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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
“I don’t want to be pitied!” The words were out before she could stop them. “Pity? You think that’s what’s going to go through their heads? Inara, I knew you were stubborn, but since when did you catch stupid?”
[Maya. Post-BDM. A little more of the fall-out from Inara's revelation, and a message from Monty. And yes, another chapter in just a few days!]
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1270 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Simon finished smoothing the plaster-soaked bandage around Freya’s left wrist. “At least it isn’t your gun hand,” he said dryly. “And you should have told me.”
“You were busy.”
“You do realise you’re making me go grey. Look. Grey hairs.” He indicated his temple, and Freya could see a silver thread.
“I’m sure Kaylee thinks it’s distinguished.”
“Well, that’s Kaylee.”
“And I would be grateful if you didn’t shoot my sister. Not until I’ve had the chance to remonstrate with her.”
“I won’t.” Freya could feel the cold support turning warm at the top and bottom of the plaster, but the wrist itself was still numb. “It wasn’t her fault. She’s just stronger than she knows.”
“She should have tried a reasoned argument.”
“I wouldn’t let her.” She sighed. “My fault as much as hers.”
“And I conjure she’s gonna be feeling guilty about it,” Mal put in from where he was leaning against the counter, his arms crossed.
“So did you finish arguing with Inara?” Simon asked as he cleaned up the debris.
“How did you know …”
“Mal, everyone heard. I think there may have been people on Magdelene who now know that Inara’s sick.”
Mal coloured, and for once it showed just above his shirt collar. “She should have told us.”
“Yes, she should. But there’s no good crying over spilled martinis.”
“Milk,” Freya said absently, testing the weight of the plaster on her wrist. “It’s crying over spilt milk.”
“And my wife should know, she’s so full of these little homilies,” Mal commented. He smiled a little when she stuck her tongue out at him.
“Oh, I know,” Simon admitted. “Except where Orlando at MedAcad was concerned. And he used to cry a lot when he spilled his drink.”
“Is that all you did? Just sat around imbibing?”
“Yes, Mal,” Simon deadpanned. “And we learned all our surgical skills by osmosis.”
“I hope you ain’t waiting for me to ask what that means. You’ll be dead and dust afore I do.”
“Stop that.” Simon swatted Freya’s hand away from where she was scalloping the edge of the drying plaster with her fingernail. “And take her away,” he added to Mal. “I have a lot more reading to do.”
Mal shook his head. “What makes a person give a name that’s almost pretty to a disease?”
“It was the doctor who first described the condition.” Simon closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep before this is over,” he added.
“Will you be able to do anything?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
“It’s worse when it’s someone you care about, isn’t it?” Freya said softly. “More … pointy. With teeth.”
“I really think you spend too much time with my sister.” Simon made shooing motions. “Go. I’d give you a sling to wear, except I know you. But I want to x-ray that wrist again tomorrow, make sure it’s aligned properly. With your healing abilities I don’t want to have to re-break it.”
“Me neither,” she agreed.
“And tell me if you need any painkillers after the local anaesthetic wears off.”
“Yeah, like that’ll happen,” Mal commented. Then he straightened up. “Hey, that’s a thought, doc. Could you use that in some way? Frey’s healing. I don’t know, maybe clone it?”
Simon considered. “I don’t know. Possibly. But I’d need to think about what tests to run to see, and I have no idea where to start.”
“A blood transfusion maybe?”
Freya slid from the med table, holding out her uninjured arm. “If you need it, take it.”
“You’re not the same blood group so it couldn’t be whole blood, but perhaps …” He shook his head. “I need to finish my research, then make some notes. But thank you – I may well come back to you.”
“You can drain me dry if it will help Inara.”
“And on that slightly creepifying note …” Mal took Freya’s arm. “Just don’t make yourself sick over all this.”
“No. Yes. Fine.” Simon had already turned back to his reading.
Mal steered Freya out into the common area but at the stairs she made him stop.
“You have to go and speak to Inara.”
He peered at her. “I did. It didn’t end well.”
“She needs a shoulder.”
Freya exhaled heavily. “He’s angry. And she needs someone to hold.”
“You’re sending me to her?” He couldn’t believe it.
