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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
After Freya's return, a little story about friendship. Hope you like!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1764 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
River breezed silently into the dining area, smiling vaguely at Freya who sat in one of the comfortable chairs, her feet on the table, reading a book. River headed for the counter and opened a jar, taking a sugar stick out of it and putting it into her mouth.
“You’ll spoil your food,” Freya said, not looking up.
“He’s thinking of you,” River said, unexpectedly.
“Shah-muh?” Freya looked up.
“The Captain. He’s thinking about you. In bed. Doing …” The young girl almost blushed.
“Well, thinking is about as far as it’s got.” Freya smiled, sighing at the same time.
“Why don’t you tell him to stop?”
“Thinking or not doing?”
“Not doing.” River sat opposite her.
“I've tried. He won’t listen.”
“He’s afraid,” River said suddenly. “Afraid you’ll leave. Afraid we’ll all leave. He thinks we keep him sane.”
“He’s not the only one,“ Freya breathed, then said louder, “Probably do at that. He’s already lost two of us – friends, good friends, and he doesn’t count that many, not like that.”
“Are you going to leave?”
“Zoe won’t – she’ll follow her captain into the jaws of hell if he asked her, which he has. Neither will Kaylee, and if she doesn’t then Simon won’t, so you –”
“That’s not what I asked. “
“I know.” Freya shook her head and put her book down. “He knows what happened to him after Serenity, the emptiness, the loss of faith. In himself as well as more spiritual things.” She knew River could pick up what she was about to say, but had to verbalise it for herself. “Then with Miranda he found something again; a belief, or more that he could still believe. I took that away from him, and I so want to give it back. River, you of all people, more than most, know why I had to leave, to heal myself … elsewhere.” River nodded. “But if it happens again, if the darkness looks to take me, well, you’ll stop me, won’t you?”
“I will kill you,” River agreed, her words most at odds with her slight form.
“Good. Good.” Freya nodded.
“And you’ll do the same for me?”
They smiled at each other, sharing a private thought.
“Oh, we are that,” River agreed quietly.
“Are what?” Mal asked, stepping into the dining area.
“Unique,” Freya said quickly.
“That you are.” Mal picked up a cup from the counter and poured himself some coffee. “Never did I see two lazier crew members in all my born days.”
“And what is it, exactly, you think we should be doing that we’re not?” Freya asked, wide-eyed.
“Your turn to do the meal, isn’t it?” Mal came and sat down next to River, across from Freya, and took the young girl’s hand in his. “And River has to make sure we don’t run into any kind of trouble, ain’t that right, darlin’?”
“Aye, aye, captain.”
“Playing favourites now, are we?” Freya asked, raising her left eyebrow.
“We all have to earn our keep,” Mal said.
“Well, I’ll have you know the food is prepared. It just needs finishing off.”
“So we’ll eat –”
“Shiny.” He turned to River. “So, little one, are we likely to run into anything in the next few hours?”
River thought for a moment, then said, “No, sir.” Then she noticed the look on Freya’s face, and in her mind, and quickly disengaged her hand from Mal’s.
“Huh.” Mal looked at Freya quizzically. “Jealous?”
As interesting a side conversation as this promised to be was stalled by Hank’s voice over the com. “Freya, there’s a wave for you.”
“A wave? For me?” Freya managed to look so surprised, one hand on her chest. “Must be from someone 'important',” she added dryly as she got up, not taking her eyes from Mal’s face until she passed him.
“She’s afraid,” River said when Freya had left the room. “Afraid you’ll never let her back into your bed.” Mal opened his mouth to protest, but the girl went on, “And she knows you’re afraid too. But she won’t ever leave you. Not unless you tell her to go.”
“River, you may be a reader, but you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” He glared at her.
She shook her head. “I don’t know who’s the biggest dummy – my brother or you.”
“You could still be clapped in irons, you know,” Mal added, feeling she was rummaging around in his brain like any normal person might go through a drawer.
“She’s getting a job,” River said after a pause.
“Wha – ?” Mal looked over his shoulder towards the bridge. “The wave?”
“An old friend.”
“Guess I’d better go and take a look see, then.”
“So I’ll just … go and … right.” He stood up and walked purposefully – well, as purposefully as he could – out of the dining area. That girl had the propensity to make him feel all kinds of uncomfortable when she chose.
Hank was descending the ladder into his bunk as Mal walked along the corridor towards him. “Seemed to be a private conversation,” he supplied as Mal went past.
“Nothing’s private on my boat,” Mal muttered. “Not even your thoughts.”
On the bridge Freya was looking down into the vid screen. “I don’t know, Mike. It’s not my ship.”
“If it was?”
“In a heartbeat, you know that.”
Mal listened to the conversation as he climbed the steps to the bridge.
