BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

HERMITSREST

Homecoming -Part One
Sunday, February 10, 2008

It’s three years and four months since River Tam left her brother and the crew of Serenity. 1st fanfic of the second series, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Having feedback is like charging my battery, please comment. Part 1 of 2.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1721    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

GANG KOU, April 2525: “C’mon, Kaylee. One more push, you can do it!” urged Inara. Kaylee panted and braced herself to try again. Simon was torn between wanting to comfort his wife, completing the job as her doctor and the wonderment of the knowledge he was about to become a father. Kaylee pushed with all her remaining strength and Simon, with the baby’s head in his hands, felt it ease from Kaylee’s body, slowly at first and then with a rush. “That’s it! You’ve done it, bao bei!” Kaylee flopped back, exhausted. Simon stood up straight holding his new baby daughter as she opened her mouth and started screaming. Kaylee opened her eyes again and gave a tired smile, glad it was all over. She had been especially worried about the labour after Inga’s tragic problems in February. Inara stepped back to give them some privacy, and then decided to leave and go tell the others, who she knew would be waiting outside for news. She walked out of the Tam house into the bright sunlight, having to shade her eyes. “Well?” said Mal, expectantly and he wasn’t the only one waiting. Inara went over to him and took their daughter, Serra, out of his arms. Unlike her tempestuous parents, she was an exceedingly quiet baby and at this moment was taking one of her many trademark snoozes. “It’s a girl,” she said with a wide smile. Jayne whooped and pulled out the cigars from his pocket, handing one to Mal and another one to his brother. Matt declined, specially since one cigar would likely make him cough for a month, but he was glad of the gesture. He was also not about to repeat what was fastly becoming a tradition each time a baby had been born; two days of drunken celebration, or close to. There was too much work to be done, Matt thought, and his brother and their friends didn’t need much of an excuse to celebrate. Simon and Kaylee’s child was the fifth child to be born at Gang Kou since he had arrived. The baby would be closely followed in several more months by Jayne and Esper’s fourth child. His brother had been busy, or rather they both had, as it took two to…well, there was a lot of it going on at any rate. Not that Matt Cobb was immune to such things. Without the watchful eye of his mother and father, he was able to explore the full delights that a young active man might take when faced with the plethora of eligible women who lived in Hannover – ones that weren’t interested in matrimony anyway. Deutschland had more women than men, so the men could pretty much take their pick, and the women were a lot more forward because of it. But now he had to get back to work, can’t stand around dallying the day away – babies weren’t exactly high on his list of reasons for celebrating. Kaylee looked down at the babe in her arms and felt the tears of joy prickle at her eyes again. As a young woman just discovering boys, the very thought of having children and spoiling all that fun had horrified her. But now, oh now, it was so very different. It hadn’t been an easy pregnancy, more for the inconvenience than the medical reasons, being so very sure she could do things just as normally as ever, but quickly proved wrong. After River had left, she and Simon had a very rocky first year. He was convinced that the right thing to do was go after River, even when his sister had made it clear she didn’t want to be found. She remembered the period with more than a little guilt and shame, as she had flung all the words at her husband that she could in her desperation to make him stay. You have no money this time an’ she doesn’t want to be found. And I’m your wife. Is this how it’s gonna be? She’ll always gonna take precedence over me? She’s not a child anymore, she’s grown an’ you’re not her keeper. Kaylee had never spoken with such anger or direction and it had surprised them both, but she had been desperate not to lose him. Now, some three or so years later, she knew Simon had not forgotten going after his sister, but he had other distractions. Firstly, fulfilling his dream of having his own practise and doctoring more than just bullet wounds, then the prospect of impending fatherhood. Though Kaylee knew that he still felt the guilt of not going off to find his sister. She did as well and, she suspected, more so, because she had known exactly what she was doing in making him stay. Deceit was not normally part of Kaylee’s makeup, and as certain as she was River could take care of herself, she knew that Simon would easily get himself arrested if he went after her – and she couldn’t let him do that. River was an adult who had chosen to leave, but Simon was still her big brother and she knew the guilt went with him daily. It was really only after that first insufficient note arrived indicating that she was alive, did he start to move on. For a top three percenter he was too slow on the uptake for Kaylee, who had often been glad when he no longer chose to accompany them when Serenity left for a job in the hopes that they might catch a glimpse of her. “How are you feeling, bao bei?” Simon asked, creeping into their bedroom before seeing that she was awake. “I think I’m still in shock. She’s so adorable.” Simon leaned over, smiling and pulled away a little of the blanket at the baby’s face. “She’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen,” and there was no lie in his face. He was a father and his daughter was the most beautiful thing he had laid eyes on. “Have you decided on a name yet?” he whispered. Despite well-meaning suggestions from others, they had agreed that if it was a girl, Kaylee could name her, and likewise he could if it was a boy. Kaylee looked into her sleeping