“To be her friend.” She put her hand on his chest. “If I thought it was going to end up more than that, I’d tie you to the bed before I let you go.”
“I thought that was just for special occasions.” He pulled her a little closer.
“I’d make an exception.” She straightened his suspender, and that simple action made his heart reach out for her.
“Why don’t you go?”
“I … don’t think she will want to see me right now.”
“She knows I went behind her back. I doubt I’m her favourite person.”
The expression on her face reminded him of Jesse and the time she tried a watermelon, and his little girl really didn’t like that fruit. “But I am?”
“Well, perhaps not favourite. But Simon’s busy.”
He smiled slightly and ran his hand around her waist. “Not sure I appreciate being considered inferior to the doc.”
“Not inferior.” She laughed. “Different. Just different.”
“And you’d know that how? And do I have to shoot someone after all?”
“No, Mal.” Freya leaned closer, her breath becoming his. “Not in this lifetime or the next.”
“Or the one after that?”
“Not even after that one.”
“That’s good.” He closed the tiny distance between them and pressed his lips to hers, feeling her mouth part. She hummed in pleasure, and his body began to react. “No, now, ain’t the right time and place for this.” He pushed her away, but only far enough so that he could look into her eyes. “And you take a smoother if you need it, dong mah?”
“It’s fine, Mal. Honestly I –”
“Dong luh muh?”
She smiled. “Okay. I promise.”
“Liar.” He ran his fingertips down her cheek then stepped back. “So you think it’d be a good idea?”
“Me going to speak to Inara again.”
“Good idea, no. Necessary, yes.”
“Only you didn’t want me to last time.”
“You’ve calmed down.” She glanced at his crotch. “Less angry, anyway.”
“Oh, no, ai ren. Same amount, just banked down a bit.”
“Well, keep it that way and go and talk to her. And while you do that I’m going to change and take a nap. Let this dry.” She held up her wrist.
“Can I sign it later?”
“After you’ve seen Inara.” She kissed him softly with closed lips, then pushed him towards the cargo bay.
“I’m going, I’m going.” He tossed up his hands as he climbed the stairs, and she could hear a few of the words he was muttering under his breath. “Gorram … captain … ship … not mine …” Then, just after he disappeared, she heard him call out, “If I didn’t love you I wouldn’t.”
I love you too, zhang fu. She let the words slip gently into his mind.
Turning, she slowly made her way up towards their bunk, feeling the weight of the plaster seeming to grow on her wrist, and a dull ache starting to make itself known. She really wanted to lie down for a while, maybe doze, but turning the corner into the top corridor she knew it was going to be a little while yet.
“Freya, can I speak to you?” Sam stood in the doorway to the kitchen.
“Sure.” She internalised the sigh and asked instead, “Inara?”
She followed him to the old wooden table and sat down, Sam unconsciously avoiding Mal’s chair and sitting down opposite her. “She’s not thinking straight, Sam.”
“So I have to?”
“No.” Freya took a deep breath. “I don’t think anyone’s going to for a while. And whatever we think none of us can go back in time and change anything.”
“How do you do it?
“I told you, I can’t.”
“No. I mean cope. When Mal gets hurt.”
“But you do.”
She glared at him. “Can you see inside me? Know what I’m feeling, thinking?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then don’t presume to …” She stopped and closed her eyes for a moment, then when she looked at him again it was gentler, more understanding. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t …”
“No. It’s my fault.”
“I don’t cope, Sam. Not ever. I haven’t even got used to it, and Mal’s given me enough opportunities.”
“But you always seem to calm.”
“Only on the outside, and only for the children. You know how … what happened after Three Hills.”
He did know, remembered the long conversations they had after she’d tried to kill herself, believing Mal was dead. “And yet you haven’t left him.”
“And not know?” She laughed. “Not be able to stand in front of him, push him aside, pray?”
“Are you thinking of leaving Inara?”
Sam suddenly looked ashamed. “I … I walked out on her just now.”
“Yes, she can get to you that way, can’t she? She and Mal have that in common.”
“But I don’t think I can.”
She put her right hand on his. “Welcome to the family. You’ve joined a lovely little group of masochists.”
“Is that how you see yourselves?” Sam couldn’t help himself, his training coming to the fore.
