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JANE0904

Monied Individual - Part XIV
Saturday, September 17, 2016

This wasn’t how an ex-companion did things. Perhaps she’d been hanging around a certain Firefly captain for too long. He listened at keyholes as if it were a competitive sport. [Maya. Post-BDM. The crew go to the Spring Lights Procession, Mal gives some good news, and Sir Warwick puts in another cameo. Read, enjoy, review!]


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 735    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

River had piloted the shuttle loaded with the rest of the family, telling Hank that as it was her home she got to fly. She landed next to other, sleeker vessels, but nobody noticed as they exited, hurrying through the crowds to the pavilion set up at the exclusive end of the processional route.

“Momma!” Two tornadoes detached themselves from a group and threw themselves at Kaylee, while Ben launched himself at Zoe and Hank. Caleb was a little slower, but Jayne scooped him up and tossed him high on the air before holding him to his chest so River could cuddle both of them. Simon, meanwhile, took David Gabriel from a young woman, quickly checking him over with his professional eye before smiling as the little boy grabbed his finger and took it to his mouth to suck.

Freya and Mal stood back, having already had their own reunion.

“You’d think it had been months,” Alex muttered, having come up unseen behind them.

“I’m sure yours are just the same.” Freya smiled at him.

“They’re a bit older so they don’t get quite as enthusiastic.” He laughed as Kaylee was forced to sit down on the ground to avoid being knocked into a passerby. “Which I have to say I’m perhaps a little glad about.”

“Are they here?”

“Mmn. They’re looking at the stalls at the moment, and I’m sure Ellen is buying them everything they want.”

“And Mother? You couldn’t persuade her?”

“She says she’s tired. She might join us for dinner later, though.”

Freya winced, knowing what family meals could be like sometimes. At least Bethie had been persuaded not to bring Fiddler.

As the reunion calmed down Ellen joined her husband, two girls at her side.

Alex introduced them. “This is Milly, and this one is Tilly. Well, Matilda and Charlotte, actually, but …” He stopped at the glare they were giving him, then went on quickly, “They may look like it, but they’re not twins.”

More than a year separating them but still only a couple of years older than Bethie, they did indeed look like they were the same age, with the same long, brown hair, although much lighter than Freya’s, and their complexions were definitely from their mother.

Bethie immediately took charge. “Hungry?” she asked.

Milly – or possibly Tilly – shrugged. “A bit.”

“You just had a huge dinner!” their mother interjected.

“That was ages ago,” Tilly – or maybe Milly – said.

Bethie nodded firmly and took each of them by the hand. “Me too,” she said. “Parents don’t understand, do they?” She led them towards a groaning refreshment table.

Alex laughed. “They may never come back.”

Dillon turned to the young woman who’d come with them. “Hilde, why don’t you go and take a look around? I’m sure the children are going to be fine with their parents.”

“Of course, sir.” She smiled at everyone then slipped out into the crowds.

“She’s nice,” Kaylee commented.

“You didn’t speak to her,” Simon pointed out.

“I like her,” Hope piped up. “She let me draw her.”

Mal scooped her up to sit on his hip. “Hope, darlin’, if’n a Reaver stood still long enough to let you get your pencil out, you’d like him.”

She giggled. “Silly Uncle Mal.”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He tickled her and made her laugh more. “But she seems a fine girl,” he said, putting Hope down. “Where’s her Ma?”

Dillon shook his head. “She … uh … isn’t around anymore.” He glanced down at the remaining children, but he was forgetting the fact they lived on Serenity.

“Did she die, Uncle Dillon?” Ethan asked quietly.

Dillon went down onto his heels. “Yes. Yes, she did. It was a long time ago, and Callum is a great father, but probably best not to mention it to Hilde.”

“Yes sir.”

Freya pushed her son gently. “Go on. You’d better get some of those treats before Bethie eats them all. Or your Uncle Jayne does.” She’d seen the big man edging towards the table.

“Okay, Mama!” He ran off, the other children following him.

“I’ll just … make sure they don’t make ‘emselves sick.” Jayne nodded seriously then sidled off.

“You do that,” Freya said quickly before Mal could make his own comment.

River just rolled her eyes.

The party broke up into family groups, sitting at the various tables in the pavilion, the children periodically swarming the food. Mal had gone to find something to drink with a bit more heft to it than the light sparkling wines being served, with Simon, Sam, Dillon and Breed accompanying him. Somewhat shockingly Ellen had elected to go with them.

