BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

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They Take Such Looking After - Part II
Monday, June 13, 2005

The future throws River a curve ball ... Feedback always welcome ...


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1358    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

Hat picked herself up painfully from the floor where she’d been thrown by the River-stealers and limped over to her son. She felt like she’d been run over by a gorram spaceship. She could feel blood running down her face from where she’d hit the wall and her left leg was too painful to put any kind of weight on. As soon as she picked him up, Little M stopped screaming and began straining and wriggling dramatically, gazing pathetically towards the empty doorway through which River had presumably left. Hat appreciated that he’d bonded closely with River, after all she looked after him a lot of the time, but Hat was so not in the mood.

“Oh, stop being a drama queen, Malcolm!” she snapped irritably, and firmly moved her son to her hip, containing his mad squirming, “we’ll get her back. I’ll tell you not for nothing though, but yer pappy’s gonna be mighty aggrieved at this turn of events.” She sighed heavily and headed for the cockpit, dragging herself weakly up the steps. “Yer see,” she went on to her son, who to be frank, clearly didn’t, he was no longer really following the conversation, but rather gazing in rapture at the array of tiny lights on the control panel, “time has become somewhat of an issue.” Hat felt like trying to talk her worries out and in the absence of an adult, Little M would have to do. She tried to catch her baby’s eye and failed dismally. How could she compete with shiny things? “We gotta find River fast. Before she gets moved too far away. So lets you and me see if we can’t contact daddy, shall we?”

She flicked several switches, hoping that Mal had taken a communicator with him. From the static she got in reply, she guessed he hadn’t. She tried to calm herself; it was really no use getting hysterical. Logical thought and planning were required, but it was hard when you were trying to contend with no small amount of pain at the same ruttin’ time. At least Little M, mesmerised by the lights, had settled. She would have gone to put him down, it was time for his bed anyhow and then have headed to the cargo bay to await the returnees, but her body was telling her that she’d been thrown at a wall pretty gorram hard and she seemed to have seized up somehow. So she stayed seated in the pilot’s chair, her baby snuggled against her and waited for the sound of the returning crew.

***

The first prescience of trouble came when Zoë and Wash found the cargo-bay door ajar. The troop was strung out in their return journey, Zoë and Wash in the lead, followed by Book and Jayne arguing over some joke told awry, Kaylee and Simon walking hand in hand in companionable silence and Mal, bringing up the rear. Wash was going back for the mule tomorrow, since, having stopped at a bar on the way back, he was adjudged incapable of driving with sufficient accuracy to protect both the mule and other innocent road users. One of the others could certainly have driven it back, but Wash was in that difficult stage of drunkenness where he was offering to fight anyone who took his place at the wheel of his shiny toy. The crew had decided not to make an issue of it. Zoë called back to Mal in the darkness.

“Cap, there’s something ain’t right here…”

“Hunh?” Mal strolled up. It had been a very pleasant night, all things considered. Monty’s pal had been a reasonable chap, the bar had been clean and the alcohol tasty, no fights had been instigated by any member of his crew, indeed, there’d been no hitches of any kind. Mal ground his teeth in the darkness. Just once, just this one time, he’d thought everything had gone smooth.

“This is how we found it, Sir.” Zoë stated, gesturing to the partially open door. Mal nodded grimly. He drew his gun and the others, those that had them, followed suit.

“Lets take this real careful.” With that he pushed open the door to its full extent with one fluid movement and ducked back behind the shelter of the wall. The volley of gunfire he’d been expecting was not forthcoming. In fact nothing at all happened.

“Well that’s what I call an anticlimax,” growled Jayne dryly from the rear.

Mal threw him a look of resigned acknowledgement coupled with annoyance and they all stepped, still wary, into the cargo bay. Still nothing at all happened. The silence was total, but now it had, to Mal’s mind, an eerie, empty quality to it.

“River, RIVER!” Simon was running towards the passenger rooms with Kaylee following behind him, saying nervously, “Simon, wait…”

Mal meanwhile was taking the steps towards the galley two at a time, mutely, too terrified to speak, with Zoë and Wash, Jayne and Book fast on his heels.

The galley too was silent. Too cold and congealing lumps of dough sat like toads on the table surrounded by lily pads of flour. Anxious as he was, Mal still couldn’t resist smile and the thought that his wife had been teaching River to make *bao*; not really the first of the life skills River would need to learn. On closer inspection several pots and pans had been knocked off the units and there was a disturbing smudge of something which had dried, brown and flaky, on the far wall.

