Bed and Wine: Part 24
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Of Babies and Belly Wounds~ NC-17


Bed and Wine: Part 24 By Kaynara *** Of Babies and Belly Wounds~ NC-17 *** Recommendation of the Week: Daughter of Serenity by Evelyn Sunshine. Thanks to Grimlock for the consult. *** He was hallucinating. Probably. “Are those new suspenders, Mal?” Inara smiled at him, her face bright with desire. “You look swai.” That weren’t so crazy. Hell, he was sorta swai. “Hey, Mal.” Jayne walked by, winked. “Nice pants.” Okay. Definitely hallucinating. He pressed a hand to the hole in his belly, tried to stand. His ankles gave, and he collapsed on his knees. “Ye su, ta ma de....” Groaning, he rolled over on his back, held fast to the wound with the weight of his arm. He had a powerful need to pass out just now. The Blackness pressed at his eyelids, tried to slip in through his fingernails and nostrils and the ends of his hair. It was warm and soft, this darkness, just like Nara’s hair. Hell, it even kinda tickled like her hair did. He knew how it would smell when it carried him away. “Wake up, Captain Sir.” A shadow blocked out the sun. One Hawaiian-printy arm rose in mock salute. “I’m worried about Zoe, Mal.” “Zoe!? Wash, you notice the part where I’m bleedin’ to death?” “Come now, Captain. Didn’t they teach you to withstand pain in the War?” “Whadda you know?” Mal muttered. He was in a shitty mood. Must o’ been the dyin’. “Get lost.” “We’re torture buddies, Mal. This is what we do. Get tortured and...make with the jokes. It’s our thing.” “Wash...we don’t got a thing.” “Sure we do, Captain! Know what your thing is?” “Can’t say I do, Wash.” “Pain, Mal. Pain’s your thing.” “Lucky me.” “Hang on, Captain.” Wash crouched down to pat his arm. It was a mite creepifying, but kinda soothing too. “Help’s on the way, Mal. Mal? Captain, can you--” “--hear me?” Gideon, digging his nails into the flesh of Mal’s forearm. “Can you hear me, Captain?” “Ow! Quit pinchin’ me!” “I would if you’d keep your eyes open.” “I hope you’re not givin’ orders, son. Not on my--” “--boat. And we’re not. On your boat, that is.” Gideon hauled Mal to his feet. “Put your weight on me.” “You callin’ me fat?” His voice rose at the end. Ai ya, he was hurtin’. “You’re not light.” Gideon winced, started dragging them both down the alley. “Make of that what you will.” “You know somethin’, kid? If you weren’t such an annoying smart ass...well, I’d think you were growin’ on me.” “If you live through the night, I’ll remind you of that come morning.” They reached the end of the alley. Mal bit back a moan as Gideon half-carried, half-dropped him into the back of the motorized hover-cart. He glanced down at his shirt, well-soaked through with red. He blinked as the world went sideways. “Mal!” Gideon’s fingernails, digging into the sensitive skin of his thigh. “OW!” Mal blinked, incredulous. “Do you want a punch? You want a punch in the face?” “Keep talking. When I stop hearing your voice is when I come back here and pinch you in places you really don’t wanna be pinched.” “HA! I’d like to see you try.” Gideon just rolled his eyes and took the controls. The hover-cart came alive with a low hum and in seconds they were speeding down crowded streets. The dust flew up to collect in Mal’s hair and eyebrows, filled his nose and had him choking. “Where we headed?” Mal managed, biting his lip to squelch the screams. “Oh, I was thinking a light dinner, maybe a picture show. Where the hell do you think we’re going? I’m taking you to the hospital.” “Over my dead body, are you takin’ me there.” “A fair possibility,” Gideon admitted. “You listen to me, kid. We ain’t goin’ to no hospital.” “You need surgery. You have a bullet in your belly. Someone skilled in such things needs to remove it, Mal.” “You’ll do it.” Gideon turned at that, blue eyes expressionless. “You’re insane.” “Have heard that theory. Anyway, ain’t so crazy; I can talk you through it.” “Talk me through--Captain Reynolds. Are you seriously suggesting you want to stay awake while I perform my first-ever operation on your bleeding belly?” “Gideon, what I want and what I do never did seem to coincide.” “I’m not operating on you, Mal.” “Why the hell not?” Arguing was good. He could almost forget his belly was on fire. “You’d be better off with Inara performing the surgery.” Gideon sniffed. “I’m guessing she knows more about anatomy than I.” Mal felt his jaw clench. The pain in his gut grew faint as this new slight took a hold. “Inara ain’t a topic you wanna be talkin’ on, son.” “I didn’t mean any disrespect. Really, she’s a lovely girl. A sweetheart.” Gideon twisted his neck to meet Mal’s gaze. “You almost forget she’s just a whore.” The wrath swelled. He didn’t just want to live now; now, he wanted to kill. It was several heated seconds before he realized he was being had. He laughed shortly, the movement making his belly ache. “Nice try, kid. And I do appreciate the effort, really.” His tone softened. “You ain’t all bad, you know.” “Christ, you’re sentimental today.” Gideon shrugged. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were dying. But you’re not dying, Mal. Hear me? You don’t want a hospital, fine. But I am *not* not sticking my hands in your gut. We’ll get you a doctor. A respectable, bribe-accepting medical professional.” “Sounds good,” Mal said, weary. “Where we goin’?” Gideon sighed, jerked the hover-cart around another corner. “Sunday mass.” *** She awoke choking, wheezing thin strands of air through shrunken lungs. After a moment, she felt Inara’s smooth hands on her face, holding back her hair as she retched into a bowl. Grateful, Zoe accepted the proffered glass of water, letting the cool liquid wet her parched mouth and throat. At last, she glanced up, eyes burning as badly as the acrid taste on her tongue. “Raven?” she whispered. “Fine.” Inara slipped the shawl from her shoulders, draped the crocheted folds over Zoe’s shivering form. “Kaylee put her down for a nap. Jayne’s keeping a reluctant ear tuned.” Zoe nodded, relief washing over her features. “Xie xie. Thank you.” Inara just shrugged, one delicate shoulder inching up to buss her cheek. “I thought about what you said if it were Mal....” “He’s gonna come back, Nara.” She smiled weakly. “Captain’s a lotta things, but mostly he’s stubborn. Won’t let nothin’ stop him gettin’ back here.” She rose, clutching the bedframe to steady herself. “ ‘Sides, you think he’d just give me his ship?” Inara smiled, a sad one that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I should go. I promised Kaylee...You’re certain you’re alright, Zoe? Everything went as planned?” “Shiny as a shiny thing.” It was one of Mal’s expressions. She found it easier to lie when the words weren’t her own. “I--I’m glad.” “Do me a favor? Tell Jayne I’ll be up to relieve him in a few?” “Of course.” Inara hesitated, fingers curling around the rungs. “Take your time, though. I think he’s secretly hoping she’ll wake up so he can read to her. He’s getting very good. He knows almost all the words in the duck book now.” Zoe smiled, trying to infuse her features with a warmth she didn’t feel. In fact, she felt almost nothing, her body weightless as a baby bird, weighty as the years spanning before her. She hovered in nothingness, waited for Inara’s skirts to disappear up the steps. The sound of the hatch closing broke her reverie. She started to cry then, fat tears that disappeared into the curve of her neck. There was a time when Wash kissed away the wet with his lips. Now she just let them fall. *** “Hold him down. Dope him.” “You’re fine, Mal.” Gideon’s voice. Mal mighta been more convinced if the boy weren’t such an adept liar. “Gonna live to brood