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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Who is Jian Wang and what in nine hells has happened to Inara?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2511 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Following Part 4
Serenity has answered a distress call sent out by Zirondelle, a Dragonfly class freight hauler with a fairly legendary reputation as a blockade runner during the war. Upon learning that Zirondelle is out of power and low on life support energy, Mal orders Serenity to join up with the ship and render aid. Enter Rene Cariveau, captain of the Zirondelle, and more than 80 refugees from Sayabec, a formerly independent fuel refinery station on Acadia Colony recently taken over by the Alliance. Things are barely stable when Mal discovers Zirondelle's pilot - and mother of Cariveau's son - is none other than the girl he promised to marry after the war. Compounded by Cariveau's first officer getting stabbed, Inara has also fallen victim which has put Mal on the hunt for what could be a former POW turned to some manner of fearsome creature by the Alliance. Plus, there's passengers with all manner of secrets to hide and a part of Book's past comes back to haunt him. Someday things are going to go smooth - this is not that day.
All Firefly characters are the property of someone else. All original characters are copyrighted by yours truly. This is not in any way, means or intention meant to infringe on anybody.
MIGHTY BIG THANK YOU goes to Kristy for a quick and enthusiastic Beta read, and to her daughter Leora for helping with the French.
The MIGHTY BIG APOLOGY still stands for anyone who can read and speak Cajun or Chinese. The translations as I understand them are included, except the Chinese swearing. Any browncoat worth their salt knows all those anyway.
Glossary - Cajun and French/Cajun
Bet omitted v revini - Stupid to come back
Ne peut pas v garde pour eux maintenant...ne peut pas les sauver... - Can't watch for them now...can't save them...
Beb Tete dure – Stubborn Sweetheart
Frè panse qu'il doit inquiéter toute fwa - Brother thinks he has to worry all the time
Parle kreyol - Do you speak Cajun/Creole?
Afors - This much
Glossary - Chinese:
Tíngliù - Stay
Zhè bìng bù huài - It's not that bad
Qquíguài da-nang - Odd. I'm almost certain of it.
Heartbroken - Part 5
Sounds...voices...no, one voice speaking in three languages at once...who is that? A stranger...mm...can’t recall his name...he looks a bit panicked.
Footsteps...vibration under my shoulders...am I lying down?
I was on the way to the kitchen...wasn’t I?
Too bright...the lights are too bright...maybe if I close my eyes for just a minute...
Sounds...voices... Mal...he looks worried, like he did that time when Kaylee was shot...what’s happened? "Mal?"
"Shh, don't try to talk now." His voice was strangely softer than normal--in that pitch that never failed to remind her of fine brandy--and seemed to be coming from somewhere far away even though he was right beside her.
He was taking off his shirt, balling it up to put under her hip. Inara thought to tell him that he needn't bother, but was so charmed by such uncharacteristic chivalry that she didn't have the heart. Reaching up, she touched her fingertips to his face, stunning him into complete stillness. She saw fear in his eyes, and smiled sluggishly.
"You do have the nicest eyes," she whispered.
Fear was replaced by sheer panic. "She's delirious. We gotta get her down to the infirmary."
Then she was swept off the cold deck and being held close. Wrapping both arms around his broad shoulders, she snuggled into him, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of a strong, solid male body. Lifting one hand to the back of his neck, she took a long, deep breath. "You could use a shower."
"Yeah...I'll look into that." He held her tighter and Inara wondered if he knew he was trembling.
* * *
River was standing near Ellis, watching him sleep. Her head tipped to one side, she was swaying slightly and it wasn't long before she started to whisper. "Bet omitted v revini."
As he finished checking the readings on the medical display, Simon turned to his sister. "What?"
"Ne peut pas observer pour eux maintenant... ne peut pas les sauver... "
Simon scowled severely. "River, when did you learn French?"
Ignoring him, she frowned with deep concern that to Simon seemed almost painful. "He dreams in black and white."
"How do you know that?" Simon asked.
"REM sleep takes place in the fifth stage of sleep and accounts for fifteen to twenty percent of our sleep time."
Simon blinked, growing more confused by the second. "Okay."
"Hasn't been able to sleep--too sad. Forgot how to dream--out of practice. Now he can't see the colors anymore."
