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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
On their way back to Prometheus for the wedding, Serenity's crew have run into trouble ... follows on from NEW START in the Mal/Freya thread. Please leave feedback as it is gratefully received!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1758 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Serenity flew through the canyons as if the devil himself were after her, which for the crew was almost the case. The other ship was close, its pilot almost as good as Hank, who forced the Firefly into ever tighter turns, her artificial gravity fighting the real thing until everyone felt nauseous.
“Hank …” Mal said, pointing out of the window.
“I see it!” Hank pulled Serenity up, away from the sharp jagged spike that would have torn out her belly, then pushed hard on the controls. “Is Freya ready?” he asked, not taking his eyes off the canyon walls zipping past outside.
“Frey? You done?” Mal said into the comlink.
“Ready to go. Open the hold doors when you’re ready.” Freya’s voice came over the link.
“Hank.” Mal looked at his pilot.
“Get ready,” Hank said. Mal stood, hand poised over the door control as Hank fought the bucking ship. “Now!”
Mal slammed down on the control, and the hold doors opened, dropping half a dozen small barrels into the air. Hank pushed forward on the stick, getting that one last spurt of speed from the engine as the barrels seemed to float on their air cushions.
Zoe, watching the rear vid, gazed at the image of the marauding ship coming up fast, its laser cannon being brought to bear. “Sir …” she said.
“Hold on.” Hank threw Serenity into a fast climb, and they all had to grab something to avoid being hurled back across the bridge. Gripping the console, Zoe saw the marauder hit one of the barrels.
The explosion knocked the Firefly down, swatting it like a bug, making Hank swear as he tried to bring her back under control before she tore herself apart on the landscape.
“Hank, now would be a good time to prove you’re not a waste of money,” Mal said, holding onto the back of his chair, watching said landscape swirling crazily past the window.
“Working on it, Mal.” The tendons were standing out on his neck, the muscles bulging in his arms as he tried physically to make Serenity behave, and it was working. Slowly she responded, and slowed in her mad dash to disembowel herself. Finally Hank was able to bring her about, lifting her nose to the sky and taking her out of atmo.
“Zoe?” Mal asked. “Are they –?”
“Gone, sir. It worked.” She smiled as she stood up, flexing the joints of her hands where she had been gripping tightly.
Mal grinned and patted the pilot on the shoulder. “Good work,” he said approvingly.
“Thanks.” The sky outside turned black, and the strained note of Serenity’s engine returned to normal. “I don’t think Kaylee’s gonna be too happy with me, though. We’ll need to stop somewhere, do some repairs.”
“We ain’t too far from our delivery point on Prometheus,” Mal said. “They got a way station – we can kill two birds. Set a course.”
“Already done,” Hank said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.
“Freya did good, sir,” Zoe said. “Those little bombs of hers took out their ship really well.”
“She surely did.” Mal looked past her, down the stairs towards the rest of the upper deck. “Speaking of which, where is she?” He walked out of the bridge and through the kitchen, glancing along towards the engine room where Kaylee was frantically trying to calm the compression coil. “Kaylee, Frey in with you?”
“No, cap. And don’t do that again.” Kaylee turned her bulk back towards her engine.
“I’ll try not to,” Mal said dryly, heading down the stairs towards the infirmary. Simon was tending to River, who sat on the medbed, a large dressing to her head. “She okay, doc?” Mal asked, looking in the door.
“That tossing made her throw up, and she hit her head,” Simon said, gently pulling his sister’s hand away from the wound. “She’s a bit dazed.”
“I think we all are. You seen Freya?”
“No, not since you ordered us back here.” Simon glanced at him. “She’s around. She couldn’t exactly have got off.”
“No. No, that she couldn’t.” For a moment Mal had a mental image of Freya dropping from the hold, falling with the barrels, only with no air cushion to keep her afloat so she smashed into the rocks below. He shook himself. Didn’t happen. She’d got the hold closed before that. So where the hell was she? “Keep me posted on your sister’s condition.”
“Good. And how’s your other patient?”
Simon looked across to where Jayne was strapped into the other bed. “He’ll recover. He’s going to be sore for a while.”
“Serves him right for getting in the way like that,” Mal said, walking up the steps to the cargo bay. “Frey?” he called. There was no response. He began to get an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach. He crossed the bay to the doors, just checking through the thick glass that she wasn’t in the airlock, then pressed the button on the comlink. “Freya. This isn’t a big ship. Where the hell are you?” There was still no reply. He heard movement above him and he looked up, but it was only Hank and Zoe. “Check the bunks,” he ordered. “I’ll do the shuttle.” He started up the stairs but Kaylee’s sudden, urgent voice stopped him.
He turned. She was on the top gangway, looking down, pointing to something behind the crates stacked against the curved wall. He jumped back to the floor and ran to where she was indicating. There was a gap, not much, but wide enough for a body. Wide enough for Freya, wedged against the wall. “Zoe! Hank!” He couldn’t reach her, so began hauling crates from the stack, putting them down behind him, not caring where they went. The others were with him in a moment, Simon joining them from the infirmary.
“Careful,” he advised. “Don’t let her fall.”
Mal nodded and they slowed a little, but in a very short time they had gotten to where Freya lay. Simon scrambled up onto the crates, checking for a pulse, Mal at his heels.
“She’s alive,” he said. “Mal, help me. We need to support her while these last boxes are removed.” Mal put his hands as far under Freya’s back as he could, Simon doing the same for her neck and head. “Okay. Now, carefully.”
Hank lifted a crate and handed it to Zoe, doing the same for a second and a third, leaning around Mal to get to the fourth. Finally Freya lay on the top of the remaining boxes, and Simon said, “Lay her flat. Slowly.”
“Zoe, stretcher,“ Mal said.
She nodded and ran towards the infirmary.
