THe Bouncing Ball Ch 3
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jane 0904 and my joint effort...a story that combines her unique look on Firefly universe as well as mine... so travel the vast universes with us and have fun following the bouncing ball.... much thanks again to Werzbowski for his brilliant creation of 'Ski.... Cat rides mule...


Chapter three

Mal took charge without thinking. "Hank, take the others back to Serenity. I'll run." "No, Mal -" Freya began to object. "Mule won't work right with more'n five," he interrupted. "Go. No time to argue." "What about us?" Declan wanted to know, but was ignored. "We're not leaving you here." Freya shook her head. "Hank can take the mule with Simon, the rest of us -" "Gorramit, woman, for once you do as I say!" Mal's voice seemed to bounce back from the landscape. She glared at him. Cat watched them both, trying not to smile. Trust him to get hooked up to someone who might love and honour, but didn't obey. "Hell, Mal," the big man named Jayne said. "You go. I'll hide, see if I can't find something out about the fellers wanting to kill us. Then you can pick me up later." "There's nothing to find out," Cat put in. "Paid killers." "Then I'll get 'em to tell me who paid 'em." He fingered the knife at his belt. "I know who. And I have a mule." "Wha ...?" Cat sighed. She remembered Jayne as sometimes having a one track mind, a handy focus in one of the best hunters she'd known, but it seemed her sudden appearance had derailed him somewhat. "I have a mule. And Declan's right. We can't stay here." "Then you go back," Mal said firmly. "You go back where you came from. You'll be safe there." She licked one fang and for a moment, something in her moved to obey. "Safe ..." The word seemed out of place in this conversation, particularly when it came to Mal and her. "Not done yet." "I don't ..." "Until she's done what she needed to, she won't be able to return," Freya said slowly. Cat stared at her, feeling the pinpricks of another consciousness in her mind, and slammed her walls back. Leave alone, she warned Freya, dripping the words like blood into the woman's mind alone, but spoke aloud to the rest. "Pretty much," she agreed, seeing the colour fade a little from Freya's face. "I thought that was saving us?" Mal asked, wondering if the headache he was developing might be a brain tumour he could enjoy. "Not ... just that." River's voice issued from the comm link again, her annoyance ramped up to the nth degree. "Excuse me? Bad guys?" Taking a deep breath and exhaling with meaning, Mal nodded. "Fine. Frey, you all go with Hank. I'll ride with this pair. Might maybe be able to get some straight answers out of 'em." "Mal -" "Ai ren." His tone had softened considerably. "Go." She nodded, just once, leading the way back towards their own hover transport.

Jayne, in the meantime, had stopped to load his arms with the futuristic weapons.

"Jayne, leave 'em," Mal commanded.

"Huh?" The merc looked at him. "But, Mal..."

"Not ours. Don't need the help." "But they're -" "Jayne." None of the gentleness this time. A sigh escaped Jayne's lips as he dropped them back into the pile, mumbling something that sounded like, "Tah shr suo yo de yur duh biao tze duh muh," under his breath before loping after the others, still muttering. Mal shook his head and followed, just to make sure the big man didn't double back. Cat stood there a moment and sighed heavily. "Doesn't he realize they're going to be back for him? With bigger and better weapons, and he's passing up the chance to ..." Scratching her head, she reached down and tossed a few of the guns to Declan. "Put them in the mule. Somebody's got to use their brain on this."

"Reynolds always was a little off." Delcan murmured as Cat tossed him a look.

Holding up the long barreled sniper rifle, he shrugged. "Just saying. From what I've heard."

With a sigh, she picked up as many as she could carry and headed toward her mule, leaving the heavier weapons to load in a minute. No sense in dragging them when she could easily bring the transport over. Declan trailed after her, knowing he'd have a way to go before Cat accepted him as more than just the son of her dead husband.


