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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Inara gets out a bottle of fine rice wine, and invites Freya to have a drink. And to talk. NEW CHAPTER (a long one, as it needed the space to develop - and I hope the Russian is correct!)
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2036 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
After the first hour Inara knew she was never going to get her fingernails clean ever again. The manicure Sam had given her – another of his many talents that he’d apparently learned from his late wife – had long been ruined, and the skin on her hands had roughened up, but that wasn’t everything. Bits of rust had found their way into places they had no right to be, and she knew black marks were rubbed into her face and arms. By the time Kaylee said she was done, and the panel popped back on, she was sure the girls she’d taught at House Madrassa would never have recognised this grease monkey.
Kaylee caught her staring at her cuticles. “Don’t you worry none about that,” she said. “I’ve got something that’ll take that crud right off.”
“Maybe I should have worn gloves,” Inara considered.
“Could, but you can’t get a feel of things. And sometimes that’s all she needs, just a hand touching her.” Kaylee suited the word to the deed and stroked the engine housing.
“So who’s going to be doing this when you can’t get to anything at all?”
“Frey. And River. Bethie’s gonna help, tell ‘em where she’s hurting, and they’ll fix it. A’course, I made ‘em promise not to swear in front of her, but somehow I ain’t holding out much hope.”
“Kaylee, I think Bethie probably knows a fair amount of curse words by now.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing. It ain’t. She’s a little girl, and she shouldn’t be increasing that vocabulary.”
“Then I'm sure her two aunts will do their best.” She nudged Kaylee. “Maybe they’ll just think it instead.”
“That won’t help.”
Inara had to smile. “Three Readers, all in the same room, working on the same thing. I doubt that’s happened much anywhere else.”
Kaylee didn’t smile. “Yeah. ‘Cept I think maybe it did.”
“What is it?” Inara put her arm around the younger woman’s shoulders.
“Just something River talked about. After all that business on Hera. Don’t know if she knew I was listening, or didn’t care, but she was talking to the Cap. About others, like Mara. From back in the Academy.”
She felt ice slip down her spine. “Other psychics?”
Kaylee nodded slowly. “Maybe a dozen or so. More, p’raps.”
“Did Mal say he wanted to go after them?”
“Nope. But he woulda told Freya, and I know she’ll have been thinking on it.”
Inara leaned back. “It’s been a few years, Kaylee. It’s possible they aren’t alive any more.”
“I know.” Kaylee sighed heavily, stroking her swollen stomach absently. “But I hate to think of ‘em being locked up someplace, if they ain’t.”
“They might not be locked up,” Inara said thoughtfully. “It’s possible they work for the Alliance.”
Kaylee shrugged. “Maybe. Although if they did it’s a wonder they ain’t found River yet.”
“They might not be as strong.”
“Not sure what I figure’s worse – being prisoners or working for them purplebellies.”
“Do you think Mal’s considering trying to find them?”
“I don’t think so. But if he came across ‘em, knew for sure that they needed rescuing … I ain’t sure what he’d do if’n that happened.”
“He’d be Mal.”
Somehow that seemed to brighten the young woman up. “Yeah, reckon maybe you’re right.”
There was a sound from the doorway, and they both looked around.
“What have you done with Inara?” Sam asked, leaning on the metal frame and crossing his arms. “I’m away for five minutes, and you’ve made her disappear and somehow created this engineer in her place.”
Inara grinned, and held out her hand. He took it, pulling her to her feet then examining the grease that had transferred to his palm.
“Oh, sorry about that,” Inara said, rubbing at it and only making it worse. “It’s probably good for your skin, though.”
“I’m sure it is.” He smiled. “Well, I’ve come to rescue you.”
Inara shook her head. “No. We’ve got work to do.” She glanced down at Kaylee, who was grinning. “I would be derelict in my duty if I didn’t stay and help.”
“I promised. I’m here for as long as Kaylee needs me.”
“That’s very commendable. But I actually meant both of you. Mrs Boden sent me in to tell you in no uncertain terms that an early supper will be served shortly, and if you come to the dinner table in the state that she’s sure you’re in, you’ll be going to bed empty.”
“She said that?” Kaylee asked, struggling to stand.
Sam immediately helped her up. “I’m probably paraphrasing a little. But the gist is right.”
“What time is it?” Inara wanted to know.
