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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Mal asks Leo Gunn for his help, and Hank shows Zoe how much he loves her. Fluff warning. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1739 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
It was already dark as Mal, Kaylee and Zoe walked the short distance to the scrapyard.
“He won’t be there,” Serenity’s first mate said. “Do you know what the local time is?”
“Trying to get out of it?” Mal asked in turn, his lips curved.
“Zo, this is me. You’re wanting to do this about as much as I want to be an Alliance Fed.”
She glared at him, but her expression was lost in the gloom. “As you – and everyone else – has pointed out, I don’t have a choice.”
“You know,” Kaylee put in, “I wouldn’t’a minded doing it.” At Mal’s look, she went on quickly, “Oh, I know I can’t. But I’d’v’e stood up for women’s rights, same as men’s. Back on Phoros, men and women are equals. Just ‘cause my Ma stayed at home and brought us all up wasn't ‘cause it was expected. She could’ve gone into the factories, or whatever else was on offer, even if it was something that ain't traditionally women’s work.”
“I can’t see your mother as a gunhand,” Mal said, then winced dramatically as his mechanic thumped him on the arm.
She knew she hadn’t hurt him, and grinned. “If she’d wanted to be, she could’ve. Her choice.”
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Zoe said, her voice low, thinking carefully before speaking. “Choice. That’s what freedom comes down to.”
Mal nodded. This was a conversation he’d had before with his oldest and best friend, and probably one they’d have again in the future. “Choice. Whether to say yes or no. Do or don’t. Become part of the Alliance or stay Independent.”
“Fought a war on those principles, sir.”
“Live or die.”
“Or keep flying.”
Kaylee stopped walking, and it was a moment before the other two noticed. They paused, turning back to look at her.
“What?” Mal asked.
“You’re enough to make a woman wanna take up arms, you know that? And not to kill purplebellies,” she added. “Whenever you get around to talking like this, I end up depressed.”
“You?” Mal couldn’t help smiling. “Depressed?”
“Me.” She crossed her arms over her swollen belly. “I know I got hormones, and they make me all kindsa … uppity, but can’t you for once not talk about the war like it’s still going on? It ain’t. It’s over. And the both of you’ve got loving spouses back on Serenity, and kids, and … it might’ve been hard getting here, but would either of you wanna be somewhere else?”
“Is she mad at us, Zoe?” Mal asked.
“I think she is, sir.”
“Not mad,” Kaylee said firmly. “Just … depressed.”
“And uppity,” Mal added. “Don’t forget uppity.”
“It’s kinda like being threatened by a teddy bear,” Zoe said thoughtfully. “You know, you just ain't expecting any such thing.”
“Not threatening. Just saying.” Kaylee was now tapping her foot. “Well?”
“Well … what?” Mal asked.
“Ain't you gonna answer?”
Mal walked back to her. “Mei-mei, I didn’t rightly know there was a question in there.”
She sighed heavily. “Given what you’ve got now, would you want to go back, change things, and have it turn out different?”
“You mean no war, no Serenity Valley, no –”
Kaylee interrupted. “No Freya. No Ethan or Jesse.”
He looked into her eyes, unable to make out their hazel tones, but knowing she was perfectly serious. “Kaylee, I’d give almost anything not to have gone through that, and what came after.” He held up a hand to forestall her next words. “I said almost. There ain't no way in hell I’m giving up my family. All of ‘em, and that includes you. But to even think about losing Frey, Ethan and Jesse? Nope. If you tied me up and said I had to go live it all over again, just so’s I could keep ‘em, I’d hold out my hands for my gun and tell you to go ahead. I’d walk into hell for ‘em, and not complain.”
“No, sir?” Zoe asked softly, smiling behind him.
“Okay, maybe I’d complain a little. But I’d still go. And you know that.”
Kaylee looked shamefaced. “I know. I'm sorry.”
He couldn’t help it. He smiled and pulled her into his arms, as much as he could with her pregnancy in the way. “Don’t be. You’re right. Me and Zoe, maybe we do think on it a trifle much, and we need to be reminded of what we’ve got.” He looked across. “Right, Zoe?”
