BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KAYNARA

Bed and Wine: Part 6
Saturday, January 7, 2006

A certain former companion is not having her best weekend ever. Our favorite heroes play at being married, and the mystery deepens. Serenity *spoilers.*


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3774    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Bed and Wine: Part 6 By Kaynara

*** A certain former companion is not having her best weekend ever. Our favorite heroes play at being married, and the mystery deepens. Serenity *spoilers.*

It's Joss's verse--I just borrow it. *** Accustomed now to her daughter’s cries, Zoe woke immediately, rolled out of bed and approached the cradle where Raven slept. “It belonged to my Ella,” Caroline had explained, as Zoe hefted the small brass piece down from the attic, carried it over by the bed. “And how old’s your baby girl now?” Zoe asked, watching Caroline bounce Raven lightly in her arms. “She’d have been eleven this winter.” Zoe nodded and they left it at that. Now Zoe knelt on the floor, lifted her fretting little girl and curled the warm, squirming body against her chest. Carrying her to the bed, she lay the baby out beside her, unbuttoning the Hawaiian shirt she used for a nightgown. Twice already tonight, but Zoe didn’t mind...didn’t mind much, anyway. She appreciated this time together, these quiet moments late at night, even if in the morning her eyes would be blurry, her brain fuzzy from lack of sleep. “You know, Baby Girl. Your daddy was always one for midnight snacks.” She glanced at the clock by her bed. More like two in the AM. She sighed, stroked a finger over the baby’s cheek, marveling at the way her tiny lips moved. “Your daddy would just adore you to pieces. He’d show you off somethin’ crazy, tellin’ anybody’d listen that his baby girl was prettiest in the ‘verse. ’Spect he wouldn’t be wrong.” Zoe yawned, let her eyes flutter shut for a moment. She’d been dreaming before the baby cried out in the night. Lately she dreamt often, good dreams that stayed with her when she woke. If she let herself, she could visualize him now, sitting at the foot of the bed, watching her feed their baby. “Husband?” she murmured sleepily. “I’m here, Sweetie. Watching over my girls....” Zoe closed her eyes again, serene beneath his watchful gaze.

