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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Serenity lands on Glory and everything finally seems to come full circle."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2575 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing
RATING: PG-13. **SERIES CONCLUSION**
STATUS: SEQUEL to "ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "Serenity lands on Glory and everything finally seems to come full circle."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
It was an oddly emotional last meal on Serenity. Even though Serenity's crew had not known Rafe Connor and his people long a bond of mutual liking and respect had grown between them. Chung-li watched and listened and kept his own counsel. His eyes shining with a quiet deep joy, flicking back to watch the Captain's face as he interacted with his own crew and theirs. The Chinaman became aware of her eyes on him before turning his noble head, a secretive ghost of a smile flirting with placid lips like the calm surface of a very deep pool knowing when and how to hide its' ripples. He saw its' mirror bright reflection in her soul-deep eyes.
Blade had struck up a conversation with Shepherd Book discussing a variety of martial art forms and the philosophies of Earth-That-Was. The Shepherd allowed a smile of pleasure to linger on his lips. "You sir are a well travelled man."
His companion seemed to nod without moving his head. Book blinked and wondered how he did that. "So are you, Mr Book."
"Just Book." Corrected the Shepherd mildly.
A deepening smile was his reward. They fell silent a moment or two, catching up on the scatter of broken conversations intercutting their awareness. It was a comfortable goodly sound, like friends at peace and at ease with each other. Made a man full on the wine of life.
Opposite them Kaylee sat next to Simon, her hand sneaking under the table to touch his. His sensitive face turning towards her, the ambient candlelight from the table softening the sharp angles of his face and lending a warmth and ease that complimented her laughing beauty. She did not have River's rare grace nor Inara's exotic lure but everything Kaylee was shone with a good heart and a joy of living it was impossible not to be warmed by. Simon sunned himself in her regard then smiled and leaned in to whisper something in her ear. Her low chuckle would have made him self conscious but for the look that accompanied it, a look that plainly said he could have the keys to her heart and every gorram thing in it. He couldn't look away and he wouldn't, the magic of the moment holding him in thrall. Serenity might not be where he was from but all the while Kaylee was there it was the only place he wanted to be. River smiled at them then saw Chung-li watching her. She wanted to talk to him, could see he knew what was in her mind but this was not the time nor the place.
Wash nudged Zoe, wondering why she had fallen so silent. "You okay, *bao bei*?"
She nodded. "*Qu*, shiny."
"It's just you seem kind'a sad."
She gave him the *nothing's wrong so don't ask me again* look but softened it with a smile. Every now and then she forgot how much her husband saw. Usually it flattered her, made her feel that for at least one soul in the 'verse everything she did or said mattered. Right now it made her feel uneasy, vulnerable. It was not a feeling she liked. As if one wrong word could shatter her.
Inara Serra was late coming to table but they made room for her, Jayne not even complaining about being shoved along. He was examining one of the curved knives he had seen Rafe's crew carrying on the slaver's ship. Harry Simmons could see the possessive glint in the mercenary's eyes. "Turkish ya say?"
The man nodded. "Yep, finest honed blade you'll find in the 'verse."
The big man could have argued but even Binky could not carry the thin whip like edge with such precision. He wanted it, wanted it bad. "How much?"
"Ain't for sale."
Jayne was about to argue that everything had a price but Harry was still talking.
"Might be willin' to exchange it though."
Jayne's eyes turned a mite wary, suspicious even. "What ya wantin'?"
The man's eyes flickered down to where Jayne had Vera strapped to his thigh. His eyes widened at the man's temerity and a scowl settled on his face. "No ruttin' way, I ain't partin' with Vera. She's my favourite."
There was a faint look of regret on both men's faces as they realised there would be no barter. The meal broke up shortly afterwards, Simon sloping off to go and check on the women. Kaylee going with him in case they needed anything. Rafe and the Captain were the last to leave the commons area, Rafe hanging back a bit to have a word with Mal before things got too hectic and curious ears got too nosey. "Offer still stands, Mal."
Mal huffed out a breath. "No answer to give but one. Told you from the start how it was."
Rafe nodded not quite ready to give up but willing to keep his powder dry for now. He had learnt almost from the moment he first set eyes on Malcolm Reynolds that he was not a man for pushing. "At least don't say the words 'til you've seen the others. I'd never hear the last of it if you dropped us off an' didn't say hello to the family. Not sure Hal would forgive me neither."
The Captain gave him a smile of reassurance that somehow felt more like a truce. As rough as the Captain's edges could sometimes be he was a subtle man. Always thinking. Would be the biggest mistake in the gorram 'verse to underestimate him. "Wasn't thinkin' of doin' that." He paused, the smile overcome by a touch of sadness. "We have two men to bury an' my crew could do with a day or two planetside."
