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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. A series of vignettes following the birth of Jesse Reynolds.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1543 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
Freya was asleep, back in their temporary bed. It had been a long and tiring day, and she deserved every minute of it. Mal, on the other hand, couldn’t take his eyes off his daughter.
He was sitting in the common area, his feet propped up on the table, little Jesse in his lap wrapped in the comforter Kaylee had made. Her face was relaxed, her eyes closed, and she slept. He wondered idly if she dreamed, since she didn’t have even a day’s worth of memories to call upon, but maybe it was just sleep. Or perhaps it was remembrances of being safe and warm. He tucked the comforter a little closer.
“Gonna keep you safe,” he said softly. “Me and your Momma. And Ethan. Everyone on board this ship is gonna keep you safe, little one.”
She’d already had her first feed, lying against Freya’s breast, taking in the milk that was going to make her grow up big and strong. Neither Frey nor himself had been able to stop the odd tear rolling.
“’Cause this is your family, Jesse. And families do for each other, they take care of each other. There ain’t a one on board that wouldn’t die for you or any of the kids.” He smiled. “And you’ll have lots of playmates. Bethie, Ben, Hope … not forgetting Ethan. Gotta make allowances for him sometimes, though, Jesse. He’s a boy, and sometimes boys act stupid. I should know. Used to be one myself, not that long ago. So just give him some rope ‘casionally.”
Jesse yawned, and waved her tiny fists in the air. Her eyelashes, as long and full as his own, flickered once, and he held his breath, not knowing if she was going to wake up, but she just settled again.
“That’s my girl,” he whispered. His lips curved again of their own accord, unable to keep his happiness inside. “You know, you coming along, and being a girl ‘n’all, well, that means you outnumber us fellers. Think I’m gonna have to be talking to River about this. She’s got the whole next generation of us planned out - better make sure there’s a fair number of boys amongst it.”
He looked up, seeing Bethany standing halfway down the stairs, holding Ethan by the hand. “What’s up, short stub?”
“Uncle Mal, Ethan wanted to come and see his sister,” Bethany said.
Mal smiled. “Come on then.”
They hurried down the steps, but Ethan let go of Bethany as they got to the floor.
“Ethan, come on,” Bethie called.
He shook his head.
“What’s up, big feller?” Mal asked.
Bethie sighed. “He’s afraid.”
Bethany didn’t answer, just climbed up onto the settee next to Mal.
Mal was still looking at his son. “What is it, Ethan?” he said softly. “You still afraid we won’t love you any more, now we’ve got Jesse?”
Ethan’s eyes opened wide, but he nodded slowly.
“He’s being silly,” Bethie said, leaning on Mal’s shoulder to look down at the new arrival. “She’s pretty.”
“That she is.” But Mal understood. “Bethie, come on. You sit down properly, and you can hold Jesse.”
A look of sheer panic crossed the little girl’s face. “Uncle Mal …”
“You’ll be fine. You hold Hope, don’t you?”
“But that’s …”
“Need your help here, Bethie.”
The little girl paused, then nodded, sliding down into a sitting position.
Mal carefully put his daughter into her arms. “You just keep her still.”
“’Kay.” Bethie had her tongue stuck out of the side of her mouth as she concentrated.
Watching for a moment, just to make sure there wasn’t likely to be a problem, Mal got up and walked across to his son. He went down onto his heels. “You think we don’t love you no more. Even after what both your Momma and I said before.”
Ethan looked down at his feet. “Silly,” he said, echoing Bethany.
“Yeah, I guess maybe it is, in a way. But I know where you‘re coming from.” Mal took hold of him and swung him up onto his hip. “You know, your Momma and I were just talking, a little while back, about brothers and sisters, and I said I didn’t like growing up an only child. Not having anyone my own age to play with, to make a mess with, hell, even to fight with. And she asked whether I’d’ve preferred a brother or sister.”
“Which?” Ethan asked, his blue eyes fixed on his father’s face.
“Actually, I think I pretty neatly sidestepped it,” Mal admitted. “But I know what the answer would’ve been. I’d like to’ve had a sister. Someone to take care of. To look up to me.”
