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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Mal gets angry at River, and apologises to Freya. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2009 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“I take it she’s back?”
“Yes.” Freya retraced her steps back into the kitchen.
Mal cocked his head slightly. “Jayne does not sound happy.”
“I think that’s putting it mildly.” She still wasn’t looking at him as she walked to the counter. “You’d better go before he gets really angry.”
“You’re not coming?”
“No. Not this time. I think this is something you need to deal with.”
He stared at her a moment longer, then nodded sharply, just once, and strode out of the kitchen.
Leaning on her hands, Freya tried to calm her heart rate. She knew he didn’t mean it, that it was said in the heat of the moment, but it still hurt, and he hadn’t apologised immediately, just left it out there, almost accusing her of being the reason Hank was lying in the infirmary, hooked up to all those machines. Which was irrational, and stupid, but she wasn’t feeling particularly clever or sane at that moment. Just alone. She glanced towards the bunks.
“Are you fong luh?” Mal asked, anger bubbling inside him even as he took a microsecond of a pause. “Well, more crazy than usual.”
“I know a hawk from a handsaw,” River said, sitting down at the tiny dressing table and looking at herself in the mirror.
Jayne had explained, in terse, mostly monosyllables, what his wife had been up to. “Did you know ‘bout this?” he thundered at Mal.
“No.” The hard look on Mal’s face was all Jayne needed to be sure. “Do you think I’d have let her?”
“I was safe,” River insisted, taking the pins out of her hair and letting it loose, scratching idly at her scalp. “And I’m home now anyway.”
“That ain’t the point.” Mal crossed his arms.
“Then what is?” River turned on the small chair to look up at her husband and her captain. “To keep me from danger?”
“I can look after myself.”
“And I wanted to get close to Medea, see what makes her tick.”
“She ain’t clockwork, Riv!” Jayne said, shaking his head.
River stood up and began unbuttoning her blouse. “I could make such a woman out of clay with more feeling than her.”
It showed Mal’s anger that he didn’t turn away immediately, only when the young woman also removed the tight bra that was revealed. “You’re not going to get out of it this way,” he asserted, glaring at the grey metal wall.
“Mal, we need information.”
“Which we’re getting. You didn’t have to put yourself in harm’s way.”
“But you’re more angry because I didn’t tell you.”
“And if I had told you my plan?” She stepped out of the skirt and quickly picked up one of her flowing dresses, slipping it over your head. “You can turn around again.”
Mal span on his heel, confronting her. “We could have discussed it.”
“Then you’d have said no.”
“I might not’ve.”
“Yes, you would.” She sighed. “No matter that I am a crazy lunatic assassin, you worry about me.”
Mal released a pent-up breath loudly through his nose. “A’course I do! I’m your captain.”
“You’re my jia yan.” She crossed the small shuttle and stood next to him, sliding her arm through his, resting her hand on his taut bicep. “It’s to be expected.”
He looked down into her chocolate eyes, then stepped back, unlocking his arms so her hands fell away. “No. You ain’t getting around me that way. You did something that verged on the insane, and that’s a fact.”
“I am insane.”
“That makes no never mind.”
River sighed. “I'm sorry.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Don’t you want to know what I've found out?”
“Not here, and not right now.” Mal turned and headed for the door. “The kitchen. Five minutes.” He left the shuttle, and they could hear his boots thudding angrily along the metal catwalk.
River picked at a fragment of dirt on her arm, her head on one side as she contemplated Mal’s reaction. “That didn’t go well,” she murmured.
“You expected it to?” Jayne was staring at her in amazement. “What did you think he was gonna do, offer you tea and dumplings?”
“I was working on my own initiative.”
“Yeah, well, that can get you killed,” he said shortly.
“Not so far.” She sat on the bed and undid her boots, slipping her slim feet from inside and flexing her toes.
Jayne was watching her, but not with the usual passion he had for his wife. Instead there was an odd blankness to his expression. “You’d best be getting going,” he said. “Mal won’t like it if you keep him waiting.”
“Aren't you coming?”
“Jayne?” She was surprised.
“I ... got things to do.” He turned, seeming to search for something, anything, before picking up his rifle, the gun he’d used to take down the deer. “Gotta clean this, else might have a misfire next time.”
“Are you angry with me?” she asked, knowing but not saying that he’d already cleaned it the day before, and pressed the tendrils of her mind at his mental walls. They seemed high and tight, lit bright red with fire from the inside.
“Mal’s waiting,” was all he said, grabbing his box of equipment and ducking out of the shuttle.