Simon came through the far door, mute and white, Kaylee followed him shaking her hands, “nothing downstairs,” she said in an aside to Zoë who nodded. Mal scanned the room wordlessly. Simon touched the stain on the wall and looked up with newfound terror in his eyes as he gazed aghast at Mal. He said one word, “blood” in to the stillness.

Zoë looked at Wash, who said in response, “I’ll check the bridge,” and headed in that direction, followed by the others, who, in subdued and forlorn fashion, were checking the crew’s bunks. It was clear what everyone thought they’d find. Hope was giving way to despair.

“Mal!” Wash’s urgent tone brought Mal running frantically up the stairs to the cockpit, followed by Simon. Wash was standing at the head of the stairs looking in confusion at the scene within. Hat was curled in the pilot’s chair, her contentedly sleeping baby in her arms. She would have appeared peacefully asleep too had it not been for the fact that one eye was swollen shut and purple and that same side of her face was one livid, blood encrusted graze.

***

Hat was having vivid, very scary dreams in which she saw strange men holding Little M just out of her reach. Then she felt something shaking her gently.

“Hey,” she came to to find herself surrounded by a sea of worried faces, all staring intently at her. Feeling slightly dizzy and sick, she made out the face of her husband.

“They took River.” She knew this was the most important piece of information to convey, but she was surprised at the whispery quality of her voice. She coughed and tired again. “They took River.” This time her voice was stronger. She swallowed painfully and tired to pull herself up.

“Here,” Zoë reached out and took the sleeping child from her arms. Part of Hat wanted to snatch him right back and let no one else hold him, ever again probably, but the rest of her knew she was being stupid. Her eyes kept returning to Mal although she knew she should be more concerned with Simon. He looked relieved and upset at the same time, an odd look, she thought in passing. He reached down to gently touch her cheek, a look of sympathy and pain passing across his face. Hat felt still queasier and closed her eyes against the pain.

Wash, from behind Zoë said, “there’s no one else on Serenity, Mal.” They all understood his full meaning. River was gone.

It was then that Simon showed his true colours, that noble nature that could really be called a calling. He knelt down next to Harriet and felt her pulse, examined her bruises and looked at Mal. He swallowed down his fear and said, as calmly and professionally as he could, “we can’t do anything about River right now, our priority is Harriet. I need her in the infirmary now. Can you carry her?”

Through a haze Hat heard Simon speak, but, when her husband bent to cradle her in his arms, she blacked out.

***

The crew were gathered in the infirmary. Hat lay silent on the bed as Simon fussed around her connecting wires and joining in the conversation as he worked.

“So we know River was taken by someone,” began Mal.

“Which ain’t a whole heap ta go on, to my mind” put in Jayne, with more honesty than tact.

“Yes, but it means she didn’t just run off of her own accord.” Explained Zoë looking patient, but sounding exasperated.

Simon looked seriously at Mal, “if they’ve got her, they’ll come back for me. I can’t really see why they didn’t just kill Hat either. Its not their MO – we saw that on Ariel, they kill everyone, hell, they seem to enjoy it.”

Mal nodded, and smiled wryly, tight lipped, “Hat’s still alive ‘cos it ain’t “them” that’s got River. Its some *hwoon dahn* as has seen the warrant for yer arrest and thinks to make a profit of’f you.”

Zoë looked ruthless, “then we just gotta figure out who it is and make ‘em re-think the idea, violently.”

Simon looked up, “good idea. I think I’m just about ready for a little violence.”

The Captain met his eyes, “I think we’d all agree with that right now.” He said with quiet resolve, glancing down at his wife.

Hat stirred and groaned softly. Kaylee stepped up to her to stroke her arm. She had Little M on her hip. “She’s gonna be ok ain’t she?” She looked pleadingly at Simon who nodded.

“She’s going to be fine. She’s got a few cracked ribs, a fractured leg and more than a little bruising. She shouldn’t be going anywhere for a while, but she’s ok.”

Mal looked on, unemotional and businesslike. Looking at him now no one, he thought, would know how terrified he’d been. “Good. Well, there ain’t a lot we can do about River till Hat gives us more details. When’s she like to come round, Doc?”

“Oh, a few hours yet.”

“Right then. Meantime, Zoë, you and me’ll take a pass around the docks, see if we can’t dig up some info as to our missing babe. Jayne, Wash, you two go yersleves have a poke around. Preacher, Kaylee stay here, see if you can’t help the doc out and for gorram’s sake someone look after my son.”