Simon was checking Freya carefully, shaking his head as he felt her skull. “I think there’s a fracture,” he said quietly. “The vertebrae seem intact, but … we need to get her into the infirmary.”
“What about the baby?” Kaylee asked, hugging herself.
“I don’t know,” Simon admitted, taking the stretcher from Zoe and sliding one of the parts under Freya’s body. “Lift her. Just a little,” he said to Mal, who nodded, taking Freya’s weight just enough so the doctor could slip the other half under her, the catches clicking shut.
Between them they got Freya off the remainder of the stack and carried her into the infirmary.
“Well, doctor?” Mal asked, his arms crossed, no outward signs of the turmoil inside him. This was one of the problems with shipboard romances, he considered: if one of the partners got hurt, it divided the attention, made it hard to think clearly. And if love came into the equation …
“There is a skull fracture,” Simon said, indicating the red area on the scan. “I’m more concerned about the damage to the brain beneath, though. There’s pressure building, and if it doesn’t stabilise I may have to operate.”
“Cut into her skull?” Kaylee asked from the doorway, her arms wrapped protectively around her swollen belly.
Mal glanced at her, only once, then returned to gazing at the woman on the medbed. “Any other injuries, doctor?”
“Well, her spine’s intact, no damage to the vertebrae. She’s got a couple of cracked ribs, and a broken bone in her left wrist.” He paused, as if there was more but he was reluctant to speak.
“And the baby?” Mal prompted, stepping closer to the mother of his child. “Is Freya still …” He couldn’t finish either.
“I’m not happy, Mal,” Simon finally admitted. “There’s heavy bruising in the abdominal region. She must have hit one of those crates pretty hard. I don’t know whether the pregnancy is safe, or not.”
“Do what you can, doc,” Mal said quietly. “Do you need anything we ain’t got?”
“No. There’s nothing – no, I have all I need.”
“Well, good.” Mal picked up Freya’s right hand. “Do what you can,” he repeated, squeezing her fingers gently.
Zoe put her hand on Kaylee’s arm. “Is the engine okay?” she asked.
“The coil got overloaded, but she’ll keep together long enough to reach Prometheus,” the young mechanic said, not taking her eyes off her friend in the infirmary.
“Then you best be getting back to the engine room, make sure it stays that way,” Zoe said. “Simon is looking after Freya. There’s nothing we can do here.”
Kaylee nodded, turning and going up the stairs, still glancing back as she went.
“I’ll check the con,” Hank said. “See if we can’t shave the time a little.”
“You do that.” Zoe looked in at Mal. “I think the sooner we get there, the better. Prometheus has a good medical facility."
“You think Simon can’t deal with this?” Hank asked in surprise.
“Always best to have a contingency plan,” Zoe said, heading out of the common area towards the bridge, intending to call their contact to let him know they had his goods and when they would be arriving. “In this business of ours, it always helps.”
No-one mentioned the wedding.
“Shuttle one to Serenity.” Inara looked out at the rain. “Hank?”
“Inara.” Hank smiled even though she couldn’t see him. “How’s it going?”
“Fine. How close are you?”
Inara was surprised. “I thought you were going to be –”
The smile left Hank’s face. “Freya’s hurt, Inara.”
“Hurt? What happened?” Inara asked, sitting up.
“She fell. Off the gangway in the cargo bay. We had a little trouble.”
“Is she okay? Is the baby –”
“I don’t know, Inara. That’s why we got here faster, in case Simon couldn’t handle it.”
“How’s Mal?” She had a mental image of him standing in the infirmary, watching Freya on the medbed. Just standing. Not being able to do anything else.
“How do you think?”
Immediately her shuttle docked Inara hurried into the cargo bay and down to the infirmary. Jayne was sitting in the common area, leaning back in the chair, just waiting.
“‘Nara,” he said as she came in.
“Is she …”
“The doc’s not left her side.” Jayne shifted slightly and grunted.
“Hell, got no place else to go.”
Inara nodded, acknowledging the unspoken words that Jayne had always had a soft spot for Freya, no matter that it would never be reciprocated. “I’ll just …”
Inara headed into the infirmary, where Simon was alone, watching the readouts with intense patience. “Simon?”
He turned to look at her. “Inara.”
“How is she?” She stepped to the bed and looked down, her friend pale under the blanket.
“It’s … touch and go.”
“Wouldn’t the medical facilities –”
“No. There’s nothing they could do for her that I can’t, and I’d rather she stayed on board. In case …”
“Of course. I understand.”
“Do you?” He shook his head. “Because I don’t. What is it about this ship, Inara?”
“What do you mean?”
“She lost the baby, Inara.” Simon sounded bleak.
“Oh, no.” Inara felt her heart contract.
“There wasn’t anything anyone could do. The impact from the fall … there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it.” He was on the verge of breaking down, only his professionalism keeping him going. They were his family, more to him than the blood who gave birth to him, and with Kaylee … everything made it so damn hard.
“Simon.” Inara touched him on the shoulder, trying to give comfort that she didn’t feel.
“Mal’s taking it hard,” Simon said eventually. “He thinks it’s his fault.”
“I know it. But he’s blaming himself.”
Inara looked back at Freya. “Why isn’t she awake?”
“That’s the other problem.” He touched the screen in front of him. “She hit her head as well. There’s a fracture, and … I just need to keep an eye on it.”
“Of course. I’ll be back.”
Simon nodded, engrossed once more in the lines and colours showing Freya’s condition. Inara looked down at Freya, lying so still, then left the infirmary.
She found Mal in the kitchen, an open bottle in front of him, and a half-filled mug.
“Mal?” she said quietly.
He didn’t look up. “She was angry, ‘Nara. When she told me she was pregnant. Because I’d pushed her into it.”
“How could I be so pathetic? So stupid? It’s my fault. If I hadn’t been so damn sure she‘d want the same as me, if I hadn‘t …” He took a drink from the mug. “I failed her, ‘Nara.”
