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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Set four years after A NEW LIFE. Simon is finally in the hands of capable doctors, but is it too late? And the family on Harvest tries to go on in the face of such tragedy. Simon/Kaylee, Mal/Inara, Jayne/River
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1587 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
A/N: Thanks to Leiasky for the beta ... and thanks to all who have read and responded - keep those comments coming!
A NEW BEGINNING, ch. 18: Second Chances
Regan had honestly never been so scared in her entire life. She hovered in the waiting room, her anxiety playing itself out as she paced a nervous path, never straying far from the swinging doors where only an hour or so before her son’s form had been rushed into surgery.
They had told her that it would be hours before the surgery was done. This one, the first, would of course be the most intricate, the most necessary; it was when they would remove the bullet that had been pressing and tearing at the muscles and nerves in her son’s back for the five day ride it had taken them to get here.
Clutching her hands nervously, she continued pacing, sparing a glance over to one of the benches along the room’s wall, where her son-in-law and granddaughter were situated. Jayne sat with his head tilted back and his mouth hanging open slightly as he slept, Rylee’s sleeping form lying against his chest. Regan smiled at the sight, despite the circumstance. She had been blessed in the past week to have these moments with her grandchildren, they were beautiful, loving and smart, and they obviously cared for one another, their parents and their aunt and uncle with the same fierce tenacity that Regan had only ever seen exhibited between her daughter and son. The sight of them helping each other, supporting each other, warmed her heart in a way she had never experienced before.
Regan blinked quickly to clear more tears from her already puffy eyes and refocused them to find River standing in front of her. Looking to her with a quizzical gaze, she cocked her head to one side and then placed a light hand against her mother’s shoulder. “They’re okay now,” she told her, her voice holding a confidence that Regan had yet to hear. “They’re going to be okay.”
Smiling slightly at her words and the conviction with which she said them, Regan pulled River’s hand from her shoulder and gripped it tightly. “I know, dear, but I’m still his mother. That means I’m entitled to some more worrying.”
River smiled sadly at her, as she asked, “And Kaylee?”
Her brow furrowing, River did not like that unexpected turn of events. The doctors and nurses had told them she would be fine. Her body was severely dehydrated and of course, she was exhausted. Ordering her on bed rest and pumping her full of fluids, she was now resting comfortably in a room just a few feet from where Simon was now, Daniel again at her side.
Of course, what the doctors had discovered, but not admitted, was that Kaylee was pregnant, by just about six weeks, making her condition that much more critical. River felt a bit of anxiousness, now that she fully understood the stress Kaylee’s body had been suffering, but she had resigned herself not to panic, not yet.
But that wasn’t her secret to tell and it wasn’t really what Regan had been asking in the first place. Smiling to her again, River answered, “She’ll be fine. The doctors said that if her levels get back up to normal soon, she’ll probably be back out here with us by the time Simon’s surgery is over.”
At the mention of her son’s name, Regan let out a small whimper and turned her eyes again to the swinging doors, wishing they would part, wishing that at any moment her son would walk through them and hug her, telling her that things were all right and that they would again be a family. But she knew that wouldn’t happen, not now, not until he was well on his way to recovering, but maybe not even then. She had so much time to make up for, so many mistakes to atone for … she only hoped she’d get the chance to set them all right.
“He’ll forgive you, you just have to give him time.” Again River’s small, quiet voice interrupted her reverie, and Regan drew her eyes back to her daughter’s youthful face. “He will,” she reaffirmed, smiling slightly as she took her mother’s hand and led her over to one of the waiting areas many benches.
As she sat, River caught sight of Jayne and Rylee and had to smile a bit bigger. He had been amazingly calm and supportive during all of this and she knew it was driving him slightly insane; while he didn’t want to see Simon or Kaylee hurt, he was also worried about her, how she was handling it all and that concern made her heart swell with new love for him.
“How did you two end up together?” It was Regan’s turn to draw River back from her memories and with that same smile she turned to face her mother.
Sighing slightly, River thought about all she and Jayne had been through, all they had suffered, survived, celebrated – and wondered what exactly she should divulge to the woman sitting next to her now. With a shrug, she said simply, “We just did.”
