BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 5: Bridges Burned.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Things get a little frosty, relationships are mended, and mistakes are made.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3343    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Yadda, yadda, Joss, yadda, yadda, Fox.

Comments: 1)To avoid confusion, I'll clear it up now: River's dream is written in the present tense, but it is a memory, not happening in the timeline of the fic itself.

2) Imagine my delight when an interview with Joss regarding the upcoming movie had him stating that, even if it wasn't delved into specifically, fans could now accept as canon the fact that Book once took orders from evil, evil men. Hence the advancement of his role in this story.

Feedback: Don't make me beg... please? wily_one24@yahoo.com.au .

***

Zoe paced the ship, unable to sleep. She kept telling herself it wasn't because of the stories River had almost been telling. The pictures that the disembodied words had bought forth. She wondered if Mal or Simon or Kaylee had gotten the same images or had processed the words into their own meanings.

She clutched her elbows tighter, shivering. It had gotten noticeably colder too fast to make any form of sense. Her memory flashed at her, not too quickly, she saw all the small indications that they had ignored the day before. A shiver here, River's breath on the window there.

A moon, she remembered, is drained of all heat the minute the sunlight disappears, unable to retain any of it. Not that the sun had given them much heat at all, merely a relief from cold. It still didn't explain why the ship had lost heat.

***

Book had tried to sleep, but hadn't come anywhere near an approximation of it. He decided to see if anyone else was awake. It was when he tried to sit up, for the first time in a matter of hours, that he noticed the stiffness of his joints, the reluctance of his body to move.

The fact that he had not noticed the cold did not surprise him. It reminded him of a parable from Earth that Was. That if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump right out, but if you place it in a pot of warm water it will stay still, content to remain while the water is slowly heated until the frog has let itself be boiled.

The lesson remained true, he supposed, but he was a might unsure of why exactly they didn't just put a lid on the pot.

***

He turned, twisting further into the sheets that clung to him. It made him scramble at them, tore them away and the air that covered him gave him chills. With a sigh, he gave up hope of every getting a peaceful sleep that night. He refused to accept that it was anything other than the cold that kept him awake.

Their cries will ring in your ears, not mine.

Mal's fingers refused to work properly. He swore as he tried, again and again, to open his hatch. He was thick and sluggish, but most of all he was cold. The chills had inched through his skin all the way to the bones and he didn't know whether he could ever stop shaking.

Serenity creaked at him when he finally succeeded and it made him nervous. The corridor was empty and dark as he began to make his way to the engine room. He had more than a sneaking suspicion as to what that missing piece did in the engines.

Voices broke into his mind as he neared the kitchen. Zoe and Book huddled in blankets, the kettle boiling away, Mal's throat tightened at the thought of hot tea. Well, it wasn't like he could do much with the great hulking machine in this condition.

"Don't mind if I do."

***

If Simon had learned anything as a trauma surgeon, it was how to sleep when there was time to do it, even when he wasn't tired, when he was still buzzing from a twelve hour successful operation. Or when he couldn't stop hearing his sister's words. Even in sleep his brain was deftly able to distinguish between the normal, everyday bustle and the urgent currents that mean he's needed.

He could not tell what woke him up this time. The first thing he became aware of was the stifling heat of all the blankets piled on top of him. Second, was the familiar scratching of pencils on paper on the floor next to his bed.

"River?"

His voice was thick with sleep and confusion, something that solved itself the second he pushed the blankets away. The air that snaked over him made him gasp, it was that cold. He immediately pulled the top blanket back over his shoulders as he propped himself up on one arm.

"Not sleeping. Can't make me." Her stubborn voice insisted. "Not tonight."

He rolled and looked over the edge of the bed. She sat propped up on one arm on the floor and, in Simon's estimation, was wearing every single item of clothing she owned, layered thick and clumsily over each other. On the paper in front of her, she was carefully and methodically drawing sets of matrioshka dolls.

Something about their faces made him uneasy.

"So, did you put all the blankets on the ship on my bed, or just half?"

She shrugged.

"Thermoregulation. I told you to rug up."

Simon watched as she took a deliberate breath, letting it out in one long stream. He was surprised to notice the air mist in front of her face, the carbon dioxide heavier and warmer than the oxygen around her.

"Doc?" Mal's voice crackled through the com. "If you're awake, might as well meet us in the kitchen."

***

Jayne stretched his mouth out in a huge yawn, letting the oxygen flood his lungs and wake him up as he made his way into the kitchen.

"What's up, Mal?" They stared at him. "What?"

Simon gestured to the shirt and pants he'd been sleeping in.

"Aren't you cold?"

It took him a moment to register the five people in front of him, all huddled in blankets and shivering, all nursing steaming mugs. Mal, Book, Zoe, Simon and River.

"Yeah. I put shoes on, didn't I?" He shrugged. "Why's it so cold, anyway?"

Mal nodded to the metal part on the table.

"We lost heat."

"I told you." River sounded like she was scolding a naughty child as she reached out, she stopped just short of touching it. "Landing strained it. Heated into itself. Didn't want to snap, so it buckled."

"You seem to know a lot." Mal turned to her. "You know how to fix it?"

"She knows." River shrugged casually, but watched him out of the corner of her eye.

"Well she ain't here." Mal sighed. "Can't you just...?"

Simon watched Mal gesture at his head and wave his fingers a little. Irritation and a surge of protectiveness hit him hard and he glared.

"It's not a parlor trick, Captain."

He felt River's hand on his arm, but she when she spoke it was to Mal.

"She's not here." She pointed out, using Mal's words against him. "Not thinking about it. Can't feel through distance."

"So, we're stuck like this 'til Kaylee gets back?" Jayne saw the various nods as he clutched his hands under his arm pits, he was beginning to feel the cold now. "Where's Inara?"

"I called her com, but she didn't answer." Mal shrugged as he bought his mug to his lips. "She's probably still asleep, all warm in her shuttle."

It took about five seconds of them staring at him before Mal clicked.

"Her shuttle! We can sleep in the shuttles 'til the heat's back on." He quickly pointed to each member of the crew. "Zoe, River, you can bunk with Inara. Book, Simon and Jayne with me in shuttle two."

"You sleep wherever you want, Mal," Jayne smirked and River smiled with him. "but I'm goin' with the girls."

"What is wrong with you?" Simon sighed. "Is it genetic?"

Mal gave a small smile that was too annoyed to become larger.

"Jayne? You'll sleep in shuttle two or off the ship altogether."

"Third option wins." They looked at River. "All in one."

"Girl's right." Jayne said. "Kaylee circumnavigated the grav seals when she fixed the shuttle so the sealants would have time to dry. It's running on Serenity's air. Even if we fix it now, it'd take hours to generate any heat worth feelin'."

***

Inara heard the knock and moved to cover herself before she answered it. A wave of iced air hit her when she opened the door and found herself confronted by a rather rugged up and shivering crew.

"Hey Inara." Jayne smirked from the back of the group. "Mal says we all get to sleep with ya tonight."

