BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KAYNARA

Bed and Wine: Part 25
Sunday, April 30, 2006

Dreams and Nightmares. PG-13


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3488    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Bed and Wine: Part 25 By Kaynara *** Dreams and Nightmares. PG-13 *** As always, I’m indebted to Grimlock for his fine consulting skills. *** “No.” “Mal, if you’d just let me—” “I said no, Nara.  Now drop it.” She arched a delicately-shaped brow. “I’m sorry, Mal.  Did you just issue a command?” “Uh, yep. Believe I did.” She shook her head, dark eyes flashing. “You’re incredible.” “Why, thank you, kitten.” “I didn’t mean it as a compliment.” “No, don’t reckon you did.” “This isn’t the army, Mal; it’s a relationship.  You can’t just hand out orders.” “Yeah, I can.  It’s my boat.  My boat, my belly wound and my ta ma duh traitorous business associate.  Believe that makes it my call.” Despite herself, Inara smiled, rolled gleaming eyes at the ceiling. “You sound like Raven.  ‘My duck book, my cookie.’ ”  “Cupcake, you comparin’ me to a toddler?” “No.”  She smiled sweetly. “Before a year, they’re called infants.” He glared, pronounced his words with a low growl. “You, sweetheart, are hittin’ my last nerve ‘bout now.  Now I can understand you mistakin’ my very explicit order for a matter up for discussion.  Having never actually obeyed an order, you’re prolly a mite fuzzy on the protocol.  So let me be perfectly clear: under no condition are you to go after Badger, dong ma?”     Those pretty brown orbs weren’t just flashing now: they were snapping.  Mal cringed, steeling against the impending tongue-lashing.  He watched her stand, figure curving over the table, hands grasping the sides for support. “How dare you--” “Morning.” They both turned at Simon’s innocuous greeting.  The doctor was scanning med journals while he walked, a rather hazardous habit that resulted more often than not in mid-corridor collisions.  He wandered toward the stove without sparing either of them a second glance. Mal returned his gaze to Inara, hoping she’d start shouting again.  He’d rather finish this fight than have it linger.  It was still early.  If they got it out now, things could be on the mend by bedtime.  “You were saying, sweetheart?”  He added emphasis to the last word, deliberately goading her.  Unfortunately, she seemed to prefer chewing him out in private. “We’ll talk about this later,” she said, returning to her seat.  She sipped her tea and ignored him. “I can’t wait,” he muttered, glowering into his coffee.  “Doc, you finish ‘nocking everyone yet?” “All but you, Captain.  Still, it’s a couple more days to Bellerophon, right?” “Hmm,” Mal agreed.  He was feeling distinctly sulky. “Good.”  Simon nodded, tugging uncomfortably at his left ear.  “Inara?  Why don’t you stop by sometime this morning?  My records show it’s been a while since your last check up.” Mal glanced up, frustration forgotten in favor of concern. “You sick?” “I—I’m fine.”  She blinked at Simon in surprise.  “I don’t need to be examined.” “Are you, um, are you sure?”  Simon met her gaze.  He raised a brow. “Oh!”  She bit her lip, but it was too late.  *Oh, go suh.* “What’s she need examining for?”  Mal stretched across the table to stroke the back of her hand.  “Inara?  What’s wrong?” he asked more softly. “Nothing!”  She met Simon’s eyes, begging for help. *Kaylee, meimei—you owe me, my dear.*  “Really, Mal.  I’m fine.” “She is...Captain.”  Simon seemed to recover his voice.  “Just a routine physical, nothing out of the ordinary.” Poor Simon.  Inara felt her lips curve.  He really was a terrible liar.  Mal looked less than convinced. “It’s nothing,” she promised.  She met his eyes, made her own appear guileless.  “Just…feminine issues.”  She shrugged.  “Cycles.” “Oh.”  Mal turned faintly pink, lowered his gaze to his plate.  “Well, then.  Good.  You two, uh, you do that then.” “Hey, Cap’n, Nara.”  Kaylee bounced into the galley, stopped by Simon’s place to kiss him full on the mouth.  “Hey, sweetie.” “Good morning.”  Simon ignored Mal’s eye roll, tugged out a chair for her to sit.  “Sleep well?” “Mm-hmm!  Nara?  Can I see you in the, um, other part of the kitchen a sec?” “I—of course.”  Inara rose and followed Kaylee to the stove. “Hold it.”  Mal eyed the pair suspiciously.  “There somethin’ you two wanna share with the group?” “No, Cap’n.”  Kaylee regarded him, all sunshine and sweetness.  “Just, ya know--girl stuff.” “Uh huh.”  Mal watched the ladies huddle in front of the sink.  Kaylee murmured something punctuated with shrieks.  “Oh, Kaylee.  You’re happy, right?” She brushed Kaylee’s tangled hair back from her eyes. ”This is good news?” “The shiniest.” Kaylee beamed. “Not that...not never, I mean. Just not--” “Not today?” Inara guessed. Kaylee nodded, and they giggled some. “Doc.”  Mal leaned over the table.  “You ever get the feelin’ there’s a few too many females on this boat?” “My sister’s a government-trained assassin, and my wife has access to power tools.  I fear answering that question may be hazardous to my health.” Mal smirked. “Coward.” *** It was scarcely daylight when she appeared on her doorstep.  Even in the dim morning light, Esmerelda could make out the new lines around the woman’s eyes. “You left without telling me!  I didn’t know where you’d gone or when you’d be back…I was so afraid I’d have the babies while you were away.  I don’t know what I’d do if…if…” “Stop that.  Stop that right now.”  Esmerelda guided the young woman she considered a daughter inside, settled her on the velvet settee before the fire.  “All this strain can’t be good for the babies.” “Do you know what else is bad for the babies?  Blue hands rooting around in their brains, Emmy.  Sharp hands with scalpels for fingers, rooting, digging.  Oh, God, I sound crazy.” “You aren’t crazy.” “Isn’t that what you say to a crazy person?” Hush.”  Emmy smoothed strawberry-blonde hair back from a furrowed brow, tilted the girl’s chin to meet her gaze.  “I know you, Rebecca.  You aren’t one of those simpering Core wives.  You wouldn’t act this way without cause.” “I don’t know anymore.” She choked on a sob.  “I don’t know anything!” “Hush.”  Emmy made her eyes soothing, her beauty soft and warm and welcoming.  “Tell me what’s wrong.  A few months ago, you confided a suspicion that the Alliance had some malevolent motive for impregnating you with those embryos.  You asked me not to question you further, and I respected your wishes.  But now—Becca, I’m worried for you, darling.  Look at yourself: you’re exhausted, shaking. Have you been sleeping?” Rebecca almost laughed.  She couldn’t sleep: sleep was when the dreams came. “Trust me with this, mei-mei.  I can’t help you if you won’t trust me.” Rebecca looked up, face twisting as sobs made her pretty features ugly. “I’m going to brew some tea.  Then you’ll tell me everything.”  It wasn’t a question. Emmy left the girl shuddering on the sofa.  She tried not to let her hands shake as they filled the kettle.  She’d seen the effects of Alliance meddling.  She couldn’t bear to see it touch that which she thought of as hers.  In two marriages—the first tragic, too-short, and difficult the second long and easy and a lie—she’d had no children of her own.  She suffered no womanly affliction.  She simply chose to remain childless.  From girlhood, Emmy had looked upon pregnancy and motherhood as something to dread.  To her, bearing the children of a man—any man—meant a loss of control.  She refused to let her body betray her that way, took steps to ensure it never would.  A part of her regretted it when Quentin died, mourned that she wouldn’t be left with even a piece of him.  But in a sense, she was grateful.  She didn’t want the responsibility of raising Quentin’s child, was secretly relieved when Mary Reynolds rejected her offer to rear Malcom as her own.  Esmerelda Webb Fitzgerald was many things.  Sister.  Lover.  Companion.  Murderess.  She was not, however, a mother.  With Aston, she adopted more severe measures to ensure she never bore him a child.  He swore her barrenness didn’t matter, promised she was enough for him.  It was a truth—one of the few they’d tell each other in the thirty years they were man and wife.  Emmy was a career-enhancing asset all her own; children would do nothing for Aston that she herself could not. After she killed him, she was fiercely grateful for their lack of offspring.  