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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Huh. That went well....
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2473 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Bed and Wine: The Epilogue
AN: Thanks to Grimlock, for all his hard work and devotion. Keep an eye out for his upcoming series in the BSR.
AN2: For Joss. If Buffy is my security blanket, Firefly is my favorite bedfellow.
Huh. That went well....
“I need to talk to you, Daddy.”
“Would you like something cold to drink? A beer maybe?”
“Would I like a--are the feds gonna be here in a minute?” He reaches out to give her ponytail a tug. “Did you and your brother knock over another ‘Liance hospital?”
“Daddy.” She bites her lip to conceal a smile. “I need you to be serious.”
“What’s the news, Little Lark?”
“I’ve started my menstrual cycle.”
He blinks a few times. He tries to swallow, finds he can’t quite summon the saliva.
“Huh,” he manages at last.
“Daddy. It’s okay.” Her tone soothes, her motions graceful, economic even as she takes his hand and leads him to the sofa. She sits beside him, folding long, slender legs beneath her. “You’re looking very pale.”
Her long-lashed eyes blink at him, concerned.
She is her mother’s daughter. Both of her mothers’ daughter.
“What are you gonna do?”
“Build up a powerful resentment ‘gainst your mama?”
“Da-deee.” She tosses her hair, its heavy sable length reaching halfway to her hips now. The womanly gesture seems at odds with her girlish tone.
“It’s okay. No call to panic. Who’s panicking?” He brushes a hand over her temple. “How you feelin’? You okay?”
“Ovulation isn’t a disease, Daddy.” She rolls blue-gray eyes at the ceiling. “I’m not sick.”
“That’s funny ‘cuz I’m feelin’ a mite ill. Skylark, didn’t your mama talk to you ‘bout this stuff? Give you some tips maybe?”
“She said it was a beautiful thing. She said we’d celebrate when it happened.” The eleven year old meets his gaze. “She said a couple more years.”
“Did she now? Remind me to thank her for that.”
She blinks at him, waiting. His own eyes starin’ outta that sweet little face, saying, “Daddy, fix it.” He remembers the four year old what brought him headless dolls.
“She needs surgery, Daddy. Head transplant, I’ll assist.”
Kid does spend too many hours ‘round her uncle.
Back then, Mal would lift her up on his hip, carry her small, snugly body to the kitchen counter. She’d swing her legs while he glued bitty doll heads onto stubby necks.
“There you go, Skylark. Shiny as a shiny thing.”
He’d kiss her rounded cheeks and come out lookin’ the hero. What he wouldn’t give for a decapitated doll nowabouts.
“Are you gonna be okay, Daddy?”
He smiles for her, hopes it’s reassuring.
“Know what we’re gonna do? Gonna ‘wave your Aunt Kaylee. She’s a girl, ain’t she? Bound to know ‘bout...girl stuff.”
The kid makes a face.
“What? You love Kaylee.”
“Of course I do.” Her tone is patient, as though addressing a small child. “Except....”
“ ‘Cept what?”
“She’ll get all misty-eyed. Start crying ‘bout me being a woman now.”
“I might just cry over that my own self.”
Kaylee isn’t home, but Simon answers the wave. Mal thinks about waving Emmy, but the kid seems to prefer her uncle on this one. He gives them some privacy, deciding he can be useless just as easy in the other room. And the doc is good in these instances. Has a way o’ makin’ his voice all soothing-like. Mal can recall the first time the babes were sickly. Inara was hysterical, Mal more than halfway there his own self. They waved Simon, and he hurried over even though it was middle of the night and raining, and him havin’ to work in the morning.
“Simon!” Inara squeezes him with enough emphasis to have Mal wincing. “I don’t know what to do! Oh, they’re too little to be in pain.”
Doc fixes it all right, with kind words and cool hands.
Three years hence, Simon’s there when Nara takes that bullet: the one meant for Mal.
She shoots the hwoon dan with her own gun, the bitty one he bought her all those years ago. She shoots the man who hurt her because Mal isn’t there to save her the having to.
When his old pal Jeb Parsons first suggests the thing--him taking up the job of town sheriff--Mal about busts a gut with the laughing.
“Aw c’mon now, Mal. Ain’t so wild a notion. Did you ever imagine me a mayor back in the day?”
“Well, no. No. To be truthsome, I’m still havin’ some trouble on that front.”
He chuckles, the guffaw turning to wince as Parsons sends a meaty fist into his shoulder.
“Now if you really think on it, you as sheriff ain’t such a stretch.”
It’s getting serious--Parsons has that gleam in his eye. Mal starts to panic.
“I’m a criminal. A pirate. I smuggle geisha dolls and--and crash Alliance parties! Also, did ya happen to notice the treason on my resume? Not just treason, mind you. *High treason.* That’s a hanging crime, you know....”
“Don’t that make you sorta interesting? Anyhow, no one gives much thought to the Alliance out here. You’re a father, Mal--a family man. Daddy to two of the sweetest little babes ever graced the town of Brandywine.”
“Aw, Mal, half your jobs was of the law enforcing variety anyways. You said your crew took out some bandits were birddogging the Triumph settlers.”