“Don’t rightly know who else to ask, Freya.”
“We’re not that far. But I need to check with the captain.”
“I can pay.”
“It’s not that.”
“I can pay well, too. You know that.” The man looked almost … desperate.
“Say yes.” Mal stepped onto the bridge and Freya turned in surprise as his voice. “Say yes. We ain’t got anything lined up, we need cash. Say yes.”
“You don’t know what it is yet.”
“Is it working for the Alliance?”
“Then say yes.”
Freya turned back to the vid. “Looks like we’ll be with you in a few hours.”
“That the captain?”
“It is.” Mal stood behind Freya and leaned down enough so that the vid picked up his features behind her. He studied the man’s face on the screen – dark, he could see, and not old. He looked kind of familiar.
“Thanks. It’s nothing too … I’ll fill you in when you arrive. Thanks, Freya.”
“Hey, any time.”
The screen went dark but Freya still stared at it.
“So that was …?” Mal asked.
“An old friend, or an old friend?”
Freya looked up at him. “Why, you jealous now?”
“Me? Don’t know the meaning of the word.”
“Well, you won’t let me back in your bed, so I have to get my kicks from somewhere.”
“Do you now?”
Freya smiled sweetly, not at all like her usual grin.
Mal hitched his buttocks onto the console. “So, were you close?”
“Mal, I've known him a long time. Longer than you, actually.”
“Is that a fact? How come you’ve never mentioned him?”
“Do you mention all your sexual conquests?”
Mal raised an eyebrow at her. “Hmmn. So how long’s he had that crush on you?”
“He says as long as he’s known me and how did you know about the crush?” Frey asked in turn, looking into his face with surprise on hers.
“He had those puppy-dog eyes. You know, the kind that makes me want to shoot someone.” He crossed his arms.
“Oh, never let it be said that Malcolm Reynolds ever made puppy-dog eyes at anyone,” Freya said scathingly, looking away.
“Not since I was fourteen, anyways.”
“Did it work?” She idly corrected a warning light.
Freya looked at him in amazement, then a big grin broke out on her face, getting wider as his lips twitched in his efforts not to smile. “So, do I change course?” she finally asked.
“I said yes. Decision’s already been made.” There was a beat. “So what are we going to be doing on wherever we are going to be?”
Freya stood at the end of the table, the rest of the crew sitting down and watching her, apart from Mal who leaned against the kitchen counter.
“Go ahead,” he said. “Tell ‘em what exciting work we have lined up.”
“We got a job?” Jayne asked, taking his knife from its sheath and wiping it on his sleeve.
“We do. An old friend of Freya’s.” Only Zoe noticed the slight pause before the word ‘friend’, and wondered about the emphasis her captain placed on it.
“Mike Beaudine,” Freya began. “He’s a businessman – didn’t used to be, but that’s what he is now. He has a mining facility on Huron. He’s successful, treats his workers well, and they respect him for it.” She hitched her thumbs into her pants pockets. “Only someone’s trying to run him off. There’ve been accidents – cave-ins – none fatal until two days ago when two miners died in an explosion.”
“Does he know who’s behind this peck of trouble?” Mal asked.
“He has a good idea – or so he says. There’s a corporation owns half the moon, but Mike’s place sits right on top of the richest seam.”
Jayne stirred. “What – gold? Silver?”
Freya shook her head. “No. Tritanium.”
“Tritanium?” Simon repeated. “That’s in virtually every medical instrument. The infirmary is full of it.”
Freya nodded. “Yes. Like I said, he’s prosperous. He can pay, and pay well.”
“So he wants us to drive these fellers off?” Jayne asked.
“I think that’s the idea.”
“But you’re not sure?” River had been watching Freya intently, not trying to read her, just picking up other signals. “You don’t trust him?”
“Freya?” Mal asked, intrigued by River’s analysis of the situation.
“I just …” Freya paused, trying to find the right words to put her general uneasiness plainly enough. “I can’t help feeling he’s holding something back. I've known him for a long damn while – he’s not helpless. He doesn’t need to ask for help unless it’s really bad, and that don’t come across. I just think there’s something he's not telling us.”
Mal stood up, crossing his arms. “Well, we’ll be there in a few hours. It’s not that much out of our way, and if we don’t like the situation we don’t stay. If it feels wrong … well, we’ll take that as it comes.”
“So where do we land?” Hank asked, standing up.
Freya shook herself mentally, trying to dislodge the disquiet in her soul. “There’s a dock that the transport ships use when they collect, right by the mine.”
“Best let Inara know we won’t be picking her up on time,” Mal said. “She can earn herself some more credit while she has the chance.”
Hank nodded and headed for the bridge.
“What was he?” Simon asked.