“How could I refuse?” Alex’s wife had said. “With five such handsome men as my companions.”

“Please,” Inara put in. “Mal’s head is big enough as it is.”

Freya was surprised Alex hadn’t followed, then changed her mind as her brother sat down next to her, keeping his voice low.

“Well?”

“Well … what?”

“Did you?”

“Alex, you have to give me a little more to go on.”

“Milly and Tilly. Are they?”

“Are you asking if I checked if they’re …?” She didn’t finish.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

He glanced about, making sure nobody was taking any untoward notice of them. Still, he stood back up and pulled her to her feet, manoeuvring them out into the cold air. “Frey, from what I’ve seen over the past few years, what I know you and the others have come to believe about … about the genetic implications, yes, I’m sure.”

She appreciated his discretion, being circumspect even here. She could also see his sincerity, the safety of his family outweighing all other considerations.

“I can’t be sure. You understand that. Not without … they’d probably know, and that could be worse.”

“An idea, then.”

She sighed. “They have natural defences, both of them. Very good ones. Children often do, though, something to do with being single-minded about the need to survive. But these are more than that, and … Alex, it suggests they could be potentials.”

His face lost colour. “That’s what I thought.” He gathered himself. “I’ve not seen anything, no overt … you know … not like you were, but … I …”

“Only potentials, Alex.”

“Is there any way to tell if it’s more? Any tests?”

At the word tests she felt a coldness run up her spine, making her skin prickle and having nothing to do with the external temperature. “I’m really not comfortable discussing this.”

“Please.”

She gave in. “Nothing formal. But there are games. We played them once, do you remember?”

“That one Grandmother Katya showed us? Square, circle¬, wavy lines?”

“That’s the one.”

“You were right pretty much every time, I recall.”

“Mmn.”

“I hated that you were,” he admitted, then half-smiled. “Do you think she knew? Do you think that was why we played?”

“I think it’s pointless asking.”

“Yes. Sorry.” He took a deep breath. “You know, it doesn’t really matter. One of the reasons we moved to Persephone was to be able to make it easier to keep them away from the formal testing. Even if they’re going to be like … like the others, I don’t care. I love them no matter what, and I will keep them safe to the last breath in my body.”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that. And, you know, nobody’s likely to be listening.”

“Just allow me my paranoia, okay?”

“Hey, it’s kept me alive all this time.”

“I thought that was Mal.”

She trod on his foot and headed back inside, feeling the need for some refreshments of her own before the Procession began, leaving him limping along behind.

---

It was worthy of its capital letter. A long series of vehicles, some lit with candles and others with holographic projectors, elicited the requisite number of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ before the final hover went by, adorned with a thousand twinkling lights surrounding what looked like a flying princess on a throne, waving at the crowds. Jesse, on Freya’s hip, watched open-mouthed as the Queen of the Spring Lights went by.

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie?”

“C’n I be a princess when I grow up?”

“You can be whatever you want.”

“With sparkles?”

“If you like.” Freya knew her daughter well enough. “Would you like me to talk to Kaylee and see if she can rig something up in your room?”

“’S please.”

“It might not be quite the same.”

“Will it sparkle?”

“I’ll make sure.”

Jesse grinned and hid her face in her mother’s shoulder.

A moment later Kaylee clapped her hands as the first of the fireworks exploded overheard. “Ooh, that is so pretty.”

“S lovely,” Bethie breathed, her face lit by all the colours of the rainbow.

“I could paint it for you,” Hope suggested, her fingers itching to get hold of her colours. “You could help.”

“Okay.” Bethie tangled her hand with her sister’s, and they watched without another word.

The display lasted half an hour to the second, perfectly timed to the music, with a final flourish of rockets that drenched the air in colour before fading into fireflies.

“Wow,” Hank said for them all.

Kaylee yawned.

“That good, mei-mei?” Mal chuckled, holding David Gabriel to give Simon a break.

“Cap’n, do you mind if I don’t come to dinner with you all?” The best mechanic floatin’ stifled another jaw-breaker. “I’m kinda pooped, what with working all night, and those naps don’t seem to have been enough.”

“You feeling okay?” He peered at her. “You sure it’s just me being a slave master?”

She laughed. “I’m sure.”

“There anything likely to break on my ship in the next coupla days?”