*** Jayne stomped down Serenity’s silent catwalks, made his way up to the cockpit. He loved this ship like, well, a lover. More so since he’d never had a lover, exactly. Sexed plenty o’ women, but ruttin’ wasn’t lovin’ and Jayne never felt right tellin’ girls otherwise. He didn’t mind the cuddlin’ bit after, playin’ with their hair and holdin’ ‘em and stuff. Aw, hell, he didn’t wanna think ‘bout none o’ that. Could become a non-issue anyway, once Mal found out about Caroline, started hackin’ off bits of his body. With a shrug, Jayne flopped down in the pilot’s chair, stacked his legs up on the console. He never could sleep off ship. Past couple years, he’d come to rely on Serenity’s easy lull, the ship sheathed in the Black like the body of a beautiful woman. Gorramit, he was back on sex again. How was it that always happened with him? He closed his eyes, lay his head back against the seat rest. Ai ya, he was eager to get off this rock. Was somethin’ downright comfortin’ about travel. When they were flying, Jayne always knew where the others was. He knew he could corner Lil’ Kaylee in the engine room, harass her with dumb questions till she tossed him out. He knew he could harangue Mal for a game of horseshoes, bait Simon into a few hands of cards. Zoe tended to cart the baby around while she worked. Usually she let him take the kid an hour or two, didn’t ask why. Jayne liked to walk her around Serenity, point out the hidden compartments, tell her stories about her weird-ass aunts and uncles. It was even good havin’ Inara back on board. Admittedly, Kaylee was bouncier than usual, thrilled to have her best friend again. But at least dinners was back to normal. Mealtimes never did feel right without the constant backdrop of Mal and Inara’s bickering. To be truthsome, Jayne liked routine, reveled in it even. Took him near a month to realize the little witch was really gone. Sometimes he still wandered on to the bridge, expecting to see her small form huddled over the yoke. Stupid kid--what the hell had she been thinkin’ taking his gun that way, holdin’ her own self hostage. What power in the ‘verse made him give her that gun? Jayne mulled that one over for awhile, half dozing in the chair. He was mostly asleep when he heard the voice, wondered if he was dreaming. “Jayne.” He blinked his eyes open, glanced quickly around the cockpit. Empty. “Jayne.” Oh, mother of God, was she in his head now? Get out of my brain, girl, he thought furiously. “I would if you’d quit being such a boob.” She smiled up at him from the cortex. “Hi, Jayne.” *** Dewei Trevor took Inara’s hand, brought it up to rest against his cheek. “Oh, my dear.” She let him draw her close, wrap her in his arms. “Is it truly you?” he murmured. “It’s been too long, Inara.” “Almost three years,” Inara agreed, smiling in the way he’d recall. “Trevor, what are you doing here?” “We’ve so much to speak on, really. Come, let’s sit, talk where we won’t be disturbed.” He released his hold on Inara. With one hand, he withdrew a key card from his coat pocket. His other closed around the doorknob Inara felt panic curl in her belly. Oh, go suh. Mal, please be already gone. But then what reason was there for the hold up? She lay a hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “Perhaps we shouldn’t....” “You needn’t worry--Councilor Blake’s a close personal friend.” He pushed open the door, drew her into the dark room. Trevor murmured a phrase in Mandarin, and the lights flickered, shined full on, illuminating the rich furnishings of the councilor’s bedchamber. Inara allowed Trevor to lead her toward the bed, her bare feet sinking in thick cream carpet. He smiled, amused. “Whatever happened to your shoes, mei mei?” He sat, patting the thick scarlet duvet for her to join him. “Oh, I....” She smiled, lowered herself to the mattress with her legs tucked beneath her. “You remember my weakness for troublesome footwear, Trevor. My eyes and my feet seem not to compare notes when it comes to pretty shoes.” He smiled, reaching out to tuck a dark curl behind her ear. “Ah, of course.” She curved her lips, forced her chest to draw in air through the binding dress. “So? Are you going to tell me what stroke of good fortune brought us both to Shadow?” “Less good fortune than good business-sense. Though seeing you again is the greatest payoff of all.” He smiled fondly. “The councilman’s asked that I invest in his new business venture. I won’t try you with the details.” “Please do.” She darted covert glances around the room, noting the wide walk-in closets, the adjoining bathroom. Where was he? “I always found your work fascinating, Trevor.” “In truth, I don’t know all the particulars. Just that it’s a science project of sorts. Medical research of a kind.” He played with the loose strand of her hair. “I like the idea of leaving a legacy, using my money to help people. You see, Inara, I’m an old man now.” “You don’t look old.” “And with you, I never felt that way.” He met her eyes, his own warm. “You have a way of making a man feel worthy, my dear. In your company, a tired old war horse can play the part of a young stallion.” Her face flushed, and she lowered her eyes to the bedspread. “Trevor.” “Why ever did they let you go, Inara? You were...are...beyond compare.” “You’re too kind,” she said quietly. “My sister waved me with the news. She was saddened.” Dominique. Inara felt her breath trip, had to fight for calm, fight back the memories. If she closed her eyes, she’d see the elder companion now. A curl of strawberry-blond hair, shrewd green eyes that saw past everything, anything. She could recall the press of Nique’s lips, light and cool and coaxing against flushed skin. “Inara? Are you alright? You look as though you’ve met ghost.” Inara willed the color