BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUENEVER

Extra Cargo Ch 1 - 4
Thursday, January 19, 2006

With thanks to my beta reader Mal4Prez I've revised all 4 chapters. So I'm reposting them. Out of the box, and back into a box.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1867    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 1 Into the Box

The crew of the Serenity walked out of the cargo bay into the sunny, dusty marketplace on Persephone; except for Simon and River who were staying behind and out of site. Wash and Zoe were going to find a bath and quiet time alone. Mal was off to various different areas on ship errands. Book was off to the Abbey for tea with his fellow Shepards and to see if they had some vegetables to spare. Inara had left the ship in her shuttle prior to Serenity landing in Persephone on her way to a short engagement. And Jayne was off to find a drink and a woman, in that order. As they all scattered their separate ways a small figure, of rather indeterminate age, watched from the shadows eyes narrowing in on Mal. A medium height man with a gun belt slung low across his hips. He looked like a good mark; the gun wasn’t too big of a deal. Everyone wore one if not two or three and he would never notice his money missing. Caroline squared her shoulders back and headed out from the alley mimicking his stride on the other side of him and generally making a little nuisance of herself; an amusing little nuisance. It was an act that she had perfected over the last couple of years; sometimes people gave her credits, other times she took them. At first Mal tried to ignore her; but, she wouldn’t let that happen. After five minutes of watching him laugh at her antics she pinched his wallet vanished into a convenient alley. Darting quickly from that alley into another alley she finally stopped and checked out the Ident Card and tried to sound out the name – M, Ma, Mal… something – reading wasn’t her strong suit. “Some fancy pants name” she thought to herself as she shoved everything inside her coat. “Maybe ma’s feeling good today;” it was nice when she was feeling good then if Caroline brought home wallets with Ident Cards they’d play a little game guessing about the lives of the people on the cards. If she was feeling really good they would go out for walk in the marketplace and buy fruit, real fruit. But, that didn’t happen too much. Usually the money went to Badger for drops to stop ma from hearing the screams and whiskey to make her forget about the dead people. Lately they’d been coming more then they used to. Badger told her that ma’s mind was broke in the war – “the dammed Alliance.” Creeping into the darkened room at the edge of Persephone, Caroline yelled: “Ma, ma, I got a good one. The pic is a dandy, some fancy pants.” “Lemme-shee, sweety” Golensa drunkenly slurred. Handing over the Ident Card Caroline watched Golensa’s eyes widen as she looked at it. Golensa felt her mind snap back to sobriety as she looked into the eyes of the man who fathered her baby girl. She sat for a minute and thought back to the night that she got pregnant. It was near the end of the war for Independence and she’d been a foot soldier like Mal; they were pinned down in an abandoned warehouse. And, well needs were needs, and fear was fear. It wasn’t making love so much as an act of desperation; but, the result was someone who gave her a reason to live. Golensa sat and stared at the picture of her first true love, and really her only true love. And a plan came into her mind. She would give Caroline, her darling Caroline her childhood back. If Mal was in port then Zoë would be here too. Zoë always had Mal’s back. They would make Caroline good parents. Now how did she get Caroline to Mal and Zoë. A plan, she needed a plan. The hard part would be getting a letter to Mal; a letter that he wouldn’t open until after his boat took off. And was far enough away that they wouldn’t turn around. Golensa hauled up her scrawny, used up body, and dug around in the small box of “savings” she and Caroline had. With the money from Mal’s wallet there should be enough credits there to purchase passage. Now to find the boat. Slitting her eyes she staggered out into the harsh afternoon sunlight and went down to the loading area of the marketplace looking for Mal and Zoë and any sign of whatever boat they were on. Kaylee was sitting in front of Serenity talking with Book about the thronging masses milling around, life at the abbey, the growing season for strawberries, women’s fashion, and whatever else came to their minds. “ ’Scuse, me does this shi-ip carry cargo?” Asked Golensa, as she tried desperately to look reputable. “Yep, she does” replied Kaylee looking at Golensa. “That’s good, really good; I got a box that needs to go to Boros. Pretties and such for my daughter.” “We just came from Boros; not sure when we’ll be going back there.” Interjected Book, feeling a little concerned about this woman who was an obvious drug addict. “Don’t really matter when it gets there, just that it gets there. How much?” “Well,” answered Kaylee, “probably not too much.” “That’s good; real good. I don’t only too much. Is this enough?” Asked Golensa pulling out a bunch of credits. The credits from her savings and some that had been in the wallet that Caroline had slipped from Mal’s pocket. “It’ll do; I’ll ask the Cap’n just to be sure.” Was Kaylee’s light hearted response as she was twirling her colorful paper umbrella. “You come back with your box, Cap’n wants to leave this afternoon.” “Ok, ok, I’ll be back before Sarg… urr Cap’n Reynolds’s wants to leave.” Golensa hurriedly took here leave almost stumbling over Kaylee’s chair. She really hoped that no one noticed her missteps. “Wonder what she wants us to take to Boros?” Kaylee idly wondered as she watched the woman walk away. “Hope it’s something interesting.” “Mmm…hmmm” responded Shepard Book as he turned his attention to book of meditations he been reading before Kaylee had started talking with him. Traveling this way wasn’t unfamiliar to Caroline. It was much cheaper for one person with luggage to travel then for two people with nothing to travel. So it was without much thought that Caroline climbed into the crate on top of everything she owned; which really wasn’t much: A change of clothes, and a ragged stuffed doll that resembled a horse, or had once when it still had all four legs. Zoey, the horse’s name, was missing a leg, most of its tail, and an eye. She just needed to make sure she was out of the box before night; that was when ma got bad. Clutching Zoey, named after one of ma’s friends from the war. Ma had told her stories of Zoë and Mal, and how they were the good guys. When she gave Caroline the horse, she said its name was Zoey, because Zoey was incredibly loyal, and gentle; but, you never wanted to get on her bad side for then you would feel the power of her rage. A rage much like that of horses when you tried to hurt something or someone that they loved and viewed as family. Caroline took the soother, and accepted the warm blanket of sleep as it swept over her as she hoped that Ma wouldn’t forget about her this time. Last time Ma got drunk and forgot about her. Golensa used the last of Mal’s credits to find a deliveryman to take the box to Serenity; along with an envelope full of the credits and some brief directions of what to do with the box once it got to Boros. Although, she didn’t think that they would ever be used, and fervently hoped that they wouldn’t. She had also packed her old brown coat for Caroline, and letters, letters to Caroline, a letter to Mal apologizing for not telling him earlier about Caroline. And a letter for Zoë, apologizing for everything; and hoping that they could carry Caroline until she could walk on her own; for Golensa was no longer walking; but, crawling and did not want anyone to see her in the condition she was – a used up junkie whore. The delivery man, Mal, and Zoë all arrived at Serenity at the same time. Mal was cussing his luck about his wallet; and Zoë was saying something about the pickpocket being quite talented. “Delivery, one box, for Serenity – bound for Boros. Someone’s got to sign for this thing.” Rattled off the rather bored delivery man as he pulled the box off his mule and set it down at the top of the ramp. “Hmph, I will; I’m the Captain of this ship.” Grumped Mal as he turned to sign for it taking the papers and envelope the uniformed man handed him. “Payment should be with it, Cap’n. Lady promised. She said it don’t matter when it gets there. Jess some family fei hua. ” the deliveryman just about sprinted down the ramp when Jayne showed up growling about moving more gorr-am crates around. “Wash, get this boat in the air.” Shouted Mal as he made his way up toward the bridge to go and do Captain-y stuff. Chapter 2 Out Of The Box

