BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Monied Individual - Part X
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

He’d never had much to do with horses, having always been more interested in things that flew rather than things that trotted, but he had to admit that, close up, they were quite interesting. With quite a powerful odour that wasn’t unpleasant – in fact it reminded him a little of Jayne after he’d been working out, but he decided, wisely, not to mention that fact to the big man. [Maya. Post-BDM. Mal and Badger have a chat, Alex extends an invitation, and Hank decides to play protector. A longer chapter to make up for the delay!]


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 796    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

“You keep coming round people’re gonna start thinking you’ve got the hots for me.” Badger leaned back in his seat, showing off what was probably a fairly new wifebeater, but on him everything looked dingy.

Swallowing back the slight feeling of nausea, Mal said, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“And where’s Freya?”

“My wife has other things to attend to.”

“Pity. She brightens a man’s day and puts lead in his pencil. Still, this one does nicely.”

Zoe caressed the butt of her Mare’s Leg.

“If you don’t want to do business, that’s fine by me.” Mal pulled the Land Deeds from the pocket of his coat. “I’m sure the Fosters’d be happy to get these back.”

Badger sat forward, his eyes gleaming. “Are they …”

“From the safe, yeah. Nothing in the way of pretties in there, but you did mention anything else that might be.”

The crime boss of Persephone – if only in his own head – held out his hand. “Hand ‘em over, then.”

Mal shook his head. “We haven’t decided on a price.”

“You gonna make me pay?”

“We went to some little trouble for these. Could’ve been bound if we got caught. I think there should be some recompense, don’t you?”

“How about my goodwill?”

“How about the truth of what’s going on with Pike and the Triskelions?”

Badger’s eyes narrowed under the shade of his hat. “Why should I know?”

“Because I know you. Because I think you and Pike are as thick as thieves, and you know damn well Hank ain’t a Triskelion.”

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“Fine. Then maybe your friend …” He made show of reading the details on the papers. “… Winston Downey would be willing to help. Seeing as it’s his name on these deeds. I’m fair sure the local Alliance station would give me his address. A’course, they may not take too kindly on money-lending outside the official channels.”

Badger glared, then his face broke into a cold smile. “I nearly told old Seppy you wouldn’t fall for it. But I decided to sit back and watch the fireworks.”

“You’re right, I didn’t. But I still want to know why.”

“Pike suggested I might know someone’d do.”

“And you thought of Hank.”

“Not at first. Didn’t want nothing to do with it. But I … my pal Winston was in a bind.” Badger shrugged. “I did think of putting you up for it.”

“Me.” Mal glanced at Zoe. “Really?”

“Yeah. But you ain’t as green as you’re cabbage-looking, as my old Ma says.”

“Right.”

“’Sides, we did some checking, and you’re from a long line of hwoon dahn Reynolds. Even Seppy Pike wouldn’t be able to sell that.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Is it true your great-great grandpa was –”

“Badger. Stick to the point.”

“The point is that your pilot fit the bill. His background’s sketchy, his family tree almost bare … he seemed to be perfect for the con.”

“Yeah, but what con?”

“No idea. Something to do with the Will.” Badger picked up an apple and began to peel it in one, long strand of skin with a sharp, tortoiseshell-handled knife. He was probably imagining he was doing it to Mal. “All I know is they’ve spent good coin looking for a Triskelion in the past, and now they need one.”

“Need?”

Badger shrugged. “I’ve ‘eard Clive might have been playing a little loose with the family finances. Although I’d’a thought finding an heir would just make things worse. Mind you, Triskelions do have an … unfortunate habit of dying young.”

Mal felt Zoe glance at him. “Are you suggesting Hank’s life is in danger?”

“Don’t think I said that. Just recounting what I heard.” He held out his hand again. “Now, I think we’re square.”

“Never square, Badger,” Mal said, letting the little man take the Deeds. “And I’d be grateful if you could … recount anything else you might happen to hear.”

“I’ll see.” Badger cut a slice of his apple and put it into his mouth, speaking around it. “Now, I think you’ve out-stayed your welcome, don’t you? Don’t let the door hit you in the arse on the way out.”