She raised her eyebrows.

"Does he, really?"

***

She wakes up walking down the corridor, but it's not her. She's never been here before, doesn't ever want to know where it is. River looks down and sees bare feet peeking out of standard issue white pajamas. The toes are large and hairy. It makes her relax.

She knows who she is now.

The walls are pristine white, as is everything within eyesight, even their clothes. She imagines that they'll disappear, nothing visible but the brown of their skin. Feet, hands, neck and face floating disjointed in world of white. She hears the echoing laughter in his thoughts. He's always loved the literal in her abstractions.

She wants to know why he's bringing her along, wishes she was actually walking next to him so she can hold his hand. He wants it too. It makes her warm. Out of all of them, he alone has mastered it, has schooled himself to block it out. He doesn't let anyone in if he doesn't want to and he only ever seems to want to with her.

The he that is they ignore all the doors with large security pads and screens, the dressing and disguises, they focus on a neglected door that most people wouldn't bother looking at. Then again, most people wouldn't be here. Their hand reaches out and pushes it open.

River waits for his eyes to adjust to the light and gasps at what they see. He wants her to be strong, he wants her to carry this sight, because he suspects what's coming and he doesn't blame her. Never her.

They reach out and touch it, both wishing that it didn't exist, both wanting it so badly it hurts. How he knows it's there, he'll never let her know, hiding it in one of the few areas of his brain she hasn't swept through.

They use Jonah more than they use her. His secrets are interesting. They don't know it yet, but her talents are stronger than his. She just hasn't learned to control it. He's older, larger and infinitely more coherent than she is. They like that he's male and eagerly push him into the leadership role, which he assumes quietly and capably. What they don't know is his silent shielding of her, the way he makes them a team within a team. They lead together.

Sometimes River thinks they're scared of her.

She feels him agree as they step outside the room and he tells her its name as they cry together. Not really together. It's against the rules.

***

Jayne woke up at the sound of her voice. A quick look around the shuttle told him that everyone else was sleeping. He edged himself forward in the chair as he looked at her, creaking the aches out of his neck. He cast a baleful glance at the other women on the bed. Gorram chair just wasn't comfortable. River was coloring her damned pictures again and Jayne had to wonder if the girl knew she was crying as he watched her frantic movements.

"You alright?" He approached her carefully.

"Adam."

She said it to the paper on the table and he realized that it was what she'd been saying before. He looked at the drawings and furrowed his brow.

"Hey, somethin' wrong with those faces."

River's hand stilled finally, creating a silence that made him all kinds of nervous. She looked straight into his eyes and he wished she hadn't, because he can take her misery when she ain't all there, but when she's all sane it means she knows what's happening. It made Jayne ache in a way he didn't like. Her voice hurt his ears, it was that sad.

"Adam."

***

Wash bucked up the minute they entered the examination room. Kaylee watched in fascinated horror as orderlies appeared out of nowhere and took his arms, holding him forcibly still. His face was red with fury as he struggled against them.

"Katie?" He called out to her, strangled and close to tears. "Don't let them do this."

Kaylee knew it was an act, her brain kept reminding her that Wash was playing a part. They had talked about this, had spent a long time that morning going over it. Yet she couldn't stop trembling. His act was a little too convincing and she wanted to stop the whole thing.

She felt Dr. William's hand at the small of her back, offering her comfort. It wasn't working. She knew she should thank him, give him some sign that his gesture was appreciated, but she could not take her eyes off Wash.

All she could think as she watched them pull a hypo out of thin air and subdue him was that it was a good thing that Zoe wasn't there, nor could she read minds and pull this image from her thoughts. It hit her then, the realization of just how bad this could get and how many things she would share with Wash that neither would relate to the whole ship. It scared her a little bit.

A lot, really.

"It's okay." The doctor spoke softly as Wash was lifted onto the exam table. "They'll just get him settled. You can visit him tomorrow."

***

River picked up the wedge of tomato that was on her plate. She held it in between two fingers of her left hand. The fingernails of her right hand carefully separated the skin from the flesh, peeling it off as her eyes scrutinized the result, taking in the tiny fibers that clung to each other and then tore. She could imagine the screams.

If fruit screamed.

"Colors, huh?" Mal sat opposite her at the table. "What about Jayne?"

"Red." She bought her wet fingers up to her mouth and licked the juice off them. "Action. Heat. About the now. Food. Fight. Sex. More food. More sex."

Mal hid a smile.

"And me?"

"Brown of course." She rolled her eyes. "Like earth. Grounding. Loyal. Hold it together. Hold it up. Without you, we drift."

"And Kaylee?" He teased, trying to ignore the pleased feeling her words gave him.

"Kaylee's green." She closed her eyes, a smile drifting on her face. "Nature and accepting. Fresh."

At the sound of footsteps, Mal turned to see Inara step into the kitchen and head for the much overused kettle. He could see the goose bumps on her bare arms and wished she had the sense to at least borrow a coat if all her robes were this flimsy. River was already looking at him, still smiling, and answered before he could even ask.

"Gold. Precious. Immeasurably strong, but oh so malleable."

***

Dr. Williams sat at his desk when his secretary buzzed his next appointment through. The man strode into his practice, radiating a confidence the doctor rarely saw in this clinic or the hospital.

"So?" He asked without bothering to make small talk. "What did you find?"

"Their story checks out." Was the answer. "Married couple traveling. They're not staying long. The house they've rented only has a one month lease."

"The house they've rented?" He put the emphasis on the third word.

"Through a third party. I'm tracing it as we speak."

"Where is she now?"

"She has a temporary job, that's how she's paying for the house."

"Interesting." The doctor pressed his fingers into a steeple in front of him. "It takes a really cold woman to lock up her husband and then just trip off to work that afternoon."

"She cried all the way home." The man gave a sneer. "Does that make you happier?"

As a matter of fact, in a perverse way, it did. He thought about the trembling woman in the hospital only a few hours before and was surprised to find himself relieved. One thing he really didn't want to do was investigate this need in him for her to be honest, to prove that she wasn't lying. Especially to him. It was a dangerous road and he'd traveled it before. But her eyes... No not this time, not again. The litany rang in his head.

"Good." He managed to say. "Find out who hired their house and anything else, no matter how insignificant."

He pushed some buttons on a small keypad on his desk. The man in front of him smiled.

"There. The credits have been transferred to your account."

***

She felt eyes on her when she worked. Kaylee caressed the wheel of a mule, whispered to it as she sat up. It was a thousand times more powerful and land worthy than the charred carcass they were hauling on Serenity, but it wasn't nearly as precious. Not to her. It still deserved attention, though, someone to tend the small nicks and dents. No one likes neglect.

Her eyes scanned the yard as discreetly as she could manage as she stretched out in an exaggerated yawn.

"Hey." She spoke without turning around. "You might as well come out. I can see you."

A small gasp and then the two eyes formed a face that peeked out at her from a cruiser nearby. She smiled at the tiny little person who inched forward, nervous.

"I'm Kay..." She swallowed and held out her hand. "I'm Katie. And you are?"