“You said he’s a businessman now. What did he used to be?”
Freya didn’t answer for a beat, then said, half smiling, “A mercenary.”
“A mercenary?” Mal repeated, his eyebrows raised.
“Not that different to us. A man for hire. Although he tended to do a bit more killing.”
“And you met him … how?”
“It was before the war. I didn’t have a ship then, just crewed on an old Lancaster. Disreputable lot they were too.” She looked around the assorted disreputable company of her own but decided not to make the comment playing on her mind. Instead she said, “We were … on different sides.”
“Which side was that?” Simon asked.
“Whichever paid well.” Freya laughed. “Doc, I don’t hold any high opinion of what I was. And you’re right – I haven’t changed.”
“I never said that.”
“But you were thinking it.”
He knew she hadn’t read him, so it was just a lucky guess. He hoped. To cover he asked, “So who won?”
“Well, likely no-one, so I think it best we all get about our business,” Mal put in quickly. “Doc, make sure the infirmary has all the supplies we’ll be likely to need ready to hand. I don’t intend getting shot, but accidents happen.”
Simon nodded. “Of course, Mal. River, do you want to help me?”
“Of course, big brother.” They left the kitchen together.
“I’ll check the engine room,” Kaylee added, getting to her feet and hurrying out.
“On my way,” Zoe said, then stopped and tapped Jayne on the shoulder. “Come on.”
“Hey, I don’t got anything I need to do.”
“Then let me find you something,” Zoe insisted.
“Aw, hell, why don’t they just say they want to be alone?” Jayne grumbled as he climbed to his feet and followed her out.
“Do we?” Freya asked.
Mal sat down at the table. “So who won?”
Freya laughed, joining him. “You’re right – nobody. It ended up a stalemate, so we collected our money and left.”
“Leaving the poor hwoon-dahns to it?”
“Wasn’t much left to fight over, by then. I think they made peace, of a sorts.”
The ramp lowered into the dirt of Huron, and Freya walked down to greet the man waiting for them. “Mike.”
They hugged, perhaps a little longer than strictly necessary. “You’re looking good.”
“You look – happier.”
“I'm fine. Shiny.”
“And I like the hair – last time I saw it you had it bleached blonde.”
“Bit more natural now. Longer too.”
Kaylee, standing next to Zoe, looked from Mal to Beaudine, and said quietly, “Is it me or is there a distinct resemblance going on here?”
Zoe, who had been thinking the very same thing, replied in much the same tone, “Definitely something odd.”
Mal, standing behind Freya, coughed loudly.
“Right,” Freya said. “Yes. Mike, this is Captain Reynolds. Malcolm Reynolds.”
Beaudine put out his hand, then opened his eyes a little wider and looked at Freya. “Is this …” Then he caught the slight shake of her head and changed what he was going to say. “… the man who’s come to help us?” It was lame, but the best thing he could come up with.
They shook hands. “I am. Soon as you’ve gone over all the details.”
Beaudine looked into the sky. “It’ll be dark soon. I don’t know what your shipboard time is, but I've had a meal prepared, and beds made up.”
“The food will be most welcome, but I think we’ll sleep on board Serenity. No call to make it too easy if friends come paying a visit.”
“Of course. Please, follow me. And be assured I am very grateful for your help.”
He led the way past the mine, keeping up a small commentary on his operation.
“So this is the stuff that’s worth so much?” Jayne picked up a lump of stone from a hopper. It was heavier than he thought it would be, and had a silver sheen shot through it. “It don’t look like much.”
“No,” Beaudine agreed. “But once refined that lump you’re holding will be worth 200.”
“200?” Jayne’s eyes glittered.
“More than its weight in gold. It’s hard work to extract from the seam, and the processing takes time, but the uses outweigh the difficulties.”
Jayne turned it over in his hands then dropped the lump of ore back into the hopper and followed.
Beaudine’s house sat low on the ground, a two storey affair with shuttered windows and a veranda around the main building. Various outhouses had settled around it.
“Please, go on in. There’s drinks waiting for you.” Beaudine indicated the main door, where a servant stood smiling. The others went up the steps, but Mal hung back a moment, watching Beaudine take Freya by the arm and take her to one side. He shrugged – they were old friends, after all, he thought, and pushed the niggling feeling of jealousy to the back of his mind. He followed the others inside.
“Freya. That’s him? Mal?”
“I thought you were going to say something.”
“I nearly did. So he’s the one you called by name.”
“Don’t say anything,” Freya implored.
“Why not? I'm the one who should be angry you said another man’s name while we made love. And I do see a resemblance there. Is that why you finally let me take you to bed?”
Beaudine smiled. “It’s okay. I understand. Are you together now?”
“Ah. Well, that’s a long tale.”
“Just give me the punchline.”