She stared at the empty doorway.
Mal dropped down into his bunk and shucked off his coat, tossing it onto the chair. Crossing to the tiny sink unit he pulled out the drawer and ran a little water over his hands, pressing them to his face before drying them with the old, thin towel hung up on the hook.
He leaned on the drawer and closed his eyes tight enough to see coloured lights erupt behind his lids.
“Jing-tzang mei yong-duh ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng.”
What had he done to deserve this? Sometimes he wondered if life wouldn’t have been easier if he’d never bought this boat, or if maybe he’d rotated the crew. Yeah, that might have worked. Not kept anyone on for longer than six months, a year maybe, before swapping them for someone new. New gunhand, new pilot, new medic. He knew some captains who did that, and they didn’t seem to have the same kind of troubles he did.
He opened his eyes and stared at himself in the mirror.
That was the trouble with hindsight. It was always twenty-twenty. And in this case almost one hundred percent wrong. If he’d done that he’d have lost the most jing tsai mechanic in the ‘verse, let alone a couple of pilots who could outfly the Alliance’s best. And although he wouldn’t have had to run quite so often because of River and Simon, the ‘verse wouldn’t have known about Miranda, about the Pax and Re-Pax, and Emil Quintana would still be trying to make better Reavers.
He took a deep breath. And he wouldn’t have had his ...
Slamming the sink drawer closed he looked up to the tiny shelf where she kept her meditation statue. An incense stick was still in the holder, something he knew hadn’t been there this morning, and it had been lit, although as he touched it barely a couple of millimetres of ash shivered from the end onto his fingers.
She must have come down almost the instant he’d gone to speak to River, after he’d said what he had. That was the very faint perfume he’d picked up. Except for once she hadn’t been able – or allowed herself – to meditate, to clear his words from her mind.
Rubbing the ash into his skin he jumped up the ladder two rungs at a time, looking first to the bridge then striding towards the kitchen.
She was cutting up vegetables, her knife taking slow, methodical slices off a carrot. “I'm making a stew for tonight,” she said inconsequentially. "You know how it always tastes better when it cooks all day. And I’m using some of Jayne’s meat.”
He paused at the bottom of the steps. “Huh? Oh, the deer.”
“Yes. What did you think I was talking about?”
“Wasn’t thinking.” He moved closer. “We got enough?”
“Someone should go shopping if we want more fresh vegetables,” Freya said, not lifting her head. “Although we’ve got enough dried stuff to last us from now until Christmas.”
“That much?” He tried a smile.
“Nearly.” She still hadn’t even glanced at him.
He withheld the sigh that threatened to slip past his lips. “I thought River’s garden was giving us what we needed.”
“Quite a lot, yes. But we have growing children on board, and they need it more than we do.”
“The kids. Yeah.”
Lifting the chopping board, she pushed the carrots into the casserole dish sitting waiting, then picked up one of the huge onions River grew. “I have to get on,” she said quietly.
“She’s a genius.”
“River. A genius.”
Okay, so she wasn’t going to let him apologise, not quite yet. “So that means she knows everything? Better’n the rest of us who’ve had a few more years out in the ‘verse?”
“Well, to date she hasn’t really met anyone who comes close, so she hasn’t had anything to gauge it by.” The smell of raw cut onion filled the kitchen.
“She put herself in danger, Frey.”
“I know. And I'm angry with her too.” She went to wipe at her eyes, but he was there, holding a linen handkerchief.
“Don’t,” he said gently. “You’ll make ‘em sore.” He dabbed at her cheeks, aware of the faint perfume of incense from her shirt warring with the vegetable’s pungency.
“I’m sorry.” There. He’d got it out.
“Saying what I did. And I didn’t mean it. Not a gorram word.”
“No, it ain’t.” He took hold of her hands, ignoring the razor sharp blade in her right, and pulled her around to face him. “I had no right to take it out on you. I know it wasn’t your fault Hank got shot, just like I know you’ve been trying to ‘see’ who did do it. Haven’t you?”
“Was that what you were trying to do? A little while ago in our bunk?”
She shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“Only me and my big mouth upset you too much, right?”
Finally she looked into his blue eyes. “It’s not that big,” she said.
Something like a weight seemed to lift from his shoulders. “Yeah, it is. And there are times I open it without my brain actually being engaged, and it’s like the gorram Osiris Canyon.”
“Okay. Apology accepted.” She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his.
“So I'm not relegated to the couch tonight?” He smiled again.