to return to her cheeks, tried to lift them in a smile. “I’m fine, Trevor. Just caught up in remembering.” “She said it was a political dispute, between you and the Guild. Is that so?” “I loathe to discuss such an ugly matter as politics on such a happy occasion. Dominique always took an interest in me, even when I was but a girl,” Inara said, choosing her words carefully. “Is she well?” “Very. In fact she’s accompanied me on this trip.” Inara blinked. “I--how nice for you both.” Trevor curved his hand around her cheek, stroked down her face with the pad of his thumb. “I ached for you, Inara. When you left the House all those years ago...I thought you’d wave me when you got wherever it was you were going. Where did you go, my dear?” “Oh, here and there.” She shrugged a single shoulder, unfolded her legs to dangle off the bed. “Mostly, I traveled. ” “Nique cried for days, she missed you so.” Inara smiled cooly, lay her hand atop his. “You look well, Trevor. The same as the day I left.” “And you are, as always, a vision. Tell me, Inara. What brings a queen like yourself to a backwards little planet like Shadow?” She hesitated. Then she felt a hand slide down the back of her leg, squeeze lightly at the calf. She nearly jumped, had to focus all her concentration on keeping still. She met Trevor’s eyes, trying fervently not to visualize Mal crouched beneath the councilor's bed. “I never could keep secrets from you.” She felt Mal squeeze her leg again, harder this time, in warning. She kicked back with her heel, winced as her foot connected with his head. Oh, well. Mal had a hard skull. “The truth is I came to Shadow with my husband. I--I’m married now, Trevor.” If the news disappointed him, he hid it well. “Inara. I admit I’m rather surprised. But I’m happy for you. Truly, I am, my dear.” “That pleases me more than you know, Trevor.” “And are you content with him? Does he treat you well?” “Oh, he’s...a dreamboat.” She bit her lip hard to keep the giggle from escaping. “Patient and gentle...even-tempered. An easy man, my Devlin.” “I’m glad for you, darling. As Nique will be, I’m sure.” He squeezed Inara’s hand. “You’ll lunch with us tomorrow, give my sister and I the chance to meet this patient, gentle, even-tempered man of yours.” Another not-so-gentle squeeze. She resisted the urge to kick him again, lowered her eyes guiltily. “Trevor, I wasn’t completely honest with Dev about my...past. He has no idea about my career.” “He doesn’t know you worked as companion? Why ever not?” Trevor frowned. “Is he some sort of bigot, Inara?” “Nothing like that. Devlin’s just...old fashioned. We fell in love so quickly and I didn’t want anything tarnishing that...love.” She was losing it. True, she’d been trained to tell people what they wanted to hear. But this--layers upon layers of lies....Hysteria seeped inside her. Trevor on the bed, Mal under it. A sleepy councilman likely to put in an appearance any time now. Ai ya, perhaps crime wasn’t her forte after all. “And if he knew of your former job he’d leave you,” Trevor pressed. “Truly, I could never bring myself to make such a wager.” She touched his shoulder, squeezed warmly. “A companion concerns herself with the wants of others. This man--Dev--was something I wanted for myself, someone entirely separate from my old life. Do you understand?” She met his eyes, her own gentle, hypnotic. “I believe I do, Inara.” “I call myself Alicia now.” She smiled. “Alicia Parks.” “Then I’ll call you that as well.” He rose, extended a hand to help her to her feet. “Only let me have one dance, I entreat you. One last gambol with the incomparable Inara Serra. Together we’ll bid her ado and give welcome to Alicia Parks.” “I did so miss our dancing, Trevor.” She let him lead her from the room, closing the door with Mal inside. *** Jayne blinked at the wave, rubbed his eyes in disbelief. “My drunk?” he muttered. He didn’t remember drinkin’, not like that ruled it out. River met his eyes, her own firm. “Need you to listen, Jayne.” “That really you, girl?” “Just a picture, color and light. Can’t get to the meat without cracking the nut.” Jayne scratched his head. “Uh, okay. Say...River.” It felt strange to call her by name. “You able to give us coordinates? I can run fetch the others. Mal and that brother o’ yours want you back somethin’ fierce.” She smiled sadly. “Miles to go, Jayne. I need you to give Simon a message.” “Aw, hell, River. Should tell him yourself. Sit tight, let me go--” “No time.” She glanced over her shoulder, and for a moment Jayne was looking at the back of her neck. Then her face filled the screen again. She began to talk, spouting medical jargon he didn’t understand. He found a pen under the console, rolled up his sleeve and started jotting things down on his forearm. He was writing long after she stopped speaking. When he glanced up, he saw she was watching him, chin in hand. Now he realized what was different: she’d hacked off her hair. Before it waved down her back like an inky waterfall. A man could get lost in hair like that, assuming he didn’t know better. Jayne was pretty sure he knew better. “Hey, uh, they treatin’ you okay out there?” She smiled. “Food’s better.” “No shock there.” Jayne fidgeted, recalling the last time he’d seen her, those few moments they’d been alone before everything went to Hell. “Prolly you’re glad to be gone anyhow. Gorramn boat’s no place for a teenager. All babies and old folks of late. Hell, River, you ain’t missin’ out on much.” She cocked her head, met his eyes. “I would’ve got your gun away regardless. Hit you if I had to.” “What are you--?” “Glad we did it my way. You are too, shouldn’t feel bad.” She pressed on, ignoring the way he stammered. “Have to go now. You’ll tell Simon?” Jayne nodded slowly. “I’ll tell Doc.”