“You shouldn’t be drinking alone,” Inara said.
“Then join me and I won’t be.”
Inara looked at him for a moment then got a second mug and sat down next to him.
He poured her a healthy slug then said,” You know what happened?”
She nodded. “Simon told me. I'm so sorry, Mal.”
“Yeah, me too. I’d gotten used to the idea of a little critter running around underfoot. Looking forward to meeting him. Or her. I wasn’t fussed. Just so long as – and we were supposed to be getting married in just a coupla days …” He stopped and took a drink, swallowing the lump that had somehow got into his throat. After a long moment, he said, “Did I ever tell you how Freya and I first met?”
“No, I don’t believe you did.” She took a sip of the alcohol.
Malcolm Reynolds had his hands full. A sergeant with the Independents, he was currently involved in a brawl on a moon he couldn’t recall the name of. The fact that he was getting the best of the three men determined to beat the crap out of him accounted for the big grin on his face.
He barely noticed the woman enter the bar, beyond seeing she had brown hair and a brown coat, as he was avoiding a left hook that would probably have laid him out flat. He punched his assailant in the belly, following it up with a knee to the jaw as the man went down, then stood straight and said, “So who’s gonna buy me a drink?”
There was a crash behind him and he whirled to see the woman standing over a guy on the floor, the remains of a chair in her hands.
“What the –” he began.
She tapped the downed man’s gun with her foot. “He was about to shoot you,” she explained.
“Well … thanks. I'm grateful.” He smiled and straightened his own brown coat. “How about a drink?”
She smiled back and dropped the chair. “Shiny. But I'm buying.”
Mal let her buy the first round and they sat down at a table. After they had toasted each other’s continuing good health, he reached out a hand and said, “Malcolm Reynolds, 57th. Mal, to my friends.”
She took it and shook. “Freya Nordstrom, 22nd. Don’t have that many friends to have a nickname.”
“Why don’t I believe that?” Mal said. “Good-looking woman like you should have all the enlisted falling over themselves to make you their friend.”
“I think I scare them away.”
Mal smiled. “Heard good things about the 22nd.”
“Me too. About yours, I mean.” She smiled and nodded at the braids on his right shoulder. “And I see you’re a sergeant.”
“Yeah, just made up.” He nodded his head back over his shoulder. “That’s what that little disagreement was about. They didn’t think I should be.”
“Any particular reason?”
“They don’t like my face. Think I'm too pretty.” He laughed and finished his drink. “My turn, I think.”
A little while, and several more drinks later, Mal asked, “Any idea where we’re headed?”
“Nope. Heard tell it might be Praxis, but no-one really knows for damn sure.”
“Praxis, eh? Close to where I'm from.” Mal poured two more drinks from the bottle he’d got from the barman.
“And where would that be?”
“Been there once. Nice place.”
“Yeah, well, it was until the Alliance got there.” Mal’s voice became bitter. “Shouldn’t think there’s much left any good now. Rumour says there’s whole continents no-one can live on anymore.”
“Might be okay,” Freya said, putting her hand on his. “You never know. People are very resourceful.”
Mal looked at Freya, noting the long brown hair caught back at the nape of her neck in a leather thong, her sweet smile, and her hazel eyes that seemed to look deep into his soul.
“I guess she was at that,” Mal said, pouring Inara another then refilling his own mug. “I didn’t know she could read me, not then.”
“She probably wasn’t,” Inara said. “I always got the impression Freya was careful not to pick up on other people’s thoughts.”
“I know what you mean.” He took a mouthful, swirling it around his teeth before swallowing. “But that evening she was … she was the closest thing to an angel a man waiting to go to war could hope to find.”
She undressed slowly, laying her clothes on the chair by the bed. As her lithe, muscular body was revealed, Mal felt himself quickening, his blood starting to engorge his flesh, and he divested himself of his own clothes quickly, until he stood naked in front of her. She turned to lay the last of her clothing down and he saw a magnificent tattoo running up her spine, a flame that was made of bright colours that moved as if it were alive with every flex of her muscles. He took a sharp breath and she turned to look at him, her nakedness all at once soft and intense. He stepped forward and touched her skin.
“I don’t know what she did to me that night, ‘Nara,"Mal said, staring into his mug. “But what she woke in me …”
“Scared you?” Inara suggested.
He looked up. “Yeah. Me. Sergeant in command of experienced soldiers. And that one night had me running away like some Alliance coward.”
“But you found each other again.”
“Took a long while, didn’t it?” Mal said, smiling slightly. “My stupidity knows no bounds.”
“Well, I'm not actually going to argue with that,” Inara said, smiling herself. “But you have, and she will be okay.”
“I can’t do anything about the baby. But if I lose her too … I don’t pray, Inara – I don’t know how to anymore. That train’s long gone. But …” He looked into her eyes, his own anguished, in such deep pain, so unlike the man she thought she knew.
“Then I will, for you. We all are, I know it.”
“She was there at my own wedding, you know,” Zoe said, letting the silk of the hanging in Inara’s shuttle run through her fingers.
“When you married Wash?”
“Well, I ain't been married to anyone else.” She sat down. “Seems such a long time ago now.”
Zoe Alleyne was working outside, stacking crates ready to be picked up when a familiar voice spoke behind her.
“What’s all this in aid of?”
She turned. “Freya!” She broke into a smile, and they hugged.
“How’ve you been?” Freya asked, stepping back and looking her friend up and down.
“Good. And you?”
“Shiny. So what is all this?” She indicated the streamers and lanterns that adorned the outside – and, apparently, the inside, from what she could see – of the Firefly. “It’s not Christmas. Or is Serenity being entered into a parade?”
“I'm getting married,” Zoe said.
Freya’s jaw dropped in total surprise. “You’re what?”
“Getting married.” She couldn’t help but sound smug.
“I … you’re … who to?”
“To Wash. He’s around somewhere.”