"Jessie." The girl managed with barely a whisper. She couldn't be any more than ten, Kaylee thought. "George Webber's daughter."

"Well, guess you know your way around then." She gestured to the nearby box. "Why don't you grab a wrench and make yourself useful?"

The girl's eyes widened and Kaylee felt herself smile again. She saw the hesitation, but also saw the tingle of excitement. It reminded her of herself when she was young.

"I can't do what you do." Jessie said. "My daddy says you're magic with these machines."

"He does, does he?" Kaylee lay back down and inched herself back under the engine, letting the girl decide for herself if she wanted to help. "Well, it ain't nothing. Not really. You get a feel for it."

"Is that what it is?" Came a deeper voice and Kaylee felt a shudder at the sound. "I was going to ask you what your secret was."

She scrambled back out again and saw her new boss standing behind his daughter, a hand on her shoulder. He was smiling at Kaylee, a perfectly friendly look on his face. But Kaylee had seen the sudden dismay that had come over the girl before she smoothed her face and the tightness that stayed there.

"That." She said. "And a bit of knowledge and practice."

"I'm surprised." He continued smiling. "Jessica doesn't talk to many people by herself."

"Really?" Kaylee's eyes flickered from father to daughter and back again. "It's okay, though, right? She's allowed to help me?"

"Oh." Now George grinned and it sent a shiver down Kaylee's spine. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

***

Inara smiled softly as her hands lifted the kettle and poured the steaming water into the pot, every move calculated. She could feel his eyes on her. They both knew this was an act, a ritual, but formalities must be seen to. Simple acts that created auras of safety and comfort and boundaries. She made the performance pleasing to watch and, in return, Dr. Williams was pleased.

She wasn't going to push the conversation towards his work this afternoon, not unless he did. It would not be prudent to seem too eager and she had let him know the day before that she was a willing listener to the petty troubles of his day.

An inner sense born of training and experience told her when the specially blended herbs had steeped enough and the tea was as good as it was going to get. Gently, she poured it into two delicate porcelain cups, creating just the right atmosphere of tinkling liquid. She picked one up, balancing it on the pads of her fingertips, and offered it to him.

The time it took for him to lean forward and accept it was almost insulting. Almost. In any other situation, Inara would have had to stifle her annoyance, but her energies were spent trying not to pounce on the opportunity he had just given her as a frown crinkled his brows.

"I'm sorry." She lowered her eyes. "It's been too long since I've been able to restock properly and this is all I have to offer. I really am embarrassed."

"No. Not at all." Dr. Williams forced a smile and took a deliberate sip. "It's wonderful, really, just perfect."

Of course it's perfect, she thought, it better be perfect for the price paid for it. She knew there was nothing wrong with her tea, the quality of it nor the quality of its brewing.

"You're just saying that to be kind." Blushing on cue is a rare talent. "Thank you for that."

"It's I who should apologize." He pressed a hand onto her knee. "Everything here is lovely and I'm spoiling it. I just had a tiring morning."

"Really?" Inara used her own cup to hide the curl of her lips. "Would you like to talk about it?"

***

There were very few stores in Bellaphron. Hell, there was very few anything. Just the basics: food supplies, ship repairs, medicines. A tavern. All minimal, just the essentials and no extras. This was a moon for quick stops, nothing else.

Mal shuffled up to the man behind the counter, he felt Zoe behind him. His eyes scanned the paper in his hands and his mouth tried to round out the words, eventually he thrust the paper at the man.

"We need these."

If the list that Simon had sent with them was anything different to the usual requests, the man didn't show it. Not that there was anything suspicious about the supplies they were getting here, standard antibiotics, vitamin boosters, immunization, some bandages.

Enough sedatives to drop a whole planet.

"You're from the firefly?" Mal nodded. "Not many people stay longer than they need to here. You're a bit of a novelty. Although I take it you're not all used to a moon?"

He eyed the heavy clothing Mal and Zoe wore.

"Our thermo's out." Mal said. "It'll take a day or so to fix."

The man gave a sympathetic cringe as he bundled up their order.

"You need a mechanic? I'm it. Can't say we have many firefly compatible parts, though."

"You're the mechanic?" Asked Zoe. "I thought you were the doctor."

"That too." He said with a laugh. "We're all interchangeable here. Not a lot of us to go around."

"We're right." Mal told him as he counted out the coins. "Got a mechanic and all the parts. But thanks."

***

The triplex was a bustling hive of energy, fresh faced people and families swarming every which way. Kaylee watched them all go about their business of shopping or entertainment. In her hands she carried a basket with a small assortment of items bought mostly at random.

She had followed Inara's instructions to the letter, had walked around the shops, picked up some food supplies, nothing in stores that had long lines. Keep moving, Inara had told her, don't stay in one place too long, but don't look as if you're trying to hide anything. Just get lost in the crowds and don't draw attention.

Truth be told, Kaylee was finding the whole thing a bit daunting. It was a little too crowded, a little too loud for her. There was too much to keep track of, things drifted in and out of her sight, snippets of conversation invaded her ears before being lost again. The day had made her edgy enough as it was, without being able to get her grounding properly.

She remembered the jolt of fear that the sudden sound of George Webber's voice gave her, the escalation of her pulse. It bought back memories she really didn't want and Kaylee tried to reassure herself that there was over a week and several planets between her and Early's hopefully dead and rotting body.

When she passed a doorway and a hand grabbed her waist, another grabbing her arm and pulling her into darkness, Kaylee felt her heart freeze. She dug in her heels and tried to resist as she felt the scream rise on her lips.

"Shh, Mei Mei." Came a soft voice in her ear. "It's me."

"Inara!" She breathed in reproach. "Don't do that."

***

The drugs made him slow. They changed everything, the way he saw things, heard them, even thought them. He blinked and tried to remember how he got there. The room was full of people he didn't know.

"You new here?" He thought he heard someone say.

By the time he nodded, the person was gone.

He knew who he was supposed to be, knew what his mind kept telling him. Steven Hoffman. He had a wife who was waiting for him, counting on him to get well. His Katie. Something was wrong with it. Something didn't quite gel about his life, but he couldn't remember anything else.

"You haven't moved for an hour, man, you okay?"

He let his glazed eyes slide over to see a man in a white uniform standing next to him. A slow nod came again and he shuffled away, scared of the man, of the place he was in.

***

She oozed into the shuttle, let the familiarity of it seep into her pores. Kaylee didn't much like the idea of core planets anymore. Her hands touched on surfaces she'd know anywhere, the metal of the mini ship, her eyes lingered over the controls she could see in the far corner.

"I'm sorry, Kaylee." Inara spoke once they were both inside and the door was closed. "I didn't mean to scare you. We just had to be sure you weren't followed."

"Nah." She brushed over it. "I was just spooked is all. How long 'til we get there?"

Inara let herself smile over the eagerness.