Cat's mule was a Frankenstein of parts and made more for battle than for transport. Unlike the one Freya and the others had taken, this one was weaponized, a Gatling gun mounted to her back. She was still a hover unit, mainly because rubber tires couldn't take the heat of the jumps, but the extra weight meant she wasn't as fast as she used to be. As Cat manoevred the vehicle back towards the scene of the massacre, Batha growled something about wanting to run, to stretch her long legs. 'They won't wait for you,' Cat pointed out as she powered the mule down but left it idling. 'Run fast.' The panther disappeared into the undergrowth. 'Hunt.' Cat shook her head, but a smile played on her lips. It wasn't often Batha was able to let that side of herself out, and there was nothing on this moon that could threaten her. Jumping down, Cat started to toss several of the bigger heat-seeking rifles to join the others on the back seat. She didn't hear him come up beside her, his breath on her neck causing goosebumps and making her claws want to grow.

"Not what you wanted." Declan commented.

"But what I expected." She didn't look up at him, pretending to be busy rather than wanting to believe he was someone else.

"Do you blame them? I mean this is a little more than unbelievable. All of them ... in the flesh. Still thinking I'm dreaming." She reached over and pinched him. "And now?"

"Ouch. Nope, not dreaming." He smiled before continuing gently, "You're a lot to process. And I know the stories about you."

Cat ignored his statement and instead reached inside one of the many compartments she had welded for the mule, which meant that, also unlike Mal's, hers could only carry three comfortably. It was more or less her hovering suitcase, one she could easily live out of.

Sliding the red tank top from her shoulders, her well defined muscles flexed as she tossed her shirt away. "Another one ruined. Damn it."

Declan just stood speechless. His daddy hadn't lied. She was perfect, from the curve of her neck to the slight valley formed by her lower back. Beautiful smooth skin without a scar or blemish and ... "Dad was right. You don't have a belly button."

Cat had all but forgotten about the man beside her, the sun warm on her skin. Grabbing a steel grey tank from her stash, she silently hoped it wouldn't end up like the red one she'd just tossed away. After a minute more, she addressed Declan, her mouth curled gently. "Of all the things you could point out about me that your father told you ... the belly button was the one you had trouble with."

"I ... uh ... well, yeah," he admitted as he automatically reached to help her secure her long hair in a full pony tail. His fingers ran through its softness and he drew in a breath as she pulled away from him quickly.

"We need to get going. They'll be coming fast."

"Then we'll just have to be faster. I'll take the gun." Declan replied heading toward the back seat where it was mounted and ignoring the feeling of hurt being slighted had caused. "Just give me a target and I'll shoot it."

"Thanks, Declan." It hadn't been his closeness that had made her feel uncomfortable, but the way his fingers felt in her hair.

"I'll always have your back, Babe." As his fingers wrapped around the trigger of the gun, something in the way he spoke and the familiar smile lining his face made the rock hard Cat melt ever so slightly. Her heart hurt, ached in a way it hadn't in a very long time, but a noise from around them signaled the other mule's departure and her mission slammed back into Cat four fold. It was time to get moving, but first ... "Don't call me that," she said shortly. His grin faltered. "Cat ..." "Am I interrupting something?" Mal asked, having kissed Freya and made sure they were on their way before running to the other mule. "No." Cat nodded towards her vehicle. "Climb in." Mal stared at the mechanical beast and scratched his head. "This looks familiar." "Can't say I've noticed." "No? Well, she's red and ... are those my buffer panels?"

"No," she growled. "Came off a different boat."

"Don't look that way." He touched the makeshift heat shields, still warm to the touch before looking at her again. "Off a Firefly, though?"

Declan couldn't help but laugh, wondering exactly how Cat would field that question. "Yup," was all the redhead muttered as she climbed in and brought the engine of the monstrosity out of idle. It rumbled like the panther that had just disappeared into the brush.