The rancher nodded and put a hand on the Captain's shoulder. "I have a feelin' one little lady is gonna try everythin' she can to make you change your mind."
Then the two were moving off onto the catwalk not realising they had been overheard. As the Captain and the rancher passed her to go down the stairs Inara Serra watched them go with a thoughtful look on her face.
"Not what you think."
She resisted the urge to spin round. Where had the girl sprung up from? Inara was sure she had seen them all leave. River walked on soundless bare feet stepping up from behind her until they were facing.
"The hand is quicker than the eye."
Before Inara could think of a suitable response River danced away on light feet leaving the Companion the last one to leave the ship.
Rafe and his men insisted on helping Mal and his crew with the womenfolk, surprised by how moved they were when the Captain had outlined the way of it to them. Leaving the choosing - or not - up to each and every one of them. Not pushing. It had been no surprise to Rafe when they took up the offer en masse. He gave a little smirk at the expression on the Captain's face. Quickly masked of course but not quick enough for him to miss the initial look of shock. He had been expecting more hesitation, less trust. "Seems these folk know a goodly thing when they see it, Mal."
The Captain huffed quietly. "They ain't even set foot on Glory. How can they make such a decision?"
The rancher could not help but feel a mite protective around Mal. Like it was one of his own he was reaching out to not someone who but two months prior had been a stranger. How odd that notion now seemed. "They could see it in your eyes."
Mal blinked at him. Now that was downright creepy. His eyes narrowed slightly. "You been talkin' to River?"
Rafe laughed and jostled him. "Come on, Mal, ain't got time to be discoverin' the mysteries of that little 'verse any time soon. My people will be gatherin' outside an' we still gotta sell this notion to 'em."
Silence fell and the bustle of activity began in earnest. The Captain could see River on the far side of the cargo bay talking to the little ones. It made his heart light to look on her, to see all that caring and understanding come so naturally out of something that had been so broken. He was not aware of Chung-li coming up beside him but as he turned his head something in the big man's eyes gave his heart ease. There was something very comforting about the Chinaman, as if by his presence alone the vagaries of life would vanish and lose all ability to cause his soul to fret. "Wondered what had happened to you."
The man did not misunderstand Mal. Did not assume he meant back on the slave ship. "I was getting the bodies ready. They are peaceful now and will remain so all the time they are not parted."
Mal's lips tightened a little, an old fire stirring like raked over coals in his eyes. "Then best they not be parted."
Chung-li nodded, knew what that meant. Rafe Connor gave a nod and stepped off the ramp alongside the Captain and Chung-li, slowing down to speak to one or two of his men then pausing to answer questions from the womenfolk about the planet that was destined to become their new home. Wash was so excited, his wife - not so much. He tried to hide his concern at her muted responses and sensed enough to give her space. Descending the ramp and looking out on a newly washed world was something else. He watched his beautiful but deadly wife halt suddenly when the ramp ended, her eyes closing, her tension slowly draining away from her as she breathed deep. Taking the feel and scent of the place right into her soul. The place where her most cherished memories lived.
"Smells good, don't it?"
Her eyes sprang open, surprised to see the Captain standing alongside her, his eyes fixed on hers in a knowing way that was all kinds of disturbing. Rafe had walked on, Chung-li holding back to wait on the Captain. A little delegation of people now coming into view. Most on horseback but a few with wagons and such. Reminded her a mite of the planet where Mal had met Saffron. That nearly took the shine off it but this was nothing like that place, and that she knew from the loamy scent of the rich earth and the like of the people that breathed life into it. Sure now that Rafe Connor and his crew were prime examples. She could understand the pull of the place on her Captain's mind and heart. Made her swallow real slow before nodding back. Her look giving nothing away of her thoughts, not that she could fool him any. "That it does."
Wash snaked a hand around her waist and she felt herself relax further but her guard was still up. Just masked better now. She watched her Captain and friend turn away from them and pick up his pace to reach Chung-li. Saw how naturally they fell into step, an ease about them that felt right. It stirred something in her that she had been fighting down. Her voice a little sharper than intended when she suggested to Wash that they help with the womenfolk.
Inara Serra was astonished. A rare thing in any event. The people had come first in little clusters. Cowboys and ranch hands, now there were farmers and shop keepers, the tillers of soil rubbing shoulders with the herders of beef. All seemed to be cut from a similar cloth. She could imagine Malcolm Reynolds growing up on such a world. Was surprised to see how easily Simon and River accepted everything, not what she would have imagined for them. In her mind she saw them settling on a Core world, probably because she always thought of where they were from not where they were going. Jayne Cobb had brightened up considerably once the womenfolk had been handed over to the ladies of the town to see to, the wagons now filling with bright expectent faces looking out for the first time in a good age on a new shiny gift called Hope. Made something in his throat catch so he couldn't rightly speak. Must be the dampness of the place, felt like Glory had been drowned a time or two and was just coming up for air.