"Not long, especially if you drive, two hours maybe less." She hated giving control of her shuttle to anyone, but Inara could see the sudden ease that slipped over Kaylee at the suggestion. It may be my shuttle, she thought, but it's still part of Kaylee's baby. "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised when we get there. River seems so much better today."

This was something Kaylee had already suspected, she knew that Inara wouldn't have hesitated to tell her if anything was really wrong. Her eyes finished scanning the edges of the room and fell to the table in the middle.

"Inara?" She asked, her brows squinching in suspicion. "Why do you have a shiny, brand new temp regulator sitting next to a burnt out broken one?"

"Funny story." Inara said, taking Kaylee by the shoulders and leading her to the controls. "Apparently the landing was a pretty bumpy one..."

Kaylee whimpered.

***

He was cleaning his knives at the table when Mal found him. Jayne had been avoiding him all day, he knew something was on the Captain's mind and he had a fairly good idea as to what it was. Not that sitting in plain view in the middle of the kitchen area could be considered avoidance anymore, so much as finally giving in and letting Mal get it out of his system.

"Jayne." A one word acknowledgement.

"Mal." A one word answer.

"I'll cut to the chase." Mal sat down. "Is there gonna be a problem?"

"You don't need to worry." Jayne turned the blade over and eyed the metal for any mark or sign of misuse.

"I am worried, though."

"I heard ya, Mal, you said not now." Jayne carefully laid the knife down, nestled it into the others, then looked up to meet Mal's eyes. "Which means maybe later. Knowin' you, it means ya already plannin' something."

"Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm giving you a choice." To Jayne, Mal's voice didn't sound like it was much of a choice at all. "When we leave this rock you can stay here if you want an' no words said about it. But you choose to stay on this ship, then you're no longer a hired gun and nothing more. You're crew and everyone on board is your crew. Tight as a family. Dong ma?"

Jayne nodded, but didn't speak.

"I don't need to be worryin' about anyone ratting this ship out to the feds or other, no matter how much money is offered."

He thought about River that morning, the way she'd looked at him, the way she'd talked so matter of factly the night before about things that no one should have to go through. He thought about Simon, the grudging respect he'd earned lately. About the rest of the people on board he already reckoned as crew. No, Jayne silently agreed with himself, it wasn't much of a choice at all.

"I said ya don't have to worry, Mal."

***

"You're scared." River said lightly to the empty room as she snuggled under blankets. "Don't be, I won't bite."

"I'm not scared."

The second before she looked up to see Simon standing in the doorway to her room, River felt a sudden, cruel and unreasonable hope. He'd sounded so much like the old Simon, the brother that no longer was. Younger then than she was now. All bravado, trying to prove his emerging maleness to a sister who'd just made him scream.

Back when love was simple and each other and not tinged with sacrifice and screams and pride and fruitless trying. Stupid, really. All things gone. That was now and this is then and even that wasn't quite right. She sat up and shivered in the cold air.

"You're always scared, Simon." She blinked, tried to find the little boy in the man with words uttered long ago. "Little boy in big men's clothes."

It took an instant for her words to cut through the tangles of his thoughts. The gibe had all but been lost in his memories of her. A nervous smile teased his lips as he welcomed the sparkle that lit up her eyes. His chest puffed out and he drew himself up to his full height.

"I'm bigger than you." It was all too easy to fall back into the role.

"That's only anatomy." She stood up, poked a thin finger into the sides of his ribs and giggled as he had to release the air from his lungs. "Air and smoke and mirrors."

"You'll pay for that."

The sudden look in Simon's eyes told her exactly what he meant by that and she didn't even need to scan him to feel the relief washing over him, the fun taking over. He was about to ask a question he'd forgotten since she went away, the very question she'd been both waiting for and dreading on board the ship. All these months.

"Simon." She warned, a hand up to ward him off, but he just grinned at her wide, wide eyes.

"Are you still ticklish, River?"

"No." She told him as she shook her head, but her stance was already set to run and she couldn't stop the grin. "Never have been."

"Liar!" He accused and reached out for the sensitive skin of her waist. "You always were."

"Was not!"

She squealed a giggle as he made contact and twisted out of his reach, her feet carrying her out of the room, flushed and happy. Simon stood still for a second, letting it sink in, enjoying the moment, then he ran after her.

He saw her leaning against the stairs leading up from the common room. As their eyes met, she took off again. There was no doubt in his mind that she could outrun him in seconds and stay hidden for hours on the ship if that was what she wanted. But it wasn't. She wanted to be caught.

"Were too!" He called, his hand slapping on the wall for balance as he turned a corner. "Still are!"

"Am not!"

Her voice came from the dining area and he stopped short when he saw Mal and Jayne sitting there staring at him. He knew his face was red and at that moment he just didn't care.

"River run through here?"

"Not a one, nor ponds or lakes." Mal spoke seriously, but there was humor in his eyes. "Or natural water sources of any kind."

"We got a tap of tank water if ya want." Was Jayne's helpful suggestion.

"Thanks."

Simon kept on walking through. He knew she hadn't gone back the way he'd came, so that left the bunks and the bridge. A sudden screeching of wood on the floor made him turn. A flash of color jumped up from behind the couches and ran back out to the stairs.

"Was she here the whole time, Jayne?" Mal said with large, innocent eyes.

"Musta been, Mal." Replied Jayne with the same wide eyes.

Simon spared them a glare as he ran after her.

"I'll get you, you know."

He took the stairs at a slide, his hands gliding down the rails. It was an act, River had tried to explain to him once, that she would never, could never do. She didn't like to ignore the stairs themselves, they did such a good job holding her up. That suited him just fine, it gave him time to catch up.

"Will not!"

She had just reached the infirmary when he caught her, hand out to grab around her waist and pulling her towards the couches. She twisted, doubling over in giggles, hair flying out around them.

"Just did!"

River squealed again, bathed herself in his forgotten youth. This was her brother. Simon. Gleeful in a way they taught him not to be. They laughed before. They could laugh again. River couldn't stop herself from bubbling up, laughter pouring out like milk. They could never go back, too many glass shards to cover, but now they could go forward.

Simon felt himself laughing, struggling to get to her ticklish sides as she pushed back at him, each knowing from memory where the other's most sensitive spots were. He felt her go still suddenly, limp and bringing her arms in close to her body. Her eyes shone when she looked up at him, more so than they had moments before.

"Kaylee." She whispered, panting with the effort of laughter.

He was left leaning over an empty sofa as she slipped out of his grasp and ran towards the incoming shuttle.

***

Kaylee let her eyes slide over the shape of Serenity as they approached. Many times she had found herself missing her folks, but this she knew was real homesickness. The little knot of tension that had formed in her belly two days ago began to loosen as Zoe's voice confirmed their landing.

"I bought a cake, Inara." She eased the shuttle into its port, ears already pricked for the hissing of the landing, the shifting of gears. "A real one. You gonna join us?"

"Oh, I don't think so, Kaylee." She looked up in surprise at the weary sigh of Inara's voice. "Not right now. You'll save me some, though, won't you?"

"Course I will." She frowned slightly and turned away from the controls. "You okay?"

