The Bouncing Ball Ch 9
Monday, November 8, 2010

Jane and I having fun... the crew gets drunk and bonds... Declan lifts weights...


Chapter 9 Jayne was sitting on his weights bench, holding one of his dumbbells but not doing anything with it. Instead he was staring into space, his mind about as blank as he could make it. The cat ... panther, he corrected himself before grimacing, had wandered off, ‘pparently bored with torturing him, although part of his hindbrain was still listening out, just in case. Cat – the real one – wasn’t anywhere to be seen either. Which might be more dangerous. It was times like this Jayne missed the Preacher most. Book’s advice, whether they were spotting each other lifting weights or hanging around a gunfight, while rooted in morals more often than not was at least always relevant. Trouble was, seeing that cat ... panther playing with short stub and the other kids had him wondering if maybe he was wrong. He still didn’t trust any of these strangers, not as far as he could spit (which was, to be honest, quite a distance, and, hell, he had half a dozen guns about his person right now, didn’t he?) but could someone Bethie liked be all bad? Except the kid was only eight, so what did she know? “Oh, sorry.” Jayne looked up. It was the young man, Declan, a towel over his shoulder. He was wearing a pair of Hank’s pants and what looked like one of Simon’s singlets. “Yeah?” “I ... was just going to do some reps.” “Yeah?” “I mean, if you don’t mind. I’m finding it hard to sleep, and I thought some exercise might tire me out." Jayne, who had been having the same problem, shrugged. “Sure. Go ahead.” He stood up, placing the dumbbell back in the rack. “You want me to spot yah?” Declan looked surprised. “I ... yeah, that would be good.” He watched Jayne stack the weights on the bar, and felt his stomach drop. Above them, on the catwalk outside the shuttle, River lay face down, staring through the grill, watching her husband take the first, tentative steps to acceptance, while listening to two other conversations entirely. ==== In the kitchen Freya and Cat had settled at the old table, two full glasses, a bottle of tequila and a pitcher of what was passing for orange juice in front of them. "So ..." Freya said, eschewing the usual pleasantries, “What haven’t you told Mal?” “What makes you think I’ve left anything out?" At Freya's raised eyebrow, Cat chuckled. "And don’t look at me like that.” “Well then?” So this was going to be a serious conversation. Cat struggled with herself for a moment, then said, “There are other ‘verses ... used to be others.” “I don’t understand.” “Neither do I, not really. But ...” She shook her head, her fang biting her lip. “What I said about Mal being important, well, I wasn't being clever. Or understating. I’ve been sent to so many realities, and all of them have one thing in common. Mal.” “I think you’d better explain why.” “I ... can’t. Not really. There are others who might be able to explain the dynamics, but I only know what I’ve seen.” “Then tell me that.” Cat took a sip of tequila, feeling it burning down her throat, and took comfort in it, despite the fact that she knew the alcohol was never going to affect her. “I’ve lost track of how many, but each time I was supposed to save Mal’s life.” “Always the same point?” “No.” Her mind wandered back over them, picking out just a few. “Once he was five, and out with his Pa, and the cattle spooked and they stampeded. Then there was the time he was seventeen and in the hayloft with ... well, it doesn’t matter, and there was a fire. And during the war, more than once ...” “And did you do it? Save ... him?” “No.” Freya’s face paled. “Not ...” “Until now. He’s alive, Freya.” “I know.” Still, she gulped down some of the juice, wishing it could be spiked. “Go on.” “And each time, I knew. The moment it ... the moment he died. I was back where I started, and that ‘verse was closed off.” “So you couldn’t go back, try again.” “No.” “And each of these times he ... were they natural?” Cat was surprised. She was pretty sure Freya hadn’t Read her, hadn’t picked the knowledge out of her brain. She made a mental note not to underestimate this woman. “No. Not once. The stampede was caused by men firing guns, the fire was kerosene ... All of them deliberate.” “Did you try?” There was a harshness in Freya's voice she hadn't heard before. “Shit, Freya, of course I