“Day’s still young.” She returned it. “And don’t be too mad at River.”
He stiffened slightly. “No, now, I’m not going to let you talk me into going easy on her.”
“I'm not asking for that. Just to ... understand her.”
“Oh, I understand her well enough.” He shook his head. “Frey, it’s one thing to go wandering off when the mood takes you if there’s no danger about. But Hank’s been shot, and that makes this different.”
“I mighta had plans, ways of getting information that River’s just screwed up.”
“I went to see the sheriff, didn’t I? And that’s not the point.”
“I know.” Freya did as River had, slipping her hand over his arm and squeezing gently. “Someone needs to be in charge, and that’s you. Captain of Serenity. Else we could all be running around like headless chickens.”
Her touch was warm, and he could feel it calming him – which was probably the idea, the little imp on his shoulder whispered in his ear, even though he told it to shut up. The slight flicker of Freya’s lips suggested she’d caught the tail end of his thought. Still ... “Headless chickens?”
“Go and sit down.”
“Still my boat,” he pointed out.
“Then go and sit down, captain. I’ll pour us some coffee. Fortify you for your encounter with our crazy lunatic assassin.”
He glared at her, albeit without heat. “Fine.” Knowing he smelled faintly of onion from where her hand had been on him, he walked around the counter towards his chair. “I’ve been too lenient on everyone, I know,” he added. “They think they can get away with anything.”
“Not anything.” She wiped her hands and took two mugs from the cupboard.
“Pretty much. They all talk back to me, question my decisions, argue with me ...”
“That’s only because we’re a family. And you’re the father.”
“Did you talk back to your Dad?” There was a silence in the kitchen, and he swallowed quickly, turning to look at her as she stood, head down. “Frey, I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to remind you of –”
“On occasion,” she admitted, her voice very quiet. “But I was only a girl, and could be safely ignored.”
“And River is a woman.”
The apparent non sequitur threw him for a moment. “Huh?” He sat down.
Freya carried the coffee to the table, setting one mug in front of him and taking her usual chair. “River isn't a girl anymore – she’s a woman. A wife and mother. And that’s without all the little extras she has, like being able to kill you with her brain.”
“I thought that came with being a woman,” he joked feebly. “Least I figure that’s how Simon feels when Kaylee’s mad at him.”
“Oh, we can all make your lives hell without having to resort to making your brain run out of your ears.” She sipped her coffee. “It’s just River can do both.”
“So that means she should be allowed to do what she wants?”
“No. But she thought she was helping.”
“And what if she’d got found out? Frey, the warrants on her and Simon might be old, but they’re still technically active. And the Tanners have connections with slavers – I know.” He’d told her about the man in the saloon when Jayne was talking to Addie. “It only takes a second for her to be bound, then we’d have to rescue her, there’d be blood, and we’d be running. Again. And that’s without even considering the New Browncoats, what they’d do if they had proof her and her bro were on board, if they believe what Quintana believed ...” That Simon’s DNA could produce a race of super psychics, on demand, totally loyal.
Freya put her hand on his. “You have to think of all these possibilities, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I'm captain. Kinda comes with the territory.”
“I don’t know about that.” She smiled slightly. “There were one or two I served under during the War who were only out for the glory, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the possible side effects of their actions.”
“War ain’t glorious.”
“You and I know that.” She squeezed gently, interlacing her fingers with his. “Although having been a lieutenant I can understand the temptation.”
She’d outranked him, eventually, something she occasionally brought up when he needed his tendency towards wanting to take on the guilt of the ‘verse pricked at his soul.
“Right,” he said, tightening his own grip on her. “But you’re not going to talk me outta being angry with River.”
“I’m not trying to. She needs to see that, right now, with things they are, she can’t just take it into her head and do something without at least telling someone where she’s going. And giving them the chance to dope her before she does.”
Mal couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Dope her?”
“Or tie her down. Or at the very least make her take one of Kaylee’s beacons with her.”
“I did.” River’s voice made them look up. She was standing in the doorway, looking suitable chastened, although how much of that was an act was debateable.
“You been listening?” Mal asked, knowing what the answer would be, since eavesdropping seemed to be a popular pastime with his crew.
“Yes,” the young woman admitted. “And I did.”
“Take a beacon.” She stepped down into the kitchen and walked to the table, placing the tiny device on the old wood. “I'm not stupid.”
“No?” All trace of humour was gone from Mal’s voice and expression, and the anger that had been banked down by Freya’s love flared into life again. “And how would we have known to check if something had gone wrong?”
