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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Complete. The crew land on Lazarus for Zoe to give birth.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1538 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Inara, stop fussing.”
“Mal, you’re not the one who’s pregnant!”
Serenity’s captain grinned. “If I was we’d all be fussing.”
“If you were I’d sell tickets,” Simon said, pushing him out of the way. “Let me get Zoe inside.”
“I am perfectly capable of walking.” Zoe shrugged off his hands.
“And it’s icy around here. You either let me help you, or Jayne carries you. Which would you prefer?” The young doctor fixed her with his professional eye.
“Then I’ll graciously accept your arm.”
Serenity had landed on Lazarus as the sun set, segueing into its long period of winter night, and the bright pinks and purples lit the sky in welcome. If the actual touchdown was a little rocky, everyone gave Hank the benefit of the doubt.
Inara was waiting, bundled up in her heavy coat, and in the doorway of the house Mrs Boden and her husband lurked. At the windows were the Reilly girls, noses pressed to the cold glass.
Hank bustled down the stairs from the bridge. “I’ll help her,” he said, pushing his arms into his coat.
“Thank you, dear,” Zoe said, smiling at him. They walked … rather, Hank walked and Zoe waddled … down the path towards the house.
Mal sighed and looked at Freya, who was sitting on one of the crates in her own brown coat, trying unsuccessfully not to smile. “Hey, it ain't funny.”
“Yes it is.”
“You wait. When you’re looking like that again, we’ll see if you think it is.”
“And you’re not even the father of this one.” They exchanged a look and Mal sighed.
Kaylee walked out of the common area, Ethan toddling next to her holding her hand. “Aw, they gone already?”
“Just this second.” Freya got off the crate and went down onto her heels, holding out her arms. “Hey, there, honey,” she said, and Ethan crossed the bay unsteadily to her.
“Mama,” he said, smiling hugely.
She pulled the collar of his little coat up higher around his neck. “You ready?” she asked.
“Snow?” he asked, waving his arms, the gloves on a string whipping through the air.
“No snow yet,” his mother said, putting his hands inside them. “Maybe in a day or two.” She looked up at Mal. “And I haven’t forgiven you for those socks yet,” she added.
“Hey, you ain't lost them though, have you?”
Her eyes narrowed, and she would have made some comment, but Kaylee called, “Bethany! Come on! We’re waiting!”
After only a moment a small bundle of energy barrelled out of the common area, and bashed into Ethan, throwing him into Freya’s arms. She rolled onto her back, holding her son to her chest.
“Sorry, Auntie Frey,” Bethany said, running out of the door towards the house, Fiddler barking and leaping around at the end of his lead.
Mal, having first ascertained that neither his wife nor child were hurt, laughed. “Now that’s funny,” he said, then leaned over to pick them up.
“Just wait,” she murmured. “Just wait.”
Jayne, standing on the top catwalk outside the shuttle entrance waiting for River, chuckled to himself.
“Auntie ‘Nara!” Bethany shouted as she ran into the house.
Inara was in the process of making sure Zoe got up the stairs okay, and she called out, “Hello, sweetie. Can you wait in the drawing room? I’ll be down soon.”
Bethany stood pouting in the hall, but Hermione stuck her head out of one of the side doors.
“Come on,” she said, smiling. “You can keep me company.”
Bethany, her happiness returning, threw off her coat and followed the Reilly girl into the large yellow room, where a fire was blazing in the hearth. For a long moment she stared at it. “Oh,” she whispered as a log broke open, sending sparks up the chimney.
“Haven’t you seen a fireplace before?” Hermione asked, sitting down on the floor in front of it.
The little girl shook her head. “Only fires outside.”
“This is fun,” the twelve year old said. “Later on we can make toast.” She patted the floor next to her, ignoring the two sets of twins who were nudging each other in the corner. “Come on. You can tell me everything you’ve been getting up to. I see you’ve got your cast off.”
“Daddy took it off.” Bethie held up her arm. “All healed.”
“Good.” Fiddler sniffed at her fingertips. “He’s growing.”
“He keeps falling over his own feet.” The little dog rolled onto his back and waved his legs in the air.
“So do I.” Hermione shrugged, scratching idly at his belly. “Inara’s trying to make me into a lady, but …”
Bethie nodded in sympathy. “Hard.”
“Got your letter.”
“No snow yet.”
“Mr Boden thinks it’ll be tomorrow. Or the day after. Will you be staying that long?”
“I ‘spect so. Babies take a long while.”
The little girl looked so serious that Hermione smiled. “So I've heard.”
“Got the capture too.” Bethany suddenly giggled. “That was funny.”
Hermione glanced towards her half-sisters. “Secret,” she whispered.
“I know,” Bethie said just as quietly. “Auntie Zoe’s having my brother,” she carried on in her normal tone.
“Not brother like Momma and Daddy, but … like Ethan.”
“More a cousin?”
“No. Brother. We’re all family.” She smiled at the older girl. “So are you. My sister.”
Hermione blushed. “Bethie, I ain't … I mean, I'm not your sister.”
“Course you are. Uncle Mal’s my other Daddy, so you’re my other sister.”
“That don’t make sense.”
“Doesn’t have to,” Bethany said, shrugging. “I'm only three. What do I know?”
Hermione laughed. She could hear an adult voice saying that, a perfect reflection. “Yeah, what do we know?” She leaned forward. “So what did you get for your birthday?”
Bethany was suddenly flushed with excitement, remember the day only a couple of weeks before. “Well, Uncle Jayne made me …”
They sat together and chatted companionably while Fiddler investigated the side of the sofa then lifted his leg against it. The girls looked around at the slight sound.
“Noni, Inara’s going to hate that!” said Rosemary, the oldest of the other girls. “You’d better clear it up!”
Hermione rolled her eyes and Bethany giggled.
“I'm fine, don’t nag,” Zoe said, slapping at the hands trying to help her onto the bed.
“You’re due in a few days,” Simon pointed out. “And I'm your doctor. I'm allowed to nag.”
“And if I don’t want to go to bed?”
“What do you want to do?” His calm blue eyes seemed amused.
She glared back then relented. “Okay. Maybe I could do with a rest.”
“Good. Rest is good.”
Hank stayed by the door.
“Aren’t you coming in?” Inara asked.
“No. I … there’s a couple of things I need to do on Serenity … make sure everything’s locked down tight.”
The ex-Companion stood up. “I'm sure Mal can take care of that.”
“No!” Hank realised he’d raised his voice, and looked sheepish. “No, I … I need to do it. My job.” He backed up. “I’ll be just a few …” He fumbled at the handle until he almost fell into the corridor.
Zoe put a hand on Inara’s arm. “Let him go. This is hard for him.”
“Hard for him?” Inara stared at the dark woman. “Wasn't he the one who was desperate for children?”
“And he’ll be fine once the baby’s born. It’s just … he knows what’s going to happen …” Zoe trailed off.
“And you’re going to let him get away with this?”
Zoe grinned. “Oh no. No way.”
Inara laughed. “That’s the Zoe I know and love.”
