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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Kaylee had warned him it might take a long time, and Jayne was getting bored. There’d been nothing of interest in any of the drawers, and while he’d refrained from carving his initials into the desk he was down to cleaning his nails with Binky and fantasising about what he and River might get up to when he got back. He was considering the red ribbon when there was a faint beep, and Jayne was on his knees in front of the safe.
[Maya. Post-BDM. Conversations at the party, while Jayne has other priorities. Enjoy!]
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 799 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
Snow was not a good medium to be sneaky in. It muffled footfalls, that was for sure, but it also left clear footprints, unless more flakes were actually falling. In this case, though, someone had very considerately swept a lot of the drive, including the flagstones around the sides of the house, which was going to make access that much easier.
Keeping to the shadows, well aware that a moving darkness against the stark white would be very obvious, and possibly attract unwanted attention, Jayne slipped silently to the fire-damaged wing. It didn’t take much, just a moment’s work with Binky, and the window sprung loose from its lock. Checking once more that nobody was watching, he slid inside.
He looked up. It was worse than could be seen from the outside. Above him stars glittered in the cold sky, the moonlight shining through the lack of roof. Or floors, for that matter. The window casements were still there, but the entire wing was just a shell.
There was enough ambient light to pick his way over charred timbers, snow drifted against them, until he was standing by an internal wall. He could just pick out an old door frame, but it had been bricked up. Not that it mattered. A little further on and there he could see a dip in the debris, and he slowed down until his questing right foot felt the lack of floorboards. Stepping back he picked up a piece of roof timber and jabbed it down. There was a slithering of snow, and rotted joists dropped away, revealing a deep pit.
Jayne grinned, and started to undo the thin, high tensile rope from around his waist.
“If I turn around and see Badger, I’m going home.” Mal exhaled loudly.
They were congregated in a large room that ran across the back of the house. A faint chill when they first arrived suggested it was rarely used, but Kaylee and Hank’s ministrations of the generator quickly began to show results, and the fires roaring in the twin hearths at either end were rapidly becoming unnecessary, if not overpowering.
Freya looked around the assembled gentry of Persephone and smiled. “You’ve done business with some of them.”
“Exactly.” He shook his head. “I kinda feel like a poor relation.”
“Wishing you’d worn your best suit?”
He glanced down at the aubergine crispness across his chest. “It’s a new shirt. ‘Sides, you look smart enough for the both of us.”
She smoothed what she referred to as her sea-froth dress over her hips, then tugged the waist-length jacket back into place. “I thought it could do with an airing.” It was one of the outfits Dillon had bought for her when she was pregnant, the jacket of dark blue and the dress coloured in greens and purples, tossed together and frilling around her knees. This time, though, she didn’t have the roundness of a child pushing it out, and she’d cinched it in with a narrow belt.
“You look …” He pulled her in closer. “How about we ditch this shindig and head back home? Then I can take it off you.”
Freya swatted gently at him. “Down, boy.”
“I ain’t Fiddler.”
Pushing him back and adjusting her dress again, she looked around the room. “Don’t you think Kaylee looks pretty?”
Mal shook his head slightly, but peered into the crowd. His mechanic was talking to an older man who looked vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place. She was wearing some sort of confection in gold and black, consisting of a small top that showed her midriff, and a full-length pleated skirt with a section thrown over one shoulder.
“It’s a sari.”
He glanced at Frey. “Witch.”
She smiled. “And you haven’t said if you think she looks pretty.”
“She looks … fine.”
“Not like a sheep prancing on its hind legs?”
He turned fully to face her. “Now, I knew she told you that! And I bought her that layer cake to make up for it!”
“Badger paid for it, I believe.”
“So it was the thought that counted. And yes, she looks meili. Only I didn’t say it.”
“It took Zoe and Inara nearly an hour to get her into it, there’s so much fabric.”
“I said Kaylee looks pretty!”
“Thanks, Cap’n!” Kaylee had walked up to them unseen. “I keep feeling like it’s gonna fall down, but ‘Nara said it won’t.”
