The Bouncing Ball Ch 6
Monday, October 18, 2010

Jane and I are at it again. Here is the next chapter in the Bouncing Ball... keep following 'cuz it's bound to get better. :) Cat makes 'friends'.


based on the world of Firefly by Joss Whedon =========================

Chapter Six

Cat touched the shotgun fondly, counting again the etches in the handle. More than she cared to admit. Each year apart added another, almost masking her claw marks on the barrel. She smiled gently, hearing his voice in her head like it was yesterday. 'It's the perfect gun, Babe. Not too heavy, but enough to make a decent club should the need arise.' 'Saying I can't handle myself in a fight? That we'd run out of ammo 'fore we run out of enemies?' Her hands went to her hips as she shook her head. 'Need to learn to trust me, Old Man.' Something passed over his hard face, eyes catching hers for a moment before he moved to pay the burly gent at the counter, cradling the gun in his left arm. He whispered words for only her to hear and they caught in her throat again as the memory flowed through her. 'Only one I do.' "Mal wanted to know if you want something to eat." She heard the voice, but at first didn't respond until a touch to her shoulder almost made things awkward. Hank, the pilot, took a quick step back and watched her glowing green eyes fade. "What?" she asked, bringing herself back from the past. "Uh, we ... we're about to sit down to a meal. All of us. Mal wanted ... he thought you'd like to join us." Hank smiled falteringly. "It ain't the Osiris Ritz, but Simon cooked, so it'll be edible." "I'm fine," she replied, moving the shotgun so its butt rested on the ground. "Tell him thanks for the invite though." She knew the thought of Mal asking her to join them was a lie or a coercion brought on by Freya or Kaylee. One way or the other, she wasn't going. "Now if I'd been on the rota, we'd prob'ly be having protein bars and cold coffee," Hank went on, his mouth running through sheer nervousness. "Been known to burn water in the past." "I'm not hungry." "Okay. Well, I asked." He glanced at the weapon, wanting to find something to talk about, to make her feel at home. "Nice shotgun. Double barrelled with heat shields. Jayne has one like it, I think." His eyes ran over the hardware, this one having seen a few battles with the scars and pits marring its body. "Name's Mathilda." She laughed gently. "Belonged to my husband." It slid from her mouth before she had time to process her statement and for a moment, she almost wanted to take it back. "Yeah?" Hank grinned. "You should compare firearms with our big lummox. He names his guns too. Never did understand it myself." "A good gun's your friend," she explained, then wondered why she was. Still, maybe it was simply because not many people had tried to be pleasant to her recently. "You take care of it, it takes care of you. Even if you use it like a club." Hank laughed lightly, not understanding the allusion and taking it at face value. "Didn't know you were married, though." He looked to her finger. "Don't wear a ring." "Never have." She took a deep breath before adding, "Died several years ago ... in my 'verse. Saving his family and mine." Hank wasn't sure what she meant, but this strange woman seemed to be made out of enigmas. And maybe he shouldn't be delving too deeply anyway. Zoe didn't like her and he wasn't about to cozy up to Cat risking his wife's temper, and any number of long, sleepless nights on the couch. Still, the question slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it. "So he's your former husband?" "No." That was it as she placed the shotgun back on her bed, the one Cat had yet to sleep in. "O-kay." Hank took it as the cue for him to go back to dinner, leaving her to do whatever she was doing. "Well, you change your mind we'll be in the kitchen," he tossed over his shoulder as he headed for the stairs, waiting for the man she'd come with to get to the floor of the common area before he started up. "Dinner's on the table in two," he added to Declan as he took the treads two at a time. "Oh, shiny." Declan smiled, wondering if everyone had heard his stomach rumbling or whether it was only him. ==== “You shoulda seen it,” Kaylee said as she supervised David Gabriel's somewhat messy eating. “It was the sweetest thing ever.” “I’m not sure about that,” Simon said. “Playing with that panther ... she’s not a pet, you know. She’s a wild animal.” Bethie paused in shovelling her food into her mouth. “I don’t think she’d hurt anyone.” Kaylee wiped her son’s fingers, then sighed as he plunged them back into his bowl of cut up food. “She’s still ... huge.” Simon cringed inwardly – it sounded inane even to his own ears. “Doc’s right,” Jayne muttered. “Ain’t a good thing.” “Uncle Jayne?” Bethie looked at him, her huge