“Then why not make it pillow talk?”
Freya smiled, a little sadly. “Come on. We’d better catch the others up.”
“Well, I have to say that was a grand meal.” Mal wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin next to his empty plate.
“Simple food, but we grow what we can. I've never seen any good in importing what we can produce, especially from the Alliance.”
“They much of a problem around here?”
“Not so much. They come and inspect us once in a while – they’re not due for another few weeks, so you won’t be bothered by them. But they like to see any goods we bring in come from them.”
“So it’s all legal?”
Beaudine smiled. “Hardly. In fact, if you’ve a mind, once this if over I’d like to talk about perhaps having something of a contract with you. I’d rather the work went to someone I know.”
“Let’s get this little trouble out of the way first.”
“Crew like yours, I doubt they’ll find it too hard.” Beaudine smiled, and Kaylee caught her breath. Oh, yes, definitely a strong resemblance. “Well, if you’ve all finished, I have some fine cigars in the living room. And some old brandy I was saving for a special occasion.”
“Sounds fine,” Mal said. “And for my own self I’m waiting to hear just how you and Freya met.”
Freya groaned slightly, and he flashed her a grin.
Zoe opened the door and let in some fresh air, then realised someone was standing out on the porch. It was Freya. “Hey.“
“Mind if I join you?”
“It’s a free country. Well, this bit, anyway.”
“What are you doing out here?”
“I had to get a breath of air – too much cigar smoke. Besides, right about now, I imagine Mike is regaling the assembled company with tales of when we were young and foolish.”
“Well, younger. When I left he was talking about someone called Joe Hammerhead?”
“Oh no. That one isn’t even particularly flattering. And I’ve heard them already.”
Zoe joined her leaning on the porch rail. “What’s that scent?”
“It’s the rose.” Freya lifted one of the heavy blossoms from the tree climbing up the balustrade. “Mike had it grown specially. He’s called it the Freya Nordstrom.”
“He really is enamoured, isn’t he?”
“He says he’s been in love with me since the first moment he saw me. At the other end of a gun barrel.” She laughed.
“Yes, he told that one already. Have you ever slept with him?”
Freya raised an eyebrow, but replied, “Once. Only don’t tell Mal.”
“No, I know.”
“Was it because he looks like Mal?”
“Tzao gao, is it that obvious? No, don’t answer that. Does everyone know?”
“Jayne might not be aware of it, but everyone else … pretty much.”
“You know, the crazy thing is that I’ve known Mike longer than I've known Mal, yet … Do you think I fall for the same type?”
“Did you fall for Mike?”
“No. Not really. He’s always been a good friend, but I never felt for him the way I do for Mal.”
“Any sign of him relenting yet?”
“Nope. I keep trying, but it’s up to him.” Freya looked innocent. “So when are you going to give Hank a try?”
“Freya,” Zoe warned.
“It’s been nearly two years. It’s a long time to grieve. Wash wouldn’t want that.”
“How long I grieve is my business, not yours.”
“I know, but …”
“No buts. Not even the Captain says what I do with that part of my life. Never did. I didn’t obey his orders when we got married, I ain’t about to start now.”
“I remember your wedding. You looked amazing. Wash was so happy I thought he was going to bust.”
“He looked so handsome I thought I might cry.”
“You? Cry?” Freya laughed. “Never. At least he wasn't wearing one of those hideous shirts.”
“That was the only reason I agreed. Although I got used to them in the end.”
What Zoe had said finally penetrated, and Freya turned to her friend. “What do you mean, you didn’t obey Mal?”
“He didn’t want me to marry Wash. Told me in so many words. Didn’t you know?”
Freya was surprised. “No. Why not?”
“I believe his words were that shipboard romances complicate things.”
“Did he. That’s just the excuse he’s used to me.”
“Must really believe it then.” There was a slight pause then Zoe went on, “So why did you really leave?”
“You think it wasn’t why I said?”
“I think you might not have been telling the whole truth.”
“I didn’t lie – but maybe I stopped short, just a little.”
“If you don’t want to talk about it – “
“No, that’s okay. It’s just … one night I woke up, standing in the middle of the room, holding my gun pointing at Mal: fully loaded, safety off. I don’t know how long I’d been standing there, but my arm ached. It scared me so much, Zo. Realising what I could have done if I had just put a couple more ounces of pressure on the trigger. It was that moment I knew I had to go.”
“But why not tell anyone?”
“Because Mal would have tried to make me stay! And I so wanted to. I so did not want to leave, he might have been able to persuade me. No – I had to do it that way.”
“You know he went crazy when you left. It broke him.”
“Better broken than dead.”
“I've never seen him like that before. Closest was after Serenity, when he lost everything.” Zoe looked at the other woman. “He took jobs he’d never have touched otherwise. Dealt with people … we were thinking of leaving, you know that?”