“Getting on for five.”
She was shocked. “It can’t be.”
“Time don’t exactly run the same in here as it does everywhere else,” Kaylee explained, shrugging with one shoulder. “I tried to get River to work it out once, but she used a whole load of ten credit words, and finally said I was imagining things. All I know is, I get to working on my girl here, and I don’t know if it’s supper time or Christmas.”
“Well, it’s definitely supper time,” Sam confirmed.
Kaylee’s grin got wider. “Good, ‘cause I’m starved, and at least I don’t have to cook it myself tonight.”
“You have about an hour to clean up,” he added, looking both women up and down.
“An hour?” Inara looked down at herself. “It’s going to take me longer than that. I need a bath at least, and wash my hair, do something about my hands ...”
Kaylee looked wistful. “Relaxing in that big old tub. Sure sounds nice.” She looked at the dirt under her own fingernails.
Inara felt guilty. “You take it, mei-mei,” she insisted. “I’ll use one of the other rooms –“
“No. No, that’s fine.” Kaylee absently ran a hand through her somewhat tangled hair. “’Sides, all my stuff’s here. I’ll have a quick shower and be right over. But maybe I can take a long soak another day.”
Inara smiled and hugged the younger woman. “Of course. You tell me when, and I’ll make sure there’s plenty of soft towels and some bubble bath.”
As Inara and Sam walked out through the cargo bay doors, the ex-Companion’s stomach rumbled.
“Did you eat anything?” Sam asked, hooking his arm through hers, and ignoring the way she tried to pull loose so she wouldn’t stain his clothes.
“Kaylee got us a couple of protein bars at some point, while I was half inside some piece of equipment or other that I have no idea the name of, but apart from that ... no.” Her belly growled again, and she laid her hand on it. “You know, this is so unladylike.”
“I don’t mind,” Sam said, smiling. “It’s nice to see you being something else for a change.”
“As opposed to what?”
“You always look so ... put together. Even when we’re relaxing, you’re still Inara. But this ...” He indicated her body from head to foot with a wave of his hand. “... this is new. And I rather like it.”
“All greasy and sweaty.”
“Maybe there’s really two of me,” Inara said playfully. “The one who wears the silk and satin, and the other who has a ponytail.” She swung her head, making her own hair flick into his face.
“And I’m in love with both of them.”
He said it so naturally, so unforced, that for a moment she couldn’t breathe. Finally she just said, “Thank you.”
He smiled and pulled her closer, kissing the tip of her grease smudged nose. “You’re welcome,” he whispered softly as they carried on towards the house.
Up ahead she could see the children were clustered around something, or someone, but it took another moment or two to realise just what. “Is that Mal?” she asked.
Serenity’s captain was sitting in one of the armchairs from the yellow drawing room, a blanket around his knees, another around his shoulders, and he was holding court. That was the only description that fitted.
All of the children, including the Reilly twins, were sitting at his feet, apparently enthralled by whatever he was telling them, while Simon stood to one side, his arms crossed, an indulgent expression on his face. A little further off, under the trees, Hank and Zoe were standing together, leaning against each other, looking better than they had done since they arrived.
Only Freya looked at all concerned, standing behind her husband, watching his every move.
He looked up at their approach. “Hey, there, ‘Nara. Thought you’d got sucked into the intake, the time you’ve been.”
“What’s all this?” she asked, looking from one adult to the other. “I thought Mal was supposed to be an invalid.”
Simon moved forward. “Special medical dispensation,” he explained.
“He threatened you?”
“I was bored,” Mal said. “Lying in there, hearing everyone else having fun. So I decided to get me a suntan.” He glanced up into the sky, at the golden orb making its leisurely way down towards the horizon. “I have to admit, I think it’s done me a power of good.”
“Yes, but you don’t want to get chilled.” Freya pulled the blanket firmer around his shoulders.
“I’m fine, Frey,” he assured her. “It ain’t cold.”
“No, but –“
“And I haven’t finished tellin’ the kids here tales of when we were young and incredibly pretty yet.”
Out of the corner of her eye Inara saw Zoe roll hers, and Hank grinned.
“That’s ancient history, Mal,” Inara pointed out.
“No, it’s fun, Auntie ‘Nara!” Bethie looked up. “I didn’t know you once put on a belly dance outfit to help with a heist.”