It wasn’t that she’d hold the father’s betrayal against the child.  She didn’t *think* she’d do that.  She also didn’t think she could look her own child in the eye, look at it and deny murdering its father. Before she contracted with Quentin Webb—handsome young senator, idealist and dreamer—Emmy was content in her world.  After him, she was never content again, not in any world, any role, any bed.  She knew she’d been meant to live out her life as Companion, fall in love a hundred times and fall out again with the sunrise.  A Companion could experience attachment, lust, love even.  But it was fleeting, ephemeral as the brush of a bird’s wings on a still pond, a young girl’s virginity.  Even at twenty, she knew enough to know she hadn’t the capacity for deep and abiding love.  In earnest, she didn’t want the burden of caring more for any one person than for humanity as a whole.  She never wanted a child.  Now there were two she considered her children.  And against her will, she worried for them both. She was just glad she’d had the luxury of seeing Mal once with her own eyes.  Bullet-wound notwithstanding, he seemed healthy, strong.  Furtive maybe, but she would have expected that from one who lived as he did.  He had a presence about him: sex and power and potency.  And yet she could see something very little-boy beneath all that hardness. She could see his father. Even now the memory made her smile.  Yes, Malcom was okay.  She’d put him aside, concentrate on the hysterical young woman in her sitting room. “Becca?”  Emmy nudged the door open with knee, backed in carrying a tray with plates and saucers.  “The tea’s still steeping; would you like something to eat?” Emmy looked around, felt her breath hitch when she saw Rebecca. The younger woman was curled fetal on the floor, face hidden in her hands. “Merciful Buddha.”  Emmy went to the girl, draped a heavy afghan over her shoulders.  Gently, she lifted the girl’s head, lowered it to her lap.  “Shh.  It’s all right.” Rebecca murmured to herself, soft and nonsensical, as Emmy stroked her back through the blanket.  “Tell me what’s wrong.” “I can’t. I shouldn’t even be here.  Oh, God, what if they try to hurt you too?” “Rebecca.”  She made her voice firm.  “Who are they?” “I don’t know.  I don’t even know that!  But they’re terrible.  They wield scalpels in their bright blue hands and they…do things. They hurt people.  Not just the babies—there’ve been others.”  “I don’t understand, sweetheart.  Did someone touch you?  Did they try to harm the twins?” “Not yet.  But…I can see them doing it.” “Like a nightmare?” Emmy coaxed.  “A bad dream?” “That’s the thing, Emmy.”  Rebecca glanced up, eyes soft and glazed.  “I don’t think it was even my dream.” *** They came every night, came unbidden to crawl into bed with her and Rex.  Like leeches, the dreams suckled at her happiness, fed from joy that was rightly hers.  She’d wanted a child so long, so hard.  She never thought she’d reject the ones God gave her. But it wasn’t God who gave her these babies; it was man. Mankind with all his fleshly flaws. And like their mother—for surely they were *her* dreams, her eyes and ears and blood—Rebecca had begun to wish the babies away.  It wasn’t about ending their lives; it was about saving them. In the beginning, the messages were stronger: *Selfish.  Abomination  Daddy’s smile and Mama’s broken brain. Oh, God!* Over time, the message altered. *Innocent. Pretty. Oh!  Don’t you see? I can’t, I can’t!* Now the mothers’ voices mingled, merged until Rebecca was no longer certain which thoughts were her own and which belonged to a woman millions of miles away.  The girl child was beautiful in an ethereal way: pale skin and dark hair, waving, flowing.  She was small and graceful, mermaid-cold.  They stuck needles in her pretty face and made her scream.    The boy’s features were prettier than his father’s. He had a wicked temper, struck out at everyone save his sister. He seemed to realize she was wrong in the head, battered and bruised and bled. The way she was wasn’t the way she should be, and knowing that hurt him.   Only once did Rebecca hear their voices. The girl spoke in riddles, sweet singsongy warnings that meant nothing. The boy’s voice was cruel and hollow, the sort of evil you felt sorry for. “It’s too risky to let them live.” A long, agonized sigh. “Shoot them all, then blow up the ship.” When she encountered her children in the dream world, they seemed not to know her. They called her mother but looked upon her with no warmth in their eyes. They didn’t hate her; she was simply nothing to them. “You aren’t crazy,” Emmy maintained. “I’ve encountered crazy a time or two, and you aren’t that, my dear. But perhaps--perhaps your subconscious mind is playing tricks on you. The dreams could be a way of working through your fears.” “I don’t think they’re dreams, Emmy.” She fished a tissue from the pocket of her sweater, pressed the crumpled cotton against her nose. “I’m afraid they’re the future.” “Predicting the future is impossible. That’s the beauty of the future: it can be altered.” “Yes. I think I’m meant to alter it.” “Rebecca.” Emmy met the younger woman’s gaze. “The girl who supplied the eggs: what’s her name, Becca?” “A woman called River.  River Tam. Except, actually...actually, she’s hardly more than a girl.” Emmy felt a cold sludge sluice through her veins. Her throat hurt, felt so tight she could hardly push out the words. “And the father?  Do you know his name?” she whispered. Rebecca looked remorseful. She lowered her pretty lashes to the floor. “I think Malcom Reynolds is their father.” ***  She sat on the exam table, watching as Simon prepped the test. She felt guilty for deceiving him this way. Still, she’d concocted this silly story, had, for Kaylee’s sake, to follow through to the inevitable conclusion. At least things turned out well for her friend. The girl wanted a few years to enjoy her husband, her marriage. Sweet Kaylee, she deserved that. “Hold out your hand.” He made her laugh over something silly, pricked her finger so fast she hardly felt the sting. “Okay. It’ll just be a few minutes.” She smiled her thanks. “Just out of curiosity, Inara...what sort of punishment had you in mind for our classy crimelord friend?” “Why Doctor Tam. Do I detect a sadistic streak?” she teased. “We can’t all be masochists like Mal.” She laughed. “Inara...what are you planning?” “I don’t know how familiar you are with Companion culture....” “I’m afraid not very.” “How about Sihonese history?” “Mm, let’s see. The Allied core--Londinium, Ariel and Osiris--married with Sihnon before pushing to the outer rim. Sihnon fought alongside the Alliance for unification. After the war, the Alliance appointed twin emperors, one to rule from Londinium, one from Sihnon. I’m sorry, I can’t remember any specifics.” He shrugged, apologetic. “I should have paid more attention in my history lessons. Perhaps had I anticipated my life on the run....” She laughed. “You covered the essentials. My own knowledge leans more toward the Guild’s role in these events. You see, the Guild partnered with the Alliance long before anyone took up arms. In fact, the Companions had little choice but to submit; had they refused and the Alliance emerged victorious....well, we would have been shut down. It was a mutually beneficial business relationship; the Guild helped the Alliance establish a powerbase on Sihnon; in exchange, the Alliance agreed to defend the Guild’s interests and support its continued legality. “Still, the Alliance did little to protect us in the years following the War. There was a famous case in 2512--a high-ranking Companion of House Madrassa was raped by a prominent military official. The Guild had witnesses, physical evidence. The Alliance failed to punish the officer in a satisfactory manner. Instead of bowing down in defeat, the Companions opted to take justice in their own hands. They commissioned the development of several designer viruses. Have you ever heard of Era Nex?” “Lady death?” “You know your Latin, Doctor.” “How does it work?” he asked quietly. “The virus enters the body through the bloodstream, lies dormant in the carrier’s mucosal glands and passes to the intended victim through sexual intercourse. It’s proven a reliable