another day.” “Gentleman? There’s a Miss Serra waving.” “I’ll take it,” Gideon said. “No.” Mal groaned, struggled to sit. “Don’t--” “I won’t, Mal.” Gideon touched his arm. “I won’t tell her anything.” Mal nodded, grateful. Within seconds, the darkness took him. *** Mal would know. In a single glance, he’d see everything Zoe wasn’t saying. The man could be...well, he could be downright dense. But he seemed to understand Zoe. Those two saw eachother, saw the hidden hurts and buried anguish. They sliced deep through the lies, found the pulsing, panging pain beneath. They suffered a war together, unimaginable loss and sorrow. Inara knew they had tales they’d never share with another soul. Pieces of Mal that would never be hers. She didn’t resent Zoe’s ownership of those bits of him. She was glad he had another with whom to split the burden, even if that other was other than she. Once, after sampling too many sips of Kaylee’s engine brew, Wash and Inara found themselves ruminating upon the great War of Independence and its many, multifaceted casualties. Mal and Zoe were off on a job; Inara came back from a client to find Wash scratching the bottom of the first bottle. He was a genial drunk, sweet and ebullient. “Nara. Hey.” He poured her a glass, patted the chair next to him for her to sit. “Join me for a drink, m’lady.” She’d smiled then; she smiled now, remembering. She missed him, regretted not just his untimely death but the loss of his presence on the ship. In her first weeks on Serenity, she’d ached for Sihnon while trying to scratch out a feel for her new surroundings. Jayne eyed her with lust, the captain some mixture of desire and distrust, mingling, blooming into self-hatred, hatred of her. She knew now she’d scared him. He hated himself for wanting her, hated her for making him want. Just like she, he dreaded the inevitable end result of all that wanting, tried to guard against the ineludable moment when his insides would tear. Wash’s gentle friendship was like balm. He treated her as one of the crew , as an equal. “Wow,” he’d said that day, pretending to grab hold of his heart. “Quite a dress. I’m guessin’ you left the colonel in a pool of his own drool.” She took his compliments the way he intended them: harmless and friendly, wanting nothing save her friendship in return. “There may have been some drooling. How’s the wine?” “Not gonna lie to you, Nara. It’s pretty shitty.” “You drank an entire bottle,” she reminded him, amusement curving her lips. “Well, yeah.” He topped off both their glasses. “But I’m depressed.” “Depressed? Whatever for?” She made her eyes go wide, gold specks twinkling in the black. “We’re parked on an ugly, dust-covered, backwoods, ass-end-of-the-galaxy moon that wouldn’t know civilized if it got up on a bar and danced the tango. I just spent the better part of the afternoon servicing a client who regaled me with tales of his rattlesnake hunting and called me ‘purty.’ We’re drinking wine that was fermented in the engine of a spaceship, drinking it out of Bugs Bunny glasses. Exactly which part of this do you find depressing, Wash?” He grinned, passed her the bottle. “I think you need this more than I do, sweetie.” She just smiled. “Can I ask you somethin’, Nara?” “Of course.” “Zoe and me--well, we had a fight. Was kind of a doozy. Hell, you ever seen an Amazon woman when she’s mad?” “Is that your question?” she teased. “No. No.” He took another drink of the fruity, crimson wine. “ you know I studied a great deal to be a Companion?” He shook his head. “Many subjects. Psychology, sociology. I’m very skilled at reading body language.” She shrugged a single shoulder, sipped the bittersweet wine. “Signs, gestures. The sort of thing a person doesn’t say with words. I spent years learning to read people, Wash. But even a daft vision-impaired ape can see the love between you and her.” “Well, maybe Jayne can see it. But sometimes I’m not sure....” “Is this about Mal?” she’d asked, her boldness a surprise to them both. “She doesn’t even hesitate, Inara. ‘Chop off your toe, Zoe. Sir, yes, sir.’” “It isn’t that bad.” “It’s close.” Wash met her eyes, the booze making his swim. “You think they slept together, Nara? Back in the war, when they were hiding from the purple bellies, hiding out in rabbit holes--?” “Fox holes,” she corrected, thoughtful. “Whatever. I know it got bad, Nara. Zoe--she still has nightmares sometimes.” “Mal does too.” Wash raised a brow, asking the obvious question with his eyes. “Please.” She gave a short laugh. “We both suffer from insomnia. I’ve found him at this table on more than one occasion, sipping warm milk and staring at nothing.” “That’s repulsive--the warm milk part.” “Yes,” Inara agreed. She smiled before she could help it. “Zoe has the dreams just before dawn. Five or so.” “I always find Mal at three.” “You think they ever, you know, sought out a warm body for comfort? Had a moment’s passion whilst the shells rained down? Your fancy education able to tell you that, Inara?” “I--I don’t know. Does it matter?” “Damn right it matters.” The fury ebbed away even as he spit out the words. “Jesus. I don’t...if she needed him back then, if he helped keep the damn demons at bay...I guess it ain’t quite kosher to resent the bastard for that. For keepin’ my baby sane.” She patted his hand. “You’re a good man, Wash. Zoe’s very fortunate.” “So’s Mal.” He met her eyes, and for a moment the wine-haze receded in a moment of clarity. “I just hope the hwoon dan realizes it before it’s too late.” Stricken, Inara reached out a hand to snag her wine glass, downed the contents in a gulp. Neither mentioned the conversation again. Sobriety notwithstanding, Wash had been right. In truth, he’d been accurate on a few points that afternoon. But now he was gone, and only one person had a chance of reaching Zoe. She punched in the coordinates of the abbey with shaking fingers. “Gideon,” she said when his face filled the screen. She struggled to smile. “Good morning. Or is it night for you two?” “You were right the first time.” She nodded, a little bemused. This boy was an odd one. She could sense his discomfort and maybe something stronger--aversion perhaps?--in every stare and syllable. “I was hoping to speak with Mal a moment.” “Mal’s in the shower.” Gideon shrugged, avoiding her gaze. “Showering? Isn’t it a bit late? Usually he showers when he wakes up.” “Guess he felt especially dirty today.” “I--I see. Would you give him a message for me? Ask him to wave Zoe.” “Zoe? Is everything--?” “Fine.” She made her mouth soft, her eyes soothing. “If he could wave her tonight though...tonight would be most convenient.” “I’ll tell him.” He closed the connection before she could thank him. *** He couldn’t move or speak. From his belly to his toes, he was completely numb. The panic stole over him fast, a sheen of sweat coating flesh. He cracked his eyelids, squeezed them shut again at the burst of blinding white. “Hush.” A woman’s voice, cool as the damp cloth sweeping his forehead. That was sorta funny, her trying to shut him up when he was fairly certain he couldn’t speak. With tremendous effort, he raised his right hand, groped around for her wrist. He lifted their joined hands to his lips, hoped she’d catch his meaning. “Water?” she asked, the mere sound of the word drying his saliva. Seconds later he felt plastic part his lips. A few drops of liquid trickled into his mouth, wetting his parched tongue. “More?” He shook his head, the movement making him queasy. He tried to summon his stinging vocal chords. “Don’t try to speak,” she intoned. “Hush, Malcom.” He parted one heavy eye this time, saw a dark head silhouetted against the light. Angel. Inara. He tried to grab her