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Snake in the Grass: Coda - REPOST
Sunday, November 11, 2007

Maya. Post-BDM. Complete. Kaylee still wants her baby, and Mal might have the answer.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1466    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

Snake in the Grass – CODA

Bernoulli wasn’t looking the happiest of guys on the vidscreen. “Mal, I don’t know what to tell you. They’re mad.”

“Why? They got what they paid for.” Mal crossed his arms. “Didn’t they?”

“Of course. Enough stuff to cover half their planet in bloody cattle. Doesn’t stop them insisting they’ve been gypped.”

“They tell you what they think they’re missing?”

Bernoulli fidgeted slightly. “No. They were particularly tricky in that regard. Wouldn’t give me any details.”

“Do you want to know them?”

The other man sat up straighter. “Then … you did steal something off them?”

Mal shook his head. “Nope. Not a thing. Least, nothing that belonged to them.” Quickly he went over what had happened. “… so Tannhauser went home a happy man. We delivered the goods and got the second portion of our pay, and everybody won.”

Bernoulli sighed heavily. “I didn’t know, Mal. You gotta believe me.”

“I do,” Mal said. “I never thought you’d be a party to this.”

“And if I were it wouldn’t be you I’d be asking to carry it,” Bernoulli admitted.

“Best you don’t.”

The two men looked at each other across the ether for a long moment. “Guess I’ll be getting back to them, telling them there was nothing happened. Maybe I could blame the Alliance.”

“You could. I’d also take it as a kindness if you could wave Griswald. Wouldn’t want them coming after him. He seemed a good man.”

“He is. You’d get on well with him. He’s slightly more willing to take on the more … dubious aspects of the work, but … I’ll let him know.”

“I’d be grateful.”

Bernoulli became all business again. “Might have another job coming up in a couple of weeks.”

“Less on the dubious side?”

The other man grinned. “A bit. I’ll wave if it comes to anything.”

“Okay.”

The screen greyed out.

“You really think he didn’t know, Mal?” Hank asked, slipping back into the pilot’s seat.

“Not this one, anyway.”

“But maybe others?”

“I get the feeling this might be a regular trade for someone. Supplying black market embryos to those with the money.”

“But why not just do it legally?”

Mal shrugged. “Lots of reasons. Maybe the prospective parents couldn’t get the right permissions. Lots of reasons, Hank.”

“I guess. But you ain’t sure about Bernoulli, are you?”

Mal looked out into the black, his stars staring back at him, unblinking. “He ain’t above breaking the law, like all of us. And he’s been known to have his fingers in some very dirty pies.”

“Then how come we work for him?”

“Because we need the coin.”

“Doesn’t seem worth it, somehow.”

Mal put his hand on the pilot‘s shoulder. “Hank, in a few weeks time you’re gonna be a daddy. And believe me, that takes more money than you would believe.” He patted. “You’ll be wanting to say yes to every job that comes along.”

A look of panic crossed Hank’s face, then he took a deep breath, doing one of the calming exercises Zoe had taught him. “Looking forward to it, Mal,” he said.

Mal grinned. “Sure you are.” He patted again. “Sure you are.”

--

“God, this tastes awful.” Simon put his mug down on the table in front of him. He peered into the steaming liquid.

“What’re you drinking?” his wife said from behind the counter where she was preparing the evening meal.

“Some tea your mother gave me. Told me to drink it every seven days.” He winced. “But I'm sure it didn’t taste as bad as this before.”

“Why’d she give you that?”

“She said it would do me good. Put the colour back in my cheeks.” He laughed. “Must be helping. No other reason for it to taste like that otherwise.”

“And you’re still drinking it?” Kaylee was amused.

“Well, it was your mother.”

“That’s sweet.” She tossed a small pinch of oregano into the pot, and there was a minute’s silence as Simon tried to force down more of the tea, each mouthful worse than the last. Eventually he’d had enough, and joined his wife behind the counter to pour it down the sink.

“Kaylee.”

“Mmn?”

“I've been thinking.”

She turned to look at her husband, still stirring the stew on the stove. His face was serious, his blue eyes slightly shrouded. “About the embryos,” she said first.

Surprise made his eyebrows rise towards his hair. “You too?”

“Me too.”

“I was wondering about –“

“A donor.”

Simon took a breath. “Yes.”

Kaylee continued to stir. “Have to say I've been giving it some thought, and not just now. Before this happened too. You know, thinking about who. I ... I mean, it’d have to be someone we know, and there’s only three men on board, and they’re all in relationships, which is good, but I don’t know how they’d feel about giving up some of their –“

Simon put his hand on hers, stopping the stirring that was becoming faster with every word. “Kaylee. It’s not only men on board this ship.”

“Yeah, but my eggs are okay.” She stared into his eyes, concern flaring. “They are … okay, ain't they, Simon?”

