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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Next in the series after Blues and Greys, and Resolution. Mal considers the future ... Feedback, as always, is welcome and needed!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1889 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Simon looked out from under the awning into the sweeping storm, drumming on to the cover above them and dripping into runnels on the already sodden ground. “Do you think it will ever stop raining?”
Freya shrugged. “Probably. Eventually.” At Simon’s look of confusion, she laughed and went on, “Something went kerflooey with the terraforming. It rains a lot here.”
“Kerflooey? Is that a technical term?”
He shook his head, then grimaced as a rivulet of rain found its way inside his coat. “People must have become waterproofed, then.”
“You land here, you’ve got no way of getting further, so you make the best of a bad job.”
Freya shrugged. “People adapt. You can get used to anything given long enough.” There was a beat. “So I understand.”
“I’m not surprised Inara decided to stop off at Persephone. And I don’t want to get used to it. There isn’t one part of me that isn’t wet.”
“I'm sure Kaylee won’t mind stripping you off and rubbing you down when we get back.”
Simon blushed a little, still finding his emotional attachment to the young engineer something of an enigma, particularly when spoken of in that fashion by this woman of many worlds. To cover his confusion, he posed a question that had been prodding his subconscious for some time. “I wanted to ask you – how long have you known Mal?”
“Oh, a long time. A very long damn time.”
“How did you two meet?”
“Well … you know he was a Browncoat?”
“I had gathered that.” He rubbed his jaw unconsciously. He still remembered the powerhouse Mal had delivered when he had dared to suggest the Captain was an Alliance stooge.
“So was I. He volunteered because he thought he could save his world. I joined because … I knew I couldn’t. And because I wanted to kill as many of them as I could.” Freya shrugged and looked into the young man’s eyes, wide with disbelief. “I was angry. Over what they did to me. I‘m not proud of it, Simon,” she added quickly. “Besides, it wore off pretty fast. Once it …“
Simon nodded. He was one of the privileged few to know anything of Freya’s past with the Alliance. “Not unexpected, I suppose.”
“No. Anyway, we met in a bar on this moon. There were soldiers everywhere, all wanting to get drunk and get laid before shipping off to the next theatre of war.” She paused. “Have you ever thought about that phrase? Theatre of war? Makes it sound almost … playful. It isn’t. When you’ve seen a man with his guts hanging out, and all you can do is put a bullet in his head … ‘cause he’s going to die anyway ‘cause you’ve got no medics, nothing, and the silence is worse than his screaming. It’s not playful at all.” She stared into the rain, obviously reliving a specific incident in her mind. Finally she shook herself free. “Anyway, this bar was like a thousand others – dark and smelly. It was great.” She smiled, the terrors of a moment ago forgotten. “When I got there, there was a fight going on. Not much, just the usual bar room brawl. Just as I arrived the winner stood up and said, “Who’s going to buy me a drink?””
“Mal.” She sighed at her first brush with Captain Reynolds’ proclivities. “So I bought him a drink. Then he bought me one. Then we bought a bottle. We talked for hours, about his home on Shadow, his life, and I told him about mine – well, some of it. Then we went to bed.”
Simon was shocked. “You slept with Mal back then?”
“I don’t remember there being much sleeping, but yes. Not that he remembers it at all. Or so he claims. And the next day we shipped out. We never expected to see each other again, but we kept running into each other. Different planets, different battles.“
“Were you at Serenity?”
“No. That’s one place I didn’t get to. Anyway, we became friends. Even when the war was over and he bought that rust-bucket, we would see each other once in a while, doing business with other people but always having a drink, catching up. Then …” She stopped, her face a blank mask.
“Yes.” She looked into his eyes. “Anyone with half a brain – or less – could see how that was leading.”
“It should’ve. I couldn’t compete, particularly as he never seemed interested.”
“He is now.”
“Thing is, they still love each other. That’ll never change. And what’s killing me is what will happen when they realise.” She stared out unhappily at the rain.
Simon was surprised. This woman was … well, only Zoe came close in strength, yet here she was baring her neuroses for him to see. He said quickly, “He loves Inara. Yes, okay. But he’s in love with you.”
“You think? I don’t know.”
“He has a strange set of morals, I’ll grant you. But he wouldn’t share your bed if he was thinking of someone else.”