Simon was going to ask what that meant--fully prepared for more gems of River-esque insight--when Mal walked into the infirmary with Inara in his arms, followed by an older man covered in engine grease. He looked like he hadn't bothered to take a decent bath in about a week.
River backed away from them fearfully, staring with round eyes. "Hands of blue..."
Simon watched her give Mal a wide berth, then dart out of the infirmary. Deciding to save his sister's idiosyncrasies for later, Simon focused on the matter at hand. "What happened?"
"She's been cut," Mal said, but it was the blood on his arm and Inara's back that shifted Simon's instincts into high gear. He pointed to the bunk on the wall to his left.
"There," he instructed. "On her side."
Mal did as he was told, but didn't stray far once it was done. He let his hand slip down her arm, meaning only to indulge himself in the feel of her skin. But as he passed her hand, she grabbed him and held on. "Tíngliù."
Stay. It was a bare whisper, but louder than if she had screamed it at him. Hearing it, Mal froze, took better hold of her hand and stayed put.
Simon, meanwhile, had cut the blouse and skirt and spread them aside to get a good look at the gash at the curve of her hip. Blood flowed well and freely. "Small puncture wound," he said, speaking to everyone and no one. "It will need sutures. Hm."
Mal easily comprehended the doctor-like tone of that hm. "Something amiss?"
"Well, that would depend on your point of view. This wound is similar to his." He nodded over his right shoulder slightly, toward Ellis who was still fast asleep on the exam table. "Clean edge--I'd say a four- to six-inch blade, no more."
"You can tell all that from how she's cut?"
"Yes, I can." Turning, Simon nodded to Siobhan, who moved to gather the appropriate instruments. He had to admit it was nice to have such competent help for a change. Siobhan had skills and instincts that would shame any of the best university trained nursing staff back on Osiris. "If this were post-mortem, I could confirm it from the angle of the entrance wound."
"You better make sure it ain't post-mortem," Mal said sternly. "Ever."
Simon leveled a very steady gaze of his own at the captain. "I intend to."
"Hey." Mal broke the stare-down to lean over her, bracing himself on one hand. "Inara, you don't have to talk now. Rest easy, let the doctor work."
His voice was pitched low and Simon thought his words had a distinctly affectionate inflection.
She turned her head toward Mal slowly, and seemed to have trouble focusing. "I was getting food for Adair and Jordain." As she said it, her eyes went wide with alarm. "Go se--Mal, they're alone. I closed the door, but it's not locked and they're alone."
"Shh, settle down, it's all right. Cariveau's already gone up there."
"Cargo bay is cold," she went on, frowning again. Her eyes glazed over a bit as she fell into memory. "Always cold. I thought it would be warmer with more people...only, the people were gone. It looked like they'd all been swept away. I heard someone behind me, then I felt...I felt...am I cut?"
"Just a little bit. Ain't more'n a scratch," Mal said.
"A scratch?" Inara's eyes went wide with alarm. "Like Kaylee's mosquito bite?"
Simon chose to interject before Mal could make matters worse. "Zhè bìng bù huài--You'll be fine, Inara," he said firmly. He only had to reach back for Siobhan to hand him the hypo-gun with a vial already set in the dispenser slot. He checked first to make sure it was the correct drug and was pleased. "I'm going to give you something to make you sleep now."
"Will it scar?" she asked earnestly.
"Not if I can help it." Pressing the hypo-gun to the side of her neck, Simon squeezed the trigger to release the sedative.
Inara's eyes fluttered and the grip on Mal's hand relaxed instantly. He held onto it a bit longer, then let go before the doctor could get wise. "She gonna be all right?"
"She should be. The bleeding is already subsiding, and no organs were damaged. This is superficial compared to Ellis' injury."
"Done by the same weapon, though, right?"
"In my opinion, yes. Would that be considered good news?"
"Could mean we got one fella trying to kill folks off, could mean we got two who favor the same weapon," Mal said. Thinking of the fancy little knife in his back pocket, he added, "I'm leaning a little more toward the idea of one fella, myself."
Another thought occurred to him suddenly and he scowled at Garzon. "Where's Kaylee?"
The old mechanic's dark eyes brightened with affection and paternal pride before he answered. "Beb Tete dure? Ze engine room, of course. I did try to get her to cross over, but she would have none of it. I was to bring food back for her."
Mal was already going for the hand comm and switched it on. "Zoe--Mal."
The comm crackled. "Sir?"