It was Simon’s turn to look pained at the way his eldest daughter used words like ‘heist’ quite so easily.
“Yes, well, it was an emergency,” Inara said quickly. “As someone who shall be nameless was locked up in the jail and needed a diversion.”
Mal coughed quickly. “Permaybehaps that ain’t quite the tale for young ears.”
“And I thought you kept that outfit for me,” Sam said, making the children laugh.
“I do. Now.” Inara smiled at him, and the others were delighted to see a faint blush grace the good doctor’s cheeks.
“And I think we’d better all go inside,” Freya said. “Before it gets dark.”
“There’s plenty of time before that, xin gan.” Mal looked over his shoulder at her, feeling the stitches in his chest tug a little. “In fact, I was thinking perhaps we could eat out here. Been a while since we did that.”
Freya shook her head. “No, I don’t –“
“I think it’s a great idea,” Hank put in. “I’m sure me and Mr Boden can rig up some kinda table out here, big enough for all of us.”
“What’re we talking about?” Jayne boomed from under the trees as he and River came towards them, swinging the empty picnic basket from one big hand.
“Daddy!” Caleb said, holding out his arms to be picked up.
“Hey, there, big feller,” his father said, lifting him easily onto his hip. “You gonna tell me what’s going on?”
His son just pulled at his goatee as usual.
“We were considering eating outside,” Hank explained.
“Good idea. I’ll help.”
“No, wait, I –“ Freya tried to say, but was drowned by the children all letting everyone else know they thought it was a good idea too.
River pulled a piece of dry grass from her hair. “I’ll go and tell Mrs Boden,” she said, and walked silently towards the front door, chewing the end of the stalk.
“I gather you had a good day,” Simon said, watching his sister with amused affection.
“Could say that,” Jayne agreed, grinning.
“And the ... the reason you went out there?” Simon glanced down at the children.
“Done. Not a drop of blood spilled either.”
“You can say that again.” He chuckled and winked at the younger man.
“How’s Kaylee?” Simon asked, turning to Inara and not wanting to really get any details of his sister’s sex life, no matter how much of a professional doctor he was.
“Taking a shower.” She glanced down at her hands. “And I have to get cleaned up as well.” She looked at the big ex-mercenary. “Jayne, would you go and talk to Mr Boden about a table? I’m sure there’s something we could use without dragging the one out of the dining room.”
“Sure thing, ‘Nara.”
Inara walked up to Mal. “And don’t get the children too excited or they won’t sleep tonight.”
“And there I was about to recount the tale of a certain ball, and you coming to my room that night, scantily dressed if I recall.”
“You do and it’s the last you’ll ever tell,” Inara threatened with a smile.
“And me a sick man, too.”
“Not that sick.”
He grinned at her. “Okay. Then I’ll regale ‘em with the one about the boa constrictor. What did you call him?”
She decided not to encourage him. Instead she sighed heavily and headed towards the house, passing Freya close enough to hear her muttering something under her breath about nobody listening to her at all.
One bath and a whole tub of body lotion later, Inara felt a little more like herself, although she was coming to the conclusion that there was more than just one of her. Perhaps this was what Freya felt like all the time. Woman. Wife. Mother. Fighter. Psychic. And possibly schizophrenic.
She smiled, lifting her heavy hair up into a roll at the nape of her neck so it could dry without having it dripping down her back. She glanced at her nails again, and sighed. They would have to wait, but perhaps she could get Sam to work on them before bed.
Standing up, she smoothed the gold and black sari down over her hips, then opened her door.
Freya was outside, her hand up to knock. “Inara.”
“I ... food’s ready.”
“Good. I'm hungry. It must be working on Serenity’s engine. No wonder Kaylee likes her food.”
“Must be.” Freya smiled and backed up, heading for the stairs, then had to stop. Inara had her hand on her arm.
“You know, actually, what I need most is a drink.”
Freya’s eyebrows raised. “Well, I’m sure Mrs Boden can find something in the cellar.”
“Not that kind of drink. Something stronger.”
“They’re waiting dinner on us.”
“Then they can wait a little longer.” She pulled her friend back towards her room. “Come on.”
“’Nara, not that I'm not grateful for the offer, and flattered, but I’m honestly not that way inclined.”
It was a bad joke but Inara still smiled. “Don’t worry. I'm not attempting to seduce you. I just think perhaps you need a friend.”