Freya closed the front door behind them, stopping the cold air from filling the house. She went to take Ethan from Mal. “Here.”
“No, he’s fine,” her husband said.
“I just want to take his coat off.”
“That’s okay then.” He grinned at her and let her unbutton their son.
Mrs Boden materialised from the back of the hall.
“Would you like some tea?” she asked, unphased as usual by the appearance of a whole slew of people.
“That would be really nice, thank you,” Freya said, smiling as she hooked Ethan’s coat on the stand.
“Got any whisky?” Jayne asked.
“Jayne!” Kaylee admonished, swatting him on the arm. “This ain’t your house!”
“She offered tea.”
River sighed and looked at Mrs Boden. “Please forgive him. His manners haven’t improved.”
Mrs Boden smiled, just a little. “There is nothing to forgive. And there is whisky in the drawing room.”
“Tea will be fine,” Freya said firmly.
“Aw, hell, Frey …” Jayne complained.
Mal smiled slightly and put Ethan down on the floor before taking off his leather coat and helping Freya with hers. Jayne, seeing the simple but tender action, did the same for River. The young woman kissed his cheek.
“There is a room set aside for the doctor and his family,” Mrs Boden went on. “To be near to the expectant mother.”
“Thanks,” Kaylee said, tugging her own coat off and hanging it up.
“Doubt we’ll be spending much time anywhere else ourselves,” Mal said warmly.
“Then I’ll make sure there are other beds prepared. I’ll bring the tea to the drawing room.” The housekeeper melted into the shadows.
“I wish I knew how she did that,” Mal muttered. “And ‘expectant mother? Not quite the way I’ve ever considered describing Zoe.”
“How would you describe her, then?” Freya asked, adding quickly, “And it’d better be clean.”
Mal went through all his options. “Blossoming?”
She thought for a moment, then nodded. “Sounds okay.” She grinned at him as she walked past him into the drawing room.
“Shouldn’t we be doing something?” Mal asked, taking Ethan’s tiny fist in his and following her. “Boiling water or something?”
“She’s not giving birth yet, Mal.”
“Yeah, but … you know, hand holding or something?”
“When she needs us, Simon’ll call. Until then we just relax.”
“Easy for you to say.”
As the door closed with a satisfying click, Hank sidled down the stairs. It wasn't that he’d lied to anyone. There probably were a few things on Serenity that he could do. If he looked. But that wasn't exactly the plan.
“I see you got the best place,” Mal said, smiling at Bethie.
“Course, Uncle Mal.” She grinned back at him as he sat down on the sofa, lifting Ethan onto his lap as Freya joined him. Kaylee edged into a small two-seater opposite, watching her daughter as she drew her legs up under her.
“You okay, Hermione?” Mal asked.
The girl coloured a little. “Shiny, thank you, Mr Reynolds.”
“Well, technically I’m a captain, but since that’d make it sound too formal … how ‘bout you call me Uncle Mal like Bethie does?”
Hermione now went bright red. “I don’t –“
“You’d better,” Freya said, smiling. “Or he’ll cry.”
“Might,” Mal confirmed. “Pretty horrible to see, too. I kinda go all blotchy and red.”
“His nose runs too,” his wife added.
Hermione couldn’t stop a small laugh bubbling from her lips.
“That’s better,” Mal went on. “So, Uncle Mal?”
She nodded. “Okay. Uncle Mal.” Quickly she turned to gaze into the fire so he couldn’t see the happiness on her face.
“And how’re the rest of the girls?” he asked over his shoulder.
There were various murmurings of ‘Fine’ and ‘Shiny’, but nothing more forthcoming.
“They’re shy,” Freya said softly.
“That what it is? I thought it was my intimidating nature.”
“Mama,” Ethan said, holding his little arms out to her. “Cuddle.”
“I can see who he loves most,” Mal complained, but it was with a smile.
Freya took her son, settling him into the crook of her arm, his eyes already beginning to close. “He’s just tired. It’s been a long day.”
“That it has.” He leaned forward to get his hands a little closer to the flames. As he did so he noticed something. “Is that a damp patch?” he asked, looking down at the end of the sofa.
“Her dog did it,” one of the Reilly twins said, whom Mal seemed to remember as being called Phoebe.
“Did he?” Mal asked Bethany.
“He got excited,” the little girl replied. “Couldn’t help himself.”
“Well, I'm sure Inara won’t worry too much.”
“And ya shouldn’t go blabbing,” Jayne growled, dropping down into an armchair, having been steered away from the small bar by a determined River, who sat on the arm next to him. “Ain’t ladylike to tell.”
There was more mutterings, and the two sets of twins got up as one and hurried out of the door.
Mal looked at Freya then nodded towards the big mercenary. “Now that’s intimidating.”
“Are you frightening people again?” Inara asked, stepping inside. “Only the girls seemed to be going to bed early.”
“Not me,” Mal maintained.
“Of course not.”
Bethie got up quickly and hugged Inara tightly around the legs. “Missed you,” she said softly.
“I missed you too, sweetie,” Inara said, stroking her soft brown hair.
“Upstairs in my bedroom. I thought it was better if she kept out of the way.”
Bethany nodded seriously. “Good idea.”
“She hasn’t been fed yet. Do you want to ask Mrs Boden for some food for her?”
“Enough for Fiddler too?” Bethie asked, suddenly all bright smiles.
Inara laughed. “I'm sure there’s plenty.”
“Come on, Noni,” Bethany said, holding out her hand to Hermione. “You can come help.” The two girls hurried out together.
Inara joined Kaylee on the small couch. “It looks as if that’s the start of a lifelong friendship,” she said, putting her arm around the young mechanic.
“Hope so,” Kaylee said. “Hermione’s a mite older than I’d like, but it’s good Bethie’s getting to spend some time with other girls.”
“What do you mean?” Mal put in quickly. “She’s got Jayne.”
River giggled, and the big man rolled his eyes.
“How’s Zoe?” Freya asked Inara quickly to avoid any argument, gently rocking Ethan.
“About to murder Simon. He keeps annoying her.”
“I’d’a thought she was saving that for Hank.”
“She would but he’s not there.”
“He ain't?” Mal sat up a little.
“Didn’t you see him?” Inara asked, surprised. “He left just after we got upstairs. I thought he said he was going back to the ship.”
“Must’ve just missed him. Though I’d’a thought he’d be by her side from now until the bitter end.”
“He’s nervous,” Freya explained. “Maybe he needed a few minutes alone.”
“So I shouldn’t send a search party out looking for him?”
“Not quite yet.”
“Actually, Zoe asked if you could go up. I think she’d like someone else who’s a mother with her right now.” Inara couldn’t hide the slight tensing of her forehead as she spoke. “To deflect Simon a little.”
Freya understood but didn’t comment. Instead she handed Ethan, now fast asleep, to Mal and stood up. Her son mumbled on the fist in his mouth, but didn’t wake. “Sure.”
“What about me?” Kaylee asked. “Can’t I do something?”
“You’re the next shift,” Freya said smiling as she went out of the door.