If Regan wanted more, she wasn’t going to push. Pulling her daughter into a tight embrace, she whispered, “I’m so glad you’re happy, sweetheart. Truly.”
“I am, mother,” River whispered back, sinking into the older woman’s embrace. It had been a long time since River had felt the love of a parent and she was finding it addictive. After another moment, she pulled back and told the woman, “I need to get back to Kaylee. Daniel’s with her and I don’t want to leave him for very long.” Luckily, due to Regan’s monetarily-backed persuasive techniques, Kaylee’s room had been placed near her son’s, making it easy for the family to move about while still staying close to their loved ones.
Nodding quickly, Regan felt her eyes again well with tears at the thought of her grandson. “Is he all right?”
River thought on that for a moment, her mind reaching out to find his small consciousness. Nodding slowly, she said, “He will be, he’s just going to need some time.” Glancing over her shoulder at Rylee’s still sleeping form, she added, “I think they both will.”
Following her gaze to Rylee, Regan nodded once, and then pressed a light kiss to her daughter’s cheek. “You go sit with them. We’ll come and get you as soon as there’s any word.”
River nodded once and then got up and drifted back into Kaylee’s room, just a few feet away. Regan watched her go continuing to pray that this family, her family could recover, taking all the time they needed.
Daniel’s voice was small and quiet, broken by tears, but insistent. He was sitting on a high stool at Kaylee’s side, and once his aunt had left for a few minutes, he had crawled up next to her, curling his legs up underneath him and sitting right by her hip.
She still hadn’t awoken and Daniel didn’t like that. His mother was not one to be sick, not one to have her light dimmed and in the past week, Daniel had seen far too much of the drawn woman before him and not nearly enough of the loving mama he remembered.
When he’d seen her go down, watching as her eyes fluttered shut, Daniel had felt his whole world drop away. Now, not only was his father unconscious and possibly dying, but his mother was unconscious as well, and the little boy did not like the fact that his parents, the two people in the ‘verse whom he loved more than anything, except his sister, were not waking up.
“Mama,” he called to her again, reaching out his tiny hand and wrapping it around her fingers. “Mama, get up, please? I don’t like this place.” Daniel watched with tear-filled eyes as his mother’s eyes remained closed. “Mama, please, daddy’s not awake either. And me and Ry are scared.”
But she did not move, she did not flinch, her eyes did not open. With more despair welling in his small heart than he could possibly take, Daniel laid down next to his mother, resting his head against her heart so he could be assured of its rhythm and cried until he fell asleep.
When Kaylee again began to feel, anything, she was acutely aware of her overly dry mouth and her swimming head. Her eyes, which apparently had not been open for a while, were gummed shut from tears and sleep and she had to blink several times to get them to open.
As she brought the bright room into focus, Kaylee felt the warmth of a body next to her and glancing down quickly, inhaled sharply as she saw the head of dark hair. But in an instant her mind and her heart finally communicated that that head of hair did not belong to her husband, as she had hoped, but instead to her son, who was curled up against her, sleeping.
Reaching out a sluggish hand, Kaylee ran her hands through his dark, silky hair and felt more tears coming. Glancing a bit more around the room, she registered the IV that was strung into her arm and remembered the last few moments before she had passed out. Looking to the other side of the bed, she saw River, sitting in a chair and smiling at her.
Rising, her sister came to her side and squeezed her hand. “You’re awake.”
Smiling a bit, Kaylee spoke with a harsh tone, her voice dry from disuse. “I guess I am.” Still trying to work out the details, she asked, “Where are we? What happened?”
Smiling patiently, River sat next to her on the bed and explained, “We’re on Greenleaf. Mother brought us here for help.” Looking over to Daniel’s still sleeping form, River again brought her eyes to rest on her sister’s face as she leaned in close and whispered, “And you should have taken better care of yourself. Especially in your condition.”
A blush instantly lit Kaylee’s cheeks and she averted her gaze, feeling guilt and embarrassment as she knew River was right. Her eyes flying back up as a thought struck her, she pulled her hand away from River’s resting it lightly against her middle. “It’s okay, ain’t it?”
