Kith and Kin - Part III
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. The pick-up goes ahead, but nobody's happy. NEW CHAPTER


The rain had all but stopped by the pick-up time approached, the sky clearing to leave a quilt of stars beginning to appear as the sun dropped over the horizon.

“It’s going to get cold tonight, sir,” Zoe said quietly, standing in the lea of the shuttle, the last few drops of water splashing down into the mud.

“Been colder.” Mal pulled his scarf tighter around his neck.

“New Casmir,” Freya put in. “Now that was cold.”

“St Alban’s was worse,” Mal said. “Gets into a man’s bones, cold like that.” He paused a moment, then spoke quietly, his tone different. “Jayne, you in place?”

“Sure are,” they heard over their earwigs. “Got a good range of fire, too. If you come in from the west, you won’t be in the way either.”

“Got that.” He looked at his first mate and his wife and sketched a smile. “Ladies? Shall we?”


There was still enough light in the sky to pick their way through the trees, but that was dying fast by the time they got to the rendezvous. As they approached the clearing, Mal stumbled but righted himself quickly, kicking at a non-existent rock as if that had tripped him. No time to be showing weakness, he told himself. Simon did say it was going to take a couple of days to feel better, but right now he was counting the seconds. It didn’t help that he knew Freya had her eyes on him, boring right between his shoulder blades.

A man stepped out from the shadows, a lantern turned down to almost nothing in his hand, barely making an imprint on the evening. Two other men were at his back, and Zoe took a pace away to cover their rear if need be, her hand ready to draw her Mare’s Leg at any sign of trouble.

Two more, Mal heard, Freya’s voice caressing his mind, almost but not quite concealing her concern for him. In the trees to the left.

He tried to see, but all he could make out were dark shapes that might or might not be men. Not that he didn’t believe her – sometimes it was so handy to be married to a Reader. Not good placement, he thought back, hands easy at his sides, close to his own gunbelt. They can’t see us that well.

They’re not used to this.



Makes for a troublesome time, if someone decides their nerves are worth killing for.

Jayne’s seen them.

Oh, good.

Mal’s ironic mental tone made Freya hide a smile.

Above them, some distance away in the rocks halfway up an incline, Jayne stared at the men hiding in the trees. Tzao gao, but he hated amateurs. Where they were standing their field of vision was severely restricted, and if it did come down to a gunfight they’d prob’ly just be shooting their own men instead of Mal. Not like him. He swung the rifle through a slight arc back to the main group, able to pick out Mal’s features as if he was standing in direct daylight even in the dim glow of the lamp.

Jayne half smiled and resisted the urge to pat the night-scope. A nice bit of kit, he’d always thought. Especially considering how he acquired it. Took it off a dead man on Pi Gu that one time. Damn fool had tried to use it like a club. But then, Jayne had snuck up on him since he hadn’t been looking out for anyone willing or capable of scaling that wall. Still, it was worth the skinned elbows and pulled muscles just to own this thing. Hadn’t been back there since, mind. Cruddy little moon. Now that really was the ass end of the ‘verse. He grinned, then went back to concentrating on controlling his breathing as a new voice sounded in his ear.

“My name is Brant Fisher.” The leading man spoke, the small amount of twilight left showing him to be in his middle age, thickish around the middle, with dark curls pushing out from under his fur hat. “You are Captain Reynolds?”

“That I am,” Mal confirmed.

“And these?”


Fisher ran his eyes across the women for a moment, but obviously, and more than a little erroneously, considered they weren’t dangerous and decided to ignore them. “Then we’ve got something for you.”

Up in the rocks above Jayne tensed slightly, taking the slack out of the trigger.

“The goods we’re to get to Priam.” Mal could feel the cold biting into his fingers, but rather that than keep his gloves on and not be able to draw his gun fast enough. Hopefully they’d be done before there was irreparable damage.

“Just back there.” Fisher gestured into the shadows, next to where the other men were watching.

“How much?”