============= "Serenity's ready whenever you are." Kaylee's voice came over the internal com system. "Good." "You okay?" River was gripping the control yoke, her eyes on the panel in front of her. "Concentrating." "Oh. Right." The mechanic paused for a moment before asking what was really on her mind. "Are they ... is Simon ..." "He's fine. They're on their way back." River sat back a millimetre. "With guests." "Guests?" "Familiars." "River, honey, I don't know what you mean." "Neither do I. Yet." River shook herself. "We might want to go to full burn." "In atmo?" Even over the com Kaylee sounded dubious. "You know that ain't safe. Don't you?" "As an option." River could almost see the young woman gazing at her engine, biting her lip. Then ... "Okay. Give me a sec to make sure everything's locked down." "A second only ..." ==================== For what seemed an age but was probably only a minute or two, Cat drove the mule in silence. Declan, in the back, shifted uncomfortably on the pile of guns, just knowing he was going to end up with the imprint of at least one set of electronic sights permanently engraved on his buttocks. "Sit still," Cat growled. "You're throwing us off balance." "More likely to be all that hardware you picked up," Mal muttered, keeping as far away from Cat as possible. "Waste to leave good weaponry behind." "Huh." "Never left me behind either." He shot her a glance, and she risked turning her head so her green eyes were fully on his face. "I was part of your crew, Mal. On Serenity. And ..." "And what? You sayin' there's more?" "We were lovers." His eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "Shah muh?" "You. The other you. Me. Lovers." His blue eyes hardened. "Don't hardly think that can be right." "She's telling the truth," Declan put in. "My Dad used to ... talk ... about ..." His voice trailed off. "I'll just sit here, shall I?" "Yes," both Mal and Cat said, a duet of annoyance. "Fine. Shiny. You just carry on not talking to each other, and I'll sit here with my ass going to sleep." Declan sat back, his arms crossed. "Son, I wish the rest of you was, too," Mal ground out. Declan exhaled noisily but didn't speak. For a full two minutes. Then he poked Cat in the shoulder. "Okay, look, shoot me if you like, but you gonna talk to him or just hope he can pick your thoughts out of your head like that panther of yours?" Declan asked. Cat growled something about taking off his head. "Oh, tee wah duh pigu." "Don't tempt me." She could see Mal fingering his pistol with a thoughtful look on his face, and found herself smiling. "He really is harmless."

"Ain't him I'm worried about." Classic Mal ... protecting his crew from the big bad beastie.

"I'm not after your crew. Used to be part of it, long time ago."

"So you keep saying. Zoe, Simon ... and looks like you knew Jayne, too. What did that make you?"

"I kept your bed warm and your crew safe from things that went bump."

"Reavers, you mean." He ignored the first part, not quite ready to go down that path. She was attractive, even covered in blood, but he had a wife, and he loved Freya so much that sometimes it was painful. That kind of pain, though, was pretty addictive.

"And the like." She didn't add to the first bit either. There was enough time to play with that later. Another bit of silence followed before Mal spoke again. "I ain't like Freya, you know. She don't want to leave you to them. 'N' I get the feeling she might even believe you. Me? I ain't sure what your reasons are." "Reasons are good. Been trying to tell you that." "Try harder." "Mal, I'm here to save your life. Not ruin your marriage." "Hell, if'n I got dead I think that'd put a crimp in the relationship anyways, don't you think?" "You don't trust me." "Ain't seen no reason to." "I just killed a dozen men for you." "Yeah, but from what you've said, that's like a snack before bedtime for you." Declan almost laughed. For all that he knew Mal had to believe them, it was fun to watch them arguing. "You're right, but I didn't have to. Could've just stood there and let them kill you." "But then your job ain't done." Mal stared at the scenery whipping past. "And Frey's got this wild notion it's important." "It is." Cat sounded defeated. He turned enough to glare at her. "Then tell me. Make me believe you're who you say you are." He swallowed. "That me and you ... that there's a time somewhere out there we had each other." "How?" "Something I mighta told you that nobody else knew." Cat thought a moment and Declan figured it would go back to the silence game. A minute later though, she spoke tentatively. "Like your tattoo?" Mal rubbed at his right hip thoughtfully. "Nope, that won't do no good. Anyone that knew me during the war knows about that." "How about how you got it?" "Huh?" "You were so drunk that night. Cussing the world, the Alliance ... hell, anything that got within twenty feet of you heard your wrath. Just lost a lot of men and ... stumbled back to base past this hole-in-the-wall tattoo parlor and you steered us in. Told the man you wanted my name on your hip, but I wouldn't let you. You'd regret it later when a woman captured your heart and you'd have to tell her why a name of another woman was in pride of place. So, with that smug grin on your face, you pointed at a bust of Bastet and said that if you couldn't get my name, then you'd get the next best thing." A smile, gentle and full of memories, lined her lips. "You said in the morning that your mother would kill you when she saw the damage. Of course, she'd never get the chance."