face again. Many names had run through her head, but it was only recently that this name had caught her as appropriate. “April. I think. April Tam – but we’ll register her as April Frye.” She looked up at Simon, a little unsure. “Is that okay?” Simon touched Kaylee’s rosy cheek. “It’s perfect.” He took April out of Kaylee’s arms, as she drooped with sleep. The baby stirred a little, but remained asleep and Simon walked out of their bedroom. He sat in the new rocking chair, a gift from Karl, before him and Bane had left for a job with Monty. He rocked in it, lulling his new daughter, as well as himself. Look, River, I’ve a daughter, he thought to himself. I wish you could see her, she’s perfect. He touched April’s skin, tracing the lines of her face and hands, so that when he saw River again she could feel what this meant to him. I’m sorry I failed you, mei mei, but wherever you are, I hope you’re safe. His eyes teared up, and he wiped them away before composing himself to stroke his daughter’s cheek again. ~ * ~ LONDINIUM, April 2525: “Hey, Regan! Get your ass up here and sort out this mess!” yelled Captain Dylan. Regan put down her chopsticks and ran through to the cockpit. “We got a delegation arrivin’ in twenny minutes an’ you decide to take your meal break now?” The Captain’s arm took in the display of a littered cockpit. “Sorry, Captain. I’ll get on it now.” Captain Dylan raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment further. Regan was the best pilot she had ever come across and all the crew had a soft spot for her and her little quirks, plastic toys on the controls being the least of them. Regan scooped up the toys, her notepad and civvy jacket and shoved them into her locker. She took her uniform jacket off the hanger and put it on, then her cap. She turned to the Captain and gave her a ‘satisfied?’ look. The Captain was not amused. “Fine. Get out there with the others then.” Regan walked ahead of the Captain as they made their way out of the crew section, briefly into the passenger section, before going down the steps out into the rain. The rest of the crew were already standing there in the rain looking really pissed, and wet. Regan lined up beside them, the rain soaking easily into the material of the uniform they all wore. She took on her own pissed look, her mind drifting off elsewhere as they waited for the next set of passengers to arrive. * * * * * The first six months had been the hardest. River felt the loss of her brother and the rest of the crew like a limb had been severed. But serving on a ship with forty odd homesick Deutschlanders had made them all band together for solace and comfort. River, her skills becoming invaluable, also became their mascot. The mining ship, München II, had taken her on first as translator, then as co-pilot. She had stayed with them for a whole year – earned her pilot’s license – and then left them when they headed back to Deutschland. It was a Black Market license, given in the name Regan Togashi, and it had enabled her to get the job she had now. By means of a celebration, she had left a sealed letter in her quarters on the München, addressed simply: Gang Kou, Deutschland. In it were a few short words. She could have written them journals full, but in the end the nub of it was easier. ‘I am well. R.T.’ It would never be enough for Simon, she knew, but at least they would know she was alive. Taking Stan’s name was part of the healing, though she still missed him. She had psychically as well as physically bonded with Stan, he hadn’t just been her boyfriend, he was part of her. When Stan had been mutilated and shot she had felt it as if the wounds had been inflicted on her own body. River remembered very little about what had happened afterwards, except what her own guilt and conscience knew she must have done. She had let them all down; her friends, her family. Like Mal had told her once before – it was time to grow up and be independent, even if it had meant leaving them all. But despite the ‘Verse supposedly being a vast place, more than a few times she had come within sight of them and the Rosalyn. There was another Pye Eatings ship now, called the Antonia and piloted by former lawman Wang Pye, his wife and other relatives. She even ate on it once too, though none of them recognised who she was. It had been another part of the healing process because she knew that Stan was still remembered and not just by her. Once, she had almost come into contact with Serenity, but luckily she had hidden in time and watched from afar. With tears streaming down her cheeks she had watched them load up some goods, business as usual. She didn’t see Simon, but she did glimpse Kaylee, Zoe and Mal chatting and laughing with each other on the ramp. The second year she sent another note to Gang Kou with a one line message for them all individually. And four and a half months ago she had written out a longer letter. Writing a letter had been a new experience for her; the act of writing bringing her momentarily as close to Simon and the others as if she was actually back on Serenity. She told them small unimportant things, stuff that couldn’t trace her position, and hoped they were all well. It was not as good as a wave, but it did mean she could talk to them without letting anyone know where she was. The heavy rain made everyone miserable, but if anyone had looked closely at Regan Togashi, they would have seen a small smirk on her face. Weather never concerned her. In fact, thought Don Bay, her co-pilot, there were very few situations that phased her. Smartly presented, shoulder-length hair neatly tied in a single plait, she was so good at her job that several other commercial passenger companies had tried to poach her from Atlantic Skylines and Captain Dylan. Bay had been impressed out of his normal disagreeable ranker at his place being taken by a woman who had barely seemed out of childhood. They actually got on really well, competing for one liners and tall stories when things were quiet. “We stay here any longer, we’ll drown,” he muttered to Regan. “Nah,” River replied, imitating his Scottish accent. “All that whiskey in your body, we’ll have us a cocktail party first.” Don sniggered until Captain Dylan hissed at him to be silent. They all stood to attention as the delegation pulled up in their transport. River had looked at the logs (despite not having security clearance) and seen that most of them were high level employees from the Blue Sun Corporation. This was the kind of passenger manifest River had been waiting for and Blue Sun had a lot of secrets. Today was the reason she had got a job ferrying passengers from Londinium to Osiris a year ago, what some would calling ‘hitting pay dirt.’ From the interrogations Hans, Bane and the Alliance had done, she knew there was a link between the Alliance and Blue Sun, from the slave ship downed at Hannover, nearly four years ago. It had revealed that the Blue Sun Corporation had run the ship, but the crew had been hired by a serving Alliance officer, Abigail Penney. And Abigail Penney had disappeared without trace. River had tried tracking her down but with no luck. She kept her eyes looking forward as Captain Dylan introduced the lead delegate to the crew, as was customary. She was a woman, looking to be in her eighties or possibly older, having all the bodily assurance of someone who had been in power for a very long time. The woman, however, was more intent on getting on board out of the rain and waved away the usual procedure. Usually when the crew inspection took place, River was always questioned her about her age, but she was practised at giving firm and believable answers, without lip. She knew she looked a world away from her wanted bulletin now anyway and from practise, River never reached out and searched people’s minds while she was in their company. She knew if she uncovered something shocking she could have an adverse reaction, revealing who she was. She always waited until the night shift, when Don took over the piloting and she was relieved from duty to sleep. Then, in the privacy of her bunk, she could explore away into any mind that she chose. Later, River clapped Don on the shoulder as she manoeuvred out of the chair, shift over. The ship was a luxury liner, so the crew and working areas were about as tiny as they could be, making more space for the lavish passenger quarters. The cockpit had two chairs and about enough room to squeeze in and out of them. It was just gone midnight and River was now in her six off time. The first two shifts were always six on, six off, then it stretched to twelve on, twelve off until they arrived at Osiris. River could sense there was something big to find out, but was firm in her resolve to follow her usual routine, before reaching out. She ate and showered before locking herself in her quarters. Then she did thirty minutes of tai chi, having taught herself the meditation techniques two years ago. The Academy had conditioned her into learning several lethal martial arts techniques, but nothing to focus her mind, as they preferred her all jumbled up and psychotic. Tai chi allowed her to prepare her mind and bringing calm to her soul. Half an hour later, River lay in bed and closed her eyes. The delegates were still in the board room having their meeting. River focussed on the lead delegate and went through her mental list; name, job, aims, personal history, etc. There was an imaginary wall in front of her and River took the bricks out one by one. Her name was Thomasina Herald. She was a Member of Parliament, not part of Blue Sun like the rest of the people in the room. Her aims were too many to catalogue as an overview, but River could guess that power was one of them. Her attention snapped to the conversation they were having as she caught some of the words. “…program is in its eighth year.” “Any promising subjects?” asked Thomasina. “Many, otherwise we’d dispose of them. I have the rep-.” “Good. I’ll read the individual evaluations you’ve given me later.” River felt her attention switch to someone else. She also felt the relief of the person she had been talking to. She then heard the door to the board room open and everyone fall silent. “Food as ordered,” came the meek voice of McCann, one of the ship’s stewards. River used the break in talk to examine the others. She gasped and sat up. This was it, these were the remnants of those who had been running the original Academy, and it was being redesigned into a new one. River felt her pulse quicken as she tried to focus back on what she had just discovered. She took a deep breath and assimilated the information. The Blue Sun Corporation ran the Academy as it was in her time. After her escape, it had been disbanded and relocated, but the concept hadn’t died. Eight years ago a new program was put together, using the lessons they had learned from the previous project. They no longer chose children from rich families, but…River’s skin was crawling with the horrific revelations…now they harvested children from the Rim – the poor and the anonymous – people who wouldn’t be missed, and people they could mould from birth. River’s breathing quickened as the new waves of knowledge enveloped her. The additional purpose of the slave ships had been to find potential subjects for induction into the Academy. Profits from buying and selling people went into the upkeep of the ship and the Blue Sun Corporation got first choice on all the new slaves or bred slaves. The door closed so River concentrated again. Thomasina lifted her intimidating frown, she hated interruptions and she glared at several of them who dared look over at the food table. “Where are we with the testing?” she ordered. A man named Foley answered her. He was the controller of acquisitions, River discovered, which meant he was the man who oversaw the location and extraction of subjects for the new Academy. “It’s slow. There’s only a few doctors qualified to do the assessments. We’re doing our best to get more and ferry them around, but that in itself is time consuming.” “I may be able to help you there,” said a woman called Landerson. She handed Foley some files. “There’s