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The Guns of Yamenmiao (Epilogue)
Monday, October 6, 2008

The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Epilogue. Kaylee and Serenity are once again flying. Mal and Inara are once again at odds.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2882    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Yep....this is it....finally, the conclusion to this beast of a fanfic! :D

Jane0904, well, don't those particular details just make you wanna stick around for the next couple of stories? ;) Hee hee. Actually when I do the special features, I'll probably touch on 'em slightly in the extended/deleted scenes.

AMDOBELL, thanks a great bunch! I hope you'll be able to hang around for the next story as it is there that we will find out what's in the crates. I'm very grateful for both your kind thoughts and your concrit throughout. Glad to have you on the crew. ;)

PhyreLight, best you stay there because your work is by no means finished. ;) But let me just say this now. THANK YOU. You have been invaluable, instrumental, vital, and other words with the meaning of 'helpful' in getting the fic to this point. THANK YOU. I hope you're still willing to pull out your little blue pen for the next few fics. THANK YOU.

Katesfriend, hee hee....as I say above, makes you want to come back and read the next few fics, doesn't it? ;) Many thanks to you as well for sticking faithfully with this.

Angellemarcs, oh man, you want sweet? You should go check out the unbearable UST I used to write in Star Wars fanfic! And never fear - this WILL continue, in a different story. Just not too sure when. Got some special features, some more writing, and some computer issues to see to first.

And to everyone else - if you've been lurking along with this story for some time, or even since the beginning, it would mean worlds to me if you could drop a few words, now that it's done. Don't rightly know when I'll get enough of the next story written for posting. Till then, keep an eye out for the special features - and a hearty and sincere THANK YOU to everyone who's stuck with it to the end!

Part 16

前进

Serenity was airborne by midnight. The weariness the overnight adventure had wrought on the entire crew had taken its toll, and Mal had granted them the remainder of the morning to rest: even if a visitation from Niska was imminent, the crew would be ill-prepared to deal with him running on nothing but adrenaline. Book was soon to identify himself as the least exhausted of the lot and volunteer to stand watch while the rest of the crew caught as much shut-eye as was deemed safe. Though Serenity had proved clear of all thuggery when they returned, Mal was compelled to order Wash and Zoe to stay on their toes while they proceeded with the pre-flight inspection: Kaylee, meanwhile, was not about to let the repairs escape her personal attention – nor was Mal about to relax one muscle or brain cell until he was certain that his sky was clear.

Jayne made a show of lounging near the cargo ramp watching the crew of the dispatched fuel truck as they aided Kaylee with the attitude thruster, but he made an even greater show of his still-bristling armament to discourage them from trying anything funny. The near-empty fuel tanks were still not topped off by the time the repairs were finished: in the two and a half additional hours they needed, Mal found himself unconsciously bracing for a panic attack in River's bedroom that could be heard across the street from the ship. Yet as far as anyone could tell, she was still at rest some hours after her early-afternoon awakening - the most tranquil she'd been since before the first foray into the mine. Mal's overexerted mind eased somewhat, but remained edged by River's anticipation of times stressful or serene.

Yet with Serenity cleared, fueled, repaired and airborne, Mal's concerns were by no means totally rested: they revolved closest around Inara some time after liftoff.

"Mal, all I'm saying is that suggesting to someone to shoot me is not a good way to solve a crisis," Inara said pointedly, following Mal's determined pace across the cargo bay to the starboard staircase.

"Seemed like the thing to do," Mal said with an infuriating casuality.

"Is that all there is to it? Are my life and my presence on your ship truly that unimportant to you?"

At this, Mal stopped short of the bottom stair – he held stock-still, his hand seemed to freeze to the railing and Inara wished fleetingly that she could see his face. A couple of seconds were gone before he turned and it became visible: if there was any trace of guilt, though, she couldn't see it beneath the deadpan stare he steadily levelled at her. Mal's own fleeting wish was that Inara would see the woeful error in her guess when he set it before her.

"It would've been a favour, in light of what ol' Josey mighta done on you after meetin' up with Niska," he said flatly.

"You can't know that, Mal," Inara's tongue had sharpened to a razor.

"He's got half that world fooled into thinkin' he's charity incarnate," Mal went on stubbornly as he started up the stairs. "But he's the biggest taker in the 'verse, bar tax collectors. Things kept goin' the way they were, you'd of never got loose of him. I got my doubts he even woulda yanked that trigger."

"He almost did! We're only having this conversation because your friend was quicker to pull it. Carabella suspected you were bluffing as well. Were you? Would you even have been able to send the entire train up in smoke if he'd killed me?"

"More like half of it."

"Mal – " His name snapped harshly off Inara's tongue like a large branch, belying her growing anger at his cavalier approach.

"Well, maybe in the future," Mal interrupted just as sharply, "offerin' my services to a reptile like him behind my back oughta stay a less travelled road."