“I would have said.” She didn’t mean verbally.
“Right.” Mal let go of Freya’s hand and picked up his mug. “And if someone had taken you by surprise? Got a tranq into you before you knew it? Worse?”
“Bullet in the brainpan, squish,” she murmured, then said, more than a trace of belligerence in her tone, “Then it would have been too late anyway, wouldn’t it?”
River. Freya’s mental voice was warning. Don’t.
The young woman ignored her. “I thought it was worth the risks.”
“You didn’t even tell Jayne!” Mal’s voice seemed to fill the room, bouncing off the flower-painted conduits.
“He would have said no.”
“And doesn’t that tell you anything? That even your husband thinks it was a bad idea?”
“I wanted to help.”
“Help.” He couldn’t stop himself. Pushing the chair back from the table with a squeal he got up to pace. “You wanted to help. By maybe getting yourself taken ... or killed.”
“I wouldn’t have been.”
“No?” He was suddenly in front of her, his height making him loom over her. “There’s someone out there with a gun that’s near as cao silent, and I got me a pilot down in the infirmary with a bullet hole through him to prove it. And you’re trying to tell me you could’ve got out of the way if someone took it into their head to point the gorram thing at you.”
Her gaze faltered, just a little. “One hundred percent would be the height of hubris.”
“But you can promise me that one chance in maybe a thousand won’t be today.”
“I can’t see the future.”
“But you told me you could. You told me you wouldn’t get hurt.”
He could see the indecision sweeping through her as she went over her own words, her own assumptions in her abilities, and he hated himself just a little. Except she needed to be reined in.
“I am a crazy lunatic assassin,” she repeated, but it wasn’t as firm as before.
“Yeah,” Mal said, gazing at her.
She swallowed. “I'm sorry.”
“But you’re not. That’s the point. You’d go and do it again if the situation came up.”
“No,” she insisted. “I learn from my mistakes.”
“So you’re admitting this was a mistake?”
“You think it was. So I won’t disagree.”
“Words. You’re just playing with words, River, and that don’t mean a gorram thing.” He turned away from her, his boots noisy as he strode to the counter, leaning on it with closed fists.
River turned her dark eyes to Freya. I don’t understand.
He’s angry because he was worried.
I was in no danger.
He didn’t know that.
He didn’t know I’d gone.
And that makes it better? That he would have no idea if you’d been hurt? That you could have been killed and he wouldn’t have been able to save you?
River looked back at Mal, at his taut shoulders, his head dropped to stare at nothing in particular, and let her mind step delicately through his. Her eyes widened. Freya was right. It sat there, staring at her, pulsing like a burning heart cut through with pain. He was worried because he loved her. Not like Jayne, not with the passion of physical need, but as a father for a daughter, how he felt for Jesse. And more, she could see all the possible outcomes he had imagined, each more terrible than the last, and how he doubted he could ever survive if yet another part of his soul was ripped away.
Tears filled her eyes. “Daddy ...” she whispered.
He heard. He stood straight and turned to look at her, the honest sorrow etched on her face, and it cut him to the quick. He held out his arms and she ran to him, shaking as he stroked her hair.
“Shh, shh,” he soothed.
“I'm sorry,” she mumbled against his chest. “I really am.”
“For getting found out?”
“Yes. And for making you worry.”
“Well, at least you’re being honest.” He glanced at Freya, who was nodding encouragingly. He pushed River back enough so he could look into her face. “Don’t do this again, dong mah? You got an idea, you come and tell me. Hell, we can argue about it until one of us is blue, but at least we can make a plan.”
“And you’ll know where I am if I disobey your orders.”
He had to chuckle. “You ain’t never gonna change, are you?”
“I have too much of my father in me,” she said softly. “Genetics be damned.”
“River, most of the time I’d be proud to have you as my daughter. Most of the time.”
“Sorry, jia yan.”
“And trying that pre-emptive meekness on me doesn’t work,” he pointed out, then pulled her back into a hug.
“Of course not.” She closed her eyes, enjoying the paternal closeness.
“Now, you’d better wash your face, then tell us what you found out.” With one final squeeze he let go. “Just so long as you realise who’s gonna be doing the septic vat next time.”
She laughed, rubbing at her face with the back of her hands. “Yes, father.”
to be continued
Saturday, April 30, 2011 5:52 AM
Saturday, April 30, 2011 6:11 PM
Monday, May 2, 2011 4:47 AM
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