another ten doctors who will pretty much do anything for enough money.” Foley opened one of the files and glanced at the digital readouts, his face showing how impressed he was. Thomasina Herald scanned all of Foley’s reports, having a particular interest in one of them. “I see that Red3 is still at large?” she said with a raised eyebrow. “Yes. The trail ended with the Pi Gu – I think it unlikely that he’s much of a threat.” It still wasn’t good enough, but she was the only person at the table unlikely to criticise. Besides, had news for them all. “I’m disbanding the other slave ship. It’s too risky and I’ve a better and more secure method of getting more acquisitions.” They all fell silent at her news. “Details will arrive in the normal manner and will be implemented immediately.” River reached out her mind to try and find out what they were, but was unsuccessful. Thomasina Herald had some skill in hiding her thoughts and unfortunately, if River tried to probe further, she might be detected and there were few places to hide on board a ship in the middle of the Black. There was one fleetingly open thought that River caught that shocked and surprised her more than anything else – she had been in the woman’s mind before. Thomasina Herald has been the one responsible for Miranda. ~ River stayed up until it was time to go back on shift. She was exhausted, having accumulated a mountain of information, she just had no one to load it off to. Sometime during the night River came up with a solution to the issue of what to do with all that information. She had stumbled onto something huge that tied in the Academy with the slavers, the slavers with Blue Sun, and it all with the Member of Parliament responsible for thirty million deaths. Unfortunately she had no concrete proof and the only way to get it without being discovered herself, was to pass it on to someone trustworthy who had channels of enquiry. There was only one person she knew, or rather Bane Pye knew, who had that qualification – Colonel Pavel Wladek. He was the man who had helped Bane at her trial and done the investigation on the slave ship. “Holy shit, Regan! You look terrible,” exclaimed Don, taking in her weary face and slightly dishevelled look. “Couldn’t sleep,” she muttered, climbing into her chair and yawning. “Don’t tell me you caved with Stoneham again…” River did an eye roll. She had slept with the cabin steward, Sed Stoneham, about six months ago – for pure bodily need and loneliness. She regretted it straight afterwards as he was clearly smitten, rarely leaving her alone if they had the same off hours. He had got so annoying that she had considered various ways of breaking a limb or two, but that would be unethical. “…honestly. I really thought you had taste, lass, but-“ “I didn’t sleep with Stoneham. I just didn’t sleep, is all.” Don eyed her unconvincingly as he got out of his seat. “I hope that’s all it is. I couldn’t go through all that nonsense again.” “You couldn’t go through it again,” groaned River. “You’re not the one who had to change the lock on their door.” After Don left River was left alone with her thoughts again. She couldn’t see Colonel Wladek herself, apart from the risk of her real identity, he was unlikely to trust her. She wasn’t entirely sure he trusted Bane either, but she had to try. There was a big question mark over the whole thing. Why was this all being done? At the centre of it all was Thomasina Herald, a woman who knew who River was. Once upon a time River had been thought of as a mindless assassin, but Herald was a monster with no regard for anyone. She was almost afraid to try and read her again. All of this meant one thing though, she was going to have to go home. The thought wasn’t negative, in fact it kindled a warmth to her soul that she hadn’t felt for a long time. Serenity; her home, her ship and where she truly belonged. Well, it wasn’t her ship exactly, but it was more part of who she was now. Serenity had given her as much as every one of the crew and her brother had. Bringing up Simon brought tears momentarily to River’s eyes as she sat alone in the cockpite. She owed her brother so much. It was his unconditional love that had set her free and became a life line to which she had clung, when she could have easily let go and evaporated with the weight of all the knowledge she held. Simon had given up so much to see her safe, but now, all those years later, he had gained so much more, including Kaylee. Their parents were lost to them, but at least they had each other. River knew they were still alive, living on their estate on Osiris. During one shore leave, River had sought them out, though not made contact. She knew they mourned the loss of their children, as if they were dead, not as wanted criminals and she finally knew with certainty there was no going back to them. She had taken on her mother’s name in her alias, for want of any other, but it was Simon who was important and River knew her going away had deeply hurt him. Mal too, she knew, would be feeling guilt. He had given her much too - the ability to see that she was more than just a tool or a child. She had abused that trust by attacking him and vowed to make it up to him someday, and maybe forgive herself. There wasn’t a day that went by when she didn’t think about them; her family. Kaylee’s love of life and the ‘Verse around her, her first friend rather than a carer. River even thought about those who weren’t around anymore; Shepherd Book, whose faith and tenacity had taught her to persevere. A man who could forgive his enemies but also take life in the defence of his flock. And Wash, River remembered with a smile, my pilot mentor; a genius with Serenity for whom he had given his life. For her Wash was still embedded within the ship, keeping her afloat as much as if he were alive. It was since Miranda that River had felt less crazy, or moonbrain, as Jayne always called her. She had grown up and become an adult with their help, and hindrance. Jayne too had grown, confirming the opinion that you don’t have to be what people think you are, you