“Hmmn. Mal and morals in the same sentence. Not something I would have ever considered I’d hear, not in this lifetime.” Freya smiled.
Freya stood straight. Jayne had come out of the store across the street, and was signalling them to follow him inside. “Looks like we might be in business.”
“Can’t I just stay here?” Simon complained. “I’m only now drying out.”
Freya laughed. “Come on, doctor.”
Jake Templeman was a rancher, about Mal’s size and age, with dark, almost black hair and a gentle expression. He stood up as Freya and Simon joined them, nodding at them.
“We ain't cattlemen,” Mal was saying. “We’ve dealt with them, but –“
“Not looking for that,” Jake assured him, sitting down again. “I just need some guns around while I get my herd ready for sale. We’ve had more’n our fair share of problems with raiders, and a ship like yours might well put them off trying to make another shot at rustling my beef.”
“Well, I reckon my crew would probably welcome a few days on solid ground, “Mal considered, looking around those who were with him. “They get somewhat contrary when we ain’t been in port for a while.”
Jake grinned. “Well, I’ll give you the coordinates to my place – it ain't far, and there’s a spot just beyond the house where you can land. If you want to sleep on board you can, but we’ve got rooms if you want ‘em. Got some decent food, too.” Jayne pricked up his ears at that. “Imagine you’re pretty sick of protein packs by now.”
“It can get a little wearing,” Mal agreed.
“Well, I need to be getting back.” Jake stood up.
“If you want, you can come with us,” Mal suggested, following him.
“Nope, but thanks. I’ve got to visit a couple of places on the way home, so best I travel my way.” He put out a hand and Mal grasped it firmly. “See you in a few.” He strode out of the store.
“It’s getting harder and harder these days to make an honest living.” Mal hung up his duster to let the rain drip onto the floor. “Seems like the Alliance is pushing more every year.”
“You always say that.” Jayne dropped his jacket onto a box. “We got one, didn’t we?”
“And we can take our time in picking a cargo. Patience said she had something to offer.” Jayne shook his head, rainwater spraying everywhere.
“Probably another ambush.” Zoe came down the steps. “I gather you were successful?”
“Shiny,” Mal said.
“So where are we going?”
“A place about twenty miles outside of town. A ranch.” He waited for Freya and Simon to join them before closing the cargo bay doors. “Got some problems with rustlers.”
“Sounds like our level, sir,” Zoe said cryptically.
“That it is,” Mal agreed, smiling. “Best get us in the air, Freya.”
“On my way,” she said, going up the stairs to the bridge two at a time.
Mal roped the steer with ease, a quick flick of the wrist bringing the animal onto its side, and he held it down while Jake branded it. The stink of burning hair and scorched flesh wafted up into his nostrils, and Mal considered it had been a long damn while since he’d been so happy.
“Done,” Jake said, and Mal let the animal up to its feet, whipping the rope from its neck. It ran back to the herd, complaining all the way. Jake looked at him, standing there, coiling the rope again. “You’re pretty good with that,” he commented.
“My momma had a ranch. Ran cattle. Mostly. I was out helping the hands from the time I could crawl,” Mal said, feeling the pulling on the palms of his hands. “Ain't done it in a while, though,” he said. “Reckon I'm gonna have blisters.”
“Yeah, you’ve worn the calluses away, right enough,” Jake said. “But you seem at ease.”
Mal looked up into the sky where the rainclouds had finally given way to wispy streamers, and the sun shone down, making the drying earth smell rich. “It’s what I was gonna be, before the war came,” he admitted, looking back at Jake. “Never intended to be out in the black. Home, family … that was the plan.”
Jake wondered at the bitterness in his voice. “Well, I never fought in the war. Ain't never even been off-world. Never needed to get anywhere enough to do it.”
“Even with all the rain?” Mal asked, smiling, breaking his bad mood.
“Yeah, your medic sure don’t like the wet, does he?”
Mal laughed. “And he lets everyone know.” He looked around. “Many more to do?” he asked.
“You sure your hands are up to it?” Jake asked in turn.
“Well, if I do get blisters I'm sure Freya’ll deal with them for me.”
“Yeah, I saw that,” Jake said. “She looks to you.”
“That she does.” Mal stretched his back. “Well, best we get on.”