Freya thought for a moment, obviously contemplating what to say. “I’m damaged, Sam. There’s not really another way of describing me.”
“Mal doesn’t think so.”
“Mal’s not exactly without his own cracks either.”
“And he loves you.”
“That too.” This time the smile was warmer. “We’re not sixteen. In fact, I don’t think I ever was. But we’ve seen enough of the ‘verse to know perfection doesn’t exist.”
“So you don’t wear rose-tinted spectacles?”
“Warts and all,” she agreed, shifting her cast on the table, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“And yet he still loves you.”
“Nobody said this crew wasn’t crazy.”
“And you’re trying to change the subject.”
“I know you want me to tell you my secret, only I don’t have one. It kills me when Mal gets hurt. And the thought that it might be Ethan, or Jesse …”
“Then why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves in the way of love?”
“I told you. We’re crazy masochists who have absolutely no regard for their own personal safety.”
He had to chuckle. “I think you have described us all perfectly.”
“And you already know the answer.” This time she was deadly serious.
His humour was chilled. “That you just do. Or you leave.”
“And that would kill us anyway.” She sighed. “There’s no right way. Or an easy one. But we love them, so we try.”
Sam stood up. “Yes. Yes, you’re right.” He started for the door but Freya’s voice made him pause.
“It’s okay not to like them very much sometimes, too.”
“Maybe you should have been the counsellor, not me.”
“What, and have to take the plank out of my own eye?” Freya muttered to herself as he disappeared, then looked up in surprise as something hissed against her neck.
Simon stood there, a hypo in his hand. “Go to bed. It’s bound to be hurting right now.”
“It’s … a little uncomfortable.” She got to her feet and yawned, belatedly covering her mouth with her other hand. “Sorry.”
“You’re as bad as the children.” He smiled. “Bed.”
“Are you going to tuck me in?” she asked, turning towards the bunks.
“Do you want a bed time story as well?”
“Yes please.” She pushed the hatch open. “And a glass of water.”
Mal stood in the doorway of the yellow drawing-room and pondered the yuh bun duh state of his crew. Simon wasn’t the only one they were making go grey, and he was sure they were why some mornings he just wanted to roll over in his blanket and hide. And there, looking out at the rain still falling steadily, was a prime example.
“You had enough yet?” He pushed his hands through his hair to rid it of some of the wetness, and wiped them down his legs. At least this time he’d thought to put on a slicker to cross from Serenity to the house.
Inara turned. “Of what?”
“Playing the martyr.”
She glared at him. “I wish people would stop saying that. I’m not doing any such thing.”
“Really.” He crossed his arms. “So you ain’t standing at the window, making sure you look like Jane Eyre or something.”
Her eyes widened slightly. “Did you just make a literary reference?”
“I don’t just read poetry, ‘Nara, so there’s no need to faint.”
She exhaled a chuckle, then smiled sadly. “It’s not intentional, I assure you.”
“Only the rest of the crew want to know what’s going on.”
“And I don’t want them to know.”
“Really. You think Bethie and River don’t know already? And if you’re considering Kaylee won’t use all her underhand and probably sordid tricks to get it out of Simon …”
“Yes, but –”
“And then there’s Hank. You think anyone’s gonna be able to withstand those puppy dog eyes he does, gruesome as they are? Well, apart from me, that is.” He shook his head. “They’re your friends, ‘Nara. They have a right to know. And there’s no way you’re gonna be able to keep this a secret, not no more.”
“I don’t want to be pitied!” The words were out before she could stop them.
“Pity? You think that’s what’s going to go through their heads? Inara, I knew you were stubborn, but since when did you catch stupid?”
“I can’t bear the thought of the looks on their faces.”
“So they can grieve for you instead?”
“Mal, I don’t want to fight any more. I’m too tired.”
“Not my intention to draw blood. Not no more. Just want you to see it ain’t just about you now. Not that it ever was, not since you gypped me out of a quarter of the rent.”
“And how many doors did I open for you?” Inara said with a flash of her old spirit.
“Not so many I couldn’t have done without the cashey-money instead.”
“Well, you wouldn’t go near the Central planets.”
Mal rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Kinda like old times, don’t you think? Only I’m still so mad at you I could spit. And it’ll probably come out again, more’n once.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to stay.”