"What's your location?"
"Cargo bay, on the way to chow."
"I need you to go over to Zirondelle's engine room and bring Kaylee back. Drag her out of that engine and carry her if you got to. Dong ma?"
"Dong ma dà ge."
"Good. Oh, hey, Zoe?"
"Sir?" This time Simon thought she sounded a bit terse.
"Inara's been stabbed."
"She all right, sir?"
"Doc says she'll be fine. You tell Kaylee that and she'll be running on over here."
"Dà ge." The hand comm clicked off.
"Captain, you don't think..." Simon let his question fall away, although the look on his face indicated his elevated level of concern. "Kaylee should be safe over there, shouldn't she?"
"Can't attest to that," Mal said. "We've had one hit there, one here. Zirondelle's bigger, more places to take cover. No sense taking any chances."
"Capitaine, where is Rene?" Siobhan asked softly.
Mal waved vaguely toward the upward reaches of Serenity. "Where I said he was. Took off like a shot the second he realized there wasn't anyone watching over his family." And when it came down to it, that's what Mal figured they were, whether Cariveau had bound Adair to him through marriage or not. Any moon-brain fool could see it, and now that he was, Mal was starting to see a few other things under a very different bit of sunshine.
* * *
Adair let the nightgown puddle at her waist to wash, enjoying the tingling sensation of the exfoliating solution and the subtle, spicy perfume of the oils Inara had added to the water. Only a companion could take something as practical as a sponge bath and turn it into a purely sensuous experience.
Jordain was snoring softly behind her, lost to his dreams. The ship seemed quiet as well, and she suspected a serving line had been organized to feed everyone. Adair felt a tiny twinge of guilt over not taking part in it, but knew Doriane Faure would have things well in hand. She was very much her father's daughter, and had quickly taken up the mantel of Archon, if unofficially. Rene had described her as formidable, persistent, tenacious and utterly uncompromising when it came to the welfare of her people. Adair thought she had heard admiration in his voice when he said it, but any thought of jealousy was put from her mind when he smiled, kissed her brow and told her, "She reminds me of you."
She kissed him for that, and thumped him hard on the chest, for teasing her.
Hearing the door latch turn behind her, Adair smiled softly. "That was quick."
The man's voice startled her and she covered her breasts with one arm as she looked over her shoulder to find not Inara standing in the entry way, but Jian Wang with a bowl of jambalya in each hand looking completely dumbfounded.
"Tzao-goh--Jian, didn't your mother ever teach you to knock?"
"Sorry! Sorry I--I guess I didn't figure... wode tìan lìngrén jingyì."
Glaring back over her shoulder at him, as she pulled the straps up, she saw he had no sense of chivalry either. "You could turn around!"
"Oui, in fact you should," a third voice said in agreement, followed by the ominous click of a gun cocking. "Although somehow I don't think anyone would fault me for shooting you in the back."
Rene moved past the curtain to stand on Jian's left and pressed a small single-shot pistol against the artery in Jian's neck. Lifting both his hands slowly, Jian remained perfectly still except for his eyes which turned toward Rene, straining to see.
"Captain, I was just bringing some food up for Adair and the boy and that is all I was doing. There is absolutely no cause to go waving guns around."
"I am not waving anything around," Rene replied wryly. "I am aiming directly at a spot that will probably kill you instantly once I pull this trigger."
Jian's Adam's apple bobbed erratically when he swallowed. "Captain--"
"Best stay as still as you can, friend."
Hearing Mal's disembodied voice from outside, Adair's eyes widened. "Would someone mind telling me what--in the name of all that is Holy--is going on around here?"
"Cariveau here's operating on a poor amount of sleep and had more than a few things turned topsy-turvy on him," Mal said He moved into the shuttle to stand on Jian's right, effectively flanking him. "And it looks like he just caught the fella who's been sticking knives in our crew."
Meanwhile, Jian's eyes had all but bulged out of his head. "He...just...WHAT?"
"What say you and I discuss the particulars elsewhere--Mr. Wang, was it?"
Admirably, Jian seemed to be maintaining a fairly stable level of sheer panic. "You think I am the one who stabbed Rhodes?"
Equally bewildered, Adair and Rene had scowled at the same time, but Rene asked the question first. "Un moment--we are accusing him now?"
"Doctor Tam says there's a good chance Rhodes and Inara were stabbed with the same size blade," Mal said.