Jake wondered at this man’s need not to talk about his woman, but didn’t pursue it. Instead he signalled for another calf to be released.
Jake had been right. There was good food, and plenty of it. They all sat around the table, Jake’s wife serving the guests.
“It’s fine food, ma’am,” Mal said appreciatively.
“Please, call me Dora,” she insisted. “And it’s the least I could do.” She sat down and picked up her own fork. “I know that Jake’s really grateful for you being here.”
“We’re getting paid,” Jayne said, ladling extra potatoes onto his plate. “Ain't doing it for love.”
Jake laughed, not at all put off by this big mercenary. “That’s true. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be civilised.”
“Civilisation’s a long way from here,” Freya said. “At least, what the Alliance calls civilised.”
“That’s the case.” Jake shook his head. “I went to the local Feds when this trouble first started, told ‘em I was representing everyone in the area. They just stared at me, as if I weren’t worth the price of a turd.”
“Jake,” Dora said warningly.
“Well, it was true,” Jake said. He looked at Freya and Zoe. “Sorry for my language, ladies, but those jing-tzang mei yong-duh Feds just told me to deal with it myself. Like they had more important business to attend to.”
“Yeah, like getting in a man’s way,” Jayne added, his mouth full.
“That they do,” Mal agreed. “But in this case I don’t think we’ll argue too much about it. If they had done something, we wouldn’t be partaking of this fine meal.” He smiled at Dora, who coloured prettily.
Freya looked down at her plate so he didn’t see the big grin on her face.
“So, how’re your hands?” Jake asked.
Mal looked at his palms. “Our doc here fixed ‘em right up.” He stretched his fingers. “Should be fine by morning.”
“Well, with your crew’s help we got more done than I’d’a thought,” Jake admitted. “Should be ready for the cattle sale in good time.”
“They’re a good herd,” Mal said, cutting into a slab of beefsteak. “You’ve got cows worth the stealing, there.”
“Thanks,” Jake said, nodding. “And you know your cattle. Your momma taught you that?”
Mal laughed. “And a deal more besides.”
Jake glanced at Dora, who nodded. “You know, there’s a place, a homestead, not far from here. Ain’t been worked for a few years but the ground’s good, and I can get you started with a seed herd. You and yours would be mighty welcome to stay.”
His wife smiled at everyone around the table. “You should. It’s not the easiest of lives, but I don’t reckon you’ve had that anyway. But it’s good work, and the people round here are mostly dependable.”
Everyone was waiting for Mal to say thanks, but no thanks. The silence, however, stretched on, and all faces turned to their captain. He was chewing thoughtfully on a piece of meat. Eventually he spoke, startled as if suddenly aware that he was the centre of attention. “We’ll finish this piece of work. Then we’ll see.”
Simon rounded the corner of the bunkhouse then reeled back. “Sorry.”
Freya was standing by the well, stripped to the waist, rinsing her hair in water from the bucket, her tattoo almost glowing in the murkiness of a small lantern. She looked up. “Sorry.” She grabbed her waistcoast from the wall and shrugged into it, buttoning the front. “You can look now,” she added, trying not to laugh.
“I didn’t realise.”
“You shouldn’t be embarrassed – you’re a doctor. And more specifically, you’re my doctor,” she pointed out.
“It was just a shock.”
“Why? Because I'm not Kaylee?”
“I just … you’re …” He stopped, aware he was digging himself in much deeper. “Yes. No. It was just a shock.”
“Hmmn. Were you looking for me?” She shook her head, trying to get most of the water out.
“Yes.” Simon grabbed the lifeline with both hands. “Freya, is he really going to do this?”
Freya sighed. “I don’t know. But I think Mal’s realised this is the man he could have been. If he hadn’t volunteered. Couple of kids, wife, ranch of his own … he’s seeing what could have been his.”
“Wishing it was?”
“No. Maybe. Not wishing, exactly, more wondering. What it would have been like, to come home to the same woman every night, tired, aching but satisfied. Fire in the hearth, food on the table, a warm body to snuggle to in bed, and a door that opens onto the night without it being impossible to breathe.” She hitched her buttocks onto the low wall around the well.
“It must sound inviting to a man like him.”