“If I’d told everyone from the start. I wouldn’t have been able to stay, not knowing everyone was watching me, waiting for me to be ill.”
He understood a little more. “Maybe for a while. But you didn’t, and they’d’ve gotten used to it. But family cares. I ain’t gonna apologise for that. And I’m thinking you’d better make some kinda announcement sooner rather than later, else Bethie’s gonna self-combust trying not to blab.”
“I’m scared, Mal,” Inara admitted in a small voice.
“I know.” He crossed to her and put his arms around her, drawing her into his embrace like he would Kaylee or River. “But we’ll all be there, with you. And Frey won’t let them …” He felt her stiffen, and pushed her away enough to look into her face. “Okay, that’s gonna stop right now.”
“When I said Frey’s name. Yeah, that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do. You’re thinking she betrayed you.”
“She should have respected my wishes and left things alone!”
He put his hands on her shoulders. “She was wearing herself away with worry, did you know that? That rutting tattoo of hers looked like it was in a fog. I know your relationship had something of a rocky start, but she looks on you like a sister. She did what she had to do, and now we’ve got one of the best medical minds in the ‘verse working on it.”
“Only top three percent.”
“I was talking about River.”
She gulped a laugh. “Of course.”
“But Simon tries harder. And he’s motivated. So no taking this out on Frey.”
“I’ll … I’ll try.”
“Good girl.” He pulled her back into him.
“Am I interrupting?”
They both looked round to see Sam standing in the doorway.
“Not so’s you’d notice,” Mal said, letting go and stepping back.
“Then I’m sure you won’t mind leaving us alone.”
Mal smiled, just a tilt of one side of his mouth. “I don’t know,” he said, walking towards the counsellor. “Every time I get a beautiful pregnant woman in my arms someone comes along and tells me to take a hike.”
“I’m sure Freya will help you get over it.”
“I’m sure she will.” He moved past Sam but paused. “Be nice.”
Sam nodded just once, then waited until the door closed behind him. “Are you in mourning?”
Inara looked confused. “What?”
“Only I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so …” He gestured towards the clothes she was wearing. “That must be the darkest dress you own. You look like you’re going to a funeral.”
She smiled faintly. “Perhaps I am.” Mine, she added silently.
“And no make-up.”
“I don’t always wear it.”
“I think I can count the number of times I’ve seen you out of the bedroom quite so naked on the fingers of one hand.”
“Perhaps I’m exaggerating. Maybe both hands.”
The smile flickered again. “Maybe.”
There was a pause then he spoke again. “I’m still angry at you, Inara.”
“Your actions … not talking to me … you’ve put your life at risk.”
She straightened her shoulders, her head coming up. “Yes.”
“I want to forgive, but I can’t, not just yet.”
“I understand.” She took a deep breath to try and calm the pounding of her heart as it started to break. “I’ll ask Mrs Boden to move your things into the spare room.”
He looked at her, his olive face impassive. “Are you throwing me out?”
“No. But I thought –”
“Inara, I don’t think you’ve been thinking much at all.”
“It didn’t sound like you wanted to be with me.”
“I will be with you, holding you, loving you, to the end. However far away that is. And I still have hope that that moment in time will be many years from now, when we’re old and grey, and we go together.”
As his words resonated through her, Inara couldn’t keep control of her emotions any longer and she sank down onto the sofa, tears coursing down her cheeks and dripping onto her clenched hands. “Oh, Sam …”
Suddenly he was at her side, holding her tightly. He spoke into her hair. “I am angry. So angry. But I love you, Inara.”
“I love you, too.” She held onto him, feeling his hands pressing into her flesh, his breath on her cheek, and let herself go.
Dinner was over, and if some were quieter than usual, the others made up for it. Hank and Jayne had a spirited verbal duel over the relative merits of pilots and gunhands, mostly centred around the fact that without a pilot a man was going nowhere, met with the riposte that if he, the gunhand, shot the pilot then nobody would miss him. Zoe had stepped in at that point, reminding the gunhand that if the pilot did go missing, she would know where to come.
Comments were also made on the fact that Mal had to cut up Freya’s food for her, causing Inara to wonder aloud if hanging from the support beams was really such a good idea.