The crew headed out to their appointed tasks, but the Captain seemed loath to take his own advice. He lingered by Hat’s bedside following her injuries with his eyes. Simon laid a gentle hand on his arm. “Mal,” his gentle touch was belied by the coldness in his voice, “I’ll look after her. She’ll be fine. Now, for pities sake go find my sister.”

Mal nodded and sighed heavily. Hat’s eyelids fluttered and, without opening them she muttered, “get goin’ already, Malcolm.” Mal bent and kissed her tenderly on the side of her face that was unbruised and headed out.

*** River felt the blindfold, which had been around her eyes since they left Serenity, being pulled roughly off. The blindfold hadn’t mattered much. She was still pretty sure she knew exactly where she was in relation to Eavesdown Docks and Serenity. It took way more than a flimsy bit of fabric to confound her sense of direction. They were somewhere a ways to the east of the docks. If her olfactory senses were anything to go by, they’d left the general trading area of the docks and come to an area that specialised in one trade alone.

She was thrown roughly forward so that, with her hands still tied behind her, she couldn’t stop herself from falling painfully onto her knees. After the dark of the blindfold and the streets, the light was very bright and she needed a few moments to adjust.

“Easy,” a voice said behind her, she thought it was Bongo, “the chief said as not to spoil ‘er.”

A door banged behind her and River sensed she was alone. She scrambled to her feet. She was in a totally blank room, with just a window high up on one side, a cot and a chair. A few seconds more and the same door opened.

Hands reached out and swivelled her round to face the entrant. River looked at him steadily. She said nothing. In truth, not because she was surprised, she’d already guessed who was behind the kidnap, but because she couldn’t think of anything useful to say and her natural state was silence.

“Well, well, if it ain’t the little lassie as don’t come from Dyton, but can call a good accent when she needs ta.”

***

Zoë and Mal rounded yet another dark and ugly corner of the Docks. A sharp breeze was blowing and various pungent smells were attacking their nostrils with the ferocity of war. Zoë grimaced.

“Is it me or we got ourselves a bit of a mare’s nest, Sir. Walkin’ round in the dark, lookin’ for we ain’t rightly sure what, we ain’t rightly sure where. Didn’t like to say in front of the Doc, but it’s like lookin’ for a cry-baby in a meteor shower. How the hell we supposed to find her?”

“I ain’t too sure my own self, Zoë.” Mal conceded, “but we sure as *guay* gotta find her and sooner rather than later. We don’t find her soon, whoever’s got her ‘ll move her and we’ll have a coreman’s chance in reaver country a findin’ her… Gorram it!” Something wet, whipped up by the wind, smacked Mal in the face, “what the *tyen shiao duh* was that? Looks to be gettin’ a mite blowy, dontcha think?”

Zoë wrinkled her nose at the sky. The stars were nowhere to be seen, covered by thick boiling clouds. “There’s a storm comin’ in. Don’t much like the look of it.” Rain began to spatter around them.

“*Ta ma duh*.” Mal hunched over, trying to make himself less of a target for the thick drops and failing miserably. “Well, we ain’t got much choice. Looked to me like that kid in there is near as gorramit to blowin’ a gasket. We’d better see if we can find his sister fore he does.”

***

Wash and Jayne were getting wet. Very wet. And that squelchy feeling all over wasn’t exactly helping their tempers.

“Don’t see as how the Cap has call to make us sling around lookin’ for that moon brain of a fugie. I say we take one more turn about the garment quarter and head back. Say we couldn’t find nothin’. It’d only be the truth.” Jayne grumbled.

“OK,” Wash agreed, “but you go first, I’ll be right behind ya, several miles to be exact. Seems to me, tellin’ the Captain we searched hard as you like an’ couldn’t find nothin’- well, that I’m all up for. Tellin’ him we just couldn’t be so much as arsed, not so much.” “How’s about you don’t go at all, little man,” Jayne growled. “Hell, I could put ya out a this misery right now if yer willin’. Wanna go, little man?”

Wash grinned, shaking his wet head, “only if it’s some place nice with, you know, say a roof and possibly drinks with umbrellas in ‘em, not for show, you understand, but real umbrellas? – keep the rain off… what was that?” He said nervously, as they rounded a corner in the gloom.

Jayne’s hand was a blur as one of his many hidden knives swept out. A vaguely mammalian squeal sounded in the black. Jayne searched the ground and lifted up his knife, something furry impaled on its end, “rat.” Jayne brandished the dead animal-on-a-stick in Wash’s direction. “There’s good meat on one a these, you stew it right. Shame Hat’s laid up.”