“But he's also thinking that if he had had this, then River would still be in the hands of the Alliance, you’d be locked up somewhere, Jayne … well, I don’t know where he'd be, but probably in jail too. Or dead. Mal himself would probably be buried: the war wasn't his fault and his home planet Shadow would still have been scorched. Hell, I’d probably be dead too – he saved my life on more than one occasion.”
“But he didn’t say no,” Simon persisted.
“No, he didn’t. And sometimes Mal’s actions are … difficult to fathom.” She stood up again. “But whatever he decides, it won’t be without a deal of thought.”
“What about us?”
“You mean you and River?”
“No. Us. The crew. Will we get a say?”
Freya put her hand on the young man’s shoulder. “It might not come to that.”
“If it does?”
“Then we’ll talk about it later.” She smiled. “Come on. I’m getting cold.” She shook her head again and sprayed him with water.
“How could you do that?” Simon asked, brushing the droplets from his shirt. “Haven’t you been wet enough here already?”
In the light of pre-dawn, Mal saddled the horse he had been using and mounted up. Jake had given good directions, and he set out east, towards the rising sun. In the bunkhouse, the curtain moved back into place.
Jake was right – nothing that a good lick of paint and a few boards wouldn’t put right. The ranchhouse was mostly tight, and what little rain had gotten in wouldn’t take long to dry out. The old stone fireplace was a good one, too, and in his mind’s eye Mal could see a big fire blazing, curtains at the windows keeping out the night, and kids playing in the warmth … He turned around, half expecting to see someone standing behind him, a baby on her hip …
Mal shook the dust from his coat and headed back outside. He was amused, but not surprised, to see Freya perched on an old bale of hay, her feet up, leaning back and looking at the sky. She was idly chewing a piece of straw.
“Did you follow me?”
“It was pretty obvious where you were going.” She dropped her head to look at him. “Thinking of taking this place on?”
“Pondering on it.”
She looked around at the green hills. “It’s pretty.”
“Reminds me of my home. Shadow, I mean. Where I grew up.”
“I know. Like I said, it’s pretty.” She sat forward, dropping her hands between her knees. “Good soil. Even if you didn’t want to run cattle, you could farm here. Could be a good venture.”
“What about the rest of us?”
Mal was surprised. He hadn’t really gotten past the possibility of settling down, let alone thinking of what the others would do. But he said, “You’d stay too. Why?”
“Well, I'm not sure Jayne would be happy with no prospect of having something to kill, and Kaylee needs an engine, a ship. Simon – well, he’d find something to do, a doctor is always needed, but it rains too much for him. The only one who would be really happy would be River: a big enough sky and a prairie going to the edge of the world.”
“A regular Shakespeare.”
“And what about you?”
“I'm like Zoe. She’ll follow her captain anywhere.”
Mal was almost embarrassed. Freya had never covered her feelings, only making light of the intensity of them. But it was still disconcerting to hear her. Somehow he felt that these kinda things should only be said in bed. “Well, I … that’s nice to know.”
Freya took pity on him and stood up, tossing the straw away. “Come on. We’d better be getting back. We’ll miss breakfast.”
“You really thinking about this?” Freya asked after a while, having enjoyed the companionable silence as they rode along.
“I don’t know,” Mal admitted. “Sounds … “
“If you mean it could hold out hope like a rope to a drowning man, then yeah, maybe it does. And it’s what I wanted to be, when I was a kid.” Mal rested his hands on the pommel of the saddle. “Kinda draws me.”
“I know.” Freya looked out over the landscape. “You’re wishing things had been different.”
“No war?” He stared at her. “Hell, Frey, I often wish that. Too many good men died who shouldn’t have.“
“On both sides,” Freya added.
“Yeah, that too.”
“You know I’d stay with you, whatever you decide.” She turned dark eyes on him, and he felt she was reading his soul.
“I had that notion, yeah.”
“I've never been in one place long enough to call it home, Mal. When I was a kid … then the Academy … the war … I’ve not stayed around to be tied to somewhere. Closest I've come is with you, on Serenity. And here, if it comes to it.”
“Thanks. But I ain't saying that’s what’s likely to happen. I got responsibilities, family … can’t go making decisions without them having a say in things.”
“Simon’ll be glad of that. And then you’ll make the decision because you’re captain.”
“You having a go at me?” he asked.
“Believe me, Mal, if I were, you’d know it.”
He smiled. “I reckon I would.”