hand again, but she relaxed his grip, settled his arm back at his side. Again she applied the damp cloth to his burning temple, cooling his body, soothing his hot soul. “Inara,” he managed, the name scarcely a whisper. “Sleep,” she entreated and smoothed his fevered temple. *** When next Malcom Reynolds awoke, he was naked, stripped bare and being sponge-bathed. He was also somewhat aroused. With whip-sharp speed, his brain snapped back to the Alliance hospital. Oh, sweet Ye Su, no. But, no, this was something other. No restraints binding his hands, not starchy hospital gown. And unlike that sterile cell, this room had windows. He could feel the sun on his aching body, its steady heat massaging sore muscles and bruised flesh. Moreover, the hands pulling the sponge seemed more concerned with sanitizing than stimulating. The whole erection bit was, well, nice, but secondary. He felt warm water drip between his thighs, cringed as he body responded against his will. He really oughta open his eyes nowbouts, see who was rubbing him down and triggering the embarrassing albeit unintentional reaction in his nethers. For long wistful seconds, he let himself dream that it was Inara. And if he were another man, one considerably less star-crossed, that notion might just hold water. As it was--he let out a sigh--Alliance prison guard, prolly. An ugly one. Very reluctantly, he opened his eyes. Huh. “Uh, hi.” Gray eyes glanced up, smiled before that full red mouth. She straightened, sleek black hair bobbing around an exceptionally-crafted face. “Malcom. You’re awake.” “Seems I am.” He tried to shift his body to hide the hard-on, which was becoming a mite uncomfortable. “And you are, ma’am?” She smiled again, obviously unruffled. Was a shame. He wouldn’t mind watching a blush color that milk-pale skin. Watch it, Mal, he chided. You, sir, are taken. “Forgive me, Malcom. You were, shall we say, indisposed when I arrived. We were never properly introduced.” “You, my doctor?” “I’m your stepmother.” She found his hand on the bed, shook it with a firm grip. “Esmerelda Fitzgerald. Please, call me Emmy.” *** He felt considerably more composed now that he was wearing pants, even if they were a pair of gray flannels belonging to Shepherd Marty. “I didn’t think you’d come,” he admitted, eyeing the woman at his bedside. “You have his voice. Now that I’ve seen you with my own eyes, I realize there are many intriguing similarities.” Her lips curved slightly at the last. Mal nodded, feeling the tips of his ears burn. “Let’s ride right past the part where you detail ‘em. I, uh, I got the letters. Good reading, those.” “Quentin had a flare for it: letter writing. I used to tease him, say for a twenty-sixth century man, he had quite the epistolary soul.” “Well, I ain’t much for fancy words. Reckon I’d disappoint him there.” “Malcom.” She stroked his cheek, and he had to force himself not to squirm from the touch. Not that it didn’t feel nice. Just...was like bein’ groped by a ghost. A ghost who looked on him with love meant for another. “I can assure you, he wouldn’t be disappointed.” “No offense, Lady. But I never met you before twenty minutes ago. How is it you know so much of me?” Now she did blush, a soft, pretty pink that filled her face. “You’re Quentin’s son,” she said simply. “I had you followed.” “ ‘Scuze me?” “I have a very loyal, very discreet investigator. He kept me informed of your comings and goings. I didn’t interfere, only kept abreast of your activities. Serenity Valley, your purchase of the firefly.” She hesitated, eyes on her manicure. “Miranda. You look disturbed.” “No. Just kinda abashed. Thought I was stealthier ‘n that.” “My sources are very good,” she assured, lips twitching. “Huh.” “I have to say, I was intrigued when the Companion signed on to fly with you. Even as one far-removed from that way of life, I’d heard the name Inara Serra. She was on the track for house priestess when she left with you.” “Why’d you leave the Guild?” he asked, eager to discourage this line of questioning. Ai ya, he didn’t want Inara dragged into this. Emmy seemed surprised. “I left to marry your father, of course. “Of your own accord?” “Not exactly. I was...I guess you could say I was a gift. A gesture of goodwill from the Guild to the Allied Core. And, more importantly, a bribe and a distraction for the bright, young senator Quentin Webb, a boon for the Alliance save that pesky moral code of his, that tendency to dig. I was beautiful then: young, taut flesh, thick flowing hair.” She smiled, lost in the remembering. “A heady, flawless male fantasy. I loved my life, being Companion. I loved the power over the men, the powerlessness of watching them walk away. Had the political climate been something other, had the Alliance never come to Sihnon--I imagine I’d still be there now, a priestess perhaps, living at Vidya and watching the lilacs bloom every spring.... “We both fell in love, Mal. We had nothing in common, were sprung from widely disparate worlds. And yet we could talk for hours. And the sex....” She trailed off, sensing his discomfort. “I didn’t understand what I was feeling, resented those feelings. But I loved Quentin. As much as I was able, I loved him. Legally, I could have refused. Practically--practically, I had no choice at all.” She shrugged. “It’s complicated, Malcom.” “Seems I got the time just now,” he said quietly. “Alright. But I must insist on quid pro quo. I have a few questions myself for Quentin Webb’s only son.” He raised a brow. “You already seen me naked, Emmy. And I don’t just mean the sponge bath bit. You been doggin’ me for decades.” “I know the what, Malcom. The whys are somewhat more elusive.” “You can have your answers when I get mine. I wanna know how my daddy died. “ “No, Malcom.” She looked sad. “You want to know why.” *** She’d fallen asleep to the rain. When she awoke, the rain had stopped. She lounged in bed a few moments, drowsy, disoriented. It was still night, the room bathed in darkness. Why was she awake? “Emmy.” Strong hands, shaking her shoulder. “Quentin.” Her heart thudded in her chest, and she reached over to hit the lamp. “You frightened me.” “Sorry, sweetheart. Oh, God, I’m sorry.” He sat beside her on the bed, fully dressed save his shoes. His clothes were drenched, dark hair dripping down over his neck, water droplets disappearing under the collar of his shirt. “Ren si de fo zu, what happened to you?” “It’s raining.” He looked sad. “It almost never rains in the great City of Sihnon.” “Get undressed.” She started in on the buttons. “You’re soaked right through.” “I can’t.” He fought her hands away. “I’m going out again.” She twisted his wrist to get a look at the watch. “It’s four in the morning, Quentin.” “Yeah. Emmy, let’s make love.