“And that worked out just swell, let me tell ya--”
“And you put down that Burgess fella over at the Heart of Gold--”
“Jeb, they were whores! They paid us with--”
“Didn’t you do some fine reconnaissance work over on Shadow? Believe you mentioned something ‘bout exposing Blue Sun’s activities thereabouts.”
“Well, okay, yeah. But sheriff, Jeb?”
“Not to mention your years in the war, and...Miranda.” He lowers his eyes respectfully, knowing the name and all it’s implication are still sensitive turf. “Face it, Mal. Do-gooding’s in your blood.”
It ain’t bad work. Brandywine’s not exactly big city, and people round here tend to help each other. Mal’s glad to do what he can. He misses the old ways--be a lie to claim otherwise--but Inara still calls him pirate in the privacy of their own bed, and that helps more ‘n a mite. Inara.
She never shoulda got hurt. It’s Mal this fella wants dead, Mal who busted the son of a bitch for beatin’ on his wife and boys. But Mal’s out on a last minute call, and Nara drops by after her dance class. She does that from time to time--surprises him. She surprises this bastard, who’s lying in wait with a gun.
He smacks her around some--Mal can see the bruises under the clinic brights. When his eyes tear up, he doesn’t bother attributing it to the lights.
Bastard meant to shoot her, leave her dead on the floor as a gift for the sheriff. But Inara--she never does do what’s expected. She carries the gun still--how is it he don’t know that about her, how’s it she’s still a mystery to him when they sleep together, when he knows her body well as his own? She takes the gun and shoots him twice, once through the chest--a near perfect mark--and then again, this one a little to the side, as though her hands started to shake.
She fades in and out of consciousness on account of them having only a local to give her. Mal holds her hand while Simon digs the bullet from her shoulder. Mal leans near her ear and whispers craziness, oaths and endearments, silly stories and promises. Anything to keep her eyes clear, keep her from leaving him.
“I’m sorry. So sorry.” He whispers it over and over, and buries his nose in the curve of her neck.
“Shhh,” she intones and strokes his hair with her soft, weak hand.
She sleeps for a long time and when she wakes up, he brings her daisies.
“Confound it, woman.” He holds her palm to his cheek. “I’m like to think you jumped in fronta that gun purely for the glory.”
“You know me; I’m an attention whore.” A ghostly smile lifts her pale lips, and she tilts her head to inhale the flowers.
“Ai ya, if you ain’t a brat.” He presses his lips to her temple, knowing she can feel them tremble. Just then he doesn’t much care. “Sweet Ye su, you scared me.”
“Now you know how I feel. I told you I’d be shot one day.” But her tone is gentle, forgiving.
“And you always havin’ to be right....”
She smiles and strokes his hair with her good hand.
“Well, ‘pears there’s but one solution. You’re gonna hafta stoop to marryin’ me.”
When she’s well enough, he takes her away for a day and marries her.
“If’n you wanted a big party, the sort with flowers and streamers and sweets….”
“No,” she says and smiles. “I don’t want any of that.”
They leave the kids with Kaylee and Simon and drive till they find a place. It’s dusk when she tells him to stop the mule. He follows her line of sight to a tall, stone steeple, half hidden in the autumn foliage. The air tastes crisp and clean as he helps her from the mule. Her hands clasp his shoulders, and he holds on to her waist an extra second, not wanting to let go—not ever.
The leaves crunch under his boots, under the heels of her tall, silly sandals. She stumbles, and he catches her small hand in his bigger one, gives it a light squeeze and smiles. She raises a delicate brow in warning. *Not one word, Malcom Reynolds.* Seein’ as he wants to marry her something fierce, he doesn’t say a word, just raises their joined palms to his lips and kisses her hand.
The chapel is small and gothic, and the last rays of the setting sun pour in through stained-glass windows as they say vows. She’s wearing tan pants and a plain white blouse, and her hair’s all bound back in a sleek tail that hangs over her shoulder. Her eyes shine dark, and her cheeks glow pink from the cold. He tries to listen to the shepherd, but the man’s sorta rambling, and Mal can’t get over how *young* she looks of a sudden: like a teenager, run off to elope over her daddy’s objections. Suddenly, he feels every etch and line on his face. Sweet Ye su, what’s she doing marrying him?
It appears she’s inclined to tell him.
“I can’t say I predicted this, Mal. To be honest, I never thought we’d end up here.” She gestures to their surroundings--the church, the preacher. “But I knew two things with perfect certainty. I knew we’d make love one day, know each other as lovers. And I knew we’d make each other cry. It was too much to hope we’d make each other happy. Do you know when I fell in love with you?”
He just shakes his head, sorta stupid-like, on account of his throat being too thick for words.
“I know the exact moment. It was when you were stabbed.”
The preacher starts to fidget in earnest now.
“Which time?” Mal asks.
“Atherton. You bled all over my dress--”
“--was a real nice dress--”
She smiles, her eyes going misty.
“I forgive you.”
He wants to say something pretty for her, too. Trouble is, he’s never had the words.
“ ‘Member a few years back--more ‘n a few now--when Zoe and me robbed the medicine off that train. We got held up by the local law, and you had to come in and pull us out.”