---

Outside in the comparatively fresh air of Eavesdown Docks, Mal waited until they’d turned the next corner before he stopped, making Zoe do the same.

“Sir?”

“You’ve been pretty quiet during all this. Just what’s your take on the whole flimflammery?”

Zoe took a deep breath then exhaled slowly. “I’m supporting my husband.”

“Who’s changing his mind more often than Jayne changes his shorts.”

“I have it on good authority Jayne doesn’t usually wear them.”

“I’m hoping your authority is River, rather than first hand evidence.”

“Well, sir, there was that time he got shot on Jangyin.”

“Right.” Mal remembered the scene in the infirmary. “His Ma wasn’t pleased to find out. And you’re changing the subject.”

“Not that I was aware, sir.”

“Zo, it’s me. Mal. You’ve kept me alive longer than I care to think, over too many years, for you to not tell me now.”

She gazed into his face, into the blue eyes that had seen so much, and sighed. “I … don’t know.”

“Didn’t think I’d ever see you lost for words. Brief, yes, taciturn even, but …” He was relieved to see her smile. “You think I’m wrong, hanging about.”

“Not … wrong. Just not right. I can’t explain it.”

“Well, I can’t say that conversation we had with Badger helped much.” He started to walk again towards where Freya had parked the shuttle. “I feel about as much in the dark as ever. And that’s a place I hate to be more than your husband hates small spaces.”

---

Despite Mal’s suggestion that she accompany them, Freya had decided to stay with the shuttle. Not that anyone was likely to fly off with it, but she didn’t feel strong enough to deal with Badger. Besides, if he tried to see down her shirt once more she was likely to do something to him that he wouldn’t be able to get over.

They wouldn’t be much longer, she decided, on checking the chronometer. Although Badger might have kept them waiting … no, not much longer.

She’d spent a couple of minutes looking out on the world through Ethan’s eyes as Callum drove the hover through the streets to the museum. He was taking everything in, excited and interested in equal parts, but she could also feel him start to fidget as if there was an itch he couldn’t scratch, and she withdrew gently.

She found herself not wanting to know if Jesse was aware of her presence.

Auntie Frey?

It’s okay, Bethie. Just making sure you’re having a good time.

Okay. Bethie didn’t sound as if she believed it, but was gone again.

Freya wasn’t surprised the little girl knew. After everything that had happened on Lazarus Bethie had been keeping her mental walls down to the bare minimum, so she was bound to have picked up on Freya’s ‘visit’. Still, perhaps some additional training might not go amiss.

Not that it mattered much. River had been right – outside the family was like swimming in treacle, and made her feel slightly nauseous. So it worried Freya that she’d felt … him again.

Maybe it was imagination. The last time, only the night before, she’d thought she’d woken up as if someone was calling her. She’d reached out, first to Mal, then Ethan and Jesse, then the other crew members. She even touched Dillon and Breed, but everyone was asleep. Ben was having a nightmare, something about being trapped in a cold, dark, small space, but she soothed gently, his twitching and yelping being calmed into dreams of flying Serenity. Like father, like son, it seemed. Perhaps she should ask Simon whether children could inherit their parents’ phobias.

She’d moved on, but it was none of them. No-one had called out to her, not even Ben. She’d lain awake for a long while, listening to Mal breathe next to her, only slipping into a fitful doze as the night oozed towards dawn.

It would be better if it was her imagination, her psyche taking the normal day-to-day worries and twisting them into something else, adding to the usual concern for her children, her husband. Not something real, or, worse, her mind beginning to unravel. A bad dream, hanging on as they did sometimes into the day.

It just didn’t feel like a dream.

Sam. Yes. Speak to Sam. He’d know exactly the right thing to say to make her feel better. Tell her the mind was a playful thing, and that it was just smoke and mirrors.

Except. Except it was more substantial than smoke, and mirrors only held the reflection of what was, not what wasn’t.

But … “Sam.” She spoke aloud, confirming it to herself.