At that point Mrs Boden came in and offered to put the children to bed, although Bethie begged to be allowed to stay up just a while longer, and Kaylee, always a soft touch, gave in, even when her little daughter stuck her tongue out at Ethan as he helped Jesse down from her chair. His sigh as he left the room was so loud it made everyone smile.
Conversation went backward and forwards until Kaylee explained her plans for the next day, on account of having finished all the little jobs on Serenity she’d been putting off until a rainy day.
“… so I thought maybe we could go on a picnic tomorrow if it clears up like Mr Boden says it will.” She looked expectantly at her husband.
Simon glanced around the dinner table, his gaze lingering on Inara for a moment before returning to his wife. “I’m sorry, bao bei. I don’t think I can. I’ve got things I have to do.”
“Like what? You’ve already been locked up in that infirmary for hours. What’s the big secret?”
Next to her Bethie stirred uncomfortably, looking first at River then Freya, but it was Inara who spoke.
“That’s because of me, mei-mei.”
“You?” Kaylee stared at her friend. “Is it the baby?”
“There’s something I need to tell you. All of you.” She took a deep breath, and felt Sam grasp her hand. “I know some of you are worried that I’m … that there’s something wrong with me. And you’re right. There is. I have … there’s a … it’s called Honeywell’s Disease. It isn’t infectious, so nobody will catch anything, but that’s why I fainted. Simon’s looking into it, to see if anything can be done.”
Kaylee almost span on her seat. “That’s what you’ve been doing? Why didn’t you tell me? I’d never have been going on about picnics and such.”
Simon shrugged. “It wasn’t up to me to say.”
Kaylee turned back to Inara. “What can we do?”
The ex-Companion smiled sadly. “Nothing. Nothing to help, anyway. But I don’t want you even considering not doing the fun things you have planned.”
“How long’ve you known?”
“Kaylee …” Simon said softly, trying to stop her.
“No, it’s all right,” Inara said. “A while.” She could see Bethie fidgeting, and knew she had to be more truthful, or the little girl was probably going to say something. “In fact, all my life.”
Kaylee’s jaw dropped, as did Hank’s.
“You … always?” the pilot asked.
“Always,” Inara confirmed. “My mother was clear on my being instructed by our family doctor as soon as I was able to understand.” She tried to smile. “And if I hadn’t fallen in love it wouldn’t have ever been a problem.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s genetic,” Simon put in, mentally reviewing his research. “A first pregnancy hormones bring the defective genes to a semi-dormant stage, but aren’t enough to switch the disease on.”
“You mean Colm,” Zoe said slowly.
“Yes. And there are no symptoms, and will never be, not unless a second pregnancy occurs.”
“This one.” Kaylee was concentrating, trying to get it straight in her head.
“That’s what I don’t understand.” Simon’s brow creased. “The second pregnancy will activate it, but only the initial symptoms would appear after the birth. They could be dangerous, but not ... To be in this stage, at this time –”
“There was a miscarriage,” Sam said quietly. “Perhaps not even that.”
“I was late.” Inara’s grip on his hand increased. “Just a couple of weeks, but we thought … then it became clear I wasn’t.”
“That would be enough.” Simon sighed. “That initial peak, then now …”
“I didn’t know.” Inara blinked hard. “I knew about the progression, how could I not. But I thought it wouldn’t count, that this would be the second pregnancy.” She stroked the mound at her waist. “We so wanted this baby, I knew I could live with the symptoms later, manage them, or at least have time to … to get things ready. But now …”
“Wait a minute,” Kaylee said slowly. “Are you saying … this is gonna kill you?”
There was silence, then Inara nodded. “Yes, mei-mei. I’m afraid I am.”
“How long?” Jayne’s voice startled them all and they stared at him. “Well, it’s what we’re all thinking, ain’t it? ‘Cause if there’s someone else who knows more about this Honeywell’s then maybe we should think about arranging a little kidnapping. Knock over another hospital for supplies. Hell, something.”
River put her hand on his thigh and squeezed gently, understanding his brusqueness covered up the fact that he cared about his extended family more than he was ever going to say.
“Simon?” Inara looked at the doctor. “Can you tell how long I … how long I have?”