Most everyone was sitting around the table in the common area talking about the day, how Mal “lost” his wallet, and the woman who wanted to ship a box to Boros, when Inara glided in. “Mal, the cargo you picked up is thumping. Is it supposed to do that?” “Uh, no; it’s just some dresses and other pretties for someone on Boros.” Commented Mal as he shoved his chair back from the table and headed quickly towards the cargo area with everyone thundering after him. Wash took up the rear and rather thought that they resembled a small herd of stampeding dinosaurs. Shepard Book was a brontosaurus; a large spirit, gentle except when directly threatened. Jayne was apaeotosaurus, a deceptive lizard. Kaylee was a quetzalcoatus, a birdlike creature soaring high above chaos. “Wuh de tyen ah! That box really is thumping.” Exclaimed Wash watching the crate thump back and forth as though someone or something was trying to get out “I hope it’s a beagle. I like beagles.” “Ten, eleven. Five, six.” muttered River as she rushed out of the cargo bay heading someplace that was of great importance that only she could discern. “Not beagles…” They would have all heard if they had been listening; but, they were staring raptly at the box that was thumping quite rhythmically. “Cap’n; be careful…said Kaylee quite concernedly as she stood next to Simon watching Mal approach the crate. Reaching the crate, Mal watching it for a minute and then popped the single latch and watched in amazement as the front fell open and a small dirty child fell out clutching a ragged stuffed horse under one arm and a small vicious looking knife in it’s left hand. Kaylee rushed forward to try and comfort or just to do something for the snarling child. Mal grabbed her arm as she tried to kneel down and get close to the child. “Ni hao.” she said gently shaking off Mal’s arm and kneeling down to be at eye level with the child. “Are you ok?” “Is that a boy or a girl?” whispered Jayne to Wash. ”My name is Kaylee. What’s yours?” In response the child’s eyes skittered across the hold saw Mal and the others milling around the crate; clutching the horse and the knife scrambled back into the recesses of Serenity where no one could get her. Shaking free of Mal, Kaylee went after the child making comforting noises. Inara and Simon followed Kaylee hoping to lure the child out. “Well, that went well.” Mal shook his head and lifted the top of the crate wondering if there was any information about it in there. “Interesting cargo indeed, Kaylee got her wish indeed.” Commented Book as he watched Mal remove an old army issue brown coat to reveal several neatly packed items: a small Buddha, a gold cross, a battered wallet, and a change of clothes. “My wallet!” yelped Mal snatching it out and turning to show Zoë, revealing the letter beneath it. Book saw that the letter was addressed in a spidery handwriting simply to Capt. Reynolds; he reached in took it out before Wash, or Jane could see it and comment. As he took the letter he saw that there was another one addressed to Zoë Alleyne and he picked that one up as well. As everyone started talking at once setting up a hum in the cargo bay Book reached over and took Mal’s arm, pulled him aside quietly and told him “I think you should see this.” Book then walked over to Zoë and repeated his actions. Zoe took the letter and headed out of the cargo bay to read it in private; this was getting strange enough she wanted to be alone when she opened the letter. Wash followed close at her heals, kind of like one of the beagles he’d been talking about earlier. Turning around Mal took the letter, walking to the stairs, and sank down as he began to read. “Tzao gao,” he muttered to himself “My God” as he kept reading, “wuh de tyen ah,” he kept switching between Mandarin and English. He staggered up and walked dazedly over to where Kaylee, Inara, Simon and now River were trying to coax her out of Serenity’s bulkhead. “Caroline, her name is Caroline. Make sure Simon looks her over when you get her out.” And with that he went to his quarters to think. “That ain’t no ruttin girl.” Jayne grunted at Book as he watched the retreating back of the Captain. And seeing as all the excitement was over headed out going to his quarters to clean Henrietta, his second best boot gun, as she had been exposed to the dust and grime on Persephone. Book headed over to where Caroline was hiding and looking at the three of them milling around the hole said that he would bring her to Simon in the infirmary when she came out, and that all of the people hovering where probably terrifying her. After they all moved off towards the common room Book sat next to the hole where Caroline was hiding and began to talk in his calming voice. He told her that he was a Shepard, a Shepard from the Southdown Abbey on Persephone. He told her about the gardens there, and how on Tuesdays they always made special meals for the children. He told her about Serenity, and her crew; and that they were good people. He told her the story of David and Goliath. He told her about the places that he had been on Serenity, and the people he had met (severely edited for content). As he was talking Caroline was listening, and she did remember the meals on Tuesdays at the Abbey; ma always made sure she went. And she liked the Shepards they were nice, gave her new shoes when hers got too bad. Gave her medicine when she was sick, not like that nasty doctor at the free clinic who stuck her with needles and shaved her head – he’d said she had bugs in her hair, and called her a dirty hwoon dahn. Creeping out to sit next to the Shepard, clutching Zoey, she put her knife back in its holster. She was proud of the holster she’d made it herself; it held the knife upside down under her shirt so that she could grab it easily. She’d had to use it a couple times on the streets, once to stop some boys from torturing a cat, and once to stop some from taking her money. Book noticed, by weight and smell, that she had left her hidey hole; but, not wanting to scare her he kept talking about how he missed his garden. And someday how he wanted a garden again where he would grow strawberries for Kaylee, the mechanic; apples for Jayne and Wash; and vegetables for the dinner. Lots of kinds of vegetables: beans, peas, corn, squash, potatoes, cabbage, and lots of others. Finally looking down at Caroline he asked “Are you hungry, little one?” She nodded still scared to speak, and wondering where was her ma; but, she was completely intimidated by the new surroundings. She’d pretty much figured out that she wasn’t here. She really wanted to ask; but,... “Well, we’d best get you washed up. Would you mind if Kaylee and Inara helped and got you some clean clothes?” Caroline shook her head no as Book stood up and took her hand and led her to Inara’s shuttle. As they were making the short walk, Book told her that Inara was really nice and wouldn’t hurt her. And he asked her if she would mind if he went and got dinner ready? She nodded no, a very tentative no as Book was knocking on the shuttle door. “Come in.” “Inara, this is Caroline. I’ve told her that you would be helping her clean up for dinner.” “Sweetie, come in.” motioned Inara as she lit a stick of fragrant incense. “Of course I’ll help. Thank you Shepard.” Book took his leave presumably to tell Simon and the Captain that Caroline had come out and would be at dinner; but, that the exam had probably better wait as she was still rather skittish. Finally gathering her voice and courage up Caroline asked “Where’s Kaylee? She likes strawberries, I like them too; but, blueberries are better.” “Let’s call her. She can help you shower and I will make you a dress for dinner. Would you like to call her?” Inara walked over to the comm system and motioned for Caroline to follow, showed her which buttons to push and what to say. The next thing anyone heard was a tentative young female voice saying “Kaylee to Shuttle 1.” With wide eyes, a desire to please, and her finger still on the talk button, she turned to Inara “did I do that right, Ma’am?” Her ma always told her call her elders Sir or Ma’am. Said she couldn’t give her much; but, she could give Caroline some manners. Inara gently took Caroline’s finger off the talk button and told her that no-one else on the ship could do it that well. Hearing the page Kaylee hurried towards the shuttle. Zoë was sitting with Wash’s arms around her on their bunk eyes not quite believing what she was reading. She kept muttering to herself, Mal, daughter, qin aide wo de ma; over and over again. Closing her eyes she saw Golensa, as she and Mal had known her, a young and vibrant woman looking forward to seeing planets other then her own. Not some used up, broken down junky whore whose sole aspiration was to that her daughter was safe. When her daughter was safe she could die peacefully; not hearing the screams of the dead anymore.