did!” She could still feel the hooves crushing her bones, the flames licking at her exposed flesh ... “I wanted to save him. So damn much.” “You said this was the last one. The last ‘verse." Freya sat forward, cradling the glass in her hands. "But surely each action we’re taking now is creating more.” “I don’t know,” Cat admitted. “Rex said this was it, and if I couldn’t save Mal here, the Alliance had won.” “Rex?” “No-one you need worry about.” Need to be more careful, Cat told herself, making her walls even tighter so not even the hint of a brightly coloured shirt could worm its way out. “Is he an expert?” “Probably not, but ... I believe him.” Freya nodded slowly, taking in the sincerity in the other woman's voice. “Then I’m sorry,” she murmured. “For what?" Cat blinked. “You saw him die a hundred times, a thousand ... I can’t believe how that must have made you feel. For all the times he’s been injured, I’ve only thought he was dead once. And I couldn’t cope, couldn’t go on without him.” In halting words, stopping every so often for another mouthful of the juice Cat kept topping up, Freya told of what had happened on Three Hills, how the mental connection had been broken and she was convinced Mal had died in the river that snowy night. How she’d tried to continue, to carry on the day to day tasks, but was broken inside. The evening she’d taken the poison from the infirmary ... “I wanted to end it, to be with him. But they wouldn’t let me.” “They?” “My family. River, Simon, Jayne ... they wouldn’t let me go, and I hated them for it.” Holding Mal that last night, on the bridge of Serenity. They’d made it as comfortable as possible, removing the left hand chair and putting in a cot so he could lie and watch the stars. Simon being Simon the doctor, all the while wanting to break down but not letting himself, Kaylee being Kaylee and fluttering around trying to keep the Firefly in the sky while crying too much to see anything ... As his last breath left his body she had howled her anger at the moons ... “I don’t expect you to understand, but I believe you,” Cat said quietly. Freya rubbed at her eyes. “I think maybe you do.” 'Not for Captain Man,' a panther voice grumbled in Cat’s mind, and a remembrance of cigarette smoke filtered in with it. 'No. Not for Mal.' “But when he came back, when I realised I wasn’t alone ...” Now Freya smiled. “You have no idea.” 'No. Never had that joy.' “Let me guess. You vowed not to let it happen again.” “Even if I had to hogtie him to the bed.” Cat smiled, her fangs showing a little. “I’m also guessing he’s been difficult to do that to.” “Except when he enjoys it.” Cat raised her glass. “To Mal and his annoying habits. Whichever ‘verse he’s in.” “Amen to that, sister.” Freya toasted with her juice. 'Sister?' 'It's nothing, Bat. She didn’t know what she said.' 'Too alike under the skin.' 'Oh, shut up.' ==== "There's something real sad about her, don'tcha think?" "Can't say I've noticed." "A'course you have!" Kaylee reached out from under the sink unit. "Wrench." Zoe slapped the requested tool into the palm of her hand in the manner of a nurse handing a scalpel to a surgeon. "You didn't have to do this now." "Can't waste water." The first mate had mentioned in passing after dinner that she thought the tap in her and Hank's bunk might be leaking, and it wasn't more than twenty minutes later that the young mechanic had appeared at the hatch, tool box in hand, and was soon tackling the problem. "We'll be refilling when we land at Eavesdown in the morning," Zoe pointed out. "Yeah, but you know how I am. Can't be having a problem I don't fix there and then. And I wanted to talk about Cat anyway." "I gathered that." Kaylee wriggled out a little so she could gaze at her friend. "You believe her? What she's been saying?" "You mean about the captain being important?" "Being the lynch-pin for the 'verse, yeah." She shrugged as much as she could. "I mean, we know he's important. Look at Miranda." "Careful, Kaylee, or he'll be getting a swell head." "Mal? Nah." She grinned. "Still, I kinda like her." "You like everyone." "Not everyone." The grin widened and she scooted back, a squealing sound indicating she was performing her own special music on Serenity's ancient plumbing. "And I do like Cat. Can't help feeling she's got all sortsa stories." Zoe shook her head and sighed. She looked at the redhead and saw a warrior, a fighter, a