The old mule was fuelled up, ready to go, and it wasn’t much more than the work of a moment for Hank to drive it outside, leave the engine running while he closed the ramp again, then climb back on. He looked towards the house, the warm light shining brightly into the darkening sky, then twisted the accelerator and sped off away from all that was going on inside.
Freya was sitting by the fire, sewing at something, and occasionally muttering curses under her breath as the needle slid once more into her finger. Every so often she looked across at the bed, but Zoe seemed to be dozing.
After a while the fire died down somewhat, and she got up, placing another log into the centre of the embers, using the poker to push it into position.
“Um, Frey,” Zoe said, breathing out through her mouth.
Freya poked the fire once more, then looked around. “Mmn?” She saw her friend lay back, the light sheen of sweat across her forehead, and reached out with her mind gingerly … “Ah. Hold on.” She ran to the door. “Simon!” she yelled.
One of the doors along the corridor opened. “Is it …?”
“I think so.”
The young doctor finished drying his hands as he hurried, dropping the towel on the chair by the bed. Zoe was pushing herself into a seated position.
“I thought it was indigestion, but it’s been getting worse and now it’s every ten minutes …”
“How long have you felt this?” Simon asked, his hands gently running over her belly.
“A while.” At his look, she added, “Maybe a day. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. And relax,” he said quietly, his voice taking on the soothing tone of a doctor. “You’re a few days early, but that’s fine. This is just the start.”
“And there I was thinking it was going to be all over in five minutes,” she said dryly.
“I think all women through the ages have wished that, but it isn’t the case.” He turned to his bag for his portable scanner.
“Has to be a man thought of this. No way a woman would’ve come up with this way of procreating.”
Freya laughed. “You’re probably right. The man gets five minutes pleasure, and the woman gets nine months of aches, pains and peeing at all hours, followed by trying to pass a melon. Yeah, definitely a man.”
“Five minutes?” Zoe swung her legs off the bed. “The captain takes as long as that?” She smiled at the affronted expression on her friend’s face.
“What … where are you going?” Simon asked.
“I need to walk.”
“And go to the bathroom.”
“No, that’s … we can arrange something in here.”
“I'm not peeing in a bucket.”
“I wasn't suggesting …” At Zoe’s look he backed down a millimetre. “All right. But Freya stays with you inside.”
“That’s fine.” Zoe let her friend take her arm, and they walked slowly out of the room.
“You’d better let Hank know it’s started,” Freya said over her shoulder.
“I am the doctor, you know, not your messenger service!” Simon called, but neither of the two women answered him. He muttered something unrepeatable in mixed company under his breath and headed down the stairs.
Mal was standing at the bottom. “Started?” he asked.
Simon nodded, walking down to the main landing. “Freya?”
“She … let me know.” Mal’s lips twitched. “You need Hank now?”
“Well, I think he should be aware it’s actually begun.”
“How long we got?”
“A while. But –“
“Yeah.” Mal glanced towards the front door. “You know, he has been gone some little time. Maybe I will have to send that search party out for him after all.”
Half an hour later and the majority of his crew were reassembled in the hall.
“Ain't no sign of him in the grounds, Cap’n,” Kaylee said. “You think he might have had some kinda accident?”
“If he doesn’t get back soon, Zoe’s gonna make sure he does.” Mal shook his head. “This ain't like him. Not like this.”
The front door banged open and Jayne strode in. “Idiot’s taken the old mule, Mal.”
“It’s pitch black out there! What’s he think he’s doing?”
“You have to find him,” Freya said, her hands on her hips.
“You know, I think I figured that.” He looked at her. “Can you feel him? At least tell us if he’s … I don’t know, driven into the lake or something?”
Freya shook her head. “He’s still alive, that much I can say. But he’s concentrating so hard on something else, I can’t … sorry, Mal, I have no idea where he is.”
“River?” Mal turned to the other psychic in their midst.
“I’m getting the same as Freya,” she apologised. “He’s sort of …” She pointed vaguely into one corner of the hall. “… that direction, but that’s all.”
“Bethie?” Mal suggested.
“I doubt she’ll get more than we are,” Freya said softly.
Inara half-ran down the stair to the landing. “Anything?” she asked.
“Not … really.”
“Zoe’s asking for him.”
Mal nodded. “Okay, that does it.” He turned to the big mercenary. “Jayne, you’re with me. Get the hover mule down and make sure the lights are working. You’re going to be tracking that sha gua chun zi.”
The big man nodded and ran out of the house.
“What about us, Cap’n?” Kaylee asked.
He pursed his lips a little. “Best you stay close. Zoe’s gonna need all the female type help she can get right now, so …”
“We’ll search,” Freya put in. “Again. Just to make sure he’s not smacked into a tree or something. Maybe River and I can triangulate a position.”
“Good idea.” He dragged his brown coat down and pushed his arms into the sleeves. “That man’s gonna be the death of me.”
Mal drove the hover, while Jayne walked in front.
“Looks like he headed for town, Mal,” the born tracker said, taking note of the tyre marks appearing and disappearing in the strong headlight. “Is he totally fong luh?”
“I conjure he must be.”
“Zoe’s gonna kill ‘im.”
“Jayne, the way I feel right now, I’m gonna hold her coat.”
“Can I watch, then?”
“Only if you clean up after.”
“You know, I have a hankering it might be worth it.”
“Better get back up then. Be quicker.”
“Hell, I ain't walking all the way to town. Not even for him.”
“Where the hell is he?” Zoe asked, walking around the room.
“He’ll be here,” Kaylee said soothingly, but only earning a glare from the other woman.
“You’re doing fine,” Simon assured her. “It’ll be a little while yet, but you’re handling it.”
“If he ever … ever tries to come near me again I’ll cut his throat,” Zoe promised, then grabbed Kaylee’s arm as another contraction hit. “And where are the damn drugs?” she ground out.
Simon prepared another hypo as River slipped into the room and shook her head slightly at him.
He sighed a little. It was up to Mal now.
They’d found the old mule abandoned on the edge of town. Leaving the hover next to it they now followed their instincts. Approaching the main street, there was the sound of a fight drifting from one of the saloons, and as they rounded the corner of the building a chair burst through the window to shatter at their feet.
“You thinking he’s inside?” Jayne asked.
“Hope not,” Mal said. “Hank ain’t exactly a fighter.”
“Could be Zoe won’t have to kill him herself after all.”
They headed for the door, neatly sidestepping as a man fell through and rolled into the dust.
“If he’s got any sense he’s hiding under a table,” Jayne commented.
Mal glanced through the door and his eyes widened slightly. “I don’t think he’s got any sense whatsoever.”
Jayne looked, and whistled. “That Hank?” he asked, staring at their pilot as he threw a punch.
“Come on. We’d better get him out of there.”
They slid into the bar, but were not unobserved. A man grabbed Mal by the coat and swung a left hook into his chin, which rattled Mal’s brains for a moment but caused him to retaliate automatically by giving two short, hard jabs to the man’s solar plexus. He reeled away, his arms wrapped around his stomach, unable to breathe.