eyes starting to fill. “Why don’t you like Batha?” The big man felt an uncomfortableness creep over him. “It ain’t ... short stub, the point is your Pa’s right. That gorram cat’s so big, it don’t have to mean to hurt you. All it has to do is not take care, and –” “It ain’t an it,” Bethie interrupted. “Batha’s a she.” “Don’t mean it can't ... she can’t forget herself and then it’d be up to your Pa to put the pieces back together.” “She’s not dangerous,” Bethie insisted. “She’s my friend.” “Can’t be friends with a creature like that.” Mal exchanged a glance with Freya, but she shrugged. If Jayne wanted to dig himself a hole, she wasn’t about to stop him. River, on the other hand, had other ideas. She put her hand on her husband’s. “Jayne ...” He pulled his fingers away. “They’re neither of ‘em our friends, bao bei. And I’m having a hard time figuring why they’re still on board.” He glared at Mal. Mal felt Freya tense, but he wasn't about to enlighten the rest of the crew as to their previous conversation. “Couldn’t leave ‘em back there,” he said instead. “And it’s only a few days to Persephone. They can get off at Eavesdown.” “Well, I ain’t taking my gun off ‘til then.” Jayne pushed his chair back with a squeal and picked up his plate. “And I reckon the rest o’yah should be doin’ the same.” He strode out of the kitchen. River sighed. “Sorry.” “It's okay, xiao nu,” Mal said. “He’s just saying what the rest of us are feeling.” “Uncle Mal?” Bethie turned her eyes on him, as did the rest of the children. “Bethie ...” He took a deep breath. “I know you like Batha. But neither of ‘em are gonna be on board for long, so I don’t want you to get too attached. She’s not your pet, and you better not be trying to make her that.” “I don’t.” “Maoli likes her,” Ethan put in. “And Fiddler.” Mal sighed. He knew, short of locking the kids in their rooms, he wasn’t going to be able to keep them away from the panther, and that meant they’d be around Cat. And that redhead confused him more than anyone he’d met in a long time. There was something familiar about her, but he knew he’d never met her, despite what she’d said. And as for them being lovers ... He glanced at Freya, hoping she hadn’t picked up on his thoughts, but the look in her eye suggested that she had, and he just knew there was going to be one of those conversations coming soon. Meanwhile Kaylee had shaken her head. “I don’t see, if they’re careful, why they can’t play a little.” She smiled. “I know I would, if I was their age. There was one time this big ship came to Pharos for fixing. It had a whole zoo on board, and there was this leopard ...” Her voice trailed away as she remembered the beautiful creature, all lithe and muscular, walking up and down in its cage behind the bars, and her wishing with her entire being that she could just open up the door and let it out to chase butterflies with her ... “I’ll watch,” River offered. Simon still looked uncertain. “Daddy?” Ethan looked into his father’s face. “Can we?” Mal looked at Zoe, waiting for advice from his first mate and oldest friend. She half-smiled. “Like I said, sir. I don’t think you’ve got any choice in the matter.” “Me neither.” Mal looked back at his son and heir. “Okay. Just ... don’t be bothering that cat too much. And that doesn’t mean you can be missing lessons, either.” Ethan grinned widely. “Thank you, Daddy!” The other children chorused their own gratitude. “Yeah, well ...” Mal coughed lightly. “You get on with your food, now.” “Yes, Uncle Mal!” Bethie said, and started pushing her supper even faster into her mouth. Simon sighed, and made a note to make sure they had a lot of antacids on hand, as well as small weaves. “Uh ... am I interrupting something?” Everyone looked up to see Declan in the doorway. Kaylee beamed. “Come on in!” She got up quickly and pointed to the empty chair next to River. “Take a seat. I’ve saved some supper for you.” She hurried around the other side of the counter. “Thanks.” He sat down, smiling at her as she put a warmed plate in front of him. “Smells good.” “Well, we do what we can with what we got.” She slid back into her own chair. “Simon’s getting real good at making protein taste like the real thing, and what with River’s vegetables, we do okay.” “Vegetables?” He picked up a fork, spearing what appeared to be a real carrot. “I grow them,” the young woman next to him said. “And strawberries.” Kaylee giggled, and the atmosphere suddenly lightened. “Dig in, son,” Mal said, his own lips twitching. “We don’t exactly stand on ceremony.” ==== 'Should eat.' Batha's nose bumped Cat as she unpacked the clothes from her bag. 'Smells good.' 'It does, but I don't want to suffocate Mal. Not yet, anyway.' 'Fraid for Lady Captain? 'She thinks I want to take him away.' 'Sense that too. Tell her can't. Cubs keep Captain.'