Smiling again, River kissed her lightly on the forehead and said, “You’re fine, you both are.”
Releasing a sigh, Kaylee again looked down to Daniel’s sleeping form. With more tears in her eyes, she asked, “An’ Simon?”
Pausing River tried to feel for her brother’s presence. He was still in surgery, the doctors working furiously to remove the bullet that had done a lot of damage. But with a wave of relief she knew he would be out soon and awake even quicker than anyone of the medical staff in this hospital could predict.
“He’s still in surgery, but he’ll be out soon,” she told her. “And he’ll wake up soon too. He’s got too much to live for.”
Kaylee bit back more tears, about to thank the girl when Daniel finally stirred at her side. “Mama?”
Biting her lip to keep more tears in, Kaylee smiled at him and said, “Yes, baby.”
Blinking rapidly to clear the sleep from his eyes, Daniel’s face broke into a relieved grin, as he crawled up and flung his arms around his mother’s neck. Burying his face against her shoulder, he murmured, “I was so scared. You and daddy were both sleeping and we couldn’t get you up.”
Crying herself, knowing the kind of pain and distress she must have caused both her children, Kaylee hugged him back tightly and told him, “I know, baby. I’m sorry. But we’re gonna be okay now. Your daddy and I both, we’re gonna be fine.”
As Kaylee held her son, Jayne entered with Rylee in his arms and the girl perked up immediately at seeing her mother’s smiling face. “Mommy,” she squealed, twisting in Jayne’s arms to reach for Kaylee.
Jayne brought her quickly to the bed, placing her down beside Kaylee as River rose to make room for her. Backing up a bit, she and Jayne stood in each other’s embrace as they watched Kaylee and her children kiss and cry, trying to reassure each other with words and closeness that everything was all right.
Looking up at Jayne, River waited until he had turned his gaze to regard her, before whispering, “Thank you.”
Reaching up a hand, he brushed some of her hair back from her face to behind her ear and then rested it lightly against her cheek. “For what?”
Smiling at him, River pressed a light kiss to his lips and then buried her head against his chest, “For being here. For loving me.” Again turning her eyes to him, he noted the playful spark that danced there as she said, “For entertaining my mother.”
Chuckling a bit, Jayne kissed her and when they parted said, “Yeah, you owe me for that one.”
Laughing herself, River turned again to watch as both Daniel and Rylee curled up against Kaylee’s side and promptly fell asleep again, both children feeling safe and relaxed in their mother’s presence.
It was more than half a day before Simon awoke for longer than a few seconds. Regan and River were by his side constantly, Jayne keeping watch between the two rooms as Daniel still had refused to leave his mother. Rylee sat with her father, her little form nestled against his side, even though the doctors and nurses that bustled about disapproved. However, after one stern look from Regan, all of their glares had stopped.
But now, River knew and so did Rylee that Simon was going to wake. River sat up a bit straighter in her chair, and then moved to his side, being sure she could stand closest to him. Her mother, puzzled by her daughter’s sudden movement, followed her to Simon’s side and inhaled sharply as his eyes fluttered opened. His dark eyelashes beat against his cheeks for a moment as his muscles and brain fought for the control that the drugs pumping through his system did not want to relinquish.
“Come on, daddy.” Rylee’s voice was barely a whisper, but she kept her intent gaze locked on her father’s face. She could feel his desire to wake up, to see her and her brother and their mom. And she knew he could do it – Rylee had long ago learned her father could do anything. “Wake up.”
With a bit of a sigh escaping his lips, Simon blinked his eyes open, having to wait until the room and the people around him came into focus. He tried to smile as he recognized his sister’s beaming face, her happiness at seeing him awake not at all dampened by the tears in her eyes. Just as shock registered in his mind at the sight of his mother, his field of vision was consumed with his brown-haired daughter, her brown eyes swimming with tears, but her smile wide, just like her aunt’s.
“Hi daddy,” she greeted him cheerfully, resting a hand to his cheek. “You feel better?” Simon tried to answer her, but he was unable to do much at the moment besides feel his heart swell with love for his little girl; which she obviously felt. Placing a light kiss to his forehead, she said, “S’okay. You don’t gotta talk.”