Fei hua -- Gorram – Damn Hwoon dahn -- Bastard Ni hao -- Hello Qin aide wo de ma – Dear mother of God Tzao gao – Damn it Wuh de tyen ah – My God Chapter 3 The Letter

Dinner was a rather quiet strained affair, a simple meal that Book had put together with vegetables from the Abbey. Mal, Zoë, and Wash were adjusting to the news that Mal had a daughter. Inara and Kaylee were watching Caroline marveled at the transformation that took place when about eight layers of dirt were removed; she looked like Mal, a small female version of him; the same eyes and jaw-line. Inara she wondered if the little one had the same mercurial moods as the Captain did. Book was watching Mal; and Simon and Jayne were glaring at each other over River’s head. Something about Simon saving the biggest dullest needles he had for Jayne. And River was being River; talking in circles about things that no one quite understood but her. Caroline ate with manners that were equal to Jayne’s in quality; and stared. Stared at Mal, and wondered why me made ma go weird all of a sudden. Stared at Zoë and wondered if she was the person that Zoey was named after. Stared at River wondering why she got to look messy, and why she was mumbling about beagles and holes, and broken things that love held in the air. How do you tell someone that their mother isn’t coming for them? Pondered Mal as he ate his dinner watching his daughter at the common room table. His daughter, hard to believe that he had a daughter and one that had manners like Jayne. Book, he needed to talk with Shepard Book, he would know how to approach this situation. As everyone was finishing dinner Mal asked Book, “Could I speak with you for a few moments, Shepard?” “Certainly, Captain” nodded the Shepard as he took his last sip of tea. “Thank you. Kaylee, River take Caroline and show her the boat.” As everyone left to go about their after dinner chores, tasks and other activities the Shepard and Mal headed out of the common area up to the cockpit. By the time they had reached the doorway the preacher and the Captain were deep in conversation. Kaylee overheard bits and pieces of their conversation: daughter, accept, scared, close. River, Kaylee, and Caroline went around the various compartments of the ship stopping to look at the pretty pink dress and colored lights in Kaylee’s room. Caroline climbed under the pink frothy concoction that was hanging at the foot of Kaylee’s bunk. Small places made her feel safer. “Bao bei, how old are you? Five? Ten? Fifteen?” asked Kaylee teasingly peeking under the frothy trim. “Ma says I’m seven. Where is my ma? Is me ma here? Or did she leave me here with the Shepard?” asked Caroline looking at Kaylee and River as she clutched Zoey even more tightly. “She done left me with the Shepards at the Abbey before. They was nice gave me apples and blueberries; didn’t stick me with needles. That done happened once, when the hun dan purple-bellies took me from ma. They said she wasn’t fit or sumpin like that. Didn make no cents to me. I don’t like needles, they hurt.” “Qin aide wo de ma” Kaylee’s eyes just kept getting wider and wider as Caroline spoke her piece in a voice that said being dumped into an unknown environment wasn’t that big of a deal. “Bao bei, we’d better ask the Cap’n.” “He and Book are up on the high mountain” piped up River coming out from under the hoops of Kaylee’s dresses. “We shall have to go up on high.” “Lead the way” piped Kaylee looking at River trying to keep the tears out of her voice. Like a little train they wound there way up to the bridge with River being the engine and Kaylee as the caboose. Poking her head through the hatch River went “choo - choo” at the top of her lungs. Quickly followed by Caroline and Kaylee going “hunk – a – chunk, hunk – a chunk, hunk – a – chunk.” “Choo – choo!” Mal and the Shepard looked up in surprise. Shepard Book was holding the letter addressed to Captain Reynolds; and Mal was pacing back and forth. Given that they hadn’t heard the train coming up the ladder-well their discussion must have been really deep and serious. “We were just discussing you mei mei.” Book told Kaylee gently as he looked at the three faces peeking in the hatch. “And the fact that the Captain is your father.” He then handed the letter back to Mal. Looking at Mal in surprise as she stepped into the bridge Caroline told Book very defensively “He ain’t my da; ma said that da and Zoë died in Serenity. He’s too old.” “How old do you think I am?” “Old, at least eighty.” Returned Caroline with the certainty that only a child can