killer. Kaylee looked and saw someone who needed looking after. "Will you be much longer? I was thinking of getting ready for bed." "Not long." She appeared again. "Although ... you know, I've got some of my stuff that's been brewing for a while. Fancy a nightcap?" ==== By the time Declan puffed his way to the end of the third set, he’d gathered something of an audience. Simon was leaning in the doorway to the common area, while Hank had come down from the bridge to make snarky comments, or – as he put it – murmur tender words of encouragement. Mal, on the other hand, was sitting on the stairs, his hands loosely clasped between his knees. “Nice to see you’re making an effort," he commented to Jayne as the big man helped lift the bar back into its cradle. “Just saving the doc some work if he pulls something.” “Thanks!” Declan managed to grunt out. “No offence.” “I’ll consider taking some when I get the use of my arms back. Damn, do you lift that much usually?” “That? Just a warm up.” “God, I need more protein ...” Simon stirred. “How about a drink instead?” Mal stared at the young man. “Doc, are you suggesting – “ “Just that, after all the tension of the last few days, it wouldn’t do any of us any harm.” "Kinda like a prescription?" Hank asked hopefully. "Something like." The pilot rubbed his palms together. "Sounds like my kind of medicine." "I've got a bottle of tequila in the kitchen," Mal said, standing up. "We could go up there and -" "Ah, better not," Hank put in quickly. "When I was on my way down I saw Frey and Cat in there. Talking." "They're what?" Mal couldn't help the surprise in his voice. "You know? Mouths moving, sounds coming out ... talking." Hank shrugged. "It looked pretty serious." "My money's on Frey," Jayne said stoutly. "I don't know," Mal admitted. "Cat seems to be ... efficient at killing." "It's those claws give me the heebie jeebies," Hank said, and shuddered theatrically. "Cat's fine," Declan said, getting slowly to his feet and wondering if he could take on all four of them at once. "Don't you go saying anything against her." Mal held up a hand. "Look, son, it's not that -" "I'm not your son." Declan's fingers curled into fists. "I had a Pa, and believe me, even the great Mal Reynolds'd have to go a long way to even coming close to him." There was a moment's strained silence, then Mal sighed deeply. "Kid ... Dec ... don't go getting yourself all in a twist. Nobody was impugning either your Pa or Cat. If anything, we're a little bit awed by her." "I ain't," Jayne put in. "When I say we, I mean those of the crew who have more than a couple of brain cells to rub together," Mal went on smoothly. "But you know we've got questions, and the answers have been a bit on the non-existent side, so you've got to see it from our point of view." They could see the young man make a conscious effort, and his hands relaxed. "Shiny. And yeah. I guess I'd be more'n a bit suspicious if it'd been my ship you'd landed in." "So now my professional services aren't required," Simon put in, "I've got some medicinal alcohol I'm willing to donate." "'Sides, Mal, I'm pretty sure it was your bottle of tequila Frey'd got out," Hank added. "My booze?" Mal shook his head. "Is a man's secret stash not sacred anymore?" "I'd say not." Jayne harrumphed. "Hell, if that's the way it is ... I got something in the shuttle. Probably a couple o' somethings, come to think of it." He pushed past Mal up the metal staircase, and wasn't surprised to see River waiting for him, two large bottles in her hands. "Don't drink it all at once," she advised. "You gonna come join us?" "I don't think so. All boys together. Bonding. Telling tales. Comparing sizes." She shook her head, her nose wrinkling. "I have other fish to fry." She went up onto her toes and kissed his cheek, then skipped off through the hatchway. ==== "What are you, Cat?" Freya asked, bringing another jug of juice from the fridge and wondering if she didn't need to visit the bathroom, or whether she could hold out a little while longer. "I told you. A construct." "No. I mean, more specifically." "A weapon ... to protect the world from Reavers and anything else the Alliance deemed damn well unnecessary.” Cat stared into her tequila as if she was trying to will some answers from it. “I was created with infused DNA ... some from Batha, some from humans, and some from a source kept secret from even me. Because