Mal could see the amusement on Freya’s face, and raised an eyebrow at her before facing his mechanic. “If it does it’d make half the people in this room have a heart attack. Including me.”
She thumped him lightly on the arm, then her eyes lit up. “Ooh. There’s a buffet …” She drifted on in a determined fashion.
Mal watched her for a moment, then felt Freya’s arms go around his waist.
“Good job they don’t know you blush,” she murmured in his ear.
“Like I said. Witch.”
It wasn’t quite pitch black, as the hole he’d lowered himself through was lighter above him, but even allowing time for his eyes to adjust he still needed the shadowed torch River had made up for him. There was a filter over the lens, and a shade around three-quarters of it, allowing a minimum glow that barely pushed back the darkness, but it was enough to pick his way unerringly towards the far corner.
There was a smell suggesting something had died in here, and for a moment Jayne was reminded of his wife’s assertion that the fire had claimed a number of lives, although he was sure the bodies were long gone. Anyway, this was more recent, probably some animal that had dropped in and couldn’t get out. Overlaying the odour of decay where other hints of rot, whether wet or dry he had no idea, but it was a sign of more neglect.
Jayne grunted. Place was more than likely gonna fall down around their ears anyway.
“I admit the only reason I said yes was because I was … curious. And I recognised your pilot’s name – it had to be the same man.”
Amongst the gathering one man, wearing a red sash crossways over his expanding waistline, had caught up with Mal, and now seemed quietly amused.
Mal sighed. “Yeah, luckily for my sanity there ain’t but the one of him.”
Sir Warwick Harrow chuckled deep in his chest. “But he has a son.”
“You’re just trying to make it worse, ain’t you?” Mal shook his head. “But I take it you have dealings with the Triskelions?”
“Clive, mostly. Crispin is far too lazy to actually get his hands dirty.”
“That a euphemism? Hands dirty?”
“His father is far worse, but I don’t think Clive has actually killed anyone.”
“The night is young. But your impressions of the Foster clan?”
“That most of them could swallow nails and spit out corkscrews.”
“There was a time I thought we could fit right into that company.”
Sir Warwick gave him an appraising glare. “Is that the truth?”
“Hey, if you’re gonna be a crook be the best that you can be.”
Mal had to smile. “Okay, maybe I don’t rank with the best. Or the worst, as the case may be. Maybehaps I’m someplace in the middle. And I’d rather be doing an honest day’s work than breaking any laws, even Alliance. But we none of us can always have what we want.”
“In a world of governmental misconduct, even a petty thief can seem virtuous.”
“You calling me petty?”
The older man shook his head. “I’m trying to give you a compliment.”
Mal shrugged uneasily. “Yeah, well, I ain’t never been happy receiving those. Always felt like a bee was hidden in the flowers, and I was waiting to get stung.”
“Speaking of which …”
There. In the dim light there was an outline of a door. Running his hands over it Jayne could tell it had once been of excellent quality, but as he tried the handle it splintered and came away in his hand. He dropped it behind him then put his shoulder to the wood.
He pushed, feeling it give, although the hinges were holding. Harder, but something seemed to be in the way. He reached around the edge, feeling corners of boxes. Nothing much, just things piled in front of a door that no longer led anywhere.
Mal had been right. Not that he was going to mention it, since it had been River finding the original plans of the house on the Cortex that had given the Captain the idea, but the security from the cellar was non-existent.
Pushing again, the boxes scuffed the floor, but in the space of a few moments he was standing in the cellar among mostly empty wine racks.
As was his inclination, he briefly checked those few bottles remaining, having once scored quite a profit on a case he’d … liberated from its erstwhile owner. So he didn’t get gypped on the ultimate deal he’d learned a little about what was considered a good wine, although it all tasted the same to him – piss poor, mostly. Still, he remembered some of it. Not that it was going to do him any good this time around. Most of it was new, barely got a layer of dust on it, and the rest was stuff Simon would turn his nose up at, but maybe he’d … liberate a bottle or two to enjoy later with River.