“Wash?” Freya shook her head. “The Wash? Hoban Washburne?“
“That’s the one.“
“I didn’t think you liked him. At least that was the impression I got, last time we met.”
“Well, he gets under your skin. Sort of wears you down.”
“So when’s this happening?”
“Tomorrow. You will come?”
“Well, I was planning on leaving this afternoon, but … an extra day or two won’t – hell, of course I’ll come.” Freya grinned and squeezed her friend’s shoulder.
“Hey.” It was Mal Reynolds, walking down the ramp.
“Hey,” Freya said, stepping into a hug, and Zoe could see she was allowing herself to luxuriate in the feeling for a moment.
“What’re you doing here?” he asked as they let go of each other. “Not that I'm not pleased to see you.”
“I heard tell of a Firefly, so I came to check. You okay?”
“Shiny. You look good.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, then Mal turned to Zoe, who had watched the slightly awkward wordplay with detached amusement. “Kaylee says that’s all she needs, so if you can get them –”
“No problem, sir.” Zoe nodded, then looked at Freya. “By the way, I need a bridesmaid. “
“What? Oh … Sure.” Freya looked surprised, then glanced at Mal. “Who’s Kaylee?”
“What happened to Bester?”
“He didn’t work out.”
“Bester was worser?” she joked.
“God, Frey, that’s bad, even coming from you!” Mal exclaimed.
Freya smiled, if nothing else probably at the diminutive form of her name he had coined a long time before. “It’s early,” she added.
“That ain't a good enough excuse!” Mal shook his head. “And it ain’t early.” He looked at Zoe. “Better get going.”
“Yes sir. On my way.” Zoe looked at Freya. “Don’t you go anywhere.”
“Wasn’t planning to.” As Zoe strode off, she heard Freya say to Mal, “So Zoe’s getting married?”
“I didn’t realise you two were that close,” Inara said.
Zoe shrugged. “No, I guess no-one does. War does that to you – if you survive it there’s a kind of connection that distance or time can’t really destroy. Not that we were like that then – Mal was her friend, not me.”
“What happened? Did you feel threatened by her?” Inara asked, finding it difficult to even consider the idea that this woman could be threatened by anyone.
“No.” Zoe paused. “Not really. I think I saw someone who was a distraction, and distractions kill when you’re fighting an enemy who wants your head.”
“A distraction to Mal?”
“When you’re trying to win, and not be killed, trying to …” Zoe stopped. “The battle of Dhu Khang was a case in point.”
Corporal Zoe Alleyne followed her men into the small camp, and her heart dropped as she saw her sergeant talking animatedly to an officer, one she recognised all too well.
“Zoe, get the men in,” Mal called. “We’ve got friends here.”
Freya grinned at Zoe, and she smiled grimly back. “Plant yourself by the fire.”
“Fire, sir? Is that a good idea?”
“Hell, Zoe, they know we’re here.” Freya laughed. “They’ve been trying to kill us for over a week! You know, somehow I think their politeness could be improved upon.”
Her sergeant, a powerful man named MacAlister, shared out a little of the food they had left, making up for it with mugs of wine.
“We liberated it from a place not too far away,” Freya explained.
“Liberated?” Mal laughed. “You mean stole.” He squeezed her shoulder. “You ain’t never going to get into heaven, you know.”
“Words, Mal.” Freya grinned. “Just words. Damn, it is good to see you again.”
“Yeah. You too.”
In the light from the fire Zoe looked from one to the other and sighed inwardly. She’d never cross Mal – he was her sergeant, and she was fiercely loyal to him, but his obvious attachment to this woman was something she would never understand.
“There were a thousand men up there,” she said. “All wanting to get off. But no-one had had any orders for days, and our own officer was in a bad way. We’d got wounded, too, and they weren’t going to last long. So Freya came up with this plan.”
“Freya. That’s suicide!” Mal was appalled.
“Not really. Not if we work it right. Besides, who wants to live forever?” Freya joked.
“Well, yeah, me too. But there’s over a thousand good Independents out there who want to live beyond tomorrow.”
“It’s been decided.”
Zoe, a hardened soldier, approved of the plan, and stood shoulder to shoulder with her sergeant, with this Lieutenant Nordstrom, and kept firing through the night. Between them they took out rollers, skiffs, and so many men they couldn’t possibly have counted them all. And still the Browncoats got through.
At one point there was a lull in the bombardment, and everyone took a moment to regroup, to reload.
“Zoe, you still alive?” Mal called.
“Still here, sir.”
“Tracey keeps complaining, sir, but that’s normal.”
“Hey!” The young man in question looked hurt. “I resent that! And I shouldn’t be held accountable – I’m wounded.”
“And that’s normal too, Private.” Zoe glared at him until he settled back down, muttering to himself.
Freya had collapsed with her back against the large rockpile they had been using for cover, and Mal sank down on the ground next to her.
“Fun, ain't it?” he said, grinning.
“I've had better.”
“When? Good company –” he ducked as a missile hit the wall above them, throwing rock fragments and shrapnel everywhere. “– stimulating conversation –“ he continued, checking around to make sure no-one had been hurt. “– and activities laid on for free. What more can you want?”
“Slightly less on the possibility of being killed, actually.”
“Hey, you said it – who wants to live forever?” He grinned even wider, then jumped to his feet and began firing again, Freya standing and doing the same, right at his side.
“We kept the Alliance at bay for hours, long enough for all those men to get through, to get away,“ Zoe said.
“That’s good,” Inara responded. “But I don’t see –”
“He stayed up there because of her. When they had all got through, and she ordered us to follow, he stayed with her. He should have obeyed orders, not risked his life like that.”
“He probably saved your life.”
“I'm not denying that, but he did it because of her.” Zoe shook her head. “She meant more to him than the rest of us.”
“And that rankles?” Inara was surprised.