Hoping he was smiling, as that was the message he was sending to the muscles around his mouth, he looked past Rylee and felt a panic rise in his chest; Kaylee. Where was Kaylee?
His eyelids failed him again, fluttering shut, and all three women held their breath, hoping he could stay awake. When he again won the internal battle to focus his eyes back to his sister, it took him a few moments to order his tongue and mouth to work in tandem. "Kaylee?" His voice was raw and harsh-sounding to his own ears, but he pushed past the discomfort; he needed to see his wife.
Regan and River shared a glance, while Rylee continued to stare at her father with unblinking eyes. Both of the older women had agreed that Simon did not need to know about his wife's condition - she would be up and about before he would even be fully aware of what had happened - and his body didn't need the extra stress.
Swallowing hard, River kept her wide smile on her face and told him, "She's fine, Simon. Just resting. She’s been through a lot."
Simon's eyes widened further. Even in his drug-influenced fog, his heart thudded hard against his rib cage as Kaylee's health and that of his unborn child were brought into question. "Where is she?"
"Resting, dear, that's all." It was Regan's turn and as she spoke, a patient smile on her lips. She patted his knee wishing he would relax, wishing he would just fall asleep so that when he was again awake, Kaylee would be here, holding his hand and helping him to heal.
While Simon knew they were keeping something from him, he also knew his ability to wheedle it out of either women was severely limited in his current condition. Relaxing just a bit, he released a breath, as Rylee finally addressed him, "She wouldn't wake up either, daddy. Like you. We was so scared."
His eyes widened again as he focused all of his attention to his daughter, "What?" he asked, trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
With an exasperated expression, she said, "They made her go to bed." Looking to the clear line of fluids hooked into his arm, she pointed and added, "And she has one of these too. Does it hurt?"
Immediately his breathing increased, the screens monitoring his vitals starting to beep incessantly. With a panicked look, he again regarded his mother and sister, a hard stare in his still foggy blue eyes. But before he could accuse them of anything, Rylee reached out and placed her small hand against his cheek. Bringing his gaze back to her, Rylee waited until he had again focused on her and told him, "Daddy, she's okay. Danny's with her. He thought I should be here an' he should be there." With a sigh, she said, "You take so much lookin' after."
Simon smiled slightly despite his concern and reached up a sluggish hand to pull the one that Rylee had against his cheek. Kissing it, he still looked to his sister for confirmation. River smiled at him and nodded once, telling him, "She's fine." Glancing quickly to their mother, she then leaned down and whispered, only loud enough for him to hear, "They're both fine."
Visibly relaxing, Simon felt his limbs go weak against the bed and knew he wouldn't be awake much longer. "Go to her," he murmured once, reaching for River's hand and getting a slight squeeze in return. "Please. Go." And then he was asleep again, his body needing to rest, despite his concern for his growing family.
The days after the Tam contingent left Harvest were a fog to most of the members of the family left behind. There had been the investigation and disposal of Keller’s body, the local sheriff an old family friend of the Fryes, trusted Thom Frye and despite the corpse he removed from his property, he wasn’t about to stop now. So, when the man told him that the dead body in his woods had been shot in self-defense that had effectively ended any furthering questioning.
The children, already adversely affected by Elijah’s death, did not bounce back as rapidly as everyone had hoped. Ben, Isaac and Tristan took the passing of their brother with a gruffness that Mal and Zoe could relate to, while Cleo and Ellie tried to be there for Cadie. It was no surprise to any of them that Cadie was the most withdrawn, the loss of her brother coupled so closely with the loss of River, no matter how temporary, was bothering the girl and try as they might, no one seemed able to reach her.
Mal and Inara did all they could, sitting with each of the children, playing games with them, encouraging Mimi to play and have fun, hoping to draw the others out, but the days were long and filled with sadness that had soon permeated both adults. Five days after Simon and his family had gone, Mal and Inara sat out on Millie’s porch enjoying a late night cup of tea, trying to collect their thoughts and quell their sadness, when Zoe joined them.