“Still, I know what you see here. Permanence. Stability. Just not sure we’re ready for it yet.”
“No. Not yet.”
The silence returned, just glad to be in each other’s company, until, at the bottom of the last hill, Freya reined in her horse. “Mal. I smell smoke.”
They spurred their horses, and on the brow saw the bunkhouse was burning, and people lying on the ground all around. At full gallop they reached the main building and were off their horses in one movement.
“What the hell happened here?” Mal asked, looking around for his crew.
Dora, tending to one of the injured, said, “They came just after sunrise. Took most of the cattle. We tried to stop them, but there … there were too many.”
“Where’re my people?”
Dora shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said unhappily. “I think they’re in the house.”
Mal and Freya ran for the building, barely glancing at the burning bunkhouse, both praying that no-one was still inside.
“Captain!” Kaylee sobbed, throwing herself into Mal’s arms.
“Hey, xiao mei-mei, you okay?”
She nodded. “But they took Simon, and Zoe.”
“Took them?” Mal looked around, seeing Jake standing watching.
“They were out there, defending everyone, and they took them!” She was almost hysterical.
“Shh, shh,” Mal said. “How long ago?”
“’Bout an hour ago. Jayne followed them,” Kaylee said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “I don’t know what he thought he was going to do, but –“
“We need your help,” Mal said, turning to Jake. “You and your men, come with us.”
Jake looked around. “I can’t.”
“I can’t, Mal.” He looked apologetic. “I can’t leave my home. And I don’t know how to –“
“I don’t believe you!” Freya’s anger boiled over and she stepped forward. “We risk our lives to defend you, two of ours are taken, and now you won’t help?”
“It isn’t a case of won’t,” Jake insisted. “My men don’t know how to kill. That’s why we called on you in the first place. If we’d known how to, we wouldn’t have needed your help.”
“Well, we came to help, and now we need yours. You’re going to stand by and watch our people get slaughtered?”
Mal put his hand on her arm. “Freya.”
She shook loose. “No! No, Mal, this has to be said!”
“I know. But River needs us.” He had seen what she hadn’t, the young psychic lying on the table by the fireplace.
“Tah muh duh,” she breathed.
“Best get the emergency medbag from Serenity,” Mal ordered, and Freya ran back out through the door.
Mal pulled a med pack from the satchel. “Kaylee, you need to hold her down.”
Kaylee nodded and took hold of River’s arms. The young girl stopped her writhing and opened dark eyes on them. Freya, in the act of cutting River’s dress from her shoulder, dropped the scissors and put both hands to her head, in obvious pain.
“River! No! Stop!” She dropped to her knees among the bewildered audience. “Mal – she’s projecting! Knock her out!”
Mal stepped up to the bed, and with one punch to River’s jaw laid her flat back on the bed, unconscious. Freya stood up a little shakily. “I meant with a hypo.”
Mal shrugged. “Weren’t time.”
“What just happened?” Jake asked, looking from one to the other.
“River is … talented.” Mal considered trying to explain, but couldn’t find quite the right words. “You picked up on that?” he asked Freya, surprised. She hadn’t been able to read anyone for some time.
She nodded. “She was so loud, I'm surprised everyone didn’t hear.” She glanced outside where the dogs were going mad. “They did.”
Mal looked out. “They heard her too?” he asked, opening the pack and applying the pad to the wound.
“Mal, I should think animals the other side of the continent heard her.” She smiled at him, still a little unsteady.
Kaylee watched, tears on her face. “Is she going to be okay?”
Freya shook her head. “I don’t know, honey. I'm not a doctor. Neither’s Mal. We can slap on a field dressing, but that’s it. We need Simon.”
“Well, we don’t know where they took him, “Mal said shortly, looking down at the young psychic. “And I don’t think she’s gonna be able to help.”
“We can go look,” Freya suggested.
“Where?” he said sharply. “Even if we take Serenity, and’re lucky enough to find ‘em, by the time we could find a place to put down, they’d be dead.”
“I feel so gorram useless!” he admitted. “If I just hadn’t gone out on that wild-goose chase …”
Freya could do nothing but watch him blame himself.
Mal and the two women helped tend to the other injured, luckily mostly grazes, nothing as bad as River. But as the day wore on Serenity’s captain could feel the anger building great bonfires inside him.