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re drunk.” “Oh, Jesus, I wish I was drunk. Make love with me, Emmy. The way we used to, when I’d visit you at the Guild.” She’d started then; he almost never spoke of her time as Companion. The sapphire on her ring finger came complete with a powerful sense of shame. After the wedding, he realized as though for the first time all the men she’d lain with before him. On her flawless white flesh he saw handprints. “We aren’t those people anymore,” she murmured, not quite meeting his gaze. He jerked her chin around, his fingers more violent than she thought possible from the man. “Let’s try. Dear God, I want you once more the way we were. Before I ruined you.” “Quentin.” Incredulous, she stroked his face, met guarded eyes that used to exude idealism. “I’m fine. Ai ya, look at me. See?” “I took you away from everything you knew, forced you to be something, someone, other.” “You loved me,” she said softly. “I loved you so hard I killed you. You and Mary, both.” He never spoke of *her* by name. It incensed her, triggered a raw, throbbing need. “I want you, Emmy. Ai ya, I need you.” He palmed her breast, one smooth thumb dipping down to rub her nipple through her nightdress. He kept most of his clothes on while they made love. After he kissed her, told her he loved her and left her. First thing in the morning, they brought his body. They beat the milk man by a good half hour. Aston Fitzgerald said he’d insisted upon it, demanded that Esmerelda see Quentin before the autopsy. He cried harder than she at the bullet holes in Quentin’s coat. *** When she finished, they sat in silence, Mal’s brain working to absorb the many curious parallels betwixt himself and the father he never knew. The Companion part alone was grounds for a few years therapy. The bit where Emmy even favored Nara--well, that was downright unsettling. All things considered, him getting excited earlier weren’t so confounding. Hell, woulda been an oddity if he *hadn’t* felt something. Yep, he was gonna stick with that line o’ reasoning. “Malcom?” Emmy smiled. “I fear I’ve embarrassed you. This is becoming habit.” “N-no.” He shrugged. “I’m okay.” “You’re blushing.” “Yeah, well. I do that. So what happened that night? His letters--made it seem like he knew someone was after him. Was it the Independents? Those who didn’t much care for Alliance meddling? They put a bullet to him?” “That’s what I thought. Aston assured me it was so. And I believed him. He adored Quentin, mentored him.” She looked away, something new in her eyes: something like guilt. “You married him. Aston Fitzgerald. After my daddy died, you married the man.” “I couldn’t go back to the Guild. In truth, I didn’t know what to do. No one expects to be widowed at twenty-two.” “That’s gotta be tough.” “Yes. It was tough. Especially when Derry disappeared. He took your father’s death hard. It...changed him.” “They were close, huh?” “More like brothers. When Derry left, I was so very alone. Aston would come by the house, bring food. We didn’t make love for a year, Mal. He was very...understanding.” “But it wasn’t the Independents. Was it?” “No,” she said. “It wasn’t.” “What happened?” His voice sounded flat, even to his own ears. “Years later, I found information on my husband’s private source box. There was a trail, financial records linking him to Quentin’s murder. The Alliance ordered your father’s death. You see....” She hesitated, her voice grown hoarse. “You see, Quentin had stumbled upon some information. He believed in unification, Malcom. He believed it was the best thing for every world. But he had his limits. Murder, for example. Murder was a limit.” “Whose life was he tryin’ to save? Goin’ out in the rain that night. Who was it the ‘Liance wanted dead?” “A representative in the Sihonese Congress. A man who spoke out against unification. They meant to assassinate him before a key vote. Quentin learned of this and tried to stop it. It wasn’t the first murder; there were others, many.” “Politician at the Guild. One fell to his death?” She nodded. “Yes. Even now, I don’t know all the details. They’re buried, layers and layers of lies.” Her face changed, bitterness infusing her eyes, marring their brilliance. “But I know Aston was involved. My second husband was what you’d call a believer, Mal. He believed hard enough to kill over it.” “He’s dead now?” “Yes.” “Good. How long ago was that? After you learned what he was?” She smiled darkly. “He died because I learned what he was.” “Sweet Ye su. You...?” “Yes.” “How? How’d you do it without the Alliance knowin’?” “We Companions have our ways.” She giggled, sounding very young suddenly. “Incentive to treat Miss Serra with proper respect....” “How’d you know me and her was--?” “Malcom.” A soft smile, her hand patting his knee. “You called out her name in your sleep.” “Oh. Huh.” “Mal, listen to me. I don’t have all the answers you seek. But I know who would. He may be the only one still breathing who does.” “Don’t ‘spose you have his coordinates?” She laughed shortly. “I haven’t seen Amos Kane in years.” “Amos Kane?” She frowned. “That’s what I said.” “Just checking.” Sweet, Ye su. There were more ‘n thirty worlds in this solar system. How’s it he kept meetin’ the same folk? “My daddy knew Amos Kane?” “Intimately, Malcom. Amos, Derrial and your father were like the three muskateers.” She snorted. “The big three when it came to rising young senators. After Quentin’s death, the senate factioned off into halves. Amos joined the Independents, Derry went with the loyalists. Kane was a key figure in coordinating Browncoat war efforts in the coming years.” “What’s Book’s end in this? How’s he wind up supporting those what killed my father? And then, how’d he come to drop ‘em all and take up the cloth?” “The answer to that question, Mal, would interest me greatly.” Mal nodded. “I’ll be sure to let you know if’n I find out.” “Are you alright, Mal?” She smoothed his hair, the gesture surprisingly motherly in its warmth. “He tried to tell the truth. He tried to expose them, and it cost him his life.” “Yes.” She bent forward and kissed him on the mouth. Her lips were soft and warm. That bit was considerably less motherly. “Be careful, Mal. Don’t follow too closely in your father’s footsteps.” “Never did plan to.” “Take care of yourself. You’re too pretty to have all those scars.” She left him gaping in her wake. *** She confessed to it pretty quick. Musta been feelin’ powerful guilty to admit it all so easy. That thought gave him some comfort, even as the worry made him mean. “What the hell were you thinking, Zoe?” He waited, face twisted, eyes at once fierce and hauntingly ragged. “Well?” “I’m sorry, Sir. Thought that last bit was rhetorical. Did you want an answer?” “Zo-e!” It was more snarl than human speech. No-nonsense ready-for-battle Malcom Reynolds. She didn’t flinch, just met his gaze unwavering. “Guess I was thinkin’ ‘bout him holding me. Sir,” she added for good measure, or perhaps just to rile him. “You think now’s a good time to sass me, Zoe? Do ya?” She gave a short laugh, her nose crinkling. For a long, terrifying seconds he thought she might cry. “Go to bed, Mal.” He almost smiled then, almost chuckled at the irony. Hearin’ Zoe call him by name shocked even more than learnin’ what she’d done to herself...what she coulda done. “Don’t you dare tell me what to do on my own boat!” “Course not, Sir. Except you ain’t on your boat. Been too busy gettin’ holes blown in your belly.” “And I’m thinkin’ you got a few in your head. Dream-humping your dead husband? You think that’s a bright course? Expect that one’ll end well? Ai ya, Zoe. Figure that big wang ba dan in the sky as the merciful sort? That he believes you and Wash deservin’ of a few postmortem conjugal visits?” “Don’t reckon God’s got anything to do with it, Sir.” “Well? How was it, Zoe? Don’t skimp on the details. Dream-hubby hit the spot?” “Wash didn’t show.” Mal hesitated, prepped to rant. “Sorry?” “Wasn’t there. Weren’t no one there.” He dug his knuckles into his temple, rubbing at the pressure points. His anger ebbed away like ugly storm clouds after a long day’s rain. “You was just...?” “Waiting.” Waiting in the ether for Inara to pull her out. Sighing, he lowered himself to the bed. “Zoe. I--” “Sir? There’s some boundaries you and I best not cross.” He nodded. “Yeah, someday we oughta make a list o’ those. Deliverin’ each other’s critters is goin’ right at the ruttin’ top, too. Next rugrat you birth--I wanna be gettin’ drunk at the nearest bar.” “Guess this ain’t the time to tell you ‘bout bein’ my baby’s goddaddy.” “Dammit, Zoe. Well, ‘spect it all