“Nope. I ran a full diagnostic too – she’s good to go.”

“Shiny. Then you’re heading back with the kids to Dillon’s.”

“Cap?”

“They’re fit to drop, and Hilde’s gonna take ‘em all back and put ‘em to bed. You and Simon should go too, then you’ll be in the best place to go with ‘em all to this island getaway Dillon’s got planned.”

Kaylee’s face lit up as if another firework had gone off. “You mean it?”

“You promise Serenity ain’t likely to fall apart on me, and I’ll try not to get shot.” He grinned, looking like the young man he must have been the day he left Shadow. “Go with the kids, get some sun, do some swimming … you deserve it.”

She reached up and kissed his cheek. “I love my captain.”

“Yeah, well, it was Frey’s idea.”

“No, it wasn’t,” the woman in question said, lurking behind her husband. “It’s all his own. He even spoke to Dillon and Breed.”

“And you won’t be alone,” Mal went on, as if she hadn’t spoken. “’Nara and Sam’re joining you. Just to keep an eye on things.”

Kaylee couldn’t help herself – she took David Gabriel back, handed him to Freya then flung her arms around his neck. “Xie-xie, cap’n.”

Jayne snorted. “Them two alone on the boat? You know what they’re gonna be getting up to, don’t you?”

Hank held up a hand. “Please. I don’t need a picture drawn.”

“Me neither. ‘Less it’s pornography.”

---

Inara settled her coat, making sure she was presentable before leaving the washroom. That was one of the things about being pregnant, having to know where the nearest toilet was. At least on Serenity it was always just a few steps away, and the same at home. Luckily, as they were guests of a VIP, she had been spared the queues and been able to use the one in the pavilion, and considering it was a temporary affair she had been rather impressed. An attendant with very nice manners, especially when she realised Inara’s condition, had fully earned the large tip, even going so far as to offer to find one of the stewards to escort her back to her party. Inara had declined, and now stepped out into the clear, cold air, faintly redolent of gunpowder.

A moment later she was glad nobody was with her as she dropped quickly back inside the pavilion as a familiar head of long red curls appeared. Demelza was heading her way.

“… don’t like it, Luke.”

Luke Brookner too? Interesting.

“I know, Demi, but there’s not much I can do about it now.”

“You could have said no.”

“And what good would that have done? John was adamant.”

“Except we know them now.”

She really should announce herself. It wasn’t exactly polite to be listening in like this.

“I know.” Luke sounded equally unhappy. “If I thought it would make a difference I’d pull out, but that might make things worse.”

“Who for? You know what they’re planning.”

This wasn’t how an ex-companion did things. Perhaps she’d been hanging around a certain Firefly captain for too long. He listened at keyholes as if it were a competitive sport.

“I’ll do what I can. Maybe I can … temper it a bit. And after, I promise, it’ll be just us. You, me and Cora.”

So that was the way the wind was blowing, was it?

“That yuh bun duh Will. Oh, Luke …”

“Here, come on. Don’t cry. You know if you do your eyes go red, and that will clash with your hair.”

“Beast.”

“Yes, but your beast.”

There was no further conversation, and after a few seconds Inara risked a glance outside. Luke and Demelza had gone, vanished into the crowd.

Pulling her collar up higher against the cold night air, Inara headed back towards the hovers, her mind bright with what she’d overheard.

---

Dinner was fun, although Eugenia Rostov didn’t ultimately make an appearance.

“You’ll make sure she’s okay, won’t you?” Freya made Alex promise.

“Of course.”

“And you’ll let me know?”

He’d just smiled with just the slightest impression of a head-shake.

By the time everyone left the restaurant they’d eaten enough to keep them going for at least a week, although Jayne was already considering what he could have for a midnight snack.

There were farewells and promises elicited to wave on a regular basis, before Mal drew Freya away.

“Two days, ai ren. And since I let Harrow know we’ll be taking his job we can get gone first thing, soon as the packet arrives.”

She exhaled heavily down her nose at him, but allowed him to escort her back to the hover where Higson was waiting.

Neither said much on the trip back, just sitting close and enjoying the company, but as the hover pulled up to Serenity they were surprised to see another waiting for them, and even more so when Sir Warwick Harrow climbed from it.

Mal opened the door and got out, letting the cold air in.

“Thanks, Higson,” Freya said, preparing to follow.

“Do you want me to stay?”