“May I?” she asked her friends quietly, not at all surprised to see Inara blink away tears as Mal told her, “O’ course. Since when you think you gotta ask?”
Zoe smiled warmly at him, as she took a seat on a bench across from them. She watched them for a moment, noting the ease with which Mal had wrapped an arm around Inara’s shoulders, her hand resting lightly against his thigh. With a pang of loss, Zoe wished she had Wash with her, someone to help her shoulder the burden of all this grief, but with a barely audible sigh, she pushed the sadness away. She had weathered plenty of grief before all by herself and she would do it again.
Inara, always the mother, looked to Zoe finally and asked quietly, “How’s Ellie?”
Smiling her thanks at her concern, Zoe took a sip of her own drink and then said quietly, “Okay. She’s really more worried about Cadie at this point.” Grinning a bit, she told them both, “You know, she feels like she’s in charge of them? Even though she’s not the oldest, she still feels responsible, like it’s her job to make sure they’re all right.”
“That’s a big burden for a nine-year-old,” Mal commented dryly, cocking an eyebrow at his friend.
Returning the look, Zoe told him, “That’s a big burden for a 90-year-old.” Mal nodded and chuckled a bit and Zoe realized in that moment how much she had missed her friend. “Still, she’s a smart girl. She’ll ask for help if’n she needs it.”
“I hope that’s a skill she can manage to retain the older she gets,” Inara said softly, smiling fleetingly at the thought that if she had just learned how to ask for help as an adult, she could have been so much happier for so much longer.
The three of them sat in silence again, listening to the sounds of the night. There was the faintest hum of crickets and the sound of some far-off animals making their way through the woods.
“Ya’ll heard from Kaylee yet?” Zoe finally asked, looking to them quickly for their reactions.
They were as she expected. Mal stiffened, just slightly, the memory of Simon’s injured body and Kaylee’s devastated form coming to mind, while Inara blinked back immediate tears. It was Inara who answered. “No.” Her voice was quiet and guarded as if she knew the minute she spoke too much or said just the wrong word, the dam of her emotion would break, spilling out a flood of thoughts and feelings she could not deal with.
Looking to Zoe, Mal told her, “We woulda said somethin’.”
Nodding, his ex-first mate answered, “I know.” Studying his profile for a minute more, Zoe sighed heavily, even as she raised her cup back to her lips and took a sip. “Well, at this point no news is probably good news.”
“Ya think?” Mal asked her skeptically, his expression easily conveying his doubt. “’Cause at this point I’m thinking no news is worse news.”
Grimacing, Zoe let that thought sink in for a moment as the three of them continued to sit in silence. She supposed that Mal did have a point, she couldn’t imagine Kaylee, with her bright smile and wide eyes, eagerly looking for the nearest wave screen to tell them Simon was gone. “Yeah, but even if Kaylee couldn’t make the call, River or Jayne’d do it,” she told them both, not at all surprised when Inara let a small sob escape her lips.
Wiping futilely at more tears, the refined woman rose abruptly, taking her cup and Mal’s, although he wasn’t quite done, and headed for the door. “’Nara?” Mal questioned quietly, gently holding her wrist as she tried to move past him.
With a fake smile she had perfected years ago, his wife turned to him and said, “I’m fine, Mal. I’m just going to clean up.” And with that, she stepped out of his grasp and headed inside.
Mal watched her go, turning to face Zoe with a quizzical expression. Having known Mal for the better part of ten years, she had seen that look before – it was the one that normally preceded him getting slapped or shot at. Cocking her head in the direction Inara had gone, Zoe told him, “I’d go after ‘er, if’n I were you.”
Smirking, the man rose, stopping on the way to give Zoe’s shoulder a squeeze. When the touch brought her eyes to his, she saw his patented warmth shining there and had to smile. “It’s good to see ya, Zo,” he said quietly, before moving inside, careful not to let the screen door slam.
Zoe sighed once he’d gone, her thoughts again consumed with Kaylee and her children and the pain they were all suffering. She thought briefly of Wash and her own pain, which had never really gone away, she had simply learned to live with the ache. Blinking back a few tears, Zoe did not want to think about Kaylee, her friend, having to live with that dull hurt. Sitting back in her chair, Zoe let her tea cool as she stared into the night, her thoughts soon lost among the stars.