have for something like that. “I may be old, little one; but, I’m not that old. And I didn’t die at Serenity Valley.” Didn’t die, what did that mean? Her da was dead and gone; long gone. The little hairs on the back her neck raised Caroline clenched her fist, and clutched Zoey tighter with her other hand trying to ward off the growing sense of fear that; thankful that her knife was inside the horse. Looking around the bridge frantically like a cornered wild animal she wondered where was ma? “You ain my da! Whad you do with me ma? Where is she? Where are we going? Whadya goin’ to do with me?” “You’re her father?” gasped Kaylee kneeling down to gather Caroline into her arms to try and calm her down. “Not beagles.” reproached River looking at Wash’s dinosaurs as she left the bridge. “Holes, big holes; watch out for the holes.” “Sssh-ssh mei-mei; everything’s going to be just shiny, Cap’n will fix it proper. Won’ cha Cap?” she said as she looked at him with worried eyes. “Your ma’s not here little one.” Mal tried to tell her as gently as he could clutched the letter tightly crumpling it a little. “She sent you here for me and Zoë to take care of you; because she’s sick.” “No, ma wouldn’t do that unless she was bad again. She’s been good, not screaming no more. She’s here; I know it, she’s gotta be. What did you do with her? Where’s my ma?” Caroline shook Kaylee off at the beginning of the tirade and drew her knife out of its hidey hole in Zoey where there used to be a leg. Ready to protect herself and Zoey from these people who claimed to want to help, the urge to flee took over and with that she turned and ran out of the bridge, down the ladderwell, darted around Wash and Zoë, and disappeared. “Cap’n what was in that letter?” gasped Kaylee not quite comprehending everything that was going on. Wordlessly Mal just looked at the letter in his hand as Wash and Zoë came into the bridge. Book started to move to give Wash his usual pilots chair, which he motioned that the Shepard should just keep. “Mal, a daughter, Zhen de ma?” asked Zoë uncharacteristically gently. “It appears so. And we are supposed to raise her.” Mal ran his fingers through his hair, causing him to drop the letter unnoticed. “This isn’t exactly someplace safe for a five, six year old child.” Zoe turned slightly to look hard at Wash trying to subliminally keep him from speaking about his position about child-rearing on Serenity. “Seven, she said she’s seven. She’s just really small for her age.” Kaylee said as she bent down to pick up the letter. “It’s a jian jiu xiu shi home for all of us; and its lots better then living with the Alliance or at the Abbey. No offense Shepard.” “None Taken. A family is always the best place for a child to be raised” “She said that her ma had left her with the Shepards before; and that once the Alliance had taken her. Said that her mother was unfit. Serenity’s got to be better then being brought up by the Alliance.” “Golensa, unfit?” mused Mal. “Sir, that does make sense with what all she said in her letter to me.” Added Zoë. “I just can’t see it. She was like Kaylee -- always cheerful, looking at the bright side of things no matter how bad they got. A broken junky whore; it don’t make sense. She was so cheerful you wanted to duct tape her mouth shut. Don’t make sense at all.” Reading the beginning of the letter out loud Kaylee uttered something that was now fairly familiar to everyone on the bridge: “If you can't walk, you crawl, if you can't crawl... You find somebody to carry you.” And she continued reading the rest of the letter to herself, in tears by the end of the letter, now understanding how a mother could feel desperate enough to send her child away. Mal, we had one night together. One night to forget about everything happening around us. I can’t forget anymore. I’m haunted every time I close my eyes by the screams, screams of living begging to die, screams of the dead begging to live. The faces of those we tried to save, those we had to kill, and the souls we had to leave behind. How do you write a letter; telling a man that you spent one night with that he fathered a child? Then in the same breath ask him to be a father, a good father? I’m not capable of being a mother. I am crawling now; and don’t have long to crawl. Please, take care of our baby girl – Caroline Lilliana Reynolds – until she is able and capable to be on her own. I named her after your mother, and my mother. She is everything too me; and I must give her a future; a future she will never be able to have with a used up junky whore.