“They’re perfect,” he assured her. “But I mean for the other half.”

“Two women can’t … can they?”

“Not like that.” He couldn’t resist the small smile that lifted his lips. “But … River is my sister.”

“Yeah, guessed that when you got her outta that box.”

He pressed on against her sarcasm. “She has the same DNA as me. Slightly different mix, though. I could use one of her cells, extract the DNA and combine it with yours.”

“You mean she’d be the father?”

“Not quite. More like a … a second mother.”

“So the baby’d be a clone.”

“No. I’d split the strands, recombine, make a whole new person.”

“Why can’t we do it with one of yours?”

“My DNA is damaged,” he admitted, not really wanting to go into this, knowing where Kaylee would take it.

“The virus?”

“Mostly.”

“What’d’ya mean, mostly?”

“Well, it’s also probably the Hyprobetamoxomol …”

“I knew you shouldn’t’ve taken that stuff!” Anger lit her face.

He sighed. “The damage is done, Kaylee.”

“That ain't the point!”

“Yes it is. I can’t give you a child, for whatever reason, and the only way we’re going to have one with Tam genes is by using River’s DNA.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “What do you think?”

“The baby’d have your genes.” Kaylee was trying to lay it out straight in her mind.

“Yours and River’s, actually, but by extension mine.”

“Is it hard? Doing this recombining?”

“I’d need a proper lab. The infirmary isn’t … I don’t have the equipment, but … I could do it.”

“And the baby’d be healthy?”

He could see hope building in her eyes, and he didn’t answer immediately. “Well …” he eventually began. “There’s a small possibility of some genetic damage. The human genome is very complex, and while the two halfs should attach naturally in the right sequence, there’s some chance of error.”

Kaylee turned off the heat under the food. She couldn’t concentrate on both. “So you’re saying our baby could have … problems.”

“There’s a … possibility.”

“So how come it don’t happen when an egg and sperm –“

“It can. Most genetically unsound embryos don’t make it beyond the first few days, that’s all. But children still get born with physical or mental disabilities.”

Kaylee couldn’t help remembering her cousin, born blind and partially deaf. Her uncle and aunt had loved him something fierce, but it wasn't easy for him, or for them. “I see,” she murmured.

“The other option is what you said,” Simon added quickly. “Asking one of the other men to be a sperm donor.”

“I think maybe … can I think on it a while?”

“All the time you want, bao bei.” He paused. “Only … who would you … I mean, if you did decide to … who would you choose?”

--

Freya was playing with Ethan in the cargo bay, tossing a soft ball a few feet from her for her son to crawl towards. Only this time he’d pulled himself up on one of the crates and toddled back to her on his own two feet.

She felt a surge of joy pulse through her. “That’s a good boy!” she exclaimed as he walked unsteadily into her waiting arms.

“Good Ethan,” he smiled, holding onto her. “Dada.”

Freya looked over her shoulder. Mal stood at the bottom of the stairs, grinning. “Did you see?” she asked.

“That I did.” If anything his grin grew wider as he crossed to them, swinging Ethan up into his arms. “That’s my big feller.”

“Ethan walk,” his son said.

“That’s right, you did.” Mal sat down on the floor next to his wife and put Ethan between them. “Told you it’d be soon.”

“You did. And I should have believed you.” Freya’s eyes were suspiciously moist. “And I'm so glad you saw.”

“Me too, xin gan.” He leaned over his son and kissed her softly. “Now, about those reins …”

“You are not putting our son on a lead!” Freya protested, but only mildly, knowing he didn’t really mean it.

“You’ll be chasing after him all the time,” he pointed out.

“I don’t mind. And I won’t be the only one doing the chasing.”

“Hey, I'm captain. That’d be below my dignity.”

“Is there such a place?”

He managed to look scandalised, then reached out and tickled her waist. She giggled, batting his hand away. Ethan watched them, his eyes wide.

“So, guess what I’ve got for a good boy?” Mal asked, his gaze soft as he looked at his first born.

“Pressie?” Ethan asked.

“Why should I be surprised that he should know that word?” Freya asked.

“Bethie’s been coaching him,” Mal explained.

“Might just have to have a word with that young lady.”

Mal laughed.

“Pressie? Now?” Ethan urged.

Mal sat back a little. “You find it, you can have it.”

Ethan understood, and started to search his father’s pockets. It only took a moment for him to find a small box. “Dada?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“What –“ Freya began.

“Chalks. So he can draw on the walls and it comes right off.”

Freya laughed. “Yes, I'm sorry about that. I don’t know how he got hold of Bethie’s pens.”

“I do. I reckon she had a hand in that little bit of misbehaviour too.”

“And you want a daughter.”

“Hey, pictures of horses on the walls I can live with.” He watched Ethan finally get the box open and tip the chalks onto the floor.