averages out, considerin’ that time you had to suck the snake venom from my leg.” “That never happened, Sir.” “Yeah, but it’d make a hell of a story if it had.” “Sir?” “Yeah.” “You think Wash’ll forgive me?” “For what, Zoe? Not dying?” “Not being brave. Almost orphaning our daughter. Leavin’ her with Jay-” “Stop it. Ai ya, you’re talkin’ crazy. This is Wash we’re talkin’ ‘bout. You know, I once heard the man say there ain’t a spot on you he wouldn’t put his tongue.” “Wash told you that?” “Well, no. Told the Alliance actually--” She raised a single brow, a trick he’d always admired. “Sir?” “You know, the whys and hows ain’t really important. Point is, Wash loved you. Don’t reckon death or what happens after could alter that much.” Zoe raked his body with a doctor’s passionless perusal, noting the half moons under his eyes, the indigo bruises that bulls eyed his kidneys. “That Badger’s work?” “Mostly those loyal lackeys of his. See, fine, upstanding gentleman don’t much like gettin’ their hands dirty. Though he did condescend to pullin’ the trigger. Mighty big of ‘im.” “We’ll just kill him the once then. Should be resting, Sir. “ “Yeah.” Mal yawned, as though remembering just then how fatigued he was. “Hey, how’s my ship? Everything shiny?” “As a shiny thing.” “Really? No squabbles or shootings or psychotic episodes?” Zoe smiled. “Captain. Don’t you trust us?” “Well.” He shrugged. “More ‘n Badger.” “Are you ready to come home, Sir?” Home. That sounded all manner o’ nice. Home was Kaylee’s smile and Simon’s sarcasm. Home was his albatross at the helm, Zoe at his side. Home was Inara’s arms and the little chick’s big brown eyes. And then there was Jayne. “I didn’t find ‘em.” “Don’t mean you won’t.” “Jesus, Zoe.” He sounded ragged. “I don’t even know where to look.” “None of us is giving up, Sir. And--point of interest--we do happen to have a psychic on board.” “Knew I picked up her and big brother for somethin’. Come get me, Zoe. I miss my ship.” “Your ship?” She smiled. “I think you mean *my* ship, Captain.” “Oh, you are just askin’ for a beating.” *** Mal watched his little Firefly light the night sky as she floated down for a landing behind the abbey. Oh, but she was a sweet sight for tired eyes and aching belly-wounds. He’d bid Gideon goodbye hours ago. Kid was gonna return the Champion to Bellerophon, lest they needed it for some future mischief. Havin’ an Alliance boat in their clutches could prove all sorts of useful. Gideon would give the Champion over to Kane for safekeeping, and Serenity would pick him up in Sweet Leaf sometime next week. Probably. Mal smirked. He reckoned he would pick up the kid after all. Looked like he had business on Bellerophon. He circled her once first, checking for bruises, dents in the exterior. Seemed like Zoe’d kept his girl in good repair. He lumbered up the ramp, feeling like an old man. Ai ya, he was an old man. The crew met him in the cargo bay. He thought they looked damned good. A pretty sight, his crew. His gaze fell on Inara. He didn’t go to her right off. He was too afraid he’d take her right there, take her in front of everyone. With all too vivid visuals, he could see himself hugging the breath out of her, dragging her to the floor of the cargo bay and having his way with her. She seemed to understand, eyes big and soft. They said his name, wordless, over and over. He nodded his head at the group by way of greeting, starting for the stairs. On the way, he passed Kaylee, squeezed her hand. “Missed you, Cap’n.” “Missed you all too,” he murmured, continuing up the stairs. *** They ate a quick dinner soon as they were out of the world. Raven whined till Mal lifted her from her highchair, settled her in his lap at the table. “Hey, Little Chick. Kid got big,” he noted. Zoe nodded, a smile playing at her lips. “Duh. Duh.” Raven grasped a handful of his hair in her small fist. “Duh.” “Aw, Cap’n.” Kaylee beamed. “That’s so sweet, she’s tryin’ to say duck.” “Yeah? That’s kinda--wait, why’s she callin’ me a duck?” He lifted her up so their eyes were level. “I ain’t a duck, darlin’. I’m the captain. Dong ma?” “Duh.” She mashed her fingers into his mouth. “Now ‘haps you’re a mite muddled, Little Chick. Got good reason, given your nickname...and your Aunt River’s. Ruttin’ penguins didn’t help none either.” He kissed her little palm. “Now can call me Captain or Mal, but ain’t gonna be known as Uncle Duck.” “Duh duh.” Her tiny fingers played with the strap of his suspenders. “Aw, hell. Uncle Duck it is.” “Ain’t sayin’ duck, Sir.” Zoe stared at a spot above his head. Her eyes were enormous. “Duh duh ain’t duck.” Mal looked blank. “Shuh muh?” “Oh!” Inara murmured. She turned knowledgeable eyes on her lap. “Gosh!” Kaylee put a hand to her mouth. Tears collected at the corners of her eyes. “Da da. Cap’n, she’s callin’ you daddy!” “What? Why would she...?” He trailed off, recognition dawning. “Excuse me.” Zoe stood quickly, backed away from the table. Mal watched her go, contemplating life and all its little injustices. *** She didn’t say a word, just watched him with those huge, hurting eyes. Wo de tian ah, he hated bein’ the one put that look there. “Ain’t but a bug bite, honey.” She smiled but it was false, feigned for his benefit. With trembling hands, she unbuttoned his shirt, spread the tan halves over his chest. One gold-tipped finger reached out to trace the bandage spanning his belly. He’d have a new scar when the doctor removed the gauze, an angry red line to join its peers. In a year it might fade to white, blending into the jagged landscape of his chest, one scar scarcely distinguishable from the next. But the memory--ai ya, they’d be stuck with *that* shiny little vision awhile longer. She saw him when she closed her eyes, harmed, hurting. She wondered how long he’d lain there in the street. Did he think he was dying? Did he think of her? “Don’t even hurt,” he assured seeing the strain on her face. He cupped her chin, tilting it up so their eyes met. “I’m fine.” Inara turned away, trying to blink away the image of him bleeding. “This time,” she said quietly. “The now’s all any of us ever has. Inara.” He caught her wrist, turned her back to face him. “Hey. You think you’re gettin’ rid o’ me this easy? Not a chance.” “Stop being cute,” she said crossly, struggling to evade his arms. “I’m upset with you.” “Upset, huh?” He held her firmly, trying to ignore the squirming. “Well, we can’t have that. Guess I’m gonna have to prove myself useful.” “Just leave it, Mal. I’m not in the mood.” He winced, wounded by her tone more than the words themselves, and released his hold. “Okay, guess this is a problem won’t be solved with my stunning good looks. ‘Sokay, always knew I’d encounter one eventually.” “How can you make light of this? You almost died, Mal. Again!” “What would you have me do, Nara?” He felt the heat rush his face, fury coloring his tone red as her nightgown. “Me gettin’ gut-shot ain’t exactly new territory. You knew what my life was, knew it long before me and you took the tumble. I didn’t keep that from you.” “I know you didn’t, Mal.” Her voice softened. “Still, that hardly makes each new battlewound easier to stomach. Do you know how these last two months were?” “I surely do, sweetheart.” “How were they, Mal?” “Lonely. Ai ya, was the loneliest I been in a long while. I think I missed you in every way you can miss a person. Missed talking and fighting. Missed kissing and touching...what comes after the kissing and touching. Hell, Nara I even missed sleepin’ next to you. And I came in here of a mind to tear your clothes off and show you all that missing firsthand.” She lifted his hand from his side, spread the long, slender fingers to cover her heart. “I