Turning to the stairs he made his way up.
“I had no idea you know such influential people.” Clive was sipping on a glass of champagne, almost lapping at it.
Hank, on the other hand, had already quaffed his back, and quickly snagged another from the tray doing the rounds. “Oh, yes. You’d be surprised. I am. Constantly.”
“Sir Warwick, Dillon Malfrey … high circles indeed.”
“Well, we’ve done work for Sir Warwick, and Dillon was Frey’s friend before he was ever ours.”
“The captain’s wife.”
“Oh yes.” Clive had obviously dismissed her from his mind as of no use to him, but now was re-evaluating. “I have been trying to get an appointment with Malfrey for some time, as a prelude to conducting some business. Perhaps Mrs Reynolds could … uh … grease the wheels somewhat?”
“I can ask her.”
“Good. Good. And how’s your bed?”
The change in direction threw Hank for a moment. “Oh, you mean here? It seems comfy.”
“It was Uther’s originally. Then Peder took the room when he inherited.” Clive gave a dry smile. “Of course, we’ve had it aired since then.”
Hank laughed nervously.
The door at the top of the stairs had been locked, but this yielded to the application of a little force and Binky’s point, and now Jayne stood in the shadows. A young woman in a maid’s outfit had passed within a few feet of him, muttering something uncomplimentary about someone she called ‘that fat oaf’ under her breath, but his stillness made him almost invisible.
He smiled, waiting until she’d disappeared through a green baize door into the kitchen (to judge by the scented steam that wafted out momentarily), then he headed along the corridor towards the main staircase.
Passing large double doors he could hear the buzz of conversation, then someone laughed, high-pitched and tinged with desperation – it sounded like Hank.
Jayne’s stomach growled, but he ruthlessly pushed down on any feelings of hunger, instead stepping up onto the first tread and keeping to the outside.
“You know you didn’t have to ask.”
“Of course I did. You might have desperately wanted to give them back.”
“And give up all the fun we’re having?”
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
Dillon laughed, his good humour taking years off his age. “Of course not. It’s fun. You should have seen them at the fair. Ethan won a doll for Hope at the shooting gallery, then had to do the same for the other girls.”
Freya smiled. “Are you leading my son into bad ways?”
“Hey, I wasn’t the one taught him how to shoot.”
“Neither was I. Or Mal.”
“Are you going to be having a word with Jayne?”
“Why, do you want to watch?”
The laugh rolled out again, then Dillon said, “In all honesty I think he’s just a natural. He’s got a great eye, and it was only child-sized electronic rifles, not much more than toys.”
“Probably gets that from Mal.”
“You’re not that bad yourself.”
“I know. And I know they’ll have to learn at some point. I’d just rather it wasn’t quite so soon.”
“Can’t stop what they’re good at, Frey.”
“No, I suppose not.” She internalised the sigh and made an effort to smile.
He could see it unsettled her somewhat, so he went on quickly, “Actually, ask Breed. He was using the capture maker all day, and I’m pretty sure he caught most of the activities.”
“I will. Best to break it gently to Kaylee, though. She’ll have his hand off if she thinks he’s got pictures of her kids.”
“And yours,” Dillon reminded her.
“Yes, but I can peek if I wanted to. Not that I would.”
This time she laughed. “So you don’t mind keeping them?”
“Of course not. Breed’s making the most of it.”
“And you? Has it changed your mind?”
“I wasn’t totally against adopting, you know. It’s just, with what’s going on out there …”
“I don’t think Breed was suggesting you create a baby. Although I’d sell tickets if you ever decided to go that route.”
“Thanks.” His tone was withering.
Now the smile was natural and unforced. “There are so many children out there who need a good, loving home. And you could give them that. I mean, look at Hope.”
“She is such a sweetie. Did you know she’s done a portrait of Breed and me? I’m going to get it framed and hung up in pride of place.”
“I know.” He pulled a small capture maker out of his own pocket, very shiny, very thin, very new and very expensive. The screen was the size of his palm, with discreet protuberances down the edge, and one of these he used to switch it on, another to flick through the images. “In fact, I think I … yes.” He handed it to her.