“Then – was that you on Persephone?”
“I wondered if you saw me. It was coincidence, believe me. I wasn’t stalking. Did you tell Mal?”
“I didn’t have to. He knew. He dreamed about you that night.”
“How …” Freya was surprised. Mal never talked about things like that. “Did he tell you that?”
“Uh huh.” Zoe nodded, looking out into the night. “He got drunk about a week later, got melancholic. Told me you spoke to him. He swore you were in the room, clear as day. Told him to hang on, to hold it together.” She glanced at Freya. “He says he doesn’t remember.”
“I had to see him. I heard there was a Firefly landed, and I had to check. Just to make sure he was okay. I … oh, Zo, I missed him so much. I don’t know if it’s because we slept together, but I thought my heart was going to break when I couldn’t hold him.”
“Freya, that’s how I still feel about Wash,” Zoe said quietly.
Freya sighed. “I was afraid of that. Okay. Forget what I said. Just ignore me. Hell, everyone else does!”
“Sweetie, no-one could possibly ignore you.”
Mal, who had been standing just inside for some time, couldn’t take the bonding any longer and opened the door. “Are you two going to be standing out here all night?”
“Just getting some air, sir,” Zoe said, standing straight and walking back inside, her head high.
“Having a little girl talk?” he asked Freya.
“And if we were?” She looked closer at him. “How long were you standing there?”
“Long enough.” His voice was suddenly gentle. “You could have told me.”
“And make you even more pig-headed than before?”
“Pig-headed? I am not pig-headed!”
“Yes you are. Now you’ll be afraid I’m going to shoot you in the night, but hey, I'm not in your bed anymore so that ain’t exactly a problem, is it?” Freya pushed past him inside the house.
Mal, confused as to why she had suddenly taken offence, played back the conversation in his mind. “Nope,” he said to himself. “I will never understand women.”
“You coming?” Mal asked from the bottom of the steps.
“I might wait a while. I haven’t seen Mike for so long, I'm sure there’s things we need to catch up on.” Freya smiled.
“Surely are.” Mal started to head back to Serenity, then paused. Turning back he climbed the steps again to where Freya was enjoying the scent of the rose bush. He leaned on the balustrade. “He’s not what I imagined,” he said quietly.
“Who, Mike?” Freya was surprised.
“He’s more …“ For a moment Mal couldn’t find the right word.
“Gentle?” Freya supplied.
“Well, I'm not sure that’s quite the wordage I’d have used, but, yes. Doesn’t quite fit the bill as a mercenary in my mind.”
“He didn’t start out like that,” Freya pointed out. “He was born on one of the Central planets, his family had money.”
“No wonder you get along.”
“He doesn’t know about me. I never told him. But just because he talks well, and can handle all the knives on the dinner table, doesn’t mean he can’t kill. He wouldn’t even blink.”
“Then you’re right – I'm wondering why he needs our help at all. Not that I'm thinking of not taking him up on his offer. We need the money.”
Freya gave a half smile in the lantern light, feeling his presence next to her like a flame. “We always do, Mal.”
Mal stood straight. “And don’t be long. I’m not getting out of my bunk to let you back on board Serenity.” He wagged a finger at her and walked off.
“You love him, don’t you?” Mike came out of the house and stood behind her.
“Yes. I do. Often wondered to myself why, but I can’t deny it.” She watched Mal until the darkness swallowed him up.
“So no chance I can persuade you into my bed? For old times sake?”
“Old time, Mike. Singular.”
“You called his name, not me.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you again.”
“That kind of hurt I can live with.”
She turned to look at him. “I'm sorry, Mike. I wish I were two people, but I'm not.”
“Then let’s just talk. I've got some fine old whisky in my bedroom – and no, I won’t try and seduce you. Let’s open a bottle and see if I can’t look prettier to you after a few glasses.”
“You’re pretty enough.”
“I look like him, don’t I? Just not enough.”
“No. Not any more.”
Freya closed the bedroom door quietly behind her and turned. She let out a yelp of surprise. “Mal!”
“So you slept with him.” Mal’s voice was quiet, dark.
“What if I did? You don’t have a say in what I do.” She walked past him.
“As captain of Serenity –”
She whirled on him. “That gives you the right to tell me who I can and can’t have sex with?”
“No.” Mal swallowed back the pain. “But as Malcolm Reynolds I thought maybe it did.”
“Why, Mal? You decided to keep me out of your bed when I came back. Why shouldn’t I take a good man up on his offer?”
“No reason. No damn reason at all.” Mal stalked past her.
