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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Kaylee has a talk with Simon and Jayne makes a surprising offer. Then Inara returns and Mal starts to do some thinking.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1847 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.
Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529 and LEEH for the beta help!
Mandarin translations: put your mouse over the pinyan to get the definitions, or see the list at the end.
In case it’s not obvious: I’m really not trying to connect up with the movie, I’m taking the characters down my own little windy garden path. Just so you know… if things seem weird, I do that on purpose!
Kaylee woke up bit by bit, but there was no fuzzy period of forgetfulness. She had no confusion about where she was, and remembered everything that had come before she took her rest in Inara’s shuttle. She figured from the heaviness of her arms and legs and the dryness of her mouth that she’d slept long and hard, but it hadn’t given her any distance from the hijacking, or from the way it had ended.
She heard the little sounds of another person in the room and was glad to know that Inara was still with her, but she didn’t want to get up yet. She was still for a while, hoping to fall asleep again. Then it occurred to her that making herself busy might be the best way to quiet her thoughts, especially since sleep didn’t look to be coming. There was a shuttle that needed fixing; that would do for a start.
She rolled over, and was a little startled that it wasn’t Inara sitting across the room from her; it was Simon.
“Oh – ” she stammered, realizing that, under the covers, she was wearing very little. It wasn’t Kaylee’s way to be shy, but she didn’t want Simon looking at her. Not right now. She didn’t think real hard about why; she just pulled the covers up to her nose.
“Good morning,” Simon said softly. “How are you feeling?”
She pulled the blanket down enough to reply. “I… I’m okay.” Her throat was scratchy. She coughed a little, then asked in a still croaky voice, “Is it really mornin’?
“It’s moving toward afternoon,” he said with a smile. “But I guess the time of day is a little off for all of us.”
Kaylee was a little surprised when he stood up and left the room, but he came back a minute later with a glass full of water. She worked one arm out from under the sheets to accept it, but kept the rest of herself hidden. She felt like she must be dirty. She tried to think back on everything her body had been through since she last had lazy free time for washing up. There’d been unintentional drunkenness with Jayne, finding and fixing the new mule, driving around in the desert, then being held hostage on her own ship. Days of grime were built up all over her, and she wanted nothing more than to get to the shower and scrub it off.
Simon sat down on the edge of the bed, but Kaylee wished he’d stay further away. She didn’t want him close to her now; he looked so neat and clean. So civilized.
“We still docked with the Alliance?” she asked.
“Yes, we are.”
“Where’d Inara go? Not that I ain’t… not that I ain’t happy you’re here…” she stopped when she saw how Simon shifted uncomfortably and looked down at his hands. His reluctance to speak made her worry. She sat up, still holding the blanket tightly over her chest.
“What is it, Simon? You gotta tell me.”
He looked up at her. “The Alliance took Inara. She’s been gone for nearly half a day, and they haven’t told us anything.”
“They took her? But… but Inara’s a Companion. They can’t just take her!”
He shrugged, looking helpless. “I guess they can, because they did.”
“But they won’t do nothin’ to her, right?”
“Of course they won’t,” he said, but she could tell he didn’t believe it. He must have noticed the way she looked at him, because he shook his head. “I don’t know, Kaylee. The way people act out here… it never makes sense. There’s no rules, no guidelines. People never do what they’re supposed to do.”
Kaylee laid back down, letting her head rest on the pillow. No, people sure didn’t act like they were supposed to. She hadn’t. The thought made her look away from Simon.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “This isn’t helping. I shouldn’t be so negative –”
“S’okay. You don’t gotta be all careful `round me. You can say what you need.” She roused herself and shifted, sliding back so she could sit up against the wall behind the bed, still carefully clutching the sheet. She swallowed down her own worries; she’d meant to be a help to Simon, but here he was, trying so hard to comfort someone else again. Trying to comfort her.
“I meant to come back,” she said softly. “I saw how bad they hurt you, and I was gonna come back to the infirmary and help. But I… I guess I forgot.”
He smiled. “Don’t worry. I managed all right by myself.”
Kaylee’s frustration came back, fresh and stinging, as she recalled what she’d felt when she’d seen Simon through the infirmary window. “You shouldn’t’a had to! I don’t understand it, Simon. You were helpin’ them. You’re a doctor, not a gunhand like Jayne. You don’t hurt people, you fix them. Why would they beat on you when you were just tryin’ to save one of `em?”