“Da-shiong bao-jah-shr duh la doo-tze,” he said eventually, stopping his pacing of the main room of the ranchhouse. “I gotta do something.” He headed for the door.
“Like what?” Freya asked from where she was sitting.
“Find that damn doctor, for a start.” He turned as the door was slammed open.
“Well, I think we might be able to get him,” Jayne said from the doorway, covered in dust and sweat. “I know where they’ve taken him. Gonna be dark by the time we get there, though. Although that won’t be a bad thing – there’s some number of ‘em.”
It was an old ranch, more rundown than the one Mal had gone to look at, but now it was full of people. He could count more than twelve, even in the dim light from the lanterns they were using, and there were probably some others looking after the cattle they’d stolen. Still, they’d faced that number before. Hell, they’d faced thousands in Serenity Valley. Outcome wasn't quite what he had in mind, though.
Mal dropped back and rejoined the others. “Okay,” he said softly. “You know what to do. Let’s go do it.”
Kaylee trembled, but hurried along to the small creek that ran along the edge of the coral further along. Checking carefully, she undid the top of the jerrycan and began to pour the kerosene into the water. She could smell the fumes, knowing it was floating on top, and she kept the flow to a trickle. As she felt the can empty, she dropped it by her side, and lit one of the phosphorous matches. It flared brightly, its yellow light seeming to illuminate the entire hillside, and she dropped it quickly onto the kerosene. With a sound like a million angels crying, the creek went up in a wall of flame, catching the dead and dying bushes either side, and she could hear the horses panicking.
The leader of the rustlers staggered sleepily from one of the cabins, and roared, “What in the tyen shiao duh is going on?”
“Fire!” one of his men shouted unnecessarily.
“I can see that!” He buckled the gunbelt he had grabbed by instinct. “Get out there!” He went to draw his piece, but didn’t get the chance. A bullet took him in the shoulder, a second lower down, and he fell backwards, his mouth opening and closing like a fish before he lay still. The other men scattered out of the light.
As Vera’s shots rang out, Freya dropped over the rise and ran towards one of the out buildings, where she had seen one of the men take food, then come out again a few moments later. The door was locked, but a solid kick dealt with that. Inside, Simon lay on the floor, his hands and feet tied behind him.
“Freya?” he asked through swollen lips.
“It’s the cavalry.” Freya dropped next to him and drew a knife from her boot. “Are you hurt?” she asked as she cut his bindings.
“I’m okay.” With his hands free he was able touch his face. “Oh, boy, Kaylee is not going to be pleased.”
“She’s just gonna be over the moon you’re not killed,” Freya said, cutting the rope around his ankles. “Now, where’s Zoe?”
“I don’t know. We were split up as soon as we got here. Close, though, I think. I heard them talking about her. She broke one of their arms.”
“That’s my girl.” Freya helped him to his feet. “Get out and run. Head directly away from the camp.”
“What about Zoe?” He shook his head. “Give me a gun. I can help.”
“We’ll find her. Mal’s looking now.”
“No,” Simon said with surprising firmness. “Give me a gun.”
“I don’t have time to argue,” Freya said, but handed over the gun she had pushed into the back of her waistband. “Okay. Go find Kaylee. She’s out near the creek. And keep out of trouble, dong mah?”
Simon nodded and ran out of the door. Freya watched him disappear into the night, then turned to head towards the fiercest fighting.
Mal hurled the lighted torch into the cabin, watching the thin curtains catch and burn, then thicker smoke begin to billow from the open door. Coughing and spluttering, the raiders stumbled out, and with swift and unstoppable action he put an end to them. A crash from behind the cabin signalled Jayne making his own way in, then he jumped from the doorway, a figure in his arms. He rolled, protecting his cargo, as the oil in the cabin’s lanterns blew. The glass in the windows was thrown outwards, and Mal lifted his arm to protect himself from the worst of the shards.
Jayne let Zoe go, and pulled his large hunting knife from its sheath, making short work of her bonds.
“You okay?” Mal asked, watching and listening for sign of any more raiders.
“Shiny, sir,” Zoe said, rubbing her wrists. “Feel a mite naked, though,” she added.
“Thought you might. Here.” He held out her gun, the one she preferred to use. “Found it back at the ranch.”