Freya jerked her arm away. “No offence, but I’ve got friends. Lots of them. Including you.”
“Ah, but do any of them have a particularly good rice wine? Aged in oak for fifteen years? Moreover, from the Chi Loh valley on Sihnon?”
Freya paused. “Chi Loh?”
“Aged fifteen years?”
“And another fifteen in the bottle. It’s so smooth it’s like drinking sunshine.”
Freya glanced back towards the stairwell. “But Mal might need me.”
“He has everyone else fluttering around him, including Val and Phoebe who can’t seem to do anything at the moment except answer his every whim.”
“It’s because he’s said they can go on that cruise.”
“I know.” Inara smiled. “And I have an idea you had more to do with him changing his mind than anyone else.”
“So I'm sure he won’t mind you taking out a few minutes to be with an old friend. To be with me.” She looked up and down the hall as if someone might be eavesdropping. “Besides, I’d like to chat properly too.”
“You’ve got Sam.”
“And believe me, I talk to him all the time. But sometimes … you know how it is. You want a woman to talk to. Someone who understands. Who has the same physical parts.”
“Inara, I said I wasn’t interested.”
“I didn’t mean that.” She tugged her inside her room. “But it’s easier to talk to someone of the same sex on occasion.”
“Well, yes, but –“
“Drink. Just one. Please?”
“Where the hell are they?” Mal asked, glaring at the front door as if swearing at it might make them appear. “She only went up to tell ‘Nara the food was ready.”
“They’ll be a little while,” River said knowingly.
“What?” Mal stared at her, then turned his gaze on Sam. “Is Inara trying to seduce my wife?”
Jayne’s ears perked up and he leered a grin, but subsided after someone’s delicate foot connected with his shin.
“I have no idea,” Sam admitted, both hands up.
“I do. And no, she isn‘t,” River explained. “But she needs to talk.”
Mal was perplexed. “’Nara?”
River shook her head. “Freya.”
“Wow, that is good.” Freya looked into the small cup as Inara refilled it, feeling instant warmth spread through her from her belly outward.
“Told you.” Inara smiled. She lifted her own. “Cheers.”
“No, you said just the one.”
“Then just the one more.” Inara leaned forward. “And a toast. To everyone surviving.”
Freya stared at her, then nodded. “To surviving.”
They clicked cups.
“So we’ve been looking at different cruises,” Phoebe was saying, cutting up a slice of meat for Jesse into bite-sized pieces. “And there’s one that goes to Osiris, Londinium, then on to Sihnon for the festival, then to Ariel and Albion –“
“Yeah, well, get the information to me and we can take a look,” Mal said, half his attention on her and half on the women up in the house.
“It’s the SS Gideon,” Phoebe went on, as if he hadn’t spoken. “They have all sorts of other activities on board and …” She really could talk for Lazarus if left unchecked, but this time nobody stopped her. They were all too busy tucking into Mrs Boden’s fine food, letting her idle chatter flow easily over them.
Only River wasn’t eating, instead watching Mal. Finally she moved next to him, leaning on his leg. “It’s necessary,” she murmured, loud enough for only him to hear.
“Why, albatross?” he asked. “Is it something I need to be worried about?”
“No. Not really.”
He looked at her sharply. “Why ain’t she talking to me, then?”
“Because she needs a woman’s ear. And you’re the problem.”
“Why are you angry at Mal?”
Inara filled the cups again and asked, “Are you sure?”
Freya glared at her, then sagged back into the armchair. “Oh, ‘Nara. I’m not angry at him. Not really.”
“You’re giving a pretty good impression of it.”
“Well, actually, you know, maybe I should be. Do you know what he did today? He got up. He got up out of bed, walked to the window so he could watch the kids. He could have fallen, tripped … hell, he could have fainted. And then what would have happened? I wasn’t there, no-one was. He was alone. He could have ripped those damn stitches out of his chest and I wouldn’t have been able to stop it.” She swallowed the cup of rice wine, not even feeling the smooth alcohol slide down her throat. “I couldn’t stop it, Inara. I couldn’t stop him. Niska. I couldn’t stop him from doing that, from using that … that stuff on him.”
“No-one blames you, Frey,” Inara assured her.
“I blame me! I didn’t see what it did. I didn’t make Mal go to see Simon. I did nothing.” Her head dropped.