“Like Jesse.” Mal tightened his grip a little. “And she’s gonna look up to you, Ethan. Oh, you’re gonna hate her sometimes, and she’s gonna feel the same way, but you’re her brother, and she‘s going to love you too.” He paused, just a moment. “You’re my son, Ethan. My son. That means more to me than anything. When you grow up you’re gonna be by my side, flying this ship, seeing off the bad guys.”
Ethan chuckled. “Bad guys,” he agreed.
“Surely will. Even worse than your Uncle Jayne. Maybe even your Auntie River.” He sat down next to Bethany. “And your Momma and I love you very much. Because you’re ours. We always will, no matter how many kids we have. Big or small. And Jesse here is the same. We love her. She’s our daughter. Your sister.” He held his son so he could see the bundle on Bethany’s lap. “You need to look after her for us, when we’re not there. Make sure nothing bad happens. Keep her safe.”
“Keep Jesse safe?” Ethan said.
“’Cause she’s but a few hours old, yet she’s going to look up to you for the rest of her life.”
Ethan leaned forward, reaching out to touch Jesse’s soft cheek. “I look after Jesse.”
The little boy contemplated the idea, then nodded. “I love Jesse.”
Mal smiled, and had to blink hard. “That’s good.”
“Is Mama okay?” Ethan asked, glancing towards the crew quarters.
“Mama’s fine, Ethan,” Mal said, ruffling his son’s hair. “She’s a mite tired after bringing your sister into the world. Catching up on her sleep.”
“Mama’s tired.” He wriggled back into Mal’s lap. “Needs to sleep for a while.”
“That she does. It’s hard work giving birth.”
“Mama was tired with me?”
There was a pause as Mal couldn’t help but bring up the anguish after his son’s birth, when he was afraid … “Yeah, Mama was tired after Ethan. But she had a sleep, and she got better.”
“Mama’s getting better.”
Bethany looked up. “Uncle Mal …”
“What is it, short stub?”
“Can Jesse be my sister too?”
“Never considered she wouldn’t.”
“Is Beth’ny my sister?” Ethan asked. “’Cept Auntie Kaylee’s her Mama.” He looked confused.
Mal began to wonder if he’d opened up a can of worms too big to deal with. “Yes, that’s true, but she sort of is. Mainly not physically, but -”
“Yeah. Serenity family.”
“We can play,” Ethan said, wriggling out of Mal’s grasp and sitting next to Bethany so he could watch his sister carefully.
“I’ve got lots of ideas for games,” the little girl put in.
“I’m sure you do,” Mal said. So long as they don’t involve knives, other sharp objects, or anything else likely to cause hurt. Or paint. There’s to be no paint implicated.”
“Oh, Uncle Mal …”
“Okay,” Bethany said, her tone so resigned that Mal had to smile. “No paint.”
“Good.” He settled back. “Now, why don’t you tell me the kind of games you were thinking of? The ones that don’t involve paint?”
Mal didn’t feel Serenity land, didn’t feel the machinery lowering the ramp and opening the doors, didn’t feel the whirlwind that was Inara heading through into the cargo bay and through into the common area. Didn’t feel her stop, her hand to her throat, staring at him. At them.
“Cute, ain't it?” Kaylee whispered.
“That’s … one way of putting it.”
But cute it was. Mal, laying down, his daughter carefully held between his body and the back of the old sofa, fast asleep. His mouth was slightly open, and he snuffled occasionally. Bethany and Ethan were in the yellow armchair, wrapped around each other, dead to the world.
“Is that …”
“Jesse?” Kaylee grinned. “Yeah. She’s just the most darling little bundle.”
“Who does she look like?”
“At the moment?” The young mechanic put her head onto one side and pondered for a moment. “More like Jayne than anyone.”
“Jayne?” Inara almost squeaked.
“I’m kidding,” Kaylee said, putting her hand on her friend’s arm. “Honestly, I see a lot of Freya in there.”
“I should hope so.”
“Want me to wake him up? So you can take a better look?”
Inara put her hands up. “No, no, let him sleep.” She sighed a little. “I wish I had my capture with me.”