“A dozen crates.”

“What’s in ‘em?”

Fisher didn’t respond for a moment, then said, as if it was of no account, “Medical supplies.”

“Anything likely to blow up on me?”

“No. Just run of the mill stuff. Plasma, insulin, some other drugs. That kinda stuff. Can’t get it off the Alliance, not in the amounts they need, not out there.”


“You have a problem with that?”

“No, not particularly. Just like to know these things.” Mal tried a smile. “Whatever you paid for ‘em, we could probably have done it cheaper.”

“Maybe next time.” Fisher shrugged.

“You wouldn’t be paying Badger his commission, either.”

Fisher surprised everyone by chuckling. “Yeah, well, I’ll bear that in mind.” He stepped forward, something held out in his hand. “Here. Half. As agreed.”

“Shiny.” Mal took the pouch then tossed the money to his first mate. “Zoe.”

“Sir.” She tucked it inside her coat.

“Any particular point you want the stuff dropped off, or do we just fly over Priam and look for a good spot?” He waited. “Fisher.”

The other man jerked, almost startled. “What? Oh, yeah, the co-ordinates.” He handed over a slip of paper. “Here. It’s just outside of Hecuba, the main port.”

“And there’ll be someone to meet us with the rest of the money.”

“Yes. Yes.” He seemed anxious to get away now. “The sooner you can get it there, the better. There are some sick people need it.”

“We’ll manage.”

“Good.” Fisher rubbed his hands together. “Good. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll go. Places to be, you understand.”

“Sure. And remember what I said about next time. There’s more’n one way of getting anything you need.”

“Yes, I will.” Fisher nodded, then backed up, waiting until he was in the trees to turn and hurry away. He hadn’t taken his eyes off Zoe for the entire time.

“Did you know him?” Freya asked the first mate, her voice low and urgent as Mal put the call through to Hank to bring the shuttle in.

Zoe raised an eyebrow. “No. Why?”

“He was afraid. Of you.”


Mal moved closer. “What’s this about?”

“Fisher knew Zoe’s name.” Freya fingered the butt of her gun. “He was scared of her. I … his natural walls were too strong, and I didn’t want him to know I was peeking, but … Mal, I don’t like this.”

“Well, we’ve got the money. Can’t not take the job.” He stared into the darkness where Fisher and his men had disappeared. “Nothing else? You couldn’t feel why at all?”

Freya shook her head. “No. Just fear. And …” She stopped.

“And what?” Mal prompted.

“Relief. He’d done what he planned.”

Mal pulled the com out of his pocket again. “Hank, you hold back a while.”

“How come?”

“Just do it. I’ll call when it’s okay.”

“Mal, is there a problem?” Hank sounded more than a little concerned.

“Not sure.” He tapped his earwig. “Jayne, you still there?”

“Just coming.”

“Good. We need to make sure there’s nothing we don’t know about in these crates, before I put them on board Serenity.” In his mind’s eye he was seeing Road Runner explode, and burying the bits they could find of her crew on Prom. “I might be paranoid, but sometimes folks really are out to get me.”

“Gorramit. Why can’t a job just go down smooth?” the big man growled.

“The way of the ‘verse,” Mal said. He looked at Frey. “I don’t suppose you’d walk away if I told you?”

She didn’t even dignify that with a response, just drew the knife from her boot and opened up the first of the crates with it, levering off the top. She was carefully lifting out the first layer of medicine boxes when Jayne crashed through the undergrowth to join them.

Zoe dragged a torch from her pocket, and between them they made short work of emptying the contents and examining every item.

“Nothing I can see, Mal,” Jayne said, opening a carton that proclaimed the contents to be Medical Grade Cardiac Stents. “If there’s a bomb it’s gonna have to be rutting small.”

“Frey?” Mal looked at his wife.

She shrugged, evidently not really satisfied. “I suppose. I can’t feel anything, and I think I’d be able to.”

“So it’s not going to blow up in our faces.”