Now that she was actually looking at Inara, Kaylee felt a jolt of concern. The woman looked tired and worn down and this alone made her nervous. Years of strict training ensured that Inara rarely, if ever, let any signs of weakness through, not even with Serenity's crew. She kept a strict regime of appearing serene and in control.

"I'm okay, Mei Mei." Inara smiled in reassurance. "I just have a lot of things that need to be done before everyone wants to sleep tonight."

The concern turned into a sudden rush of guilt. The whole trip Kaylee had been thinking about herself and Wash, River, the absolute distance between Orpheus and Serenity, Mal and Simon. She hadn't thought about the impact it was having on Inara.

There were rituals she knew Inara liked to adhere to before and after clients. If her calculations were correct, Inara wouldn't have had any time for them between her afternoon client, shopping for engine parts, chasing her out of a triplex and flying back to the ship.

Kaylee linked it with Inara's description of the night before and the morning that followed, everyone invading her shuttle and bunking down, not to mention the time needed to prepare it, once more, for the day and then having to fly out.

"Least ways they've warmed up shuttle two by now." Kaylee tried to cheer her up. "So you won't have half as many people in here tonight. And I'll have Serenity all toasty by tomorrow."

Inara smiled gently. If anything was going to bring her out of the dark mood she'd been nursing it would be Kaylee's never ending eagerness to find good in a situation. It didn't stop the demands on her time, though. The cleansing rituals she performed, on her shuttle and on herself, were something she considered a strict necessity. Especially now. They made a clean separation from work and, she tried not to call it home, she tried very hard, her life outside of work.

"And tomorrow." She reached up and ran her fingers through Kaylee's thick brown hair, pushing it behind her ears. "It begins again. I have to get you back early in the morning."

Kaylee gave a stubborn little frown.

"Don't let the Captain push you around, Inara, why don't you say no a few times?"

A knock sounded outside the door, light and rapid. Inara watched Kaylee's eyes spark up and her whole body turn to the sound.

"Now," She asked with a real smile. "how could I say no?"

***

Simon watched them from the door to the cargo bay. He saw River bounce lightly on her toes, just outside the shuttle, hands behind her back as she waited for Kaylee to put her parcels down.

Kaylee's hands traveled over River's head, over her shoulders and down her arms. The doctor in him recognized the touches, barely a palpation but almost there, the need to feel to really diagnose or dismiss. The brother in him knew the questions that slipped from Kaylee's lips and the nods that River gave.

He hesitated to disturb them as Kaylee's hand closed on the back of River's neck and their foreheads touched. Hands still clasped behind her back, Simon saw River's fingers twitch happily. He almost wished he was close enough to hear what they were saying.

"Kaylee!" Mal's voice sounded above him and Simon straightened his back. "You're worse than Inara. Ain't you got sense to wear a jacket in this cold?"

He stepped into the bay, slowly making his way up the stairs to greet them with Mal. He couldn't call it guilt, per se, as much as embarrassment tinged with a little bit of professional disappointment when he saw the blanket in Mal's hands. Simon realized he had noticed Kaylee recoil in shock when she had first stepped into the frozen air.

And had done nothing.

"Hey Captain." Kaylee's voice was louder now and Simon relaxed when she turned to him and her smile remained. "Hey Simon."

"Welcome back." Mal placed the blanket around Kaylee and his hands patted her shoulders lightly before he turned back to the shuttle. "Where's Inara?"

Her hand reached out and held his arm.

"Don't." She said, giving him a fierce look. "Just leave her be for now, okay?"

Everybody paused for an awkward moment.

"Flour and eggs, Kaylee." River prompted.

"That's right!" She clapped her hands together and the tension eased. "I bought cake. But, first, lead me to the engine."

Mal picked up the basket, swerving away from Kaylee's slap as he tried to peek inside, Kaylee nestled the engine parts against her as they began to walk. River fell into step behind them, Simon shrugged and took his place beside her and they smiled at each other out of the corners of their eyes.

"How's Wash?"

Kaylee's voice dropped low and Simon couldn't hear how she answered Mal's question as they trooped through towards the engine room. That very fact told him how upset she was. She was always quieter when she was afraid or sad, as if it were only acceptable to share herself with the whole room if she was happy. It occurred to him, then, that was probably the exact reason why she did it. He turned to see River watching him and he stumbled on a step.

"It's not as bad as you think."

River's words ran through him as they all reached the engine and Simon wondered if she was talking to him, to Mal who looked worried, or to Kaylee who had just gasped as her eyes fell on the disarray waiting for her.

"Captain!" She glared. "I leave you my girls and this is how you take care of them?"

"Hey look!" Mal lifted up the basket to show them all. "I have things to put away."

"You leave enough for Inara!" Kaylee called after him as he fled, then paused. "And me!"

The three of them looked at each other for an awkward moment. Kaylee picked at a loose strand on the blanket and scratched at the back of her neck. River just looked at him with her eyebrows raised and waited. Simon smiled.

"I better go make sure they don't eat it all." He leaned in close to his sister, kissed her on the cheek and, even though he knew he didn't need to, he whispered in her ear anyway. "Kaylee's ticklish, too."

***

"But Ma-al!"

"I said no, Jayne." Mal crossed his arms and glared. "Not until she's finished with that engine."

"That ain't fair." Jayne pouted and eyed the cake sitting in the middle of the table. Zoe chuckled at him. "You know how she gets with that machine, could be hours yet."

"Then you wait hours." Mal insisted, slapping Jayne's hand away from it. "She bought it with her very own money and I'll be damned if we rob her out of sharing it with us."

"It's chocolate." He wheedled as he pointed at the cake. Jayne kept his eyes focused on Mal, then realized he wasn't going to get away with that argument. "Hell, she's makin' extra money out on this deal. She can buy herself another one."

"No she ain't, Jayne." Mal cut off that reasoning quickly. He knew what tensions could arise if the man thought someone was getting a bigger share of the pie. "Any money from that job is payin' for the house. It ain't fancy, but it's big enough to cost more'n what we've got right now. She's got rent and bills and there's not much left to buy food after that. Including food she needs to eat on a daily basis."

"All that money's being drained into that house?" Jayne asked.

"Yes." Mal and Zoe repeated together, sounding more bored than irritated.

"Then who's payin' for the hospital?" Jayne saw the twin looks of confusion on their faces. "I hear they ain't cheap."

***

"So." They were lying under the big, hulking engine. Kaylee polished the blackened area with a cloth, her fingers easily found familiar grooves and lingered on the more scorched areas. "How are you really?"

"Bruised and broken." Came the voice next to her. "But calm."

Kaylee wiped her hand down the front of her pant leg, then reached over to lightly touch the bruised face next to her. She saw River wince a little, but neither of them moved away.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here. I wanted to be."

"I felt you." River gave a small, dreamy smile. She reached out and took Kaylee's hand, bringing it to her heart. "In here."

They lay still for a minute and then River placed Kaylee's hand back on the machine.

"Now fix it before Jayne drags you out by your feet."