“Don’t worry. I did.”
“Well done, you.”
“I’ll make you a copy.”
“Thanks.” Inara looked towards the crew quarters. “Do you think Freya’s awake?”
“Let’s go see.”
Inara followed the young woman. “And are you okay?”
Kaylee looked back at her. “You mean, another baby and it ain’t mine.” She smiled. “’Nara, I got Bethie. And Hope. You know she said her first word last week?”
Inara gasped. “No! What was it?”
“She said mama.”
“Course, she said it to Simon, but it’s the thought that counts.”
“And how did he take that?” Inara asked, trying hard not to laugh.
“Said he wasn’t wearing a dress for anyone.”
“Oh, I’m sure he has the legs for it.”
“So what did everyone else say?”
Kaylee paused outside the maternity suite door. “No-one else knows. It’s kinda our secret for a while.”
“But you’ve told me.”
“Yeah, but you’re Inara.” Kaylee slid the door open a little, unaware of quite how she’d made her friend feel. “Hey, you up for visitors?”
Freya struggled to sit up a little more. “Just woke up.” She rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Where’s Jesse?”
“Mal has her,” the young mechanic said. “And they look so sweet.”
“I’ll show you later,” she said cryptically. “But right now you got someone wants to see you.” She moved out of the way so that Inara could step into the room.
“Hey, ‘Nara.” Freya quickly ran her hands through her short hair, and pulled the shirt she was wearing into something resembling tidiness. Seeing the woman in front of her, the perfection of her hair and make-up, her clothes … she felt overwhelmingly shabby.
Inara guessed. Knew it from the look on her friend’s face. “You’re glowing,” she said, pulling the only chair in the room next to the bed.
“Glowing?” Freya chuckled. “That a way of saying I’m still red in the face?”
“No. It’s a way of saying you look radiant.”
“Thanks.” Freya smiled. “Have you seen her?”
“In passing.” Inara took her hand. “She looks adorable.”
“That she does.”
“Was it bad?”
“Labour? No, not …” Now she laughed. “How do I know? I've done this twice: the first time Jayne was in danger of delivering my son, and this time.”
“You didn’t want Jayne to be your midwife again?”
“I think Mal would’ve killed him first.”
Inara smiled. “River would probably have dissuaded him.”
“Probably.” Freya lay back a little. “So … has Dr Nazir been thrown out?”
Inara looked down quickly at her hands. “No. Actually he’s still here.”
“He is?” She sat up again. “Still? I thought he had a –“
“He decided to take a little sabbatical.”
Inara raised her head. “Ah … what?”
“Nothing. Just ah.”
“I know those just ah’s of yours. Come on, tell me.”
“Nothing,” Freya insisted, holding her hands up. “I just … he is quite good-looking.”
“Freya!” Inara managed to look shocked.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”
“Of course I haven’t!” She got up and walked to the door and back. “He’s my doctor, Freya!”
“Is that a really the same as a just ah?”
With a heavy sigh Inara dropped into the chair, all semblance of the poised and elegant woman gone in a moment. “Oh, Frey.”
“I’m guessing he’s got under your skin.”
“He annoyed me,” Inara admitted. “Incredibly.”
“Mal told me.”
“Just the way he did things, the way he made me talk …” She shook her head. “Then I realised what he was doing, and it just annoyed me even more!”
“So he wasn't the regular lie down on the couch and tell me all your secrets sort of doctor?”
“Hardly. I don’t think we went near a couch.”
“Did you want to?”
“Freya!” The shock was back.
“Oh, come on, ‘Nara. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a man.”
“But …” She spread her hands. “He is my doctor. It’s … unethical. It could get him struck off the boards. It’s …”
“Do you want him?”
For a very long moment Inara didn’t answer. Then she nodded slowly. “But it’s wrong.”
“Why don’t you ask him? Maybe he feels the same way.”
“Frey, I've been insulting him for more than a month!”
“Yet he’s still here. And I'm sure you can insult him like a pro.”
The woman on the bed chuckled. “Don’t get so high and mighty with me, ‘Nara. I know you, remember.”