“Right, sir. On pretty much every point.”
“What ain’t I right on?”
“Mainly the complaining part.”
“You can be replaced.”
“I think we’ve had this conversation before, sir, and you know I can’t.”
He chuckled. “See, Kaylee,” he said, looking down at her. “Even my old friend here likes to have a go at me. So you’re in good company.”
The young mechanic bridled. “I wasn’t –”
“Kaylee. I know.” He squeezed her gently. “And you’re the bright sun in our forever night, so you just keep pointing things out to us.”
“Forever night, sir?” Zoe raised an eyebrow.
“Just being poetical.”
“I like it,” Kaylee said, standing up for her captain no matter what. “Forever night. Sounds like something River might say.”
He feigned horror. “Now that’s just mean.”
“Sir? Leo Gunn?” Zoe prodded.
“Yep, quite right.” Mal let go of Kaylee. “Ladies. After you.”
“Why, thank you, kind sir,” Kaylee said, still giggling.
It wasn't much more than a couple of minutes, and they were standing outside the scrapyard.
“Not here,” Zoe said. “Like I said.” She tried the padlock again, but it was still firmly secured.
“Wait a sec.” Kaylee had spied something on the ground, and was trying to reach down to get it.
“No you don’t,” Mal said, dropping to his heels. “I’ll get it.” He lifted up a board, reading the words inked on it before smiling. “Well, ain't that nice? He’s told us where he’ll be.” He turned it around so they could see, just making out ‘If I ain’t here, I’ve either gone home or I'm at Lacey’s. Head on into town – you can’t miss it.’
“He might be at home,” Zoe pointed out.
“Nah.” Kaylee took the board from Mal and propped it up on the gate post. “I reckon he’s having a drink. He seemed like that type, ‘specially from the smell.” Her nose wrinkled at the memory of body odour and beer.
“Kaylee, I think you’re probably right,” Mal said. “Seems like we’ve got someplace else to get to, doesn’t it?”
Lacey’s turned out to be a bar with a large expanse of what looked like real glass in the window, and seats outside. There were a few couples taking advantage of the warm night air, some with food in front of them, but they could see a lot more people inside.
“Honestly, I'm surprised,” Mal said, taking in the view. “He didn’t sound like the kind of feller who’d frequent this sort of establishment.”
“Too upmarket?” Zoe asked.
“A little.” The banner hanging from the post next to him snapped in the breeze, and he looked up, his hand automatically going to his hip, reaching for something that wasn’t there.
“I feel naked as well, sir.”
“Yeah.” He chuckled briefly. “Especially considering there are lots of way for a man to die, and they don’t hardly at all involve a knife or a gun.”
Don’t worry, he heard in his mind, Freya’s mental voice wrapping around him like a warm comforter. We’re keeping an eye out.
He smiled. You and my albatross?
Absolutely. And all this while Simon’s cooking.
He got you on fatigues?
For my sins.
You don’t sin, ai ren. Least, not much.
And you don’t complain. Least, not much.
He could feel her laughing.
Zoe peered at him. “Frey?” she asked.
He focused again. “Mmn. How did you know?”
Zoe exchanged an amused look with Kaylee, neither of them wanting to admit they could tell when their captain and his lady were conversing in ways other than words just by the satisfied look on his face. “It doesn’t matter. And we’re wasting time.”
Mal’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn’t pursue it. “Shiny. Let’s go find your man, Kaylee.”
They headed into Lacey’s, standing for a moment just inside the door to let their eyes adjust to the bright light, as well as to check the place over.
“Maybe I should have changed my shirt,” Mal muttered.
Lacey’s might have been a bar, but it was cleaner and smelled prettier than almost any place he’d ever been in, and that included during some down time on Ariel that none of them knew about. It made the Maidenhead on Beaumonde look shabby.
“Puttin’ on airs, ain't they?” Kaylee said quietly.
“Reckon they are,” Zoe agreed. “Do you see Leo Gunn?”
“There he is.” Kaylee barely nodded towards the back of the room. “Playing cards.”