Jayne hadn’t reached Hank before he was similarly accosted by two men, and had to take both of them on.
Mal pushed through the fighters. “Hank! What the hell’s going on?” he shouted above the din.
“Fight, Mal!” Hank ducked a fist.
“I kinda saw. Come on, time to go.”
“I ain’t wanting to be rescued.” He let loose with an uppercut. “This is why I came.”
“You’re what?” Someone grabbed Mal around the body, pinning his arms to his chest. He leaned backwards and stamped. The man let go and hobbled away, yelping like a dog.
“This is my fight, Mal! It’s what I came for.” He stood for a moment then someone else moved in.
“You came to start a fight?” Mal couldn’t believe it, despite the fact that Hank was currently trading blows with a man twice his size.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Hank managed to get out.
Mal kicked his own assailant on the knee, hearing a crack most satisfactory. The man howled and went down, clutching the affected portion. “They’re bigger’n you!”
“What can I say, Mal,” Hank said, punching the man on the chin. “Seemed like –“
“A good idea at the time. Yeah, I got that.” He ducked a chair flying at him. “And Zoe? You think of her at all during this crazyiness?”
“That’s kinda why I'm here.”
“You thought wanting to get your head kicked in would impress her or something?”
Jayne passed by, throwing the man held above his head into another fighting pair.
“A baby, Mal.” Hank paused a moment. “A baby!”
“Yeah!” Mal elbowed someone coming up behind him and felt a stab of pain down his arm. “Which your better half is having right now!”
“What?” Hank stood still. Unfortunately the man coming the other way didn’t, and they fell to the floor in a rolling heap, taking out half a dozen others like pins.
Suddenly the fight seemed to be done. Various people lay on the floor, some moaning, while others crowded the edge of the bar, not wanting to get involved if it flared up again.
“Jayne, get him out,” Mal ordered.
The big mercenary hauled Hank out from under the pile of bodies, but the man hung limply in his hands.
“Shit, Mal. He’s gone and got himself good and out.”
“Get him outside.” Mal ran his tongue around his teeth, noting a patch inside his cheek that tasted tinny. “We need to get him back.” He wiped at his lip with the back of his hand and wasn’t surprised to see it come away red.
“Just do it.”
Jayne shrugged and dragged Hank unceremoniously out of the bar, Mal taking his other arm as they headed for the side alley. They were just in time. As they rounded the corner of the building the local law enforcement arrived.
“Kinda close, Mal,” Jayne observed quietly.
“I think Zoe’d kill him if we let him get pinched, let alone what she‘d do to us. Though I sincerely and honestly wish right now we could.” Mal rubbed his chin.
“Yeah.” Jayne knew how he felt. Someone had landed a lucky kick, and if he’d been turned just an inch to the right, River would’ve had to find a new bed companion for the foreseeable future.
They were almost to the vehicles when they came across a horse trough, full to the brim and glittering with ice.
“Mal …” Jayne’s breath hung like crystals in the air.
“Damn fool nearly got my jaw busted,” Mal said. “But …”
Serenity’s Captain looked at the trough, then at Jayne, and finally at Hank hanging unconscious between them.
“Just so’s you know,” he said, “it ain’t because I’m falling for them puppy dog eyes of yours.” He grinned despite the ache in his face.
Between them they laid their pilot on the edge of the trough on his side, then, smiling widely and somewhat evilly, let him roll in.
The sound of ice cracking was like music to the ears, and the noise of Hank coming to and yelling was a sweet counterpoint.
“Tah mah duh hwoon dahn!” Hank hollered as he scrambled from the trough, dripping into the dirt. “What the hell are you playing at?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Mal said, crossing his arms. “Fighting while Zoe’s preparing to have your kid? And worse – starting the fight?”
“He didn’t, did he?” Jayne put in.
“He did. And I’m still kinda waiting for an explanation for that stupid and foolhardy manoeuvre.”
“I’m scared, okay?” Hank shouted. “Happy? I am scared. Terrified. Petrified because my Zoe is about to bring a new life into the ‘verse and I don’t know how to deal with it!”
“Hank, you’d had nearly nine months to get used to the idea.”
“Well, I haven’t. Not one little bit.”
“So you ran away?”
Hank balled his fists and for a moment it looked as if he was going to physically attack Mal, but then he collapsed and sat down hard on the edge of the trough. “Yeah,” he said in a much quieter voice. “I ran. Thought if I got into a fight it might take the edge off the fear.”
“No. Just got afraid for a whole different set of reasons.”
Mal sighed. “Well, people pounding on you’ll do that.”
“How do you do it?” Hank asked. “Make it look so easy.”
“Hank, like I told you before, I don’t. When Ethan was born I was as scared as you are. But when I saw him come out of his momma, when I held him … it makes it worth it. And it’ll be worth it to you too.”
The pilot looked up. “She’s gonna kill me, isn’t she?”
“Probably. If you don’t die from something first.” Mal shook his head at his crew member, now beginning to shiver violently. “Come on. Jayne, you’d better drive the old mule back, while I get our proud father-to-be back to Serenity and some dry clothes.” He glared at his pilot. “Then you can go and help Zoe.”
“Should it take this long?” Zoe grunted, panting in the pattern she’d been taught – five short then one long cleansing breath.
“It takes as long as it takes.” Simon smiled at her. “You’re doing very well.”
“But how much longer?” The contraction eased.
“Probably several hours.”
Simon was glad she didn’t have her gun anywhere close. “Labour takes a while.”
“Then why can’t I have more pain killers?”
“I've given you what I can. Any more and it might interfere with the effacement of the cervix, and that would make the labour last a lot longer.” He looked at her quizzically. “Would you prefer that?”
“I am going to kill him,” Zoe said, slumping back onto the pillow.
“You know, if you’d wanted to get yourself all beat up, I’m pretty sure Jayne would’ve done it for you.” Mal glanced at the man huddled in the corner of the hover, the silver blanket from the emergency locker wrapped tightly around him. “I mean, you didn’t have to go all that way.” Hank ignored him. “Pretty please and you could’ve had your jaw broken in the comfort of your own home.” He moved his own, making sure it was still attached, and suppressing a wince at the ache in it. Hank still didn’t speak, and Mal drove in silence for a few minutes. Then, “Do you want to explain to me what the diyu you were doing?”
“Told you,” Hank said, his teeth chattering.
“No. I mean the truth.” He pointed ahead. “Your … whatever the hell she is – and I personally think it should be wife, considering the situation she’s in – is right now up in that room, preparing to give birth to your kid. And from what I've seen it’s long and hard. Hurts like the blazes. And you ran away.” He shook his head. “You give me one damn good reason I don’t just stop this mule right now and throw you out, make you walk back.”
“Zoe’d kill you?” his pilot ground out.
“Apart from that.” There was no answer, so Mal went on. “You love her, right?”
“Right,” Hank managed to say, his lips beginning to go numb.
“And she loves you, though I've yet to figure out why.”
“’Cause I’m pretty.”