Inara suddenly laughed. “He is a nice man. And he’s so gentle with the girls. He’s helped Hermione enormously, and he’s … I don’t know, Freya.”
“Talk to him.”
“I've just had bad experiences talking to men.”
“No, you mean you’ve had bad experiences talking to Mal,” Freya pointed out. “And that was foreplay too.”
“It never came to anything,” Inara insisted.
“I know.” The sound of a baby crying reached them. “Is that Jesse?”
“Sure is,” Mal said from the doorway. “Hey, Inara.”
“I think she’s wanting a feed.” He stepped inside and sat down on the edge of the bed, handing his daughter over to her mother. He looked at the ex-Companion. “Sorry, but Frey couldn’t hold it long enough for you to be in at the kill.” He winced as Freya managed to kick him. “You wanna try that one again? ‘Cause I'm sure if you made it just a bit higher you wouldn’t have to worry about me wanting to have my way with you.”
“You won’t be doing that yet.” Freya lowered the old shirt she was wearing, exposing one breast. “If ever.” She settled Jesse, feeling her milk come down into the little girl’s suckling mouth.
“Hell, darlin’, if I can watch you do that for ever that’d be enough,” he said, leaning forward and stroking the dark hair on his daughter’s head. He looked round at Inara. “So how’s Dr Nazir? Earning his keep yet?” He was amazed when Inara stood up, her face pink, the same colour as the lining to her dress.
“Well, I have things to do. There’s food prepared, so I’ll just … I’d better go and see … tell everyone.” She backed out of the room, almost running for the stairs.
“Something I said?”
Freya tried to kick him again. “You know exactly.”
Mal watched Freya feed their daughter for a minute, a smile on his face. “You know, we don’t need to worry about getting her christened.”
Freya looked up in surprise. “Well, I hadn’t actually considered actually … why not?”
“I had a dream just now.”
“About Shepherd Book.”
Freya watched her husband, at the look on his face, the same one he always had when he talked about the Preacher, or Wash, for that matter. “And what did he say?”
“He was standing in the common area, right in front of me, that old Bible of his in his hands, and he was saying words.”
“What kind of words?”
“Just asking God to look after Jesse, to find a place for her in His heart.”
“That won’t be hard, Mal,” Freya said softly. “She is going to be the sweetest little girl you’ve ever seen.”
“She’ll give Bethie a run for her money.”
“My money’s on Jesse.”
“Mine too.” She looked down at her daughter, still taking milk. “So you reckon that was as good as a christening?”
“Somehow. Can’t really describe it, Frey, but just seeing him, standing there like he used to, smiling at my little daughter …” He had to swallow. “Seemed right.”
“I wish I’d met him.”
“Yeah, I wish you had too.”
She looked at him a moment longer, then moved over in the bed, carefully holding Jesse against her. “Come on.”
He smiled and quickly sat down next to her, his body pressed against hers. “You sure about that sex thing?”
“Not ‘til Simon says it’s okay.”
“And … when’s that likely to be?”
“Not tonight, that’s for sure.”
He laughed, the vibration making her feel warm and loved, particularly as he wrapped his arm around her. “Figured that. Man goes out of his way to stop me getting what I want.”
“He didn’t do this, Mal,” Freya said pointedly, gazing down at their daughter.
“Hope not.” He squeezed her gently. “Although maybe I should get him to use that DNA tester-thingie on Jesse. Just to make sure.”
“Don’t even joke about that.”
He grinned. “So … that doc and Inara. She got it bad?”
“Conjured as much, from the colour she went.” He watched Jesse for a moment. “Think I should talk to her?”
“Why not?” He tried honest puzzlement. “I used to be her captain.”
“And she’s still in love with you.”
“Now, that’s not –“
“Mal, don’t. You know it and so do I. That’s probably never going to change.”
He looked into her brown eyes. “Guess not. But that don’t mean I can’t be her friend too.”
“I know that. And I'm glad you are. But in this case … don’t.”
“Why? What do you think I’d say to her?”
“I think you’d wind her up so much she’d burst.”
He laughed. “How come you know me so well, darlin’?”