“You planning on running off with him?” Mal asked, stepping up behind her and making her jump.

“Mal!” She span in the pilot’s seat to glare at him.

He grinned. “Diyu, but that’s the first time I’d had the drop on you in years. And nobody around to see.”

“I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Figured that.” The grin faltered a little. “You okay?”

“Just …” Freya made a great show of putting her hand on her breast. “You startled me.”

“Gotta keep my hand in somehow.” Still, she looked unsettled. Right now, though, it was probably best to make a joke of it. “So, you planning a rendezvous with the good Dr Nazir?”

She decided to play along rather than tell him she was worried she might be losing what little was left of her mind. “He is very attractive.”

“You think?” Mal shook his head. “Can’t see it myself.”

“That olive skin. Those eyes. Especially now he’s kept the short hair.”

“He’s also taken.”

“Perhaps Inara and I could share him.”

Mal leaned forward so his hands were on the arm rests, his face very close to hers. “Apart from the fact that ‘Nara’s pretty formidable when she’s riled, I think I can promise a short conversation next to the airlock for Sam if you ever truly considered it.”

“Then I won’t tempt you to murder.” She closed the short distance and kissed him, just as the door to the shuttle opened again to allow Zoe inside.

“Oh, and Frey?” he whispered into her mouth.

“Yes?”

“When you’re ready to tell me what the real problem is, I’ll be here.”

She swallowed. “I know.”

“Shiny.” He kissed her again. “Now we just have to wait for Inara and Sam to get back.”

Zoe, waiting by the door, stood straighter. “They’re just coming, sir. And they’ve got someone with them.”

---

“Did you have to buy up all the shops?” Sam asked, labouring under a large number of boxes and bags, wondering if they were all going to end up in the gutter, and him along with them.

“I didn’t buy everything.” Inara was holding a small, pink-wrapped parcel, tied with a large blue bow. “And some of them will be delivered directly to the shuttle.” She lifted a hand. “Remind me to ask Mal to wait for them.”

“I’ll try. If my arms haven’t fallen off first.”

“Idiot.” She smiled so warmly that for a long moment he considered dropping everything, pushing her into an alleyway they were just passing, and seeing exactly what she had on under that heavy coat trimmed with fur. Still, that would probably get them bound, and he didn’t want to have to spend the birth of his child locked up.

“So, have you thought any more about a name?” he went on, trying to ease the strain on his fingers without upsetting the applecart.

“No. Not really.”

He stopped. “Inara, you don’t need to be afraid any longer.”

She walked on a few more paces, then turned. “I know. And it’s silly. But I … I don’t want to tempt fate by making a decision now, and something going wrong.”

He wanted to say it wouldn’t, that nothing was going to stop them holding their new-born son, but he didn’t. If nothing else, living out towards the fringes of society had taken away his rose-coloured spectacles somewhat, and he knew nothing was for certain.

“Then there’s no rush.” He caught up with her and they continued towards the shuttle.

“Have you spoken to her yet?” Inara asked. “Freya.”

“Not yet,” he admitted.

“You don’t want to, do you?”

“In all honesty I’ll do it for you, but I have to pick my time. What with all that’s going I haven’t really found the moment.”

She put her free hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you weren’t happy about it.”

“It’s not that. And I can see what you see, now I know to look. Some mornings Freya seems … grey.”

“Exactly. I know it’s not her relationship with Mal – no matter he’s still an infuriating man he loves her so much he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her, not intentionally.”

“Could he do it without thinking?”

“She’s Freya. He knows something isn’t right, but he isn’t going to push.”

“You mean she might hurt him?”

“No, not physically. Although she has a sharp elbow sometimes.” Inara smiled for a moment. “And a good throwing arm.” She sobered. “But he’s always been … ready to wait for her to tell him. About anything.”

“Except he knows she can Read anything she wants in his mind, pull every action he’s ever taken out into the light of day.”

“She doesn’t, though. He has … Freya describes it as locked doors, and she never goes behind them.”

Sam nodded slowly. “So is that it? He knows she won’t go where he doesn’t want her to see, and he waits for her to tell him for the same reason?”