“Not this, anyway.”

He moved close enough to see her eyes in the dark. “You’re still worried.”

“Fisher was hiding something. I wish I could’ve read him, but –“

“Nothing we can do about it now, except be warned.” He looked at Jayne. “Pack everything back up. We’ve been paid, so we’d best be going. We can take another look in better light on Serenity, but …” He closed his eyes for a moment, centring himself. “Let’s just get the job done, dong mah?”

“Yes, sir,” Zoe said, feeling an itch on the back of her neck like she was in someone’s crosshairs.


It was going to take the best part of a fortnight to get to Ithaca, almost at the furthest point of its orbit from Persephone, especially keeping out of the way of Alliance patrols as they were, and life settled back down to pretty much normal. They’d gone through the crates with a fine tooth comb, but they were what they appeared to be, and everyone began to relax.

Freya held lessons every morning, and in the afternoon she and River spent an hour or two in the engine room with Kaylee, being reminded how everything worked. Not that River forgot, but after four days of training she fully admitted that while she understood the principle of it all, and could take it apart and put it back together with only one or two items left over, she couldn’t hear Serenity.

Bethie, sitting on the step, put her head to one side. “But it’s easy,” she said, her small hands clasped between her knees. “Momma, there’s a squeak.”

Kaylee looked at her eldest. “Where, honey?”

The little girl stood up and scampered inside, standing well back from any moving parts, but pointing under the spinning heart. “There.”

“You sure?”


Both Freya and River tried to hear it, but to them there was nothing but the usual sounds of metal turning against metal, keeping the Firefly going. They exchanged a glance.

Kaylee listened. “You’re right,” she said, pushing the trolley into place before starting to lower herself down onto it.

“Whoa, there,” Mal said from the doorway. “You ain't supposed to be doing that.”

She looked over at him. “I’m shiny, Cap.”

“I know that. But that’s what they’re here for.” He nodded towards his wife and surrogate daughter. “You’re supposed to be showing them.”

“But it’ll take less time to do it than to tell ‘em where it is,” Kaylee protested.

“And then it’ll be done and they won’t have learned anything.”

She glared at him, but it was a bit like being threatened by a sweet, pregnant teddy bear.

“He’s right,” Freya put in, her mouth quirked up. “If we don’t practice, what happens when you’re in the middle of labour and something breaks?”

“Nothing’s gonna break!” She was now indignant.

“And you can swear to that, can you?” Mal asked.

“I’ll help them, Momma,” Bethie said, taking her mother’s hand. “I’ll tell them where it hurts, then they can fix it.”

Mal smiled. “You do that, short stub.”

The little girl grinned widely at him.

Kaylee exhaled loudly. “Fine. River, you’d better do it. You’ve got smaller hands than Frey. You have to get in under the …”

Mal watched for a moment longer, then turned and headed back to the galley.

Freya, half her mind still on what Kaylee was saying, found herself drifting to him. He was pretending very well, but that’s all it was. When the others were around he was his normal self, a bit grumpy maybe, but reminding Jayne not to tell off colour jokes at the dinner table when the kids were around, or sitting up on the bridge, talking over the best route with Hank. But when he was alone, when there was nobody he needed to protect, he let the weariness show in his face and body.

Simon might not have seen it, but he knew Mal had to be putting up walls, mainly because he hadn’t been able to clear the infection from his captain’s blood.

That night, as they prepared for bed, Simon shared his misgivings with Kaylee.

“You sure?” his wife asked, kicking her sandals into the corner.

“I tested his blood again today, and I might as well have been injecting him with coloured water.” He pulled off his sweater and laid it on the chair.

“And you checked ‘em? I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve bought something and it turned out to be fake.”

“No, they’re fine. And they should have done the trick.” He watched her strip out of her clothes, his mind half on the sight of her naked and oddly erotic pregnant body appearing, and half on the problem of their captain. “I'm beginning to wonder if … well, if I'm just not seeing something really obvious. Something specifically physical.”