“Years of practice.”
“I guess.” He leaned down and kissed her, her lips opening to his.
They’d been on Lazarus for nearly a week, during which Freya had recovered beyond Simon’s wildest hopes, Inara had been wound up mercilessly by Mal over Dr Nazir until she’d shouted at him to go away, and Jesse hadn’t stopped crying. Well, maybe for an hour or two.
“You okay?” Mal asked, leaning into the doorway of the ‘maternity suite’.
“Fine.” Freya was lying on her back, fully dressed, one arms thrown across her eyes.
“Only you don’t look fine.”
“I'm fine.” She emphasised the second word, but didn’t look at him.
“Okay.” He glanced significantly around the room. “Where’s Jesse?”
She sighed heavily. “Guess.”
“Yeah.” She lifted her arm away but stared into the ceiling. “My daughter. My flesh and blood. Six days old. And she won’t stop crying for anyone except River.”
“For River!” She shot him a glare, then went back to studying the slightly peeling paint above her. “I must be a terrible mother.”
“No, you ain’t.”
“Then why can’t I do it?”
“’Cause she’s Jesse. You didn’t have the problem with Ethan, did you?”
“No, but –“
“Then it’ll solve itself.”
“How?” She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, glaring at him. “How exactly is this going to solve itself?” She shook her head. “I can’t stop her. Everything I do, everything I try … it just ends up the same.” A tear forced itself out of the corner of her eye, and she wiped it away angrily. “She doesn’t love me.”
“Whoa, now, hold on there.” Mal crossed to sit next to her. “Where’d that come from?”
“She can’t. Otherwise it would be me who could stop her crying.”
“Maybe …” He wondered how to put it, then decided to jump in with both feet as usual. “Maybe you’re trying too hard.”
“Too …” Her jaw dropped. “Too rutting hard?”
“Frey, when you had Ethan, your abilities were … well, only just on their way back. Maybe you’re broadcasting and Jesse’s picking up on it, and it’s … well … scary.”
“Scary?” If anything her jaw fell even lower.
“Not scary. Didn’t say scary,” he quickly backtracked. “Unexpected.”
“You … you think I'm scaring her?” Another tear, this time ignored.
“No, honey.” He pushed it away with his thumb. “No, of course not. But she’s six days old. Maybe she just needs you to be you.”
She stared at him, then slumped against his side. “I am a terrible mother.”
“No, you ain’t. You ask Ethan.” He put his arm around her, cuddling her. “I reckon you got some of that Post Traumatic Stress the doc was talking about.”
“You mean Post Natal Depression?”
“That’s the doodad.”
“Am I? Depressed?”
He took a moment to study her. “I think maybe, a little.”
“Damn,” she whispered.
“Come on,” he said. “I conjure I have just the answer for that.”
“Don’t tell me. Lots of pills. Or maybe you think Dr Nazir might be able to help?”
“Now that’s a thought, but … no. I got something better’n that.” He stood up, taking hold of her hand so that she couldn’t help but let him pull her to her feet.
“Just come on.” He led her out of the room and through the common area to the cargo bay door. “Take a look at that.”
Freya did as she was told, and her eyes widened. The doors were open, letting in the warm air of an early Lazarus summer, and sitting on the floor on a blanket were Bethany and Ethan, Hope and Ben sitting together as always, Fiddler lying on his back between them having his belly rubbed. Jesse lay next to Ethan, her little arms reaching up to the air.
“Um, Bethie?” Freya called.
“Yes, Auntie Frey?”
“What are you doing?”
“Playing cards.” Bethany held up her hand and Ethan did likewise.
“Cards,” he echoed. “Got a good hand, Mama.”
“Right.” Freya paused. “But why are you naked?”
Bethany looked down at herself, then at the others, all without a stitch of clothing apart from the baby. “Jesse said she wanted to be naked,” the little girl said, going back to studying her cards. “But I told her she had to keep her diaper on. Yuck.” She grimaced at the very thought.
Mal glanced quickly at Freya, but she shook her head at him. “Bethie, Jesse didn’t really say that, did she?”
