey with a solid, stocky build, dressed in tattered overalls that were offset by the bright turquoise bandana wrapped around a full head of gunmetal gray hair. He also had clear, attentive dark eyes that missed absolutely nothing. At the moment, Mal had the odd impression Gautier was trying to decide if Serenity's captain was actually worthy of such a gifted soul as Kaylee. Almost like he was some strapping young stud come to take the girl to the town shindig. It was all he could do not to squirm under the man's scrutiny.
"Engine ain't fixed yet, but it ain't the bigger problem anymore neither. Your nav com's fried."
"Fried." Cariveau said the word slowly, as if trying to understand the pronunciation. "How?"
Both mechanics began talking at once, Kaylee to Mal in English and Cezar to Cariveau in French.
"Blown out, amidships."
"Détruit au milieu du navire."
"Someone got into the auxiliary access panel. Mucked up the lines."
"Quelqu'un est entré au jury d'accès auxiliaire et l'a surchargé là. Nouveau plat de circuit."
" Can't fix that without a new circuit plate, and we ain't got one."
"Sabotage?" Mal and Rene said it together, then looked at each other in surprise.
Kaylee was nodding vigorously. "It would take a serious power spike to do that, and she ain't got power, so no way that could've happened on its own."
And nobody in the verse ever looked more woeful than Kaywinnet Lee Frye when there was something she couldn't fix. Mal reached out to give her a one-armed hug and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Ain't your fault, mei-mei."
"Ah! Zeh bottom line, oui?" Cezar looked to Kaylee to confirm, and on her nod he finished by drawing his heavily calloused index finger across his throat. "Fft. Finis."
"Well now," Mal said. "Does change the landscape a bit, don’t it? How long can we stay synched up?"
Kaylee and Cezar exchanged looks. "Long as we don't get in too big a hurry and don't put any strain on the clamps, we could take them all the way to Layfayette," Kaylee said and Cezar agreed with a nod.
At the pronouncement, Cariveau looked at Mal. "Perhaps you and I should have that friendly drink before you make up your mind."
Mal nodded solemnly. "I expect we better."
* * *
"Sayabec was my ancestral home, Captain." Slamming down his third shot of some of the last of the questionable hooch they acquired at the Triumph Settlement, he used the hand holding the glass to point in the general direction of Serenity's hold. "Those people up there--they are paying for the privilege of being able to say Bernardo Cariveau was born there."
Somewhat fuzzy himself, Mal refilled the glass, even though he was beginning to suspect Cariveau had a distinctly penny-weight tolerance for alcohol. Odd thing for an Acadian. "Thought your first name was Rene."
"That it is. Rene Bernardo Arceneaux Cariveau. Bernardo Cariveau was the first captain of Zirondelle."
"Oui. Le batard."
Hearing the decided scorn in Cariveau's voice that accompanied a particularly fierce snarl, Mal frowned. "Now, my command of French ain't exactly what you'd call, well, commandin', but if I understand the tone that was nothing like a proper salutation, father to son."
"Only because you did not have to grow up with Bernardo Cariveau as your father." Cariveau tipped his head back to down his fourth shot. He made a face that had as much to do with the current topic of conversation as with what he was drinking. "He would have taken it as the highest of compliments."
"Interesting relationship you two had."
Cariveau nodded sharply. "Interesting is an excellent way to put it."
"Uh-huh. Now, what does make a fella wonder is how these folks in my hold are just now getting moved off Acadia."
"Sayabec is a fuel processing station. The Archon, being a shulian wangu negotiator, drew up an iron-clad contract with the Feds. They kept the station producing a set quota and as compensation they were allowed to stay on Acadia and with minimal supervision. If the Archon could have lived forever, it would have stayed that way."
Mal was already nodding, recognizing a new version of a common tale. "Let me guess--old boss got a fancy funeral, and the last spade of dirt barely hit the coffin when the Alliance swooped on in and set up shop."
The two men shared a look of grim acknowledgement.
Cariveau stared into his glass. "I had heard the Archon died. I should have changed course then. As it was, they were stranded on Pont-Breaux station for six weeks before word reached us, and it took a week longer to get there."
Mal tipped his chair back, thinking about what Cariveau didn't have to describe; eighty-seven people eking out an existence on a space station without money for food or the bare essentials of life for nearly two months. The point when things just started to get desperate. "So these folk got bumped 'cause the Feds found out about the ties between you?"
"Actually, I believe it was the second set of production journals," Cariveau replied. "We fueled up on their surplus during the war, others must have as well. I'm surprised you did not hear of it."
"Clearance worlds make me a might jumpy," Mal said. "Most folks living on 'em are given to be Alliance-friendly, and there's always them as might've struck up a shadier deal that your folk did in order to stay put when the order came. Wouldn't wanna get pinched just for landing someplace."