Wash made an appalled face, “ugh! Just when I think you can’t get more disgusting, you surprise me all over again!”

“Hey!” Jayne was indignant, “my mammy always said, ‘waste not want not’. Not all of us had a privledged upbringing same as some I could mention, on a factory planet and all. Ain’t no call to go give yerself airs!”

“I’m beginning to wonder whether you were brought up by humans at all. Sure you weren’t left in a jungle as a baby, raised by apes or some such?”

“*Wei*! You better not be callin’ my mammy a monkey, little man, or this rat won’t be the only thin’ sayin’ a cheery hello to my blade and a fond farewell to its livin’.”

Wash began to back away, but then, seeing he had a good lead, said cheekily, “your ma, particularly hairy, is she?”

“Gorram it, *Meh, tah mah duh hwoon dahn*!” Jayne lunged at Wash who dodged neatly and began to hare round the corner, where he ran slap bang into his wife who, looking at him questioningly and seeing Jayne barrel round the corner after him, took him firmly by the collar and held him out of Jayne’s reach. Mal, coming swiftly up behind her, tackled Jayne.

“Gorram it, Mal. Let me get at ‘im. I gotta teach him a thing or two about disprespectin’ my family.”

“Hey, it was just a joke!” Wash said plaintively.

“*Bee-jway* the two of you!” Mal was in no mood for this. “Now I ain’t in no mood for the two a you to be goin’ at each other tonight. We find River, hell, I’ll happily put you in a locked room myself, let ya fight it out once and fer all, but right now, I see either of you say or do one thing as winds the other up – just one thing – I’m gonna do the other’s work for him, *dong ma*?”

Wash appealed to his wife, “Zoë, I was just messin’ with the monkey-man.”

Zoë looked angry, “Caps right, Wash, this here’s no time for play. Now act like a grown up for a minute or two, would ya?”

Wash looked hurt and opened his mouth to disagree some more. Mal felt it was high time to close the matter and take things in hand. “Well,” he sighed, “ain’t lookin’ like we can do a whole heap more tonight, ‘specially not with this storm gettin’ up. Let’s head back to the ship see if Hat can give us a lead.”

As he spoke, a piece of corrugated iron detached itself from a near by lean-to and bowled down the street towards them. The whole group reacted at once. Wash gave a yelp and leapt to one side, but not fast enough. The iron sheet gave him a glancing blow to his forearm, drawing blood, before careering on down the street. Mal glared at him, “and I’d take it as a kindness if the rest a my crew could refrain from gettin’ injured, at least for what remains of the gorram night.”

“Here.” Zoë pulled out a handkerchief and, having mopped up the blood, tied it round the cut in a makeshift, but efficient, tourniquet. Her face was serious, but her gentle hands gave Wash the distinct impression that he’d been, at least in part, forgiven. Their eyes met and he grinned sheepishly. Zoë returned his grin with the slightest of smiles.

As they retraced their steps back towards the ship, Jayne chuckled to himself. Mal raised an enquiring eyebrow and Jayne sniggered. “Now that’s what I call instant karma,” he said. Mal looked at him steadily for an instant, stony faced and then strode on into the lead, only allowing himself a smile once his back was turned.

***

Hat came to. She felt warm and fairly comfy. Without opening her eyes she knew she was in the infirmary. She could smell disinfectant and the slightest hint of Simon’s tangy aftershave and Kaylee’s delicate and feminine scent. She took a mental inventory of her injuries. She couldn’t feel her left leg at all and her chest hurt.

She opened her eyes and tried to shift herself up on the infirmary couch. Her ribs protested the effort.

“*Tee wuh duh pee-goo*!” Her effective swearing brought Simon to her side. She grimaced at him, “do we think there’s some reason why it’s always me as gets my ribs stove in?” Hat asked, “at least I’m guessing that’s the way of it?” She raised her eyes to Simon questioningly. He nodded.

“Seems that way. If your self-diagnosis gets much better I’m going to find myself out of a job.” He smiled and then seemed to regret his levity. His smile faded to sad contrition, which Hat shared.

“I’m so sorry, Simon,” she whispered. “I tried to stop them, but I just couldn’t. I was pretty pathetic really …I let them see my weak side, let them see I was worried for Little M …worst mistake I could have made…” she trailed off.

Simon looked at her seriously, “I don’t’ see how you could have done better.”