“Well...remember how you slapped me?”
She smiles--the preacher’s looking all manner of shocked.
“Well, that’s when I knew,” Mal says, and clips a strand of hair behind her ear. “Didn’t think you’d ever...consent to havin’ me in your bed.” The last he uttered beneath his breath, in deference to the whole church bit. “But I knew sure as I know anything, I’d spend the rest of my days wantin’ you there.”
They do the bit with the rings. He kisses her, and she’s warm and tart like the apple cider they drank on the road.
The trip back is oddly somber. She keeps looking at her finger, twisting the band of gold as though it doesn’t quiet belong.
Home, when they get there, feels strange. It’s a good few minutes before he realizes it’s the quiet. Two kids—even teeny tiny ones—tend to make an awful lot of ruckus. He figures his must be special, seein’ as they’re extra boisterous.
It’s late by the time they’re settled in the kitchen, eyeing each other over the table where Nara set out tea with cups and saucers. Every once in awhile, one of ‘em looks up and the other smiles.
“Nothing’s changed,” she tells him after long moments of silence. “We’re still the same.”
He shakes his head.
“I only meant--”
“Come to bed.” He meets her gaze. “I wanna take my wife to bed.”
She takes his hand and leads him to the bedroom.
They have a week’s honeymoon in the little house. He feels badly on that note, not bein’ able to afford a real holiday. Still, it’s a good week. He likes just lyin’ in bed with her, half awed by the sight of his ring on her finger. He likes making love to her in their big bed, anchoring her to his hips and latching on to her nipple as she rides him like a stallion. He likes burying his face in her neck and breathing her in--all smoke and jasmine--as he groans his release into the soft, riotous black of her hair. He likes pretending they have forever.
She hopes they’ll make a baby that week. Lil’ Kaylee is four months along then. Every day, she drops by, askin’ if she looks fat yet. (Neither Mal nor Simon can figure how best to answer that one.) Sometimes Mal thinks it might not be for the best, her and Kaylee spendin’ all this time together now. Course, Inara won’t have it any other way. She knits booties and blankets and helps Kaylee scour the Cortex for baby names. Still, Mal knows it hurts her some to see. He knows she wants one of her own, wants to see his child growing inside her. He doesn’t know how to say it don’t matter, that all he ever wanted, all he was ever lacking, is her.
Skylark especially seems to have a sense about it: her mama’s moods. One Christmas in particular, everyone spends the whole week fussin’ over Kaylee’s new baby. Inara watches it all, a dreamy expression on her face. Love and suffering all wrapped up in those big black eyes of hers. Mal makes a move to go to her but Kaylee grabs his hand.
Long after Serenity is scrap metal, Kaylee keeps callin’ him Captain. Some days the word tears his chest up like a razor blade. Sometimes it makes him remember the good times: His and Simon’s sci fi marathons up on the bridge. Wash’s dirty jokes and water pistol wars and slow, easy evenings of storytelling. Avoiding the shepherd’s sermons and arm wrestling Kaylee and long poker games with Zoe and Jayne. Dancing with River on the catwalk. Kissin’ Inara senseless--hell, they kissed each other senseless--up on the bridge. Talkin’ to Inara’s belly. Cupping its swell and making plans, promises....
“Cap’n, hold Sari while I get a capture.”
“Kaylee, what makes you think I wanna hold your kid?” As a matter of fact, he does; critter’s awful cute. But this way she gets to wheedle and plead and wrestle him into a chair.
“Sit your butt down, Cap’n Tightpants,” she teases, drawing laughs from the others.
“Daddy? Who’s Captain Tightpants.”
“No clue, Starling. Your Aunt Kaylee’s crazed,” he adds, earning himself a whack on the butt.
Over a bald little head, he meets Nara’s eyes. She smiles at him, and he smiles back. We’re fortunate, her smile seems to say. We’re lucky to be alive, together. We couldn’t have it all. We shouldn’t expect it.
Sometimes the River bits of the kids really shine through. Now’s one o’ those times. Skylark climbs up on the sofa, slides into her mama’s lap like she knows she’s needed there. Inara’s arms just slip around his daughter as though it’s the most natural thing in the ‘verse. It’s in these moments that Mal feels most grateful. He lets go of the losses, losing the war, the Shepherd and Wash. Losing the ship that was his home and savior all those years. Losing River.
He looks at his wife and his daughter, and he sees beauty.
Epiphany don’t read minds like her mother. She just...intuits. She knows when you need a hug, knows when to crawl into your lap and be quiet. She knows when the doc is missing his sister somethin’ fierce, knows to be like River then. Mal can’t say how she does it exactly. She just holds her head a certain way, smiles a certain way. And like both her mothers, she can dance.
Simon looks at the girl and sees his sister: an innocent little baby before the bad men took her away. Before they broke her. Mal mostly just sees Inara. It’s Inara who brushes her silken hair. It’s Inara who teaches her French and Chinese, instructs her in piano and writing and ballet.
It’s Inara who tells the stories of Serenity, stories of their mother.
“Mama!” Inara is mama, River mother. “Mama, tell us how our mother slayed the monsters.”