“Nope. That’s my excuse. What’s yours?”
There was a pause, and Mal began to wonder whether the man had lost consciousness, but then he heard a voice saying, “Ain't got one, Mal. Guess I'm just a coward. And Zoe deserves someone better’n that.”
“You ain't a coward.”
“Sure I am. Run away from everything bad in my life. Now I'm running away from something good.”
Mal almost smiled. “You ain't a coward, Hank. Maybe crazier than River, but that’s to be expected. You’re almost a father. That’d throw anyone.”
“I don’t even know how it happened.”
Now Mal did grin. “Well, when a man and woman love each other, the man –“
Hank’s head shot out of the blanket. “I don’t mean that. I understand the how. I'm just having problems with understanding the why.”
“Far as I knew, Zoe was still using that contraception.” Hank burrowed down again. “Shouldn’t have been able to happen.”
“Right.” Mal nodded slowly. “So you thought you were safe in telling her you wanted kids, since there was no chance you’d ever have any.”
“That wasn't what I meant.”
“Sure sounded like it.”
“I did want kids!” Hank insisted. “I do. And the fact that Zoe’s pregnant is … liao bu qi, but …”
“Why, Hank? Why’d there have to be a but?”
Hank finally sat up and glared at Mal, the heat of anger warming him through. “Because I ain't good enough for her!”
Mal laughed. “I know that.”
“You think there’s a man alive good enough for the woman he married? Or loved? Or even just wanted?” He leaned over enough to slap the pilot on the arm with the back of his hand. “I ain't good enough for Freya, never have been. And I know Jayne feels that way about River. Ain't exactly asked the young doc, not right out, but I kinda get the notion he thinks Kaylee’s too good for him, too.” He paused, then went on, “If I ever come across a man who thinks he is good enough, my guess’d be he’s awangba dahn of the first order.”
“You really feel like that?”
“I surely do. Thing is, my guess is that a lot of the best women feel the same way, that they ain't good enough for us. It’s how come life can get all manner of complicated on us.”
“But Zoe’s …” His voice trailed off.
“Yeah. So’s Frey.”
“I really am a ben han, ain't I?” Hank muttered.
“No more’n the rest of us.” Mal sighed. “So, you asked her?”
“About the contraception.”
“I … no. I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer.”
“I think you need to. ‘Cause I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Zoe isn’t wondering exactly the same thing.”
“You mean she didn’t –“
“I mean there’s a part of Zoe that’s always wanted kids. You know that. You know she wanted them with Wash. She told you.”
Hank nodded, this time feeling guilty as well as cold. “She did.”
“So maybe being with you made her a bit broody. Only she wasn't going to recognise it. Pushed it away. And perhaps … just perhaps a bit of her unconscious decided it was time.”
“You saying she chose to stop the contra–“
“Not chose. Not so strong as that. Just … forgot.”
“You mean she wanted kids with me? But she nearly didn’t tell me, nearly …” He choked.
“Hank, I don’t know. I’m not a doctor, and you’d have to ask Simon to try and explain it in words of one syllable. But that’s what it seems to me. And I've know her a long time.” In front of them he could see the dark bulk of Serenity, and the lights shining from the house a little ways off, and the unexpected sight of a huge bonfire burning between. “Except these questions are a bit late. She’s in labour, Hank. And she needs you right now.”
There was a long silence.
“Is there a cure for total stupidity?” his pilot asked finally.
“Don’t think there is,” Mal said, smiling a little. “If there was, I’d’ve taken it myself before now.”
Freya lifted her head.
“What is it?” Simon asked.
“I think they’re back.” She glanced over at the woman standing by the foot of the bed, bending over and waiting for another contraction to pass. “You going to be okay for a while?”
Simon nodded, smiling. “Funnily enough, I'm a doctor. Trust me.”
“You would never believe the number of times I’ve heard that,” Freya retorted, but there was little humour in her tone. She hurried out of the door, almost colliding with Inara.
“Did I just hear –“ the ex-Companion said.
“I’ll stay with Zoe. My turn.”
“Thanks.” Freya hurried down the stairs. As she went she heard Simon tell Zoe she should lie down, and realised the soon-to-be mother had a very firm grasp of Chinese curses.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Hank complained as he came down the stairs into the cargo bay, pulling his sweater into place.
“Didn’t want you running off again,” Mal said, sliding off the crate he’d been sitting on.
“Wasn't gonna do that, Mal.”
“No, but I didn’t want the thought to even occur to you.” He watched his pilot wrap his arms around himself. “Where’s your coat?”
“It’s kinda wet.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He tossed him his grey cord jacket. “Here. Better put this on otherwise I’ll get the sharp edge of Freya’s tongue.” Mal slapped his hands together. “Well, better get you up to the house.”
“I can do it myself,” Hank insisted as he slipped gratefully into the jacket.
“No, please. Let me accompany you.” There was steel in the tone, brooking no objection.
They walked out into the night.
“You ain't never gonna let me forget this, are you?”
They headed in silence up the path until Mal’s footsteps faltered.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked, staring at Freya striding towards them. They met just by the bonfire.
“I got fed up waiting.”
“You haven’t even got your coat on! There I am, telling this man that –” He went to take his off, but the look on her face, even in the firelight, stopped him.
“I'm fine, Mal.” She looked at Hank. “And where have you been?”
He had the grace to look ashamed. “Getting in the way of myself mostly.”
“Frey … how is she?”
“Do you care?”
“Frey, please,” he pleaded.
She relented, the cold seeping into her bones and making them ache. “It’s progressing. She wants you to be there, Hank.”
“I know.” He shook his head. “I'm sorry.”
“I'm not the one you need to say that to.”
“Yeah, I guess not.” He straightened his shoulders a little. “Guess I’d better …”
“Guess you should.” She stared at him. “Oh, and, Hank, before you go up …”
“What?” He was distracted, only thinking of Zoe and the imminent birth of his baby.
“Here.” She slapped something onto his chest and he automatically reached up to take it.
“You’d better put it on.”
He looked down at the object. He could just see it was a sort of glove, made of very thin leather, almost transparent, but reinforced with strips of plexi. He turned to her, confused. “I don’t –“
“Wear it. She will break your hand.”
“Oh. Thanks.” He smiled at her briefly, then strode towards the house.
Freya watched him go.
“What was that you gave him?” Mal asked, intrigued.
“I made it,” she said remotely, still watching after the pilot. “Got the bits from Wayborn. It’ll save his hands. For piloting.” She turned on Mal. “What did you do to him? His hair’s damp and his skin’s icy.”
“Well, he might have become somewhat closely acquainted with a horse trough.”
“A … Mal, it’s below freezing out here!”
“I know that. I said it to you.” He reached for her to pull her inside his coat but she stepped back.
“He needed to cool down.”
“And if he gets pneumonia?”
“He won’t,” Mal promised.
“Mal, sometimes I don’t believe you.” She glared at him then stalked away towards Serenity.
“What did I do now?” he called, but she didn’t respond. Then an inkling ran down his spine of just what else she might be upset about. Maybe he had the answer to that after all.