method of dealing with...with men who aren’t that: aren’t men. All registered Companions are immunized; we--they--all carry a supply.” “You--you have this substance on board?” “I still have contacts, friends.” She shrugged a delicate shoulder. “After the Alliance boarded Serenity last year, I started carrying a syringe in my purse.” Simon just nodded. “Have you ever used it?” “I’ve never injected myself. Once I gave a small dose intravenously to someone else...someone who had to be stopped. It wasn’t enough to kill him. I didn’t give him that much of....But it accomplished the desired task. It--disabled him.” “Inara...are you alright?” She smiled. “You’re very sweet, Simon.” “Not so sweet as to regret what you did to your hwoon dan of a father.” She raised a brow, tried to keep her tone light. “Sweet and shrewd.” “But that’s not your plan for Badger.” She smiled back. “I have something special in mind for Badger.” Simon eyed her, half horrified, half impressed. “So I take it Mal isn’t a fan of this little scheme...?” She snorted, somehow made it ladylike. “Stupid question.” He glanced at his wristwatch, took a breath. “Are you ready for the results?” Her lips curved. “I await them with bated breath, Doctor.” “One pregnancy test: coming up.” “Uh, what was that?” They both looked up to find the captain lingering in the doorway. “One what test?” Mal repeated. “Mal,” Simon tried. “It’s really not appropriate for you to be here right now.” “That’s good, Doctor--you tellin’ me what’s appropriate on my own damn boat. Nara, what’s goin’ on?” “I--nothing. Why are you spying on me?” “Spying? Ha! I don’t spy, darlin’. Had affairs in the cargo bay and was wanderin’ past these parts when I heard a certain medic mumblin’ bout pregnancy. That’s a word tends to arouse a man’s attention, sweetie-pie.” “And of course there can be nothing on this ship that occurs without the great Captain Reynolds’ express approval!” “And I didn’t approve a pregnancy test!” “Dammit, Mal! Stop trying to control everything! Gorramn dictatorial, controlling--” “Oh, I’m controlling?!” “Yes!” “I’m controlling!” “Yes!” “Stop...stop saying yes! Inara, I’m just tryin’ to keep you breathing! If you’d take a minute and think about--” “--won’t even listen to my idea! Unbending, mule-headed--” “--damned unyielding woman--” “--obstinate man! You act like you’re still in the war, Mal! As if everything’s secret, classified infor--” “*I* act like everything’s...?! You wanna talk secrets, sweetheart? You’re the one sneakin’ about, taking private pregnancy tests--” “I am *not* sneaking!” “Uh, guys?” Kaylee appeared in the doorway, ventured a tentative step into the infirmary. “What’s goin’ on here?” “I’d be interested in knowin’ that my own self.” “Nothing’s going on, Mal. I’m not pregnant. Right, Simon?” Three sets of eyes turned to regard the doctor. “Um.” Simon developed a profound interest in his shoes. He tapped his foot, one hand creeping up near his ear. “W-well.” “It’s fine, Simon. I waive my rights to doctor-patient privilege.” Inara rolled her eyes at the ceiling. “Just tell Mal I’m not pregnant so he’ll go away. *Far* away.” They exchanged venomous glares. From the doorway, an increasingly repentant Kaylee watched Inara fume, watched the Captain scowl. She wasn’t too flustered by their squabbling; after all, this was hardly the first time they’d disagreed, wouldn’t likely be the last. No, Kaylee’s discomfort stemmed mainly from her husband’s all-too-transparent body language. Simon was squirming something fierce. It was a sight with which Kaylee was reasonably familiar. He was swai when he got all nervy, his cheeks goin’ a peachy-pink, his mouth scrambling to form words. Yep, that was squirming alright. Oh, Holy Hell, that could only mean.... Kaylee began to regret sincerely her part in this mess. Poor Nara, just tryin’ to help...just tryin’ to make things easier. Kaylee vowed to get her a really shiny baby gift. “Simon?” Inara seemed finally to realize the doctor’s silence. Kaylee felt her chest flutter as her friend’s face went white. “Simon?” Inara repeated, softer this time. “Congratulations,” he managed at last. He grabbed Kaylee’s elbow, hurried her out of the room before the shouting started. *** Dumfounded, Mal stared after the doctor for several seconds. When he at last turned back to Inara, she was ghost-pale and trembling. Her eyes, twin inky pools, betrayed nothing. “This settles it: you’re not goin’ after Badger.” It was his first lucid thought. One of these days, he’d quit blurtin’ out the first thing popped into his head. Clearly that day wasn’t today. He folded his arms, tried to appear more captainy. Inara spared him a single, derisive glance before snorting out a laugh. She started to giggle, the peals causing her shoulders to shake. She bent forward at the waist, laughing so hard her ribs hurt. “What--what is so damn funny?” he demanded. She shook her head, unable even to speak. Finally, she just gave up and sat on the floor, leaving Mal to gape at her from above. “Inara.” He hesitated, unsure whether to stand up straighter or join her on the ground. “Stop that.” “Too...too funny. I was just doing it as a favor...Kaylee. She thought....thought she was....” She shook her head again, laughing so hard her eyes began to tear. Gingerly, Mal lowered himself to the floor. In truth, he hadn’t the faintest of notions what was happening just now. Still, somethin’ told him this was one o’ those key relationship moments: defining and all that. Clearly, they had to be on the ground. “Inara. Why the hell didn’t you tell me?” It wasn’t an accusation, just genuine bewilderment. She sighed, tried to choke back another stream of giggles. “Now, look.” He was starting to get miffed. “I know things have been a little strained lately what with all the...strain. But, well, you thinkin’ you might be...with the baby-carryin’...don’t you think that merits a moment’s discussion?” “I couldn’t tell you, Mal,” she managed at last. “I didn’t know myself.” “Whadda ya mean you didn’t know. You were here takin’ the test, weren’t ya?” “You don’t understand.” “Uh, no. Think that’s pretty blatant.” “Listen to me, Mal. Kaylee thought she was pregnant. That’s why I was taking the test--” “Inara.” He blinked several times. “I know you girls are close...but that...that makes the kind of sense that ain’t. Wait a second, Kaylee’s not--?” “No. It was a false alarm.” “Huh. Well, that’s some kind of relief. I don’t get it, though. How’d this happen?” Beneath her lashes, she flashed him a pointed glare. “Well, okay, I know how it happened. You got any notion of when?” She lifted her shoulder. “Maybe that first morning. We weren’t exactly careful.” “I can recall a few times we weren’t exactly careful. Still, I thought...thought you couldn’t....” In an instinctive gesture, Inara’s hand curved over her belly. Amidst all the commotion--the initial shock, her half-hysterical laughter at the absurdity of the situation--her mind had little chance to fixate on the actual baby. Merciful Buddha, she was carrying Mal’s child. She had a very Mal-esque reaction to that notion: Huh. She almost giggled again, decided it would be unwise. “I couldn’t. I thought I couldn’t....” She shook her head, the giggly tears turning to the other kind. Mal leaned over to stroke her hand. It felt all manner o’ weird deliverin’ these awkward little hand pats, what with him responsible for the life growing inside her. He had a sudden, urgent desire to gather her up in his lap, hold her and their baby both. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “Sorry? What the hell do you got to be sorry for?” “I--I don’t know.” “Well, quit it! You weren’t the only one in that bed, sweetheart. Or, you know, ‘gainst the wall. On the floor. In the shower.” He shrugged. “Wherever. You get my meaning. Ain’t your fault any more ‘n it’s mine.” She nodded, the light of realization dawning. “I see. So now we’re looking to assign fault. Well, that’s a lovely little tale to tell the baby. Your Mama realized she was pregnant. Then she and Daddy tried to decide whose fault it was.” “What? Inara--that ain’t even....” Mal took a long, slow breath. “Okay, clearly ‘fault’ was the wrong word there. I’m just...I ain’t had much time to get used to the idea.” “You’ve had as much time as I!” “And you’re sittin’ on the floor bawling!” He stopped, took another of those clarifying breaths that didn’t help worth a damn. Shiny, Mal. Yell at your pregnant girlfriend. Real sweet. “Honey, I didn’t mean--” “Mal, I’m scared.” Her eyes were huge, gold specks glistening in the black. “Yeah. Yeah, me too. C’mere.” He took her into his lap, relieved when she came willingly. “Hey. Hey, it’s okay. Ai ya, reckon it’s more ‘n just okay. Inara.” He cupped her chin. “It’s...it’s incredible.” “You’re really happy, Mal?” “Well, let’s see. ‘Fore this, my day was gonna be lecturin’ the little albatross, beatin’ Jayne senseless and dishes. Now...well, might just let the dishes sit awhile. Cuz you...well, you’re carryin’ my kid. Reckon this is a good day.” He poked her ribs, absurdly pleased when she smiled. “How ‘bout you? You think it’ll be Godawful? Baby that’s a little you and a little me? Well, hopefully not too much me. I, uh. This might not be the best time to tell you, darlin’. I was a little wild as a lad.” She smiled, took the opportunity to evade his eyeline. She needed time with this, time to think and reflect. “I never would have guessed, Mal. You’ve grown into such a law-abiding--oh!” She tugged at his suspenders. “We have to ‘wave your sister.” “What? Now?” “Before she left Serenity, she made me swear, Mal...I was supposed to tell her before you.” *** She shook his shoulder, dug her fingernails into flesh. "Jayne.  Wake up."  She watched him thrash.  Her pain.  Shouldn't have been his. "Jayne," she pleaded. He jerked awake finally, his face red, his chest warm and slick with sweat. "Huh!"  He raked his fingers through his hair, sat forward on the bed gasping. "Sorry," she whispered.  "I'm sorry." She tried to pet his arm.  He shook her off without thinking.  Then he caught a glimpse of her face.  His reprimand came off soft. "You don't gotta worry over me.  Just a dream, girl.  And Jayne ain't one to be made a pussy over a g’ramn nightmare." He stood up, tugged his pants up over his hips. "You were screaming," she whispered. Damp lengths of hair stuck to her mouth. "It isn't fair." "Well, who said life was fair, huh?"  He scooped her sleep-mussed hair back with his fingers, brushed a rough kiss along her temple.  "I, uh...gonna go for a walk, girl." "I'm sorry," she said again.  "Never wanted you to see.” He was already halfway up the hatch and pretended not to hear. She burrowed into the blankets, absorbing the last remnants of his body heat. She shivered, her small frame suddenly as ice. She missed the big hands curving around her ribs, the hot breath on the nape of her neck. Jayne Cobb kept his promise; after the rutting, he always held her.   Saw too much though. Saw her secret bits: needle in the face; electrodes to the nipple; the sour-blue flavor of latex on her lips. They pried open her mouth to make her speak. Trembling in his arms after orgasm, she felt no demons. Like a new butterfly, she clung to her cocoon of big arms and hard flesh and gruff words. Wrapped up in him, she was saved. It was wrong though, unfair that he should suffer while she crept exquisitely through the maze of his dreams. She loved their physicality: the taste of hot cornbread, crumbly on the tongue and creamy with melted butter; the strong smell of paint on a white-picket fence; the salty-sweet flavor of the soft spot hidden behind a woman’s ear. Some nights she could kiss the name Jo from his lips. Other nights his mouth mouthed Caroline. Dreams like that ought to be common property, passed like pastries from one sleeper to the next, savored and shared like lemon bars. But bad dreams: bad dreams should stay true to their owners. River didn’t shirk her memories: the flashes of past that came to her as easily in daylight as in darkness. She just wished her demons would remain her own. But they didn’t. They invaded Jayne. They insinuated themselves into a gentle, red-haired woman thirty worlds away. Guilty, River pressed her tear-streaked cheek into the fleshy pad of Jayne’s pillow. "Nightmares show no loyalty,” she whispered. *** They sat up on the sofas long after the others had gone to bed.  Mal laid his head in her lap, whispered to her midsection while she stroked his hair.  She couldn’t hear his words, only knew he was speaking by the tingling brush of his lips on her bare belly. “What are you telling our child?” she inquired. “Not to believe anything her mama says ‘bout me.” “Her?  How do you know it’s a girl?” “Heh.”  He shrugged.  “My life’s always been pretty well populated with womenfolk.”  She raised a brow. “Not like that.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Just, well Ma raised me on her lonesome.  Well, her and Carly.  Then it was Zoe and me all through the War.  Got me a woman pilot, woman mechanic.  And, course, there’s you. You’re about as female as they come.” She laughed. “I’m not sure whether that was a compliment.” He lifted her hand to his lips, pressed a kiss over her knuckles. “You aren’t glad.  Not fully anyways.” For someone oftentimes dense as a Sihonese dictionary…well, Mal could be painfully perceptive.  Sometimes he could penetrate her with a look.  Just now, those crystal-blue eyes breached her soul, piercing the place that was hot and hurting and hollow. “Do I have to be?” she asked.  “Fully glad?” “Nope.”  He kissed her fingers.  “I wasn’t sure you’d understand.” “I can be sensitive.  In a strong, masculine way, course.” “Oh, of course.” They smiled. “Just…well, reckon this strikes you different from me.” “Yes,” she agreed. “It does.” “Inara.”  He reached up, cupped her face in one palm.  “I swear to you, sweetheart.  I will keep you and our baby safe.  I’ll do everything in my power to protect the both of you.” “I know you will, Mal.” “Inara...not to say I’d go along with this--cuz I might not, probably won’t--but just outta curiosity, what was your plan for Badger?” “Well, I--” “Cap’n.  Nara.”  They glanced up to find the big man loitering in the entryway, empty Blue Sun mug in hand. “Jayne.”  Mal nodded, trying for as much cool dignity as he could muster with his head in Inara’s lap. “Sorry to interrupt your, uh, whatever it is you got goin’ there, Mal.  Nara, you know any advice for beverages can put a man at his ease.” “Are you having trouble sleeping, Jayne?” “Somethin’ like that.  You got any fancy tea or some such?” “I’ll brew you a mug.”  She pushed Mal’s head off her lap, ignoring his moan of protest.  “You have to promise to drink it all down.” “Well, I ain’t one to turn down free tea.  ‘Specially the kind I don’t gotta make myself.” “I’ll just be a moment.”  She retrieved Jayne’s mug, nudged him toward the sofa.  “Sit down, Jayne.  Keep the captain company while I’m gone.” She shot Mal a pointed glare and left them, the skirts of her robe sweeping over the floorboards. “Guess congratulations are in order,” Jayne said at length. “You two, uh...you plan to have a--?” Mal slid him a sidelong glance. “Well, either way, reckon it’s shiny.” “Uh huh. She’s nineteen years old, Jayne.” His voice was deathly quiet. “Wondered when you and me was gonna have this talk. Well, Mal? Go ahead and do what you’re aimin’ at. Feel like punchin’ me? Maybehaps Lil’ Kaylee can lend you a wrench.” “Yeah. Maybehaps.” “I treat her good, Mal. Maybe you don’t notice. Or care. But I do.” “Yeah, Jayne. Reckon you ain’t often treated ‘em as whores. Still, don’t much change their purpose.” “Ain’t like I seduced her, Mal.” “No, don’t imagine our River could be swayed by wiles. Even ones winsome as yours.” “Dammit, Mal! She asked me.” “And you just had to help her!” Mal lowered his voice to a whisper. “Never knew you was so selfless, Jayne.” “Whadda ya gonna do with me, Mal? Shoot me? Toss me off your ship?” “Ain’t rightly sure.  There’s a part of me has a powerful need to beat on you.” Jayne snorted. “Wouldn’t be the first time. How ‘bout that other part?” That other part passed years lyin’ dead in a trench.  That part spent too damn long sleeping alone in the mud and filth and wreckage that was his life. Then she came along and changed it. Inara. She breathed air into his lungs and made his atrophied muscles feel. Before her, his sole aim was survival; after, he wanted to live. When he came upon his albatross in that hospital room, he knew exactly where she was at ‘cuz he’d been there a time or two himself. Hell, he’d made his gorramn home there. He’d looked upon her broken face and leaky eyes, and nearly started sobbing his own self. She was too damn young to live in Hell. But he didn’t know how to pull her out. And yet somehow Jayne had done it, accomplished what none of the others could, not the doc with his meds nor Kaylee with her smiles. “The other part wants to know how in the ‘verse you did it.  