“Again?” Inara presses kisses to the sweet spot in her daughter’s neck, tousles her son’s soft brown hair. “You just heard that story.”
“Fine.” Devon lets out a long-suffering sigh and climbs into her lap. “Then tell the one where she takes out Uncle Jayne.“
“That man ain’t your uncle,” Mal grumbles, but Inara just smiles, elbows him in the ribs. Kids seem to adore Jayne for some reason. But he don't come see 'em much. Once every few years at best, or sometimes he’s at Carly’s when they visit. None of ‘em say it, but Mal knows lookin’ at Lark and Starling hurts him. Jayne looks at the twins and sees the woman he didn't save.
Ten years--blink and you’ll miss ‘em.
After, Epiphany gets done with Simon, she and Mal sit together on the sofa. A film feed streams in over the Cortex, and Epiphany rests her head on Mal’s shoulder, only half watching the movie. He leans over and presses a kiss to her hair.
“Maybe I was just a *bit* perturbed. Earlier, I mean.”
“Just a bit? Well, ‘spect that’s okay since I was damn near hysterical.”
She raises a brow.
“You’re being dramatic, Daddy.”
“Skylark, you’re old man ain’t dramatic.”
“Oh, ‘course not. Silly me.” She rolls her eyes, so very Inara it takes the breath from him.
Later, he and Inara lie in bed. He’s accustomed to her incense now, knows what scent to expect given her mood. Lavender when she’s feeling taxed, vanilla for sentiment. When she lights sandalwood, she wants to make love. Tonight, she burns juniper.
“Do you know why I told Epiphany two more years?”
“As a fun surprise for me?”
“*I* was thirteen, Mal. When I started mine....”
“Okay. Didn’t maybe need to know that, but--”
“Don’t you see? It’s hereditary. I told her how old I was...I didn’t even think to ask Simon about his family, about River....”
“Inara. You raised her, sung her to sleep nights, worried when she was sickly. They’re yours as much as they’re mine. As much as they’re...hers.”
“I still should have thought to ask.”
“Stop that.” He tugs her back against his chest, threads their hands over her belly. “Skylark’s shiny. Both our kids are shiny.”
“She said you were very brave.” Inara reaches around to stroke his cheek.
“Damn right. Almost passed out for a minute there. But then the kid waved some smelling salts, and I came ‘round.”
“Mal? Make love to me?”
And it ain’t even a sandalwood night. He does like that she keeps him on his toes.
Devon sits in his mama’s lap. He plays absently with her long hair, a habit he’s had since he was but a baby, and fixes his eyes on Kaylee’s big belly.
“I know where babies come from,” he announces with four-year old assuredness.
Mal raises a brow. Inara just shrugs, lips twitching with humor.
“Where’s that, Starling?” he asks, a little weary.
Across the room, Simon looks up from his pie.
“What was that?”
“Simon!” Kaylee swats at his arm. “He’s too young to be knowin’ that stuff.”
Simon is incredulous.
“What exactly do you think I told him?”
“Don’t blame Simon, Daddy.” Epiphany rushes to her idol’s defense. “Dev and I figured it all on our own.”
“Did you now?” Mal has a bad feeling. More of a premonition, really. He looks at his four-year-old twins and sees the future. Teenagers with their mother’s brains, their mama’s wiles and their daddy’s predilection for bending—okay, breaking—every rule in the book. And a few on little sticky notes. *Sweet Ye Su, somebody shoot me.*
“Yup.” Skylark seems damned proud of herself too.
“You gonna enlighten the rest of us?” Mal tugs on her pigtail.
She turns to her brother. From the time they was babies, twins could communicate whole dialogues with just a few looks.
“Wellll.” Devon shrugs. “Starts when Aunt Kaylee gets fat.”
“Hey!” Kaylee protests. “You’re lucky you’re too far away to be tickled to death.”
Devon just grins and snuggles back into the safety of his mama’s lap.
“And then,” Epiphany continues, “Aunt Kaylee goes to see Simon, and Simon gives her the baby. But not for two more months. Right?” She looks to Inara for confirmation.
Inara nods, lips curving in amusement.
“Where am I storing the baby in the mean time?” Simon asks, intrigued.
Mal shoots him a death glare to discourage future questioning. Simon ducks, sheepish.
“And,” Devon adds, “There’s something to do with kissing. Ick.” He makes a face.
“Oh, you think so, do you?” Inara pokes a finger under his arm, presses kisses to his cheeks while he squirms.
“No kissing!” he says, breathless.
“Gosh, Cap’n.” Kaylee grins. “He sounds so much like you.”
Mal throws a pillow at her.
The boy climbs through the window of his pitch-black bedroom. The light clicks on before he takes two steps. He swallows a gulp.
“Wanna tell me what you're doin'?”
“No, not particularly.”
“Devon Quentin Reynolds. My patience is waning faster ‘n you can say ‘grounded till I’m thirty.’ ” Dear God, he sounds like his own mama back on Shadow. “Let’s try this again: whaddaya think you’re doin’?”
“Being stealthy.” Devon has Inara's fine diction down, even if he often peppers her speech pattern with Rim slang.