'Of course they do.'

'Also love. Pain.' 'Pain?' 'Not hurt. Something else. Darker.' 'Riddles, my beast, you speak in too many riddles.' She leaned down to grip the sides of the panther's face and buried hers in it. The panther pushed her over and batted at her long red hair. 'Kitten.' 'Pussy cat.' Batha growled gently before swiping Cat with her big paw across the face. Walking off, she yelped as Cat tackled her to the ground. If anyone was listening, they could hear laughter both in their heads and ears. ==== “So before your meet was so rudely interrupted, what was your plan?” Declan asked, enjoying the coffee he’d been supplied with after the plates had been cleared. The talk had been of everything under the sun, carefully avoiding the subject of him or Cat, but now, with the kids having been sent to play for a while before bed, it felt like the time had come to broach the subject. “Well, that’s an interesting question,” Mal said, leaning back in his chair, tactfully ignoring the fact that his son and daughter were probably even now bundled up with a panther. “The cargo we were gonna pick up was going to Regina, but it was strictly cash on delivery, so we’re down something in the way of money.” He shook his head. “Things’ve been a little tight lately, what with the Alliance clamping down even more on a lot of our kinda business, so we can't do with losing work like this.” “I’ve got some coin with me,” Declan said, reaching into his pocket. “I don’t mind paying –“ “We can talk about that,” Mal said quickly. “Right now, we’re headed for Persephone. Maybe Badger’ll have something for us.” “Badger?” Hank shook his head. “That weasel’s as likely to sell us out as look at us.” “I know. And the last coupla years ain’t made him any prettier on the eye, but like Frey here says sometimes, beggars can’t be choosers.” “Not sure we’re down to begging that far, is all, Mal,” Hank said. “Maybehaps there’ll be something else we can pick up.” “And you’re still planning on putting me and Cat off there?” Declan asked. “It’s as good a place as any. There’s other transports, you might be able to get a ride someplace.” Declan had to laugh. “I'm not sure I’d know where I was going." “Up to you.” “Besides, from what Cat was saying, it might be better if we stayed put.” At Mal’s glare he subsided somewhat. “Yeah, well, whatever.” “So ... where you came from ... when you came from ...” Kaylee began. “Is it ... very different?” “Some, I guess. The war changed things, although I’m bound to say out away from the Core things still run pretty much the way they always did. It’s closer in, the damage to places like Persephone, Osiris ...” “Damage?” Zoe sat forward. “Yeah.” Declan nodded. “I know about how the victors are supposed to write the history, but everyone knows what happened there. The fighting, the killing ... the Alliance weren’t ever going to give in easy, but ...” He stopped, his eyes going to River. “Things happened. I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you too much.” “Cat told you not to tell us, huh?” Hank suggested. “She ... might’ve mentioned it.” “It doesn’t matter,” River said. “This ‘verse isn’t the same. And with you being here it’s changed again.” Hank sighed. “You know, sometimes I wish I understood half of what you say. Then, when I do, I wish I didn’t.” She flashed him a wide grin. “What River means is it doesn’t matter,” Freya said slowly. “Whatever might have happened, well, it’s all ... fluid again.” “Now, see, I didn’t understand that either,” Hank moaned. “It’s not written,” Zoe explained. “Maybe it was, but it isn’t now. Nobody knows how this is going to play out.” “Oh.” The pilot ran his hands through his untidy hair. “Right.” He chuckled ruefully. “Although, the truth is, I’d kinda like to know what’s going to happen. Just so’s I can get out of its way.” “Sometimes destiny can’t be avoided,” River said on a sigh, her eyes on the door her husband had left through. Declan looked at her curiously, wondering just how much this enigmatic young woman knew. “And sometimes what folks say is gonna happen is wrong.” Serenity’s captain stared into his coffee. Freya stood up. “I think it’s time the children were getting ready for bed, don’t you?” She held out her hand to Mal. His eyebrows raised. “Really? You think they can’t do it by themselves by now?” “Mal.” Ah. “Fine.” He stood up and stretched. “Early night’d be good.” “Quite possibly.” Declan watched as Mal followed his wife as nonchalantly as possible, and tried not to smile. Somehow he had the impression there was a difficult conversation in the works, and as much as he might enjoy listening in, he rather fancied living beyond that particular day. “Honey?” Simon got to his own feet. “Do you want me to give you a hand?” “No, no,” Kaylee