“Tzao gao,” Freya swore under her breath, then spoke aloud. “Dammit, Mal! Don’t you know me by now? I haven’t been with a man since I left your bed, and not often before that. Except for you. Believe that as you like.”
Mal stopped but didn’t turn. “Then what –”
“We talked. We drank whisky. And I fell asleep on the couch. I woke up just now with a blanket thrown over me and totally clothed, so unless he managed to redress me in the night, nothing happened.” She watched as the tension left his shoulders. “So why does it matter, Mal?”
“Should it?” He turned.
“Mal … one of these days I'm going to shoot you myself!” She threw her gun and jacket onto the floor with a clatter. “You know damn well how I feel. That ain’t changed. You’re the one putting obstacles in our way!”
The door to the bedroom opened slightly, and a tousled head poked around. “Can you two argue somewhere else?” Beaudine asked. “I have a killer of a hangover, and if there’s going to be shooting later, I need to get some sleep.”
Freya picked her things up again. “Sorry, Mike.”
“You okay?” he asked her, eyeing Mal.
“Shiny. Go back to bed.”
“If you’re sure.” The door closed again.
Freya turned to Mal. “Can I go and get changed now? Is that okay?”
Freya nodded and went to pass him, then stopped. “Promise you won’t shoot Mike?”
“Thought never entered my head,” Mal protested.
“Right. Now, promise.”
Mal held up his hands in surrender. “Okay. I promise.”
Mal paced the front porch, watching the sun come up. Beaudine opened the door and stepped outside. “Oh, sorry. Did you want to be alone?”
Mal shook his head. “Just needed some space to think. Put some plans together.”
“You think it’s going to be today?”
“I have that notion, yes.”
“Me too. Something in the air.”
“How many men has the Corporation got?” Mal leaned on the porch rail, the scent of the rose next to him reaching out.
“Don’t rightly know. But I doubt they’re going to send just a couple.”
“No. Me neither. That kind of suggests we might end up being outgunned.”
“But you’re good. Freya said so.”
“We are good. But even when you’re mighty you can still lose.”
“You’re not talking about this, are you?” Beaudine pulled a small cigar from his pocket, lighting it with an old-fashioned flint. “You were in the war.”
Mal crossed his arms. “Long time ago.”
“Freya told me some. Both being Independents. About how you saved her life.”
“She saved mine too.”
“Well, that’s the way it should be. With friends.” Beaudine looked at him closely. “You should be with her, you know.”
Mal tensed. “You don’t know –”
“Oh, but I do. Freya and I have always talked, told each other things. Things no-one else would ever hear. She’s told me how she feels about you. How she’s always felt. And I … I guess I’m jealous. And I can’t understand why you’re not jumping out of your skin to be with her.”
“It’s … complicated.”
“Yeah, she told me that too. And I can see you don’t want to talk about it. Not to me, anyway.”
“Not to anyone. But no, not to you.”
“I knew her first, you know.”
“But only as a friend. Only ever as a friend.”
Mal started slightly. He was positive there was more to it: he wasn't stupid, he realised there was a distinct resemblance between the two of them, and Freya was very close to this man. But Beaudine seemed to be going out of his way to make it clear they were nothing more than good friends. “You think I need to hear this?”
“I think you need to be hit around the head with a two by four until you come to your senses. Both of you.” Beaudine laughed. “But since that would probably stop you helping me, I shall restrain myself.”
“Probably a good idea,” Mal agreed. He turned to lean on the rail with his elbows. “So, we don’t know how many are coming.”
Beaudine sighed inwardly at the change of subject and mentally apologised to Freya. He‘d done what he could. “Nope, but I’d reckon on a fair few.”
“What about your workers? Your mining crew. Won’t they help?”
“Some of them, but that’s what they are – miners. They aren’t going to want to kill people. Probably be worse than useless in a fight.”
“Then we use the ones we can. Those who can’t can reload for us.”
Beaudine looked at him. “Mal, you –”
“Getting a bad feeling about all this.”
“Mal, they’re coming.” Jayne, high in the roof, looked through his binoculars. Kaylee stood at his side, her face strained but determined.
“Jayne, how many do you make it?”
“You ain’t gonna like it. I make it around thirty.”
“Thirty?” Mal lifted his field glasses, seeing the dust cloud coming up, then glanced over his shoulder at the assembled defenders. Of the eight with guns, only his crew and Beaudine looked anywhere near comfortable: the rest, as well as the loaders behind, looked terrified out of their skins. “Great. Well, we do what we can.” He shifted the earpiece slightly, then said, “Hank, think you can get to Serenity before they get to us?”
Hank looked out of the back door. “Nothing coming this side yet, so I think so. You want me to upset them some?”
“Do what you can. If nothing else the downdraft should panic the horses.”
As she fired, Freya asked, above the sound of the guns booming next to her, “Mike, you want to give me some idea what the good gorram is going on?”