of this, I am of two minds ... one that you see before you, the other darker than even the deepest shadows. Mal always said it was what he saw in the eyes of every Reaver he ever went up against.” “And yet he kept you around.” “Yeah, well, I grow on you.” “That’s what they say about fungus.” Cat’s head whipped up, but there was just the hint of a smile on Freya’s face. “You know, most people don’t try and joke with me,” the redhead pointed out. “Why? Don’t you have a sense of humour?” “The Alliance didn’t build one into me, no.” Cat had to chuckle. “But once you’ve hung around Malcolm Reynolds long enough, you have to acquire one. Or just shoot him.” Frey touched her glass to Cat’s. “Oh, yes.” They sipped companionably, then she went on, “You know, I understand about the darkness. The other part that you need to control.” She paused for just a moment then said, in a much quieter voice, “River wasn’t the only one to attend an Academy.” “I know.” Cat breathed deeply. “I could smell it on you and River from the moment I saw you both. ‘Verse might be different, but that perfume ... it don’t change.” “I think you’re more than a touch psychic yourself.” “Nope. Not like that. Not like you and River. For which I thank God.” She sat back. “I don’t need to read people’s minds. I know what goes on in them.” She twirled the glass, watching the liquid move inside. “Every day we plan murder in our heads, mostly out of anger.” “Most people don’t act on those thoughts.” “No, they don’t. But thoughts are meant to remain their owners, not laid out for others to see. Bad enough having a panther in my head.” 'Have you too,' Batha snorted. Freya hadn't heard. “You don’t like Readers.” “Truth is, we’re all different. Some are more different than others. And no, I don’t particularly like folks rummaging in my head. But I’ve had to get used to it.” “Kitty?” Cat’s eyes glowed. “What do you know about her?” “Nothing.” Freya tilted her head slightly. “Only what Batha was projecting.” “Kitty’s ... special.” “Does she exist here?” “No.” Cat tossed the tequila down her throat, wishing it would burn away the taste of the past. “Just like me.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t.” Freya nodded. “So ... it looks like Batha’s enjoying herself,” she said, changing the subject. “That she is.” Cat smiled. “She won’t hurt them.” “I know.” “Me too!” Kaylee’s voice preceded her by a second, then the woman herself appeared, Zoe behind her. “Hey, you drinking?” “Being companionable,” Freya agreed. “Good idea.” The mechanic jumped down into the kitchen. “Only it looks like maybe you’re running dry. I’ll be right back.” She hurried through to her own, red-tinted domain. “Did she ever quieten down in your ‘verse?” Freya asked softly. “Nope. Not even a little bit. But then, with so many grandchildren to chase after ...” “Grandchildren?” “Oh, yes.” “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Freya beckoned. "Zoe, stop standing there like a fifth wheel and join us." Somewhat reluctantly, given how everyone thought of her as a warrior woman, Zoe crossed the room and sat down. "Frey. Cat." "Hey." Cat nodded fractionally. "So what are you talking about?" the first mate wanted to know. "Nothing much," the redhead said quickly. She still hadn't quite got used to this version of Mal's oldest friend not being her enemy. "Just chewing the fat." "Talking about kids, that sort of thing," Freya added. "Sisters," River put in, sliding through the door and going to the counter to pick up another handful of glasses. "You old enough to drink?" Cat asked as she spaced them precisely out in front of the empty chairs. "I am a wife and mother," the young woman said haughtily. "I drink. On occasion. And this is such an occasion." She lifted up the bottle of tequila. "Not much left," she complained. "Don't you never mind about that," Kaylee said, coming back into the warm room. She held up two jugs. "Look what I got!" ==== "So tell us about Cat," Mal encouraged, his eyes barely tearing up any more from the quality - or lack thereof - of Jayne's contribution. He must have gotten used to it, which in itself was a somewhat terrifying thought. "How you got to know her, that kind of thing." "Well ..." Declan scratched his head. "Truth is, I only really met her the day we jumped." At their astonished stares he went on quickly, "Of course, my Pa used to tell stories about her, all the