Inara shrugged delicately. “It’s something of a strange relationship they have, but it works.”

“And are you still jealous?”

She had to laugh. “Yes. A little. Nowhere near what it used to be, but …”

“You sometimes wonder what might have been, if it had been you at his side and not her.”

“Sometimes.” She had to be truthful, especially now. “Usually when I’m on that cusp between waking and sleeping, about to slip into dreams, and … yes, sometimes I wonder. Then I look at you lying next to me, and I thank Buddha for what I have.”

His face lost its serious expression. “That’s nice.”

Now her laughter became more throaty. “Nice. What a little word.”

“I like it. Nice is good. Nice is … right.”

She leaned in to kiss him, dislodging one of the parcels that tumbled to the ground. “I hope there was nothing breakable in that one,” she commented. “And I don’t know that I can bend down far enough to pick it up.”

“No. Wait. I just need to …” His body went into contortions as he tried to bend and reach at the same time as not depositing the rest of his burdens into the snow.

“Hang on!” A voice called out to them and they both looked up. “Let me.”

“Alex!”

Freya’s brother bounded up and bent down, retrieving the fallen package. He then started to unload Sam until the other man could at least be seen.

“Thank you!” Sam exhaled heavily. “You are a God-send.”

“What are you doing here?” Inara wanted to know. “When did you arrive? Does Freya know you’ve got back?”

Alex grinned, looking very like his sister. “In order, looking for Serenity, yesterday afternoon, and I’m not sure.”

“Well, you can find out, if you don’t mind carrying those bits and pieces for me.”

Sam’s mouth dropped open. “Bits and … it’s half a store!”

She swatted him gently on the arm. “Ignore Sam,” she said to Alex. “It’s just a few things I need.”

“And you’re blooming, even in the short time since I saw you.”

They started to walk back towards the shuttle.

“I feel as big as a house,” Inara complained.

“With your posture it doesn’t show. I remember the first time I saw Freya – as Freya, rather than Elena – she was pregnant, and she looked huge. She wasn’t as far along as you are, either.”

Inara laughed delightedly. “Oh, I can’t wait to tell her that.”

“Please don’t. I like all my extremities where they are.”

---

Hank and Demelza had taken a horse-drawn sleigh to look at the estate, and while it was cold he had to admit that it was nicer than using anything powered, as that would have thrown up the snow and curtained everything off.

As it was they had toured past the maze (planted 70 years before by Uther’s wife Georgia – or at least supervised while others toiled), admired the mausoleum (a space had been set aside for him, if he wanted to see), and were now driving along the road next to the lake, Demelza holding the reins and accompanied by gentle ringing from the bells on the horse harness.

The lake itself was frozen, glittering in the watery sunshine where the last fall of snow lay undisturbed. Rushes and tall grasses seemed to be rooted in the ice along the edge, straining to get free of their prison.

Hank was just wondering whether it was the done thing to ask to be put down so he could see if he could break the crust when Demelza spoke.

“Cora told me what she’d done. I’m sorry.”

Hank shrugged as much as the thick coat would let him. “It’s okay. No harm done.”

“It’s Clive. He’s so worried that we’ll be turned out.”

“I won’t. I promise. In fact, I’d be much happier to leave the running of everything to you, and I’ll go back to being me. Just wealthier.”

She smiled. “I’m afraid that isn’t possible. The Will stipulates that the heir take over, even down to the household accounts. It even says you have to live in the house.”

“And if I don’t want to?” He turned enough to be able to look at her profile. “Demelza, my home is on Serenity. My family’s there. I know there are times when I’d like to just steal the shuttle and run away from everyone, but they pass.”

“Is it really an issue?”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “I suppose Mr Pike could contest it for you, but it’s been looked into before. I know John spent quite a lot of money trying to break it before, when Peder died, but …”

“And if I don’t accept. Tell them I don’t want it, not a credit.”

“You’re still a Triskelion. You couldn’t touch any of it, but it would still be yours. We’d have no claim on it.”