“Can’t you tell?”

“No. At least, not at the moment. My scanners aren’t designed for this sort of speculative work, and I don’t really know what I'm looking for.”

“He hasn’t told you how he feels?”

“No. I can hardly make him step into the infirmary to give blood, let alone anything more. And I don’t have the tests I need to check anything deeper.”

She crossed the small room and put her arms around him. “Maybe you can pick something up someplace?”

“Maybe. I wish I’d had the chance to do something more than just get food supplies at Eavesdown, but Mal was adamant about us not wasting time.”

“Wouldn’t’ve been wasting it, if he’d known.”

He pulled her closer. “Too late to worry about that right now, though.”

“Can I help with the scanner? Maybe me and River, we can think of a way of boosting it, make it like one of those holoimagers like they had on Ariel.”

He smiled slightly. “I wish you could, but I think that would be a miracle.”

“We can take a look. You never know.”

“Thank you, bao bei.”

“You don’t need to do that. We’re talkin’ about the Cap here, and none of us wants to see him sick.” She shook her head. “And I know what you mean. When he thinks you ain’t looking, you can see it in his face.”

“Freya’s trying to keep an eye on him, but …”

“Yeah.” For a moment Kaylee stood silently, her fingertips just stroking the centre of Simon’s breast bone. “Pity there ain’t anything like that in those crates we’re hauling. I'm sure they wouldn’t’ve mind if you borrowed it.”

“No. But it’s just supplies and small blood machines. Nothing like as complicated as a scanner.”



There was another comfortable, husband and wife pause, then Kaylee said slowly, “You know, maybe there’s something you might be able to use among that stuff we left in the Arachnids.”


“Those crates we were supposed to deliver. I mean, the Cap was right about them being too hot to fence right away, but maybe there’s something like the scanner you want out there.”

He looked down into her face in surprise. “That’s …”

“A good idea?” she finished for him.

“Yes. A very good idea. I’ll talk to Mal about it in the morning. Perhaps we can swing by.”

“Prob’ly be on the way back. I don’t think Hank’s got us going anywhere close to Hera at the moment.”

He could help it. He chuckled. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

She grinned. “’Cause you might be top three percent, but you’ve got a ways to go before you can be as sneaky as me.”

“You think so, do you?”

“I do.”

“We’ll have to see about that.” His hands were suddenly at her waist, ticking her sensitive spots, and she was wriggling, trying to get away from him even as her laughter took all her strength.


In the galley, Mal was sitting nursing a cup of coffee, staring off into nowhere in particular. Freya watched him for a moment, then stepped down, moving quietly around him to sit in her normal place. She reached out and picked up his mug, taking a mouthful and swirling it around her mouth before swallowing.

“That’s mine,” Mal complained gently.

“Community property.”

His lips twitched. “That right.”

“It surely is.” She examined his face, noting the lines that hadn’t been there a week or two before. “Ethan wants to know if we’re fighting.” At Mal’s surprised look, she went on, “He doesn’t like it when we fight. It makes him feel … wrong.”

“Did you tell him we weren’t?”

“I'm not sure he believes me.”

“Why not? Why does he think we’re fighting?”

“Because you haven’t come to bed for long enough to get a decent night’s sleep in four days.”

“I'm not tired.”


He gazed at her. “Then … maybe I don’t want to waste the time I've got left.”

“Okay, now we’re fighting.” She glared at him, feeling the anger burning in her belly. “I won’t have you talking like that, Mal.”

“I'm being realistic. Simon doesn’t know what this is –“

“Because you won’t give him long enough to find out!” Her voice rang from the superstructure, and she had to take a deep breath and make a conscious effort to calm down. “Mal, you have to let him do his job.”

“What if I don’t like what he finds?” Mal pushed the mug away across the table, some of the coffee slopping out onto the worn surface. “What then?”

“And not knowing is going to make it go away?”