“Not without examining you. I’ll need to take blood, perhaps lumbar fluid …”
“I’ll bring her to the infirmary first thing in the morning,” Sam promised.
“I don’t need to be brought anywhere,” Inara protested.
“Hell, I’d take her there now,” Mal threw in. “Chain her up to the medbed ‘fore she takes it into her head to run away.”
“I have never run away.” Inara glared at him. “Except perhaps from you.”
“A normal reaction,” Simon said, his tone dry. “But in the morning will be fine.”
“So you see, Kaylee, everything’s going to be fine.” Inara smiled at her.
“You know we’re gonna be having words about this, don’t you?” Kaylee pointed out.
“I can’t wait.”
“Yeah, well, they ain’t gonna be the kind of words you’re gonna enjoy.”
“I imagine not.”
Kaylee felt a tug at her arm and looked down. “What is it, honey?”
“Momma, will you read me a story?” Bethie asked, then yawned widely.
“You tired?” Kaylee pushed her daughter’s hair back.
“Mmn.” Another yawn followed.
“After you brush your teeth, then.” Kaylee had seen the fragments of food adhering to the inside of her mouth.
“’Kay, Momma. Help me?”
Kaylee had to smile. “Okay, baby.” She stood up and looked at the others. “Knowing Bethie, this is going to take a while, so I’ll say goodnight now.”
“I’ll be up soon,” Simon promised.
Bethie slid to the floor, saying, “G’night Uncle Mal. G’night Auntie Frey. G’night Uncle Hank. G’night –”
“I think they get it,” Kaylee interrupted, steering her to the door.
They waited until it closed behind them before Zoe asked, quietly, “Why didn’t you tell us before?”
This was the question Inara had been dreading. “Lots of reasons. At first because it wasn’t necessary. Then later … I wasn’t on board any longer.”
“That doesn’t stop you being our friend.”
“I know. And I’m sorry. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
“Except you’d do exactly the same thing again, wouldn’t you?”
If Inara was surprised at Zoe’s insight she didn’t show it. “Perhaps not quite the same. Not with Sam, anyway.”
“You didn’t know?” Hank stared at the counsellor, his face shocked, then looked back at Inara. “You mean you … this …”
“I thought it would be all right.”
It was a feeble excuse, and everyone knew that, but it was Freya who astonished everyone by saying, “I understand.”
“You do?” Hank asked.
“Yes.” Freya glanced at Mal then went back to staring at the table cloth. “After Xavier Wing took Ethan, I didn’t think about how it was going to affect everyone when I went after him. What would happen.” She swallowed. “It didn’t occur to me, and if it did I couldn’t tell anyone because I wanted them to be safe.”
“You mean me, ai ren,” Mal put in softly.
She looked up at him, her eyes suspiciously moist. “I didn’t want you hurt, but all that was at the top of my mind was Ethan. Any mother would do the same.”
Zoe nodded, just once, and River said, “We are not in our right minds when we give birth, and it doesn’t change.”
“Whose mind are you in, then, sweetie?” Hank asked, hating the tension in the room and trying to diffuse it with a joke.
“I don’t know,” River admitted. “There are so many …”
Mal glared at her, then spoke quickly as he saw her about to make some other comment, probably about eyesight. “Anyway, what’s done is done. We can’t change it. It don’t mean we’re not still angry, because we are, and I don’t see that going any time soon. But it won’t help anyone, except maybe making a few folks think before they do something in the future.” He looked at Simon. “And I figure you owe Bethie a new doll or something. She got Kaylee out of the way before she could get too upset.”
“You realised?” Simon was surprised.
“She was laying it on thick enough even for me to notice.”
“My daughter is quite Machiavellian.”
“Least it makes a change from her planning to take over Serenity.”
“And I’ll buy her something myself,” Inara put in.
“No, now that really would give her ideas above her station.” Mal stood up and held out his hand to Freya. “Come on. I feel the need to remonstrate with you about your shortcomings.”
“I am injured, you know.”
“And I apologised,” River put in, already on her feet.
“And if you’re gonna be remonstrating, me and Riv are gonna go back to our shuttle,” Jayne said, getting to his feet and picking up his wife in one smooth motion. “I ain’t gonna get any sleep otherwise.”