can change. He had a whirlwind romance with Esper, who had grown up on the ship as a child, before Malcolm Reynolds had found her in the scrap yard and named her Serenity. None of them were more surprised at the romance than the two of them – Jayne discovering that one woman could fulfil all his desires and Esper, after living with so much death, had found a reason to live again. The ape had married Rapunzel barely seven months after meeting, beating even Zoe and Wash’s record for a quick wedding. Their twin boys were born the night River had left them all, three years and four months ago. Then there were the newer crew members, not replacements for those that were lost, but fresh minds that left their own imprint on their lives in surprising ways. Karl Jacobsson, originally hired as extra muscle, he was a convicted criminal and turned out to be Wash’s big brother. A man ashamed of his past, discovering that he could have purpose, family, love, and life need not be so harsh and unforgiving. And then there was Bane Pye, who Mal had hired her to help them on a heist and she had helped the job go without a single hitch, much to all of their surprise. Karl called her the whirlwind, and it was an apt description, for the woman rarely sat sit. And she had helped her kill the Hands of Blue when they tracked her down. Although River still blamed herself for almost getting her killed and being the reason Bane was now blind. When she had met Bane, she had discovered a genetically dormant psychic ability – a Pye trait – that she had largely been unaware of. It was what had kept her alive during the war and afterwards when she had been a slave and Niska’s prisoner. The instinct to survive was so strong that River sometimes believed that Bane couldn’t die. Karl and Bane getting together had been like fireworks in River’s mind, spurring her to take that chance with Stan. And unlike River, Bane now had someone to live that frenetic life with, her blindness a mere blip on the scope. She wished again that Wash could have known his big brother, but in return Karl had given them all a comforting link back to the man whose memory they had all pined for. He was not as funny, though he had his moments - playing pranks being one of them. Zoe had healed because of him too, and now had another man and family of her own. River knew that she would never love Hans the way she had loved Wash, but she did love her Deutschlander Browncoat in another wholehearted way. They had a son together now, River could hardly believe Marcus Kifelder Washburne would be turning five this Christmas. Now, as well as Serenity, and thanks to Hans, they had their own little haven where they could settle and raise families in relative safety. But things were different planetside; Mal was always the Captain on the ship, but Jayne was the one everyone deferred to at Gang Kou. The Harbour Master, who had given up his share as crew without a backward glance. Jayne wanted to be tied to the land he had carved out with his bare hands, no more the mercenary looking out for his own selfish ends. Even Mal was happy, though River imagined he never thought he would be. He had Inara, now his wife and possibly a family now, she didn’t know for sure. Hope had risen again from the ashes of Serenity Valley. They were all healing, just like River. There was so much she didn’t know about how they had got on the intervening time and she was now desperate to find out. ~ * ~ GANG KOU, May 2525: Matt and Jayne Cobb looked up from their task to view the ship as it flew over them. It was Monty’s nameless Buccaneer and meant that Karl and Bane had returned. It had become tradition that the couple’s first night back was spent at the Cobbs for dinner, and Jayne knew that Esper would need help with the boys to get things prepared. “We’ll finish this last lot and then head back,” he told Matt. They were taking tally in the north pasture and making note of which cows were due to calf after the spring mating. The herds were split into two, alternating around the lands so that the vegetation had time to recover. Matt wiped his forehead with his sleeve and continued the notes he was making. Shortly afterwards they both mounted up and headed back to Gang Kou, and Jayne, belying their age difference, making it into a race. They all had new little routines and traditions planetside now. Once off Monty’s ship, Bane and Karl headed home. As soon as they dumped their bags, Bane would take a quick turn around the place to familiarise herself again with the surroundings. Then she would walk out the back door, find the line of tiles and use them to walk to the river. Laying roof tiles in the ground to mark the route had been Matt Cobb’s idea in the spring after he had arrived. Deutschland roof tiles were shaped like a pipe cut in half and when put on the ground, Bane could walk along them to find her way around. There was a line of roof tiles to the river and across the main road to Hans and Zoe’s house opposite. It was not much of a road, except that it was earth compacted with traffic from mules, cows, and horses for the last four years or so. Karl watched Bane walk to the river from the kitchen window, always admiring the grace with which she walked, before taking their bags into the bedroom to unpack. He was almost done when he heard the sound of horses galloping past the house. He walked out onto the porch and saw Matt and Jayne dismounting and leading their horses into the barn. Monty and his crew had already dispersed to have a home-cooked meal at Zoe or Mal’s, or ventured off into Hannover. Karl waved to Kaylee who was sitting out on their small porch with April in her arms, feeding. A pang of jealousy infested him again; all around him there were his friends creating families, settling, and he couldn’t pretend he didn’t want the same. But it wasn’t something he felt he could broach with Bane, however much he wanted to, for fear of losing her. Kaylee’s brother, Lewis, came out onto the porch and waved with his free hand, being that he was holding his son in the crook of the other arm. Lewis