“It used to. Now I understand why. Wash helped me to learn to care for someone, and that changed my attitude, a lot.” Zoe finally smiled. “And besides, I like her. She’s my kind of stupid.”
Inara laughed. “I remember meeting Freya for the first time myself. Mal had spoken of her, of course, but not … how she felt. But it was obvious, from the very beginning.”
Inara Serra looked down from the catwalk outside the shuttle she rented in time to see a woman walk up the ramp and smile at Mal, who was moving crates in the cargo bay.
“Hey, Freya.” He smiled and put the crate down, holding out his arms. She walked into his embrace. “Where’ve you been?”
“Oh, around.” She smiled as they moved apart, still holding his arms. “Heard tell you were looking for me?”
“Have been for a while. But this time, yes. Got a job needs two ships, and I thought somehow of you.”
“Because you can trust me?” she laughed.
“Probably more because I know I can’t.” Mal grinned back, obviously not believing what he had just said. “Makes me feel I know where I stand.”
“And where is that?”
“Up to my pretty neck, as usual.”
They laughed together, easy in each other’s company, and Inara felt a stab of jealousy.
“So what’s the job?” Freya asked.
“Well, it’s –” Mal paused as he must have heard the sound of Inara descending the metal staircase. They both looked up.
“Mal,” Inara said. “I didn’t realise we have guests.” She smiled at the other woman, taking in her short brown hair, intelligence written across her attractive face, and a look of … something in her eyes. Suspicion, perhaps?
Mal half-smiled. “Inara. Finished whoring for the day?”
This other woman, this Freya, looked surprised, but Inara had learned, over the past couple of months, to deal with this in the only way possible. “I have a client tonight, if it’s any of your business.”
Mal’s face tightened, as it always did when she reminded him that her job was to service clients, albeit ones of her choosing, a profession he hated with a will. Sometimes she wondered if, had she not been a Companion, been an ordinary woman like this Freya, whether they would have acted on their initial attraction, communicated it better. She certainly felt something for him, something very strong, but his contempt for her lifestyle and her reluctance to change always seemed to get in their way. She glanced at Freya, and suddenly realised she had made a bad error. This was no ordinary woman. It wasn't the gun at her hip, nor the shapely figure under the brown duster she wore, but instead it was the look she was giving her. She knew. She had to know, somehow. And that look was made up of equal parts intrigue, abhorrence and pain. No, more pain. Lots of it.
Mal, oblivious to this, said, “Inara’s a Companion. She rents one of the shuttles. Inara, this is Freya Nordstrom.”
Inara came down to the cargo bay floor and stopped. She smiled, putting all her training into hiding her true feelings. “Freya. So nice to meet you. I’ve heard of you.” She held out a hand and the other woman took it.
“Not all bad, I hope.”
“Not all, no.”
“Freya’s an old friend,” Mal put in. “Known her a long time. Since the war. You know, the one you supported the Alliance over.” It was yet another dig at her. “We’re old friends.” He managed to put an entirely different meaning into the last three words.
“So you said.” So, they’d had some kind of relationship. Inara tried to hide the pang of resentment by telling herself that whatever had happened wasn't happening now, and intently studied the other woman, very much as she was being studied in turn. Suddenly such a wave of intense pain crossed Freya’s face that Inara almost gasped in shock, and every atom of her being, of her training, told her this woman knew. And knew most exactly how she felt, how Captain Reynolds felt, if only he would let himself. And it hurt her to the core.
Mal hadn’t noticed, or if he had he was tactfully ignoring it, perhaps thinking it meant something else. “So, this job …”
Freya shook her head, although whether at this offer or in distress was unclear. “I’d like to, but I can’t We’re up to our ears in work, for once, and I can’t put anyone off. You understand.”
Mal was obviously taken aback. “Right. Sure, of course. If you’ve got work –”
“I saw Renshaw a few days back. He might be available.” Freya was trying to make amends.
Inara could see Mal was angry, but couldn’t figure out why. Unless …
Freya blinked. “Look, I have to go. People to see … you know.”
“You’re not going to have a drink?” Mal’s anger was joined by surprise.
“No. Sorry, I can’t.” Freya backed away, and Inara realised she was holding herself together by sheer mental effort. “It was nice to have met you, Inara.”
Inara, all her training in body language and signals telling her this woman was in pain, in love, wanted to help, to assure her there was nothing for her to be jealous about, nothing between the Captain and herself, but even she couldn’t lie outright to her. “Yes. I hope we’ll have the chance to meet again.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Freya looked at Mal. “Sorry. Have to go. But some other time. We’ll talk. Another day.”
“Another day,” Mal repeated, his voice flat, watching her leave his ship. He shook his head.
Inara watched her stride away until she was almost out of sight, when she thought no-one could see. As she passed an old Portland-class cruiser her shoulders fell, and Inara just knew she was crying.
“She must have read us, both of us,” Inara said.
“She once told me she thought your passion eclipsed her,” Zoe said, sighing as she sat back among the cushions. “She knew there was something holding you back, but she thought what you felt was too strong, that it would overtake you. She couldn’t be around to watch.”
“She was in pain. And I couldn’t do anything to help.”
“What could you have done?” Zoe asked. “She wouldn’t have believed you anyway.”
“Do you think it was my fault?” Inara asked. “That if I hadn’t come on board Mal and Freya would have got together sooner?”
“I don’t know,” Zoe admitted. “All I saw was two people who … well, she always loved him, and he cared for her: they just couldn’t quite connect. I saw them in the war – they saved each other’s lives more than once, and neither would let anything happen to the other if they could help it.”
“Maybe he did love her, then. And I sort of distracted him.”
“Love doesn’t work like that. It’s not as if you only have a certain amount, and if someone isn’t around at that moment, it gets given to someone else.”