He sneered at River. Creepy girl sneaking up like that. He wasn't mad at her just disturbed that she could do that. He was a mercenary gorrammit, no girl was supposed to be able to creep up on him unawares. Wasn't natural. He looked at her. "You sayin' we got more rain comin'?"
River laughed and threw her head back, the black tresses flying outward like a bolt of silk. "Didn't you know, there's always rain Jayne?"
He blinked. "Huh?"
She cocked her head at him, the exhuberant display muted again. Hair fallen back into place as if it hadn't been wild and free a moment before. "That's why you have to find the silver lining. Bask in the sunshine and never feel cold again."
It was a relief when she left to torment some other poor soul. The Preacher came alongside him and beamed. Jayne had trouble remembering a time when the man had been quite this happy or content. "It's a good thing we're doin' here, Jayne." He said in a grave and humble voice.
The mercenary stared at him. Book nodded then moved away, going over to one of the wagons to speak to the women. No doubt imparting his religiosity to them as would hear it. A captive audience was better than no audience at all. Inara watched it all in silence, startled when Kaylee slipped a hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. "We're goin' up to the house now. Ricky says they have a right good spread a-waitin' for us."
She gave the mechanic a look of confusion. "I thought the ranch didn't have a cortex link?"
Kaylee grinned at her. "It don't but old man Peters' ranch do. Seems they got a wave a day or so back an' folks here have been preparin' for our comin' ever since."
The Companion nodded her head, relaxing. That explained why there had been wagons as well as the little welcoming committee. It seemed the whole town must have turned out as well as Mals' friends. It reassured her that they were making the right decision for these women. Already she could see it in some of the women's eyes. Eyes once dull now sparkling with a kind of muted anticipation. Eyes that were drinking in the place and already calling it Home.
It felt good to be on horseback again. Mal had been pleased and touched to find Storm ready for him, the horse snuffling against his palm then nudging his shoulder, wanting to be petted and fussed. He breathed in the warm comforting smell of him and relaxed. Chung-li watched the others mount up, noticed some preferred to walk but did not speak on it, they would be riding slow enough anyway. No rush when you were already at your journey's end. Rafe was mounted to Mal's right, behind them came Jayne Cobb and Ricky Sable. Simon and River wanted to walk, and still the girl refused to wear shoes but Mal didn't have the heart to insist. Besides what harm could it do? Of all people he couldn't deny his gifted genius the pleasure of it. He noticed Shepherd Book riding beside Inara who had surprised him by sitting side saddle. Couldn't be comfortable in that saddle. It wasn't until they reached the ranch and the Companion slid from her horse's back that he realised she had been riding the animal bareback. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, more than a little impressed. Catching his eye Inara gave a little haughty smirk then schooled her face once more. Mal turned his head and laughed. God he loved this rock.
The light from the Big House spilled out in the overcast dull mid of day. As if the light propelled them Molly, Todd, Ben and Mark flowed down from the front door with smiles a mile wide to greet them. Pleased as the Captain was to see them he was stretching his neck looking for a face he could not see. Rafe and Chung-li exchanged a smile across their horses' withers. Both knowing that there would be too many folk for Rose to brave all at once. As if realising the same thing Mal relaxed, let Hal Larkin shake his hand as he dismounted. Genuinely happy to see Rafe's ramrod again. As Rafe introduced his family to Mal's crew, the foreman drew him to one side. "Got somethin' for ya, Mal."
The grin Hal gave him was a mite on the unpleasant side. "Best you come see before we go get washed up to eat, *dong ma*?"
Mal nodded cautiously. Usually surprises were nothing good but he would trust this man with his life. Jayne saw the two men go over to the horses and slipped away from the Preacher to find out what was going on. The Captain told him but instead of the mercenary walking away he was surprised to see a look of determination creep onto his face. Had almost lost the Captain once didn't figure on losing him again. "Reckon I'll come too."
The Captain didn't say anything. Surprised as all *diyu* that Jayne would be so wary on Glory of all places. He gave the mercenary a nod, waited for him to get back in the saddle then followed Hal off down passed the side of the house. Zoe frowned, took a step back intending to mount up and follow when a hand on her arm stalled her. Wash's kindly face was looking at her, understanding written plain all over it. His tone was gentle. "*Fang xin*." Rafe explained.