"What?" Kaylee tried to follow the logistics of that one. "Jayne...?"

Footsteps sounded loud outside the door.

"Uh... Kaylee?" Came Jayne's voice. "How long ya think you'll be?"

"Not long." She called as River grinned. "I'll have heat pumping through the atmo soon enough."

"Heat, yeah." Jayne mumbled. "That's what I'm worried about. The heat. Don't be takin' too long, okay?"

And then the footsteps hulked away. They both giggled.

"What was all that about?"

Kaylee blew lightly on the metal and watched as the silver of it shined through. Anticipation of sliding in the new part and making her ship run smoothly again made her warm.

"No supper 'til the table's full." River intoned. "Mal says."

Kaylee's giggles turned to laughter.

***

He sat in his office, poring over the day's files before completing his night rounds. A quick entering of his security code and the screen flooded with the Hoffman chart. Sedatives given throughout the day, tests run, blood work, food intake, emotional state, all the data entered by the day staff. He preferred having the afternoons free and working late into the night, it allowed him to fully process a patient's treatment during the day.

Something in the file caught his eye and Dr. Williams scanned it more thoroughly, jaw quietly working against itself and eyes suddenly alert as he considered his options.

The com at his desk beeped and he leaned over to press accept.

"Nothing much to report." There was no preamble to the conversation. "She went shopping before and now it looks like she's asleep."

"Looks like?" He sat up straight. "What do you mean, looks like? Either she is or she isn't."

"Well..." The voice hedged. "... surveillance didn't actually see her return to the house."

"What?" Dr. Williams was immediately on alert. To others, it would seem as if his strict monitoring of these people was little more than a heavy tendency towards paranoia, but the truth remained that these drugs were highly sought after and every now and then managed to flood the black markets with devastating results for the people who actually needed them. Strict laws were in place to control it, including strict monitoring of prescriptions. If he was ever linked to a scandal, he could lose his practice and more. He knew he wasn't the only doctor who hired outside help in these matters. "Then how can you be sure she's there?"

"The lights went on at 20.16 and have been randomly turning on and off in different rooms since. Too random to be anything else. From all accounts she spent some time in the kitchen, then the living area, then the bathroom and now the bedroom. Appliances were used. The com system was used for thirty eight minutes and then turned off. That sort of thing can't be fabricated. Someone is in that house."

He sighed.

"What about the vid link?" Did he have to do all this himself? "What does that show you?"

A pause.

"It seems she got a rather large bunch of flowers and put them on the shelf in front of the camera. The card can just be read, someone really likes the way she fixed their machine today."

"You tell me right now her boss isn't too happy with her work to let her go."

A small laugh came over the com.

"Hell no. George Webber ain't the kind of man to send presents. There were a few people at that yard this afternoon who were amazed with what she did for them. It's possible it was just a customer. You know these rich core folks."

"Any luck on finding her mysterious benefactor?"

"Not yet, but I'm working on it."

"Work harder." Dr. Williams double checked the data on his screen with the data in his own personal log. "Your family is depending on you."

"Don't you dare bring my family into..."

But he had already cancelled the call. Another buzzing sounded as he connected with a number he knew by heart.

"Evening." He spoke clearly and kept eyeing the Hoffman chart. "I think we have the perfect candidate for our study."

***

"Ah." Jayne growled his approval. "Now that's what I call food."

"You call anything food." Zoe smiled. "If it ain't nailed down."

Laughter rippled around the table, lit by the gas lamp in the middle. The air was still chilled, but they were in such a good mood that nobody much noticed it, or made mention of it if they did.

"Not so." He replied, running his finger around the edges of his plate and then circling it into the middle. "Sometimes I call 'em weapons."

He didn't even seem not notice, or care, that everyone watched him in horrified fascination as he ran his tongue appreciatively over the crumb sticky finger.

"Or trim."

River looked at Mal.

"Told you."

Mal chuckled.

"You did at that." He leaned back in his chair. "Much appreciated, Kaylee."

"Yes." Agreed Book. "Thank you."

"Can't remember when we had a proper cake like that." Zoe's eyes looked off to the distance as if she were really trying to remember. "Especially chocolate cake."

Kaylee grinned, out of the corner of her eye she saw Simon turn red and look down at the table. She reached out and touched his shoulder.

"It's a bit late, Dr. Tam," She gave him her best wheedling grin. "but you finally got a replacement. With flour this time."

He felt himself blush even more scarlet. Simon hadn't realized that anyone remembered that from so long ago, especially considering the events that followed. He really shouldn't have been surprised that, out of all of them, it had been Kaylee who thought it was an issue still needing reparation.

"Thank you, Kaylee. That was very thoughtful."

He smiled back at her, accepting the olive branch. Her eyes lit up and her smile got even wider. Across the table, Mal watched the interchange with shrewd eyes and eventually seemed happy with the result.

"River?" Simon began. "Are you feeling alright? You've barely touched yours."

River looked up from the intense concentration she had been giving the spoon as she slowly lifted it from her plate. She had probably managed all of two spoonfuls in the time it had taken the rest of them to demolish nearly the entire cake.

"Slow and steady." Her eyes held his as she bought it up to her mouth. "Too long coming. Not gonna rush it."

"You better hurry." Jayne mumbled. "Or I'll fight ya for it."

"Back off Jayne Cobb." She fixed him with a steely glare, arms suddenly pinned to each side of her plate, daring him to move forward, and ignored the low sounds of amusement from everyone else. "Mine. Fourteen presents and a cake. Too long."

"Okay, okay, I was just kidding." Jayne raised his hands in surrender. "Don't get yer panties in a bunch."

She returned happily to the slow savoring of her treat.

"Fourteen?" Echoed Simon. "The last time you had cake was at your party?"

"Strict dietary regimes." She shrugged at their surprise. "Vitamins. Minerals. Proteins. Keep the body in prime condition. No room for variation."

"Jayne." Mal said without turning around. "You leave it alone."

"What?" Jayne replied innocently as his hand slowly retracted from the last, lonely piece in the middle of the table. "I wasn't gonna..."

"That's for Inara." Kaylee gave him a mock glare, she was in too good a mood to really be mad. "And Zoe's about to take it to her, now, aren't you Zoe?"

Zoe raised her eyebrows, but didn't say anything. She didn't have to, she knew Mal would step right in.

"We're all turning in for the night, men in one shuttle, women in the other. You know the drill. Why don't you take it to her?"

"Well, Captain." Kaylee began, face red. "See, River and I were just gonna, you know, talk for a spell..."

"Oh?" Mal looked at her and watched her flush deeper. "And would this talkin' be happening in your bunk, would it?"

"That ain't..."

"Kaylee." He spoke softly, but they could all hear the Captain in him coming out. "Night's well past fallen. We're all but frozen solid here and those shuttles are the only thing gonna keep us warm 'til the atmo stabilizes. I don't know why we're not there now. This ain't no time to be playing games..."

"Rules, Mal." River looked him in the eye. "I've been good. No guns. No climbing. You follow, too."