“Well, not actually said. But I knew she wanted to be.”
The little girl sighed theatrically. “No. She didn’t.”
“So whose idea was it?”
Freya looked up to the catwalk at the same time as Mal.
“Dear God in Heaven!” he declared, covering his eyes.
“What?” The young woman came down the stairs, not a shred of fabric on her pale frame.
“I didn’t see!” Mal insisted. “I really didn’t see!”
“It’s liberating,” River said. “You should try it.”
Freya couldn’t help her lips curving. “Just put some clothes on, will you? You’re upsetting my husband.”
“He’s seen me naked before.”
Freya turned to look at Mal.
“First time when you came out of the box!” Mal said. “I ain't seen you naked since!” He pulled his hand away without thinking to glare at her, then closed his eyes again just as quickly. “I ain't seen her naked since, Frey.”
“River, please get dressed.”
River’s sigh was very close to Bethany’s. “All right.” She picked up the dress that was lying unnoticed by either of the others from a crate. She slid it over her head. “Decent now.” She made it sound almost unhygienic.
Mal peeked, then exhaled heavily. “Good.”
“You know, this isn’t fair,” River said. “It’s perfectly natural to be naked.” She looked at Mal. “You were. In the desert.”
“That weren't my choosing.”
“Doesn’t mean you weren’t. Kaylee was very impressed.”
Freya interrupted before the conversation could degenerate even more. “And put some clothes back on the children. I know it’s warm, but I don’t want any of them catching a chill, especially Jesse. And that floor isn’t exactly clean.”
“Hey!” Mal was inclined to feel insulted.
“People traipse in and out every day, Mal. And some of them don’t exactly wipe their boots.”
He considered. “Point taken.”
“They’re on a blanket.” River was pouting a little. “It still isn’t fair.”
“What if someone had seen?” Freya asked. “What if Jayne –“
“Hey, moonbrain, I found those counters you was looking for,” the man himself called from the catwalk outside the shuttle. “Oh, hi.”
Freya looked up, then suddenly found her gaze obscured by fingers. “Mal!”
“Just keep ‘em closed,” her husband ordered, his hand still covering her eyes. “Jayne, you go put some clothes on before you damage someone permanently.”
Freya wriggled free in time to see a well-muscled and very naked backside disappearing into the shuttle. She turned on Mal. “Jayne’s right. Spoilsport.”
“You want to see the big lug buck naked?” Mal asked, his eyebrows threatening to disappear into his hair. “You want I should get him back and give you a parade?”
“Might be fun.” She smiled. Then chuckled. Then laughed out loud. “You can be such a prude at times.” She shook her head. “Your face,” she added, laughing until tears ran down her cheeks.
Mal stared at her, then began to grin. At least it had cheered her up.
“Auntie River, what’s a prude and why’s Uncle Mal one?” Bethany asked, then realised all the adults were laughing. She sighed. She’d never understand grown ups.
Freya wrapped the huge towel more securely around herself, and padded through into the bedroom. A waft of jasmine-scented steam followed her, and Mal smiled. It had been two weeks since Jesse was born, and as this was their last night on Lazarus before leaving for a job, she was making the most of the facilities.
“Enjoyed your bath?”
She nodded. “I might have enjoyed it more if you’d been with me.”
“Now, darlin’, you know that ain't gonna be any good for a little while. Not until Simon says it’s okay.”
“Doesn’t mean you couldn’t have joined me.” She rubbed at her head with the corner of the towel.
“Let me.” He scrambled off the bed and stood behind her, gently drying her hair. “And you know it means exactly that. You’ve got a pretty good idea what was like to happen if I’d got you naked in that tub.”
She sighed happily. “Absolutely.”
“Even if I knew I wasn't supposed to.”
“So why’re you tempting me?”
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Just seeing if I still did.”
His brow furrowed. “What makes you think otherwise?”
“Well, it’s going to take a while for my body to look anywhere near normal. I've had two kids, Mal.”
“Really? Thought that was just you getting fat.”
She elbowed him. “That’s where your children came from.”
“I figured that was the stork.”