"Wait--Inara?" Adair took a couple of steps forward and implored Mal. "Inara's been stabbed? Is she alright?"
"Reynolds, you took my knife before, back on Zirondelle when I took you up to the bridge, remember?" Jian was saying. "And I have not gotten it back."
"Doesn't mean you couldn't have another the same size," Mal pointed out. "Kind of like how Cariveau has a gun that I didn't even know he was carrying."
Rene's eyes angled disdainfully toward Mal. "You are not going to tell me that you have gone unarmed this entire time?"
"Well that would be entirely beside the point, now, wouldn't it?"
Adair watched the two men trade knowledgeable looks and felt her jaw go completely slack. How and when had these two men--so similar in temperament and dominant behavior--manage to find common ground?
"You mind if I take our friend here and ask him a few questions?" Mal asked. "You could even stay up here awhile, maybe get some of that sleep I mentioned before. I'm sure even Inara would insist."
Rene hesitated, and that was enough to indicate to Adair that he was sorely tempted. It wasn't easy for him to give up control to anyone. That he was even considering doing so now, and to Mal of all people, spoke volumes about his level of exhaustion.
Bending down, Mal pulled the single-shot pistol from inside his left boot, similar to the one Rene was holding. Reaching out with his left hand, he grabbed Jian around the throat, just under his jaw, pulled him around into a choke hold, and pressed the muzzle of his pistol to the exact spot Rene's gun had been. "Take the dishes," Mal prompted.
Rene did as he was told, then stood by as Mal began muscling Jian out of the shuttle.
Mal was looking vaguely smug. "Don't forget to lock up behind me. If we need you, we'll send a signal through the shipboard. You folks have a good night."
Since Rene had his hands full, Adair was the one who moved to close the shuttle door and made sure the lock was secured. When she turned around, Rene was right where she left him, still holding bowls of rice in his hands, one slightly encumbered by the gun. His eyes, however, held none of the uncertainty from the last time she had seen him--far from it. Now that the potential threat was averted, he was completely aware of her, letting his gaze travel slowly over her to fully take in what the shimmering cerulean blue nightgown did very little to conceal. Trapped under his ardent scrutiny, Adair's response was immediate and powerful.
When he finished, Rene brought his eyes back to hers and lifted the bowls in his hands. "Hungry?"
She nodded to indicate she was, but added a look she hoped would tell him exactly what she was hungry for. Rene got the message loud and clear and moved quickly to comply. First he set the bowls down on the large table in front of the sofa, then put the safety on the pistol and set it down on the small table next to the bed. Then he scooped up Jordain, comforter and all, and turned to settle the boy on Inara's curved sofa. Then he came back for Adair.
Taking her by the shoulders, Rene pulled her solidly against him. Adair was already leaning into him as he lowered his mouth to hers in a brutal kiss borne of absolute frustration, fear and a fiery temper held too long in check. Adair answered him with desperation of her own, wanting nothing else but him. Father of their son, the finest man she had ever known who had taken all the pieces of her heart and cherished each and every one without question.
God, I should have done this sooner. "Rene."
He stopped at the sound of his name, as if hearing it was the same as hearing her say no. When he opened his eyes to look at her, Adair could see he had already prepared himself to be denied and turned away. It was time to bring a definite end to it.
"I love you." Cupping his face in both hands, she held him still and saw wonderment slowly permeate his beautiful eyes. "I love you." Wonder gave way to comprehension and then swiftly to sheer joy. Adair felt her heart swell in response. "I. Love. You."
Joy flared into ferocious desire and there was no holding either of them back after that.
Adair swiftly opened the buttons on his shirt and spread her fingers through the light dusting of reddish-blond hair on his chest. She pressed her mouth to the pulse point in his neck just above his collarbone where the skin was always warm. Hearing his breath catch in his lungs, she felt the silk moving up her thighs and then his hands were on her naked skin. Adair lifted her arms long enough to let him whisk the gown away, then shoved the braces down his shoulders and returned the favor by relieving him of his shirt. She got the front of his trousers open while he worked his mouth from the point of her jaw to her throat and further until she arched against him and had to hold back a cry for fear of waking up Jordain.