“I should have been able to … I'm a Reader, Inara! What good’s that if I can’t stop … but I didn’t see. I could have lost him. I could have lost both of them.” She looked up, her eyes brimming. “Mal and … and Ethan.”
“I don’t understand, xaio nu.” Mal leaned forwards, the stitches in his chest tugging right above his heart.
“She’s afraid.” River wasn’t looking at him, her eyes on Jayne as he fed Caleb on his knee.
“Of what?” Trouble was, he had a pretty good idea.
River nodded slowly.
“That EMP pulse … I was so scared it had damaged Ethan’s pacemaker. Then I felt him, in my mind, and I knew he was all right, at least for that moment. But Mal was …” She stopped and gulped the remaining wine in the small cup, seeing Simon in her mind‘s eye, his hand deep in Mal‘s chest. “I would have killed Boone.”
“Only because someone else got to him first.”
“It still means you don’t have his blood on your hands.”
“It’s just … it’s just …” Freya shook her head, trying to clear the fuzziness.
It was as if Inara hadn’t spoken. “It’s just I … I nearly lost him. I nearly lost him, Inara.” Tears began to run down her cheeks.
“Frey, he’s downstairs.”
“I mean, a bullet I could’ve stepped in front of. But this …”
“And if you had taken a bullet for him? How do you think he’d feel?” Inara poured another helping each of her truly excellent rice wine, her hand only slightly unsteady.
“At least he wouldn’t have had to have his chest opened!”
“No, true. But I imagine it would feel like he had. If you got hurt instead of him.”
“But I didn’t. And now he’s down there acting like a big kid!”
Inara’s eyebrows almost disappeared into her hair. “What?”
“He wanted to go outside to play!” Freya used the cup for emphasis, then realised she’d splashed some liquid onto her hand, and leaned forward to lick it up, reminding Inara of Maoli in the way her tongue lapped at the wine on her skin.
“Then he’s feeling better.”
“He might have fallen!” she repeated, going back to her original objection.
“And Simon would have patched him up again.”
Freya glared at her friend. “That’s not the point.”
“So what is?”
“He shouldn’t … he cheated death, Inara. He should be being more … more …” She reached for the word. “Sober,” she finished finally. “He should be more sober.”
“You mean, more adult about it.”
“Yes!” Freya waved the cup again. “That’s it exactly!”
Inara shook her head. It was just like Sam had said. “Frey, he’s glad to be alive. He’s ecstatic that the hwoon dahn didn’t manage to kill him even by proxy, that he’s going to live to see Ethan grow to be a man, Jesse to a beautiful young woman, you into … whatever it is you’re going to grow into.” She sipped from her own cup. “Be happy for him.”
“I am!” But Freya’s face had fallen. “Is that what it is? Aren’t I happy for him? Don’t I want him to be …” She stared, then let the cup tumble from her hands and covered her face.
Inara moved quickly and gathered her into her arms, letting her cry it out, something she suspected she hadn’t done properly since Mal collapsed. What she’d said about being able to step in front of a bullet was right. Any one of the crew would have done the same, but none of them were desperately in love with the captain.
“So she thinks … what? That I should be sitting around worrying ‘bout something that didn’t happen?”
“No. She’s done enough of that for both of you.”
“Just be there for her. Understand.”
“River, I try. God knows, I love her, and even if I don‘t achieve it often, I do try.”
“Then that’s enough.” She turned to look up at him, a wide smile lighting her face.
Freya wiped her cheeks with the lace-edged handkerchief Inara had found in her dressing table drawer, then sniffed. “Sorry,” she said, somewhat ashamed of herself.
“Why?” Inara, still standing, put her head onto one side, looking down at her.
“Making a fuss.” Freya hiccupped half a laugh and pointed to the damp patch on the carpet next to her cup. “Making a mess.”
“I don’t care about that. I care about you.” Taking a fresh cup from the tray, she poured another measure of rice wine. “Here.”
“Not sure I should.”
“I think you need it.” Handing it over, she retreated to the bed and sat down, picking her own up. “To us, Frey.”
“Okay. To us.”
They drank, the smooth wine taking the last taste of tears from both of them. As she finished her drink, Freya laid her head back on the armchair and stared up into the ceiling.
“What are you thinking about?” Inara asked.