Simon looked surprised at her sudden tirade, but then he smiled sheepishly. “Actually, I feel more than a little foolish. I walked right into this.” He raised a hand to the bruise high on his cheek. “River was trying to warn me, but… I just wanted to get to Book, and I paid no attention to her.”
“That ain’t all, Simon. I seen what they done to you.” Her eyes drifted down to his torso, and she reached out a hand toward his side. But he looked all proper now, his fancy vest fitting neat and snug around him, and her arm dropped before she touched him. “That wasn’t just knockin’ into you once,” she said. “What I saw wouldn’t a’ happened unless someone was out to hurt you.”
He scratched the back of his head and shrugged awkwardly. “Actually, that followed another move of mine that, maybe, wasn’t entirely míng zhì.”
Kaylee just stared at him until he explained.
“I… kind of tried to fight one of them. I attacked him.” He took a deep breath and continued with the air of a man giving a full confession. “I jumped an armed man. There was no artificial gravity and I was hardly able to move, but I did it anyway.” He shook his head. “In retrospect, it wasn’t very bright, and didn’t accomplish much. Well… except that I broke his nose. That was… oddly satisfying.”
Kaylee stared at him open-mouthed. She’d meant to ask why he’d done such a fool thing, but she got side-tracked by that last tidbit. “Hú chĕ! You broke Will’s nose?”
Simon’s sheepish smile held a little pride, but then he shook out his right hand, making a pained face as he flexed his fingers. “It’s not something I’d like to do again.”
“I guess we did our part then, huh?” Kaylee said. “You broke a nose, and I…”
She couldn’t finish, and there was an awkward moment. Then Simon broke it, speaking with forced cheerfulness. “There’s good news,” he said. “Zoë, Wash and Jayne are back.”
Kaylee looked up hopefully, but then she felt a little worry sneak in. It seemed too much to suppose that anyone had got through this without hurts. “They all right?” she asked.
“Perfectly fine. They showed up this morning. They, um…” His face lit in a smile. “They brought your mule back.”
Simon was so sweet, comforting her like that, with something he knew was important to her. She tried to encourage him by returning a smile. “I guess I ought’a go see that they didn’t break it, huh?”
“If you’re ready to get up. There’s no rush. You should… you should take it easy, after…” He looked down at the floor, hunching a little bit like he was nervous. “Kaylee, if you need anything, anything at all…”
Truthfully, she had no idea what she needed, but the offer meant more than she could say. She reached out to touch his arm, and he looked up and took her hand in his own. Gently, he worked her fingers, his adept touch releasing the tension in her joints. And then she realized that this could be it – this could be her moment with Simon. Finally. She looked up and met his eyes. He was right here, so close, and for once he wasn’t saying anything to ruin it. He smiled a little as he lifted a hand to her hair.
Before he could touch her, Kaylee pulled her hand out of his. “I… I need a shower,” she said, “`fore I do anythin’ else. I just… I need to get clean.” She dropped her head and couldn’t look up again; she didn’t want to see his face.
His reply was soft. “Of course,” he said, but he didn’t get up, just sat on the edge of the bed like he had more to say. Not now, Kaylee thought. I can’t do this now.
“Um… you see my clothes anywhere?” she asked.
“Oh.” Simon said. He looked at her arm which held the sheet across her chest, and his eyes widened. “Oh!” He stood up suddenly and looked around. Her clothes were neatly folded in pile on the table, and he got them and set them on the bed. “You just… get dressed,” he stammered. “I’ll wait outside.”
Kaylee watched him leave, but she didn’t change right away. She couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if she’d taken the chance, just leaned forward to kiss him. How would Simon react to her doing something like that?
She regretted not trying, but this wasn’t the time. Not with her feeling as nasty as she did. Inside and out.
* * *
Jayne woke up with an empty beer growler still wedged under his arm. He’d finished off the little bit left in this bottle, but he hadn’t touched the other one. For some reason, his heart hadn’t been in his drinking. Must’a just needed the sleep more.
And now he needed something else. His mouth and body were ripe enough that even he smelled it. Jayne was a standalone kind of guy, and the opinions of others never did weigh on him much. Still, that crazy old Chinese lady had called him stinky. He’d never let anyone know it, but that’d hurt his feelings. It was one thing when a guy like Wash let his mouth run off about Jayne’s hygiene, but it was different when a woman said something, even if it’d been some ditty old bat talking. And worse - she’d said it right in front of Kaylee.
He got up and dug through the mess in the corner of his bunk to find a towel, then headed to the shower room just below the bridge. The scrap of soap sitting in the stall, along with a lot of scrubbing, did the work just fine. Before too long, Jayne was stepping out of the shower room, glowing shiny clean pink and holding a towel around his waist. He shut the hatch behind himself and turned around to run smack into Kaylee.