Mal perused the men she’d pointed out. “Which one’s –”
“Back to us. In the striped shirt.”
“Shiny.” He walked forward, the women following, weaving between tables where other patrons were either drinking, eating or playing games of chance.
The five men at the table were too engrossed to notice strangers approaching. Each had a stack of chips in front of them, some bigger than others, and they were all concentrating on the pasteboards in their hands.
“Raise you,” the man to the right of Gunn said.
The scrapyard owner flicked up the corner of his cards, and seemed to think for a moment. Then he said, “I’ll take that, and raise you ten more.” He pushed chips into the centre of the table, the pot getting bigger with each bet.
“He ain’t got nothing,” Kaylee whispered. “He’s bluffing.”
Mal had come to the same conclusion, but was curious as to the mental workings of his mechanic. “How’d you know that?”
“He plays like my brother Joe. And that’s what he does when he’s bluffing. He coulda raised a lot more, made ‘em think he’s got nothing and is trying to make ‘em all fold.”
Mal nodded slightly.
Zoe watched the betting progress, glad that Hank wasn't with her. Then she berated herself for the thought. Ever since they’d had that run-in with Boone, she’d tried to be a lot more tolerant of Hank’s problem. He’d proved he could and would forgive her for anything, even being a Dust Devil, so it was only fair she cut him some slack. Still, the treacherous little voice at the back of her mind insisted on saying that at least he wasn’t being put in temptation’s way.
Apparently the other players at the table didn’t understand Gunn as well as the observers, because they all folded, and he pulled the chips towards him.
“Now ain’t that the thing?” he crowed, stacking them carefully.
“Mr Gunn?” Mal asked, keeping his voice low so as not to startle the man.
“Who wants to know?” Gunn didn’t turn.
“My name’s Malcolm Reynolds. I gather you’ve met my mechanic and first mate.”
Gunn looked up, twisting in his chair, and grinned in happy surprise. “Miss Kaylee! Didn’t think I’d get to see you again so soon. You wanting some more parts?”
“Nope,” Kaylee said, shaking her head. “Least, not right now. But we got a favour to ask.”
“Favour?” Gunn’s pale eyebrows drew together. “What kind of favour?”
“Mr Gunn, perhaps we could talk someplace a bit more private?” Mal suggested.
“Sure.” He glanced back at his playing partners. “Don’t you go touching my chips. I know exactly how many I've got.”
The man opposite him curled his lip in disgust. “You really think we’d do that, Leo? How long’ve we been friends?”
Gunn chuckled, and stood up. “Just saying.” He looked up at Mal. “You can buy me a drink, and we can talk.”
They followed Gunn towards the long polished wood bar, where the barkeep was already setting out glasses for them.
“Usual, Leo?” he asked.
“Yeah. Four of ‘em.”
“Three,” Kaylee piped up. “I can’t.” She patted her belly.
“Then a fruit juice for the little lady.”
The man began to pour.
“You come here a lot?” Mal asked Gunn, unable to keep the curiosity to himself.
Leo grinned. “You mean this ain’t me?” He glanced around, at the ubiquitous Cortex screen half hidden behind a pot plant in the corner, the lush draperies and faintest perfume of pot pourri. “Believe me, there’re worse. And they wouldn’t let me past the door.”
“Why’d that be?”
“’Cause I ain’t hoity-toity enough for ‘em,” Gunn admitted. “This place has ideas above its station. Believe me, if they could they’d move the whole gorram planet closer to the Core. There’re folks here that think they’re better than the high-ups on Osiris. Jumped up little …” What he was going to say was lost as he picked up one of the now-filled glasses. “A toast,” he suggested.
“To what?” Mal didn’t want to alienate the man, but if he suggested they drink to the Alliance, he wasn’t going to be responsible for his actions.
“Oh, I don’t know. How about anything brown?”
Mal’s eyebrows raised, just a millimetre. “Not sure what you’re suggesting here, Mr Gunn.”
“Oh, yes, you are. I was thinking about it. About what young Kaylee here told me, about your ship, your crew. And now I've seen you … you ain’t wearing it, but I bet you’ve got a coat someplace, just the right shade. I'm right, ain't I?”