She could see his hand hovering near the centre box, and wasn’t going to bother asking if there was a pistol hidden inside – he worked for Alex, and her brother had become a lot more cautious over the past year or so. Still … “No, he’s a friend.”

“Good night, then. And I hope I can drive for you again soon.”

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised.” Freya followed Mal out into the snow.

“I was about to leave,” Sir Warwick said, wrapped in a heavy coat and wearing what appeared to be half a beaver on his head. “I’ve been waiting a while.”

“Sorry about that,” Mal said, not really sounding it. “We were out.”

“So I gathered.”

“And I didn’t expect you ‘til tomorrow.”

The older man smiled slightly. “After your wave I decided sooner was better than later, and got my lawyer to open his office to get the papers.”

“On a Sunday?”

“RHIP.”

“Come again?”

“Rank has its privileges, Mal.” Freya unlocked the Firefly’s door.

“So that means you can drag someone outta their bed?”

Sir Warwick chuckled. “He wasn’t in bed, but as for the rest, I pay him enough. Speaking of which …” He pulled a pouch from his coat pocket. “I’m presuming you’d prefer cash.”

“That’ll be shiny.” Mal pocketed the money and took the flat wallet. “These need to come back?”

“No. Once my son has signed them, his own lawyer will do the rest.”

“You could come with us. See him.”

Sir Warwick’s chin settled more firmly into his chest. “As much as I’d like that, he wouldn’t. And it really isn’t worth creating a fight just to assuage an old man’s conscience.”

“Hey, a good fight can be cathartic.” He glanced at Freya. “Yes, I do know what that means.”

“Oh, I know you know. And I’ve seen you on Unification Day, remember?”

“As have I, dear lady.” Sir Warwick chuckled deep in his chest. “Although the first time wasn’t at that particular celebration, and the outcome wasn’t exactly –”

Mal interrupted, not wanting to be reminded of challenging anyone to a duel, even if it was inadvertently. “If’n you ain’t gonna join us, I can’t see the point in us not heading off now. Sooner we’re gone, sooner we’re back.”

“What about the others?” Freya asked.

“What about ‘em?”

“They’ll need clothes, toiletries …”

“I’m fair sure Dillon’ll buy anything they want.”

“You’re very magnanimous with other people’s money.”

“And I know what that means enough to know you’re insulting me. You know he’ll enjoy making sure they’re kitted out with sundresses and the like.”

“Yes, I’m sure Simon would appreciate that.” Her tone was so dry it was desiccated. “And what about River and Jayne?”

“Like we planned. Leave ‘em the shuttle. Which means they’ll also be around if the kids need anything urgently.”

“You’ve got it all decided.”

“I’m captain: it’s what I do.”

Sir Warwick smiled and clapped his hands together. “Well, before this descends into fisticuffs – which would be quite amusing to watch – I need to be getting back. It’s time an old man like me should be in bed.”

Freya wove her arm around his. “That’s the second time you’ve said that. And you’re not old.”

“Seeing you young striplings makes me feel ancient.”

She grinned widely. “That is so patently untrue it’s just flattery. Well, about Mal, anyway.”

Sir Warwick laughed again, the sound bouncing through the cold air. “Do you happen to have any older sisters, my dear? Or a mother who is in need of a husband?”

“Oh, I don’t think I’d wish her on anyone.” Freya let go of him and stepped back. “Is there anything you’d like brought back from Avalon?”

“No. Unless …”

Mal sighed. “If it’s got four legs and makes a mooing sound I ain’t picking it up.”

“No, not cows this time. But there is a small confectioners just a little way along from the lawyer’s office. They make a selection of chocolates that … well, let’s just say I haven’t found anywhere else that can produce such concoctions to make a grown man cry.” He patted his non-existent waistline. “And eat too many of them.”

“Send me the details and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.” Sir Warwick opened the hover door, then paused. “By the way, I heard a rumour about John Foster.” He glanced towards the house.

Mal shrugged. “I conjure there’s a fair number where he’s concerned.”

“There are. But this one is very recent. He’s been talking to people about the practicalities of strip-mining.”

“Where?”

The older man looked apologetic. “That I don’t know. Or for what. As I say, it’s just a rumour.”

“Thanks. And while the more I hear of the man the less I trust him, since I don’t trust him at all it’s a moot point.”

“I can dig a little deeper, if you like.”