think I’ll be shot one day.” Mal tightened his palm over her breast. “Not so long as I’m breathing, bao bei.” She just shook her head. “Then you’ll know how it feels.” He blinked, wondered whether the fight was over. “You still sore at me?” “Yes,” she said, lips curving softly. “Furious?” “Fuming.” “Fuming, huh.” He dipped his head to kiss the hollow of her throat. “That’s sorta like steaming, ain’t it? You sayin’ you’re hot for me, Nara?” She tilted her head back, allowing him better access to her neck. Her hand fisted in the soft brown of his hair. “I would perhaps describe my feelings as heated, yes.” “Let’s see if I can’t make you burn.” He caught her around the waist, dragged her up on tip toe to meet his lips. “Oh, sweet Ye Su, I missed the kissing,” he murmured into her mouth. She opened for his tongue, tasting black coffee and something simply Mal. His hand slid down her chest, clutched possessively at her breast. She made a sound like a whimper as his thumb teased the nipple to a sensitive point. “Mal.” She tore her mouth away, only giving him the incentive to kiss down her neck, nibble his way over her collarbones. He caught the straps of her nightgown with two fingers and in one, slick motion dragged the satin to her waist. She had to bite her lip to keep from moaning as he eased her down on the bed, lowered his mouth to her breast and caught the stiff nipple on his tongue. “Mal,” she tried again. Her eyes fluttered shut as he suckled her, one hand fisting in her long, tumbling, curls, the other sliding between her thighs. His hair tickled the tender space between her breasts as he worked his mouth over one swollen peak before sliding his attention--and tongue-- to the other. “Mal, Simon says we shouldn’t....” “Hush.” He kissed her belly, quick little lip brushes that singed the flesh. “Simon says, Simon says. Never did like that game.” “What if you hurt yourself?” She tried to sit up, found her hips pinned to the bed. “Bao bei, I’m already hurtin’.” She smiled. “I wasn’t referring to the problem in your pants, Mal.” “Pullin’ a couple stitches is the least of my troubles. If I don’t have you...well, I think I might die.” He grinned, that half-smirk that made her melt. She tried to look stern. “You should be resting. I could make you tea, find a film feed off the Cortex. We could...cuddle.” “That does sound mighty tempting. Tell you what: we can cuddle after I ravage you.” He tugged her panties down to her knees, pushed up the nightgown so it rested in a belt of scarlet silk around her waist. “I’m gonna go down on you now, Nara. Less you got some objection?” Her eyes went wide. “That’s playing dirty.” “Kitten, you’re sleepin’ with a criminal.” “Oh, right.” She fell back weakly at the first lap of his tongue, grasped at the sheets for support. “A! tian na!” He massaged her thighs as his mouth worked over her, lips encircling her nerve bundle, tongue plunging deep. Her body was humming, every doubt spurned, every fear forgotten, every instance of unease quenched by this sweet, unbearable pleasure that came upon her in waves. “Mal. Mal, Mal, Mal.” His name on her lips was more than a mite arousing. He tried to focus on her taste instead of the painful tightening in his trousers. Trouble was the two were so hopelessly intermingled. He weighed his desire to watch her orgasm--the gentle quiver of her skin just before climax, the way she gazed upon him after, eyes soft and unguarded-- with an increasing urgency to be embedded in her heat. He was a selfish man; he’d have to have both. He swirled his tongue around her center, lust punching his belly as she writhed over the sheets. Huh. Those weren’t his old threadbare linens. ‘She musta switched ‘em for hers’ was his last conscious thought. And then he was too caught up in watching her. All the beauty in the ‘verse. And she was his. “Are you bleeding?” she asked when she could speak again. He glanced down at his belly. “Nope, but I ain’t through tryin’.” He stood to unbuckle his belt, eased the trousers over his swollen nether-region. “Let me,” she entreated. He stepped forward so she could take his hand, tug him horizontal. She hovered over him, nails piercing his hips as she dragged his underwear to his ankles. She eyed his arousal, eyes coy, mouth soft. “Miss me?” she asked sweetly. “What gives you that notion? You gonna bed me or just sit there starin’.” “I’m serious, Mal: no thrilling heroics. You are to lie there and let me do the work, dong ma? I’d prefer not to spend the next hour holding your hand while the doctor re-closes your wound.” “Mouthy little wench,” he managed before she lowered herself onto his length. He groaned long and low, catching her hand in his, intertwining their fingers as she stretched to take him into her. She fit him like gloves: soft, silky-warm ones, like nothing he’d ever owned. He thrust his hips up to fill her, smiled as she rolled those pretty eyes at the ceiling. “You promised to behave,” she chided. He raised his brows, pressed his thumb between her thighs. “Oh, God, Mal.” “Inara.” Her name on his lips sounded like a prayer. Hell, he was feelin’ sorta holy his own self. “Mal.” She swiveled her hips in slow, languorous circles, bringing his fall about gently. When he came, he was whispering endearments, those Prussian blue eyes rolling back with pleasure as he spilled himself into her. He held her after, her small, rounded curves tucked tight against his torso. This, Inara bound up in his arms, was true Serenity. “Hey.” “Are you bleeding?” she murmured, drowsy. “Nah.” “Then go to sleep.” “I will. In a minute.” With his lips, he grazed her temple. “Gotta tell you somethin’ first.” “I’m listening,” she said warily. “I love you.” He felt her nestle closer. “I love you, too.” He fell into restful slumber for the first time in two months. *** They lingered over breakfast the following morning. Mal gave the crew a reluctant accounting of what transpired on Persephone. “Badger’s a problem, Sir.  Knows too much.” “Ai ya, Zoe.”  Mal mimed a shudder.  “Throw on some blue gloves when you say that.” “Nope, Zoe’s right.” “Got somethin’ to add, Lil’ Kaylee?” “Every time we deal with him, it goes bad.  Wouldn’t pay us our wages on the derelict transport gig.  Then there was the ruffly dress job.” “The ruffly—Kaylee, when did I put you in charge of job namin’?” “She’s right, Mal.”  Inara laid a hand on his thigh.  “You could have been killed in that duel.” “Not to defend our favorite crime lord, but I tend to blame Ath for the stabbing bit.  Want I should muss up his face some more?” “I’d rather you refrained,” she said sweetly. “Liar, liar, crime lord on fire.”  River smiled. “Um, guys?”  Simon glanced around the table.  “Can we focus perhaps?”  “Froofy dresses aside, the man can’t be trusted.”  Zoe met Mal’s gaze.  “Badger’s the one turned us over to the Tams.  And….” “Gideon,” Jayne growled. “Cora ‘swell,” Mal muttered, fixing his eyes on his hands. “Bad people tend to find us regular,” Kaylee murmured.  “An’ every time we ‘wave Badger—” “—we’re takin’ a risk,” Zoe finished. “You all don’t gotta convince me that Badger’s a bother.  I got me a smartin’ belly wound by way of reminder. Just that…figure I’ve enough blood on my hands for one lifetime.  Maybe a few lifetimes.  Still, lowlife should be taught a lesson.  Can’t just run about shootin’ folk.” “Lest you got a good reason,” Jayne chimed. “Well, yeah,” Mal agreed.  “I do believe we owe that man a beating.” “Let me handle this, Mal.” “What was that, Nara?” “You’re all occupied with more pressing matters; leave Badger to me”  She smiled darkly.  “Companions have ways of handling men who prove troublesome.” “Inara.  