Ain’t ever seen the girl so...well, normal. Don’t make a lick of sense, and yet....” Mal shrugged. “Jesus, Jayne. I’m like to sleep with you my own self.” Jayne shrugged. “Guess there ain’t much accounting for taste. Hell, Mal.” He tried a smile, testing. “Look at you and Nara.” Mal watched the woman who deemed him worthy glide back into the common room, two steaming mugs in hand. She set one before each of them. “The bitter flavor is intentional.” She regarded them like a stern schoolteacher, the warmth in her tone softening the words. No, not schoolteacher. More like somebody’s mama. “No complaining, either of you.” Mal lifted the tea, swallowed a mouthful and promptly seared his tongue. “She is fickle, Jayne.” “Who’s fickle?” Inara asked. “The Mistress of Taste.” She crinkled her nose quizzically as the men laughed. *** She decided she’d go down on him first, figuring he’d be more forgiving after. Not that she’d deceived him, exactly. Not much, anyway. Kaylee sighed, pressed one last kiss to his hipbone. She was a big, fat...deceiving thing. She regarded him mournfully from beneath her lashes. “Simon?” He was still breathin’ kinda heavy. Kaylee bit gentle-like at the skin of his belly. “You conscious yet, Baby?” Baby. She felt a twinge of guilt. Guilt and something that may have been--probably wasn’t--but maybe, maybe might have been regret. “Any minute now,” Simon assured. On a groan, he hauled her up his body. He pressed a kiss to her nose and snuggled her into his chest. Sleepy-like, he nuzzled her neck. Kaylee let out a sigh. It was all the cap’n’s fault, really. Seein’ the man so happy--really threw a girl for a loop. He didn’t say nothin’, not with words anyway; just sat there tryin’ to look stern while Nara made the announcement. After he smiled alot, as though he couldn’t quite help himself. He’d blushed when Kaylee hugged him, when Zoe in a strange show of sentiment bent to kiss his cheek and again when River slapped his back, murmured, “Way to go, Stud.” The others seemed sorta taken aback, but Inara just laughed, squeezed the cap’n’s hand under the table. Yep, she blamed Mal for this, for her havin’ second thoughts if they were that. Was all his fault for grinnin’ that way, for every few minutes smoothing a hand down Nara’s back, sliding around to palm her belly when he thought no one watching. Sometimes Kaylee forgot the cap’n was how old he was. In a way, he stopped aging and everything else after the War. He came alive some when Nara signed on to rent the shuttle. She stirred somethin’ up in him--mostly anger at first, but still: anger was somethin’ when for long years you didn’t feel nothin’. When the two of ‘em finally gave in and got to the sexing...well, Cap’n came alive a good bit more. Wasn’t so strange then, him wanting a little one now. A little one that was here on Serenity, not lost somewhere in the Black. A little one created out of messy, complicated love. Whatever created River’s baby was complicated too. But it surely weren’t love. Love meant trust. And if you looked up trust in the dictionary...well, likely said somethin’ ‘bout not takin’ pregnancy tests behind your husband’s back, even if--no, especially if--he was also your medic. Even if he was sorta uptight. “Honey? I gotta say somethin’.” “I’m listening. The snoring is in no way I sign that I’m not listening.” “Oh, gawd! I thought I married Simon, not Wash!” “Would you prefer I behave like Mal? ‘Dammit, Kaylee, go fix the whatchamacallit. And don’t smile, don’t you dare smile. No one smiles on my boat, dong ma? No smiling...and no sex.’ ’” Wide-eyed, she giggled, snaked a hand around to tickle his ribs. “That’s pretty good, honey. Simon?” “Hmm?” “Are you gonna deliver Nara’s baby?” He smiled, quizzical. “Unless you’d like to take this one.” “I just meant...won’t try to go to a hospital? If’n there’s time and, well, a hospital?” “W-well, I suppose we could...try, I mean. It’s up to them, I guess. Actually, it’s an interesting point of debate. I’m not sure which idea would distress the captain more. His baby being born in a core world? Or me being the one to deliver it? It’s rather fascinating, really.” Kaylee giggled again. “Simon, would you...would you deliver my baby?” “Who’s the father?” he teased. “Simon!” “I’m kidding, Kaylee. Of course I would.” “Oh.” “You don’t want me to deliver your hypothetical child?” “Well, no, just...it’s kinda squicky, Simon.” “Squicky?” Simon looked offended. “I’m a doctor, Kaylee.” “Even so. There’s just some stuff a husband shouldn’t do.” “I see. Well, who would you like to deliver your theoretical baby? Inara? Zoe? Hey, there’s always, Jayne--” “I’m not pregnant, Simon.” Simon blinked. “Okay. Kaylee, I wasn’t seriously suggesting--” “I’m not...but I thought I was. When you found Nara and me in the infirmary that day...I was the one needed the test. I was a few days late, and I...I started feelin’ a bit jittery. I shoulda told you.” She looked at her hands, ashamed. “You, um. You’re certain you aren’t...?” “I’m certain.” “Hmm.” “You mad at me, Simon?” “No.” “Don’t sound so sure,” she pressed. “I guess I’m a little hurt.” He braced himself on his elbows. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Figured you had enough on your mind, what with River and all. Didn’t wanna worry you unnecessary-like. Knew you’d be upset.” “Upset?” She shrugged. “You aren’t ready.” “And you...you want a--?” “Ain’t so sure. Just...they seem so in love. Inara and the Cap’n, I mean. Think of it, Simon. Cap’n Reynolds, big damn soldiery guy, makin’ googly eyes at Nara’s tummy. It’s all manner o’ unnatural” Simon nodded. “It is a little strange. But, Kaylee, we’ll have all that someday. I promise you.” He brushed a kiss over her lips. “And in the meantime...in the meantime, we can have sex at any hour of the day. Not that a baby isn’t a blessing, but...just now I’m rather fixated on my beautiful wife. In fact....” She smiled as he rolled on top of her. “You don’t hate me?” she whispered. “For bein’ a big, fat deceiver?” “Much as you’ve wounded me by keeping your nonexistent pregnancy a secret...well, I imagine I’ll find a way to go on.” He smoothed back her hair, pressed a kiss to her temple. “I know it’s a little strange for you, me being the only doctor on board. And that’s okay, Kaylee. Just do me one favor? Please don’t let Jayne deliver our firstborn.” She snorted out a laugh, then hesitated, pretending to reconsider. “Dunno, Simon.” She scrunched up her nose, thoughtful-like. “Jayne does have a familiarity with that part o’ the ‘natomy.” She was laughing when he tackled her. *** Gideon watched the little Firefly float down from the blue, settle herself on a patch of green. Next to the Champion, Serenity was an ungainly heap: hardly a ship at all, just bits and pieces. Space Trash, but then the same could be said for her captain, the strange band of travelers who made her a home. Whores and mercs and vermin: the dregs of society. The Alliance would deem them fair sacrifice. And in all likelihood, the Neo-Independents would as well. Believers on both sides would willingly forgo the lives of a few--or perhaps more than a few--in favor of a better world. But there was one, notable exception. By broadcasting that message, Captain Malcom Reynolds earned himself a fair amount of fame and notoriety on both sides of the fight. The Alliance wanted his genes; the Independents--well, it wasn’t yet cleared what they wanted with Mal. Gideon waited for the ramp to drop, watched the crew emerge, blinking in the harsh morning sunshine. He raised a hand to wave, remembered he wasn’t eight and let it fall. “Gideon.” Mal gave a brisk nod. “You still alive?” He seemed mildly disappointed. River skipped out next. She looked well. In spite of himself, Gideon smiled. “Thank you, Gideon.” River bounded up to him, stood on tiptoe to kiss his temple. “Thanks for saving Captain Daddy. You brought him back home; Serenity’s grateful.” Gideon raised a brow. Something about her was different. He wondered when he started caring. “Apparently the captain skipped