“No, son, bein' stealthy means *not* gettin' busted creepin' through your bedroom window. Wanna try again?”
There’s that smirk. He may have his mother’s eyes, but the smirk is all Mal.
“Failing at being stealthy?” Devon also has River’s rather cunning ability to be accurate while conveying no actual information.
“Keep goin’, boy. Just makin’ it worse on yourself.”
“Oh, this is such go-suh! Like you never snuck out when you were fifteen!”
“HA!” Mal shouts triumphantly. “So you did sneak out!”
The ‘duh’ expression on the kid's face is so River it hurts some to behold.
“Not the point. Raised you better. Well, your mama did anyways. 'Sides, I got caught sneaking out, your gran’mama woulda took a belt to my butt.”
The kid takes a cocky step closer. There’s that smirk again.
“You're welcome to try, old man.”
Mal raises a brow, changes his mind and sniffs the boy’s clothes.
“Lilies... rice wine--we'll talk about your drinkin' in a bit. And antiseptic.”
Devon takes a fast step back, but it’s too late.
“Only one place you’d go to get that particular combination of smells. You were visiting Katie. Weren't you?”
“So what if I was?” Devon isn’t of a mind to back down tonight.
Mal lowers himself to the bed. Ai ya, he can’t even bring himself to punish the kid.
“Sit down, Starling. Somethin’ you gotta understand.”
Devon jerks back.
“What's to understand? You don't approve of her. Ye su, Dad, the girl I love is dying, and you still can't let go of thirty-year old go suh!”
“That ain't it at all.” Mal has to think a moment. “Ain’t just that. Girl’s an innocent. Her father and his cronies, though--they was part of some bad stuff back in the day.”
“They helped fund BSB.” Devon smiles at Mal’s surprise. “Epi and I hacked what was left of Blue Sun's Coretx files a few weeks ago. We thought they might be able to help Katie.” Devon looks out the window so his father can’t see his tears. “Without treatment, she only has six months. And her parents...they can’t afford--”
“I'm sorry, son.” Mal lets the kid get ahold of himself. He reaches over and plucks a stray flower petal off the boy’s coat. Devon winces.
Mal raises a brow.
“What did you and Katie get up to tonight?”
Devon glowers a moment or two.
“Nothing,” he admits finally.
“Nothin’?” Mal doesn’t think the kid’s lying. Still, they’re a couple o’ teenagers. “That so?”
“Nothing much.” He shrugs, hurting too badly to be smart now. “She wanted us to…wants us to do it before she…but she gets these headaches now.” His voice shakes; he struggles to steady it. “They’re pretty bad.”
Mal nods, reaches out a hand to stroke the kid’s hair. Devon doesn’t pull away.
“There's nothing I can do!”
It’s an awful lesson to learn, that there are things in life can't be fixed. It’s even more awful, learnin’ it so young. Still:
“That ain't rightly so boy. How much coin does she need?”
“Good thing you got your mother's brains, your daddy's looks and your mamma's fine way with folk. Skylark ain't a bad recruit to grab for this little venture either.”
"What are we going to do?"
Mal smiles. Oftentimes, it seems like River's genes dominate in their children. Every now and then, though…every now and then, a little bit of their daddy shines through. Like Devon refusing to lay down arms in the face of certain defeat. Makes a man mighty proud... almost proud enough to ignore the sneakin' out, the drinkin' and the sexin'. Guess he can let slide on the sexin', seein’ as nothin' actually happened...
“Daddy?” Starling don’t call him that much anymore. “What are we gonna do?”
Mal grins and tousles the kid’s hair.
“We’re gonna misbehave.”
She’s got her blouse undone: his baby girl.
Mal gets some ideas. Most of ‘em involve punching.
Inara hurries to diffuse the situation.
“It’s late, Brant. Why don’t you run along home, sweetheart?”
“Sh-shiny, Missus Reynolds.” Brant grabs his coat, careful to hold the folds in front of his lap as he half-sprints out the door. “Night, Epi…Sheriff Reynolds.”
Epiphany’s buttoning back up her shirt. Mal digs his knuckles into his eyelids. Ta ma de hwoon dan….
“Daddy…Daddy, you’re overreacting.”
She seems to favor that line. When she’s nine and breaks her arm borrowing his rider, Mal overreacts. When, at fourteen, she and her brother hitchhike to their Aunt Caroline’s place on Boros and spend a week learning to shoot and bass fish with Jayne, Mal once again overreacts. If the twins happen to take up drug smuggling—whatever Mal’s reaction it will most surely strike Epiphany as over the top.
Inara plays the diplomat.
“Epiphany, now might not be the best time for—”
“Epi, you best be gettin’ to your room,” Mal says. He folds his arms over his chest, hopes to look stern.
The girl rolls her eyes.
“I’m sixteen years old.”
“That thought did cross my mind,” Mal agrees.
“It’s not like I’ve never—”
“Epiphany!” Inara holds up a hand. “Do not finish that sentence. Go to your room, bao bei. Right now.”
She does, with a toss of her dark hair.
Mal lowers himself to the sofa. He feels old. He feels nauseous.