Everybody looked back and forth between them. Kaylee's eyes faltered a little.

"What are you going on about?" Mal challenged.

"No interfering." River's eyes didn't waver. "Your words."

"I do believe she has a point, Captain." Book pointed out.

"Latin Mal." Simon managed innocently as he could behind his fingers. He shared a grin with River.

Mal glared at them both, but he knew when he was beat.

"Fine." He began picking up plates. "You have an hour. Stay rugged up."

"Girl," Jayne looked over appreciatively. "You gotta teach me how to do that."

"Me, too." Zoe clattered her plate onto the pile and smiled up at Mal. "Not that I couldn't take you down with a finely crafted pistol if I really wanted, Sir."

"Hey." Mal pouted. "Less talk of insurrection, people, you're makin' me nervous."

"What aren't you telling me?" Kaylee looked around the table as River laid a hand on her arm. "What climbing?"

***

A hand sat heavy on her shoulder as she shook her head back and forth.

"I don't want to."

"Neither do I." He said, his voice straining not to scare her further. "But sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do."

"I like her. She's really nice."

"Please?" He all but begged her. "I'm doing this for us. You know that."

***

Zoe waited until the voices died down and the shuttle around her grew quiet. Inara lay sleeping in the middle of the bed. Now that there was more room, Zoe had claimed one of the couches at the far end, refusing any and all pleas to share the bed one more night. Comfort had to be sacrificed sometimes.

Kaylee and River had created a little camp on the floor, all blankets and pillows. Zoe looked down at them, sleeping, River on her back and Kaylee next to her, one hand lying possessively over River's waist. They had giggled and whispered together for an inordinately long time until they fell asleep. She almost hadn't minded the wait, keeping so still they thought she was asleep, too.

Now that she was alone, she opened the curtain to Inara's com deck, conveniently next to her sleeping area. A few quick buttons and the screen came to life. Her eyes scanned the data and her brows narrowed with each word that she read.

***

River slipped out of the shuttle, happy to be in bare feet again. She took a moment to let the air wash over her, the unmistakable flow of Serenity recycling air again. Not that she had a lot of time to do it.

He was awake. They weren't. Time was now.

"You're afraid of me." River stayed at the entry to his door. "You don't want to be alone with me."

"No." Replied Book as he breathed in deep. He'd been expecting her a might sooner than this. "No, I don't."

"I don't blame you." One foot into the room. His whole being sent out the barrier and she had to push hard to break into it. "You did what was ordered. A good soldier. No questions. Didn't let yourself ask them."

"I blame me."

"Stopped their questions, too." River stepped towards him and he didn't move. "Negotiations. You made a price. Saw they got what they deserved."

He wouldn't meet her eyes.

"They pushed and you pushed harder. Offered them riches of blue." Her hand came out and laid itself bare over the words of his bible. "They agreed and got paid. Or you took it out of them, forced them to see. They had no choice in the end. Cattle markets."

"I'm sorry."

"I don't blame you." She said it again, slowly, trying to make him see. "You never fought my blood."

Book's eyes flickered up to her then, saw the traces of hurt in her eyes, the wistful tone she had let through. It wasn't what he'd done, he realized, but what he hadn't done that hurt her more right now. He thought of the strength he had seen in her since he'd known her, the strength and determination he'd seen in Simon. The brilliance of them both.

A sudden surge of resentment hit him, not only for the people who had done this to her, but the people who had stood by and let it happen, including himself. He stood up from his chair and this time was able to meet her eyes.

"No, I didn't."

Her lip trembled.

"They didn't even try."

Book reached out and took her shoulder, bringing her in and she let herself be hugged.

***

Kaylee sat on the gangway looking over the cargo bay, her legs dangled in mid air. She didn't move when she felt a figure walk up behind her, didn't move when it sat down next to her. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling.

"It's a long way up, Captain."

"Yes." Mal agreed and handed her a cup of tea. "She tell you, did she?"

"Some. I got the rest out of Inara just before." She blew on the steaming liquid and took a tentative sip as her eyes followed the space down to the floor and back up again. "A long way."

"Gave us all a scare, she did, but nothing happened."

Kaylee flashed him with a look that suggested she knew exactly what he was trying to do and, at the same time, pretty much told him what he could do with his gorram comfort.

"But it coulda, Captain. She's not getting any better." She looked down at the cup in her hand. "No matter what I tell myself. I think I'm makin' it worse."

"Don't you start this now, Kaylee." He waited until she looked up at him. "You made your choice and I'm not letting you back out of this one. Did you not see her last night? Laughing with the rest of us? With Simon? She's a whole lot saner now you're here than when you ain't."

She let a small smile float over her lips as he reached around her shoulders and drew her in close enough to place a light kiss on the side of her forehead.

"Now, you make yourself all happy like, okay? She's cooking breakfast with Book. Enough to feed a whole army, if I'm not mistaken. Those two are thick as thieves this morning."

"We are thieves, Captain." She teased.

"I keep forgettin' that." He stood up. "Now let's enjoy one last meal before you go, lord knows when you'll be back."

It wasn't the hopeful thing he'd meant to say, somehow it had sounded more cheery in his head. He watched her frown for a second before shaking it off and accepting the hand he'd just offered to help her up.

***

No one said anything, but all of them felt it. The need to sit together as a group, to eat their meal as one, to spend time with each other. None of them particularly wanted to be alone right now. Laughter rang around the table and if one or two of the different voices sounded strained nobody paid much attention.

"So, I says, 'that ain't what you use it for'."

Stifled giggles and shot gun bursts of chuckles erupted around the table.

"Jayne!" Kaylee's eyes bulged with amusement. "That's nasty."

"Reckon so," He said. "but Inara won't share her stories. So I gotta share mine."

"You want to hear dirty stories about my clients?"

Inara smoothed her face out calmly and Jayne nodded eagerly. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Mal turn to her surprised and felt curious glances from everyone else.

"Fine. There was this one gentleman, who shall remain nameless," Inara smiled sweetly, keeping her eyes trained on Jayne as she folded her hands together under her chin and leant on them. "who once took me out for a walk in the park."

Jayne nodded her on and Inara deepened her voice, grinning.

"He slipped and fell into some mud. It was fairly horrendous. His trousers were all but ruined."

More laughter. Jayne kept watching her, eye brows furrowed for a minute.

"Hey..." All of a sudden his face fell and he pouted. "That ain't fair. You're just bein' mean."

"I don't speak about my clients, Jayne." She smiled sweetly again and her eyes glittered with amusement. "The sooner you learn that the better."

"Figures." He grumbled. "Only person on this ship getting regular action and she won't share. Somebody else has to have stories."

"I take offense to that." Zoe broke in. "Wash and I aren't exactly chaste, you realize."

"Fine." He challenged her. "Tell us all about it, then."

"I will hurt you one day, Jayne."

"Passion and skin." River broke in dreamily and they all turned. "Limbs on limbs. The sky comes crashing down. In and around."

"River?" Simon asked, not really sure if he wanted to.