said quickly, springing up. “You cooked, it’s my job to clean.” “I don’t mind.” He put his hands on her hips. “No, that’s okay.” She kissed his nose. “I’ll help,” Declan said, surprising them both. “Really?” Kaylee smiled brightly at him. “I want to. I kinda feel I have to do something to earn that meal, and my own Momma made sure I could wash up without breaking the plates.” “Then I don’t mind at all.” She led the way around the counter to the sink. “You know,” Hank said as he walked slowly out of the kitchen to head back to the bridge to take one last check on their course, “he’s okay.” Zoe shrugged. “I suppose.” He turned to face her by the stairs. “What?” “Mmn?” “What is it? I know you don’t trust them because Mal doesn’t but what can they do?” “What can they ...” She stared at him. “You saw what Cat did. To those men.” He touched her arm. “Baby, they were going to kill you. I for one am pretty damn glad she did.” “That’s not the point.” “Then what is?” He sighed heavily. “Zo, Frey brought them on board. I don’t think she’d have done that if they were dangerous.” “Dangerous?” “To us, I mean.” “Oh, Hank.” She stood closer to him, gazing into his grey eyes. “Sometimes I wonder if you’re not just a little bit ...” “Too trusting?” “Crazy.” He grinned. “That’s why you married me, wasn’t it?” “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.” === The children had gone to bed, albeit grumbling, wanting to stay up and play with their new friend, but eventually they were washed and under the covers. "You know they ain't gonna stay there," Mal said, closing Ethan's door. "Probably not." "Always knew I should've had locks put on these rooms." "Mmn." She walked away from him up the stairs, not speaking. He waited until they were in their bunk, the hatch securely closed. "Okay, Frey. What's on your mind?" "Nothing." She started to rearrange her incense accoutrements. "It don't look like nothing." He put his hands on his hips. "Frey, you were the one told me they had to be on board." "They do." "Then what's the problem?" She flashed him a glare. "Nothing." "It wasn't me." "I know." "Then what -" "It's what River said." Suddenly the words were flowing, and nothing she could do was going to stop them. "About it not being set any more, because Cat being here changed things." "You mean it being fluid again." "Yes." "And you think I'm gonna up and decide I want her, not you." She lifted her chin defiantly. "What if I do?" "Frey, you've always had this problem." "Problem? Me?" "You. And the truth is ... I can take your jealousy over ... hell, any of the women I've been with. But I ain't even slept with Cat!" "I'm not jealous." "Not ..." He shook his head and stifled a grunt of laughter at her about face. "A woman comes on board, looking like she does, and says in another 'verse her and me were lovers. Diyu, but if it were round the other way I'd be green." "I just ..." Her shoulders slumped and she walked to the bed, dropping onto the sheets. "I can't help it." She stared down at the engagement and wedding rings on her finger, remembering the times he'd put them on her. "I can't help it, Mal." He went down onto his heels in front of her. "You thought I was having an affair with Inara." Her lips tightened. "Maybe." "And then there was Becca, Magpie, Maddy ..." "Don't rub it in, Mal," she said, a little of her normal spirit shining. "Frey, there ain't a single person in this entire 'verse, and any other, that I want more'n you." He looked into her brown eyes. "'Cept you find it hard to believe that, don't you?" "Mal, I ..." "I wish I could show you. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you the truth. But I promise, it wasn't me." "It could be." He took a deep breath and sat back on the floor, trying to bury the slow-burning anger. They'd had pretty much the same conversation a number of times over the years, and it didn't get any better. "You want me to?" He rested his hands on his bent knees. "You want me to go find Cat, strip her naked and have my way with her over that damn mule of hers?" "No." "'Cause the way you're going, it might come to that." "Do not even joke about it." "Then don't do this." He scooted round onto his knees. "Frey ... is it something else? Something you're not telling me?" Her hazel eyes gazed into his, and he wondered what truths she was staring at, then she shook her head. "No. Nothing. I'm just ..." She leaned back. "I wish I didn't feel this way, Mal." "Don't you trust me?" "Of course I do. It's just -" Mal felt his temper snap. "It's just. Dammit, Frey, it's always 'it's just'." He got to his feet. "You either do or you don't, and if you don't then we've got a problem." "Don't you be putting all this on me." "Why not?" He shook his head. "You were the one invited