“And if I wasn’t? What if I wasn’t a Triskelion?”

“Luke tested you.”

“Tests can be wrong. I mean, look at me. I remember having one of those personality things at school once that said I was best suited to being a miner, and here I am the pilot of a Firefly.” He smiled, wanting to make her less sad. Even her vibrant red hair was drooping.

“I don’t know.” She flicked the reins to make the horse trot faster. “I … let’s not talk about it. I want to show you the grotto at the far end of the lake. It’s said a fairy lives there.”

“A fairy?” Hank chuckled. “All the way from Earth-that-was?”

“Pointed ears, green dress, wings and all.”

“Red hair?”

“As it happens.”

They laughed together as the sleigh jingled onwards.

---

As Sam stowed Inara’s purchases in the back of the shuttle and the woman herself settled onto one of the benches, Alex asked, “Mal, could you give us a couple of minutes?”

“Sure. I need to make sure there’s enough space for all the stuff ‘Nara’s bought. And that Sam’s recovered use of his arms.”

“It’s not that much.” Inara fluffed her dress around her knees. “And I’m sure they won’t be long with the rest.”

Sam chuckled. “You might not be able to take off.”

Mal rolled his eyes as Alex grinned on his way to the small bridge.

“What are you doing here?” Freya asked, leaning back in the chair and crossing her arms.

“Can’t I just come and say hello to my sister?”

“You only saw me a short while ago.”

“A little longer than that. Anyway, Mother wants to see you.”

She sat up straight. “Mama?” It slipped out before Freya could stop it. “She’s here?”

“At the house. My house. Which you haven’t seen yet.”

“I’d forgotten. That you’d brought a place close to Dillon and Breed.”

“She’s staying with us.”

“That’s nice for you.” Freya exhaled a laugh. “Sorry. That didn’t come out the way … I mean, it’s nice to have her close.”

“She wants to see you. And her grandchildren.”

“I don’t know about that, Alex.”

“She’d never seen them, only the captures.”

“I know, but –”

“It would be safe, if that’s what’s worrying you.”

“Alex, this is Persephone. It might not be the Core, but it’s still full of Alliance.”

“And I’m just suggesting you join us at church tomorrow, then come home for some lunch. Bring Mal too.”

“Church?”

“There’s a rather beautiful cathedral here, did you know that?”

“No. But then I don’t exactly follow an organised religion.”

“I do. After you … after, I was inducted into it, just as they’d planned. I go when I can.”

She was surprised. “I didn’t know.”

“I don’t shout about it, and I’m not a fanatic, but I find it … soothes my soul.”

“I meditate, for much the same reason.”

“I know. The scent of your incense is quite strong.” He chuckled. “Mal says you do it naked.”

“He told you?”

“You’re my sister. I didn’t listen. So, will you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Frey, after Dad died she … it’s not a decline, not with my girls about, but she’s concerned she might never see Ethan or Jesse.”

Her annoyance flared briefly. “That’s low.”

“I know. I was taking lessons from Mal.”

“I think you passed.”

“A few hours. Two acquaintances passing a pleasant couple of hours together. What’s the harm?”

---

He’d never had much to do with horses, having always been more interested in things that flew rather than things that trotted, but he had to admit that, close up, they were quite interesting. With quite a powerful odour that wasn’t unpleasant – in fact it reminded him a little of Jayne after he’d been working out, but he decided, wisely, not to mention that fact to the big man.

Demelza had uncoupled the sleigh and removed the harness, telling him where to put it and make sure it had room to dry.

“I won’t make you oil it, not this time,” she laughed as Hank tried to lift the heavy leather into place. “It has to be done on a regular basis, though, or it dries out.”

“Thanks,” he said, sucking his thumb from where he’d caught it between two rings.

“Here.” She tossed him a brush. “You rub down that side, and I’ll do this. It will take half the time.”

“Oh. Right. Yes.” He watched her for a moment then tried to copy her long, sweeping strokes. The horse stood quietly, picking the occasional bit of hay from his food trough. “Don’t you have people to do this?”