She smiled at her husband, love in her eyes. “That’s sweet.”

“I know.” He grinned at her, then spoke again. “Frey, Kaylee had a word with me just now.”

“Oh? What about? Is she asking for that new converter again?”

“No. She … she wanted to know if I’d consider being a sperm donor. So she could have another baby.”

Freya didn’t move. She didn’t even breathe. “And … what did you say?” she asked eventually.

“That I needed to talk to you.”

“You didn’t say no.”

“Well, not exactly. But I didn’t say yes, either.”

“Are you really considering it?”

“She just asked. It wasn't like we booked an appointment or anything.” He wished he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t broken the elation at Ethan’s walking with this, but he couldn’t go back now. “So, how do you feel?”

“It’s not my place to say.”

“Course it is, Frey. You’re my wife.”

“How does Simon feel about this? I presume he’s behind it.” She skirted the question.

“They’ve talked about it.”

“I see. And how does this work … exactly? I presume you … you don’t sleep with her.”

The look on his face made her relax just a micron. It was as if she’s suggested he have sex with his sister. “Hell, no, Frey! There’s … well, I guess the old cup and magazine come into it. And that’s where my involvement would end,” he insisted quickly.

“No, except it wouldn’t.” She gazed into his face. “It would technically be your child. You’d be the father.”

“No. Simon would.”

“Genetically –“

“Don’t come into it, Frey. This’d be for Kaylee and Simon. Not me. Just like us giving them that high chair for Bethie. A gift.”

“You’ve really thought about this.” She was surprised, and not a little shocked.

“Just a little. Coming to find you.”

A revelation burst on her like a seeker fracturing the sky. “You want to do this.”

“It ain't a case of want. I just think maybe it’s the right thing. You keep saying I do the right thing, sometimes ‘cause I don’t have a choice. Well, this is a choice, and maybe it’s right.” He took a deep breath. “But if you don’t want me to –“

She stood up suddenly. “No. I'm not going to be the ogre in this. It’s your decision, not mine.”

“Ours, Frey.”

“No. Yours.” She shook her head. “You know, I can’t … I don’t want to talk about this right now.” She turned and walked towards the common area.

“Frey, wait.” He scrambled to his feet.

“No. Leave me be.”

Ethan stared after her, aware of the change in the atmosphere. He looked up at his father. “Mama?” he asked.

Mal lifted him up onto his hip. “I think I've just blown it.”

--

“You seen Frey, Zoe?”

“Not lately, sir.” His pregnant first mate was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat staring out at the stars.

“How much not lately is that?”

“Oh, about since she told me what you asked.”

“Shit.” Mal fell into the other chair.

“Do you mind not swearing in front of the little one?” Zoe said, stroking the mound at her waist.

“Ain't born yet, Zo.”

“Hank’s been checking on the Cortex, and it seems children can pick up on things even in the womb.”

“Really.”

“Yes, sir.”

There was a pause. “So she told you everything I said?”

“Yes, sir. Good plan.”

“Oh, one of my best.” His sarcasm wasn’t lost on her. “What … what did she say? I mean, after she told you what I’d said.”

“I had to ask her not to talk like that in front of my son.”

“That bad.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So she didn’t take it well.”

“Not particularly. And I can understand why. She wants another one of her own.”

“I know that, Zo! You think I need telling?”

“Perhaps you do.”

“I'm doing my best!”

“But you’re also willing to impregnate Kaylee.”

“I ain't gonna sleep with her.”

“Freya isn’t exactly looking at it like that.”

Mal sighed. “No, she’s not.” He stared at his first mate. “Do you know where she is?”

“No, sir.”

“And if you did you wouldn’t tell me, right?”

“I’d lie to your face, sir.”

“Are you lying now?”

“No, sir.”

“Now, you see, you’re saying sir all the time. Tends to make me think I can’t believe you.”

“That’s up to you, sir.”

“Well, it’s a small boat. There’s only a certain number of places to look.” He stood up. “I didn’t want to hurt her, Zoe.”

“Unfortunately, sometimes intentions go wrong.”

“Don’t they just.” He strode off the bridge.

Zoe turned back to her perusal of the stars. Sometimes, as much as she loved her captain, he could be so dense …

--

He searched Serenity from stem to stern, from engine room to infirmary, even up to that spot high in the cargo bay where she’d been known to go, but there was no sign. Eventually he ended up back in his bunk, sitting in the chair, watching the capture of their wedding. Then, as he contemplated, he realised exactly where Freya had to be. He stood up quickly, tossing the capture back onto the bed, and hurried up the ladder out of his bunk.

--

Freya climbed back inside the airlock, closing the door behind her. The red light went out, artificial gravity reasserted itself, and air flooded back in. She pressed the button to open the interior doors and walked through into the cargo bay. Fumbling with the catch slightly she took off the helmet to the space suit, turned, and gave a start of surprise. Mal stood in front of her, his arms crossed, his face somewhat angry.