"Ain't what happened here."

"You were still drunk and I'm betting it's still a cat." She looked at him from the corner of her eye as he frowned.

"Freya's gonna want to keep ya." He changed the subject quick. "So, don't be hanging 'round once you drop me off. Don't need her being all motherly and making me let you stay."

"Mal I knew didn't let anyone make him do anything."

"Things change. Still don't always agree with her, though."

"You never were one to listen."

"Ain't that at all. Freya just forgets that I'm ..." He struggled for a moment to find the right word, then added, "I'm captain. My responsibility. My decision, come hell or high water. And I'm the one who has to bury my mistakes." His mind flickered to the graves he'd tended over the years, from Wash and Book to the single stone marking the crew of Road Runner. She could smell the guilt pouring from him. "I understand." "Do you? 'Cause there are days I don't. And there might be times Frey doesn't either." "She doesn't understand your apprehension, not fully anyway." Cat shifted the big monster into a lower gear to avoid colliding with a massive, dead tree trunk before continuing. "War took your compassion for humans, made you only worry about your own. Way it works here in the 'verse. You take or it gets taken from you."

Mal looked at her a moment before shrugging. "I guess."

"Your Ma wouldn't approve of that attitude and though you honor her memory, part of you can't help but think that if she had been more like that, she'd still be alive. At least, that's how my version of Mal felt."

He was shocked. It was something no one knew, not even Freya. Mal knew she'd still love him the same, but some thoughts were meant to remain private, locked behind in one of those rooms in his mind she'd never ventured into. "How'd you -"

"Different universes, but some things always remain the same." She could feel his anger burning brightly. "Well, whatever the 'verse, keep your mouth off my Ma," he warned. Cat nodded. She knew she was right, and there was more, but that would wait. Little bites, River once told her, Captain only likes little bites of the puzzle. Too much and he hides. It looked like maybe this Mal was the same. Still, time and tides were waiting for no man - or woman - and she couldn't afford to take too much notice of his sensibilities. "Look, I'm not trying to make trouble. I'm trying to help. Save your life. Make sure what you do gets done." He sat quietly for so long that she wasn't sure he'd heard her, but eventually he said, "Makes no never mind, Cat. What you are ... who you are ... okay, so you knew me, maybe in more ways than one. But that was another man altogether, and I've got people I need to watch out for now, and, in all honesty, you might not be trying to make trouble but you sure as hell bring it with you." "Mal -" Whatever she was going to say was lost as the mule left the thick stand of trees and they came face to face with a ship. She brought the mule to a stop and stared.