“About time!” Zoe shouted from the middle of the contraction, her face red and sweaty.
“Honey?” Hank couldn’t move. “Are you all right?”
“Of course I’m not all right!” The pain eased. “Where’re you been? If you’ve been drinking while your son’s being born –”
“No. Not drinking. Just being stupid.”
She glared at him, then held out her hand. “Don’t you want to be here?”
Suddenly his feet took him to the bed and he grasped her fingers. “I’m sorry, honey.”
“That’s okay, dear,” Zoe said, calmer for a moment. “Don’t do it again.” She took a deep breath. “Just be aware we’re gonna be talking about this later. A lot.”
Freya wasn't looking at the house. Or the stars. Or even the big bonfire Mr Boden had built whose heat barely seemed to reach her. Instead she was sitting on a convenient log, staring at the ground, and not even seeing that.
She looked up, pulling herself back from where she’d gone. “Ethan?”
The little boy toddled up to her, a huge grin on his face. “Mama!”
She had to smile back, and quickly wiped the tears from her cheeks. “What are you doing out here?” she asked, holding out her hands to him. “It’s too cold for you.”
Ethan’s grin faded. “Mama sad?”
Freya shook her head. “No.”
“Mama not sad? Mama crying.” He reached out to touch her.
“It’s okay, honey.” She lifted him to sit on her knee, and he put his little arms around her.
“Mama not sad.” He hugged as tightly as he could.
“Okay. I won’t be.” He let go of her and instead took hold of the silver Firefly around her neck. He’d always loved that. “Did you come all this way by yourself?” she asked, letting him play with it.
“Daddy came.” He glanced beyond her then went back to the necklace.
She turned. Mal was standing in the shadows. “Oh. Hey.”
“Hey.” He sat down next to her. “What’re you doing out here in the dark? And the cold. It’s damn chilly.”
“Just … nothing.”
“Least you got your coat on this time. You okay?”
“You wanna try that with a little more enthusiasm?”
She smiled a little but dropped her head. “I'm fine.”
“Now, see, we’ve been married a while. And I’m kinda getting used to what you say not being the same as what you feel.” He nudged her. “And while I know you’re still mad at me dunking Hank in a horse trough – even though he truly deserved it – you know I’m gonna listen. So tell me.”
“I … was just thinking.”
She swallowed and nodded. “I know I shouldn’t, not with what’s happening, but –“
“Frey, it’d be wrong if you didn’t.” Mal put his arm around his wife. “I wish it had been different, too, but that’s the way life is. Can’t go back and change things.”
Ethan looked from one to the other. “Mama sad,” he stated.
Freya looked at him. “No, Ethan. Mama’s being silly. Mama’s got you.” She hugged him again.
“I've prepared some food,” Mrs Boden said, heading towards them. “I understand the time difference is making everyone hungry.” She smiled a little at the sight of the small family.
“Good idea.” Freya put her son’s feet back on the ground. “Looks like it’s time to eat. And then you go to sleep. It‘s way past your bedtime as it is. Wherever we are.”
“’Kay,” he said, but threw his arms around her neck again. “Ethan loves Mama.”
She held him tightly. “Mama loves Ethan.”
He let go and moved along. “Ethan loves Daddy,” he said firmly, holding out his arms.
Mal smiled and reached down, letting his son hug him. “Well, that’s good. ‘Cause Daddy loves Ethan too.”
“We’ll be in presently, if you wouldn’t mind feeding Ethan?” Freya asked, trying to swallow the catch in her throat.
“Of course, madam.” Mrs Boden nodded.
Ethan let go of his father, a satisfied look on his face, then walked, albeit still a little unsteadily, to Mrs Boden, who led him back towards the house.
Freya looked at the expression on Mal’s face. “Don’t go getting too attached to that. I have it on good authority boys give up the hugging pretty quickly.”
“They get it back, though,” Mal said, putting his arm around her and drawing her into his side. “I’m sorry. About Hank earlier.”
“I am still mad at you.”
“Hey, it wasn't just me, you know. It was Jayne’s idea!”
“Then I'm still mad at him too. And when he gets back I’ll tell him.”
“Could be a while. He’s driving the old mule.”
“Then I’ll expect to get mad at him any second.”
Mal laughed. “Yeah, he does tend to speed.” He felt her relax into him a little.
“You still shouldn’t have done that. What if Hank does get sick?”
“Then him and the kid can share a doctor.” Mal shook his head. “He just got me pissed. Did you know he went to town to start a fight?”
“Hank?” She looked at him in disbelief. “You are kidding with me.”
“No. Perfectly serious. Found a bar and started a fist fight. Me and Jayne arrived just in time to stop him being beaten to death. Well, nearly.”
“Is that why you’re bruised?” She reached up and touched the darkening area along his jaw.
“Someone landed a lucky punch.”
“I keep telling you to duck quicker.”
“I’ll try and remember.” He could feel her shivering, and undid the blanket he’d brought with him, putting it around both their shoulders. “Here.”
“Thanks.” She snuggled closer to him.
“You okay now?” He glanced towards the house. “With all this.”
“Again, I could ask for a little more enthusiasm.” He kissed her forehead. “Why ain't you in there?”
“There’s more than enough. Zoe has Simon, and there’s Inara, River, Kaylee … they’re not going to need me crowding in. Even Bethany’s been sneaking a peek.”
“You mean …” He tapped his temple.
“No. Actually opening the door. Going inside.”
Freya half-smiled. “She says it’s so she’s ready for when Kaylee has her brother or sister.”
“At least one person’s optimistic around here.” He looked into her eyes. “Except that’s not the only reason. Is it?”
His wife bit her lip. “I … I just can’t. Zoe ... seeing her …” There was a scream from inside the house, following by profuse swearing through the open window. “… hearing her … it’s hard knowing you’re never going to have another one.”
“You will.” He hugged her closer.
“I don’t know, Mal. So much has happened to my body, I don’t know if I’ll ever …”
“No.” He turned her face to his. “We will. Dammit, Frey, I've been doing my best.”
She had to laugh. “Oh, that’s for sure.”
“Maybe we should talk to Simon. See if there’s some way we can … I don’t know … prime the pump somehow.”
Mal had the good grace to look slightly ashamed. “Maybe it’s me,” he said quietly. “You know, caught it from Simon.”
“What have you been doing with that young man that I don’t know about?”
“Nothing!” He closed his eyes and chuckled. “Just maybe I ain't firing quite the live rounds I think.”
Freya snuggled back into his shoulder. “I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
“How can you tell? There ain't no way of knowing just by looking.”
“Mal, I’d know.”
“I know your body. Like I know mine.”
“Okay, you tell me something about your body.”
She smiled. “What do you want to know?”
“Um … I … okay. How long since your last period?”
“Mal, you know I'm not regular. And with what’s been going on, with Ethan and my hip, I … a while.”
“See? You could be pregnant and you don’t even know it.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I could concentrate and …” She stopped, her face turning white.