had come to Gang Kou for a visit with his cousin, Glory, and found work and love and decided to stay. Unfortunately Glory, a minx for whom the word was created, had stayed too. He felt sorry for Lewis, who had so little time with his new wife, Inga, before she died giving birth to a son. They lived in München and Simon, at Lewis’ urgent request, was unable to get there in time, after the other doctor had despaired. It had been too late though, and neither doctor had been able to save poor Inga. Now Lewis had an infant son, a nineteen year old step-daughter, who barely said a word, and a wayward cousin to support. Life was so precarious and precious, thought Karl, even without a war. It was hard to believe that April was already a month old and he hadn’t met her yet. There would be time enough for that tomorrow. Karl walked from his house all of ten paces to Jayne’s and met him and Matt on the large porch. “Did the job go well?” he asked. “Usual,” answered Karl. Jayne opened the door and the noisy sounds of three children under four assaulted them. Before he could quip back, each leg was grabbed by a twin and they screamed with delight as he stomped into the house like a big giant, as they held on. Young Matt, at two, stood in the middle of the room crying, having been the butt of his brothers’ torture until their father came home. Esper came out of the kitchen looking hassled and tired. “Keep ‘em out the way for a bit, will you Jayne? They’re drivin’ me moonbrain.” Jayne picked up Arran and Abram in each hand and lifted them to his chest level. “What you doin’ to your Ma, eh? You want me ta go get Vera?” Both boys gave a high pitched squeal of delight making them all wince. ~ Inara glanced briefly out of the window as she heard a mule. “Is it Simon?” asked Mal, walking up behind her. “Yes,” she confirmed. Simon worked two days in the small medical centre in München, but always came home at night since April was born. “Ow!” exclaimed Monty, and they both turned around to see their daughter had a vice grip on Monty’s beard. Inara went over to him and pried her hand free, although she had to do it by tickling Serra, as she was stubbornly refusing to let go. Definitely her father’s child, thought Inara. Monty gladly gave her up, but she was definitely gonna be a cutie when she was older. Serra had inherited her mother’s dark curly hair and Mal’s blue eyes, a real peach she was, and he didn’t hold with babies much. But he was this one’s Godfather, so he guessed he had to take some kind of an interest. Now that his hands were free, Mal handed Monty a mug of cider. Usually Eric came for dinner as well, but he had discovered the charms of a certain lady in Hannover and informed them he would be staying the night at hers. Rocky and Barstow were over at Zoe’s for the evening, having a noisy time by all accounts. “I know I always ask, but is there any word on River?” asked Mal. He knew Monty would send a wave if he did hear anything, but he still asked every time. “Nothing. I’d give her up as lost, lad.” Inara could see that Mal still felt guilt over her leaving, thinking it was his fault, and that was in spite of the lovely letter they had from her a few months ago. “And how about you, Monty? You haven’t found anyone to turn your head, like Eric?” Monty chuckled as he took in her tilted head, raised eyebrow and mischievous smile. Despite his initial misgivings about Mal marrying Inara, she had grown on him and they seemed real solid now, specially since Serra was born. “I’m gettin’ far too old for that nonsense, ‘Nara. Give me a home cooked meal over a flighty woman any day.” Mal laughed and Inara studied him. “Oh no, Monty. I predict there’s still a woman out there who can turn your head away from a hot meal.” Mal chimed in. “I dunno, he’s mighty cantankerous, specially when they make him shave off his beard.” Monty nodded in agreement. “I find a woman who likes my soup catcher, then she’ll be one special lady.” Serra, despite the distance, made a last ditch attempt to grab Monty’s beard, before yelling out an unintelligible sound of frustration. “Well Serra seems to like it. She can’t be the only one.” ~ Bane put her shoes back on as she heard Karl’s whistle to signal that dinner was ready. She was a little tired and not really in the mood for a noisy dinner. The job with Monty for the last two months had mainly been munitions, but also consultation for a heist, similar to the Quaker job, but less risky. She hadn’t taken part, but the five per cent of the take for telling them how they could undertake it without incident, was not to be sniffed at. Bane lightly felt her way around the back of the bench before touching her foot on the line of tiles. She looked forward to later when she and Karl could be alone in the peace and quiet of their room. They’d been together for five years, and for most of that time she’d been blind. There weren’t many men who would stay in the circumstances and it was always a fear of hers that one day he might tire of her, and her stubborn ways. She reached the back gate of their house and then followed the fence along, crossing the small gap between the houses, before entering Jayne’s back garden. Karl met her at the gate as the Cobb garden was a minefield of children’s toys, likely to trip her or worse. “Feel better?” he asked. Bane squeezed his arm and then leaned her head against him. “I’ll be much better when we’re alone. It’s been a while since we had some privacy after all.” Monty’s ship had no private accommodation, so sexing had usually been out of the question, unless they locked themselves in the bathroom. Karl smirked and touched her face lovingly. “I’ve already explained to Jayne-“ “You what!” “No, I mean. I said you were tired an’ we’ll probably not make it a late night,” Karl stammered. Bane relaxed against him again and then answered Esper as she called out her welcome. “Hello yourself! How’s Cobb number four brewing?” she asked. Esper took Bane’s hand as she came into the kitchen. “Another active one like the twins,” she answered, putting her hand on her stomach. Bane felt