“Whoa – watch it there, li’l Kaylee.”
“Oh, sorry, Jayne. Guess I wasn’t watchin’ where I was goin’.” She sounded all tired out, and didn’t hardly look at him. That wasn’t like the Kaylee he knew. He expected her to at least take a glance, if only to make some crack about him walking around near naked.
“You ought’a be more careful,” he jibed, “I could be some half-crazed hijacker lookin’ for trouble.”
Jayne grinned, but Kaylee didn’t seem to think that was funny. Not at all. She stepped away from him, her head down and eyes on the floor.
“Yeah, I guess I should be careful…” she said softly. “I just... I was thinkin’. Busy thinkin’.” Then she just stood there, and Jayne wiggled his toes awkwardly against the metal deck, not at all sure what to say.
Finally, Kaylee pointed at the door behind Jayne. “You mind if I… ?”
“Oh.” He realized she was holding her shower things, and he stepped aside. But he watched Kaylee as she went by; she wasn’t at all like she ought to be. It was like someone had turned her light out.
“Hey, Kaylee,” he said, and she turned back to him. “You know, I got some a’that beer left. If you wanted some… maybe, like… to help you unwind a bit. Cause bein’ a hostage can’t be all that much fun. I guess.”
Her mouth curved in a small smile, but she still didn’t look happy. “No thanks, Jayne. I’m just fine.”
Jayne watched her go into the still steamy room, then he turned toward his bunk, shaking his head.
Mal started out of his sleep at a touch on his arm. He woke up easier than he had last time, but he still had a bad spell while the remnants of troublesome dreams danced through his head. He sat up and waited for the bleariness to pass.
When he was able to think straight, he looked up at Zoë. He didn’t have to ask any questions. “She’s back,” was all Zoë said.
They found Inara in the dining room. The rest of the crew, minus their two guests, were gathered around the table, eagerly awaiting the Companion’s story. Inara herself looked tired and dull, and she started speaking as soon as Mal and Zoë entered.
“We can go,” she said. “There are no charges against any of us.”
Mal stopped just inside the doorway. “But… how…”
Inara explained, but she spoke slowly, without her usual liveliness of manner. “My client and his aunt were behind the hijacking of Serenity. I overheard some things they said while I was on the platform, and I gave evidence against them. You’ll be allowed to refuel at the planetside Verdande compound, and they promised a decent price. It’s all here.” She set down a sheet of paper on the table, then paused, looking around at the crew, as if trying to remember if there was more to say. Evidently, that was all, because she stood up and faced Mal. “Do you mind if I give you the details later? I’m… very tired.”
“Sure, go on and get your rest,” Mal said. Inara turned and left without even a nod of acknowledgement.
“Well, then,” Wash said. He looked up at Mal and waved his thumb toward the bridge. “Captain, may I?”
“I’d be happy if you would,” Mal replied, and Wash got up and departed through the fore hatch, clearly eager to get them away from the Alliance ship.
Mal rubbed his eyes. This was too much information passing too quickly. “We got any morning-type beverages?” he asked.
“Hot water for tea on the stove,” Book answered, and Mal went about fixing himself a mug. He surreptitiously checked on his crew from the galley: Zoë and Jayne seemed fine; Jayne actually looked cleaner than he had in a good long time. Book seemed hardly the worse for wear – he was entertaining the crew with tales of the things that had occupied his thoughts during his under-the-table time. River was her distracted self, dividing her time between staring off into space and casting sharp, worried looks at Simon and Kaylee.
The doctor was looking toward Kaylee, but not directly at her. Kaylee didn’t speak up either. She sat back from the table, occasionally nodding at the conversation, but she didn’t join in. Eventually, she pushed back her chair and left, saying she wanted to get started fixing up the torn up wiring in Shuttle Two.
“Doc,” Mal said as he came out of the galley with his tea in hand.
“How’s your patient?”
“He’s doing well. There’s no sign of infection. He woke up for a little while this morning; I think I’ll be able to move him to a dorm room soon.”
Mal sighed. Moved to a dorm room? That implied a bit of a long stay. All he needed was more wayward babes on his boat.
“How ‘bout our other guest?”
“He has a room already, but he’s been sitting outside the infirmary all morning.”
Mal sighed. “I’d best go deal with him, now that I’m able to talk sense. Zoë.”
She nodded and got up to follow him out of the room.