Inara’s hands were shaking as she rinsed and washed her cup and Mal’s. Even as she let the water run, warming to a temperature that was dangerously close to scalding, Inara could not stop her body from trembling. As the steam from the hot water begin to rise, ghosting over her bare arms and face, she hoped the warmth would rid her of this chill. This sickening shiver had been with her since she’d seen Simon, lying unconscious and pale in the clinic and Kaylee, sitting distraught and pale beside him.
Mal watched Inara from the doorway, noting how she hunched her shoulders as she worked. He had seen her unease the minute she’d glanced to him on the porch, her eyes conveying the sadness she was trying so hard to conceal from him, Mimi, everyone. And he could see now that her posture, normally the height of perfection, was bent out of need, need to lean against something solid, need to be supported.
With a newfound determination, Mal moved forward, deciding that if his wife, his pregnant wife needed support than he would be it. As he placed a light hand to her shoulder, she jumped, turning to face him with tears in her eyes. Even as she regained her composure and blinked those tears away, Mal still knew they’d been there and he knew he couldn’t let them go.
“Mal, you startled me,” she told him, her voice desperately trying to convey an ease she did not feel. Wiping her hands on a dishtowel, Inara took a deep breath, before turning and getting ready to leave. “Did you and Zoe have a nice talk?”
More puzzled than before, Mal watched in awe as Inara strode past him and out the back door heading into the night for the Everetts’ place. Following her, he had to jog to meet her, and when he did, he grabbed her elbow, whirling her to face him. In the dim, dim light of the moon overhead there wasn’t a whole lot he could make out, but he saw her eyes filled with fear and it caused a lump to rise in his throat.
Reaching up a hand to Inara’s face, he tried to caress her cheek, but she pulled out of his reach. “I’m fine, Mal,” she bit out, turning again and walking back towards the house.
Running to catch up, he told her, “I know that ain’t true.” Regarding her out of the corner of his eye, he asked quietly, “What is it?”
They had reached the Everetts’ porch and Inara did not break stride as she lifted her long skirt up and walked up the few stairs. Reaching for the door, Mal’s hand came around and fell on top of hers. He leaned in close, his mouth just inches from her ear causing a pleasant tingle to race through her. Inara could feel his warmth, radiating off of him and even that little bit managed to take her chill away, much more so than the steam had. Pausing for just a second, she stiffened as he whispered, “Why won’tcha tell me?”
Keeping her eyes down, she said quietly, “There’s nothing to tell, Mal.” Pulling open the door, she was to their room and in her nightgown by the time he made it up the stairs. As he rounded the corner, he saw that she was sitting on the edge of the bed, her back to the door, her face staring out the window at the pale moon.
Taking a deep breath, he came in, shrugging his suspenders off his shoulders and untucking his shirt. Once he’d kicked off his boots, he stood off to the side, regarding her profile. Taking a step closer, he watched as she shivered at some unexpected chill, her skin pimpling with gooseflesh in the process. Pulling a blanket from the foot of the bed, he wrapped it around her shoulders as he sat next to her, careful to pull her towards him and keep an arm around her as he did so.
While she did not pull away from him, she also did not relax at the embrace, causing Mal to worry even more. Looking to her, he asked quietly, “You wanna tell me what’s goin’ on?”
Looking to him with tear-filled eyes, she couldn’t even try to hide it any longer. “It could have been you,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. Sighing heavily, she dropped her forehead to his shoulder, snuggling into him.
Mal’s surprise at her admission quickly died, followed by an immense sadness for his wife. Running his hand through her hair, he pulled her closer as he whispered, “Nah, I couldn’ta been. I didn’t have no beef with that Keller guy.”
Pulling back, Inara’s eyes did flash with exasperation now as she said, “No, you idiot. Not Keller, but how many other enemies do you have? How many men, like Niska, have you ticked off in the past five years?” Her eyes again swam with tears, but she kept her voice steady and continued. “What’s to stop any of them from coming after you, the way Keller came after Simon? What’s to stop any of them from shooting you? From –" Inara could not finish the statement and her strong voice broke from the intensity of her emotion.