Freya studied the moving image of Hope proudly showing off a large picture, grinning so widely it seemed she would burst into flames any second. The sound was turned down, but she was obviously giggling.
The painting itself was, as Dillon had said, of himself and Breed, pretty much lifesize head and shoulders of each, leaning into each other but smiling at the observer. Despite her very tender years, Hope had caught the love between the two men in delicate layers of colour, giving a depth and understanding that no mere capture could ever have.
“I agree. So does Breed. He’s bought her a whole load of paints and canvases.”
“River will be jealous.”
“He’s got some for her too.”
“It’s really lovely,” Freya said sincerely.
“It’s more than that.” Dillon took it back to study. “I think she’s a genius. I can’t help thinking of Mozart.”
“Because he was composing concertos before he was Hope’s age?”
He wasn’t surprised Freya understood the allusion – he’d known her a long time. “Something like that. But one way or the other, she is exceptionally talented.”
“Who is?” Kaylee had found her way to them.
“Hope,” Freya said, taking the capture from Dillon and giving it to the young woman.
“Ooh.” Kaylee pinked slightly. “That is so …”
Kaylee giggled herself. “That’s my girl. Oh, what’s this?” She’d pressed a button and the picture had changed.
Dillon leaned forwards. “Oh, that’s at Cadrie Pond this morning at the fair. That’s Breed, Bethie and Ethan, and Hope again, I think.” Not that anyone could tell as he picture appeared to be of the back view of one large and three small mounds of fur. “They’re all wearing the coats we bought.”
“Looks like a load of sasquatch,” Mal commented, peering over Kaylee’s shoulder.
“Sas-what?” She glanced back at him.
“Sasquatch. Yeti. Abominable snowmen. Ouch.”
She’d elbowed him in the stomach. “They do not!”
“Do. Ouch. Can you stop doing that?”
The study was easy to find, and he had no trouble getting inside and closing the door. It even had a lock on it, which he turned, just in case any servant decided to tidy up. Not that he’d seen any – they were all downstairs taking care of the guests.
The safe wasn’t hidden, but standing proud on the floor underneath yet another portrait of Uther Triskelion.
Jayne grunted. If he’d really wanted to knock the place over all he’d have needed to do was tie a rope around it, fly a shuttle in to the window then pull the gorram thing out. He’d have been away before anyone could have done more than draw breath to shout for the Alliance, and he could have opened it at his leisure.
As it was Kaylee had whisked up a gizmo, or possibly a whatchamacallit (at least as far as Mal was concerned), and while he wasn’t planning on robbing it of any folderol – not yet, anyway – he’d been tasked with finding out if, first of all, the gadget worked and, secondly, what Badger wanted so badly inside the safe.
Serenity’s first mate turned from where she was examining some old-fashioned non-moving captures in silver frames on a small table, half hidden beneath a large plant in a larger planter. “Sam.”
“Simon said you wanted to have a word with me?”
“Am I that obvious?”
“I have been trained, you know.”
“That you have. And yes, it’s Hank.” She led him further away, into one of the darker corners. “Sam, do you think this … all of this … is another form of gambling?”
Sam’s eyebrows raised a millimetre. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Hank knows he’s not a Triskelion. We could walk away, right now, but he won’t. It’s like he’s … upping the ante, only it might be with his life.”
“You think it might come to that?”
Zoe didn’t answer for a moment, then nodded slowly. “We don’t know what the Fosters are playing at, but I can’t see ‘em being altruistic and finding an heir for the sake of their souls.”
“Have you spoken to him?”
“I tried. He keeps saying maybe Simon’s wrong.”
“He wants to give you a life.”
“I have one.”
“Then a better one.”
“He doesn’t have to make anything up to me.” Zoe knew she sounded harsh, and made herself smile. “Sorry, but he’s a sha gua chun zi if he thinks I want anything more than I already have.”
“Even if it was to be more comfortable?”