He lifted her easily and Adair wound her legs around him, still straining against the play of his wandering mouth as he took her to the bed. Rene laid her down on the satin sheets that still held Jordain's warmth and made to finish undressing himself until Adair sat up and put a hand inside his waistband. Mesmerized, he let her ease his trousers down just enough and willingly answered her tugging to guide him to her.
Adair gasped loudly as he filled her solidly and completely. Overtaken by passion and a sense of abandon that was new and exhilarating, she found she couldn't keep still as he began to move. Rene had always maintained control during sex, practicing variations of careful choreography that had never failed to bring them both infinite pleasure. Adair was right in that they had Inara to thank for it, but all of that had been left behind. Defining her love to him at last had broken his control, driving him to make love to her in a way that bound her to him once and for all. So he took her to the pinnacle with more power than grace, ravaging her with cruel sweetness. Poised there, he held himself until she opened her eyes to look at him, suspending them together in agonized rapture. Their gazes meshed, their mouths fused and they fell over the edge together, lost in the love that drove away all the shadows of the past.
Adair didn't come back to herself at first. She didn't even realize Rene had rolled over, taking her with him so that she lay draped over him, until it occurred to her that she wasn't being pressed into the mattress by his superior weight. Weak and breathless, they lay that way for some time before he lifted a hand to stroke her hair and pressed a tender kiss to her brow.
"I believe it is time we formalized this," he said, unable to speak above a whisper.
Snuggling into him, Adair decided she'd be content to stay exactly as she was forever and a day. If his sense of traditionalism demanded pomp and circumstance to make sure that happened, it would be perfectly fine by her. "Going to let me make an honest man out of you?"
She felt him smile. "Absolument--it is the least you should do."
"Mm-hm. Handy that Serenity has a Shepherd on board then, isn't it?"
Shifting slowly, Adair lifted her head so she could see his face and felt the prick of tears behind her eyes. "Rene, I think you know I could never have had Jordain if I didn't love you."
Taking her hand from where it lay limply on his chest, Rene raised it to his lips to kiss her fingers.
The love she saw made her ache with regret. "I am so sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
He began shaking his head at her and brushed her hair from her face. "No regrets, mon coeur. Life is too short for it."
Moving forward over him, Adair brought her mouth to his for a tender kiss that deepened easily.
"Mm...I cannot believe I am going to say this," Rene continued kissing her as he spoke. "But if I do not get some sleep, I will be too stupid with fatigue to be any good to anyone."
Lifting her head, Adair looked down at him with such disbelief that it surprised him.
"What?" he asked.
"You're actually taking Mal's advice?"
If anything, it only made him that much more perplexed and unsure how to answer. "Well...he does have a valid point so...yes."
"Didn't you want to shoot him a few hours ago?"
Rene shrugged noncommittally. "Am I not allowed to have a change of heart?"
Laughing at the absurdity of it all, Adair shook her head slowly, and shifted to his side before leaving the bed to get the borrowed nightgown. "And they say you have to look for miracles."
She heard him chuckle behind her as she snatched up the nightgown and slipped it over her head. Smoothing it down, she went to check on Jordain who continued to sleep in blissful oblivion to his parents' interactions. Bending down, she kissed him once, then twice before rising and turned to be brought up short by what she saw.
Rene had shed his boots and trousers, which were in a haphazard pile next to the bed. The gun was gone from the table, likely tucked under his pillow for safekeeping. Taking advantage of the enormous proportions of the mattress, he was stretched out on his back under the satin top sheet with one arm out, looking at her expectantly. Smiling softly, Adair went to join him, slipping backward under the sheet against him. Automatically, Rene's arms came around to envelop her as he shifted on his side and brought his knees up to hers. Feeling him snuggle against her, his lips on the back of her neck, Adair grinned with utter glee even as Rene fell immediately into a deep sleep. Knowing at last what it was to be loved, she realized she had never felt this way when she was with Mal--like she was home.
I have to tell him. Adair's smile faded. Running one hand down Rene's arm, letting her eyes close as sleep beckoned, she made a promise to face Mal as soon as possible.
He needs to know.
* * *
Once outside the shuttle, Mal didn't let up on Jian in the slightest. Although not a large individual, the other man was taller and could have some skill with his hands. It didn't matter much that Jian was grunting with pain as he was forced down the catwalk steps and through the cargo bay on his way to the passenger dorms. Some of the Sayabec refugees watched them go, but refrained from expressing much interest. They had a multitude of problems of their own.