“Freya, is this the time –”
“They’re not the usual kind of hired guns.”
“Look like it to me.”
“Mike, gorram it! You think thirty isn’t some kind of overkill?”
“Okay, okay. Maybe I didn’t … quite … tell you everything.” He stopped to grab a fresh rifle from behind him.
“We don’t have time for this …” Freya ducked as a bullet hit the window frame next to her, feeling splinters strike her skin, penetrating in a couple of places. She lifted her hand, wiping the back across her forehead, and it came away red.
“It’s a man called Pace.” Mike stopped firing for a moment, looking as if he were going to reach for her, concerned for her, but stopped himself. “We used to run together.”
Freya wiped her hand on her pants and lifted her rifle again. She drew a bead on a horseman, but he twisted and turned, ducking as he fired on his way past, and she missed. “Tah muh duh!” Her gun hit an empty chamber and she dropped it behind her, a female miner scooping it up to reload, handing her a fresh gun. The woman backed away, but screamed and fell, a bright bloom of blood on her shoulder. Another woman pulled her out of the line of fire, towards Simon’s care.
Freya glanced over only once, then went back to shooting. “So what’s he got against you?”
“I … kind of didn’t share some rich pickings with him.”
“Would that be how you bought this place?”
“Could be. Only he’s caught up with me at last. Wants his share.”
“Mike, don’t you think it would be better to pay up?”
“Oh, I offered. Believe me, I did. Only he wants the whole place, and my skin too. Bit attached to that, though.”
“You should have – tzao gao!” A bullet grazed her arm, causing her to drop her sights.
“Frey?” Mal called.
“I'm okay.” She glared at the blood seeping into her shirt sleeve, then started firing again.
“Mal, they’re inside!” Jayne’s voice resounded over the ear pieces.
“Where?” Mal demanded.
“Two of ‘em. 1st floor. At the back. I'm pinned down – can’t get to ‘em.”
Mal motioned to Zoe who nodded and crabbed out, keeping low and heading up the stairs.
“Hank, you gonna give me air support?” Mal asked testily.
“Working on it. Bit busy at the moment.”
“Busy? What the hell –”
Hank muffled his com link and peeked over the top of the hopper, trying to ignore the lumps of ore poking into his back and thighs. He watched as two men took up position by Serenity’s cargo doors, not trying to get in, just waiting. “Juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan,” he muttered to himself.
“Hank? Hank, you hear me?” Mal grunted, annoyed beyond measure. “Jayne, can you see what’s going on with him?”
Jayne trained his binoculars on Serenity. “Looks like he’s got troubles of his own, Mal. Two men. Don’t think he’s going to be taking off yet.”
“Can he take them out?”
“Hank?” Jayne laughed, and Mal heard the sound of Vera pounding out, and a gunman fell from his horse to lie still on the ground outside.
“Great,” Mal said. “Just when we need things to go smooth.”
“Mal, they’re pulling back!” Jayne called suddenly. “Looks like they’re regrouping.”
“We’ve taken out about half, I’d figure.”
Still too many. “Frey, check out the rest – see if –”
“Gorram it! They’re heading for the ship!” Jayne sounded as angry as Mal felt.
“Hold your fire!” Mal shouted, then: “Zoe, you clear?”
“All clear, sir.”
“Jayne, River, stay put. Keep us covered. Zoe, you’re with us.” Mal pulled the barricade from the front door and opened it, keeping low. He moved out, Freya and Beaudine close behind him, Zoe following a few moments later.
Beaudine glanced at the remains of the rose by his porch. Only one bloom left. Somehow, that riled him more than what they’d done to his home. He hurried up behind Mal. “Why aren’t we staying put? They’ll be back.”
“They get to Serenity we could have a heap of trouble. Not least of which is damaging my boat. They could fly her into the house, then pick us off one by one. Now keep low.”
They rounded the mine head, ducking back when they saw the men milling around the closed bay doors.
“Think they can get in?” Freya asked quietly.
“Eventually. I don’t plan on giving them the chance. Hank?”
“Over here.” Hank raised his head just a little before dropping back down.
“Hey, I don’t think I'm going anywhere.” His voice over the ear pieces was relieved.
Mal indicated left and right, Freya going one way, Zoe the other. Beaudine moved slightly to one side. “Seems to me they’ve got themselves in a bad spot here,” Mal murmured. “On my command – and try not to damage my ship.“ He waited, watching his crew until they were in optimum position, then yelled, “Now!”
He started firing, and heard more guns open up either side, as well as the distant boom of Jayne’s rifle from the house.
Panic ensued, with horses trying to get away, men trying to keep hold of them and firing at the same time. Five of them were down in the first few seconds, and the rest took cover, the horses galloping away.