Inara sits beside him, rests a smooth hand on his knee.
“You know about that?” he demands.
“Yes, Mal.” She rolls her eyes. “I knew we’d return from the picture show to find our teenage daughter groping her boyfriend on the sofa.”
“Ai ya! I don’t require a description, darlin’. Saw it all in much-too-shiny detail.”
“I’ll talk to her, Mal.”
He raises a brow.
“You don’t seem all that anguished.”
“She’s a little young, still, I admit.”
“Old enough to know better.”
“And did you at that age? Know better?”
“That’s…that ain’t the same thing. Wholly different circumstance.”
“Why, Mal?” She smiles at his silence. “Might this key disparity stem from a gender discrepancy?” She blows in his ear when she says it, opens her mouth against the sweet spot of his neck. Damned woman and her wiles.
“You know, I ain’t exactly thrilled at the idea of Starling having…sex.” He pronounces the word in a stage whisper, making her laugh. He likes that he can still make her laugh. When she’s laughing, the ‘verse is upright. It’s titled when she cries.
“Now how do you know that?”
“He tells me things.” She lifts a shoulder, as though it’s inconsequential.
“He took Katie on a picnic last week. The last round of treatment seems to be working, Mal; she’s feeling much better.” Inara looks at him like he’s a hero. He looks away.
“Oh. Glad to hear it.”
“Go talk to your daughter. Neither of you will sleep otherwise.” She nuzzles his neck. “You’re both so stubborn.”
“Ain’t that why you love us?”
Awhile later, he raps at Epiphany’s door. He learned that lesson the hard way with her mama.
“Skylark? It’s me.”
“I know who it is. And you can just get lost, you...hou zi de pi gu!”
“Epiphany River Reynolds! ‘Less you’re of a mind to lose hover mule privileges for life, I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest you open the damn door.”
She flings the door wide, marches straight back to her bed. He sees her eyes for a second. It don’t take more than that to see she’s been crying.
He melts. Dammit.
“Little Lark...me and you need to have a talk.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“I--” He scratches his head, tries not to sound hurt as he asks, “Whaddaya want I should call you?”
“I’d prefer you don’t speak to me at all just now.” Sometimes Mal can’t believe she ain’t Nara’s by birth. Any second now she’s gonna call him a petty criminal and throw something, maybehaps a tea cup.
“Well...well, that’s just too bad. Now, Epi--”
“You didn’t lecture Devon!”
“Well, see, he and Katie didn’t do nothin’.”
“Not for lack of trying!” She rolls her eyes. “Ai ya, they did every other rutting thing except the actual rutting. Devon’s almost as smart as I am, Dad. He and Katie were...creative.” She smiles.
“Oh, God! Skylark, I can’t be knowin’ that--”
“And of course, Mama has plenty of suggestions,” she continues cheerily. “What’s wrong, Daddy? I mean, you’ve no qualms invading *my* sex life?”
“Your...your what life?” He wishes vainly for a time when all it took to make her happy was pony rides and ice planets. “Darlin’, you think I like walkin’ into my own livin’ room and seein’ what I saw?“
“You don’t wanna see that?”
“Uh, no, I really don’t.”
She nods, big eyes wide with understanding.
“It make you uncomfortable....”
“So from now on, I’ll just entertain boys in my bedroom.”
“Yes--no! Dammit, Epi. Just...just stop talking. Now I know you ain’t of a mind to be hearin’ this. But what you was doin’ with that boy--well, you’re too young for it.”
“Daddy.” She rolls her eyes, her desire to point out his utter silliness apparently trumping her want to give him the silent treatment. For now. “We were just kissing, Daddy.”
“Well, no. No. Your lips are a good bit higher than where that boy’s hands was.”
She looks a mite guilty at this.
“You and Mama came home early.” She shrugs a single shoulder, another Inara gesture, and looks sheepishly at the floor. “You said ten.”
“I’ll agree that was a mite bit unfortunate all around. But that ain’t no excuse for--”
“I know about protection!”
“Oh, sweet Ye su.”
“Mama and Aunt Kaylee showed me a book. It was illustrated.”
He sighed, resigning himself to the fact that they were having this conversation, and it was gonna suck, really and truly.
“That ain’t really the point, honey. It’s important, mind you. Just not the only important--”
“Daddy...are you saying I can’t have sex?”
She bides her time, prepares to do battle. Like her mother, she knows instinctively when to attack and when to wait.
Dear God, yes, his head hollers.
“No, Skylark.” He rakes a hand over his face. “No, I ain’t sayin’ that.”
She waits, patient. Or prepared--with her, he’s never sure.
“It’s just...you’re awful young, honey.”
“I’m almost seventeen.”
“You’re sixteen and a half.”
“That’s almost seventeen.”
“That’s still young. And--and I don’t like that kid. Brant.”
“You liked him last week. You told Mama he ‘seemed to have his head on straight.’”
“Yeah, well...that’s ‘fore he grew all those hands.”
“Daddy....” She spins a strand of her hair, chews her lower lip. Her big blue eyes are remorseful. “Taking off my top--well, that might have been my idea....”
Mal takes a slow, cleansing breath.