Mal went all the way back to the room at the very rear port side, which was about as far as he could get from everybody. Once they were inside, Mal closed the door with one foot and manipulated Jian to the bunk. Shoving him brutally down onto the mattress, he placed his hand firmly over Jian's mouth and quickly tucked the one-shot pistol into his belt before drawing the pocket knife. Opening the snap-lock blade with his thumb, he pressed it to the tender skin on Jian's neck and watched the man's eyes go wide in sheer terror.
Mal kept his voice low. "I noticed for all its prettiness, this little trinket has a pretty substantial blade--"with a touch of pressure, a hairline of blood appeared that forced a sharp yelp of pain along with it--"Keeps a nice edge on it, wouldn't you say?"
Breathing hard, Jian closed his eyes tight shut, opening them again to look Mal in the eye as he nodded slowly.
Mal smiled dryly, appreciating the response. "And as I'm about all out of patience, I won't bore you with any talk about how a man can be made to spew a confession without the Sayabec folks getting wise so let me ask this plain. Ellis Rhodes and Inara Sara. Did you or did you not bleed them?"
Jian shook his head immediately and forcefully, with nothing but raw conviction in his dark eyes. They remained that way for a full minute while Mal watched closely, waiting for any sign of duplicity. Seeing none, he let Jian go and backed away. Jian let his mouth drop open and gulped down breaths of air like a man who had been held under water rather than under the edge of his own blade. He made the wise decision to stay right where he was on the bunk though, probably because he didn't have the strength to get up.
"Who the hell are you?" Mal asked.
"Jian Wang. Made." Swallowing, Jian tested his throat and looked at the blood on his hand as the other dug into an inside pocket of his weathered leather coat and produced a handkerchief. "Pro-league planet-fall diver, first place at the Persephone playoffs. I booked passage to get to Beaumonde for the second playoff round. You can check the Cortex if you want, it's all there. The dates, my stats, bio, publicity shots--everything."
"So how come you didn't jump ship at Pont Breaux station when you had the chance?" Mal asked. "Could've found a ship that would've taken you to Beaumonde days sooner than Zirondelle."
"Pont Breaux is under martial law," Jian replied. "Went that way right after the Archon died, from what I've been told." Taking the handkerchief away, Jian checked the red stain and put it right back over the cut. "For all I know, the Feds would have impounded my gear and seen to it I stayed there indefinitely. Zirondelle was the only ship allowed to leave and if the lièzhì fei-oo engine hadn't broken down, I would have been on schedule. As it is, we'll get there only a day after the competition starts--I can make that up with successive dives."
"And why would the Feds have bothered with a planet-fall diver?" Mal watched Jian closely and finally saw the hesitation he thought would have come with the question about Ellis and Inara. It led him to take a wild guess. "You've got Independent ties somewhere?"
Jian checked the handkerchief again and breathed a sigh as he let his hand fall helplessly to his side. "I used to."
Looking down at the knife, Mal nodded and snapped the blade closed. "Wang. Would that be as in Serena Wang? General in command of the Second Division?"
Jian frowned apprehensively, but didn't answer. He didn't have to. Mal already knew everything he needed to.
"She was a helluva tactician," he said and stared down at the green and black stone inlay. "I've heard it said that if she hadn't been assassinated, we'd have stood a better chance in the war."
Stepping forward, Mal held the knife in the palm of his hand, offering it to Jian. Looking at it, then at Mal, Jian made no move to take it, instead asking, "You were Independent?"
Mal swallowed slowly. "From the shiny beginning to the bitter black end."
Understanding dawned brightly, and if his throat hadn't nearly just been sliced, Jian likely would have offered some measure of sympathy. As it was, he took the knife and ran his thumb over the stone inlay before reaching behind to tuck it into his pocket. "Serena Wang was my mother," he offered.
Mal nodded. "I figured."
Shaking his head slowly, Jian let out a bitter laugh. "Ironical thing about all this is I barely knew her. She and my dad divorced when I was five."
"Alliance does have a nice long, healthy memory," Mal said darkly.
"That it does." Jian tested the cut at his throat again. "So can I stand up now, or would I still risk getting shot?"
To his credit, Mal did wince with some regret over the wrongful mistreatment. "Uh, well, no. I think I can find it in myself to suffer some restraint."