“Do you ever think about anything else?”
Freya giggled, a sound that hardly ever came from her, and probably wouldn‘t have now if she wasn‘t well on the way to being drunk. “Honestly?”
“No. Don’t bother answering.”
“I was just … I've been stupid, haven’t I?”
“No. Not stupid. Normal.”
“Okay, I admit those two words don’t usually go together, but … Frey, you love Mal. He nearly died. I think how you’ve been feeling is … well, normal.” She leaned forward, rolling her empty cup between her hands. “But he’s going to be fine.”
“I know.” Freya looked over, and wondered why there seemed to be two women sitting on the bed. “But he keeps doing this. Getting hurt.”
“Then you don’t have a choice. You’re going to have to leave him.”
Freya stared at her, then burst into full-bellied laughter. Inara grinned.
“Don’t you think someone should go and see if they’re okay?” Hank asked, easing the waistband on his somewhat tight pants and looking up at the top windows of the house. Mr Boden had lit the lamps outside the front door, and above them the stars were starting to show in the darkening sky.
“I'm sure they’re fine,” Kaylee said, leaning against Simon and wondering if it was possible to die from overeating.
“And Mrs Boden’s sure to have put something aside for them,” Zoe added.
“Mama’s singing,” Ethan said indistinctly around a mouthful of cake.
“Singing?” his father asked, one eyebrow raising. “Singing what?”
“What are you singing?” Inara asked, looking at the empty bottle and wondering how they’d managed to get through its entire contents.
“Singing. You were singing.”
“Don’t think so.”
“Oh yes you were.”
Freya narrowed her eyes, thinking back. “I don’t remember …”
“Something in Russian, I think.”
“Oh.” She looked beyond her friend, to the painting on the wall above the fireplace. “Oh, yes. I think I was.” She pointed, her hand wavering. “That just … it reminded me of my grandmother, on my father‘s side.”
Inara peered at the picture, something that seemed to be quite difficult as her focus was somewhat erratic, but she nodded. It was one of her favourites, of a young woman sitting on a grassy bank surrounded by flowering trees. She liked it because it made her think of when she was young, and a particular place near her home. “Did she look like that?”
“I think so. When she was a girl.”
“And the song?”
“It’s called Katyusha.” Freya smiled. “That was her name. Everyone called her Katya, but that was her proper name.”
“What’s it about?”
“A young woman, thinking about the man she loves, who’s off in a far place defending his home.”
“Sing it for me.”
Freya shook her head several times, then wondered why the room kept moving even when she stopped. “No. I can’t sing.”
“Of course you can. You were just doing it.”
“Of course you can.” Inara stood up, unsteady on her feet. “And I’ve got another bottle of wine that says you will.” She went to the small cabinet in the corner, bending down to open the door.
“You know, I think we’ve had enough.”
Inara looked round, wondering if she was going to be able to stand up again. “Not until you sing for me.”
“It’s just a silly folk song.”
Grasping the bottle by the neck, she levered herself straight. “Please?”
Freya sighed. “All right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She sat up a little, coughed to clear her throat, then began to sing, her voice surprisingly on key and warm. “Rastsvetali yabloni i grushi, poplyli tumani nad rekoi, vykhadyila na byereg Katyusha, na vysoki byereg, na krutoi.”
Outside in the garden, everyone sat and listened.
“That Frey?” Jayne asked.
River nodded, translating loosely, “Apple trees and pears trees were in flower, and the mist was rising across the river when Katyusha went down to the steep, high banks.”
“You understand her?” Simon looked at his sister.
She touched her temple with her finger, and went on, “While she walked she sang a song about a grey eagle of the steppe, the man she loved, whose letters she held in her hand.”
Each couple moved closer to their partner, while the children clustered together, listening to the two Readers. Mal half-closed his eyes, feeling his wife clearly in his mind as she sang.
“…Otsvetali yabloni i grushi, uplyli tumani nad rekoi, ukhadyila z byerega Katyusha, unasyila pyesen’ku damoi.” Freya finished, and there was silence in the room for a long moment.
“That was beautiful,” Inara breathed.
Freya swallowed, determined not to cry again. “When my grandmother taught it to me, she told me it was special to her, not only because it was the first song her own nana taught her, but because she once had a ‘grey eagle’ all of her own, a young man who wrote her love letters and left them under her pillow.” She smiled. “I never did ask how he got into her room to leave them. Maybe I should have.”