"Serenity." It flowed off her tongue as one who speaks the name of a lover she hasn't seen in some time, and wondered at her reaction. After all, she'd only left the very same Firefly less than an hour before. 'Not same,' Cat heard Batha from wherever she was, something like joy in her mental voice as she hunted. 'Younger.' Cat ignored her, climbing slowly from the vehicle even as Mal leaped to the ground and ran up the ramp. He quickly checked his own mule was safely stowed then pounded on the internal com. "River! Get us in the sky!" "Two minutes." His face darkened. "I thought you said they were close?" "They're scanning the area." She was speaking slowly, like to an unresponsive child. "If we take off now they'll know we're here." "Won't they just see us anyway?" "I'm playing dead." "And if they come over the horizon we won't just be playin'. Get my ship out of atmo!" "Shh. Concentrating." "Albatross ..." "Jia yan ..." Cat, coming up the ramp behind him, almost missed a step. Surely it wasn't possible ... Mal muttered something obscene in Chinese and headed for the stairs, adding over his shoulder, "You'd better get that mule of yours out of the way, else she's likely to get fried when we take off." "Nice guy," Declan commented, having followed her inside. "He was. Too gorram stubborn for his own good, though." Her hands were clenched into fists, and sharp pains in her palms indicated her claws had pierced her own skin. Forcing herself to relax she felt the tiny wounds heal over. "And he never did listen." Declan was staring around the cargo bay. "Do you think she flies?" he asked. Cat growled, then felt the metal band on her wrist vibrate gently, and backed out of the Firefly, leaving Declan to explore. It wouldn't do for anyone to eavesdrop, at least not yet. With a sigh and a tap to one of the smaller buttons, she answered. "Less bumpy next time would be appreciated, Rex."

"Oh, come on, Kitten. Ain't fun without a few little jitters." She could picture the strawberry blonde lunatic smiling as he used his own personal nickname for her. A purr-like laugh echoed in her head as Batha put on a turn of speed and leaped from a rocky outcrop. 'Act like one.'

'Whose side are you on?'

'Side always on.' Cat knew what was coming next, and could imagine her friend's tail twitching. 'Mine.'

Knowing a threat to her feline companion was basically useless, Cat turned her annoyance on someone else and spoke into the speaker on her bracelet. "Call me Kitten one more time and I swear when I get back, I'll gut you."

"See, that would scare the crap out of me, but then I think, how will you get back without me flying you?" His laugh was infectious and she couldn't help but smile. "So, Boss Man wants to know how it's going. Caught word you were seen. A real no-no if you ask him. But what I want to know is ...she still got those killer legs?"

"I'm not even going to begin to answer that question. As for the rest, tell him to give me time. He should know Mal isn't easily swayed, especially faced with one such as I."

"Oh, Kitten, where's that charm of yours? You know flash your fangs, flex your claws ..."

"Juggle geese?" she added.

"Need to leave that to the professionals." Another voice could be heard in the background, and he suddenly sounded as serious as he ever got. "We've picked up a few odd readings, so you might want to keep your eyes open. Chances are they're gonna throw everything at you."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, Rex." A figure headed toward them out of the Firefly, and Cat recognized Hank. "Hold that thought," she murmured.

"Gotta get you loaded," the pilot called as he approached. "Looks like the bad guys have better sensors than we gave 'em credit for, and they're coming in fast." He pointed to the ramp as she looked over toward the ship. "Your mule should fit in the cargo bay. Be a tight squeeze, but ..."

"Mal approve?" She waited for a response, somehow knowing there wasn't going to be one.

"Hey, who's that?" the speaker on her wrist crackled. But instead of answering the question, she replied, "Check in later and before you ask, no ... I will not tell you about her legs." She shut the link down.