them on board." He turned on his heel and climbed the ladder, ignoring her sharp intake of hurt breath. ==== Cat checked her supplies again just to make sure everything had weathered the trip through time and space. At least that's what she told herself. It made it easier if she pretended not to care, even though her entire mind was in turmoil. A light touch made her stop, but she didn't turn. Instead, with a whisper, her voice rumbled. "I feel you, Little sister." "Am not your sister." From the shadows, River came. She looked different, kinder, gentler, but still held that same River attitude. She protected what was hers, though Cat wondered if they had done the same things to her as the River in her universe. "Very true. You are not." It pained her to say those words, but then after everything she had seen, pain had become part of her being. "Freya has taught you much." "Control," she stated and then tilted her head as tendrils of herself flooded Cat's mind trying to break down the walls. "Find the ball." A laugh erupted from Cat's belly. "Yes, find the ball. A game we played and you almost always won." "Almost." She crinkled her nose for a second. "Yes, Little sister, almost. Sometimes I hid it where even you couldn't find it." A flash of darkness shadowed the green eyes before reverting back to normal. River stared at her a moment before speaking again. "Darkness." One word spoken between them and it hung as the two stared at each other. "You were her Freya." "No." Breaking their eye contact, Cat turned to unpack a long sleeve green flannel shirt, the very faintest scent of cigarette smoke filling the air around them. River noticed a single hole with what looked to be stained blood around the tear. Instead of questioning it, she let the strange woman continue. "We never got that close." Cat's lie slid from her lips before she could stop it. "You called me Little Sister. Don't patronize me with a lie." "Freya might need you. Seems out of sorts." Not that Cat would know, but it was a way to get the young woman away from her. "She hurts." "I know. But that's not my fault." "She's afraid you'll give in." "What, to wanting Mal?" "Saw him die ..." "Many times over," she breathed before pointing her finger at River. "Little sister, you keep out of my brain. There're things in there that will bite." "I'm not your sister!" "Exactly." "Hurt Freya, and you'll find I bite too." River walked past her in a huff and Cat's voice stopped her. Something needed to be said and not left like this. "We were never mother and daughter. I refused to let you think of me as that." She took a breath. "And I didn't teach you as much about keeping control as losing it." "I'm dangerous when I lose control." Her face darkened a little at the next words from Cat's mouth, fangs rubbing against her lip. "Sometimes in losing yourself though, you find yourself. You find the ball." Wrapping the shirt around her shoulders, the red head walked away leaving River to consider her final words. Cat looked over her shoulder, drawing in the smell of her husband from his shirt. "God, it was easier when it was just us, Lao Gohn." Her index finger found the bullet hole and she laughed. "I said easier ... not safer." With a new sense of confidence, she headed for the bridge. After all, with all this to think about, it was the only logical place for Mal to be.


AN: Enjoy! Thanks Werzbowski for the cool character loan. It's good to be writing him again.


Monday, October 18, 2010 9:16 AM


Declan's such a good boy... keep up the good stuff.

Monday, October 18, 2010 12:44 PM


I can't believe you were only given a 9 for this! Love, love, loved it! I especially loved River being protective of Frey and letting Cat know she would not let her hurt her. As for Frey and her jealousy, I really do hope it does not grow into a great big wedge between her and Mal though I am a mite worried at Cat heading for the bridge because that is where Mal is most likely to be. And Declan, that boy has a goodly soul! Thanks for another shiny chapter, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 9:36 AM


Good work you two are doing here! Were I Cat, I would think twice about getting on River's bad side...blood may happen - lots of it :S Looks like Mal has to decided where his loyalties lie. Talk about rough decisions xD

Saturday, October 23, 2010 1:51 PM


Holy Smokes Angelle & Jane0409.!Truly an excellent read!!

Letting the kiddies play with the big cat is scary. Don’t think I’d do it if I were Mal, but I’m not.

Anyway, looks as if River is ready to defend what she’s wanted for a long time, a true family aboard Serenity……and btw- I had a feeling trouble was abrew in the Mal house.

Now on to chap 7.….BPZ


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