“I’m sorry, this ain’t yer problem either, you don’t need me soul searchin’, but I shoulda been able to do something…”

“Something like getting’ yerself killed ‘stead of just immobilised, ya mean?” said an irritated voice from the doorway. Mal strode in and came up to the bedside. “We’ll get River back, I swear it, one way or another. But, next time, think you could give some thought to the rest of us fore you go doin’ yer big damn hero act? What gorram itty bit a good would it a done River, if they’d shot you stone dead? They’d a still taken her … and I thought I told you to lock that door.” Now he could see his wife was looking a bit better, the remembered fear of losing her made him crotchety.

Hat glared, “you would a done much the same, Malcolm Reynolds, let me tell you, and I did lock that ruttin’ door!”

“I’d a done a darn sight better ‘cos I’m a large muscular man as can shoot straight. Yer nothin’ but a slip of a girl and I’ll thank you to remember that.”

“*Hoe-tze duh pee-goo*!” Hat’s eyes flashed dangerously and she pulled herself up to sitting, holding her rebellious ribs. As she did so, her face changed, “*Gao yang jong duh goo yang*!!” She doubled over in pain, swearing with consistent dreadfulness. “What the ruttin’ hell have I done to my leg?”

“Smashed it in about 3 different places,” Mal said unrepentantly. Hat looked at Simon for confirmation, who nodded. “So you ain’t goin’ anywhere for a bit. Might give you time to consider what would’ve happened if they’d a killed you. Now I’m goin’ to check on our son.”

He stormed from the room, a vengeful Hat glaring at his back. She turned in appeal to Simon who, backing away, reached a carton of pills from the counter and fair lobbed them at her.

“Hey, don’t get me involved, I’ve got a lost sister to worry over. Take a couple of these and try and get some more sleep.” So saying he headed for the door.

Hat, unable to move and therefore unable to continue to fight with anyone, ground her teeth. Yes, Mal had been unreasonable and well nigh unforgivable, but she could see why. She had behaved pretty gorram stupidly. She wondered how her baby was. Perhaps someone would bring him to see her? Next person across the threshold was so gonna get it. But seemed everyone had heard the row with Mal, because no one came near the infirmary. After 10 minutes her leg began to ache. She took the pills and fell into a deep sleep.

***

River knew she needed to humour him, play along just long enough to make him think he didn’t need Simon. Make him think he’d got enough by just having her. Make him think she alone was valuable. She had to protect them. She smiled in a way, which, she felt, echoed Inara at her loveliest. It felt odd. Feeling the muscles of her mouth contract and the corners move up. It was hard, with all those emotions bombarding her, to ape an emotion she didn’t herself feel, but she had to do it for Simon and for Kaylee.

“I remember you too.” She said into the stillness. Her words sounded like notes in some complicated piece she felt ill equipped to play. But she knew, the more notes she sounded, the more confident of her instrument she would become. “And thanks.”

“Thanks?” Badger was incredulous, “I kidnapped you, little miss. Ain’t no gorram reason to thank me.”

“I was looking for a reason to leave, you helped out,” River said airily, almost off hand. She had to play this just right.

“Well I sure as hell didn’t do it fer you. There’s a pretty packet to be made sellin’ you to the right bidder. A fair tidy sum and no mistake.”

“Money is there? Well, how about I help you out and you give me a cut of the cash.”

“Now why in the ‘Verse should I bother with that?” Badger asked, raising his eyes to the heavens in an I-ask-you gesture. “When I got you all trussied up nice as a gorram Christmas turkey.”

River smiled to herself. Now for the piece de resistance. “A very good question.” She replied calmly. As she spoke she brought her hands, which a moment ago had been bound behind her, around in front and waived them delicately in the air. In one hand she held a gun, which Walt could have sworn was in his belt but a moment ago. She cocked it at Badger almost playfully.

“Son of a bitch!” Badger was impressed. “How much cash ‘r we talkin’?”

Things had been going so well, but now all of a sudden River felt something. Small at first like the earliest signs of spring. A cracking and breaking like a huge polar iceberg breaking off from its fellows in a great melt, leaving a ghastly and hollow gap full if emptiness where it had been and toppling forward into the snow flood. A snapping like a tree struck by lighting, a ripping across its grain and a fire flaming in the darkness. She swallowed, trying to gather herself, get her bearings. Everything swum around her; Badger, Bongo and Walt. She gasped, fighting for breath as though submerged in icy waters, “Simon” she gasped through her pain.