“That’s very philosophical,” Inara said, mildly surprised. “I know he loves her now, whatever the reason, but back then … I know it was very hard for her, seeing him. I know why now, too. She must have read his feelings, and mine … no wonder she didn’t want to be around us. In all that time, between that first meeting and when she finally came aboard, I don’t think I met her more than half a dozen times. We talked, a little, she showed me her tattoo, but we never really related. Not like now.”
“She’s your friend.”
“Yes. Even if it took a while.”
“Mine too. Even when she is telling me what to do.”
“Yes, I noticed that. You’re first mate, but she … Maybe Mal is right, and relationships between crew members complicate matters.”
“I don’t mind. I know where I stand, and that’s at the Captain’s side. It’s just she does too. There’s space enough for both of us.”
“Hank.” Zoe pursed her lips. “Hank is … well, there probably isn’t enough time in the ‘verse to say what Hank is, but mainly he’s just annoying. Anyway, we weren’t talking about him.”
“Freya. You know, there aren’t many women in my life that I trust. Hell, there aren’t many women I know at all, but you and Kaylee are two of them. And Freya is a third.” Zoe shook her head. “It took me a while to get to know her, but now …”
“Now you feel you can get annoyed with her when she’s telling you to give Hank a chance.”
They laughed, then felt guilty at doing so.
“And I was looking forward to being a bridesmaid,” Zoe added softly.
Kaylee was in the engine room, laying in her hammock. She was watching a capture, one hand caressing the baby growing inside her.
“Oh, hey, Inara.” The young woman looked up at her friend and smiled sadly. “Good sex?” she asked.
“As always.” Inara stepped over the sill. “Are you all right?”
“I‘m shiny.” Kaylee swung her legs off the hammock and sat up, a little ungainly. “Don’t often see you in here.”
“I was looking for you.”
“You’ll get all greasy.” Kaylee stood up. “Come on, let’s go get a cup of coffee.”
She led the way back into the kitchen, deserted this time, as Mal had gone back to his quarters to freshen up. And maybe to sleep it off.
“Kaylee …” Inara began as the young mechanic took two mugs from the cupboard.
“She lost the baby. Do you know that?” Kaylee asked, not turning, just staring into the mugs.
“Yes. Simon told me.”
“It’s hard. Having this …” She stroked the bulge in her overalls … “and then Freya …” Kaylee turned, and Inara wasn’t surprised to see tears on her cheeks making little tracks in the grime. “I wish … I wish …”
Kaylee nodded, wiping her face, and poured coffee from the pot on the stove into the mugs before going to sit in one of the easy chairs, Inara following.
“I want to help her too,” Kaylee said, sitting back, holding the mug between both hands in front of her, warming herself on it.
“You will. We all will.” Inara sipped the hot liquid. “What was the capture?”
“Oh, Zoe’s wedding.” Kaylee smiled a little. “That was when I first met Freya. Zoe and Wash …” She shook her head. “I thought they’d be together forever.”
“They would have been, mei-mei.”
“I guess. And Zoe was so happy. I don’t think I’d ever seen her like that before. Not sure I knew she could smile, but that day she couldn’t stop. Not that I had a chance to sit and enjoy the moment.”
The young mechanic looked up from where she was working under the compression coil, trying to fix the G-lock input valve. “Hand me that, will you?” She pointed to the small wrench she needed, and the woman who had called her name crossed the engine room to pick it up.
“Here,” she said, handing it over.
“Thanks.” Kaylee ducked back under the housing and forced the recalcitrant valve back into its proper position, and hummed in satisfaction. She stood up, wiping her hands down her greasy coveralls. “Thanks.”
Kaylee looked at the newcomer, sizing her up, from her short dark hair to the stout workboots she wore. And a gun, belted securely around her waist as if it had grown there. She knew nothing of guns, nor how to use one, leaving all that kind of thing to the Captain and Zoe. No, ships were her forte, or rather their engines. But here, in front of her, she was in no doubt that this woman knew how to use her gun, and had, on many occasions. She reminded her of the Captain … “Are you Freya?” she asked.
The woman seemed surprised. “I am.”
Kaylee grinned. “The Captain’s talked about you. Said you might be calling soon.” She held out her hand. “I’m Kaylee. But you already know that. I wanted to meet you.”
Freya smiled and they shook hands, then glanced down at the oil that had been transferred.
“Oh, sorry,” Kaylee apologised, looking around for a cloth. “I get all kinds of gunk on me, I don’t really notice it anymore. But I shouldn’t go around –”
“It’s okay.” Freya smiled, a kind smile that warmed the younger woman’s heart. She rubbed her hands together. “A little engine grease isn’t going to hurt me.”
“You’ve got your own boat?” Kaylee said, putting the wrench back.
“Yeah. A Saroyan class.” She stepped forward to lean over the compression coil, looking deep into the Firefly’s heart.
“L59 dash 9.”
“Ooh, one of the newer ones.” Kaylee felt her heart beat a little faster as it always did at the thought of a new type of engine. “Does it have the absorption overlockers?”
Freya turned back to grin at her. “Wouldn’t know. I’m afraid I’m pretty useless at things like that. I leave all that up to my mechanic.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what Captains are for,” Kaylee said, pushing a lock of hair back behind her ear. “But a Saroyan – they’re not cheap.”
“Well, we’ve had some good luck lately.”
“Not entirely.” Freya laughed and Kaylee joined in.
“Funny how that always seems to be the way,” Kaylee added.
“Last time I was here the mechanic was Bester,” Freya said, picking up a small clip and studying it.
Kaylee felt slightly embarrassed. “He left. The Captain asked me to take care of her.” She patted the coil housing. “Serenity,” she explained.
“You didn’t get along with Bester?”
Kaylee took the franxion clasp from her and busied herself tidying the bench. “Oh, pretty much.”
The tone of the other woman’s voice had her turning, and she could see a knowing look on Freya’s face. “Hey, I’m human!” she insisted. “And Bester was … well, he …”
“Attractive, yes, I know. Something to do with those tattoos.”