over the part where that bullet he took should have been mine.” “You know, kid.” Mal shook his head. “You make it awful hard for folk to like you.” “Captain ain’t one for offering praise,” Zoe agreed. She brushed past him, her daughter squirming in her arms. “Kinda learn to take it when he does.” Gideon’s gaze lingered on her back, the firm muscles visible beneath her shirt. “Hey, Giddy.” Jayne strode past, slapped his shoulder none-too-lightly. “How’s it hangin’?” “It’s...hanging. And please don’t call me Giddy.” “Thinkin’ you need a nickname, though.” Kaylee squinted at him, thoughtful. “Gideon’s awful long.” “Kaylee-bird, stop tormenting the boy.” Zoe laughed. “Come keep an eye on Raven with me.” “Thank you, Gideon.” Inara hesitated beside him, laid a hand on his forearm. “Thanks for taking care of him.” Gideon just nodded, tried to detach her hand with some measure of subtlety. He didn’t do gratitude. Especially from women like Inara. “Hustle up, Gideon!” Mal jerked his head toward the cargo bay. “Go help Jayne prep the mule. You two gonna ride into town and load up the cargo.” “We got cargo, Cap’n?” “That we do, Lil’ Kaylee. Seems our friend Kane got another job for us. Seems we did such a fine job runnin’ guns to the good folk of Greenleaf. Funny, Zoe. I don’t remember a Greenleaf job.” “That is a strangeness, Captain.” She shrugged. Mal just shook his head. “Get to work, kids. I got business in town. ” He raised a brow at Zoe. “Superfluous though I am, try not to leave the world without me, dong ma?” Gideon watched him brush a quick kiss over Inara’s mouth before firing up the hoverbike and speeding away. *** The hot air of the bathhouse roused beads of sweat on the back of his neck, sent them seeping under the collar of his shirt. Why didn’t he own a button-down with short sleeves? He made a mental note to buy one when next he got some spare coin. Spare coin. Now that was a laugh. “Uh, Mr. Kane?” Mal plodded on through the thick steam. “Hello?” “Over here, Malcom.” A squeaky voice sounded from a few pools down. Mal broke through the mist to find Amos Kane lounging in a sunken, marble bath. Lounging in the buff. Okay, clearly the man weren’t one for modesty. “Mr. Kane.” Mal nodded, tried to ignore the fact that the man was naked. “I appreciate your seeing me.” “Of course, Malcom. And I hope you’ll excuse my appearance.” He chuckled. “At my age, it seems unwise to forgo life’s little pleasures. I’m something of a fiend for my weekly steam bath. Would you care to join me?” “W-well, no. No, I’m, uh, clean.” He tugged at his collar, wondered briefly whether passing out would be deemed unprofessional. Kane laughed again. “Suit yourself. Humor me and have something to drink at least.” He gestured to a small cooler full of mineral water. Grateful, Mal swigged down half a bottle. His swimming vision began to clear. “Mr. Kane, was hopin’ you and me could have words.” “And the subject of our discourse wouldn’t be Quentin Webb by chance?” He smiled at the surprise Mal couldn’t quite cover. “Yes, I wondered when you’d make the connection...realize I knew your father.” “Way I hear it, you more than knew him.” “I suppose you’re right.” A faint smile touched the older man’s lips. “Ah, Mal. So many years ago.” “You, uh, you know my mama ‘swell?” Sometimes it hit him how much he missed her. Would be shiny locatin’ a person sides hisself and Carly who remembered the woman as she was. Before the sickness took her and twisted her into something other. Bent and broke Mary Reynolds till she died screaming. “I did.” Kane’s lips curved in a tight smile. “I knew Mary and Emmy both. You’ve met her by now, I take it? Esmerelda....” “Uh, yeah.” Mal tried something fierce not to blush. “ ‘Spose you could say we’re somewhat acquainted.” Kane nodded. “And did she tell you the tale?” “Bits she could.” “Aston Fitzgerald brainwashed her after your father’s murder. And it was that, Mal: murder. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hwoon dan--excuse my language--swooped in on the girl before Quentin’s corpse was even cold.” “She’s a pretty girl,” Mal hinted. “Pretty is an insult to that girl’s exquisite beauty.” “Maybe someone else is wishin’ he swooped....” “Hardly.” Kane chuckled. “I’m sly, Malcom.” “Oh. Ohhh.” “Your father and Derry both knew. It was a non-issue to them, Mal. Your father was always one to judge a man on his character.” Mal couldn’t say exactly why, but he was glad to hear that. It felt good. Knowing whatever the man’s faults, Webb weren’t a bigot. “It’s a shame though. If Quentin had lived to fight the War with us--and he would have, Mal. He would have fought on the right side.” Kane smiled. “Our side. And if he had lived, Emmy would have been an asset to our cause. It’s a shame they got to her. She should have been more than some simpering core bride.” “You know he’s dead? Fitzgerald.” “I’d heard. I can’t say I cried overmuch.” “She’s the one did the job.” Kane raised a brow. “That I did not know. Perhaps I underestimated Emmy.” “Trust me, it’s been an enlightening week all around. And I’m guessing there’s still a few secrets floating about.” “Secrets don’t float, Mal. They hang round one’s throat like a deadweight.” Mal opened his collar and cuffs, folded the sleeves up to the elbow. “Then I reckon it’s time you take a load off,” he said quietly. *** Kane told him the story over whiskey and cigars in the clubhouse. Later, Inara would notice the smell on Mal’s clothes, ask sweetly whether he’d taken up smoking. She’d also ask why he looked so terribly sad all of a sudden. “What happened with Kane? Did you learn something new?” He’d try to smile, kiss her cheek and tell her he was fine, tell her not to worry. Ai ya, he didn’t want her worrying. Kane fired up one cigar with the dredges of the previous. The old man cried only once in the telling, his eyes taking on a sheen of wet that he bent his head to hide. His words echoed Emmy’s: Quentin Webb died trying to stop the assassination of a Sihonese political figure. However, the Alliance arrived moments after Webb, arrived in time to hear him warn the poor guy. In time to hear him seal his own fate. Webb fled the scene on a hover bike. He knew returning home would endanger Emmy, so he headed for the outskirts. And maybe he would have made it, would have escaped. Except someone had engaged an Operative. The agent found him within hours, ran down the bike and emptied what appeared to be a full clip into Quentin Webb’s chest. He was murdered on Alliance orders, namely those of one Aston Fitzgerald. The same man penned the official report, attributing the death of Senator Webb to the bloodthirsty Independents. In retribution for the supposed killing, the Alliance burned two Sihonese temples to the ground. Kane remembered seeing the flames from the sky, his last memory of the Great City. “And Shep--Book?” Mal interjected after several moments of silence. “What’s his role in all this?” “Derrial.” Kane sipped his brandy. “You know, I think in this whole mess of complications, not setting things right with Derry is my greatest regret. I know now he never meant for....” Mal resisted an urge to shudder, as well as one to swipe a swig from the man’s drink. “What’d Book do?” he asked roughly. “Malcom.” Kane met his gaze, eyes pained. “Book’s the one who went to Aston.” Mal didn’t speak, not trusting his voice just then. “Quentin had been amassing evidence for months. He knew atrocities were being committed in the name of the cause. The Alliance always was willing to go to great ends. Evil ends.” “I’ve noticed,” Mal murmured, throat full. “Derry--he grew up on the Rim. Saw both his parents and three brothers dead before he was twelve. Disease. Famine. He believed very strongly in Unification.” Kane puffed his cigar idly. “For awhile, we all did. “He couldn’t have known what would happen, Malcom. I was only then beginning to realize how much of a believer Fitzgerald was, how devoted to the cause. Book thought Aston’s allegiance to Quentin was stronger than his allegiance to the Alliance. He thought Aston would prevent Quentin from doing something foolish. From doing something to get himself killed. He was gravely mistaken. “Quentin had been flirting with death for some time. He wrote you letters, fearing he’d never see you grown. He wanted you to know him a little, to have something of his in case the worst happened. You’ve read them I take it? Still, when it actually transpired....Of course, back then this was all too fresh, too raw. I was far less forgiving. I blamed Derry. I said I hoped he burned in Hell for betraying Quentin.” Mal gave a slow nod. “Can’t say I’d’ve disagreed much.” “I guess he took my words to heart.” Kane downed another shot of the burning liquor. “When the Senate factioned, Derry went with the loyalists while the Independent sympathizers--myself included--fled to the border worlds. But he didn’t stay long. He disappeared into the abby by year’s end. And that was the end of the Senator Derrial Book....” *** ONE WEEK LATER: Working out o’ the office was terrible inconvenient, ‘s’what it was.  