Hank opened his mouth, but closed it again quickly with a pained expression.
“Sorry, honey, did I tread on your foot?” Zoe said, and Jayne laughed.
Everyone left the dining room except Inara and Simon, the young doctor hanging back. “What is it, Inara?”
“Are you sure you’re not psychic?”
“Perhaps I am where my friends are concerned. Do you feel unwell?”
“No. I mean, not particularly, but I thought you should know I’ve got these.” She handed him the small pill container.
“Thoraclonazil.” He gave them back. “I’ve read about them. They’re quite effective in treating the symptoms, at least in the later stages.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “Where did you get them?”
“The Guild. When I became a Companion they had to know all about my medical history, so they were fully aware of the family curse. It wasn’t likely to be an issue, but after Colm, as part of their health benefits, they made sure I had access to a Cortex-wide prescription for them. It’s never been rescinded.”
“So they know you’re showing symptoms.”
“I imagine so. But then, I have always assumed they keep a track of me anyway.”
“Even though you’re no longer a Companion?”
“After what Mal did, what he said to the Triumvirate, I think they consider me to be so persona non grata that they’d like to see me at the bottom of the deepest well they can find, but as we hold the Agreement …”
Simon understood. He remembered all too well his visit to the lawyer on Ariel, placing that dangerous document in secure storage after Domina gave it to Mal. Knowledge of its existence had kept Inara alive when the Guild wanted her dead, at least until now, and if the Agreement did find its way out to the public, and the Guild were exposed as having made a deal with the Alliance to spy on its customers during and after the war …
“You’re probably right,” he agreed. He nodded towards the pills. “Take them when you start to experience –”
“I have already. Twice, since you’ve been here.”
His face didn’t change, too much experience at telling people bad news keeping him from showing what he truly felt. “And did they work?”
“Yes.” She put her hand on his arm. “I know. Later stages.”
He placed his on hers, his palm cool against her fingers. “Would you mind telling Kaylee I’ll be up later? I just need to get something from the infirmary.”
“No.” Inara shook her head, knowing he was planning on working. “You’re going to bed. Tomorrow will be soon enough.”
“You really don’t think we’ll be able to do anything, do you?”
“No,” she admitted. “It’s one of the reasons I didn’t tell anyone. I don’t want to give them false hope.”
“And you? Is this false hope for you too?”
“No. At least, not like that. Now Freya’s made any secrecy moot, I’m counting on you keeping me alive until I deliver a healthy baby.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“Then that’s all that I ask.”
He crooked his arm. “May I escort you upstairs?”
“You may.” She smiled, just a little.
As they moved into the darkened hall, Simon said, “You know, I might suggest to Mal that we move the Agreement, perhaps to Isaiah Kilbrook on Mead. Or at least give him instructions what to do in the event of something happening to all of us.”
“To me, you mean.”
“Yes. And no. The life we live, there’s no assurance any of us will make old bones.”
She shuddered. “I hate that phrase.”
“Old bones, new bones … it happens to us all.” He squeezed her hand. “Do you feel better, now you’ve told everyone?”
“Honestly? No. But …”
“Then I’d better get on to finding a cure, hadn’t I?”
The next three days seemed to fly or drag, depending on the individual point of view. Kaylee had told the children a very censored version of what was happening, mostly along the lines that Auntie ‘Nara wasn’t feeling very well, what with the baby, so they were going to have to be good. That lasted all of a day before they were shouting and running outside, and the atmosphere seemed almost normal.
A high spot came with a wave from Monty, somewhere near a collection of black rocks too small for even the great Alliance to consider dumping settlers on (Mal’s words).
It was too far for vid, at least for the older system Serenity had, so most of the crew watched the message clustered on the bridge.
“Hi, Mal. Ain’t got but a mo, but I figured you’d want to know that package has been delivered. Went like a breeze, too.” Monty stroked his beard. “I know you were kinda attached to it, ‘n’all, but it was better this way.” He grinned for a moment, then sobered again. “And you keep me up-to-date on our mutual friend, dong mah? Anything you need, you wave. See you soon, ya old curmudgeon.” The screen froze on his face.
“Is that it?” Kaylee asked.
“I conjure it ain’t. And he’s older’n me.” Mal tapped Hank’s shoulder. “Well?”