time. Least, 'til he passed in the war." "You mean the one the Independents lost?" Hank asked, sitting on the floor and leaning back on a crate. He was feeling pleasantly mellow, and it seemed easier to be on the deck in case he passed out before he was ready. "No. The one we won." "I don't understand." The pilot sighed heavily. "All this backwards and forwards you do ... how the diyu do you keep it straight?" "This is kinda my first jump," Declan admitted. "So it's all new to me too." "What was it like?" Simon asked, ever the medical professional. "Was there any pain?" "Disorientating more than anything. And it gave me a headache, although that coulda been Cat punching me." "You were lucky she didn't gut yah," Jayne said, taking another slug before proferring the bottle to Mal. "She's not like that." "How do you know?" Mal asked, wiping the mouth of the bottle with his sleeve before drinking, and ignoring his ex-merc's look. "I mean, you said you'd only just met her." "I know, but ..." He sat forward on the barrel. "The way my Pa talked about her ... yeah, she hurt him once in a while, but he did the same to her. And it was that violence seemed to stick 'em together." "Then how come she wasn't with him?" Mal could feel a faint sheen of perspiration on his forehead. "How come she was with me? Him. The other me?" Declan shrugged. "Don't know. Pa never said. Just that he was honoured to fight alongside you." He grabbed the second bottle from Hank and swallowed hard. "Hmmn." "Okay, I'm done being maudlin." Declan took a deep breath. "How about a game of cards?" Jayne and Mal exchanged a look. Hank noticed. "Look, you guys can play. I'll just sit here and drink." "Not a good idea," Mal said. "You know what Zoe's gonna say if you roll into your bunk stinking of booze." "True." Hank nodded, a little too forcefully. "Then how about ..." He managed to lever himself to his feet. "... a game of horseshoes?" "That sounds like fun," Simon said. Okay, now I know our young doc here's had too much to drink, Mal thought to himself. He'd never agree to this otherwise. Still ... "Shiny," he said, the mischievous imp on his shoulder prodding him with its pitchfork. "Jayne, set 'em up." ==== "He's kinda cute," Kaylee said, having to be careful with her pouring to get the clear liquid in the glasses and not on the tabletop. "Who?" River asked, wondering if the little angels she was beginning to see were hers or Jayne's. "Declan." "You're a married woman," Zoe pointed out, tapping the mechanic on the arm. "You shouldn't be looking." Kaykee shook her head. "Hey, if looking's all I ever do, Simon's gonna be happy." "And are you?" Cat asked, having to fight to keep the smile off her face. Kaylee's interengine fermentation product had a hell of a kick to it, and even though she could metabolise alcohol almost instantly she could still feel the initial blurring. "Happy?" Kaylee's face dissolved into a grin. "Absolutely. We're happy. Really, really happy." She sighed. "Happy." "I get that. I always did." "Were we ... friends?" Kaylee covered her mouth over as soon as she'd spoken, as if afraid of the answer. Cat nodded. "Yes. Good friends." "S'nice." "And us?" Zoe asked. "We ... had our disagreements." "Over Mal?" The dream played back through her mind again, but she only said, "Of course." "I suppose I'm not surprised." "You didn't trust me. Not at first." "Still don't." "But at least I knew where I stood with you." "Still do," Zoe said, then smiled a little. Tell truth, Batha advised, but Cat ignored her. "I guess that's all I can ask for." ========================


Monday, November 8, 2010 5:37 AM


Loved this. Was so looking forward to Frey and Cat having some kind of heart to heat and Yippee, here it is with bells on! Plus the boys having their own little bonding session makes it all super shiny. The wave you weave this tale is poetry, girl. *Xie Xie ni*, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, November 8, 2010 5:39 AM


Ooops, sorry, it's like I've had one too many my own self. That should read 'heart to heart' and 'The way you weave'. Ali D :~) BBG (Big Bad Grin)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, November 8, 2010 7:04 AM


Thanks, Ali. Now lay off the sauce. ;)

Monday, November 8, 2010 10:33 AM


Me likey... a very... homey episode. Everyone getting to know one another.

- 'Ski


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