“Mal, if a stork ever visited Serenity, Jayne would probably shoot it and we get it served up to us as dinner.”
“True.” He rubbed her back dry, her tattoo winking at him above the towel. “Frey, I don’t care what you look like. I know you had Jesse and Ethan in you, and I know you’re gonna work hard to look like you did. But it doesn’t matter to me.” He put his arms around her, and she leaned into him. He groaned slightly. “Frey …”
“Sorry, was I tempting you too much?”
“Just a little.” He didn’t let go, though.
“Then I won’t.” She moved away herself, dropping the towel and picking up her robe.
“Frey, that ain't helping.”
She pulled it on quickly. “Sorry.”
He retreated to the bed, laying down, his stocking feet hanging over the edge. “Did you have a nice chat with Dr Nazir?” he asked idly.
“Saw you down by the beach. When I was taking Jesse and Ethan for some air.”
“Really.” She sat down at the dressing table and picked up a hairbrush.
“So … what?”
“Frey, come on. Tell me. I've a notion you let your curiosity get the better of you and you might have happened to be talking to the good doctor about Inara.”
“Doctor/patient confidentiality, Mal,” she said, pointing the brush at him in the mirror.
“He’s not your doctor.”
She pretended to think for a moment. “True.” Turning, she smiled. “He likes her. More maybe than he’d like to admit.”
“Well, she’s a beautiful woman.” He saw the glint in his wife’s eye. “So I've been told.”
“It’s all right, Mal, I know she is. But I don’t think that matters to him. He’s seen under the shell, inside the mask she wears.”
“And it ain't scared him off?” He ducked the hairbrush.
“Anyway, he was asking about her.”
“I thought they’d done nothing but talk?”
“Not that kind of asking. What she likes. Dislikes. Her favourite flower, perfume, that kind of thing.”
“You mean he’s considering courting?”
“I don’t think he’s actually thought that far, particularly since …” She bit her lip.
“What? Come on, Frey, you can’t stop now.”
“I think he’s a little bit afraid.”
“Afraid? Of Inara?”
“You know he was married before.”
“I think I had the idea, yeah. You mentioned it. Wasn't there something about seeing his daughter before coming to Lazarus?”
“That’s right. Well, he told me a bit more about her. His wife. It seems she died a couple of years ago. An accident, he said.”
“Apparently she was a wonderful woman. An artist.”
“I recall you saying.”
“I think that’s partly what attracts him to Inara.”
“But she’s not an artist.”
“Yes, she is. All that training to be a Companion, well, that’s high art. Making people see what you want them to see, to feel how you want them to feel … sometimes that’s all art is.”
“So he’s seeing his wife in Inara?”
“No, not at all. But I think it worries him.”
“Maybe he needs a good talking to.”
“And all you’d do is scare him even more.”
“Me?” He sat up, his hand on his chest, a most injured look on his face. “How’m I scary?”
“Looked in the mirror lately?” Her hand snaked out and caught the hairbrush thrown back. “Now, now, play nice.”
“Anyway, I wasn't the one threatened to kill him if he hurt Inara.”
She shrugged, her robe slipping from one shoulder. “I was pregnant.”
“Somehow I don’t think you can keep putting the blame on them.”
She grinned. “Course I can.”
Mal went back to the matter in debate. “So you think he’s going to make a move?”
“Maybe. Not yet, though. But he did say he thought his work with Inara was pretty much done.”
“Should be. He’s been here long enough.”
“Yet he didn’t say a thing about moving on. Going back to Ariel.”
Mal grinned. “Sounds hopeful.” He crossed his legs. “You know, she could do with some man to make her feel again.”
“Just so long as you weren't considering applying for the post.”
“Don’t need to, xin gan.”
She smiled. “But you’re right. She needs someone, even if it’s just an affair.”
“Think that’s what old Samuel might provide?”
“He’s not that much older than you. And I don’t think he’d do that. Love her and leave her. I get the feeling this might actually be something more.”
“Well, long as they don’t take too long to get themselves sorted out.”
“Like us, you mean?”
“You know, I can’t keep apologising for being a hwoon dahn for all those years.”