Golensa Sir, we can’t just dump her somewhere; she needs us to carry Caroline until she’s old enough to walk alone. She deserves Serenity more then anyone else.” Patting the hull she finished “She’ll take good of her, keep her safe.” “Kaylee, this isn’t a broken grav-boot, or a puppy. This is a child.” “Cap’n, she’s not just a child. She’s YOUR daughter.” “What can I offer her? Chances to get corpsified on a regular basis? The opportunity to be on the run all the time? To be able to eat molded protein day in and day out? That’s not the life for a child.” Thinking back to his childhood on Shadow. “A child needs clean air, open spaces, and freedom. None of which we have here.” Speaking up for the first time in while Zoë interjected “Mal, all a child needs is unconditional love. That we can offer.” “What kind of future did she have with her mother? Jail? Death? I don’t think she’s ever gone to school. She can be a whore when she grows up, or a bar wench.” Snapped Kaylee glaring at Mal and she stormed out of the bridge going to find Caroline. “Well then, I guess she stays; but, just on a trial basis.” Sinking into the co-pilot’s chair and putting his head in his hands he felt overwhelmed to the point of nausea. He didn’t know anything about being a parent. Sensing his discomfit Book looked directly at him, and borrowed some words from River “You’ll do fine, Captain Daddy, you’ll do fine.”