“Sam, it’s like Frey says. It comes with strings, and I ain’t comfortable about that at all.” Her dark gaze was troubled. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
“And you wouldn’t be asking me if you didn’t think it was.”
Zoe took a breath. “I … suppose not.”
“And the truth is, you’re probably right. Hank’s personality … he won’t recognise it but yes, it’s another version. But then, this crew isn’t exactly known for their good sense sometimes.”
Zoe cracked a smile. “Hank thinks he’s a coward.”
“We know he isn’t. Isn’t that enough?”
She didn’t answer at first, just let her gaze travel around the room, fixing for a moment on Clive Foster, standing by the fireplace and holding court, then moving to Crispin, filling a plate from the groaning buffet table, his corpulence stopping him from getting too close. A little further over there was Luke, chatting to someone she didn’t recognise, but his eyes kept drifting to Demelza, talking quietly with Cora. Then there was John Foster, sitting in a wingback chair, his elbows resting on the arms, his fingers steepled in front of his face. From what she could see of his expression it was satisfied, almost smug, and she was put in mind of spider sitting in its web, surrounded by the cocoons of all its victims.
She looked back at Sam. “It’s just that I can’t help feeling it might get him into deeper goushi than he’s already in.”
“Have you talked to him?”
“I’ve tried. But he’s stubborn. So stubborn.”
“From what I’ve heard he had to be, to get you.”
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. “Are you being snarky with me, Dr Nazir?”
“I wouldn’t dare. I like my teeth.”
She had to smile. “I wouldn’t knock them all out.”
“Just some of them?”
“Oh yes. Just some.”
“I’m glad you’re on our side.”
“Now I am.”
They both knew she was referring to the fact that she started the war wearing purple – it was only Mal’s intervention that changed her to brown.
“You know, I’ve always thought that it doesn’t matter where you start, so long as you end up where you should be.” He smiled. “And you are.”
“Do you want me to talk to Hank about it? About your concerns?”
“Would you? I’d be grateful.”
“Zoe, as Mal keeps telling us, we’re family.”
“Yes, he is persistent, isn’t he?”
“A bit like Simon,” Sam went on, “who I can see making a beeline for Inara to take her pulse or something. I’d better get back before there’s blood.”
“Better. Entrails are hard to clean out of a carpet.”
He stared at her for a moment, quite possibly wondering if she was being sincere or not, then hurried back to his lover before he had to find out.
It was the work of a minute to attach the box, using the adhesive pads to place the sensors and wires just as he’d been instructed, then it was just a case of flicking the switch and sitting back in the padded, blood red leather chair behind the desk. And going through the drawers, of course, while he waited.
Freya had been insistent. “It was when he was going over what might be inside. He said trinkets, baubles and land deeds.”
Mal got it. “Land deeds? Why those? He couldn’t fence them, or claim ownership.”
She nodded. “And when he spoke there was this bright, shining neon light pulsing above his head.”
“No. But there might as well have been. It lit the cotton candy for a nano-second.”
“As long as that.”
Mal had almost burst into flames at the glare, but luckily she restrained herself from going full wattage. Still, it was enough to pique his curiosity, and when Mal was curious, nobody else got to spend time with their wives on an empty ship.
Jayne grinned as Kaylee’s little machine whirred and did its thing, the soft light from his shaded torch creating malevolent planes across his cheeks. When she heard how well it worked, she was going to be asking again for that raise.
“Thank you so much for the loan of the dress.”
Inara smiled. “You could have worn the ball gown.”
“Nah. Much as I love it, the Cap’s right – it is kinda a layer cake.”
“And you look lovely in it.”
Kaylee blushed slightly. “Memorable, maybe.”
“Really?” Inara looked around the room, her gaze settling on an older man with grey hair and a rather lush moustache. “I saw Lord Bennington speaking to you earlier. I seem to recall him being at another party …”
This time Kaylee laughed. “He was. He made sure I had a good time, least ‘til the punching …” She took a sip of wine. “Surprised he remembered me.”
“Kaylee, mei-mei¬, you are unforgettable.”