“Did she get to be with him?” Inara asked.
“No. Her father, my great-grandfather, didn’t approve, and banished him from the estate. She was forbidden from seeing him again, and they married her off to a wealthy man on Londinium.”
“Mmn. I mean, she grew to love him eventually, but never the same as she felt for her ‘grey eagle’.”
“So she became Katya Rostov,” Inara said.
“Oh, no,” Freya corrected, waving her finger. “She was already that.”
Inara’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”
“In my family, it’s the name that’s important. The continuation of the line. It doesn’t matter who marries in, man or woman, they have to become Rostovs.”
Inara gawped. “So Mal is really Malcolm Rostov?”
“Absolutely.” Freya nodded firmly. “But if I ever insist on that particular tradition at least he won’t have to change the monogram on his underwear.”
“Excuse me?” Inara peered at her. “Monogrammed underwear? He hasn’t, not really. Has he?”
“I never did show you what I got him for his birthday, did I?”
Inara dissolved into laughter. “Oh, I wish you had!”
Freya glowed with mischief. “Doesn’t Sam have his name on his underwear? Just in case when he wakes up in the middle of the night he forgets who he is?”
“No! Sam never forgets.” Inara pulled herself together. “So, did your grandmother teach you any other songs?”
“Lots. Happy ones, sad ones …” Freya smiled. “She used to sing them with such gusto and a tear in her eye that my father would look embarrassed and hope the neighbours couldn’t hear.”
“She sounds like quite a woman.”
“She was.” The smile turned wistful. “I miss her a lot.”
Inara looked at her friend, the alcoholic switchback threatening to head downhill. “Teach me something,” she said, pulling the cork from the fresh bottle and inhaling the perfume that whispered out. She managed to pour the clear liquid mostly into the cup in Freya’s hand, only spilling a little onto the carpet.
“What, in Russian?”
Freya chugged back the wine. “What do you want to learn?”
The voices had changed, becoming less ladylike and more raucous.
Zoe listened for a moment, then looked at River. “Do we want to know what they’re singing?”
The young psychic shook her head, a delicate shade of pink just tracing her cheekbones. “No.”
Mal couldn’t help smiling. “Just be glad Frey ain’t singing any of the ones she learned from when she crewed on that Lancaster. She taught us some during the war. Even I hadn’t heard of a few of ‘em.”
“Me neither, sir,” Zoe agreed. “And growing up on a freighter …”
“Maybe we should go join in,” Jayne suggested. “I know a few myself’d turn your hair grey.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need your help,” Mal said.
Bethie concentrated, then made a face filled with disgust as she picked up for herself what the latest ditty was about. “Yuck,” she said, and everyone laughed.
Simon stood up. “I think perhaps I’d better get something for them both from Serenity’s infirmary,” he said. “Otherwise they’ll be fit for nothing tomorrow.”
“I kinda think that’s gonna be their own fault,” Mal pointed out.
“Still, better safe than sorry.” Simon stretched a little. “But we should be getting you back inside before then. It’s getting somewhat chilly out here.”
“I’m fine, doc.”
“Exactly. I’m still the doctor, and you’re still my patient.” He looked at the other men. “If you wouldn’t mind assisting.”
Hank and Jayne got up, and the pilot grinned. “What was it they used to use, back in the day, to carry folks around?”
“Sedan chair,” River supplied, her eyes half closed, still listening to the songs drifting down.
“That’s it.” Hank chuckled. “Got your very own sedan chair here.”
“It’s undignified,” Mal said.
“Sure. But you should enjoy it while you can. Just pretend like you‘re royalty.” Hank looked at Jayne. “Ready?”
“Ready,” the big man said, nodding, and between them they lifted Mal’s chair, carrying him steadily towards the house, Simon at the back giving extra support and a steadying hand.
As they reached the front door a particularly dirty laugh filtered through the open window, and none of them were quite sure which woman it came from.
“Better make it a strong dose, Simon,” Mal said over his shoulder, smiling nevertheless. “I think they’re gonna need it.”
to be concluded
Friday, April 10, 2009 5:18 PM
Friday, April 10, 2009 5:53 PM
Saturday, April 11, 2009 4:34 AM
Saturday, April 11, 2009 11:51 AM
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