Bao bei -- precious/treasure Chsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo - animal f***ing bastard Gorram – Damn Jian jiu xiu shi – dandy Mei-mei: Little sister Qin aide wo de ma – Dear mother of God Tamade hundan -- fucking bastard Xin gan/ai ren – sweetheart zang shang liu – filthy rich (upper class) Zhen de ma? - is that true? Chapter 4 Someplace Safe; Jayne’s Arms

Safe, some place safe to hide, someplace where she could be warm again. Someplace where the cold that was in her bones would go away. That was all she needed. Caroline narrowly missed Wash and Zoë as she left the bridge trying to find someplace safe. Running pell-mell through the passage ways she paused when she saw Simon; and managed to duck around a corner before he saw her. He went into the infirmary, and she continued. The ship seemed to go on forever; the “tour” Kaylee and River had given her wasn’t helping her. Everything had seemed to vanish from her mind except for the need to find someplace to hide.

Jayne finished his dinner and bugged Simon for a little while as he did dishes. Then he headed down to the cargo bay to lift weights. Lifting helped Jayne think things through – and this short person who looked just like Mal, a Mini-Mal was something that needed some thinking about.

Caroline was close to hysterical when she came into the cargo bay, she saw the hole in Serenity’s bulkhead that she had hidden in right when she had come out of the box. Zeroing in on the hole she sprinted across the open floor not looking left or right and crashed right into Jayne.

Jayne grabbed hold of squirming body and then looked down. He looked down at a child who was trying to get away by squirming, kicking, biting, anything. She finally looked up enough that Jayne caught a look at her eyes. They were terrified. Instinct from taking care of his brothers and sisters back home kicked in and he growled out “shh, shh, xin gan. What’s wrong?”

“Let me go, you chsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo, fancy pants.”

“Ain’t a bastard; knew both my ma and pa. And I ain’t no fancy pants.”

“You’re here.”

“Yep, they pay me to be here. I do their dirty work. Will you calm down? I ain’t gonna hurt you.” “I wan my ma.” And with that Caroline’s brave front dissolved and started sobbing into Jayne’s chest. “Sh – she’s not here. He said she’s not here.”

“Shh, shh, sshh” grumbled Jayne picking Caroline and Zoey up, carrying them over to the nearest ladderwell and sitting down. “I don’t know where your ma is.”

“I wan my ma. She said she was comin’.”

“Coming where?”

Still crying Caroline hiccupped out, almost unintelligibly “Boros, going on a trip. I ain’t never been off-world before.” “In a box?”

“Cheaper that way.”

Jayne understood a lot more now; passage for one adult was much cheaper then passage for two people, even if one of those was a child. Jayne rocked Caroline and gruffly asked “Tell me about her.”

Caroline was starting to feel less frightened. This big lion of a man didn’t talk like other fancy people; and from what she could see of his wet T - shirt he didn’t dress all zang shang liu like the other ones. Sniffing, she burrowed deeper into Jayne’s chest seeking warmth, something to warm up her bones.