"Glad to hear it." Rising slowly, he ran a hand over his jaw. "Anything else you need to know, or should I expect to end up back in here in another six or seven hours?"
"If I want anything else out of you, I'll try a more civilized approach," Mal replied. Then he took out Siobhan's locket and opened it. "I will ask you to keep a lookout for someone resembling this fella."
Jian squinted at the picture and then pulled the picture closer before he made a determination. "Qquíguài da-nang."
Mal frowned. "Something amiss?"
"Kind of hard to say. He seems familiar. Reminds me of one of the refinery techs."
"Think you could point him out?" Mal asked.
"Sure. Why, who do you think he is?"
Mal sighed, suddenly feeling weary of the whole business. "Could be he's the Garzon's boy. Could be he's also the one that put Ellis and Inara in the infirmary."
Jian frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Not entirely, but it's all I've got now. Why?"
"I grew up on a refinery planet," Jian said. "My dad worked the mines on Pleiades after the divorce. I worked there myself for about six years and I can tell you right now, nobody can just assume a refinery tech position. It's one of those jobs that you can only get into by having been on the same site for at least four years."
Mal considered that for a moment, staring silently back as Jian shrugged one shoulder and continued.
"Whoever this guy is, captain, he's been living in Sayabec for at least half a decade."
* * *
Carrying a tray loaded down with four bowls of jambalaya, Shepherd Book stepped into the infirmary and moved to stand at the foot of the procedure table, where Ellis was still sound asleep. He stood for a moment, studying the younger man's face, and found himself struggling with a state of indecision.
Could he possibly be? What are the chances?
Having had his back to the door while he washed his hands, Simon hadn't noticed the shepherd's arrival until the aroma of the jambalaya found him. Lifting his face upward, Simon sniffed the air, frowning as he tried to locate the source. Turning to see Book and the tray, he turned off the water and moved toward him as if drawn on a string, then stopped when Book didn't seem to acknowledge his presence. Imploring him, Simon reached out to touch his shoulder. "Shepherd?"
Book started a bit, then turned to see Simon at his arm and held out the tray with a gentle smile. "Madame Garzon thought you would appreciate something to eat."
"Yes, I most certainly would." Taking the bowl, Simon used chopsticks to scoop a bite into his mouth and actually rolled his eyes as he savored. "Mm--you know the last time I had Cajun was my third year of medical school. I found this place, six clicks from my frat house, but worth the delivery charge. I lived on jambalaya."
"I brought some down for Ellis also, in case he was awake," Book said. "How is he doing?"
Simon had to chew and swallow another large scoop before he could answer. "He's well out of danger and stable. I have him on a tissue-regenerating agent, though. It has a sedative combined with it to keep the patient quiet." Realizing he was rambling, Simon stopped and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I have a tendency to get carried away when I'm hungry."
"Then I'm glad I brought seconds," Book said. "Will the regenerating agent help him heal faster?"
Simon nodded. "Not as fast as a dermal mender would have, but it will accelerate his recovery."
"I think we'll both take one of those, Shepherd."
Looking over to see Inara smiling from her place on the patient's bunk, and Kaylee in the folding chair next to her, Shepherd smiled brightly with relief and walked over. "When Wash sent word you had been injured, he wasn't too clear on the details."
Inara's smile brightened as she watched Book offer Kaylee a bowl--receiving a bright and heart-felt "Xièxie!" in return--before he put the tray down and picked up the last bowl and a spoon. When she struggled to sit up only to grimace with pain, Book put a hand on her shoulder that compelled her to stay right where she was. "Let's work this out together, shall we?"
She gave him a look of gratitude. "Thank you."
Simon went to stand with them as he swiftly finished off his first bowl. Kaylee moved out of the chair in favor of the counter and slid in so that Inara could have her head up a bit to eat. Book took the chair Kaylee had abandoned and fed her the jambalaya by the spoonful.
"Replacing a compression coil isn't the hard part," Kaylee was saying. "Realigning everything once it's in--now that tends to get pretty long and drawn out. I ain't done it but once, and even then I was only helpin', but Cezar's done it full-on twice already--that's how old Zirondelle is, I guess. Three coils means she's been in space about fifty years. Can you imagine? And with the same family that whole time too. Seems the Cariveaus are old-time freight runners. I remember hearing stories about how they'd run all manner of cargo without much caring who they were running it for."