*** She’d lost her room key. It could be anywhere--ai ya, she’d been all over the mansion that night. Apparently, she wouldn’t be able to slip inside unobtrusively, crawl into a hot bath and wait for morning. She wouldn’t have a long wait. The sun was already warming the horizon. Resigned, she raised her hand to knock. He hadn’t gone to bed: that much was clear. With the exception of his jacket, the swank little neck tie, he was still dressed for the party. “Mal. Hi,” she said tentatively. She didn’t want an argument now, didn’t think she could bear one. “It’s alright. Trevor won’t give us away.” He stepped back to let her inside, didn’t say a word, just watched her. She went to the dressing table, sat on the wicker chair and began unpinning her hair. When she was through, she started on her stockings. They clipped high on her thigh. She rolled them down to her ankles, not bothering to ask him to turn away. What did it matter? Hadn’t they seen each other naked--stripped bare in every way that mattered--a hundred times over? She tugged the nylons over her toes, crumpled them in a ball on the dresser. “Inara.” “Did you run out of pet names, Mal?” Why had she said that? She didn’t want to fight. He came to her, crouched beside her chair. “You okay?” he asked quietly. She blinked at him. “I--I’m fine, Mal.” “Really? I’d have to disagree there, darlin’.” “I’ll admit it was something of a surprise. I didn’t expect to run into an old friend outside the councilor’s bedroom.” “No, I’m sure that was a mite...shocking.” Was it disgust on his face? Aversion at the thought of her in Trevor’s bed, lying with a man so many years her senior? Or was it fury.... “I said I’m fine, Mal.” She realized she didn’t sound fine, schooled her voice to be soothing. “Trevor--all of that--was a long while ago.” “You know I ain’t one for dredging up what’s past. Still, I feel like there’s something other, somethin’ you ain’t tellin’ me....” He hesitated, watching her eyes, trying to break past their seal. “Were you in love with that guy, Inara?” Her eyes went wide. She felt her cheeks burn. “Mal.” “I didn’t mean to say that--God knows I ain’t got the right to ask. I just....” Helplessly, he raised his hand to within inches of her face. He let it fall at his side, turned away. What was wrong with her? They’d been down this thorny path--why tread there again? Because she couldn’t help herself. No, that was a lie. She could help herself--she’d been trained to do just that. But she was sick to death of fighting, tired of resisting. She wanted to feel his hand, warm and hard against her body. She fitted her fingers over his, lifted his hand and pressed it over her heart. “He’s a good man. He cared for me, and I...I let him.” She met his eyes. “It wasn’t more or less.” “You were a kid.” He spread his fingers, cupping her with his hand. He could feel her heartbeat through their layered palms. “It wasn’t like that.” Her voice was firm even as her lips wavered. Like Hell, it wasn’t. But he didn’t say so. For once, he didn’t voice any o’ his thousand and one thoughts. Instead he lifted her free hand, pressed it over his own heart. She felt the strong, steady pulse. Blood. Life. He held her fingers there, firm against his chest. “You make me forget.” He looked bemused. “I didn’t know that was possible.” She swallowed, let her hands fall to her lap. “Mal....” He slid a hand over her knee, splayed his fingers up and around her thigh. “One hell of a dress,” he murmured. He ventured higher, used two fingers to stroke gently at her inner thigh. She closed her eyes, letting the feather-soft sensation overtake her. He was everything she shouldn’t want. A life with him would never be simple. And yet she hadn’t know, hadn’t even imagined it could be like this. She let him draw her to her feet, felt his hands cruise over her back, searching for a zipper. Smiling, she took his fingers, guided them to a spot just under her arm. “Huh,” he commented. “Lady clothes. Created especially to confound a man.” He dragged the zipper down her side, slid a hand inside the dress to caress her belly. She stood on tip toe, wrapped her arms around his neck and tipped his head down for a kiss. They stayed that way for several minutes, swaying in the center of the room, making love with their mouths. When she pulled away to gasp in a breath, he lifted her up, sucked at the spot where her neck met her shoulder. She locked her legs around his waist. “Bao bei,” he murmured. “Wuh de tyen, ah.” She wondered why he only spoke that way in Chinese. He never whispered his sweet nothings in English. One of the many mysteries that was Mal, she supposed. She played her fingers through his hair, pressed kisses against his temple, the sides of his face. “I tried not to want this,” he whispered. “Hell, I tried every which way I knew.” “It’s okay to let yourself want, Mal.” She traced her finger over his lips. “It just means you’re alive.” “Am I that?” The knock sounded before she could answer him. “Mr. Parks? Wake-up call for the six AM horseback ride.” Mal groaned, lowered Inara to the floor, but didn’t take his hands from her waist. “Is he serious?” She stepped out of his grasp, unable to think clearly when he was touching her. “You’re going horseback riding? With the councilor.” “Well, you’re half right.” Mal sat on the chaise, wondered how long the throbbing in his nethers would last. “It’s sort of a couples thing.” Inara blinked at him. She opened her mouth, closed it again. “A couples thing,” she repeated dully. “Come now, darlin’. You know Dev’s the possessive sort. Don’t ‘spect he’d let his beautiful bride alone all morning.” Inara just stared for several seconds, then began rummaging through her suitcase for functional riding attire. “You know, Mal, I’m starting to think Alicia’s the frigid sort.” “Oh, hey, now.” He looked pained. “That ain’t right.” “Mm, you did make her a virgin, Mal.” Inara let her dress slide off her shoulder and pool on the floor at her feet. She bent down to retrieve it, enjoying the way his eyes raked over her skin, burned for her. “I’m thinking the girl isn’t very interested in sex.” He watched her step into a pair of tan pants, button them over her hips. “Tyen shiao duh, Dev is so humped.” She gave a half shrug, smiled sweetly, and buttoned a cream-colored blouse over her lacy bra. *** Oh, how did the man do it? An hour and a half on a horse, thumping and bumping over grass and rocks and Ye su knew what else. If she’d slept even a few hours, she might have handled it better. As it was she half-dozed in the saddle, watching Mal ride up near the councilor in an attempt at early-morning bonding and banter. She didn’t know how he was coherent at this hour, let alone focused on the job. Of course, Inara had pulled more than the occasional all-nighter in her former profession. But after ‘working’ she