BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Chess
Friday, January 29, 2010

Maya. Post-BDM. For all my friends and followers, as a thank you. A little standalone, set anytime around the current point in the Maya timeline. One of my occasional forays into River and Mal's friendship. ONE-OFF but back to Masks soon


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2244    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

She sat at the kitchen table and stared at the chess board, the pieces lined up neatly, ready to play their part. She played against herself every so often, first black, then white. It was sometimes the only way she could get a decent game.

Simon would play against her, when he had time, when Kaylee wasn’t keeping him busy, but he was cautious, occasionally prone to flashes of genius, but not enough that he won against his little sister. Unless she let him.

She’d taught the game to Jayne, and he was surprisingly in his occasional deftness, but generally he played it like he did everything – head on, full tilt, gun in hand, his muscles straining at his t-shirt as his mind strained to beat her.

The one she was surprised at most was Mal. She’d never taken him for a chess player, but it turned out Freya had taught him, a long time ago during the war, on one of those interminable waits for something to happen. She didn’t play anymore – she said it reminded her of something and her eyes would sadden. She didn’t say what, and River didn’t peek, just took the next opportunity she could to touch her hand, or slide under her arm to hug her.

So once in a while Mal would give her a game, and he could usually surprise her. They were currently standing at around 50:50, although she had won the last three.

River half-smiled. At the moment the rest of the crew were busy. Simon was down in the infirmary checking the swabs (he’d already miscounted twice), and Zoe was in her bunk cleaning her guns, while Jayne was down in the cargo bay, weight lifting with the other children. Mal and Hank were on the bridge, discussing route changes, Freya and Kaylee were in the engine room, and all she had to do was turn her head to know they were around her and she was safe.

Her family.

Her eyes strayed to the chess pieces again. Of course, that was a good simile as well. Mal was the king, in charge, the leader. Full of these good ideas, even if they didn’t necessarily all pan out. Freya was the queen, of course. Beautiful, calm, loving, pulling everyone around her into her protection.

The bishop was probably Simon, a little bit uptight but loosening up in the years that Kaylee had been there for him. It seemed a long time since their wedding, and a stray thought crossed River’s mind to do something annoying for their anniversary in a few weeks time. Really annoying.

But back to the pieces.

Jayne, of course, was the knight, Zoe too, while she and Hank were pawns. Probably her more than the pilot, though, because she’d been played with, almost to expendability until they realised her head was full of things they didn’t want her to know.

She picked up the white king.

A small voice among the many in her head told her Mal had acquired the set at almost the same time as he’d bought Serenity. Wandering the streets, trying to decide if he’d wasted almost all of his money on something that could never fly, he’d seen it in a shop window, priced well beyond anything he had in his pocket. Still, he’d gone inside, admired it, knowing it was older than he was and carved by a loving hand.

The shopkeeper had come out, talked, told him of the son who’d died in one of the many battles because he’d been a believer in freedom. Then he’d taken the set and wrapped it, handing it to Mal, asking him to say a prayer for the boy he’d lost. Mal had refused, only accepting when he saw a tear in the man’s eye as they fell on the brown coat he wore.

A year later, coin in hand, Mal went back to pay for what he’d taken that day, but the shop was closed, boarded up, dust visible coating everything through a crack in the planks. Mal wasn’t a believer any more, but he walked into the nearest church and chinked the money he would have given into the poor box, before heading back to his ship.

River ran her fingertips over the carving, almost convincing herself she could feel the planes and hollows of Mal’s face. Not that she’d ever considered him in that way. Ever since she’d come out of the box like a Jack with her spring cut, she’d seen him as jia yan. Father. And no matter how reconciled she felt towards the man who had raised her – or not, as the day may be – Mal was still her mentor, the man who’d given her a chance when many would have abandoned her, had picked her up in the Maidenhead and carried her home.

Her train of thought derailed for a moment. At least Jayne had taken care of that troublesome little soubriquet a long time ago. For a few delicious seconds she allowed herself to remember that night, and the feel of his hands on her skin, his tenderness, in exquisite detail. She could still taste him ...

With a satisfied smile she came back to the matter in hand. To the King in hand.