“Thank you … Sir!” Zoe grabbed the mare's-leg from the Captain and rolled forward, aiming and firing in the same upward movement.
Mal turned, saw the last of the rustlers fall backwards, his throat and chest torn apart by the buckshot. “Thanks,” he said, holding out a hand to his first mate. “Could have been awkward.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” Zoe said, allowing him to assist her to her feet.
Freya jogged into the light from the flames. “Everyone okay?” she asked.
Mal nodded. “Looks like …” He paused. “Where’s Simon?”
“He wanted to help,” Freya explained. “I told him to go help Kaylee.”
“And where’s she?” Mal wanted to know, looking around. Movement in the darkness had him lifting his gun, but it was the doctor.
“Mal!” he called as he ran in. “I can’t find Kaylee!"
It was Jayne who came across her, lying in a ditch, still breathing, but only just. “Mal!” he shouted, wanting to cradle the young mechanic in his arms but not wanting to do more damage.
Mal came running, the others at his heels. He dropped into the mud by Kaylee’s side, unmindful of the wet beneath him. “Simon?”
The doctor joined him, feeling her body, his hands slippery with her blood. He swallowed. “She’s been shot,” he said. “It’s bad.”
“Frey, take one of the horses, get Serenity here,” Mal ordered, not taking his eyes from his mechanic.
“Gone, Mal.” She disappeared into the darkness.
“It may not be quick enough.” Simon spoke quietly, intently, as if he wasn't covered in the blood of the woman he loved.
“Keep her alive, doctor,” Mal said gently.
“I wasn’t thinking of doing anything else.”
The light hurt. It was too bright, but there was no going back into the dark, she knew that. And something hurt, something that would not be denied. It took an age, and stars birthed and died, but she opened her eyes.
“Kaylee?” A face swam into view and resolved itself into Simon Tam, concern etched onto his tired face.
“Simon?” Her voice sounded a long way off. She shifted slightly in bed, but a sudden pain made her gasp.
“Lie still. You’ll be fine now, but you need to lie still. Please, Kaylee,” he almost pleaded, injecting a hypo into the drip that ran into her arm.
“You’re hurt,” she said, seeing the bruises on his face, the cut lip, wanting to lift her hand to touch but not being able to move.
“It’ll heal,” he assured her.
“How … how’s River?”
“See for yourself.” Simon stepped to one side, and Kaylee could see the young girl lying on the other bed, looking across at her.
“Hi,” the young psychic said.
Kaylee smiled. “Hi.”
“I told him you were waking up,” River added, plucking at the dressing on her shoulder. “He was worried.”
“That is something of an understatement,” Mal said from the doorway. “Been wearing himself to a frazzle, trying to keep his sister and his girl from getting buried on this damn planet.”
“Wasn’t my fault,” Kaylee insisted, feeling a soft wooziness spreading through her. “I think someone shot me.”
“That they did,” Mal said, smiling at her. “I’da thought you’d know by now to get out of the way of bullets.”
“Some people never learn, Cap’n,” Kaylee said, her eyes heavy. “Did we get Zoe too?”
“They did,” Freya said, stepping up next to Mal. “A little beat up, but not really the worse for wear. She’s in her bunk, sleeping. Which you should be doing.”
“I do feel kinda … what was that you gave me?” she asked Simon.
“Just get some rest,” the young man said, his face more relaxed.
“’Kay.” As drowsiness overcame her, Kaylee thought she felt Simon take her hand, but she couldn’t be sure. Mal watched the young doctor lift Kaylee’s hand and place it to his lips, then stroke away an errant lock of hair from her damp forehead, and felt like he was intruding.
“So we’re not staying?” Freya asked her captain quietly.
“Decided against it,” Mal admitted. “Altogether too much excitement in ranching these days, it seems.”
“So we’re destined to fly around on Serenity for the rest of our days?” She moved a little closer to him.
“Would that be so bad?” Mal asked, turning so he could put his hands on her waist.
“I guess not. Depends on the company.”
“Well, I think we’ve probably got the best company in the ‘verse,” Mal said.
“You know, I think you might be right.”
Tuesday, October 3, 2006 12:12 AM
Tuesday, October 3, 2006 3:23 AM
Tuesday, October 3, 2006 7:39 AM
Tuesday, October 2, 2007 6:18 AM
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