***

On leaving Hat to stew and hopefully regain her equilibrium, Simon intended to go regroup himself somewhat in his quarters. The strain of River’s loss seemed to be affecting them all. The Captain was like a bear with a sore head, looking for someone to rip apart, though Simon figured that was more to do with something or someone, over whom Mal had no control, threatening his cubs. It hadn’t taken Simon awfully long to realise that the one thing the Captain never handled well was impotence, metaphorical, of course. Any question Simon might have about the actual was one of those conversations he made a vivid mental note never to have with either the Captain or his wife.

He’d spoken to Zoë when they returned. At least she was fairly normal, though she looked strained and tired. Wash and Jayne were both spitting. Obviously their pairing had come, if not to blows, to angry words. Simon had figured Mal wasn’t entirely concentrating on the job when he’d suggested that twosome.

One look at Wash told Simon his job in the infirmary was in no way over. He’d cleaned the wound on Wash’s arm, given the grouchy and somewhat pathetic pilot a tetanus shot and sent him for a lie down with the ol’ “you lost a lot of blood” routine. Not so much for Wash’s sake, who Simon’s practised emergency medicine eye had quickly assessed as more hypocondrial than really hurt, but so Simon could get some blessed peace. He needed to gather his thoughts, to try and suppress the immense swell of terror he felt virtually bubbling in his throat like so much bile.

Simon, in his many years in medicine, had heard often of mother-love and the desperate acts it could lead a woman to. Is this what it feels like? He thought. A boiling and pulsing in your head, making your senses swim and your eyes see stars. If this was what Hat felt for Little M, it was no wonder she had tried so desperately to protect him at the expense even of his own sister. In fact, he now wondered how she ever managed to get anything done, to think clearly above the resounding din, the rushing of horrified blood in one’s ears. He found it so hard to concentrate when all at once his mind was screaming for his sister, a keening dirge for his loss, when it should be planning on how to get her back.

He was supposed to be a genius, top 3%, but now he could think of nothing but River’s face when she had first jumped screaming and distressed from the cryo-chamber. Why, he wondered, was he fixating on something that had happened so many years ago? Perhaps because it was then that deep down, somewhere warm and fuzzy that he dared to call his heart, he had thought for the first time that she might be free, that he might be able to protect her, that they might just be safe. It had all been an illusion, sure, but it had been nice all the same. Now she was gone and he was going to get her back or die trying, if only his head would stop singing in grief and fright.

He exited the infirmary hurriedly; only just managing to refrain from grasping his hair in both hands like a madman, and headed for his room. And he ran, quite literally, slap-bang in to Kaylee who had been hovering outside the infirmary, quietly, waiting to comfort him.

“Simon,” Kaylee’s voice was slightly twittery, like a timid bird. He imagined that she didn’t quite know what to say or how to treat him in his time of crisis and that thought irritated him. For the first time a prescience that he was about to be mean himself, as he had just seen the Captain be, sprang into his mind and he was powerless to stop it. “Are you OK? I can’t imagine what you’re going through…”

Simon sighed heavily, “I fine Kaylee. Just superb. ‘Course my sister’s been kidnapped, is probably dead or worse, but me? I happy as can possibly be.” His bitterness was palpable.

“Simon,” Kaylee lay a comforting hand on his arm, “I’m so sorry, but you’ve got to remember, River ‘ll be OK. They won’t want to hurt her, she’s valuable.”

He shook off her hand almost viscously and a look of hurt sprang across Kaylee’s dear features. “Good point. Thanks. ‘Cos they didn’t hurt her last time. They didn’t twist her brain and experiment on her, make her almost unrecognisable as the sunny sister I once had. You think maybe this time they’ll turn her back? Make her less of a mind-reading freak, more of a stay-at-home sort?”

“Simon, don’t you ever call her that. It’s River. Your sister!”

“Yes, MY sister! So don’t you dare to presume to tell me what I can or can’t call her. You’re right. You are unutterably clueless as to how I feel. There is simply no way you can understand. And, frankly, that’s a bonus for you. I have no mother, no father. They left me to bear this burden, and believe me it is a burden – you think I like playing nursemaid on the run? - All on my own. And now they’ve taken my sister too. The only thing I had left and they’ve taken it away!”

“The only thing?” Kaylee’s voice was querulous.

Simon really felt like hurting someone right now, and who better than Kaylee. “The only thing.” He repeated doggedly.

“I’m sorry, Simon. I may not have lost my family, but I can understand how it feels, I really can. I love River too.” She clutched his arm in an effort to make him see. “I can understand because it’s hurting the person I love and I feel like I’m losing him.”