Kaylee beamed. "Sound the teensiest bit familiar to anyone?"
Book and Inara shared a smile that two parents would over a precocious child. Simon smiled brightly back at her as he finished his last bite and reached for the remaining bowl. "Anyone for seconds?"
Kaylee squealed and held out her bowl. "Load me up!"
"Oh, I'll pass," Inara said. She held up her hand to stop the Shepherd from giving her another spoonful. "It's very good, but awfully rich."
"We could probably move you to quieter quarters," Simon said. "I'd prefer if you could stay in the dormitory rooms for a few more hours, but you could go back to the shuttle if you wanted."
"Oh, well unfortunately I think the Ambassador is gonna be out of her house and home for a bit."
As a unit, all four looked to the infirmary's entryway, where Mal stood with both hands braced on the door jamb. He had been there for a few minutes, watching his crew interact and wondering when it was exactly that these folk--even the shepherd--had become like family to him. At Inara's inquiring look, he smiled and moved inside to join them. "I left Adair and Cariveau up there just a little bit ago. Figured they could both do with some...rest."
Inara's eyebrows rose with interest. "Rest?"
Considering the looks that passed between Simon and Kaylee, and the way Book cleared his throat, Mal figured a direct answer would be painfully redundant. "Let's just say we likely won't see any of them for a spell."
"Well." Breathing a careful sigh, Inara reached out a hand to Book who took it and helped her lift herself up. "Then I think I will take up the offer of one of the dormitory rooms."
Simon put his bowl down. "Let me get you another pain block."
Swinging her legs over, she paused for a moment, putting a hand to her hip. "I feel as though I'm perched on a tree limb a hundred feet off the ground. Kaylee, would you mind giving me a hand?"
"No need for that." Mal moved to the bunk before Inara could put up a fuss. Simple as before, he swept her up into his arms and turned to take her out of the infirmary. Quickly snatching up the loaded hypo-gun, Simon followed them. Kaylee was still eating jambalaya as she hopped off the counter in pursuit. "I'll grab a couple blankets from my bunk," she shouted, and headed toward the catwalk steps.
Leaving Book and Ellis in the infirmary, alone.
Rising again, Book put the remains of Inara's meal back onto the tray and moved toward the young man. Standing at the side of the diagnostic bed, he found himself inordinately interested in Ellis' hands and lifted one gently from where it lay across his middle. Spreading it across his own, he thought maybe there were similarities in the form against his own, not that it meant anything. Ellis had the square and sturdy hands of a fighter, as evidenced by the thin scars that crisscrossed his knuckles. He had a gentle countenance, handsome and indicative of strength of character that complemented those hands. Looking more closely, he could see a similarity in the shape of the nose and the mouth, and as the eyes opened slowly, he saw they were the exact same color as those of a woman he'd known more years ago than he cared to remember.
Ellis looked at him for at least a minute before he focused and realized there was someone next to him. When he did, his brows drew together in a frown that Book realized was concern.
"Shepherd?" he asked, then hesitated. "Am I dying?"
Book gave him a gentle. "No, son. The doctor says you're going to mend just fine. Do you remember where you are?"
Reassured, Ellis closed his eyes and breathed a long sigh that must have affected his wound as it made him wince. "Yeah. Unfortunately." Opening his eyes again, he looked around a bit before he asked. "Seen anything of my captain?"
"I understand he's with his family, taking a well-deserved rest," Book said.
Ellis nodded in apprval. "Good. That's good. Something he should've done two days ago. Frè panse qu'il doit inquiéter toute fwa."
Book smiled indulgently. "Seems to me worrying all the time is what captains do."
Looking up in surprise, Ellis had to ask. "Parle kreyol?"
Book held his thumb and forefinger about a centimeter apart. "Afors. Only what was taught to me by a woman I knew once, a long time ago. Haven't had much chance to practice over the years."
"Yeah? Cajun women becoming shepherds? Don't know as I've hard of such a thing."
"Well, there are women shepherds, but that isn't where I knew her." He hesitated before he finally said it. "Her name was Isadore."
Saying it after so many years was considerably more difficult than he thought it would be. Having said it, he all but held his breath, waiting for what Ellis would say.
Frowning severely, his dark eyes suddenly looking at the Shepherd very differently, Ellis's voice was soft, even reverent when he spoke.
"That was my mother's name."
continued in Part 6
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