Mal made a mental note not to underestimate him, either. “Might be.”
“Thought so. Ain’t seen so many come through here, not as didn’t have to, and I didn’t fight, but my sympathies didn’t exactly lie in bed with the general consensus of opinion.”
“And did your … sympathies … interfere much?”
Gunn finished his drink. “Nah, not really. ‘Sides, I keep my mouth shut. Like I told Kaylee, I moved here a long time ago, but to them, I'm still a newbie. So they tolerate me, since I don’t know any better.” He lowered his voice. “But anything I can do for a good Independent …” He tapped the side of his nose.
Kaylee looked up from her glass, which had a lot of fruit in it, and a small paper umbrella. “See, Cap?” she said brightly. “Told you.”
“That you did.” Mal lifted his own glass. “Mr Gunn, it looks like you’re dry … would you care for another?”
Ten minutes later and they were all sitting at a table in the far corner, Zoe and Mal facing the doors as always, Kaylee and Gunn with their backs to the room.
“So let me get this straight,” Gunn was saying. “You want me to stand surety for your first mate here to enter the elections.” He shook his head. “Seems more’n a mite odd to me.”
“You’re a good citizen of Jericho Wells,” the young mechanic explained again. “We need your help.”
Gunn looked at Serenity’s first mate. “You really wanna be elected?”
With admirable stoicism, considering the situation, Zoe nodded. “I feel it is my bounden duty to stand.”
“Well, have to say, the way you look you’d be a shoo-in to win if that was what you wanted, but …” Gunn grinned, showing his lack of teeth. “Somehow I don’t think that’s quite the case.”
“Mr Gunn, will you do it or not?” Mal asked. “Because if not –”
“Hold your horses, young feller. Let a man ponder on things for a while.” Gunn took a moment to pull a wad of chewing tobacco from his pocket, slicing a fragment from it with a very sharp looking knife that he flicked closed and slid away again. The tobacco he popped into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.
He was at it so long even Zoe began to get restless.
Eventually Gunn let out a long, slow breath. “You got the hundred credits deposit?” he asked.
Mal nodded. Luckily Freya had come up with the information on the Cortex, otherwise he’d be sitting there with his lips gaping like a landed fish. “Back on board,” he said, jerking his head in the general direction of Serenity.
“You get it back, soon as the election’s over,” Gunn added. “I guess they wanna make sure you don’t just feel like playing games with them. You know, standing for specious reasons.”
If Mal felt surprised that this man in front of him with his back bowed from hours of heavy lifting, should know such a word as ‘specious’, let alone be able to use it in normal conversation, he didn’t show it. “Mr Gunn, we have good reasons for standing. Nothing specious at all.”
Gunn fixed the younger man with his bright, sharp eyes. “You can tell me. It ain't like I’m gonna be gabbing off to every idiot I meet.”
For a long moment Mal seriously considered telling Gunn the real reason, but he held his tongue. He might say he was a friend of the Fryes, might even be the same, but people change. He’d had first hand knowledge of that on more than one occasion himself, from those who had seemed to be dyed in the wool Independents, and learned his lesson the hard way. He shrugged. “I know. But the truth is we’re only here so Kaylee can fix the ship. Nothing else. And Zoe took it into her mind that she wanted to take a crack at standing for office.”
“Got nothing else to do, huh?”
Leo glanced down at Zoe’s wedding ring. “And her husband didn’t have a mortal word to say about it?”
“Not a one.”
Gunn sighed. “Well, you decide you wanna tell me the truth, I’ll be around.” He drained his glass and slammed it down on the table. “My turn to buy, I think. While I’m trying to make up my mind.”
“Where are they?” Freya asked, stepping down the ramp to the dirt of Jericho Wells.
“Oh, they’re coming,” Kaylee said, walking out of the gloom. “I was getting kinda tired, so I came on ahead.”
“Are you all right?” A look of concern crossed her face.
“Shiny.” Kaylee grinned. “Been a long day, is all.”
“And did you have a good time?” Freya asked, reaching out and taking the paper umbrella from behind Kaylee’s ear and handing it to the young mechanic.