Still, any respectable businessman knew the best place to pick up spanking new snatch was the Eavesdown Cantina, just a quarter klick east o’ the main docks.  Local girls had a habit o’ gatherin’ there, eager to have a go with whatever space trash dropped down from the Black.  Captain or crew, didn’t matter none long as money changed hands. Gorramn whores.  Couldn’t they see they was better off with steady work, the sort only a reputable fellow such as himself could provide?  Round these parts, the name Badger was synonymous with low-cost, reliable snatch.  Was somethin’ to be proud of ‘s’what it was. As business was better ‘n typical of late, Badger intended to add to his wares.    He downed another shot of what passed for good liquor in this world, beckoned his associate closer. “Bring me that one there.  Yeah.” Bleached blond hair with a bit of a curl.  Clear blue eyes said she weren’t strung out on Lift like some o’ the others. “Let me see the teeth.  Yeah.  Yeah, she’ll do quite nice.  Who’s next?” “Good afternoon.” He saw her hands first.  Long slim fingers the color of caramels; clean, buffed nails red as the apple peel coiling from the corner of his mouth.  He caught a whiff of something rich, felt his nostrils singe. He wanted to sneeze.  He wanted a blow job.  Was the sorta scent meant to ensnare a man. Oranges, ‘haps? All the whores on Persephone smelled like that, like fish and semen and the same rose cologne.  This one was no whore.  But she wasn’t a lady neither. “Evenin’, love.”  He raked his eyes up her body, one brow cocking in approval.  “Sum’in tells me you ain’t here after a job.” She smiled, a berry-pink tongue sweeping out to brush lush red lips.  She was a looker, this.  The classy sort what bathed regular, not just Sundays and special occasions.  “New to these parts, aren’t ya?”  “I suppose I’m a visitor to your world, Mr. Badger.” He squinted up at her, intrigued, the apple peel slipping from between his teeth. “Now how do you know my name? What’s your story, love?” “Rheanna.  My name’s Rheanna.” “Pretty name.” “Would you like to buy me a drink, Mr. Badger?  Preferably someplace that’s elsewhere?  Forgive my directness.  I just find our present company, shall we say, unfavorable.”  Her gaze swept over the crowded cantina. “Is that a fact?” “Yes.  Whenever possible, I prefer not to drink with ruffians.” “Heh.  I like that.  Quality people: them’s an endangered breed of late.” “I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Badger.” *** He woke the next morning, groggy and sick to his stomach.  Beside him, the bed was cold. “Up and leave ya with naught but a nasty ‘eadache to remember ‘em by.  In’t always the way.” Badger rubbed a hand over his jaw, groped for the lamp. “Ahh!” He jumped, clapped a hand over his heart as he saw her standing in the doorway. “Oh, ‘ello, love. You scared me some; thought you’d gone already.” Rheanna just smiled. “Oh, I’m not quite through with you, Badger.” “That a fact? Much as I ain’t inclined to disappoint a lov-er-ly lady--well, I ain’t feelin’ my full self, see.” The previous evening’s bender would’ve put a shepherd to shame.  “Why don’t you leave that to me?” She dropped to her knees, preventing further debate. Nothin’ cured a hangover better ‘n tea from Londinium and a blow job from Sihnon. He was a smart enough bloke not to ask her to make the tea. He lay back on the bed, happy to let that pretty little mouth heal what ailed ‘im. He waited. Somethin’ wasn’ right. Nothin’ ‘appening. “Uh, love. This, uh...it ain’t never done this, see. Honestly, I can’t hazard a guess why--oh, now, don’t be that way, love. Don’t go.” He watched her gather her bag, her wrap. In a breeze of rich scent, she was gone. His newest indentured girl appeared in the doorway.  She was a jittery little twit, barely fifteen and all skinny limbs and big eyes and bad teeth.  Teeth were very important to Badger. “Sir? Sir, this came for you.” She handed him a small parcel. Badger tied the belt of his silk robe and sat on the edge of the bed. He used a knife to slit open the packaging. The capture was light sensitive, began to play as soon as he lifted it from the box. “Good morning, Badger.” She smiled; now that was a woman with fine teeth. “We haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Inara Serra; I’m a friend of Captain Reynolds. You’re probably wondering why certain parts of your anatomy are not up to their usual, though I imagine not terribly impressive, standards this morning. The answer is very simple; you’ve been infected with a virus, Badger. You are completely and utterly impotent. Oh, don’t be such a baby; you’ll recover. Assuming I provide you with the antidote.” Her lips curved. “Did I forget to mention you need the antidote? Silly me. But you needn’t worry. I’ll send it in a few months. Probably. Assuming you learn to behave. “Now here’s where you should listen very carefully, Badger; you may want to take notes. This little lesson is meant to serve as a warning. If you harm Malcom Reynolds or any member of his crew again...let’s just say the next time I contact you, you’ll suffer more than just a loss of sexual function. Heed my advice, Badger. You don’t want to cross me.” The message ended. Badger stood still for several seconds, gaping at the frozen image of the dark-haired beauty’s less-than-menacing face. And yet somethin’ about the lass was right menacing at that. His left eye began to twitch, and he slapped a hand over the offending feature. Howling, Badger tore the flimsy capture to shreds. *** She recognized his footfall on the catwalks. Like everything else of Mal’s, his walk was distinctive. He sat beside her on the grating, and together they eyed Kane’s cargo. Engine parts this time: too many to stow in the holds. “So guess I owe you an apology of sorts. And, I ‘spect, a fair bit o’ gratitude.” “Wow.” She smiled. “Should I get a capture?” “Oh, reckon you’ll recall this moment plenty well without vid.” He leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Did just fine, darlin’. Makes a man powerful proud.” She met his eyes, her own free from jest. “Thank you, Mal.” “Don’t take this wrong--I meant it ‘bout bein’ impressed and all that. But you, uh, you can be a mite scary, sweetheart.” “I’m not an innocent like Kaylee. Or even River. I’ve...done things. Some of which aren’t so very motherly.” Inara studied the palms of her hands. “It’s a shame Book’s no longer with us. Sometimes I fear we’re all a bit lost without his moral compass.” “Yeah, well.” Mal shrugged, uncomfortable. “Sometimes you don’t need a compass so much as a clear path. Way I see it, a good mama’s one does anything and everything to protect her chick. Baby born in this godforsaken ‘verse...reckon that kid’s gonna need some protecting. Inara.” He tilted her chin till their eyes met. “You do what needs to be done. Ain’t more or less, dong ma?” She nodded. Mal cleared his throat. “So that stuff your friend used on our favorite lowlife...you keep any o’ that round the ship?” She let him draw her near, let her head come to rest on his chest. “It’s called Admiratio Inermis. A loose translation is ‘surprise impotence.’ “Sweet Ye su, that sounds like a bad musical: Surprise! Impotence.” “Spoken like a man who’s seen a bad musical or two in his day.” “Cupcake...what you don’t know ‘bout me could fill a...well, somethin’ big surely.” “Mm, I remember now. Book of Your Life, right?” “Well, yeah.” Mal hesitated. “Still, though. Guess it’s good you got the rest of our lives to find out.” She blinked, at once surprised and touched. “I guess so,” she said. *** TBC in Part 26. Writer begs for feedback....