“Hold your fire!” Mal ordered. “Is Pace still alive out there?” he called.
“I am.” A bald man lifted his head just a little. “Why you shootin’ at us?”
Mal laughed shortly. “I could ask you the same. Look, you’ve lost most of your men. Why don’t we come to some arrangement where we don’t kill each other?”
“Depends. I want Mike Beaudine.”
“Well, he ain’t for sale.”
“Him and me. Out here. We settle this.”
“I offered you your share!” Beaudine called. “Why didn’t you just take it?”
“Because I want to take it out of your hide! I been looking for you a long while … you think I'm just going to walk away?”
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do,” Mal shouted. “We’ve got you pinned down: you ain’t going anywhere.”
“You think? You’re still outnumbered, or do you think those wimps of miners are going to help you out?”
“I really don’t think we need them.” Mal smiled grimly. “What ain’t dead or dying is in front of us, and, like I said, you ain’t going anywhere.”
In answer Pace fired towards Mal’s voice, causing him to drop down onto his buttocks in the dirt. Gunfire erupted on both sides, most efficiently, Mal was pleased to note, from his.
It was over quickly. Used to war, Mal, Freya and Zoe made every bullet count, and Jayne used his sniping skills to take out the couple who tried to run, until only Pace remained. He broke cover, running for one of the stray horses, firing behind him as he went. A cry of pain and surprise came from a little way behind Freya, and a brown-haired man staggered forward, falling into the dirt.
“Mal!” Freya shouted, taking only a moment to pull a bead on the gunman and fire, hers and two other bullets taking him between the shoulders and throwing him onto his face. Freya didn’t wait to see him go down – she ran back to the fallen man. “Mal …” She knelt and turned him over as gently as she could, her heart missing beats at the amount of blood already on the ground.
“Freya?” It wasn’t Mal’s voice.
“Mike?” Freya looked down into the face of her old friend, now twisted with pain.
“I'm … I'm sorry,” he managed to say before a cough forced blood from the corner of his mouth.
“What for?” she asked, pulling his shirt open enough to be able to see the chest wound, ugly and pulsing blood. Too much blood.
“It’s all my fault. If I’d been honest, told you this was personal –” He coughed again and the trickle became a stream.
“Lay still, Mike. Don’t try to talk.” She felt someone behind her. “Where’s Simon?” she asked.
“He’s coming.” Mal’s voice.
“I should have told you …” Mike went on. “… what it was about.”
“I’d have come anyway. In a heartbeat, remember?” She gave a small smile.
Mike focused briefly on man standing behind her. “I wish I’d been the one, Frey. The one who could make you love me.” He tried to smile.
“You’re my friend, Mike. That’s more important.” She smoothed his hair from his forehead.
“I wish … I wish …” He coughed one last time and the stream became a flood, bright red blood gushing from his mouth, and his eyes, still locked on Freya’s, became still.
Freya tenderly put her arms about him and lifted his head into her embrace, cradling him as she let the tears fall. Mal could only stand and watch.
Freya watched two of the miners, assisted by Jayne and Hank, dig a grave under the stand of cottonwood trees behind the house. She didn’t move, didn’t say a word as Mal and his crew lowered Beaudine’s body into the earth, nor as one of the miners, a local lay preacher, said words, consigning him to the care of the Lord. She didn’t even notice Mal standing close to her, giving her what little support he could. She was still there when the funeral party wandered sadly away.
“Where’s Freya?” Mal asked, stepping over into the bridge.
“Still out there,” Hank said, nodding towards the small stand of trees vanishing into the dusk.
“She’ll be getting cold.”
“I don’t think she feels it right now, sir,” Zoe said.
“I think you might be right.” Mal stared out of the bridge window. “Get Serenity warmed up, Hank. I won’t be long.”
He climbed down the stairs and out of the cargo bay. Crossing the ground in easy strides he walked up behind Freya as she stood, oblivious to his approach.
She was staring into the sunset, the light from it gilding her face, an infinite sadness in her eyes. She was holding a single white rose, the last bloom from the tree, and its scent was intoxicating. She wasn’t looking at it, just holding it, staring into the distant horizon as the sun sank below the line of the hills.
As the light faded even more, she finally dragged her eyes down to the grave, lifting the rose and breathing in its perfume. She leaned forward and placed it on the freshly turned earth, where it lay glowing as if it had an internal luminosity. Straightening up, she looked down once more, and turned to head back to Serenity.
She stopped. Mal was a few feet away, waiting for her. They looked into each other’s eyes, then both crossed the last yards between them. Mal took her into his arms, holding her close, feeling her holding onto him tightly. He buried his fingers in her hair.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 3:53 AM
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 9:11 AM
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