She lifted the black version, holding them side by side, trying to see the differences. A vague but at the same time crystal clear memory of reading about Earth-that-was, and an attempt by equality groups to have the black set reimagined, the playing field made nothing but shades of grey. She understood about discrimination, but the thought of an aversion to colour seemed stupid, ignorant, obtuse, dim-witted ... She shook her head slightly to get rid of the words building up. Besides, it was unnecessary when there were so many other reasons to hate a neighbour. And underneath everyone was the same shade of red, with bones showing through like white treasures.

There were differences, of course. These pieces had been made by hand, and no two could ever be identical, no matter how hard the carver tried. Here, perhaps, the grain of the wood had forced the blade to turn half a degree from true, making the nose sharper, the forehead more defined, an eyebrow more lifted than the other.

She thought the white king might have the kinder face. Like Mal.

He was a good man. He desperately wanted to be a good man, his shape forced into that of a petty thief by circumstance and the odd need to eat occasionally. But with a family now he tried to be better. And he was, more than he would ever acknowledge. Freya knew, of course, and loved him even more for it, her heart incandescent in all the reds, golds and greens that echoed the tattoo on her spine.

He could have been bad. Black as the king, his goodness subsumed and destroyed. But even the Alliance couldn’t do that. A little spark had survived, fanned by Zoe’s devotion to her sergeant, by his love for Freya, by his finding his Serenity ...

The other Mal would have sold her, left her and Simon on Whitefall, shot Patience through the eye and not even blinked, flown through the stars in a night-painted ship adorned with blood-red bones ... She carefully put the black chess piece back on the board.

No. Mal was white. With grey patches, if she were brutally honest, but those shadows were kept to a minimum by his blinding love for his family.

Someone was watching her, and for an instant she let her mind wander the ship again. Hank was still on the bridge, singing under his breath. Zoe had reassembled her weapons and was brushing her hair, unknowingly humming the same tune. In the cargo bay Jayne was telling the children a story, while Freya stood on the catwalk, leaning on the railing, smiling at the noises he was making. Her brother and his wife were ...

“Albatross.” Mal’s voice interrupted her.

She looked up and nodded at him. “Captain.”

He stepped down into the kitchen. “Your bro gone missing?”

“With Kaylee. Doing ...” She wrinkled her nose.

Mal smiled. “He stood you up?” he asked, indicating the chess board.

“No. He was never coming. I was going to play myself.”

“Yourself, huh. You win much?”

“Sometimes.”

He leaned on the back of the chair opposite. “Well, I ain’t got much in the way of captainy things to do right this second. And I reckon I’m owed a rematch from last time.”

“I wasn’t cheating.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Okay, maybe not. But I still think I wanna play that one out again. ‘Less you want a more dependable opponent.”

“Independable.”

Her play on words made him chuckle. “Got that right. So ... a game?”

She grinned, turning the board so the white side was to him. “Yes.”

“Don’t I get to choose?”

“No.”

“Fair enough.” He pulled out the chair and sat down. “What’re we playing for? Chores?”

“Love.”

He scratched his cheek. “Well, I conjure Frey might have something to say on that matter, but we could always say we did, and not.”

She laughed, a rare enough sound that she could feel it warm him through as it filled the room, fluttering around the conduits and pipes and making dust motes dance. “Chores, then.”

“’Cept I’m captain, so I don’t have to do any.”

She adjusted the pieces precisely on their squares. “We’ll see,” she said, still gazing at the board, but knowing Mal was smiling at her. “Your move, captain.”

COMMENTS

Saturday, January 30, 2010 3:43 AM

KATESFRIEND


Very sweet. The Mal and River platonic friendship is one of my favorites and is so rarely done. Loved the look back at Mal's early days with Serenity and the shopkeeper's generosity. Thanks!

Saturday, January 30, 2010 10:04 AM

THESCARREDMAN


Happy-making. lots of tantalizing references to other of your works, I think, but they don't get in the way of a very heartwarming story. Thank you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010 6:52 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


Could see this one play out in my mind and I always love that with your stories. Brilliant and I love the last lines....BTW, you're welcome!!

Sunday, January 31, 2010 6:47 AM

AMDOBELL


I adore this, so love the way you hit your stride in your depiction of River and Mal and how they fit together making their family whole. A lovely confection. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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