“No. That ain’t necessary. ‘Less you just happen to come across something you think might be of use to me.”

“Of course.” Sir Warwick held out his hand. “I expect I’ll see you again before long.”

They shook.

“’Spect so. ‘Specially if we happen to have a box or two of chocolates with us.”

The older man chuckled and climbed into his hover. In a moment the groundcar had whisked away in a shower of ice crystals.

“I like him,” Freya announced.

“Me too. Not in any scary, disgusting kinda way, a’course …”

“Right.” She laughed, then looked up as the shuttle flew overhead.

Mal watched as it descended into the maze rather than back onto his Firefly. “River?” he asked, not really making it a question.

“Did you expect otherwise?”

“I’d kinda have liked for her to wait until I told her, but if I ain’t used to her picking it outta my brain by now I don’t deserve to be captain. But why the maze?”

“There’s space, and any comings and goings aren’t so likely to be noticed.” Freya walked inside.

Yes. River’s cool voice invaded his mind. Mu qin is quite correct. Less likely to be spied upon.

“And how’re Hank and Zoe gonna explain landing in a bunch of shrubbery?” Mal asked, verbalising out of habit and closing the door behind them.

There was just a taste of someone making a ‘boob’ expression. Had to land somewhere. And Hank merely has to explain that their captain graciously allowed them to keep the shuttle in case of emergencies. Besides, if it snows again it will cover us, and you might not notice us when you come back. Squish.

Mal looked at Freya. “Is she getting worse?”

“Define worse compared to normal.”

Jayne is going to show Zoe and Hank the way out of the maze back to the house. If you have no objection.

Don’t you go getting huffy with me, young lady, Mal thought sharply. You ain’t so big I can’t put you over my knee.

You keep saying that … River laughed, then they were both alone in their heads again.

“As if you would,” Freya said, taking off her coat. “You really want to get going straight away?”

“Might as well. Sooner there, sooner back.”

“Except that I’m pretty sure there’s some Alliance law or other against flying under the influence. And I’ve had quite a lot of that excellent wine.”

“Are you drunk?” he asked, smiling at her.

“Possibly a little.”

“And since when did we take any notice of Alliance laws?”

“Do you want to get bound for me flying erratically? Or worse, clipping a Fed vessel?”

“You’re not that bad. ‘Sides, I wasn’t planning on us going anywhere close to anything official.” He laughed. “And I could take her up.”

“You drank more than me.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

The laugh deepened. “Okay, now I know you’ve been over-imbibing.”

“Not over … just … enough.”

“Then perhaps we’d better wait until morning. Early, mind, I want to get a head start on the day.”

“I’ll remind you of that when you wake up with a hangover.”

He made a snorting noise, as if he was treating her suggestion with derision. Then his eyes sobered for a moment. “You know, I know this was my idea, but I’m … we’re pretty spread out.”

“Not that far,” she pointed out. “And it will only be for a couple of days.”

“I know. I guess I’m feeling … antsy. Not having the place full of people.”

Freya smiled. “I’m sure we can find something to do to take your mind off that.”

“Really?”

“Mmn. And you might as well know I was feeling a little antsy myself when we came in, like a stranger had been on board. Then I remembered Hank saying he’d shown Luke over Serenity.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“He did.”

“No, I mean about … you know what I mean.”

She laughed lightly. “Yes, of course I do.”

“But it is just that? Just Luke? Nothing else you’re picking up on?”

“Well, Serenity was locked tight, and there’s no sign anyone broke in, so yes. Just that.” She started towards their bunk. “How do you feel about some tea?”

“Sounds good. You offering?”

“I’m going to bed.”

“So I have to make it myself?”

“Bed …”

“Huh.” He watched her backside as she climbed the stairs, his pulse quickening as it always did. “Maybe I ain’t that thirsty after all,” he murmured, hurrying to catch her up.

to be continued

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“His name’s Jayne?”

“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

“Nothing, nothing! I just … I don’t think I’ve ever met a man … anyone else by that name.”

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He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

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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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“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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This wasn’t how an ex-companion did things. Perhaps she’d been hanging around a certain Firefly captain for too long. He listened at keyholes as if it were a competitive sport.

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“It’s a family tradition, Mal.” Eugenia patted his hand. “No matter who marries into us, whatever their name, the moment they say ‘I do’ they become Rostovs. So you are Malcolm Rostov. It has a fine ring to it, don’t you think?”

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