“What in the sphincter of hell were you doing out there?” he asked.

“Thinking.”

“What if we’d had to go to full burn?”

“Zoe knew where I was.”

“Figures. And what were you thinking about?”

“What do you think?”

His initial anger was turning to exasperation. “Look, I told you. If you don’t want me to, I’ll tell Kaylee no.”

“And I told you it’s not my decision. It can’t be. It’s your body, Mal. Just like mine belongs to me.”

“That ain't true.” He took a deep breath to calm down a little. Stepping forward he started to help her with the suit. “You belong to me. Just like I belong to you. To have and to hold, Frey.”

“I know.” She slipped the suit from her shoulders, her tattoo showing above the thin t-shirt she wore beneath. “But this is your choice. Except …”

“What?” He turned her around. “What?”

“This is for Kaylee, yes?”

“So she can have that other child she wants so bad.”

“Then … I think you should consider saying yes.”

He was taken aback. “You do?”

“Yes.”

He stared into her hazel eyes. “You continue to amaze me.”

“Mal, I'm not saying there won’t be times I’m not going to hold this over you. But I think … I think it would be a grand gift. You look after us all, keep us safe. This is just another way of doing it.”

He pulled her into his arms, uncaring that the suit dug into his hips. “You are one incredible woman.”

Her arms encircled him. “Mal, I want another baby, so I know what Kaylee’s going through. What she’s been through up to now. If she decides that’s the way she wants to go, then I’ll be there for her. We all will.”

“Thank you.” He kissed her softly, her lips opening to his. “And she hasn’t decided anyway, you know. Just asking me what I thought.”

“I know.”

“And there is another baby in the future for us. You do know that, too, don’t you?”

She smiled. “With you as its father, how can there not?”

--

“You’re a boob,” River said succinctly.

Simon turned from the cupboard where he was checking through his supplies. The mess made by first the Kasparov firing on them, then the Alliance going through everything had meant he needed to sort everything again. “Why?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at his sister.

“My garden needs tidying too, but at least that wasn’t my fault.”

“What are you talking about, mei-mei?”

“Freya was upset.”

It clicked. “Ah.”

“Kaylee spoke to Mal, who spoke to Freya who hurts.”

“It was just an idea. It’s not set in stone. In fact, I didn’t think Kaylee would even mention it to him …”

“As I said, you’re a boob.”

Simon sighed. “River, you of all people know how it is. Kaylee wants another baby, no matter what she says. I see her looking at Zoe, that wistfulness in her eyes …”

“It pains you.”

“It makes me ashamed.” He sat down on the stool.

“You’re still a man.” She whispered into the infirmary and stood by him, her hand on his shoulder.

“A man who can’t father a child.”

“Does that make you any less?” She gazed into his face. “Does it make the captain any less because Freya isn’t pregnant again yet?”

“But he’s not sterile!”

“No, just unlucky.”

Simon stared at her, then broke into a smile. “You are a brat, aren’t you?”

She grinned. “I have to keep in practice.”

“It really was just a thought. If I’d know Kaylee was actually going to talk to Mal about it, I’d have gone with her. Explained a few things.”

“Like using my DNA.”

He nodded. “Or adoption. There’s more than one route we can go down. And I can see why Freya would be upset.”

“They’re better now,” River said. “They’re in their bunk. He’s doing his best to make things right. At the moment he has his fingers in her -”

“River!” Simon wanted to put his hand over her mouth, but refrained, then saw the laughter in her eyes. “Brat.”

“Boob.” She wafted to the counter. “Why don’t you go and talk to your wife? I’ll finish straightening up here.” She picked up a bottle of painkillers, tutted, and slid them back into a cupboard.

“I thought your garden needed you?”

“Jayne’s putting the earth back in the containers. I think I’m going to have to consider a way of keeping it inside, if the captain is planning on getting shot at again.”

“I doubt he intended it that way, River.”

She smiled at him over her shoulder. “No-one intends anything. It just happens.”

“Life tends to,” Simon agreed.

River laughed, joy ringing through the infirmary. “It does,” she said.

Her brother, in the act of following her advice and going to talk to Kaylee, stopped. “River? Do you see something?” he asked.

“Tea leaves and wishes, all tied up in a big pink ribbon.”

“What?”

“Don’t say what, say pardon,” she admonished him.

“River …”

She made shooing motions with her hands. “Go and see Kaylee.”

“Brat.”

“Boob.”

“I said it first.”

“I thought it.”

“I’m older.”

“And I can kill you with my brain.”

There was a moment’s pause, then they both laughed.

--

A.N.: This may be the end of this particular story, but you know me by now. Some of the things already mentioned will come up again. It’s up to you to wonder which ones, and me to know!

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