"Kaylee moans when you break her."

Silence as River gave her attention back to her plate.

Slowly, but surely, movement and sound returned to the table. Mal ignored the comment altogether as he ate. Inara squashed the twist of her lips, trying not to smile. Jayne chuckled to himself and ignored Zoe's elbow in his ribs. Kaylee, red faced, kept her eyes steadily on the table in front of her as if it had just become the most interesting thing in the world. Book asked Simon for the salt and he jumped to comply, both of them looking anywhere but at Kaylee.

"You asked." River complained.

***

They stood in front of the shuttle and tried to hide their smiles until the door closed. Mal finally let his grin free and he chuckled as they began to walk back up to the bridge.

"Well, that was... interesting."

Zoe swatted his shoulder.

"Poor Kaylee." She smiled. "I thought she was going to choke."

"Kaylee?" Mal asked. "I figured on the doc having a heart attack myself."

They looked back and saw Simon trying to convince River to either follow him into the infirmary or their quarters. It didn't look as if that was what she wanted.

"Ah, young love." Mal's voice was only half sarcastic. "I foresee Kaylee having a lot of fun in the future. Tryin' to keep River quiet about things."

"There's no secrets with that one, is there?" Zoe didn't even wait for him to reply as her lips twisted. "And from what it sounds like, Kaylee's having a lot of fun now."

"Hmm." A quick shift of subject and Mal became serious. "Did you check it out?"

Zoe followed suite and her face became stony.

"Yes. Most of her appointments are in the afternoon, which we knew. They're with a doctor."

"A doctor?" Mal looked at her. "As in, say, a doctor who works in a hospital? Inara organized this by herself?"

"That's not the worst of it, Sir." Zoe met his eyes. "The man has a red mark in the client registry."

"Wuh duh mah, Zoe." Mal clenched his jaw. "What is she doing? Has she lost all sense?"

***

"Well, you're hard to find, I've been looking for you everywhere."

Both Kaylee and Jessie looked up from their position under the mule to see George Webber walking towards them. They scrambled out and sat up. Kaylee watched him run a hand down his daughter's cheek before he turned to her.

"Didn't expect to see you here so early."

"Well, you said the hours were flexible and I wanted to spend the whole afternoon at the hospital if that's okay..." She trailed off, blushing. "I mean, it is okay, right?"

"Yes, yes." He smiled at her. "Of course it is. You spend all the time you need with your husband. The way you're going this yard will be empty within a week anyway."

She shook her head, about to open her mouth and say something, she wasn't sure what.

"Don't listen to me, I'm interrupting your work." He looked down at Jessie. "I'm glad you two are getting along so well. She doesn't usually like it here, can't stand machines."

Jessie blushed furiously as her father walked away.

"Well," Kaylee said as Jessie placed the wrench into her outstretched hand. "I'm glad you changed your mind."

"You make it fun." The girl said. "And I think you're real nice."

"Thank you, Sweetie." Kaylee smiled.

"And you know everything there is to know about ships."

"I wouldn't say everything..."

"I bet you fly in a real big one, something new and fast."

Kaylee laughed low.

"I wouldn't say that."

"Really?" Jessie's interest sparked. "What have you flown in?"

A dangerous question, Kaylee let her eyes flicker over the yard. George was in the office and there was nobody else near by.

"Jessie? Can you keep a secret?"

***

"I'm sorry to keep you so late."

"Not at all, not at all." Dr. Williams rushed to put her at ease. "You're the last meeting I have before I break for the afternoon and, to be honest, I really did want to speak with you at length, so this gives us time."

"Is anything wrong?" Kaylee couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive. "Nothing's wrong, is it?"

"Oh, no. Things seem to be going according to the book." He placed his hands together on the table and looked at her. "Which is why I felt that Stephen would be perfect to try out a new drug that we're starting testing on."

"New drug?" She echoed, her mouth going dry. "But what's wrong with the old drugs? They were working fine, he just needs..."

"Nothing's wrong with the old drugs, Mrs. Hoffman, like you said, they work perfectly. It's just that there are new drugs that might work better."

"I don't know..."

"Relax." He smiled. "Stephen is perfect for this trial, actually. Given that he's been off most medication for a while now, not counting the sedatives we gave him yesterday, and he'll be more responsive to the effects."

"But..." Kaylee didn't know what to do, they hadn't covered this in the plan. "What does it do? This drug?"

"It's fairly simple. You see, in this kind of long term psychosis, sometimes the brain finds a different way to send messages to itself, a more intricate pathway, if you will, which leaves the initial connections within the brain somewhat neglected. All this drug does is reopen and support the initial patterns of the brain."

Her breath caught in her throat.

"You're telling me you can repair broken pathways in the brain?"

***

Dr. Williams guided her out of his office and felt a small tinge of regret. He knew she had seen her husband in worse states than this, but he doubted it got any easier. It had been necessary to dope him up a little more over night, so she would get a fairly dazed reaction.

If she got a reaction at all.

The com beeped at him.

"Tell me you have good news." He said as he closed his door. "Did you find anything?"

"Good news and bad news, I'm afraid."

"Well?" Impatience crackled out of him. "Do I have to guess?"

"I found out who her mediator is. You're not going to like it."

He kept himself calm.

"The landlord talked?"

"No, he didn't give anything." Said the voice. "But my sources tell me she sails in a Firefly."

"Your sources?" Amusement tinged his voice. "I've always said your daughter..."

"Don't you bring Jessie into this!" Anger filtered through the com. "You said you'd look after my wife if I did this. You said she'd get the best treatment, so I did what you said. Jessie has nothing to do with it."

"And I'm a man of my word. Your wife will be well looked after." Desperate men were easy to control. "Now, you were saying about the firefly?"

"Well, see, after that it was a matter of checking to see who had logged a firefly or a firefly compatible shuttle into any of the registries of intent." He could hear the hesitation in George Webber's voice. "And there's only been one, really, in the last few days. A companion."

"Let me guess." Dr. Williams hand closed into a fist on the table as he spoke coldly. "Inara Serra?"

*** End, part five.

COMMENTS

Thursday, August 11, 2005 4:58 AM

ARTSHIPS


Yikes! All the threads coming together to make a rope around the necks of our heroes. A very fine story - Makes me nostalgic for the show.

Thursday, August 11, 2005 7:56 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh wow, Inara, this is a *very* dangerous game you're playing but I am so glad that Zoe and Mal have been keeping tabs though not sure what will happen next. And poor Wash, getting the kind of drugs that may or may not make him crazy for real. Yikes, can't wait to see what happens next! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, August 14, 2005 7:55 PM

NUTLUCK


Like the story hope we don't have much longer to wait for the next part.

Monday, March 6, 2006 1:12 AM

BURNANDBOIL


Wowowowowow!! Fantastic :D

Saturday, July 8, 2006 7:08 PM

DRACONUS


"You asked." River complained.
HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008 3:25 AM

RIVERRED


another great chapter to the story and i just love what river says about Kaylee at the supper table when Janye ask about dirty stories.


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