“Huh,” he says at last. “Well, in that case Brant can still come callin’. He can visit with your mama and me whilst you stay locked in your room.”
She giggles. Ai ya, kid’s got a pretty laugh.
He reaches over to muss her hair, and for once she doesn’t complain.
“Go to sleep, Skylark.”
She kisses his cheek.
Inara slips her arms around his waist, resting her head in the hollow between his shoulder blades.
“At ease, Captain.”
“Huh? I’m just—”
“Waiting by the window with bated breath?”
He shrugs, a rueful smile settling over his features. He brings her forward so he can cuddle her proper.
“It ain’t too bated….”
“It’s okay, Mal. She’s your best friend--you’re allowed to miss her.”
“I don’t—miss her. Just been awhile since I seen her.”
“I see,” she says, and they both smile.
Raven waves him every now and again. More than her mama in earnest.
“Sir, I can’t let you lead me forever. And if I stay with you any longer, it’ll always be as such.”
“Go suh. That ain’t the way of it.”
She raises a brow in challenge.
They’re still on Sihnon, having reluctantly accepted Trevor’s offer of room and board while the legalities are settled. In Kaylee’s absence, Mal works on learning his children. Inara tries to give him space, but he just shakes his head, and settles a warm, sturdy body in her arms.
They’re yours now, too, he says with his eyes. He watches his sleepy son stare up at his new mama, watches Inara balance the fleece-bundled form on her hip with an expression he ain’t never seen before on features almost too beautiful to behold.
Inside, he’s about cracks from the twisted coil of emotion squeezing his chest. He turns his face into his daughter’s neck, and only her soft, baby skin is witness to his tears.
“Zoe, you’re your own person. Just ‘cuz you stay with me don’t mean you gotta follow my path. I ain’t your sergeant no more, haven’t been for a long while. Hell, Zoe, I’m not even your captain.”
Zoe just smiles. She lifts Epiphany out from Mal’s arms and looks into her clear blue eyes.
“And if either one of believed that, sir, I wouldn’t have to go.”
Bemused, he takes Epiphany back—he’s already started to think of her as his skylark; her brother’s the starling—and lets Zoe slip away.
When the twins are sleeping, or occupied with Inara—she speaks to them while she applies her creams and combs her hair, tells them long, sweet stories while their big eyes study her curiously—Mal plays with Raven. They do numbers and letters, and he’s witness to her first discoveries—the coolness of dew-drenched grass between her bare toes, the way dandelion fuzz tickles her nose when he blows the airy white petals into her face.
“Flower,” she tells him, and he’s tempted to say they’re just weeds, but he doesn’t.
“Flower,” he agrees and spins her about like a rocket ship while she shrieks. He even does the noises.
He thinks Zoe will take her away for a good long while, and he’s right. It’s two years before he sees them again. A part of him hates Zoe for that, but the bigger part understands why she does it. It can’t ever be like it was on Serenity. She feels the need to carve out a life of her own with what’s left her. Even if he doesn’t like that much, he accepts it.
Raven ain’t especially drawn to farm life, though she does have a thing for horses. Zoe teaches her to ride, and on a rare visit, Mal takes her riding. Or, for truth, she takes him, leading the way on a long, moonlit trail through the woods. Her hair snaps behind her, like a long, sleek whip. She flies over the paths every bit as smooth as her daddy flew his spaceship, and the sight of it is enough to give Mal pause.
She devours books, and when she waves Mal it’s to tell him of places she longs to visit, adventures that await her on land and in the Black. She’s gonna leave her mama one day—Mal knows it, Zoe too, most like—and Mal wonders if his friend will come back to him then. There’s a specialness between them now--Zoe and her daughter. Zoe’s always given the girl space, not interfering too much with her learning and growing. Course from what Mal hears tell, Raven ain’t near so much trouble as her cousin Epiphany....
Epi’s excited to see her cousin. At twelve, she dotes on the girl who’s already entered her teenage years—a period Mal is wholeheartedly dreading though Inara seems irritatingly blasé about the whole thing.
Her lips curve, and the smile is Wash’s, and for a second or two the guilt is so heavy Mal can feel it draping his shoulders. Then it abates some, and he pulls the girl into a light hug.
“Heyyy. Missed you, Little Chick.”
Standing on tiptoe, Raven can kiss his cheek now. Inara says she has a crush, that Mal’s her first love. She seems unperturbed, telling Mal it’s natural--practice, even, for the men to come. Though Mal’s no more keen to think of the chick with men than he is his own baby girl, he figures it’s fitting in a way; when she was born, Little Chick stirred a part of him he’d long thought dead. He loved her ‘fore he knew he was still capable of the sentiment.
“Uncle Mal, can we go riding?” She stares up at him with Zoe’s wide black eyes, lean arms still looped around his waist. “I’ve been practicing.”
“Oh, reckon that can be arranged. Best go find your cousins first--they been hollerin’ for you the whole damn day.”
Zoe. She looks exactly the same, ‘cept everything’s changed. Her hair’s cut shorter, and she’s traded her vest and holster for a skirt and blouse, and that shadow in her eyes is fainter if not fully vanished. He notices something in her shoulders, too. Like she doesn’t have to hold them so rigid.