“It’s going to be ok.”

“I miss my ma. She was nice; most of the time, except when she was having a spell. I didn’t like it when she was broken. She screamed and broke things then. Two-Snouts said she was like a race horse, fragile. He said that she was all used up and needed to be put out to pasture. Said the ‘Liance broke her.” Caroline was starting to relax a little; and starting fiddling with Zoey. She continued “I don’t like the gorram Alliance. I don’t like night, days were good. When ma had good days we would go for walks in the market and make up stories and eat fruit. That was fun. I like fruit; blueberries are my favoritest. Kaylee likes strawberries, Shepard said so.”

“I’m sure when we get back to Persephone; we’ll find your ma. Don’t want cha worried bout her. Tell me more mei-mei. Tell me about Two-Snouts” Jayne growled trying not to sound angry, and Caroline could feel his chest rumble like a cat when they purred.

“I don’t like Two-Snouts. He’s ma’s boss. He says he has a stable full of flesh. And he dresses all gorram jian jiu xiu shi with lots of smelly stuff in his hair. It looks wet all the time; and he smells bad. He gives ma ice drops keep the screaming away. Says he can’t make no money off a woman screamin’ her head off.”

Jayne figured that keeping Caroline talking was a good thing. “How ‘bout your home?”

“I like feeling you talk. You feel like a cat, all rumbly.” Said Caroline trying burrow deeper into Jayne and shifting Zoey a little. “Home, we done had lots a places we stayed. Couple, times when ma was really sick and I couldn’t take care of her I stayed at the Abbey. I like Shepards, they’re nice. Where do you live?”

“I live here.”

That caused her to straighten up “With all the fancy pants? They let you? Zhen de ma?”

“Yep, here. They ain’t all that bad. I gots three meals a day, and my own bunk. People are nice. Captain’s a fair sort a’ guy.”

“Huh, he seems like a tamade hundan.”

“Nah, he’s a good guy; just kinda different. You can trust him.” He felt her begin to relax against him again; and figured he must be saying something right. “Whole crews right nice.” He thought about Simon then added “mostly.”

Caroline was really starting to relax; and was starting to feel warm, tired, and safe. This big man, Jayne, they had called him at dinner was nice. He didn’t talk all fancy like the others, ceptin’ Kaylee, he talked kinda like her. He didn’t dress all weird either in tight pants with a stripe on them like that Captain guy, or prissy like the guy called Simon, or in weird looking shirts – he was normal. “Normal is good.” Caroline said out loud; but, very quietly. She heard a noise behind them on the upper floor of the big room, and tensed up, tightening her hands around Zoey, getting ready to go for her knife.

Hearing the footsteps, and realizing that it was just Kaylee; Jayne rumbled, “Don’t worry it’s just Kaylee. Can always tell the sound of her: little feet in big boots. River too.”

Looking down on what was unfolding below her; Kaylee’s heart melted. She had always known Jayne had a soft spot; but, it showed itself only rarely. She didn’t want to break up the peaceful scene; but, the Captain had sent her to find Caroline and help her get ready for bed. Kaylee had offered to give up her bunk; Shepard had said no, it would be better if she shared a compartment with Mal. They needed to get used to each other. Kaylee kept watching the two of them conversing in low tones until they looked up at her. She really wished she could hear; and she really hoped Jayne wasn’t talking about Vera, guns, or sexin’ up whores.

“Bao bei.” Kaylee said starting down the ladderwell. “It’s bed time, are you tired? It’s been a really big day. We’ve got a bunk all ready for you; Cap’n is puttin’ clean sheets on for you.”

Shaking her head vehemently, Caroline clutched Zoey and Jayne tighter. “No, don’ wanna go without him. Safe here. Warm.”

Holding her very carefully, Jayne stood up. “Come on little one, lets go. Can’t stay here all night. Go on Kaylee, we’ll follow.”

And so they went, another train forward past the passenger quarters, med bay, common area, up the corridor, through the dining room and to the crew quarters. Kaylee stopped in front of Mal’s room which surprised Jayne; but, what the hell if the Cap wants to give up his bunk for a rug rat that’s his problem. Book had said that since Caroline was Mal’s daughter the forced physical closeness might help them develop a father daughter bond more quickly.

“Down you go. Can’t carry you down the ladder” Jayne rumbled setting Caroline down on her feet.

Looking very uncertain and nervous Caroline asked “are you coming?”

“Not sure I can.” By this time Kaylee was standing below with Mal and the Shepard. They’d made up the bunk for Caroline and rigged Kaylee’s hammock up for the Captain.