the kicking and grinned. “Ye Soo! Feels like a jail break. Hope he don’t plan on leavin’ early.” Esper laughed. “I hope not. And don’t say ‘he’, you’ll jinx it. We’re really hoping for a girl this time.” Bane knew from Karl about Jayne and Esper’s agreement – he wanted noisy, and she wanted a girl. Well, they definitely had the noisy part covered. “Sit down,” added Esper, taking her hand and placing it on the back of a chair, which Bane then sat in. She had long ago stopped thinking or worrying about the little ways in which people helped her. At first it had been hard, but she replaced any initial frustration with love and appreciation. Bane felt a small hand on her leg and she put her hand out, around the curve of the face and up to the hairline. Curls, that meant number three son, young Matt. Bane lifted him onto her lap. “Hello, young man. And how’ve you been?” “Hurted,” he said miserably. Bane squeezed him with affection and kissed the top of his head. “Was it the big bad brothers again?” she whispered. Young Matt turned in her arms and she felt his lips on her own ear. “Yes,” he said, though not in a whisper, so she jerked away a little at the loudness. She gave him another hug and kiss and whispered again. “Well don’t you worry ‘bout it. I can tell you’re growin’ to be almost as tall as they are. Soon you’ll be able to get them back.” She tickled his ribs and heard him giggle. “Now, you’ve got to help me eat my dinner. As you know, I can’t do it by myself.” It wasn’t true, but Bane knew from Esper that young Matt was a picky eater and while he helped her eat, he ate a mouthful to every one of hers. “Thank you,” whispered Esper in her other ear. She noticed how wistful Karl looked while he watched Bane play with her son. Dint take a genius to work out what he wanted, Esper thought. Jayne came in with the other boys, including big Matt and they all sat down as well, the noise level increasing. ~ Zoe burped discretely and was sure she wouldn’t be able to move again for a while even if the house was on fire. They had a night free of the children, both of them, Marcus and Hans’ son, Lukas, having gone to their grandmother’s in Hannover, along with Ishmael, who had become her adopted grandson. After failing to understand all the underhanded comments from Berta to her son, Zoe had learned German quickly. As a couple she and Hans they enjoyed their relationship as it was; she respected his job as Mayor and he respected her need for independence. Hans’ mother, however, had her own views on the matter, which included more grandchildren. Zoe bore it all with her customary stoicism, but Berta was one of the few people who could manage to rile her to an outburst. The first time it happened, it surprised all of them, including Zoe. But while Zoe had her issues with Berta’s interfering, she could find no fault with her ability to look after children. So tonight the company of four adults, flowing beer, beef stew, added to a noisy game of poker made them by far the noisiest house in Gang Kou. Barstow was terrible at the game, but an incredible sport and Zoe hadn’t laughed so much for ages. Hans too, was feeling the same way. Not that they didn’t laugh together, but it was just different. “Whoa! This ain’t strip poker, Barstow. Put your shirt back on!” exclaimed Zoe, covering her eyes with one hand. “Really? So, I can’t take my shirt off if I win?” “Vin! Nein, you are supposed to strip if you looz,” explained Hans. “If we were playin’ strip poker,” added Zoe. “Which we’re not.” Barstow smirked and threw in his hand - a full house. “Son of a bitch!” shouted Rocky. “You bin playing uz,” said Hans, throwing his cards down. If Zoe hadn’t felt like a beached whale, she would’ve shot his bony ass. Barstow took his shirt off anyway, playing at teasing them, until Rocky pushed him over in disgust. “I have to apologise for my crewmate,” he said. “He ain’t had a woman in a real long time.” “I wouldn’t have guessed,” said Zoe. “Way he’s goin’, it ain’t gonna happen for a while longer either.” “You ask my muzzer, she’ll find you nice girl,” suggested Hans. Zoe’s mouth dropped open in shock, as he had made it sound like his mother was a pimp. Rocky burst out laughing and the conversation degenerated further as Barstow asked Hans if his mother could get him a woman with giant ta tas. ~ “This is real tasty, sis. Thanks for having me over.” “It’s nice to see ya, Lewis. You too, Renett,” Kaylee added cheerfully. “Sank you,” Renett replied in a quiet, heavily accented voice. Lewis’ stepdaughter, Renett Sableberg, never said much, even in German, and Kaylee could usually be very persuasive at bringing people out of themselves. She felt an incredible amount of sympathy for her, having been born after her father went away to war. Inga, her mother, had supported the two of them in the hope her husband would one day come home, but like so many Deutschlanders, he never did. They lived poorly, but happily together and then Renett had been one of the young people taken by the slavers. She hadn’t been molested, but the experience had shaken her already shy nature further. Their lives had changed when Lewis Frye had arrived and even though Inga was older than him, they both had immediate mutual affection. Lewis had not even flinched at the thought of supporting Inga, her daughter and himself. They were a happy family, until Inga had died so suddenly. Kaylee wished she could do more for them, but Lewis had his own sense of duty and values, and stubbornness, in her opinion. Simon came in from his surgery, having washed up and put his instruments away. He went over and kissed Kaylee warmly, peered over April’s cradle, touching her cheek and then joined them at the table. Like Kaylee, Simon was also keen on helping Lewis, Renett and baby Ingman where he could. Like everyone at Gang Kou, they weren’t rich, but they weren’t poor either and help came in various guises. “I’d be happy to give you all a lift back into München tomorrow.” “Thank you, Simon. I’d appreciate it,” said Lewis gratefully. “It’s no trouble,” he said. Simon turned his attention to