“Yeah, but so’s Jayne.” Her children, never far from her mind, surfaced again. “Did you see that capture Breed made?” As soon as Dillon had taken pity on Mal being beaten up and told her about Breed’s recording she’d sought the man out, making him laugh as he dug the maker out of his pocket as she demanded. “And the portrait Hope did?” Her heart swelled with pride.
“Yes, I did.”
“They’re a suai couple, ain’t they?”
“Dillon and Breed? Yes, they are.”
“You think they’re gonna do like Frey’s thinking, and adopt?”
Inara contemplated the little paper umbrella in her orange juice. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”
“I think they’d be good. Did you see how they were helping Caleb trying to walk through the snow? They weren’t getting annoyed or anything.”
Inara smiled. “I did.” Kaylee’d made her watch it three times. “And yes, they would be excellent parents.” She caressed the baby growing inside her, almost unconsciously.
“Not as good as you and Sam’ll be.” Kaylee laughed. “And now my Simon’s fixed things, I can’t see you stopping at just the one.”
“Mei-mei, I’ll just be glad if he’s healthy.”
“You wait and see. This time next year, we’ll be buying christening gifts again.”
The young mechanic’s infectious enthusiasm made Inara laugh, even as she realised it hadn’t occurred to her that there might be the possibility of more than one child. Now that could be fun, seeing Sam surrounded by a large family, all of them his …
Kaylee had warned him it might take a long time, and Jayne was getting bored. There’d been nothing of interest in any of the drawers, and while he’d refrained from carving his initials into the desk he was down to cleaning his nails with Binky and fantasising about what he and River might get up to when he got back.
He was considering the red ribbon when there was a faint beep, and Jayne was on his knees in front of the safe.
“Mal was worried about how much this is costing you.” Freya had circulated around and was now talking to Breed by the window.
He’d opened it enough to get a waft of cold air, and they were both luxuriating in it. “Don’t. And please tell him the same. We’re enjoying ourselves, quite selfishly. Besides, we both think of them all as our nieces and nephews.”
“Exactly.” He paused for a moment, then asked, surprisingly diffidently, “So … have you decided what you’re going to do with it yet?”
She shook her head. “It’s not mine. I’ve already told Hank I didn’t want a penny of the Triskelion money.”
“Not that. Your inheritance.” He flicked his eyebrows. “Alex told us.”
Freya’s jaw dropped. “He … did what?”
Breed chuckled. “Good job he isn’t here yet, at least from the look on your face. If you were armed, I think you might have shot him.”
“I am, and you’re right.” She pulled the front of her light jacket aside slightly, and he caught a glimpse of a shoulder holster.
“He just wanted to know if we thought you’d take it. And are you all carrying?”
“Pretty much.” She exhaled heavily. “And he knew what I’d say. What I’d already said.”
“And we told him the same. Only he’s too like you – once he gets an idea in his head nothing short of V59 is going to get it out again.”
“I’m not that bad!”
“And not here yet? Is Alex back?”
“Not yet. But he’s due any time.”
“But they invited him?”
“Frey, your brother is quite influential. The Rostovs have some fair-sized holdings on Persephone.”
“I … I’ve never really thought about it.”
“I could give you a list.”
“No. No, that’s not necessary.” She took a deep breath. “Anyway, it’s something of a moot point. I don’t want the money, and when I can figure out a way of giving it back I will.”
He put his hand on her arm, squeezing slightly to give comfort. “You do realise that, from what Alex told us, your father’s Will was airtight.”
“Then maybe that’s what I need to be looking into.” Her eyes unfocussed. “Airtight …”
“Frey? You okay?”
She looked back up at him. “You know, that’s a damn good idea. Thanks.”
The wires were dismantled quickly, and the box removed and thrust back into one of the voluminous pockets on his combat jacket. Turning the handle Jayne grinned as the door opened, smoothly and silently.
Inside were a number of flat jewellery boxes, and while his fingers itched to open them and see what pretties might be within, he bypassed them with a sad shake of his head and lifted out a handful of folded papers instead.