They found Bucky where Simon said he’d be: sitting outside the infirmary. He was dozing, his head tipped back against the chair he was sprawled on. Mal stopped and took a moment to gather himself. He didn’t know much about these people, except that there was a father who hadn’t seen his son in a spell, and a son who, clearly lacking guidance, had gotten himself involved in some hardcore crime. Mal wasn’t inclined to look too kindly on Bucky.
“Mal,” Zoë’s voice was a soft whisper. He looked back at her.
“I ain’t sayin’ I’ve gone all angel of mercy, but take it easy on the man, all right?” Mal gave her a questioning look. “He had nothin’ to do with what happened here. He just wants to help the boy. And when we first talked to him, he said he thought the kid was dead.”
Mal looked at Bucky again; that would explain it, if it was true. Mal went to take a seat next to the napping man, then awkwardly tapped him on the elbow to rouse him.
“Hey. Uh… Bucky?”
Bucky looked up, startled. He shook himself awake and looked into the infirmary, checking on the boy before his gaze settled on Mal.
“How’s he doin’?” Mal asked.
Bucky wiped his eyes. “He woke a bit this mornin’, but didn’t have a lot to say.”
“Did you tell him about Ray?”
The man gave Mal a tired look. “I did.”
“How’d he take it?”
Bucky shook his head. “Didn’t say a gorram word.”
Mal sat back and waited while Bucky took some time to wake up fully. He watched the man, not quite convinced. Any bum in the ‘verse could father a child, but that didn’t make him worthy of being a dad.
“How long’s it been since you seen him?” Mal asked.
Bucky took a moment to think, like he was calculating. “It’s been… it’s been more than nine years. Been seven since Ray came and told me he was dead.” Mal nodded to himself. Made sense, then, that Bucky wasn’t torn up about his brother’s death. Not a lot of love in that family.
Bucky looked into the infirmary again. “He’s not the same as the boy I knew. I’m not even sure if he remembers me. When he woke up, he just looked at me, all blank, like he didn’t even care who I was.”
Mal glanced at Zoë, and something behind her caught his eye. A small body was all balled up on the stairs over the infirmary. River was staring down at them, her eyes fastened intently on Bucky. Mal found himself hoping that Bucky didn’t notice; a look like that could make a full-grown man fear the wrath of skinny teenaged girls
“Captain, I want to ask you for somethin’,” Bucky said slowly, and Mal pulled his attention back to the conversation. “I can’t say as you owe me much, seein’ how much trouble all this has been to ya. But I can’t take Jase to the compound. If there’s any spirit left in him, it’ll get killed by livin’ in that place.”
Mal glanced up at Zoë, and he saw confirmation in her eyes. “You got somewhere else in mind?” he asked.
“There’s a planet near here. It’s not a high tech place; it’s mostly wild and empty. But there’s a colony of folk there that got moved off Niflheim. Some of ‘em are relations of Jase’s mom. I think they’ll take us in. Planet’s called New Borjomi.”
“I know the place,” Mal replied. “We took our ease there for a few days.”
“It would help if I could get back to my flat in the compound on Niflheim. I got all my worldly goods, and there’s a few things that may fetch some money. I’ll pay what I can for the ride. And for what you’ve done to help him.”
Zoë spoke up before Mal could even think on it. “It ain’t a problem,” she said. “Wash and I can take you over in the shuttle while Serenity’s fueling up.” She folded her arms and glared at Mal like she was daring him to challenge her offer, but Mal just nodded.
“You may have to wait a bit,” Mal said. “Shuttle Two’s been tore up, and I don’t want to push Kaylee. You can go when she says it’s ready. As for going back to New Borjomi – that’s just fine by me. I wouldn’t mind stockin’ up on foodstuffs again. It’s better than paying the prices they charge here.” He stood up and turned to look down at the man. “`Sides, you did help Zoë here get to that transport; I appreciate that. You keep your money. You’ll be needin’ it.”
Zoë was pleased at how Mal’d treated Bucky. Truthfully, she hadn’t expected him to go so soft on the man. But she wasn’t at ease with how he’d left the whole situation. She caught up with Mal in the cargo bay.
He stopped a few steps up the stairway, his hand on the railing. “Yeah, Zoë?”
“It wouldn’t be a bad thing to get out of this system on the soon side. Alliance has been known to change their mind out of nothing more than but bein’ ornery.”
“You got an idea to hurry us on our way?”
“We could take Inara’s shuttle down for Bucky’s stuff. I’m sure she’d – ”
Mal interrupted, his voice firm. “No. Let her have her peace. She needs it.”