Renett as he took up his cutlery. “My surgery looks pristine, Renett. I’d like to thank you for doing such a good job.” Lewis glanced across at his step-daughter who was blushing. He knew the gossips in the street they lived in talked about whether Lewis was more than just a step-father to Renett, but that was their own stew. Renett was nothing like her brave and beautiful mother, Inga, and he felt sickened to think people would presume he would touch the girl – but, he supposed, that was gossips for you. “Renett told me she likes helping you when she’s here. I don’t suppose you need an assistant, do you?” Age having given Simon time to think before speaking, he considered Lewis’ request. Renett was a very quiet girl and would certainly not make a doctor, but she would likely make a very good nurse, and the München medical centre was crying out for them. He looked at Renett, who he could tell was holding her breath, waiting on his answer, which meant it was something she possibly wanted to do, rather than Lewis forcing it on her. “I can maybe do one better. The centre desperately needs nurses. I can recommend her for the training program – I know it’s something she’ll be suited to.” Lewis flushed with surprise, it was more than he had expected, but there was a problem. “I’m afraid it’s not something we can afford to do. We need the money from Renett’s job at the laundry.” With his usual quick thinking, Simon had already anticipated Lewis’ objections and come up with a solution. “The training program is available on a scholarship after an exam. I can coach Renett for the exam. If she passes then all her tuition is free, and given that you already live in München, you won’t have accommodation to worry about.” “If you’re worried about loss of income, you can always rent out a room in your house – to one of the other nurses,” Kaylee chipped in. Renett said something quietly in German to Lewis and Kaylee and Simon waited for him to translate after responding in kind. He was smiling though. “I want to think it through a bit more, but Renett has suggested we give up Ingman’s room and she keep working at the laundry at the weekends.” “And anytime you want to drop the little man off with us, we’d love to have him,” Kaylee said. She knew that Lewis wouldn’t take her up on the offer unless he was desperate; Ingman was his link with Inga. He was lucky that he had chosen to come to Deutschland as well. The male industrial working population had been so decimated by the war that the influx of widowed women workers meant that young children had to be cared for while they worked. As a result, the dockyards and the salt mine, the two biggest employers on the planet, had twenty four hour crèche facilities. Simon felt Kaylee’s hand squeeze his leg and when he looked over at his wife, her eyes shone with love. “I vant to sank you, Simon. I vill verk hardt,” answered Renett softly. After dinner, Simon sat with Renett and gave her some books to read. He knew she understood more English than she could speak. Luckily, most of the books he now had were written in German, so she would have no translation issues hindering her learning abilities. Like Jayne, Simon conversed daily in German and while Jayne would probably not be able to write it, he had taught himself to speak the language. Jayne was actually more fluent than he was, and would often drift off into German without realising. Kaylee and Lewis took the babies to one of the back rooms. Unlike Jayne and Mal’s houses, theirs was one storey – the same as most of the bungalows in Hannover. It made every room very accessible, but sometimes the smells from the surgery and the kitchen got into rooms where she would have preferred it not to. But it was her house, their house, and Kaylee had made it into the kind of home that anyone would feel comfortable in. Lewis placed Ingman beside April in the cot and then remembered something, bringing a wad of paper from his pocket. “I had a letter from Ma and Pa, I forgot to say.” “Really,” Kaylee beamed. “Did they get the news about April?” “Read for yourself,” he chuckled, shoving the letter at her. Kaylee sat in the rocking chair and found the first page. It was full of news, too much to leave Lewis standing there waiting for her to finish, she would read it later. “I’ll read it later,” she confirmed, putting it in her pocket before changing the subject. “Are you sure you’re okay with Simon’s suggestion? He doesn’t mean to sound so pushy.” Lewis laughed at his sister’s defence of her husband’s ways. “I’m quite used to my brother-in-law’s meanings and intentions – it’s a very generous offer and he’s not one to bestow it without being sure Renett has the skills to achieve it.”

COMMENTS

Sunday, February 10, 2008 6:57 AM

HERMITSREST


For my other main characters of Karl Jacobsson and Bane Pye, see my log.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 8:52 AM

FREEVERSE


Nice to see the next installment--but how will River's new insights affect the BDH's and extended families?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 4:36 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Utterly, utterly fantastic work here, hermitsrest! While it's odd not to be beta reading your work - though the break is a relief at the moment since I am working crap hours - I am definitely once again drawn in to your world :D

I do have to say though...River's revelations on the connection between the Academy in its former guise, the slave ships and the Academy under its current guise - taken with the look at the lives of Serenity's crew on Deutschland - does make me wonder if River'e eventual return to the fold will be both rocky and a siren call to something that they seemingly have given up: the for-the-greater-good kind of questing. I note this because all the main BDHs have at least one child now, with Simon and Kaylee just welcoming April into the 'Verse, and the risks are now compounded with their rather sedimentary nature. Still...I don't doubt the fight will be taken up somehow ;)

BEB


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