Not to sound like I’m layin’ out orders…but no way in hell my lettin’ you near that psycho.  In fact, you keep talkin’ crazy, I’m like to lock you in my bunk whilst we’re in flying distance.” “That why she’s always in your bunk, Mal?”  Jayne grinned lewdly. “That a topic you wanna discuss, Jayne?  Sleeping arrangements?”  He pushed back his chair, anticipating the way his knuckles would sting upon contact with Jayne’s face. “Mal.”  Inara dug her nails into his thigh. “Ow!” “Sit down, Captain.”  Simon clapped a hand on Mal’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Doc.  Did you just give me an order and then touch me?” “She’s my sister.  If anyone’s to pummel Jayne….” “Now that’s funny, Doc.  That’s funny ‘cuz way I see it, you ain’t been ‘handling’ the situation at all.” “That’s ‘cuz it ain’t his place.” “Why, thank you, Kaylee—” “Ain’t yours neither, Cap’n.” “This is my boat, Lil’ Kaylee.  Mine.  And that means—” “It doesn’t mean you can control everything that happens, Mal.” “Inara, I’m just tryin’ to protect—” “Children!”  They all glanced up.  River stood at her place, hands on hips.  “*I’m* nineteen.  And *I* think you’re all being immature.  What does that tell you?”  “River—” “Simon, shut up.”  She shoved in her chair.  “I love you.  Love you all.  But, sometimes you’re all such… biao zi de er zi!  Stay out of my life!”  She rushed from the room. “Girl, wait.” Jayne shoved back his chair and stomped after her. “Well,” Simon said when everyone had been silent awhile.  “That was—”  “Yup,” Kaylee agreed. “Huh,” Mal said.  “Well, one things for sure, Doc.  Seems you got your wish after all.  Kid’s finally actin’ like a normal teenager.” “Reckon she’ll be tellin’ us to drop dead soon enough.”  Zoe sighed.  “Makes me sorta glad my baby can only say ‘duck’.” “She wasn’t callin’ me a duck!” Mal protested. Kaylee sighed. “Oh, here we go again.” ***  Breathless, Inara burst into the darkened infirmary to find Kaylee waiting on the sofa. The girl looked so terribly forlorn, one teddy-bear patched thigh bent over the other, eyes wide and worried. “I’m so sorry, mei mei.” Inara crouched beside her, rested her hands in Kaylee’s lap. “How are you?” Kaylee just grinned. “You and the Cap’n get reacquainted some more after breakfast?” Inara smiled, cheeks still flushed with pleasure from their impromptu joining. In truth, she couldn’t hold Mal wholly responsible. She’d fairly attacked him that morning, sliding down his sleeping body to take him, already well-aroused, into her mouth. She stirred him with warm, slippery-wet kisses, had him moaning before he opened his eyes. He’d hauled her up his body with a violence designed to excite. He pressed her down into the blankets, explored her body with rough hands. “Mal.” She whimpered as he latched on to her nipple, three nimble fingers plunging inside her. “Oh, God. Mal, be careful. Your wound--” “Bi zui,” he growled. With a long, shuddery groan, he buried himself to the hilt in her heat. She clamped her legs around his waist, half sobbing as he thrust into her again and again. After breakfast, they didn’t even make it to the bed. He took her against the wall, their lovemaking a parallel to that frantic encounter two months ago. He was leaving her then, leaving Serenity. Now he was coming back to her. After she was sated, sore but pleasantly so. And she was late. Ai ya, she’d meant to meet Kaylee half an hour ago. She rearranged her clothes and, bussing a kiss over Mal’s cheek, hurried to the infirmary. Repentant, she collapsed beside Kaylee on the sofa, stroked a gentle hand over the girl’s hair. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mal’s feeling a little--” “Horny?” “I was going to say amorous.” Her eyes twinkled with mirth. Ai ya, she could still feel him inside her. “But horny works.” “Not nothin’ wrong with horny,” Kaylee agreed. Inara rose, tugged the younger woman up by the hands. “Ready to be stealthy?” “I can be stealthy,” Kaylee said, the waver in her voice conveying her uncertainty. “Of course you can,” Inara encouraged. “Mal doesn’t have the monopoly on stealth. Now: how does the good doctor organize his supplies?” “Wellll.” Kaylee squinted, thoughtful. “Mostly alphabet-ordered I think.” “Alphabetical. Okay.” “And anal.” “Alphabetical and anal.” Hiding a smile, Inara opened a drawer labeled M-P. “Let’s start with pregnancy.” Kaylee hissed in a breath. Inara turned, her expression soft, her gaze full of compassion. “It’s okay, honey. We don’t know anything yet.” “He ain’t ready. Oh, jeez, Nara. ‘S gonna be all stewed up o’er this! Already worries too much. Gonna worry himself right into a heart attack some day.” “He’s twenty-five years old, Kaylee. And from what I’ve seen of his physique I think we needn’t worry overmuch over his health.” “Ain’t right him havin’ those abs. Man don’t even exercise proper.” Inara raised a brow. “You complaining about your husband’s excellent abs, mei mei?” Kaylee giggled. “He’s real strong, Nara. Sometimes he lifts me right up and...nope! Not goin’ there. Goin’ there’s what got me *here* in the first place.” She hugged herself around the middle. Inara offered a sympathetic smile, went back to searching. “I found the test,” she said finally. “Under pregnancy?” “No.” Inara hesitated, eyed Kaylee with apology. “Under H for heart attack.” “Na-ra!” “Sweetie, I’m teasing. Try to calm down, alright? Take a nice, deep breath; good girl.” She took Kaylee by the hand. “This looks fairly comprehensive. We prick your finger, dab the blood on the applicator. Do you want help?” Kaylee looked faintly sick. “Does it gotta be a blood test?” “I--well--” “River?” Simon’s voice snaked around the corner, grew louder as he neared the infirmary. “River, you’re not playing in the infirmary, are you? I--oh. Kaylee, Inara. Is everything okay?” “Fine,” Inara lied, setting her mouth in a smile. “Good. I--is that a pregnancy test?” he asked, eyes narrowing on the applicator in Kaylee’s palm. “I, uh...well....” She turned pleading eyes on Inara. “Kaylee?” His eyes went wide. “You’re not...are you...?” *Oh, go suh.* Behind her back, Inara pricked her own finger on the needle, tried not to cringe. “This is my fault, Simon.” She showed him her fingertip, now crowned with a pearly drop of red. “I asked Kaylee to help me take a pregnancy test.” “You--you think you’re...?” “Maybe.” She smiled, lifted a shoulder. “I’m not certain.” Kaylee just gaped. “Inara...not to--meddle. But Mal...well, he was gone a-awhile. Just how late are you...if you don’t mind my asking?” Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. She blamed Mal for this. In more than two years, the man hadn’t taught her a single thing about stealth. “I didn’t--I’m not. Late I mean. It’s just...last night Mal was a bit, well, eager. I’m afraid neither of us thought to use protection.” “Okay.” He nodded, his manner at once gentle and professional. “Where are you in your cycle?” “I--I lost count.” She blushed, more from her own miserable performance than the embarrassing turn of topic. “Well, it’s a little early to tell.” Simon lifted her hand, smeared the dollop of blood over the applicator. “We can run another test tomorrow, assuming this one comes back negative.” He rummaged in a drawer, found a lime green bandage for her finger. The girls conducted a silent, meaningful dialogue with their eyes while his back was turned. “Inara? You know, you can come to me with these things. Like any of my patients, I’d respect your privacy. It doesn’t matter that Mal’s the captain; when you’re on my table, you come first. Okay?” She nodded, kissed his cheek. “You’re very sweet, Simon. Kaylee’s fortunate.” She fled the infirmary before he could offer to examine her. ***  TBC in Part 25. Girl needs feedback!!!