He’d been joking, wanting to get her off the subject of their daughter, but now he felt a concern burn through him like a forest fire. “Frey, what is it?”
She stood up, moving away from him, her arms clutched around her body. “Mal …”
He got quickly to his feet. “Are you in pain?” He knew she still ached sometimes, even if she didn’t always tell him, and it was so cold … But this … “I’ll get Simon.”
She turned to stare into his eyes. “Mal, wait …”
He gripped her shoulders. “Honey, you’re scaring me. What is it?”
Her eyes dropped slowly, her hands unclasping to lay on her belly. “Mal, I can feel it.”
“What?” His brows drew together, then … “Frey?” He looked down at her stomach. “Are you saying …”
She lifted her head, her eyes bright with tears. But not of sadness this time. “I … I think I am.”
“You’re … you’re telling me … you’re …” He swallowed, trying to get the lump of raw emotion out of his throat so he could create a proper sentence. “You’re saying you’re pregnant?”
Tears of his own welled from his eyes. “Frey …”
“Oh, Mal …”
He pulled her towards him, and she locked her arms around his back, sobbing into his chest, laughing at the same time.
“That true?” came a voice out of the darkness. Jayne materialised.
“Seems like,” Mal said, his voice thick with emotion.
“’Bout damn time.” The big man smiled.
“Just … don’t tell anyone,” Mal asked.
“Hey, your secret.” He rubbed his hands together. “Though I reckon I deserve some of that whisky I never got earlier.”
“In the drawing room,” Freya laughed, hiccupping slightly.
“Yeah,” Jayne said, heading towards the house. “I’ll just remember to lift my pinkie when I drink it.”
“And I'm still mad at you,” Freya called.
“Story of my life,” the big man murmured.
At 5:47 am, local time, Zoe gave one last almighty push, squeezed Hank’s hand so hard that he knew if he hadn’t been wearing Freya’s glove he wouldn’t be flying Serenity for weeks, and a new life entered the ‘verse.
“Is he okay?” Hank asked, cutting the umbilical cord where Simon told him.
“He’s fine.” The young doctor laid the boy on his knee and wiped away the worst of mucus, before wrapping him in a clean blanket that Inara handed to him, crying openly.
“Only he ain't making a sound.”
Simon looked up at the pair. “Some babies don’t. But he’s breathing fine. I’d say he’s just a good baby.”
“Can I …” Zoe began, almost diffidently, nothing like the warrior woman they all knew.
Laughing slightly, Simon nodded. “Of course,” he said, standing up and walking around the bed. “Here.” He handed Zoe her first-born son, and Hank let his tears of joy fall.
Moving the corner of the blanket to one side, she gazed down at her little child. “Hi there,” she whispered, and felt the ghosts gathering.
Her parents, Tom and Meg Alleyne, smiled at their grandson. Book was saying a prayer of thanks, his calm face open with happiness for them. And Wash, approaching the bed and leaning over them, his loud Hawaiian shirt almost overcoming the noise in the room.
“He’s cute,” she almost heard him say. “Sorry, Zoe. Should’ve been mine.”
“He’s beautiful,” she whispered, holding him close.
“That he is. My lambie-toes did good.” There was a suggestion of bright fabric moving closer. “Hey, there, kiddo. I’m your Uncle Wash. Might see me around, might not.”
The baby lifted both hands.
“Looks like he’s got a whole lotta you in there, sweetcake. And the flyboy.” Wash grinned. “Be good for your momma.” A movement through the air might have been a hand patting the baby’s head, then the room was empty save for the live members of Serenity’s crew.
He’d left Zoe in the bedroom, sleeping. The cot was pulled close to the bed with his brand new son in, and he’d spent a good hour just staring. Watching. Not able to believe his good luck. He wondered if this was how Mal felt when Ethan was born, how Simon felt …
A little boy. His child. A son to carry on the family name. That is, if Zoe wanted him to. They hadn’t actually talked about that, he realised now, whether their baby would be a Mills or a Washburne. Or an Alleyne, for that matter. He didn’t care. He was so over-awed with the experience that she could have said his name was going to be Cobb and Hank wouldn’t have minded. Well, maybe a little.
In fact, it had got just a little too much for him, and he needed some fresh air before he actually fell down. He stepped out onto the balcony, heading down the steps and into the orchard. He remembered the first time they’d visited, and the party they’d had out under the trees. The second time they’d left Inara behind, and now … now when they left, they’d be taking a new member of the crew. His son.
He looked up towards the rising sun, just appearing above the smudge of hills on the horizon. There was a heavy frost in the air, and maybe even just a hint of snow coming down from the north, but right now this was where he needed to be.
“All too much for you?” came a familiar voice from out of the semi-darkness.
He peered under the trees, his eyes adjusting enough to see Mal sitting on a log by the remains of the bonfire. “Oh, hi. Yeah, maybe a little.” He shrugged. “Kinda feel guilty, though. Not wanting to be with my … my son.”
“That don’t wear off for a while, you know,” Mal smiled. “That kick to the old heart every time you say those words.”
“I doubt it ever will.”
“And there ain't nothing to feel guilty about.” Mal looked back out into the dawn. “It’s been something of a roller-coaster, and … well … a man needs some space.”
“Yeah.” The he realised Mal was smiling. “Course, it can be good to talk to someone too,” he added quickly. “And I owe you an apology. For what I did earlier.”
“Hey, pregnancy causes all sorts of odd hormonal mood swings. So I’m told.”
“Yeah, but ain’t that generally for the woman?”
“I think it applies to the father too.”
“I just … it kinda overwhelmed me.”
“It happens.” Mal nodded. “You really wanted kids, didn’t you?”
“Always,” Hank admitted, joining him on the log. “Me and Risa, we never got the chance, and I never thought Zoe’d …” He shook his head. “Kinda glad, though.”
“Okay. Delighted. Ecstatic. On cloud nine. And a half.”
“How do you feel?”
“Me? Nothing to do with me.”
“That’s not true. Zoe’s been your best friend for years. Saw you through the war, and after. Now she’s a mother. How do you feel about that?”
Mal thought for a moment. “Kinda odd, if truth be told. Although I've got me this mental picture of her holding a kid on her hip with one hand, and firing a gun at the bad guys with the other.”
“Unfortunately, I've got the same picture.” Hank shuddered.
“Bit like Freya, I guess. It won’t change her, you know.”
“No.” He sighed. “I guess it won’t.”
Mal half-turned. “You want it to?”
“No, no,” Hank protested, maybe just a little too vehemently. “It’s just … she puts her life on the line so often, and sometimes I wonder if …” He stopped, aware he was about to commit something of a gross error in judgement with his captain.
Mal patted him on the leg. “Hank, you try and stop her, and you’ll see if she’s become warm and fuzzy. Not that she isn’t.”
“Of course not.” Hank looked up into the sky, to the stars just beginning to fade. “I feel like I should be giving out cigars,” he said.
“Could. Only I think you’d have to get ‘em off Jayne first.”
“Maybe not, then.”
“Although I've got those ones Kilbrook sent. Remind me later and I’ll get ‘em out.”