always got to sleep. In fact, sleep tended to play a crucial role in the proceedings. She heard Mal tell the end of some bawdy joke, the other men laughing heartily. Sighing, she forced her eyes open, pulled her horse into a trot to catch up with Adda. The young woman didn’t seem particularly thrilled with the daybreak ride either. “Brisk this morning” Inara offered the sleepy-eyed girl a warm smile “Alicia, hi.” Adda leaned over to pet Inara’s white mare. “I’m glad Dev convinced you to come. This place can be such a men’s club.” “I can see that. Did you enjoy the party last night?” “Oh, yes. It was very lovely. I did manage to lose my room key though--sometimes, I’m just so careless.” Adda shrugged, lowered her voice to a whisper. “He says I’m young and irresponsible.” Inara felt guilt wash over her, curved her lips in a gentle smile. “You had guests to see to. Being a good hostess was your first priority, one you performed admirably.” Adda smiled, grateful. “A lot of people don’t know...about us.” She shrugged, her blond hair whipping around her head in the wind. “You see the councilor’s a very important man. He talks a lot about propriety, decorum. But he promised he’ll tell them...when the time is right.” “I’m sure he will,” Inara said kindly. “And I’m sure he’s busy, being such an important state’s official. I understand a new business venture occupies much of his time these days.” “Yeah. I mean, yes,” Adda corrected herself. She shrugged, clearly bored by the turn of topic. “He spends all his time down at the forty-fifth mile--that’s where the scientists are. And when he isn’t away at the lab, he’s downstairs in his office.” “Oh?” Inara glanced at the manor, relieved to see it was coming into view again after the long ride. “I didn’t realize the estate had a lower level.” “No one does,” Adda said proudly. “He drew up the designs for this place himself, you know. You can only access the basement through an elevator in his bedroom.” Adda sighed, pulled her horse to a stop and swung down, stretching her legs. “He keeps all the really dear pretties downstairs. For my birthday last year, he let me pick out a shiny bauble--anything my little heart desired.” Adda pulled back her high-necked top to reveal a diamond choker. “It’s a lovely piece,” Inara told her. She felt a hand on her leg, let Mal help her down from the horse with something akin to surprise. “Come on, honey cake. Let’s see if we can’t get in a catnap ‘fore the councilor’s luncheon.” Upstairs, Mal nudged her across the threshold, ushering her toward the bed. “Sit.” He knelt to unlace her boots, rubbed briskly at her feet before swinging her legs up on the bed. “Go to sleep; you’re exhausted.” “What about you? Mal, you must be tired.” “Don’t worry your pretty little head over me.” He pushed her back by the shoulders, grabbed the throw from the bottom of the bed and spread it over her. Before she could protest, he dropped a casual, almost brotherly kiss on the top of her head. “Sleep tight.” She watched him go, too weary to argue. He tried so hard to take care of them all. Who would take care of him? Inara fell into a fitful sleep. When she opened her eyes, she was in the past, her back reclining on a bed of straw padding. Nique hovered above her, her green eyes approving. “You have a magical way of appearing innocent and worldly all at once. That facility will do you well, my dear.” “Do you think I’m ready, Nique?” “Patience, Inara,” the elder woman chided. “Another month, maybe two. Then you’ll be the best. Of all my girls, you’ve the greatest natural aptitude, the most potential.” Nique went to the window, watched the rain slant against the glass. Inara sat up on the mat, buttoning her blouse. The lesson through, she removed a tube of lipstick from her purse, applied the crimson-gold color to her mouth. A companion must never look appear than perfection. “I apologize for my enthusiasm. I suppose I’m just eager to begin. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve spent my entire life in training.” “A companion must be cool, unflappable in her calm.” “I understand.” Inara watched the redhead turn away from the window. Her own makeup was mussed, but she didn’t correct it. Nique sat beside Inara on the floor, stroked a hand over her dark curls. “We’ve already had several inquiries regarding your availability. Of course, the choice is yours...but if you desire guidance.” Inara felt smooth-cut square fingernails against her cheek. “You know I value your advice in all matters, Nique.” Dominique smiled, pleased. “My brother is really quite taken with you, darling, ever since your meeting at that ball. He’s a kind man, a little older of course, but that’s not always a flaw. He has many contacts, wealthy and important associations that a new companion may find...invaluable.” “Mr. Trevor?” She was a few seconds late in covering her surprise, knew Nique would note the misstep, dock her points. “Dewei finds you beguiling, as he should.” She let her hand drift lower, running her fingers down Inara’s throat. “I recommend you see him early. Make him one of your first clients.” “As always, Sister, I defer to your wisdom.” Nique’s smile was radiant. She cupped Inara’s face, kissed her lips hard enough to bruise. Inara blinked, unaccustomed to the spontaneous gesture from a woman usually so controlled. “One day you’ll be house priestess, I dare say. Come.” Nique pulled Inara to her feet. “There’s other work to be done this day.” Inara felt a hand shaking her shoulder. “If my wife ain’t the laziest in the ‘verse. Wake up, Mrs. Parks. There’s crime to be done.” Inara opened her eyes, saw Mal hovering above her. “You were twitchin’ before. Dreamin’ about me, darlin’?” Inara rolled her eyes pushed him away, sitting up. “His office is downstairs. The only access is from a private elevator in the bedroom.” Mal widened his eyes in approval. “Well, we’ll check that out after dark. Get dressed and help me test these gadgets. Let’s see what Lil’ Kaylee rigged up.” *** She dressed all in black, from a pair of River’s leggings to the black turtleneck sweater she’d picked up in town. Mal snorted when he saw her. “What?” she asked huffily. “Nothin’.” He applied a patronizing pat to the top of her head. “If you ain’t the cutest criminal accomplice I ever had.” She swatted his hand away. “Let’s just get this over with, shall we? I think I’ve experienced my quota on you these past two days.” “We ain’t been married a week and already she’s talkin’ divorce.” He took her hand, moved toward the door, all business now. “You stay behind me. If I say run, you run--no arguments.” She nodded, having learned by now that arguing with Mal was pointless. It was easier to acquiesce up front, do what she wished later. “Kaylee’s on Serenity, tryin’ to hack into the system as we speak. But first we gotta get to that source