“Yes, but I like it.” She paused for a moment and looked at him over the rounded rump. “When I was young my father bred horses. He was famous for it, and he loved each and every one of them. He’d talk to them, for hours, and I’d swear they understood every word he said.”

“Maybe they did.”

“I do know they raced for him, and won so much that he was investigated more than once for doping, but they could never prove anything because there wasn’t anything to find. Just love.”

There was such loss in her voice that he had to say, “He sounds like a good man.”

“He was. His wife, on the other hand, wasn’t.”

“His … not your mother?”

“She died just after I was born. Charlotte was his second wife, and I always believed he only married her because he thought I needed a mother. Of course, by the time I was old enough to tell him, it was too late.”

“Yeah, that’s a problem, isn’t it?” He brushed harder at a bit of dried mud. “We think we have all the time in the world, that it doesn’t matter if we don’t say it today, that tomorrow’s good enough. Then it’s tomorrow and …”

She looked at him. “That sounds like experience.”

He shrugged. “A bit. Zoe isn’t … I was married before. She died.”

“Oh. I am so sorry.”

“Me too. But I remember the good times, and have Zoe now.” He put on a grin. “She’s about all I can handle.”

“But you still wish you could have told your first wife you loved her, just once more?”

Hank had to laugh. “If I didn’t know better I’d be starting to believe that you’re one of those fairies living in the grotto.”

“My father always said my mother had the second-sight.”

“I think he was right.” He brushed harder, and felt the horse kick out a hip to stand more relaxed. “You know, Mal had a horse once. Just for a few days. I think he was psychic the way he ran. Name of Casmir.”

Demelza’s eyes widened. “Casmir? Out of Penny Rise and Queen of Midwinter? Runs in brown silks for … for …” She thought hard. “Kilbrand of Mead?”

“Isiah Kilbrook. Yep, that sounds like Casmir. You know him?”

“Not Casmir, as such, but his bloodline descends from one of my father’s best winners, Penny Dreadful.” She smiled. “I like to keep an eye on all their racebooks, see who’s doing well.”

“Me too. Well, I used to.”

“And not now?” She resumed brushing.

He followed suit, studying the way the horsehair lay in tight whorls in places, and gentle waves in others. “I … uh … have a gambling problem.”

“Not enough money?”

“I’m too good at it. I … I’m addicted.” It was still hard, admitting it, and he wondered if it was ever going to get easier. Probably not.

Demelza paused briefly, then brushed harder. “I know how that is. My Da had the same problem, only he wasn’t as good as you. He lost everything, pretty nearly. It’s why I had to marry Clive.”

“Had to?”

“He died, I think, from a broken heart when he lost all his horses, when I was fifteen. Charlotte decided she didn’t want to be poor, but didn’t want to be burdened with another husband, so she … paraded me before the assembled gentry of Persephone, and Clive bid the highest for me.”

“That’s wrong in so many ways.”

“He wasn’t a bad man, not then, but he had no idea how to treat a very young wife, so he treated me like a child.”

“You could have left.”

“And do what?”

“Anything you wanted.”

“I had Cora to think about. And I suppose the impetus goes away after a while.” She slapped the horse’s rump. “There. That’s my side done. How about you?”

Hank brushed half a dozen more quick, hard strokes, then stood back. “Done. I think.”

She laughed and came around to his side, ducking under the horse’s head and feeling a soft nose whiffle at her hair. She studied his work. “It’ll do,” she said finally, then looked up into his face. “We’ll make a groom out of you yet.”

He grinned, then the smile faltered. “What’s that?”

“What?”

He reached up to where her top had dropped from one shoulder, revealing discoloured patches on her pale skin. “These.”

Demelza tugged the fabric back up. “Nothing.”

“It don’t look like nothing. They’re bruises.”

“I must have knocked myself. I’m always doing that.” She quickly pulled her coat back on. “I think it’s time for hot chocolate. As a reward.” She hurried out of the stable.

Hank had to run to catch up. “Wait. Please.”

She span on her heel. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all. And I’d be grateful if you didn’t mention my clumsiness to anyone.”