“Yeah, he was, but there was something else … he … well, he …”
“Worked with engines?”
Kaylee grinned. “I love machinery. All those parts – they talk to me.”
“That’s a gift.”
“Maybe. But the Captain sure seems to appreciate it.”
“I’ll bet he does. Keeping this niou-se bucket of bolts going.”
“Serenity ain’t a bucket!” Kaylee bridled instantly, and Freya held up her hands in mock surrender.
“I’m sorry! It’s okay – I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Kaylee was mortified. “No, it’s me who should apologise. The Cap says I take it too much to heart when anyone says something against her, and I try not to. But sometimes …”
“No, it was my fault.”
“It’s just, Serenity’s …”
“Well, she belongs to the Captain, but I keep her flying.”
“I’m sure you do. And I know he’s grateful. Besides, she’s your baby.”
“That she is.” Kaylee turned to Inara. “Always has been, from the first moment Bester took me inside. I’ve felt I’m a part of her. It’d be such a wrench to leave. But now …” She dropped her eyes.
“Freya has Mal,” Inara said. “And all of us. We’ll be there for her.”
“Oh, we will. It’s just … so unfair.”
“Sometimes that’s what life is.”
“And we can’t do anything about it.”
Inara put her hand on the young mechanic’s arm. “We go on. We always go on.”
“Keep flying.” Kaylee agreed. “Although sometimes that don’t seem like much.”
“Sometimes it has to be enough.”
“Yeah. That’s what Zoe used to say.”
“So, you staying for the wedding?” Kaylee asked, hitching herself onto her hammock.
“Hell, minute I saw Serenity decked out in all her finery, you couldn’t have pried me away with dynamite.” Freya grinned. “Not that I ever thought I’d see the day Zoe walked down the aisle.”
“Ain’t gonna be any aisle. Just a few words in front of the local Prefect. Zoe ain’t one for ceremonies.”
“No, she’s not. Nor did I think she was one for Wash.”
“He’s …” Kaylee searched for the right word.
“Possibly. I was thinking more of unstoppable.”
“Pretty much the same.” Freya’s smile stayed. “Still, if Zoe can fall in love, then maybe there’s hope for us all, right?”
“Damn it, I really hope so!” Kaylee agreed fervently.
River stepped silently over the threshold. “She’s waking up.”
Inara and Kaylee looked up. “Freya?” the Companion asked.
“She’s waking up.”
“Does Mal know?”
Freya opened her eyes into the bright lights above her, and winced. She hurt, in a lot of places, but the headache was currently the worst.
“Lie still.” Simon moved into her line of sight, a hypo in his hand which he injected into the drip running into her arm. “This will help in a moment.”
She tried to nod, then decided not to do that again. Instead she lay still, trying to send her mind around her body, telling it to calm, to let the pain float away, to see through the … She gasped.
“Freya?” Simon was instantly by her side.
She looked at him, her mouth open in shock, her eyes wide. “Simon …” she whispered.
“You know, don’t you?” he said quietly.
“Then it’s true?” she asked, her voice so small that he had to listen hard to hear.
“I’m sorry, Freya. There was nothing I could do.” He watched as she took in the words, as this woman whom he’d only ever known as being strong, capable, totally self-reliant began to fall apart in front of him, her face taking on an aspect of pain he had only seen before in the hospital. It tore at him, but the doctor inside kept him from breaking down. “I’m so sorry.”
Freya closed her eyes, tears bursting from beneath the lids to roll down into her hair, and she lifted her hands to cover her face.
Outside the infirmary, Mal hugged himself, unable to move, unable to comfort her, but feeling every stab of that emotion as a thrust to his own self.
“Frey?” She looked into the infirmary.
“Inara. Hi.” Freya waved at her from the bed as the Companion crossed the threshold.
“How are you feeling? Or is that a stupid thing to ask?” Inara tried a smile.
“It is stupid. Quite unworthy of you.” But a brief smile crossed Freya’s face too. “But I’ll be fine.”
“I’m so sorry, Freya.”
“Me too. But these things happen. Wasn’t meant to be, is all.”
Inara stepped closer and put her hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “There’s plenty of time.”
“For more kids? I guess. Although I don’t think that’s going to be happening, at least any time soon.”
“Why not?” Inara was surprised. “Mal wanted this child. Really wanted this baby.”
“I know, and that makes it worse.”
“No, it doesn’t. And it’s okay to grieve, Frey. We all are. And there is time.”
“I was just getting used to the idea myself. Wondering whether it was going to be a boy or a girl.”
“Did Simon say –”
“No. I haven’t asked.”
“You should. You might also consider a name.”
“A name?” Freya was shocked. “No, Inara, I can’t – “
“Believe me, Freya, I know what I’m talking about. Not personally, but I’ve known other girls who’ve been in a similar situation. As a Companion, we see life, don’t think we don’t. We’re not always locked away in an ivory tower, you know.”
“I know. But a name? That makes it so much more – “
“Real? It is real, Freya. Sweetheart, you have to accept it, not ignore it. You were pregnant, but you lost the baby. I know it hurts, and it will for a long time, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault, least of all yours. Don’t just lock away those feelings to fester. Deal with them. Give the child a name so you can grieve properly.”
Freya dropped her eyes to look at her hands. They were shaking slightly, and she grasped them together tightly. “A girl,” she said in a whisper.
“It was a girl. I lied. I heard Simon tell Kaylee.”
Inara put her hand on top of Freya’s. “She would have been beautiful.”
“I know. She would, wouldn’t she?” She looked up, tears running down her cheeks.
“Oh, Freya.” Inara took her friend into her arms and let her cry, weeping out all the anger, the frustration, the loss. Eventually she quietened, and Inara released her hold enough so that she could look into the other woman’s face. “It’s okay,” she said. “Cry all you need. As much as you want. Has Mal been in to see you?”