“I know. And I couldn’t be happier.” She leaned forward.
“I could be.” He watched her breasts as they swung into view. “Frey, please …”
She sat up and tightened the belt. “Sorry.”
“Is that all you and Dr Nazir talked about?”
“Should there be something else?”
“Well, just that you said he offered, if you needed to … you know, talk.”
“No. Just that.”
She tilted her head slightly, her gaze thoughtful. “You know, there is something we could do. Well, what I could do for you.”
His breath caught. “You think? I mean, I didn’t know if you’d even feel like doing that.”
“You think you don’t attract me any more?”
“Well, after what you went through, just because I –“
“Mal. I love you.”
His face relaxed. “That’s real shiny. I love you too.”
“Only if we actually started anything right now, I think you’d find that –“ A small wail started in the crib next to the bed, and Freya laughed. “Our own little alarm clock.”
“Time for a feed?”
“Last one, then she should sleep through. She’s a good girl.”
Mal leaned over and lifted his daughter up, holding her against his chest as Freya crossed to them, settling herself onto the bed. She opened her robe and let Mal place Jesse in the crook of her arm, lifting her breast so the little girl could latch on.
“You know, this kinda makes you a captive audience,” Mal said, watching his daughter feeding.
“What had you got in mind?”
“Ethan. And his walls.”
“I figure I've been patient, but this is something we do need to talk about.” He took a deep breath. “Is Ethan a Reader?”
“Technically, no, I don’t think so. I think he is empathic, though.” At Mal’s slightly blank look she went on, “He feels emotions.”
“Like you being sick. Me worrying about it.”
“Exactly. He might even be able to tell when someone’s lying, which would be of help to a crew like us, you know.”
“Ain't letting him anywhere near the kinda people we deal with sometimes.”
“And I’d shoot you if you did.”
He grinned. “Deal. But you don’t think he can read minds?”
“No. There’s no sign of it.”
“And these walls?”
“Bethany showed him how to build them when I was on Persephone. Helped him block the feelings.”
“Could he …” He was afraid, his mouth dry. There was no point in pretending, nothing to gain from saying he wasn't. “Could he be made to be a Reader? Like River? Like … like you?”
“Mal, I …” Freya closed her eyes, images sweeping through her mind. Jesse began to whimper.
“Hey, hey,” Mal said quickly, one hand on her arm, the other on Jesse’s head. “Take a breath.”
She did as he said, regaining control. Jesse stopped in mid-cry, clamping her mouth back.
“Sorry,” Freya said, mostly to her daughter. She looked up. “Yes. They could.”
He swallowed. “Then we won’t let it happen.”
“No, we won’t.” She touched Jesse’s cheek. “You know, it is possible he’ll grow out of it. Or maybe just forget how to. The walls Bethie helped him build are pretty strong, and he keeps them up most of the time. As he gets older it might be that he’ll not remember how to lower them, maybe even forget why they were there in the first place. Just a flash occasionally, something he’ll put down to intuition.”
“Would that be better?”
Freya nodded, her brown eyes locked with his blue. “Oh, yes. I want him safe, Mal.”
“That’s what he’ll be.” There was silence for a few minutes, just broken by the sound of Jesse suckling.
“By the way, I spoke to Simon earlier.” Freya spoke almost as if in passing.
“Oh?” Mal wasn't really listening, just content watching her breastfeed. At least, he wasn't listening until he felt something tossed into his lap. He looked down. It was her little red recording machine, the one she used for notes, the one she’d used to let him know that it was okay for her to … He looked up so fast he almost got whiplash. “Frey?”
“We take it carefully, sensibly, maybe not go all the way the first time or two, maybe just a massage …” She grinned.
The look on his face was worth more than rubies. “Frey …”
“Have to get some use out of the place tonight, Mal. ‘Specially since we’re leaving tomorrow.”
“But if you’re still sore –“
“Then we’re sensible, like I said. Can’t tell until we try. And I do heal quickly.”
“Surely do.” He smiled, looking somewhat mischievous. “You know, I kinda feel grubby. Permaybehaps I’d better be taking a bath. And I think I've got some lube somewhere …”
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