box. I’m thinkin’ there’ll be a guard at the office, though likely just the one. You heard the councilor tout his own security system. This place is impregnable from the outside. Imagine he ain’t too worried about internal safeguards.” “What about surveillance feeds?” “Kaylee’s gonna use a pinch to kill the power for a few seconds. After she’ll clear the logs, should come up like a glitch in their systems. Hopefully we’ll be long gone by then. Ready to be crooks, darlin’?” “Are we that, Mal? Lately, I’m not sure.” “Yeah. Does seem to be an ambiguity past few months. I’m startin’ to feel a mite confused my own self.” “Well, we wouldn’t want that. After this is over, we’ll find you a nice puppy to kick.” He shook his head, put on his hurt face. “Always with the mouth, Nara.” At the councilor’s door, Mal paused, dug Adda’s key card from his trousers’ pocket. “Let’s hope Blake’s still gettin’ sloshed on our fine Shadow wine.” He slid the card through the reader, waited till the light flashed green, tentatively turned the knob. Then he saw the figure on the bed, nearly jumped out of his skin. He relaxed, realizing it was just the girl, blond Adda Baxter, passed out from too much champagne. One of Blake’s servants must have carried her upstairs, tossed her unceremoniously on the bed with her shoes still on her feet. “Just your little girlie-friend,” Mal whispered. He ushered Inara into the room and closed the door. They found the elevator easily enjoy, hidden in the spare closet behind a rack of ladies’ dresses. Mal pressed the down button, held out a hand for Inara to join him. “This is too easy, Mal.” She hugged her shoulders, shivering a little. “Why invite all these people into your home if you have a secret? Why take that risk?” “Well, he does seem the pompous sort.” Mal examined the walls of the elevator as they made their descent. “Still, he ain't privvy to our many exploits. Far as he knows, we’re just a pair o’ young lovers, harmless as new kittens.” “People in love are never harmless,” Inara said quietly. But she let Mal push her behind him, wait gun in hand as the elevator doors opened. A young man sat at a desk with his back to them, reading what looked like a dirty magazine. “Evening, Mr. Blake,” he said easily. When he didn’t receive a reply, his neck stiffened. “Mr. Blake?” Mal was on him before he could turn, applying a quick blow to the back of the kid’s neck. He slumped soundlessly, and Mal lowered the sleeping boy gently to the desk. “Nice digs,” he said, noting the walnut paneling, the shiny high-tech appliances. He handed Inara his gun, motioned for her to stand guard near the elevator. He slipped a pair of ‘coms from the pocket of his coat and turned one on, hoping for a signal down here. “Kaylee? You read me?” “Clear as day, Cap’n. ‘Cept it’s night now, ain’t it? Hey, how’s the party? You and Nara havin’ fun? Ooh, tell me about the shiny desserts.” “Uh-huh. You in yet?” “I’m in the system, but the login code’s encrypted. Let me talk to Serenity, see what she can do.” Mal lowered the ‘com, wandered over to the source box in the corner of the room. He jarred the screen, disrupting the screensaver. A login page appeared, requesting a user name and password. Well, they’d expected as much. He turned his attention to the pile of glossy white folders on the desk. Each was labeled with a pair of names, a male and a female. Inside were captures, a parchment page of neatly printed notes. -Sampson, Addison and Lei. He is of high breeding, but weak. The girl is fetching, but an imbecile. No match.- Having met the Sampsons at lunch, Mal tended to agree. He chose another folder. -Chang, Dimitri and Olivia. Potential candidates. Investigate medical history before proceeding.- Curiously, Mal sifted through the pile, found the folder labeled ‘Parks, Devlin and Alicia.’ He read the notes under his own name. -Rude, boorish and uncultured. A hothead.- Mal glanced up, saw Inara was looking over his shoulder. “Guess I didn’t make the cut.” “I didn’t realize we were auditioning.” “No, me either.” He lifted a second capture. -Charming, cool-tempered and classy. Grace and virtue. Keep.- “Seems like you made quite the impression, darlin’.” He handed her the image. She glanced down at her own hologram. The capture had been taken at dinner. She hadn’t noticed the recorder, her eyes laughing as Mal whispered something silly near her ear. They looked happy, uncommonly at ease. Inara turned the image over on the table. “I don’t understand. What’s he doing?” “Not rightly sure,” Mal admitted, rifling through the other images. “Mal.” She touched his arm. “We don’t exactly have foolproof covers. He could know.” “Don’t think that’s it.” Mal pointed at their folder. “Ain’t nothin’ in here with our true names, nothin’ mentions River or Miranda or Serenity, even. My gut’s tellin’ me this is something else, something...new.” “New.” Inara shook her head, watched the captures play over his shoulder. “Mal, why are all the guests young couples? I think Trevor and--and his sister--are the only people over forty.” “Didn’t Blake say somethin’ ‘bout us young family folk bein’ Shadow’s shiny future?” “No,” Inara said slowly. “He said children were the future.” Mal turned around, met her gaze. “Did say that, didn’t he.” Mal glanced quickly at Blake’s sourcebox, lifted the ‘com to his mouth. “Kaylee? Serenity come up with anythin’ yet?” Her voice sounded muffled, far away. “Nothin’ so far, Cap’n. I’m sorry.” “You just keep tryin’, Lil’ Kaylee.” He checked his watch, sighed impatiently, and started flipping through the captures again. Inara moved back to the sourcebox. The screen saver had clicked on, erasing the login page. She watched the cerulean font dance across the monitor. Across the room, Mal turned to show her a picture, realized she’d wandered off. “Hey.” He came up behind her, followed the direction of her gaze. “Hey I know that logo. BSB. Where’ve I seen that before?” “Everywhere, Mal. It’s the Blue Sun logo.” “Tian de ma, you’re right. BSB, though? What division is that?” “It’s the Blue Sun Brigade. A division of the Blue Sun Company concerned with the creation of a more morally-sound society.” Mal raised an eyebrow. “You workin’ for them now?” “No, Mal. But my father did. Many years ago. One of their ventures failed, and a lot of people, including my father, lost everything.” “What kind of work they do, these morally-right folk?” “I--I don’t know. I was young....” He squeezed her shoulder. “You just keep thinkin’ on it, see what comes to you.” Mal lifted the ‘com again. “Kaylee?” “Ain’t workin’, Cap’n. I tried--” “’Sokay, you did your best. We’ll just find another way. Over and out.” Mal stuffed the ‘com in his pocket, grabbed Inara’s arm. “We gotta run, darlin’. That guard’s gonna wake up all kinds of irked.” He tugged her into the elevator and closed the doors.