He started to continue on his way, but Zoë couldn’t leave it alone. She needed to get to the bottom of this. “Sometime, Captain, you should explain what’s got everyone on this boat so spooked.” She had a specific idea of who she meant when she said everyone, but it hadn’t been doing much good to ask Mal about himself directly. His worry about Inara seemed a good place to get him started with the talking.
Mal stopped a few steps up the staircase and gave her a long, measuring look. Then he turned all the way back. “Hell, Zoë. We’re just on edge after all that’s happened. Don’t mean nothin’.”
“Then why you so eager to give Inara all this alone time?”
Mal looked annoyed, but instead of snapping at her to mind her own business, he sighed and sat down on the stairs. His face crinkled, like he was digging up something inside himself that wasn’t easy to get to.
“I got this…” He paused and gave Zoë a sidelong look, like he felt silly about what he was saying. “Look – I got this feeling. I can’t explain it, but I think something happened to Inara. Something besides the stuff on this boat. It’s gorram hard to tell with her being so good at doing the ‘everything’s fine’ act. But… I think she’s hiding somethin’.”
Zoë didn’t question his instincts; she’d been with Mal a lot of years, and sometimes it seemed like she had a better feel about his hunches than he did.
“You asked her `bout it?”
“I did. Before the Alliance took her. She don’t want to talk.”
Zoë leaned against the railing next to him. “Sir,” she said, then, “Mal.” In conversations like these, which didn’t happen often, it was hard to know what to call the Captain. It was hard to classify what their relationship was. But she had something to say, so she plowed on ahead.
“You and I both know what it’s like to be troubled, and we’ve both pushed other folks away so they won’t see it. It don’t work. I know it, and you do too.”
“You’re sayin’ I should try talkin’ to her again?”
Zoë wasn’t ready to commit to that. “I can’t tell you what to do. You have to go about things your own way. I’m just sayin’… think on it.”
Mal sat quiet for a spell, then he gave Zoë a look like he was about to tread new ground, but he wasn’t at all sure if it was safe. It took him a few false starts before he finally said what was on his mind.
“Zoë… I know you didn’t think much of Wash when you met him, and I sure didn’t think much of you two gettin’ hitched. But, I gotta say, you never used to smile so much as you have since then.”
Zoë couldn’t help staring at him, completely befuddled as to what he was talking about. “You sure the Doc checked that bump on your head?” she asked.
Mal grinned. “He tried. But whatever got knocked loose, there’s no way he can fix it. You’ll just have to put up with me.”
She stepped around the railing and climbed up to sit on the stairs next to him. “All right, sir. What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
He stared down at his knees, looking like he was a little embarrassed.
“I just been wonderin’… How’d you do it? After everything… after the war and now, livin’ out here like we do… how did you ever, you know… “
Open up? Zoë thought. Let him in?
Mal went for an easier question. “How’d you and Wash get past that whole not-liking-eachother thing?”
He didn’t have to explain more; Zoë knew what he was asking. She remembered those early days with Wash, remembered the difficulty, the almost physical discomfort of making herself relax around the new pilot. Even after she knew there was something about him, and about the two of them together, it hadn’t been a simple thing to give in to it.
She’d held a shield around herself for so long that it had nearly become part of her. Setting it aside hadn’t been an easy thing, and it still came up from time to time. For example – events in that stolen transport, the ruckus Wash had made about that spacesuit. They still hadn’t made peace about that, just set it aside until the danger was passed. They’d have to work it out sometime. Soon.
Zoë sighed. It was tough to be both soldier and wife. If she was reading this right, Mal was facing a similar thing: how to be a Captain and a lover to someone on his ship. This wasn’t an issue she’d ever discussed with him, but if he was ready to quit being alone and move on in life the way she had, she’d certainly do all she could to help him. It sure as hell was time for him and Inara to work this thing out and quit putting the whole crew on edge with their fighting.
“I had to make up my mind that I wanted him,” she finally said. “And I had to give up bein’ safe.”
“Sometimes you have to take the risk of puttin’ someone else first. Set aside your own worries. Even the feeling that nothin’ you got will be enough. Just being able to do that… I think just makin’ that effort means more than anything else.”
She waited for a reply, but there wasn’t one coming. Mal just sat staring at something far away. Zoë didn’t push him; the Captain appeared to have some new thoughts working their way into his mind, thoughts that might do him good.
Eventually, Zoë stood up to take her leave, but Mal hardly noticed.
míng zhì: wise
hú chĕ: get out
On to Chapter 22.
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