“Just give me …” The pilot’s fingers were flying, and even as they watched another image replaced Monty’s hairy visage.
At first it seemed to be a still, an image of the stars scattered over the black velvet of space, with a few dark patches obscuring things. Then a ship, tiny in comparison, flew in silently from the left. It seemed to take an age, but as the ship disappeared a collective breath was exhaled.
“I’d’a thought it’d be more … explosiony,” Kaylee said, oddly disappointed.
“Wait,” Freya advised.
They all stared at the screen, and Kaylee began to fidget, when suddenly a bright flower of light bloomed, overwhelming the image and casting shadows on the bridge. As fast as it had arrived it was gone, and the stars and black rocks faded back in.
“Oh.” Kaylee stood open-mouthed, memories of the AI ship they’d blown up flooding back.
“The fuel cells were full,” River said from the co-pilot’s seat, her feet hooked up and her arms around her calves. With a slim, elegant hand she reached over and switched off the screen.
“Anyone else likely to find that?” Mal asked.
Hank shook his head. “Monty embedded it pretty deep. If he hadn’t told me where to look before he left, I doubt I’d ever have found it.”
River smiled faintly. “I might,” she agreed. “But I am a genius.”
Zoe stirred. “So what did you actually do?”
“First mate dummy talk?” Kaylee’s eyes were bright with mischief.
“As long as I can understand it too,” Mal put in.
“Don’t know if I can make it that simple.”
Mal sighed. “Try.”
“Well, you know we made the Morell think it was parked on Calypso, right?”
“Suggesting Randall Lecomb was partaking of the pleasures there.”
“Right.” Kaylee nodded like he’d got a hard question right.
“Calypso thinks so too,” Hank interjected. “We managed to hack their systems through a series of remote …” He stopped at Mal’s look. “But you don’t need to know that. Suffice it to say we changed the details on one of the ships that did dock there.”
“This ain’t gonna get back to us either, is it?”
“I think we know what we’re doing, Mal.”
“Occasional evidence suggests you don’t always.”
“Well, we did in this,” Kaylee confirmed. “Then it was just a matter of creating a course for the computer, telling it where it had been and where it was going, then that the nav failed. After that it was easy.”
“And it exploded … why, exactly?”
Hank grinned. “We … uh … might have suggested elsewhere that Lecomb was in the habit of playing chicken with black rocks, only this time it went wrong and the cascade effect of his navigation going down locked his controls.”
“And what with the strong magnetic pull of 1519C17,” Kaylee went on, “he didn’t have –”
“The pull of the what?” Jayne interrupted for all of them.
“That’s what that rock’s called, least on the maps,” Hank explained.
“Anyway …” Kaylee lengthened each syllable. “The Morell thought it couldn’t steer away and …” She mimed one fist hitting the palm of the other hand.
“Boom,” Mal said.
“Big boom,” she agreed.
“And all this was in its mind? And don’t you be looking at me like that, ‘tross, you know exactly what I mean.”
River composed herself. “Monty took the Morell to the specified point, activated a self-cleaning sub-routine, and Robert is the relative of your choice.”
“Bob’s my uncle, eh?” He smiled a little. “You’re spending way too long with Frey.”
River grinned widely, while Freya just rolled her eyes.
“Do you think that’s enough?” Zoe asked. “What you did? Nobody’s going to come after us?”
Hank shrugged. “We don’t know who Randall told where he was going, if he did. But it’s probably a safe bet he didn’t want to broadcast what he was about to do. If I bet anymore.”
“Conjure you’re right,” Mal said.
Jayne grunted. “Getting ate was too good for ‘im.”
“And what would you have done to him?” Mal asked, adding quickly, “Remembering there’s ladies present.”
“Aw, Mal, that’s sweet,” Hank said, fluttering his eyelashes.
“I meant Bethie, a’course.” Mal nodded towards the cluster of children wedged in the doorway who’d snuck up five minutes before.
The male laughter and female complaints was the closest the crew had to fun before Inara collapsed again that afternoon.
to be continued
Saturday, May 2, 2015 4:32 PM
Monday, May 4, 2015 9:02 AM
Sunday, May 10, 2015 1:16 PM
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