A shadow crossed Freya’s face. “No. I think he’s in too much pain. Seeing me only makes it worse.”
“Then he’s a damn fool. I’ll speak to him.”
“No, Inara. Leave him be. I’m not sure I could see him anyway, not right now.”
“It wasn’t his fault either.”
“No, I know. And I’m not blaming anyone. Honestly.”
“Well, it was my job to look after this child. Only my body wasn’t strong enough …”
“Freya, stop that. It was an accident. You could have been killed.”
“No!” Inara took hold of her shoulders and shook her slightly. “You must not think like that. Do you have any idea what that would have done to Mal?”
“I – “
“He didn’t look for this! He never had any intention of letting you into his life, but he did. Against his better judgement, I might add. You know what he thinks about shipboard romances, what he thought of Zoe and Wash getting married. But he fell in love with you. Sometimes I wonder why, but he did.”
“I wonder why myself.” Freya looked into her friend’s face, ashamed of herself. “I didn’t mean it like that, you know. I wouldn’t do that to Mal. Never.”
“I know.” Inara took a deep breath, calming herself. “You are a part of him, no matter what either of you think. He’s more complete now than I have ever seen him, and that’s your doing. He’s hurting, yes, as are you. But you can heal each other.”
“‘Nara, I – “
“No. I won’t listen.”
“I was only going to say that you’re right.”
“And you’re hurting my shoulders.”
“Oh. Sorry.” She let go. “Life’s not always fun, Freya. Things go wrong. Ask Zoe.”
“I know. I was thinking about her, just a while back. When we first met. She didn’t like me, you know.”
“Really? I can’t think why,” Inara said dryly.
Freya laughed a little, a most welcome sound. “It took us a while to get to know each other. It wasn’t until after the war that we really got close. When Mal bought this ship.”
“So?” Mal asked, standing in the bright sunlight of the shipyard.
“You’ve bought this? You paid good money for this ship?” Freya asked, looking up at the old Firefly.
“My exact words, I believe,” Zoe said from behind them.
“What is it with women?” Mal asked in exasperation. “She’s a good ship. Be with you ‘til the day you die.”
“May not be too long in this,” Freya muttered.
“What … look, at least wait until you see inside.”
“You mean there’s more?”
Mal glared at her, but led the way into the cargo bay. “Get a deal of goods in here,” he said, indicating the space.
“I hope you’re going to clean up first,” Freya said. “Looks like something’s been living in here.” She pointed down to something on the floor.
Mal ignored her. “We’ll get a small crew, mechanic, a pilot, maybe a cook … we can be out there where no-one can ever touch us.”
“Nice thought, Mal,” Freya said. “I know how you feel, but … this?”
“You can come with us,” Mal said, turning to smile at her. “Be part of this crew. My crew.”
“With you as Captain?”
“Of course. My boat.”
“I don’t know. Besides, I’ve got the idea of getting my own ship. I don’t want to be tied down either, Mal.”
“Then come with us.”
“To be what? I’m no mechanic, don’t know one end of an accelerator core from the other. And you know what my cooking’s like.”
“Then be my pilot.”
“You should have come with us,” Mal said from the doorway.
Freya looked up. “It wasn’t the right time.”
“We could have made it the right time.” He stepped over the sill and walked to the bed, smiling briefly at Inara. “All those years we wasted. If you’d come with me –”
“No saying it would have been any different. That you’d have taken me back into your bed.”
“You wore me down, Frey. All that passion in your soul, you wore away my resolution.” He smiled, albeit sadly, and took hold of her hand, squeezing it tightly.
“Makes it sound like you didn’t want it,” Freya pointed out.
“I didn’t. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But I’m not known for my intelligence sometimes. Or good sense.” He stroked her cheek with his free hand. “I’m sorry, Freya. I should have taken more care of you, made sure you were safe.”
“No, Mal.” Freya shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault. These things happen.” She swallowed. “Our … our daughter … it just wasn’t the right time.”
“Daughter?” Mal looked shocked.
“It was a girl, Mal. And she’d have been beautiful.”
“Like her mother.” He tried to speak past the lump in his throat. “Alice.”
“My momma’s name. I wanted, if it were a girl, I was going to … Alice.”
“Nice name.” Freya sniffed, trying hard not to cry again. Mal couldn’t. Tears slid down his cheek, and he wiped them away angrily. Freya reached up and touched his face, new tears of her own falling. “We can have a service, something all the crew can attend.”
“Yeah.” Mal nodded. “We should.”
“Find a preacher. Someone to say some words. Even if you don’t – “
“No. I think that’d be right.”
Inara, feeling like an unwelcome intruder, stepped back, quietly going to the door.
“And there’s time,” Freya added.
“I don’t think so, Mal,” Freya said, looking around the cargo bay. “We’d only argue, with you wanting to be captain, and me still thinking I’m a Lieutenant.”
“Could be fun,” Mal pointed out. “Always is, arguing with you.”
“No. This is your ship. You need your crew, to be Captain Reynolds. But maybe one day …” She grinned.
“Yeah, maybe.” He looked annoyed, but it passed quickly. “So what do you really think of her?”
“Honestly?” When Mal nodded Freya looked around the bay again. “If I’d seen her first, I’d have bought her.”
“Truly?” Mal was surprised, he had to admit.
“Truly. She’s a good ship.” She laughed. “Start of a new life for you.”
“A new life. Yeah, I guess it is.” He grinned at her.
“So what are you going to call her?”
“Well, got a name all picked out. Seems appropriate, somehow.”
“So, tell me. Don’t keep me in suspense.”
Mal hitched his thumbs into his pants pockets and said, “Come and have a drink with me, to toast to new beginnings. And to my ship.”
Thursday, November 2, 2006 2:32 AM
Thursday, November 2, 2006 4:58 AM
Thursday, November 2, 2006 5:02 AM
Friday, November 3, 2006 5:19 PM
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