"C'est vrai--as you say." Turning the shot glass over, Cariveau put it upside down next to Mal's and stared at it as one finger traced the bottom edge. "I am sure you know, but you have a reputation."
Thinking of the last time he heard that phrase and from whom, Mal did his best to hide the involuntary chill that skittered up his spine. "So I been told."
"Some say you are the sort who finishes what he starts, one way or the other."
"That what you heard?"
"That is my...interpretation."
"Sounds like you're thinking something a might different."
Cariveau's loaded gaze came back up. Just like in the cargo bay on that first handshake, Mal knew there was something the other man wasn't saying.
"It seems I am to rely upon your ship to reach my destination," Cariveau said. "But that does not mean I will allow you to compromise my crew. In particular, Adair."
And that was it, wasn't it? "What makes you think I'd be in any position to compromise your pilot?" Mal asked.
"Because she has spoken of you to me."
Looking up, Mal managed to contain his surprise. "Has she?"
"Yes. She thought it was only fair, you see. When I told her I had feelings for her, she informed me that although she cared for me deeply, she still had a broken heart to mend and that you were the cause."
"Uh-huh. Well I've been seeing it a might different. You can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems to me that boy of yours just happens to have Adair's eyes." His voice caught unexpectedly and Mal swallowed hard in the hopes of correcting it. "That would imply she didn't have to go very far to get over me."
"Actually I do not know for sure," Cariveau admitted. "She has not spoken of you in some time, but there are moments when that faraway look returns to her eyes."
Blue eyes glared across the desk at him, and Mal had no doubt that under different circumstances, Cariveau would rather have met him with a fully loaded gun than a bone-grinding handshake. Having experienced a similar urge himself on the Zirondelle's bridge, Mal could sympathize.
"How old is he?" Mal asked. "The boy?"
Cariveau gaze softened at the mention of his son. "He is two and one half. Adair's six-year anniversary on board was five months ago."
Three years. She waited three years? So maybe there some things that needed finding out, and it looked like there was only one way to go about it. "I'll let Wash and Kaylee know we'll be pushing you folks along. Let them discuss with Cezar and Adair on the best way to go about that."
Eyes wide with surprise, Cariveau straightened up slowly. "So you agree? You will help us?"
"Can't go leaving good folks to freeze, no matter what I might think of you," Mal said. "'Sides, I ain't had good Cajun in a long spell and I figure someone in there knows how to cook."
That was when Mal got a full, genuine smile from Zirondelle's captain. Reaching across the table, Cariveau offered his hand and Mal took it. The deal was set and a truce had been called, at least for the moment.
Hearing guitar music drift in through the vents drew Mal's gaze upward. He stood up and grabbed the jug. "Sounds like festivities brewin'. We should maybe move this below decks."
"Bon." Cariveau stood slowly, swayed a bit and steadied himself with one hand on the desktop. "Whatever that is, it is not for the young, oui?"
Mal grinned. "Most definitely oui."
There were two young men standing in the middle of the cargo bay, one on a hand-held squeeze box accordion, the other using a metal five-gallon container as a drum and a girl between them with a fiddle, filling the cargo hold with edgy, defiant zydeco music. Those around them who weren't settling in were clapping along and in the center of it all Mal saw River. Smiling beautifully, her feet were light and quick as she danced to the tune being spun around her. Not having seen pure joy on her face in...well, ever, Mal stopped at the top of the gangway and couldn't help but smile.
"Wish the doctor could see this."
"Who is she?" Cariveau asked.
"That's Simon's sister. She's kind of...well, how about let's call it challengin'."
Nodding solemnly, Cariveau gave Mal's back a solid slap before he turned toward the catwalk leading to Inara's shuttle. "I should check in on Jordain."
Mal nodded and watched the Acadian move off, easily taking the steps two at a time. Wondering absently how soon the man might fall down out of sheer exhaustion, he turned back to the scene below. Just as the troupe finished up and River took a cheerfully flamboyant bow, a slim young man on the starboard side caught his eye, mainly due to the brown long coat he wore.
"Captain, what's the word?" Climbing up to meet him from the other side, Zoe saw his expression and turned to give the cargo bay a scrutiny of her own. "Something amiss?"
"Could be." Mal set the jug down on the catwalk, met her gaze meaningfully and started past her.
Sensing Zoe behind him, Mal made his way down to the main level and worked across the hold until he reached the starboard side. As he approached, he could tell the exact moment that the younger man could feel someone coming up on him and met a pair of green eyes as they swung toward him. He saw the recognition, and then the panic, just before Mal put his weight behind his fist and solidly connected with the man's face.
Heartbroken - Part 3
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