“Anyways, people don’t need bribing to be happy for you and Zoe.”
“No, not for that. Just to … celebrate.”
“Oh, well, if it’s celebration you want …” Mal reached down beside him and lifted up a bottle of something that moved slowly in the low light.
“That what I think it is?”
“Kaylee’s finest, matured for all of six months.” He didn’t explain it was his own little celebration too. That would come later.
“Wow. That old. And should we be drinking this time of the morning?”
“Just consider it’s actually really, really late. Think you can handle it?”
“Hey, I’m a father. I can handle anything.”
“Okay.” Mal flicked the stopper off with his thumb and handed it over.
Hank sniffed experimentally. Smelled okay. Then, with a feeling that maybe this wasn't the best idea in the world, tipped the bottle up. The liquid filled his mouth and he swallowed. “Gah!” he managed to say.
“Yep,” Mal said happily. “Well up to her usual standards.” He took it back and swigged a mouthful himself, keeping the tremble that ran through his body to a minimum.
“Six months?” Hank managed to say, blinking hard.
“I think she over did it.” He opened his mouth wide, just to see if his jaw still worked.
“I’ll let you off as you’re still in shock, otherwise I’d tell Kaylee what you just said.”
“Please don’t. I’d really rather like to see my first born again.”
Mal laughed. “Okay.” He held out the bottle. “Better take another. It makes the taste go away.”
“Not sure. Seems to cancel it out somehow.”
Hank warily did as he was bid, letting the alcohol slip down his throat. “You know,” he croaked, “I think you’re right.”
They sat there companionably for a while, as the horizon became clearer and the sun rose, passing the bottle back and forth, just being two fathers together. Then Hank laughed.
“What?” Mal asked. “That stuff finally fried the last of your brain cells?”
“No. Just thinking to the first time we all sat out here.”
“You mean before Inara took it into her head to buy this place?”
“Yeah. And the wonderful concoction Simon called Mal’s Cocktail.”
Mal smiled. “Yeah, that was kinda hard to forget.”
“And I've tried.” Hank waved the bottle. “Made the events after seem almost … tame.”
“You mean losing my boat and you having to play cards to win the money to get her back?”
“Not sure if tame is the word I’d use,” Mal pointed out.
“Oh, I don’t know. I knew what I was doing.”
“You could’ve lost everything.”
“Nah. I'm too rutting good for that. ‘Sides, won me enough money to buy back my boat.”
Hank blushed, luckily unnoticed in the early light. “Slip of the tongue.”
“Not sure I believe that.” Mal grabbed for the bottle. “You’ve been a mite too proprietorial about my boat ever since you got back from Magdalene.”
“Ain’t nothing, Mal.” He wanted to stop there, but his alcohol-loosened lips wouldn’t obey. “I just kinda felt that I won the money that paid off Rankin, through the sweat of my brow, and I could’ve just kept it, only I know Zoe would never have spoken to me again, but it was mine, and I bought her back.” The words stopped falling out of his mouth and he looked guilty.
“Really.” Mal nodded slowly. “The fact that if you hadn’t all gone off with her in the first place to make a little extra coin you wouldn’t have been in that position, is entirely beside the point?”
Hank peered at him. “It wasn't my idea.” He poked Mal. “And we got her back.”
Mal idly wondered whether to kill him now or later, and instead consoled himself with another pull at the bottle, which seemed to be a lot lighter than before. “She ain't yours, Hank. Serenity’s mine, bought and paid for.”
“Not saying she ain’t,” Hank said quickly. “Just feels like she’s … almost mine.”
“Almost.” Mal pondered. “Okay. Almost I can live with.”
“’Kay.” This time as Hank reached for the bottle he slid off the log with a thump, sitting on the grass that cracked with frost. “Ow.”
“You okay?” Mal lifted an eyebrow. “You want I should call the doc?”
“I don’t think I’ve done more’n bruised my dignity.”
Mal winced. “Hey, that can be nasty. Should get Zoe to look at that for you.”
“You know,” Hank said, climbing to his feet, “I think I will. Be about time to go take another look at my off-spring.”
“Just don’t breathe on him,” Mal advised.
Hank held his hand in front of his mouth and huffed, sniffing quickly. He recoiled. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. I’ll just admire him from a distance.” He pulled his jacket straighter and headed off towards the house.
Mal grinned and took another mouthful of liquor. Funny, but he seemed to have got used to it.
A hand came out of the shadows and took the bottle from him.
“Wha …” He looked up to see Freya moving to sit down next to him. “Hey, you can’t drink that. Not in your condition,” he said, reaching for the booze.
“And you’ve had enough.” She smiled at him. “You and Hank have a nice chat?”
Mal nodded. “Man to man. Captain to pilot.”
“Father to father?”
He smiled. “That too.” He felt Freya shiver a little. “You cold?” he asked, surprised.
“Mal, it’s gorram freezing out here.”
“Really?” He looked around, seeing the sun rising over the mountains in the distance. “Can’t feel a thing.”
“Not surprised.” She carefully put the stopper back on the bottle. “You’ve got internal fuel working right now.”
“It’s good stuff. Gotta remember to tell Kaylee.”
“Well, you can do that in a minute or two. I came out to let you know that it’s time for breakfast.”
“Food?” He winced. “Not sure I can face that on an empty stomach.”
“It isn’t empty, Mal. It’s full of Kaylee’s finest, and if you don’t get something to eat you’re gonna be sick as a dog later.”
“I never get sick.”
“No?” She looked at him, the sunlight just beginning to catch the planes of her face, and he could see she was smiling a little.
“Okay. Maybe once in a while,” he admitted. “But never on Kaylee’s stuff.”
She grinned. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I'm hungry. It’s been a long couple of days, and I need food.” She stood up and he followed, a little unsteady.
“Gotta keep your strength up,” he agreed. “Eating for two ‘n’ all.”
“You know that’s a myth, don’t you?”
He put his arm around her waist. “You got my kid in there. Ain't no way he ain't gonna get exactly what he needs.”
“Or she. Either’d be fine.” His face softened. “Although, if you got any say in the matter, make it a girl.”
“Someone for you to spoil?”
“Yeah.” He leaned down and kissed her gently, then reared back. “Sorry, I must stink.”
She grabbed his face. “Not enough that I don’t want you to.” She pressed her mouth to his.
When she let him go, his heart was racing and his blood pumping. “You do realise you keep doing that, we’re never going to get to this meal.”
She laughed and took his hand. “Then let’s go eat. Plenty of time for that after.”
“I’ve got Hank thinking Serenity’s his, and now you’re ordering me around again.” He shook his head wonderingly. “Not sure what the ‘verse is coming to.”
“Then you’d better do what you’re told,” Freya said gently.
He laughed and saluted sloppily. “Yes, ma’am, Captain Reynolds.”
They strolled, arm in arm, back towards the warmly-lit house, and the sounds of laughter rolling out from within.
[thanks to BEB for the bunny some time back!]
Thursday, October 22, 2009 5:27 AM
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