“Not going less you come.”

“Ho’ k. I’m coming, you go first.”

Caroline went down the ladderwell and waited unmoving for Jayne to come down. She was tense again, worried; clutching Zoey tightly and not liking the fact that everyone seemed to be in the room. Seeing how the number of people seemed to make Caroline tense; Book nodded at Kaylee and said “I’m going to take my leave now. Do some meditations. Kaylee doesn’t Serenity need some checking up?”

“Mmm…” she said looking over at Book, who gave her a meaningful stare. “Yes, good night everyone. Good night Caroline.” As they left the compartment, Caroline was climbing back into Jayne’s arms.”

“Bao bei” Mal uttered walking over to the odd couple “I brought your stuff down, your Buddha and the cross are on the shelf at the top of the bunk. That’s where you’re going to sleep tonight. Kaylee and River found you a night shirt and a toothbrush. Drawer under the bunk has your clothes in it.”

Jayne put down Caroline “Go on, go over there. I can’t stay here all night. Got my own bunk. You’re gonna be fine. Caps a good guy. You can trust him.”

Walking over to look at the things on the shelf and under the bunk Caroline just stared at them with wide eyes. It was very odd that everything was all together, neat-like, and not hidden.

Mal ran his fingers through his hair “I put them there for you. Is that ok? We’ll find someplace better for them tomorrow.”

“Are they safe?”

“Yes, everything is safe in here.” He pointed at the bunk, “You’re going to sleep there. Uhhh… I’m going to go and get Kaylee; she’ll help you get ready for bed. Ok?” Mal went to the comm box and called for Kaylee.

When Kaylee popped down the ladder and started to talk with Caroline Mal went up the ladder and sagged against the bulkhead wondering about how he was supposed to raise a child. The man from whom he usually sought counsel was a preacher, and had never had children. Ironically, the person on Serenity with the most experience with children was Jayne. Jayne, that didn’t make sense? That thought just made him sit down on the floor with his head in his hands. How could he ask counsel from Jayne? How was he going to raise a child? His daughter? He had a daughter? Qin aide wo de ma, what was next Zoë and Wash having a gorram baby? He’d have to nip that idea in the bud – but, in the morning. He was sharing his quarters with a child. What next, pets on board? Well other then Wash’s dinosaurs.

Kaylee’s head popped up in the hatch. “We’re done; Caroline is ready for a story.” She climbed all the way up; and said “Tell her a nice story, no reavers, or gun battles. Tell her something from your childhood on Shadow.

Mal lifted his head and hauled his weary body up, and waited for Kaylee to pass by. “Thank you. Good night.” And down the ladder he went, slowly and very apprehensively not quite sure what he was going to find or what he was going to talk about. He grabbed the chair at his desk, ducked under the hammock, and sat down. Trying to sound comforting he started “you ready to go to sleep little one? It’s been a long day.” “Yeah.” Kaylee had told her that Mal was as scared of her as she was of him. She had Zoey tucked in with her. Holding Zoey made her think of her ma. “Do you think ma’s ok?”

Mal reached over and touched the bed. “I’m sure she is. We’ll send a wave to Persephone tomorrow. Do you want a a story?” Wash had told him to tell her a story. He didn’t want her to start screaming again. Horses he would talk about horses; she had Zoey, and she liked her so they had to be a safe subject. “My mama always told me ‘you treat your horse right, it'll do right by you.’” He looked down at her and saw that she had her eyes closed. This might not be too hard he thought to himself. “Mama’s ranch was on Shadow; it’s a rim world. We had a lot of horses there. Needed ‘em to work the ranch. Some we used for riding; some of them pulled wagons, or plows such.” He looked over again and noticed that her breathing had evened out and her grip had stopped being a complete death grip on the stuffed horse; figured that he should go on just a little more while he got ready to sleep. So he kept going as he got ready. “My favorite horse of all was a brown horse, her name was Apple; ‘cause she would eat apples right off the tree. She could run like the wind forever and ever.” He climbed awkwardly into the hammock and ended with “We had some good times Apple and me. Good night, little one.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “We’ll figure this out, you and me. Good night.”

Bao bei -- precious/treasure Chsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo -- animal f***ing bastard Gorram – Damn Jian jiu xiu shi – dandy Mei-mei -- Little sister Qin aide wo de ma – Dear mother of God Tamade hundan -- fucking bastard Xin gan/ai ren – sweetheart zang shang liu – filthy rich (upper class) Zhen de ma? -- is that true?

COMMENTS

Friday, January 20, 2006 2:58 AM

BOOKADDICT


I missed this one before. I liked Caroline's character very much, her confusion and her love for her ma.


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