“Zoe.” He nods, arms folded.
Inara swirls her eyes at them both and wraps Zoe in a tight hug. Later, she’ll marvel at their formality after all these years.
“You’ve been through war together, Mal. Friendship, sex, death...childbirth! Are you both so stubborn that you can’t kiss hello?”
“Just ain’t our way, Nara.”
“What’s so terribly wrong with showing emotion? Or, for mercy’s sake, affection?”
He’ll raise a brow in challenge.
“You wanna see affection?”
Her eyes widen as he advances.
She’ll be laughing when he tumbles her to the bed, tugs her nightgown down to cover her breasts with kisses.
Pretty soon, won’t neither of ‘em be laughing.
Inara’s leading Zoe away by the arm.
“Come in, come inside. Will you have a cold drink? Or would you rather tea....?”
Mal turns, and his gaze fall on Epiphany, eyeing the scene from the landing.
“Hey, just sent your cousin after ya.”
“I was on the Cortex.”
“Oh, yeah? Talkin’ to that boyfriend of yours, I suspect.”
“Da-deee. Chase’s and my relationship is purely platonic.”
“So it’s a relationship, huh.”
She rolls her eyes--Mal seems to elicit that a lot when it comes to the women in his life--but permits him to kiss her temple.
“Whatcha doin’ out here? Heard your mama’s makin’ some kinda hot cheese.”
“I saw you with Raven.”
“Yeah, I said she’s lookin’ for ya....”
Epiphany angles her head, thoughtful.
“You love her lots.”
“Well, yeah. She’s my niece. Your cousin. Just like Sari and the Con man.”
“Mmm, no. It’s different.”
“Raven was the first. You helped Zoe with her ‘cuz Uncle Wash was gone, and you fell in love though you didn’t want to.”
Mal blinks, surprised by the direction this is taking. Course River’s kids are nothing if not surprising.
“Skylark, honey, you know I--”
“I know, Daddy. I know you love me to death--and Devon most of the time.” She smirks, as any self-respecting sister would. “I’m glad you loved Raven first. It made it easier when Dev and I came around.”
She grins again and bounds down the stairs in search of her cousin. Mal just shakes his head and follows. He rounds the corner, and nearly takes out Kaylee. Quickly, he grabs ahold of her shoulders to steady her.
Kaylee’s got Conway on her hip. He’s four now and looks sorta like Devon did at that age. His hair’s just a mite too long--dark strands spill down over his eyes--and he hides his face in his mama’s neck. Mal knows he’ll be the last of the little ones, and the notion is wistful, if not exactly sad.
“Hi, Captain.” He salutes the way Mal showed him: right hand to right eyebrow, angle upward to block out the sun.
Conway’s the only one of the critters to call him captain. Mal knows it’s Kaylee’s doing, and he’s grateful even if it stings sometimes to hear it.
“Hey, there, sailor.”
Sometimes he can’t get over Kaylee having babies. She weren’t more than a kid herself when she showed up on his boat. Now she’s mom to two.
Sarina, eight, trails the bigger girls. She’s like Kaylee more ‘n a little, in that she’s sweet and given to smiles and always after Inara to brush her hair. If Serenity were still sailing, Mal knows Sari’d be the one to fly her. He feels a pang sometimes, knowin’ she won’t never get the chance.
She’s dragging her feet now, all manner of downcast.
“Hey, little darlin’, what’s the news?”
“Raven and Epi are doing grown-up stuff.”
Mal nods sagely. Grown up stuff seems to translate to talking about boys and raiding Nara’s closet.
“Well, Sari, my girl. Know I ain’t a fair substitute for Raven and Epi. But I’d be glad for the company.”
He holds out a hand, and she smiles Kaylee’s smile and slides hers inside. He’s on his way to the kitchen, where Simon and Zoe and Inara can be heard laughing at some tale of Kaylee’s telling, when the doorbell chimes.
“Now who could that be?”
Sari lifts her small shoulders.
“Reckon we oughta go find out.”
He opens the door, and it’s a surprise, but somehow not all that surprising.
He’s got a new scar--a faint pink line under his left eye. Mal can’t help thinking Simon woulda sewed it up without leaving a mark. Still, it suits Jayne somehow. His hair’s longer than Mal’s seen it, and bleached some from the sun. He’s tanned and strong-looking. Ain’t much changed.
“Hey, down there.”
“Hello,” Sari says cheerily. As though this giant stranger blocking the doorway is an old friend.
“Now you gotta be one o’ Kaylee’s.”
“Jayne, Sari,” Mal says by way of introduction.
“Last I saw you, you was high as my knee.”
“I grew,” Sari says politely.
“Well?” Mal raises a brow. “You gonna stand there lettin’ in the mosquitos?”
Mal gives Sari’s hand a squeeze and starts toward the kitchen. He cocks his head and motions for Jayne to follow.
“Dinner’s on the table. Let’s eat.”
Thank you all for reading my rambles these last months. I sincerely hope you enjoyed. Comments much appreciated~
Thursday, July 13, 2006 9:06 PM
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