“It’s Clive, isn’t it?”

“It’s nobody, and nobody’s business but my own!” She tossed her fiery red curls back. “You’re a stranger, Hank, and member of the family or not, this is not your affair. I bruise easily, that’s all, and I won’t have you suggesting anything else.”

He couldn’t stop himself. “Some of them look old, Demelza. They’re going yellow. With new ones on top. Does your other shoulder match? Did he get hold of you and shake you?” Anger began to build inside him, a fire that was starting to take his breath away.

“And if he does? Maybe I deserve it! Maybe I’ve made his life a living hell, and this is the only way he has of expressing himself. Have you thought of that?”

“Nobody deserves to be abused, least of all you.” He stepped forward, about to touch her arm but she flinched and backed away. “Can I help?”

She glared at him, as if she was willing him to burst into flame, then suddenly collapsed into herself. “Leave. Leave, Hank, and this will all end. He’s just … so worried.”

“You just said, if I leave the money still won’t come to him.”

“No.” She turned back towards the house. “No, it won’t.”

“Then maybe we can find a way. Hell, I’ll inherit and give it all away.”

This time her laughter was more redolent of fairies and sleigh rides. “You’re a strange man.”

He trudged after her. “It’s been said.”

---

Next morning Hank and Zoe made their way to Serenity for breakfast.

“They not got anything planned for you today?” Jayne joked as he spooned a huge helping of hot cereal into a bowl, then a smaller one for River.

“Probably,” Hank admitted. “But we decided to make a run for it before they could tell us.”

Kaylee, already sitting at the table, yawned widely, belatedly hiding her mouth behind her hand.

Mal noticed, though. “Didn’t you sleep well, xiao mei-mei?”

Simon shook his head. “She didn’t get to bed. She was working all night.”

Mal felt a stab of guilt. “I didn’t mean for you to do that, Kaylee.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t know how long it would take, and I know you wanted it done.” She yawned again. “And it is. Everything’s back together, all hunky-dory and ready to go.”

“Thanks. And go get some sleep ‘fore you fall down and your husband blames me for that too.”

“I think I will.” Kaylee stood up and stretched. “A coupla hours, anyway.” She walked out of the kitchen, her whole body radiating tiredness.

“Anyway, that kinda leads into something I want to say.” Mal took his place at the head of the table. “I’ve been thinking.”

“That a good idea?” Jayne asked, reaching for the sweetener for his cereal. “Your thinkin’ comes to about as good as your plannin’.”

Mal ignored him. “And what I’ve been thinking is that we’re not that badly off in the way of cashey-money at the moment. We’ve got some on hand in the safe, and there’s the nest-egg on Phoros. Taking all of that into account, I’ve decided we’ll pass on the job from Sir Warwick. I know the kids were looking forward to going to that island place of Dillon’s but –”

“No.”

“What?”

Hank sat up straighter. “We’re not leaving.”

Mal glanced at Freya, then Zoe. “What the diyu’s going on? Just yesterday you were all-fired begging to be off this rock soon as we could. What’s changed your mind?”

“I … I just think we should stay. For another day or two. Or I should. You can take that job, be back before you know it. By then it’ll probably all be over, bar the shouting.” Hank stood up from the breakfast table. “I need to be getting back.” He walked to the door. “There’s just a few things I need to get.” He left, and they heard his footsteps on the metal stairs.

Mal turned to Zoe. “You got any light you wanna shed on this development?”

“No.” She looked as perplexed as he felt.

“He didn’t say anything last night?”

“No. He was … quiet, all through dinner, but not much more than usual.” She got to her feet. “I’ll see if I can find out what’s going on.”

“Hank’s being a gentleman.” Freya spoke quietly, still getting everyone’s attention. Even Zoe paused by the door.

“What? Why?” Mal demanded.

“Because Clive Foster … isn’t. At least when it comes to his wife.” She dropped an image into his mind of dark bruises on pale skin.

“You mean he … gorramit, that’s …”

“Yes. But then, that’s Hank all over. Trying to protect people.” She gazed at him. “I wonder where he gets that from?”