At a loss for what to say, Mal again pulled her close, feeling Inara’s desperation as she fisted her hands into his shirt, her forehead again resting on his shoulder. “I just keep seeing it,” she murmured, her face buried into his chest. “I keep seeing Simon lying there, and Kaylee and those children and I can’t help thinking it could have been you.” Taking a few deep breaths to try and bring her emotions under control, she finally murmured, “I don’t want to be a widow, Mal.”
Mal’s mind worked furiously to find the reassurance Inara needed. He could think of nothing, no words, no statement, no action that could take away her fear. She was right and he knew it. He had pissed off all manner of unsavory folk in the past five years and, on more than one occasion, he’d managed to find himself at the business end of someone else’s gun. But it wasn’t as if he went out looking for a fight.
“I ain’t gonna die,” he finally managed to get out, realizing the statement was less than eloquent, but at the moment, all he could come up with.
Bringing her distraught face to meet his gaze, she told him, “You don’t know that.”
Swallowing thickly at the pain he saw reflected in her eyes, he said honestly, “No, I don’t. But ‘Nara, I’ve managed to stay alive this long and I survived Serenity Valley, that’s gotta count for somethin’.”
Not convinced, a few of the tears Inara was valiantly trying to control fell. And now, instead of letting him comfort her, she pulled away. Wiping her cheeks, she said quietly, “So, it’s a law of averages? You’re playing the odds?” Looking to him now with an anger in her gaze he had not expected, she bit out, “Tell me, Mal what are the odds? Twenty to one? A hundred? Are you taking bets? Maybe I should place one.” Her anger and her volume had risen in the last minute and Mal was startled by the vehemence in her eyes and her demeanor.
“Darlin’, I ain’t playin’ a game, ‘specially not with my life,” he told her, wishing he understood exactly what she wanted him to say.
“But it’s my life too, Mal,” she told him, her tone again dropping to that desperate pitch. “Mine and Mimi’s and this new baby’s. Don’t you get that?” Placing a hand to his face, she forced his eyes to lock with hers as she told him, “You are my life.”
Mal swallowed thickly and held her stare, even as he felt a few tears of his own prick the back of his eyes. He and Inara were not as lovey-dovey as the doc and Kaylee that had always been a fact. True, he had told Inara, on numerous and varied occasions that he loved her, was glad for her, didn’t deserve her … All things he felt to be sure, but things he did not say with any kind of frequency. And Inara was much the same way.
But now, hearing her speak so plainly of her fear of losing him, of her fear of being a single parent, raising two children, his two children, caused Mal to pause, possibly for the first time. He didn’t want that either, couldn’t she see that? Didn’t she know that he left for every job with a hard knot growing in his gut, fearing that he may never see her again?
Cradling Inara’s cheeks in his hands, Mal brought their faces together and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. When he pulled away, he saw that more tears had formed in her warm brown eyes, and he hated it. Caressing one cheek with his thumb, he said, “’Nara, I ain’t got no guarantees, you done know that. But I ain’t about to leave you or Mimi or this new little one with no husband, no pa. That ain’t right, and it’s not who I am.”
Inara cried some more, wishing she felt better, wishing her anxiety for Kaylee coupled with her anxiety for her husband would ease. But it wouldn’t, she knew that, had always known it, and she had managed to live with it for quite some time now, but in light of all that had happened, bottling her fears down deep as she usually did, just seemed impossible. Plus, with the raging hormones brought on by her new pregnancy, she felt even more out of control than normal. She hated crying, hated it with just about everything she had, but at this moment, she seemed powerless to stop it.
Pressing herself to him tightly, Inara wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against his shoulder. “Just don’t leave me, Mal,” she whispered, her breath hot on his neck. “Please.”
Holding her back just as tight, Mal pressed kisses to her cheek and temple and into her hair, rubbing his hands up and down her back, trying to comfort her. “That ain’t never been the plan, darlin’,” he whispered, blinking back his own tears. “And it ain’t never gonna be.”
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