He grasped his hands together, almost in prayer. “I ain't never been sick, Frey. Not like this. Not since I was ten. I've been shot, stabbed, all of that, even had various bugs, measles … but nothing Simon couldn’t figure out. And I can’t even pinpoint it myself.”

She put her hands on top of his. “It’s okay to be afraid.”

“Didn’t say I was.”

“I am. Afraid that it’s something Simon can fix really easily, but because you won’t let him it gets worse.” She looked into his eyes, their blueness clouded, and that more than anything ate at her. “Please.”

“Frey …”

She’d had enough. “Tomorrow you’re going see Simon. And he’d going to do every test that he’s ever heard of, and some that he hasn’t, and you won’t leave that infirmary until he knows what’s wrong and makes you better.”

“What if he can’t?”

Those four words seemed to suck all the air out of the room, and she had to make a conscious decision to breathe. His attitude scared her. Mal didn’t give up. He never gave up. He’d fought a war which he’d lost, yet he hadn’t stopped fighting. He was always still flying, only it looked like he thought he was about to crash and burn. If this had brought him so low that he honestly believed … No. Don’t give it a shape. Don’t even entertain the possibility. It wasn’t going to happen.

She put on her brave face. “He will. He’s smart. Gifted. He said so himself.” A small tilt to his mouth gave her encouragement. “He worked out about my hip, didn’t he? And he’s saved our lives so often I’ve lost count.” She licked her lips. “Mal, I’m not letting anything happen to you. If he can’t do it, then we’ll find somewhere that can. Hell, we’ll talk to Sam. He’ll have contacts in some of the best hospitals in the Core. We’ll find someone.”

“Don’t you go suggesting around Kaylee that Simon ain’t up to the job,” Mal said. “She’d never forgive you.”

“Then don’t you go thinking it.” She squeezed his hands. “Come on. I want to go to bed, and if you’re not next to me I won’t be able to sleep, and if I can’t get to sleep I get cranky. You know I do. And you really don’t want to be around me when I'm cranky.”

He sat back, and smiled perhaps the first genuine smile for what seemed like days. “Frey, you’re …”

“What? Beautiful? Amazing? Incredibly intelligent?”

“All of those. As well as one of the most nagging women I have ever met.”

“Well, I try harder.” She stood up. “Bed.”

He levered himself to his feet, fighting the dizziness that always seemed to be present. “Okay. But it’ll only be to sleep.”

“Just this once, maybe I’ll let you off.” She looped her arm around his waist, and felt his drop across her shoulders. “You should know by now that I love you.”

“Love you too, Frey. Even when you’re ordering me around.”

They headed for their bunk, and Freya switched the light off as they stepped out of the galley, more determined than ever. This was her Mal, the man she adored with all her heart, and she was going to see him through this, no matter how afraid she was.

to be continued


Thursday, March 5, 2009 4:48 AM


This is getting scary, but at least you are leaving an angst trail to follow with medical supplies. Interesting how fear of the future can make you paralyzed to inaction or angry and ineffective.

Thursday, March 5, 2009 5:47 AM


ok.. chap 1 was good.. chap 2 was gooder.. and chap 3 ... Im hooked..
a little more river would be interesting... Feed me..:)

Thursday, March 5, 2009 10:27 AM


Ummmmm....okay, I'm breathing and trusting and.....calming down knowing she would not kill off our Mal. ;) Great as always.

Thursday, March 5, 2009 10:33 AM


Mal?? My brain is whirring with so many possibilities ... I wonder whats up ..

Thursday, March 5, 2009 3:13 PM


Brilliant chapter but oh my, I am so worried for Mal. It's like he thinks he has a cancer or somesuch but it is scary that Simon doesn't know what is wrong. I am used to him pulling so many metaphorical rabbits out of his medical hat that something like this reminds you of the fear of the unknown. And as for Brant, I'm thinking the job is the hook to get Mal and the crew to that destination. I hope everyone is on the ball and that Jayne takes LOTS of grenades with him in case they have a welcoming party. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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