---

Zoe found Hank by the armoury. He was trying various guns for size.

“Honey?”

“I’m sorry. I know I … it’s just … just call it being me.”

“Is Freya right?”

He stopped. “About what?”

“That you want to protect Demelza.”

He turned, his face a picture of misery. “She’s got bruises, Zoe. Not just new ones, but old ones too. I can’t just … I can’t leave, not now. It wouldn’t be right.”

“So you think you should be carrying a gun.”

He looked down at the small pistol in his hand. “Maybe.” He shrugged. “Look, I can’t exactly wear a gunbelt, not in the house. But something like this, maybe I can hide it. Down the back of my pants, or something.”

She took it gently. “Not this one. Jayne filed the pin down, and it has a hair trigger. I don’t want you shooting yourself.”

Hank was beyond surprised. “You’re not going to tell me to stop being stupid? That I don’t need to …”

“No.” She reached into the armoury. “This one’s better.”

He took it, weighing it in his hand. “Don’t think I’ve seen this one before.”

“It was Freya’s. In fact, why don’t you ask if you can borrow her shoulder holster?”

He had to laugh, and some of the tension dissipated. “I don’t think it’d fit me.”

“It might be fun to watch you trying to get it on.” She smiled a little. “But it will fit in your pocket. Only four shots, but by then I’ll be there.”

He had to shake his head. “You’re amazing.”

“No. I’ve just known abusive relationships before, and they generally don’t end well for the person being abused.”

“Me too. When I was younger, my Gran tried to help Iris, to …” He stopped, remembering the town gossip when the girl turned up dead.

“And Demelza won’t listen.”

“No.”

“Are you actually planning on shooting Clive?”

He looked sheepish. “I … not if I can help it. But I thought, if I scared him, maybe give Demelza the gun … do you think Frey’d mind?”

“No. Ask her about Lizzie Holland.”

“What?”

“Someone she … we all knew, back in the day. Someone she failed to save.”

“Zoe …”

She pulled him towards her, gazing into his grey eyes. “You and me, Hank. We’re strong, and stronger together. If you want to stay, we’ll stay. If you like, I’ll talk to Demelza. Tell her about Lizzie Holland. And if she won’t listen, perhaps we can do something about Clive Foster.”

to be continued

COMMENTS

Saturday, August 27, 2016 10:37 PM

SARATAI


So...lots to say on this chapter. I like the mysteries you are putting into the series..Badger's name and Mal's family. Gives the story more depth than having it be just about the Triskelion heir. Having Badger mention a threat to Hank's life makes the plot around him a little more dangerous, which is nice. I liked that Zoe wasn't sure what to make of it, which felt real, because how do people react when loved ones are in danger? They tend to be a little freaked out rather than clear-headed. I liked that Freya was checking on the kids, feels very natural. I did wonder about the hint that Ben was claustrophobic, because in a earlier story, you had Hank get claustrophobic from a specific incident, rather than a had-from-birth kind of phobic fear. The bits between Mal and Freya on the shuttle and Zoe and Hank in the armory were both sweet and enjoyable to read. The story is shaping up nicely.

Saturday, August 27, 2016 10:37 PM

SARATAI


So...lots to say on this chapter. I like the mysteries you are putting into the series..Badger's name and Mal's family. Gives the story more depth than having it be just about the Triskelion heir. Having Badger mention a threat to Hank's life makes the plot around him a little more dangerous, which is nice. I liked that Zoe wasn't sure what to make of it, which felt real, because how do people react when loved ones are in danger? They tend to be a little freaked out rather than clear-headed. I liked that Freya was checking on the kids, feels very natural. I did wonder about the hint that Ben was claustrophobic, because in a earlier story, you had Hank get claustrophobic from a specific incident, rather than a had-from-birth kind of phobic fear. The bits between Mal and Freya on the shuttle and Zoe and Hank in the armory were both sweet and enjoyable to read. The story is shaping up nicely.


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“His name’s Jayne?”

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“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

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