"Mal, honestly, since when has that mattered to you? Between Badger, Niska, and God knows who else, what could possibly make me think Carabella wasn't just the sort of man you'd come to in the first place?"

"You knew I was already on the look. For a man who saved your life, like enough. Which he might not have had to if you'd have just left me to it."

"I was only trying to help you, Mal. Even before the outset, you said you would consider my offer if you couldn't locate Mr. Corsetto."

"That I did. But it came equipped with the thinkin' that I'd let you know first."

"You were far less clear on that than you were on Carabella shooting me," Inara accused as they crossed the walkway spanning the width of the hold. "Setting aside Mr. Corsetto's intervention, the only thing that kept me alive was my flight experience."

"Well, this might oughta learn both of us about keepin' our noses clear of each other's doin's." Mal paused short of the bottom step to Inara's shuttle, turning to face her, arms folded. "Today especial. Inara, damn sure'n you wouldn't've been the last one to go."

"Mal...." Inara's gaze cast to the deck between them. She forgot her fury at his callousness: for only a moment it had blanked Mal's insistence on destroying the train - and himself and half his crew with it. His assertion that she wouldn't have been the last to die briefly stunned her as it dawned on her that he hadn't been bluffing after all. Her eyes were almost pleading when she turned them up to him again, searching in vain for an answer that deep down she knew she would never get.

"What in the black were you pulling?" she wondered. "What was so important that the lives of everybody on your ship – your entire surrogate family – could have been forfeit?"

"You can't know," Mal said quietly. "Xiang xin, Inara, you don't want to. Just hope you never find out."

"I can't disagree with you on that." Inara shook her head, swallowing tangibly. "I'm sorry, Mal. As much as I love Serenity, I just can't help the feeling that she's going to be the death of me."

"Well, you sure as all hell won't be the first. Who's to say who'll be first or last or in between. But my time's comin', too. If I got so much as a cough to it, it'll come a long damn while ahead o' yours."

Inara bowed her head, shook it as it vied with her heart to summon the words Mal needed to hear. Even with this piercing aggravation in the picture, he had given her a place to live and to travel at the same time. How could she tell him the time was coming to move on – moreover, how could she tell him as much and receive no argument? Even if it was the best thing for both of them, would he ever understand?

Sighing, and without looking at him, she sidled past him, unwilling to let him see the damnable moisture welling up in her eyes. "I wish that were a promise," she said in a thick voice as she flowed away up the stairs.

She left Mal standing below her, contemplating, just as uncomprehending of the untold side of her story as she was of his operation.

前进

A full tank and a smooth flight. A good day's work and a renewed journey. A difficult journey to be sure, but a journey that had deepened their understanding of themselves, of each other, of their own mettle in trying circumstances. Somehow the physical exhaustion of the past two days seemed trivial in light of finishing an arduous job, coming to terms with a grueling chapter in the past, and best of all, making sure Serenity lived to fly another day. Kaylee stretched restfully in her hammock, playing idly with an adjustable wrench, and closed her eyes, smiling to herself as she listened to Serenity's contented thrumming. So rarely had the harmony between ship and mechanic felt so complete. Serenity, she could tell, was grateful – grateful not only that Kaylee had given it yet another new lease on life, but that their life together wasn't about to change, no matter who or what else shared the path of Kaylee's.

She relaxed in the same happiness, listening to the engine, listening to its soothing vibration immersing her in Serenity's own contentedness. All was right with the ship: to Kaylee's thinking, all was right with the 'verse as well.

Her eyes fluttered open again at the familiar sound of deep but quiet footsteps in the aft hall. She turned her head, dropping the wrench in her lap as Mal traversed the threshold and paused at the top of the steps, gazing quietly at her – not ordering, not demanding anything of her, just looking in on a ship and a girl he loved like his own flesh and blood.

"Hey, Cap'n," Kaylee smiled.

"How we makin' out?" Mal asked, motioning at the calmly turning engine.

"Couldn't be shinier." Kaylee's smile widened as she regarded her beloved engine, thrumming steadily, the most relaxing sound she'd come to know. "Fact of the matter is, I don't think she's ever been shinier. Oil on that planet must be purer'n a virgin."

"Well, they don't call it black gold for nothin'." A beat, and Mal folded his arms, staring penetratingly at Kaylee. "How you doing?"

"Fine," Kaylee shrugged. His reason for asking escaped her but she saw no reason not to answer. "Long as she's flyin' and flyin' right, I'm a horse in the hay."

Mal's eyes crinkled in a smile of his own. He glanced at the engine and then his gaze rested again on Kaylee as he descended to the deck and sat on the steps from the doorway. The look in his eye alerted her that he was shifting into his guardian gear - gentle, but deeply serious in what he was about to say. "Look, little Kaylee, it ain't none of my never-mind what you feel to do when you get further down the pike. When you first came on board, I said you could stay as long as you want. Truthsome, I ain't lookin' for any more from you than what you want to give. The going's been a sight rough of late, I'm all aware o' that. But you don't gotta stay if you don't want to."