Hank stared at her. "Who was ..." He stopped. "You know, never mind. We need to go ... now." She nodded and jumped back into the mule's driving seat. It would be a tight fit, but knowing what she did, Frankenstein would come in handy. Freya was waiting for them in the bay. "As snug as you can get her," she ordered. "Try not to damage anything." Cat narrowed her eyes, but did as she was told. It looked like maybe Mal was right about his wife, and she had gotten around him saying no by not asking at all. Shutting down the mule's engines the old craft settled to the deck, and Hank jumped from his place on the running board. "Hi!" a bright voice called. "Nice to have you with us!" Cat looked up. A young woman, wearing what appeared to be coveralls decorated with applique animals, waved at her. "Uh ...hi." Kaywhinnet Lee Frye, as was. Young. Vibrant. Just like Simon. Not old and surrounded by so many grandchildren nobody could move. No grandchildren here. But there was something ... Cat's sensitive nose had picked it up, a sort of cross between the two of them. She didn't have an opportunity to chase it, though, as Freya spoke. "Tell Mal everyone's on board. And you need to be back in the engine room." "I only wanted to say hello," Kaylee insisted, but nodded. "I'll let 'em know." Cat, though, mentally searched the area.

"We can't go. Batha ... my panther isn't here." "Panther?" Kaylee asked, glancing at Freya.

'Not yours.' A rumbling echoed as the large cat slipped in. 'But here.'

''Bout time.' Cat shot back and would have added more if she hadn't spied the dead carcass of a boar hanging from the panther's mouth. "What the hell ..." At that moment, Kaylee saw Batha and screamed loudly. Declan, standing directly under the catwalk, winced.

'Peace offering,' Batha remarked as the mechanic looked at both Freya and Cat before screaming one more time.

'Not such a good idea there, Bat.' Grabbing the boar, Cat slung it out of the ramp.

'Good meat wasted.'

'Don't worry. We might just follow it out,' she remarked, resting her hand on the panther's back. Mal hurried through the top hatch, following Kaylee's scream, skidding to a halt at the sight of a second mule cluttering his cargo bay, and worse, the redhead. "It's okay," Hank said quickly from where he was checking the new hover was secure. "Kaylee saw the ... that." He nodded towards the panther. 'Not that.' Panther. "What she said." Mal didn't even look his way. "Frey?" he asked quietly, attempting to keep his short temper on a shorter leash. She looked up at him. 'They can't stay on this moon, Mal. And they've nowhere else to go.' 'You think I don't know that?' 'I think you're trying hard not to think about it at all.' His eyes narrowed. 'Frey ...' 'What?' For a nanosecond he imagined what his life would be like if he hadn't married Freya, the freedom he could be enjoying right now with people who actually did as they were told. Then he mentally slapped himself for even considering. Batha snorted softly.

Glaring at the panther, Mal sighed mightily. "Fine. Close up. And go get that boar. Like the cat said, we can't waste good meat." 'Not cat,' she grumbled heading after her partner, who was striding towards the dead boar. "Told you you're hard to explain," she said quietly as Batha took a mouthful of hide, carrying her kill inside so that Cat didn't get any more bloody. A voice interrupted any comment Batha might have made, issuing from the internal com and echoing in their minds. "Incoming."


Tuesday, October 5, 2010 9:30 AM


Sounds like things are about to get... interesting.

- 'Ski

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 10:53 AM


Oooh, things are getting a mite tangly with Mal between Frey and Cat. Much as I love Cat to bits I don't want her breaking Mal and Frey up. Somehow I think you will manage to juggle that little jigsaw with your usual wonderful expertise and I just loved Cat and the boar. Can't waste good meat indeed! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 2:46 PM


Very Nice Angelle!!

Methinks trouble is on the way, both outside and in….hee….hee. Jayne will be happy with all the new toys, and Mal, is he really ever happy for more than 5 minutes at a time?

Enjoying the story very much….looking forward to the next installment!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010 3:32 PM


thank you all....Jane and I appreciate all the well as their comments. :))

Sunday, October 10, 2010 8:41 AM


Is that what the symbol was? I remember hearing Nathan say that it was some sort of Egyptian symbol, and Bastet would fit with that.

I was curious how this would work out with Cat and Freya. I remember you telling me something about something you'd planned with Cat, plus her having a husband. This does make some sense, fitting with that.


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