“It was fun,” Kaylee admitted. “That Leo can sure talk, and some of the stories … well, it’d make your hair curl.”
“They must have been something to hear.”
“That they were. And drink … he could put it away like there’s no tomorrow.”
“And I suppose Mal was matching him?”
“Not really. But he had a few.”
“So he’s drunk.” Freya felt a frisson of irritation. “He knows he’s not supposed to, not yet. Not until Simon says –”
“No,” Kaylee insisted. “Not drunk. Just … happy.” She grinned.
Kaylee thumped her friend lightly on the arm. “Now you know he can be happy. And that’s your fault. For making him all … happy.”
Freya had to laugh. “Well, you go on up to the galley and get yourself something to eat,” she said. “Everyone else has finished, but I know Simon put a plate aside for you.”
“Great! All that juice has made me hungry.” She twirled the paper umbrella in her fingers, starting for the stairs up to the kitchen. She paused. “On second thoughts, all that juice …” She changed direction and instead waddled towards the common area and the guest facilities.
Freya smiled. She remembered that all right – having to be careful how much she drank because the unborn child was sitting squarely on her bladder.
She turned back to the darkness outside Serenity, although it wasn’t really dark. It seemed Jericho Wells held no store in the night, and tried to banish all trace of it. Almost every light seemed to be on in the town, and the resultant glow obscured her view of the stars entirely. She extended her mind, and felt Mal coming, a little muzzy but close by. Indeed, a moment later she saw him and Zoe round the buildings further off and amble towards her.
“No, please, don’t rush,” she said as they got closer, more than a little irony in her tone. “Not on my account.”
“We ain't late, are we?” Mal asked, his thumbs hitched into his pockets.
“Depends on what you mean by late. Supper’s finished, the kids are in bed and you’re …” She waved a hand in front of her face as they reached her. “You smell like a brewery.”
“That’s me. Sorry,” Zoe said, wiping at her sleeve. “Someone with a mug got too close.”
“Is he still breathing?”
“He’s fine,” Mal put in quickly. “We didn’t think Zoe should start her election campaign being bound.”
“Probably not a good idea.” She looked from one to the other. “So Leo Gunn came through?”
“That he did, ai ren,” Mal confirmed. “Tomorrow, soon as the offices open, Zoe’s name gets put on the ballot papers.” He chuckled. “Seems like we’re going to be flying with someone famous.”
“Won’t that be fun,” Freya said drily. “Anyway, there’s food waiting, and I think you’d both better have something to eat before you sleep. Soak up some of that excess alcohol.”
Mal shook his head. “Kaylee talked.”
“She might have mentioned it.”
He grinned. “Damn, but that Leo can drink. I’m thinking of putting him and Jayne against each other, see who’s left standing, and I'm not sure my money’d be on Jayne.”
“He’d probably like that, since he’s already complaining there’s no-one to shoot.”
His grin widened. “Ah, well, we’ve been talking about that.”
Freya sighed. “I'm not going to like this, am I?”
Zoe looked at the captain and his wife, and decided retreat was the order of the day. “Well, I’m for my bed. And I need to change anyway.” She sniffed her sleeve and grimaced. “If you happen to see Hank, ask him to bring my supper down, will you?”
“No problem,” Freya said, her eyes still narrowed slightly at her husband.
Zoe couldn’t help the slight twitch to her lips, but climbed the stairs, leaving them to it. She heard the outer bay doors close, then voices, not yet raised in anger, but didn’t turn back.
She made it to her bunk without encountering anyone, although she glimpsed Kaylee sitting at the table in the kitchen, tucking into her food, Simon at her side. He looked like he was checking her pulse, or maybe he was just holding her hand.
Dropping down the ladder, she quickly stripped her shirt off, dropping it onto a pile destined for the laundry, then stretched, her hands reaching for the ceiling, letting out a small groan as her muscles protested. Maybe she was getting old.
“Whooee,” Hank said, his feet preceding him, holding on by only one hand as he carried a plate in the other. “Smells like you’ve been drinking.”