*** “What was that about?” she asked when they were back in their room. “We had the time.” “I’m sorry, you the criminal mastermind now?” He was pacing, one hand raking through his hair. “Blue Sun...Mal, why does that name scare you so much?” “Let’s just say I was unlucky enough to meet some of their employees during the War. Devoted workforce they got, specifically the armed forces division.” He met Inara’s eyes. “They made weapons for the Alliance, and not the nice kind that just kill a man.” Mal untucked his shirt and showed Inara the long white line, barely visible now, along his belly. “Gift from some Blue Sun Workers.” Inara winced, turned away. “My father wouldn’t have...Blue Sun is a huge corporation, Mal. They manufacture soft drinks, children’s toys.” “And implements of torture. And now I’m thinkin’ they got a new project in the works.” “Those captures hardly qualify as hard evidence. We still have no idea as to the councilor’s aims.” “No. But I’m guessin’ your old friend Trevor might have a clue. I’m thinkin’ we pay him a visit.” Inara hesitated, sat on the bed. “That’s not a good idea.” “Guy ain’t no saint, takin’ advantage of a little....” Mal trailed off, wisely deciding they didn’t have time for this fight. “Still, man seems to care for you. I don’t think he’d sell us out to Blake.” “It’s not Trevor that worries me, Mal.” He knelt on the floor beside her, put a hand on her knee. “Inara. Tell me what it is you ain’t wantin’ to tell me.” “The reason I left the Guild...shipped out with Serenity. I was running from something, Mal.” “I figured as much. Go on.” He met her eyes, his own an appeal for trust. “It’s...complicated,” she said helplessly. “I never did like complications.” “You and me both, darlin’. Those complications of yours...they still alive and kickin’?” “She’s here in this house, Mal. And I fear she’d sell us out soon as breathe.” *** Thirty worlds away, River forced everything out of her mind, concentrated on naught but the kill. Her body moved fluidly, her arms and legs as swift, as powerful as her name. She swung with her ax, saw the one attack from behind moments too late. Blood. Pain. Then Gideon was there, finishing it, lifting her in his arms. “You’re okay, River. I promise.” She let her head loll back against his shoulder. The pictures came too quickly now, flowing fast like a waterfall and impossible to stopper. The images fell into her head out of order--past, future, back to the present. Her head ached and she moaned softly. They were back on The Champion when she came to. Gideon laid her out on the exam table, tilted her head back and pressed pills on her tongue. “This will make the pain stop.” But it wouldn’t; she knew better. Simon, I was wrong. I do still need you. River needs her big brother. She touched Gideon’s face, his features mingling with Simon’s, morphing back and forth and confusing her. Smiling at them both, she let sleep overtake her. ***