“Maybe you never had him,” Simon said cruelly. Kaylee’s face all but dissolved, but, though her bottom lip wobbled, she held herself defiantly together.

“I know you love me, Simon Tam, I know it and I know why you’re doing this.”

“Perhaps I’m just too damaged, too tired from being on the run, from trying to help River, to care about anyone,” he said. His voice was filled suddenly with exhaustion and remorse. “I’m just so tired. I don’t think I have it in me to love anyone anymore. I’m sorry.” His voice was flat and expressionless. Kaylee burst into tears and turning swiftly, ran up the stairs towards the engine room.

Simon sighed once more and headed for his own room. He didn’t cry until he’d shut the door and locked it.

***

River felt the bond holding Kaylee and Simon together snap like a dead twig. It was just too easy. She thought they’d been stronger than that, like a sapling that bends in high winds, not a dry and withered branch, one puff and it sheers of, splits in two and dies. But so it was and all her efforts to protect them had gone for nothing. She had no one to protect now but herself. To think, she had allowed herself to be taken, allowed Hat to be hurt, allowed it all, only to protect those two people she loved and the love that bound them together. Yet, somehow, without her even being there, they had managed to demolish themselves, knock down the carefully erected walls of their kingdom and rape and pillage each other with abandon. She would have been quite angry, if she hadn’t had bigger things to worry on.

The feeling of desolation as Simon and Kaylee split apart had felled her, given her such an overwhelming nausea that for a few minutes she felt she couldn’t breathe and she felt that she might die. Badger and his minions had fluttered around her, worried that in an instant their big pay day might dissolve and they’d be left with the dead body of a young woman to dispose of. But now she was better. She swallowed down her sorrow for her brother and she pulled herself tight. At least this made her path clearer, straighter. She had no one to worry about now but her, no divided loyalties. For a moment she felt almost sorry for Badger, but her resolve hardened and she felt no further remorse.

***

Kaylee, her head in Inara’s lap, sobbed distractedly. Inara gently soothed her back and murmured words of comfort, though she knew she had none to give.

“Give him time, honey… He’s going through so much … I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

Kaylee looked up, wiping streaks of mascara and engine oil across her face. She looked at Inara, a fierce look. “He did mean it, ‘Nara, he meant every word. Oh, you should have seen his face. It was like someone I ain’t never seen before. It was the real Simon.”

“No, dearest, it wasn’t. Please don’t upset yourself so much. Try to look at it from his perspective. He’s lost everyone he has ever cared about. Why open himself up to it all over again? He doesn’t trust himself to hang on to you, so it’s better if he gets rid of you now, gives himself time to get over it.”

Kaylee smiled wanly. “They teach you psycholo-thingy at the academy?”

Inara smiled, “Something like that.” She stroked Kaylee’s cheek softly. “Oh my poor, sweet, in-love Kaylee. How about we fix your hair and wash your face a little?”

Kaylee nodded, “’s like bein’ a baby for a bit. ‘S nice.” She sighed, “all the same, don’t really matter why he’s done it, do it, ‘Nara? When all’s said and done, he’s succeeded ain’t he? He’s gorram lost me.”

***

Mal sat at the galley table, a large bottle of Kaylee’s inter-engine fermented wine in front of him. He seemed to have downed a good three-quarters of the jar but still couldn’t feel it.

Book wandered in. With Hat laid up, he’d figured on preparing the evening’s meal, but most of the crew seemed to have gone to ground. Wash and Zoë’s bunk door was firmly closed; Jayne was nowhere to be seen; he’d seen Kaylee knocking tearfully on Inara’s door; and now, here was the Captain, clearly on a mission and taking on prisoners.

“Is this a private wake or a can anyone join in?” he asked.

“Pull up a chair, Preacher.” Mal waived expansively round the table. “Don’t see no one else takin’ up space. Seems I ain’t everyone’s favourite person this evening.”

“I was thinking of making supper, but I get the feeling there’s not many as are in the mood. Maybe it’s advisable to stick to liquid refreshment. Just a little, mind. I hope you’re not planning on getting me drunk, Captain.”

“Nah, just myself thanks, Shepherd. But no preachin’ any one o your sermons at me. I ain’t rightly in the mood fer religiosity.”

“I couldn’t help but hear,” said Book, pulling up a chair and pouring himself a smallish glass of wine, “my room, as you know, being very near the infirmary, that you and Hat seemed to be having a little disagreement.”

Mal glared at him, but then relaxed visibly and sighed. “Just ain’t that keen on her enthusiasm for puttin’ herself in the way of danger, is all. She’s got to learn a little protective fear.”