Sunday, April 23, 2006 4:01 PM


' “Reckon she’ll be tellin’ us to drop dead soon enough.” Zoe sighed. “Makes me sorta glad my baby can only say ‘duck’.”

“She wasn’t callin’ me a duck!” Mal protested.'

The whole duck thing was just freakin' hysterical. Another excellent installment. The only downside is having to wait another week for the next bit.

Sunday, April 23, 2006 4:11 PM


oh god. Simon is such a boob. Thought Inara would be a better actress than that, considering, but I guess under the circumstances... vair vair funny and well-written. I hope Badger gets dealt with, preferably slowly and painfully...

Sunday, April 23, 2006 4:23 PM


Inara didn't wait for the results did she? Is she going to get a big surprise or is Kaylee? Either way there will be heart attacks all around. Maybe doubly?

And don't forget to take care of Badger, will you?

Sunday, April 23, 2006 4:31 PM


Geez this was absolutely excellent! And wonderfully long (I like that in a fic). There were so many good parts that I can't possibly mention them all. But I loved River's little speech to the crew! And the pregnancy testing fiasco--hi-larious!

Can't wait til next week!

Sunday, April 23, 2006 5:58 PM


This is my favorite story. I loved this chapter. Please tell me Inara's pregnant. The look on Mal's face...

Nobody, not nobody, does Mal's voice as well as you.

Sunday, April 23, 2006 9:30 PM


This was great! I'm excited to have finally gotten to see Emmy, and to get some more of Mal's backstory. The reunion betwee Mal and Inara was very sweet, and I can't wait to see more. :)

Sunday, April 23, 2006 11:24 PM


Ok, review... Loved it. Love how you make the entire thing 'bout Mal's father etc fit beautifully throughout the entire series.
And I squeed with the ending (duh!)and awww for Raven's duh duh :p.
Can't wait for the next update!


Monday, April 24, 2006 12:26 AM


"Kitten, you’re sleepin’ with a criminal.”

Good god, you are a genius. Joss-worthy

Monday, April 24, 2006 3:41 AM


"If I don't have you,well...I think I might die.".....Loved it, great as always. You are wonderful at capturing all the characters, especially Mal and Inara. Looking forward to more.

Monday, April 24, 2006 4:04 AM


Loved it loved it loved. My favourite part was the Ducks!! So funny, but I knew it wouldn't end well when they realised what she was trying to say. So poignant! That last scene was hilarious, Inara running out before Simon could examine her, priceless! Can't wait ofr the next chapter. Keep it up and don't leave us hanging for too long.

Monday, April 24, 2006 6:22 AM


Now this was a nice, long chapter! Just lovely!

>“He’s real strong, Nara. Sometimes he lifts me right up and...nope! Not goin’ there. Goin’ there’s what got me *here* in the first place.” She hugged herself around the middle.

Oh, that was just a lovely image. And hysterical! Poor Kaylee. I bet Simon would surprise her if she told him she was pregnant.

Now wouldn't it be funny if Inara got a little surprise after taking that test.

And Simon fooled by the women! Hah!

Ahh, what would happen if they both ended up pregnant? More than one heart attack on the ship!

Excellent as always! Can't wait for more!

Monday, April 24, 2006 8:05 AM


Always look forward to the next installment- unpredictable twists and turns. Love it!

You've got I/M down so well! especially

"You're perched right on her shoulder"

Monday, April 24, 2006 8:55 AM


Super shiny and absolutely brillo pads, loved it to itty bitty pieces. Can't wait for the next part. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 3:00 AM


... she is, isn't she?

They both are, aren't they?

I love this story. It's been in my top ten Firefly longfics for a while but it's now firmly in the top three (along with Next of Kin at the author's livejournal and The Fish Job at mal4prez's page here All the characters are always perfectly portrayed in action and speech (especially Raven! duck, indeed!) and your plot ideas are astounding. Heartfelt congratulations.

Out of interest, do you ever write original fiction, or would you ever want to? With a talent like this you could do very well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 10:09 PM


this is Browncoat2006, it's yet another 3 a.m Kaynara fic readin' night, lol... I love the duck bit, frekin' hi-ster-ical. and as for the Badger bit... I know Nara said she'd take care of it but..... plz can it be Jayne?? PLZ??? One of his best quotes ever lends a ring of truth to my plea.... "pain is scary!" :P

Saturday, June 24, 2006 5:46 AM


now this would be where inara finds out she's pregnant...excellent, as always!!



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Water, Water Everywhere
This is a sort of companion piece to the first section of Two Times They Were Wet and Cold. It's also sort of crack!fic. While Mal and Inara were having a pleasant dialogue in the cargo hold, Kaylee and Simon spent some time getting to know each other in a broom closet. Takes place during the series. PG-13.

Stumbling Along
Post-BDM. Mal makes a delivery on a familiar moon. Inara reflects. M/I. PG-13

Two Times They Were Wet and Cold
Two things that never happened to Mal and Inara. X-posted to LJ for the Truthsome Ficathon.

Shore Leave or That Youthful Feeling
Post-BDM. The crew visits a drinking establishment on Beaumonde—no, not that one. Shameless Mal/Inara fluff ensues.

One-shot set after OIS. Kaylee/Simon. Response to the prompt: “Simon bent Kaylee over....”

Past and Present
Fluff-angsty little standalone. Post-BDM. Mal/Inara. PG-13.

This is a standalone set preseries (no Simon, sorry, Leiasky). I have no idea what kind of introduction to slap on this thing, so I'll just say, enjoy! Special thanks to Ann for curtailing the worst of my rambles. NC-17. Comments are love!

Just Another Day
Just another day on Serenity. Preseries. PG-13. Happy September 30th.

Standalone. Prompt: Leather. Simon, Mal/Inara. PG-13.

Bed and Wine: The Epilogue
Huh. That went well....