TBC in Part 7. I LOVE LOVE LOVE all that feedback--really gets a girl writing. You’re the best fans in the ‘verse, even if you’re really Joss’s, not mine. ;)

COMMENTS

Saturday, January 7, 2006 11:06 AM

NOS4A2NO9


Ooooh, this is getting good. You're building to something great, and I can't wait to discover what the Evil Mastermind Plot (tm) turns out to be. And when oh when are Mal and Inara getting back to the old bump 'n grind? You've captured their relationship so well, and I can't wait until they're able to get past their misgivings and doubts and seize some happiness. And River...we must soon have resolution on River.

I can't wait for the next part!

Saturday, January 7, 2006 12:46 PM

SYZG


*big big big eyes*

ooo, must continue. Evil plans? mwhaha, i love a plot like this

fav line:

We ain’t been married a week and already she’s talkin’ divorce

funny...sounds like somethin likely to happen between those two ;)

Saturday, January 7, 2006 12:53 PM

AMDOBELL


Wow, I am all kinds of worried for Mal and Inara. I'm thinking they are trying to breed the next generation of compliant folk or some such. Creepy people. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, January 7, 2006 1:50 PM

SHEPARDGHOST


Great job. I cant wait for the next chapter.

Saturday, January 7, 2006 2:06 PM

MANICGIRAFFE


^^^^ That was me up there.

Saturday, January 7, 2006 2:28 PM

GRIMLOCK


Gideon is really starting to grow on me. Sure, protecting River would be his job, but I imagine he announced that he would be throughly distracted for as long as it took River to make that call. And I almost feel sorry for Jayne. It's hard taking notes when you don't have a frickin' clue!

Saturday, January 7, 2006 3:19 PM

SHINYGEEKET


You've got me totally intrigued with the whole Dominique thing...and I can't wait to find out what Blue Sun is up to. Great chapter :)

Saturday, January 7, 2006 5:21 PM

2X2


This is excellent! Poor Mal and Inara, interrupted for a dawn horseback ride.. I bet Inara's legs are killin' her!!! Something nasty nasty goin' on with ol' Blue Sun... and despite Inara thinking Trevor won't sell them out, I've got my doubts... and VERY curious to know exactly what Nisque is the root of, in terms of Inara leavin Sihnon... very mysterious!
keep it up!!!

Saturday, January 7, 2006 5:34 PM

MISSMADRASSA


Your series always gives me the warm and fuzzies. I don't think you always hit the spot characterisation-wise, but who cares? They're getting it on!

I love how you find all sorts of ways (some cheesy, others just plain clever)to interrupt the sex...it hooks me.

Also, I'm loving the independent River arc. No one else is doing that. And your Washburn-clan is just lovely.

Thanks

Saturday, January 7, 2006 6:52 PM

WEREALLJUSTFLOATING


Great episode. Love the Mal and Inara sparring, can't those two just get along? They never seem to catch a break do they? Love the scene between Zoe and Mal's sister, that's exactly how I'd imagine Zoe to respond, just a simple nod. Glad to see you're working Blue Sun into the story. They were such an interesting part of the series you just know they would have become more and more involved in the BDH's lives had the show continued. Can't wait for the next part. I don't want this story to end.

Saturday, January 7, 2006 7:35 PM

OLDSOUL1987


I AM A KAYNARA FAN! Love your story love what you do with the characters even if sometimes i think your a bit off on the voices. but you being off on the voices is a way of makeign them yours, but still them. did that make any sence out side of my head? probibly not... still i am a fan keep it up.

Sunday, January 8, 2006 8:36 AM

BELLONA


*wears "i'm a kaynara fan" shirt* go kaynara! go kaynara!

b

Friday, February 10, 2006 10:36 AM

RMMC


I'm still reading through them, but I kinda had to stop here for a few things. First, unfortunately, a few nits.

"A companion must never look appear than perfection." That is a somewhat discordant sentence. I'm thinking you meant it to read 'A companion must never appear to look like less than perfection.'

And Jayne's quote, “My drunk?” should probably be "'My drunk?" or possibly ''M I drunk?" to help stop any momentary confusion on the part of your readers who may (as I did) wonder just who Jayne's drunk was and was he thinking he was gonna get lucky yet again.

Please, don't think I didn't like this chapter, I did like it. It's just when I find things like this, it kinda takes my focus out of the story, which I think you'd like to avoid.

I like where you've been going here (heck my mind's been thinking some of this--the long term River/Blue Sun stuff) since the BDM and I'm enjoying reading someone playing with those scary ideas. I'm looking foward to reading more. :-)


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