“Is that what you really want? A wife that runs and hides at the first sign of danger?” Mal studied his glass hard. “Seems to me,” Book went on, “though I’m not that experienced in relationships, that you liked that about her. I remember the awful rows you two used to have, ‘fore you got together. Most always caused by Hat standing up for herself and refusing to back down. But you seemed to thrive on it.”

Mal smiled wryly to himself, remembering Hat, “that may be so, Preacher, but she’s got responsibilities now, her family, Little M…”

“So have you, don’t recall seein’ that stop you get into all manner of scrapes.”

“True enough,” Mal nodded.

“Seems to me,” carried on Book and Mal sighed audibly, recognising the sting in the Shepherd’s peroration was just around the corner, “this is about you, not Harriet. Time and again you come up against something you can’t control, something that makes you feel powerless, you catch sight of the things you love being taken away and you throw your toys from the pram. And you take out your fear and your impotence on the your loved ones.”

“Hey, who said anything about impotence? You got no call to go usin’ that word.” Mal’s voice had risen and he pushed back from the table.

“Metaphorical, I believe, Captain. That’s what you meant right?” Book nodded at the interloper. A haggard looking Simon had wandered into the mess and now headed for the table and the wine. “Is that alcohol? You don’t mind if I join you, do you?” the others waived him on. “Because I’m in serious need of a great deal of alcohol.”

Mal looked at him sympathetically as he drew up a chair, “thank god for Kaylee’s inter-engine fermentation system, is all I gotta say.”

Simon, in the process of pouring himself a glass of the young, full-bodied little number, groaned heavily, his hand shook and the wine flooded over the table. He murmured, “Kaylee!”

“Am I let to guess that like all the other doomed parings on this ship at the moment, your love life is undergoin’ some rockiness?” asked Mal.

Simon nodded, “I didn’t realise how fragile we were, but I honest to god think I broke us.”

Book looked at him understandingly and passed over his own glass, “here son, I think you need this more than me.”

***

Wash and Zoë’s room was suffused by a soft pinkish light. Wash lay, if anything whiter than normal, face down on their bed, propping himself up on his elbows and dabbing with his one useful hand at a cooing Little M. Zoë busied herself with wiping the day’s grime off her face and preparing for bed.

“We like to watch Aunt Zoë gettin’ ready for bed, don’t we kiddo?” Wash smiled down at the baby. “You should be very jealous. You get older, yer aunt isn’t gonna let you watch no more, but me, I ‘m gonna get this floor show every night till I’m old and grey and probably can’t stand it anymore.”

“Most nights,” Zoë corrected, “depending on whether I like you or not. Plus I’m thinking, you get older, I might see about findin’ me a younger model.” She grinned. “Maybe Little M ‘ll have some nice friends.”

Wash stuck out his tongue and Little M giggled and tried to pull on it. “That’s disgusting! Thought you liked something with a few miles on it anyhow. Means I’ve got more driving history, more quirks and, dare I say, road experience. Though if you continue to get ready for bed like that,” he gestured at her as she slowly peeled her clothing off item by item, "I'm like to have a heart attack at seventy and you can choose yerslef any other man yer like, after I’m gone. I give you my leave.” He waived expansively, impressed by his own generosity.

“You can laugh all you want, honey,” Zoë said mockingly. “Don’t make it any the less true. Here, put the critter’s baby-grow on him fore he dies a cold.” She threw a pale blue baby-grow at them. It landed across Wash’s head and Little M sniggered. Zoë smiled fondly at them both as Wash struggled to insert arm “a” into armhole “b”.

“Hey mite, this’d go a lot quicker if you stopped with the squirming for an bit. Hey no bose grapping..” Wash said indistinctly as Little M latched on with one determined hand. “Zo, a libble help, a libble love?”

Zoë leaned in and unfastened the child’s hand. Then she kissed one rosy cheek of each baby on the bed. Wash looked up at her. “This is nice, isn’t it?” he said softly. She looked back at him inquiringly, “you, me, the babe,” he went on, “gettin’ ready for bed in our own cosy little nest…”

“Yes, it is.” She said quietly, looking lingeringly and lovingly at the twosome, “yes it is.”

***

COMMENTS

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 8:35 PM

NUTLUCK


If River is about to do what I think she is going to do i almost feel sorry for Badger. Defently curious to see what happens next.

Thursday, September 1, 2005 10:08 AM

PIFFLE101


I love it and I cant wait to go to the next chapter!!


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