COMMENTS

Sunday, April 30, 2006 2:20 PM

ARCADIA


Inara's pregnant? Wow. that is a twist. I'm glad something finally made Mal realize that he needs to have a little more faith in people sometimes. Kaylee and Simon were very sweet. I really am enjoying Mal's exploration of his fahter's past. It's exciting.

Sunday, April 30, 2006 3:43 PM

LEIASKY


Lovely chapter as always. I knew Inara would end up pregnant but Kaylee isn't? Aww, darn! I think it would be fun to have them all prengant at the same time!

Loved Kaylee telling Simon she wasn't pregnant, that whole scene was just great. and the M/I fight had me giggling like a loon.

Looking forward to the next chapter!

Sunday, April 30, 2006 3:56 PM

REALWORLDDOIHAVETO


Very good I really enjoyed it. I loved how you set up Inara's pregnancy. Keep going.

Sarah

Sunday, April 30, 2006 5:06 PM

BROWNCOAT2006


My god, shiney shiney writing as ever Kaynara, I love Nara being pregnant and Mal being all "sweet Ima daddy now!!" lol so many great little bits of dialuge here that capture or BDH ever so well....

“My sister’s a government-trained assassin, and my wife has access to power tools. I fear answering that question may be hazardous to my health.”

Mal smirked.

“Coward.”

lol... you capture them all so well... :)

“I still have contacts, friends.” She shrugged a delicate shoulder. “After the Alliance boarded Serenity last year, I started carrying a syringe in my purse.”

Ohhh, this eplains what 'Nara had in uh... plz forgive me, haven't watched any of the episodes in a long time, whatever epi. had her digging that thing outta her purse.

“Well, let’s see. ‘Fore this, my day was gonna be lecturin’ the little albatross, beatin’ Jayne senseless and dishes. Now...well, might just let the dishes sit awhile. Cuz you...well, you’re carryin’ my kid. Reckon this is a good day.” He poked her ribs, absurdly pleased when she smiled. “How ‘bout you? You think it’ll be Godawful? Baby that’s a little you and a little me? Well, hopefully not too much me. I, uh. This might not be the best time to tell you, darlin’. I was a little wild as a lad.”

Mad squee goin' on here =) god I loved this entire bit here, Mal all happy that Inara's got a little bitty baby grown up inside o her... god I love this writing :D lol, Mal, a wild child, who wouldda guessed it :D

“Honey? I gotta say somethin’.”

“I’m listening. The snoring is in no way I sign that I’m not listening.”

“Oh, gawd! I thought I married Simon, not Wash!”

“Would you prefer I behave like Mal? ‘Dammit, Kaylee, go fix the whatchamacallit. And don’t smile, don’t you dare smile. No one smiles on my boat, dong ma? No smiling...and no sex.’ ’”

Wide-eyed, she giggled, snaked a hand around to tickle his ribs.

“That’s pretty good, honey. Simon?”

lol, sorry, damn well just post all the quotes, but these had me rolling on the floor, Simon impresonating Wash, and then Mal? lol great great stuff :D
Plz plz plz write again soon!!! :smiley:


Sunday, April 30, 2006 5:07 PM

SQUISH


I knew it! About the pregnant part I mean. Excellent chapter! Loved Mal's reaction, Jayne's making River more normal (although poor Jayne!), Kaylee and Simon talking, Gideon coming back and starting to feel connected to them. And the new info about the mystery of Mal's father and Book. And what is that poor woman with the twins going to do?? Keep writing!

Sunday, April 30, 2006 7:08 PM

PLATONIST


Fairly new to fan fiction.

Took me half the night to read back chapters!(my kids were screaming for dinner)

This ones a great weave of plot, characterization, and humor. Enjoy Inara's sarcasm....hard to achieve.
Looking for next chapter.

Sunday, April 30, 2006 8:39 PM

MUTINOUSMUSE


My favorite part of this was the Jayne/River stuff - Jayne dreaming River's dreams. Creepy! Can't wait for more. :)

Monday, May 1, 2006 12:42 AM

JENNS


Love, love LOVED it!!! I had a suspicion that Inara would be the pregnant one when she and Kaylee were sneaking in the test. ;)

It was nice to see Emmy again. I hope she finds a way to return Mal and River's babies to their rightful parents. Maybe the dreams are a sign of sorts to Rebecca, and she'll help too?

Loved the Badger bit. His poor bits won't be seeing any action for a while I suppose. Way to go Inara!!

And adored the Inara/Mal parts tremendously. Especially loved the parts right after they learned about the baby, and later on the couches.

Have I mentioned that I adore this story?????? Can't wait for more!!!!!

JennS

Monday, May 1, 2006 1:53 AM

TAYEATRA


Squeeee!!!!

Everyone's pretty much said all the good comments but this was shiny. Super super shiny!

Monday, May 1, 2006 2:16 AM

AMDOBELL


Loved this to bits. I thought it was poetic justice that Inara ended up being the one pregnant after lying for Kaylee. Not sure why Kaylee was so uncertain she needed to try to hide the possibility from Simon, after all she has the most natural mothering instincts of them all but this made better drama. I also loved Mal's reaction and nice to see him and Inara sharing some quiet moments together without shouting or angst, and I really enjoyed and appreciated more backstory from Kane about Mal's father. I have to say the complications and twists in the storyline just add to the greatness. Well done and can't wait for the next part! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, May 3, 2006 8:04 AM

NOS4A2NO9


Great chapter! I loved the scene where River was alone in Jayne's bunk, musing on the nature of dreams. It was really well-written and very poetic! I (of course) loved the Mal/Inara interaction, and I liked the way you built up to the pregnancy reveal. This has been one hell of a ride, and I can't wait to read the next chapter!

Friday, July 7, 2006 2:04 AM

BELLONA


huh. well, ain't that...huh. squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! baby reynolds!!

b


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