She smiled at him. “Only a little. Not like Mal.” She looked at the food. “Did Freya find you?”
“Nah. They’re still ‘discussing’ things.” He put the plate on the bedside table. “I was on the bridge, checking everything was hunky-dory before turning in. I saw you.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“Ah, but I’m a master of disguise.” He twirled an imaginary moustache. “Come on, sit down and eat.”
Perching on the end of the bed, she picked up the plate, sniffing it appreciatively. “Simon certainly knows how to cook.”
“Attention to detail,” Hank said, busy with something next to the dresser. “And he’s not the only one.” He stood straight, his hands behind his back.
“Not the only one what?” Zoe asked, her mouth full of a meat substitute that might never have been near a cow, but managed to taste like it had.
“With attention to detail.” He held out a box. “Happy anniversary.”
She swallowed painfully. “Anniversary?”
Swiftly she went over what he meant in her mind, wondering whether she’d forgotten something important. No, not that she could recall. It wasn’t their wedding, that had been a few months previously. Nor the anniversary of the first time they slept together, at the time of another wedding, Kaylee and Simon’s in that case. Or the date he’d figured he’d made her pregnant with Ben. Or … “Okay,” she said, putting the plate down. “What anniversary?”
He grinned, slightly lopsided, his untidy brown hair making a sort of halo around his head in the subdued light. “The first time you smiled at me.”
She sighed. He did this, taking any particular moment of their relationship and making it special. It was, of course, but most people didn’t go to quite those lengths. “I smiled at you.”
“Mmn.” He sat down next to her. “I was in the cargo bay, you were up on the catwalk. I made some joke or other, and you smiled.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t gas?”
“No. A smile. A real, unadulterated grin.”
“I must have forgotten myself.”
“I never did.” He held out the box again. “Here. In memory of that moment when I thought maybe I wasn't just pissing in the wind, and you’d be mine.” He laughed at the look on her face. “Sorry. Bad turn of phrase. But it was special, important to me.” He nudged her. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
Wiping her fingers on her pants, she took the box, made of thin strips of wood, covered with sticky paper, stylised drawings of sun-filled landscapes all over it, and the words Mi Jian in Chinese printed on top. She glanced up at Hank sharply. “Candied fruit?”
He grinned. “Sweet things for my sweet thing.”
“Is this what you were out getting today?”
She shook her head. “Spending good money on frivolities … you should know better.”
“They’re your favourites.”
“I know, but –”
“Look, if you don’t want them, that’s fine. I can take them back, or maybe Simon would like to buy them off me for Kaylee –” He reached for the box but she jerked it out his hand.
“I didn’t say I didn’t want them. Just making a point.”
“Point made. And they weren’t that expensive.”
“So now I’m not worth much?”
He shook his head and lay back on the bed, staring into Serenity’s superstructure. “I can’t win, can I? First I'm spending too much, then I’m being cheap.”
She went down onto one elbow, looking at him, seeing all the love he had glowing in his grey eyes. “Not cheap. But you don’t have to buy me things.”
“I want to.” He turned his head enough to gaze at her. “Zoe, if I had the money I’d buy you the moon of your choice, build you a house with a whole arsenal of servants, a fleet of ships, all the clothes and jewellery your heart could desire …” He stopped because she’d put her finger on his lips.
“Now that would be a waste. I don’t need a whole moon, or lots of servants, and as for ships … I think we’re already on board the best one.”
“Even though you once told Mal you thought it was fei-oo?”
“Even though I said that.” She smiled. “Hank, you are one strange man, but I love you. And buying me things won’t change that.”
“I like it. Buying you stuff, I mean. Especially candied fruits. The way you eat them, with your eyes fluttering like they do, it makes me go all …”
“Then maybe we should put them away for another day.”
“Oh, no,” he said, lifting himself up so their lips were only inches apart. “They’re to eat now. With me watching.”
“Well, there is this trick I know …” He whispered in her ear, and she laughed.
to be continued
Sunday, May 17, 2009 5:29 AM
Sunday, May 17, 2009 5:31 AM
Sunday, May 17, 2009 8:16 AM
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