His stare was as earnest as it was penetrating. Nevertheless Kaylee took his meaning, found herself reflecting the sincerity that abided in his expression. "You got no need to worry on me, Mal," she said, using his given name with a comfort unknown in less personal environs. "Me 'n' you brought Serenity too far since Guonian, and I couldn't leave her now. Couldn't leave you neither, way you look out for all 'n' one."

"Bein' that as it might, you gotta do what's right for you. But like you said, Serenity's never been shinier. Not since I brought you on. Know how much she'd hate to lose you? I got my doubts she'd ever get off the ground again, you ever thought it was time to move on."

"You know what? My mama likes to say that the good Lord will keep you as close to home as He thinks home is. I been here two years now, and since Serenity first found me, can't think of anywheres else I wanna be."

"Far be it from me to fly in the face of the profound wisdom of the Fryes," Mal said wryly. "Methinks that's all I really needed to know, Kaylee. Where your heart's at."

"Ain't with anyone else. Don't gotta fret on that score." Kaylee sighed reflectively, staring off toward the aft bulkhead. "I feel pretty bad for Rob, though. It was awful hard havin' to suss out we'd never be more'n just friends. I could tell how bad he was hurt, last I saw of him. Best I could do was tell him the same thing I just told him 'fore we left now - I hoped he'd find what he was lookin' for."

"He's a good kid," Mal said, rising. "Every bit as good as his old man was for them as took part in his life. He'll find what he deserves soon enough."

"We all will." Kaylee's smile was as innocuous as it was irresistible. "You, too, Cap'n. Just when you think you've got it all, that's when you'll find better. You ask me, that's what's shiniest about the 'verse - there's always somethin' to look forward to, even if you can't see it just yet. All's you gotta do is keep your eyes open to it when it comes."

"Well." Mal took a step closer, reached out and touched Kaylee's shoulder, radiating honesty. "If ever there comes a day when you think you've found better, you let me know straight up. Lord knows that's a day I hope won't come, but...."

"But it ain't gonna," Kaylee's air was downright saccharine as she rested her hand on Mal's. "Least not so far as I can see. I'll keep us flyin', Mal, long as I got blood 'n' breath. Okay?"

"Good 'n' shiny." Mal squeezed Kaylee's shoulder, relieved beyond words that she had no immediate notons to leave him. What felt like the weight of a Napoli avalanche rose from his mind, dismissed and forgotten, and he passed from the engine room, from a domain that still and only belonged to Kaylee Frye.

***

River was alone.

She sat quietly by herself in the dining area, hands cupped around a mug nearly drained of a blend of raspberry tea Inara had given her. The hot, sweet flavour of the liquid calmed her, she opened her eyes and let her thoughts wander out of them to dance on the table before her. Presently they paused, lit on the thin wisp of vapour rising from the cup, watched it trail up toward the ceiling. River watched it, too: up her eyes wandered, following the serene meander of the wisp as it rose and dissipated shortly below the aft window strip. She looked through the narrow ribbon of windows to see Roma receding in the distance, fading into the depths of space as its rich boon powered a grateful Serenity on to the unknown. Lord alone knew what kind of place the universe would be like without those people in it - those people who cared as much for their fellow man as for their own way of life.

River sipped her tea, sat staring at the shrinking planet, as her own memories of the crew's venture on Roma danced and laughed about the tabletop. Then she smiled and tilted her head to let the memories whisper in her ear. She must return to this place again someday: visitor or native, anybody could find what they were looking for there, if they just knew the right place to do it.

"Won't be alone for long," she said softly to herself. She drained her cup and stood, eyes still fixed on the planet, until it swung out of view and vanished for the last time as Serenity veered and accelerated away into the black.

下场 *********************************************************************************

COMMENTS

Monday, October 6, 2008 12:09 PM

AMDOBELL


My favourite part was the conversation between Kaylee and Mal. Inara was more prickly than I expected especially given everything that had happened, somehow I thought she'd be mellower and kinder now that it was all over and everyone was safe and in the Black. Silly me. - Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 2:02 AM

JANE0904


Very quiet, introspective epilogue, but with definite hints of things to come. I too found Inara's attitude a bit harsh, but hopefully that will get sorted out later. Just don't make us wait too long, dong mah?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 7:24 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


Sad to see it end, but glad for more things to come. I loved the end conversation between Mal and Kaylee. Almost as if Mal is an older brother to her. As for the scene with River, nice balance of chaos and mystery!!!
Can't wait for extras.

Thursday, October 9, 2008 3:20 PM

PHYRELIGHT


You know how to find me when that next book is ready. *clicks the clicky blue pen*


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