In the light from his shaded torch he could just read Land Deed on the top one in some kind of flowing script, with an address printed beneath. The others were the same, and quickly tucking them inside his jacket he closed the safe on the other temptations, wiping off any potential evidence before standing straight. He crossed the room in two strides and eased off the lock, listening for anyone in the corridor outside. At first it was empty, then just as he was about to leave the room he heard two people coming up the stairs. He ducked back inside, closing the door until there was just a crack, barely wide enough to peer through.
Two men, one tall and thin, the other shorter, almost as wide as he was high. Jayne had never seen them in person, but the descriptions the others had given were clear enough: Clive and Crispin Foster.
Crispin was the one speaking, although he was somewhat out of breath from climbing the stairs. “… sooner the better. He’s a chun huo.”
“I’m not disagreeing.” Clive shook his head, then drew his brother further along the landing. “But there’s a plan. And when it’s all over we won’t need to worry ever again.”
Crispin lifted one eyebrow, possibly the most exercise he’d had in years. “You don’t mind if I don’t hold my breath.”
“Pike’s sure. Just hold onto that.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Neither do I. And perhaps later we’ll see what can be done about him. But for now we just let things ride.”
“Well, I’m going to bed.” Crispin started to walk away, towards Jayne.
Clive held him back. “Crispin, we have guests.”
“And that wasn’t my idea. Your darling wife decided that, all by herself.”
“Demelza was right. We have to be seen to be welcoming Hank into the family. Surely even you can see that.”
“I don’t care. I’ve done my bit, and now I am going to bed.” He shook himself free. “And send someone up with some sandwiches. I’m peckish.”
Jayne watched him go by, then caught sight of Clive’s face, just before he turned on his heel and headed back to the party. Now that was exactly the opposite of brotherly love.
He gave it another minute, then slid out of the study to head back to the cellar and his own exit.
The moon was dropping back towards the horizon as they left the house, despite Hank’s repeated attempts to make them stay the night.
“You could. I mean, the kids are okay with Dillon. And there are plenty of bedrooms.”
Mal had sighed. “You want to come with us, you come.”
“No, no I think I’d better … you know … stay. It might look suspicious if the heir to the estate ran away.”
“You’re not the heir.”
“At the moment I am.”
Mal knew what the problem was. Hank was torn between self-preservation and the allure of possible wealth, and at the moment the latter was stronger.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Stay the night, show willing, then come back to Serenity real early. We can thrash out a plan over breakfast, and you can decide then what’s the best thing to do.”
Hank had hummed and hawed, until Zoe had slid her arm through his and taken him back into the party, where the others seemed to be about to make a long night of it.
Now Mal stood at the top of the steps, buttoning his coat higher around his neck.
If anything it had got colder than before, or maybe it was just the contrast between the over-heated room and the outside frost. Still, the ground was sparkling with a billion crushed diamonds, and crunched underfoot as if –
There was a pause. Yes?
Do you mind?
What did I tell you about trying to make me think things I ain’t thinking?
That it was girlish and impulsive?
Pretty sure it wasn’t that.
I was bored.
Jayne back okay?
Yes. And he has something of interest.
Then go and annoy him for a while.
I didn’t say I was bored now …
Mal turned to Freya. “Is she purring?”
“Better not to ask.”
He could see her trying to hide a smile. “That girl …”
“Is not a girl any longer.”
“I’d’ve thought motherhood might have slowed her down. Or at least … you know.”
“Not so’s you’d notice. At least she’s not threatening to kill us all. Well, not without posting a sign first.”
If she was purring before, now there was a mental impression of a snort.
“Come on,” Mal said, holding out his arm. “You’ll be cold again by the time we get back, and I conjure we might need a shot of something before getting to bed, just to warm us up.”
Freya smiled. “And you’re anxious to see what Jayne brought back.”
“So long as they’ve finished whatever it is they’re doing.”
Mal rolled his eyes as Freya laughed softly, and they walked down the steps, the others following as they avoided the patches of ice with care.
to be continued
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