Her frown deepened. Annoyed that Rafe Connor would explain something pertaining to the Captain to her husband but not to her.
"They have a surprise for Mal." At her look of alarm he quickly reassured her, leaned close and whispered in her ear.
Easing back he could not help but smile as the stormy aspect of her face cleared into a smile so full of happy it made him chuckle. His heart glad to see it. He kissed her, loved her so much he didn't think his heart could beat without hers right next to it.
"We can trust these folk, *bao bei*."
That made her stare at him. "How d'you figure that? This is the same place where Mal was beaten up an' set fire to."
"Not by these folk. Besides, Cap'n says it's safe. I believe him, don't you?"
And there it was. The crux of her problem.
Jayne was all kinds of curious. The more so as the ranch disappeared from sight, the rolling rich meadowland opening up like prairie but much more lush. All that water had to go somewhere he supposed, made the deep imprints left by their horses' hooves muddy up right quick then fill with water. He was all manner of happy not to be walking, least till the place dried out some. "Where we goin'?"
The foreman ignored him. Mal was itching to know what he had in mind his own self but a little gasp from Jayne made him turn his head. He stared, eyes wide, brain cycling through the image that was being imprinted on his brain. They were riding up a bit of a bank, the lowering clouds still heavy with rain like a frown hiding rainbows. The dull light not obscuring the distinct vision creaking and swaying slowly in the faint breeze that now ruffled his hair like a ghostly hand. "*Wode ma*!"
Hal did not pause, leading them up the rise until they were but feet away from the home made gibbet. Two men hanging from nooses, their necks stretched, eyes bulging. Both were a mess where carrion had pecked at them, feeding off the juicier parts as they rotted in the wind and weather. Never more feeling the sun on their faces, the wind at their backs, nor the gentle rain of Heaven washing over their sins. Of which Mal reckoned there were many. Jayne summed it up best for Mal, the Captain's ability to speak for the moment deserting him.
"Now that's what I call a ruttin' *liwu*!" Jayne paused and grinned at Hal, looking mighty pleased and impressed. "Frontier justice."
"This ain't no frontier, Jayne." Corrected Mal mildly, finally finding his voice.
The foreman looked the Captain dead in the eye, his tone serious. His look unwavering. "I made a promise to ya, Mal, an' I'm a man as likes to keep his word."
Mal nodded his thanks then they turned their horses to canter lightly down the slope, their hearts even lighter, their horses' hooves making a dull rythymic thud like the music of the heart. It was all manner of good how content it made them feel. As they got back to the ranch, Todd Richards and Molly were waiting for them. Todd took the horses' reins as they dismounted and Molly led them up to the Big House. Jayne could feel himself salivating at the tempting aromas coming out of the open door but Mal didn't notice a thing. In the doorway a small diminutive figure peered round the door jamb. A big smile creased the Captain's face, his step quickening. Jayne glanced across at Rafe, saw the man quietly laughing, his eyes twinkling. They stopped to watch, the little girl running out of the doorway when Mal was only a couple of feet away. He caught her up in his arms and lifted her, the tinkle of happy laughter falling like bright rain on crystal.
"*Bao bei*, you been stuffin' your face while I been gone?"
She shook her head and hugged him. For a moment he thought his heart had stopped there was so much joy crammed in it. He pulled away just enough to see her heart shaped face glowing back at him. He pretended to frown.
"I swear you put on twenty pounds! That table got any food left on it?"
She swatted his arm, her laughter fading, eyes a little too bright as she tried to smile. He leaned his forehead gently against hers, not putting her down for a second. Sensing she needed this connection for it to feel real. "Thought you weren't comin' back," She choked out.
"Then you're a dummy, *dong ma*?" He waited for that little smile to creep back on her face. "How could I not with your *ba ba*, Chung-li an' every other man that went with him watchin' my gorram back?"
Then she was hugging him, all kinds of grateful. Mal hugged her back then gently peeled her off him and into Rafe's arms. The *laoban* kissed her flushed cheeks and wiped an errant tear from her face. "I missed you, *ba ba*." She whispered through her tears.
"Missed you too, *xin gan*."
Then bright curious eyes turned to look at Jayne. Mesmerised the mercenary could not look away. She smiled shyly at him and Mal had the satisfaction of seeing the big man literally melt. Oh yeah, that girl could twist any gorram man round her little finger.
It was a merry and somewhat boisterous meal. Shepherd Book loved it, was even happier when Rafe asked him shyly if he would say grace. The Preacher looked across at the Captain but he only nodded, not even the suspicion of a frown on his face. Gorrammit if the Captain didn't look happier than he'd seen him in a long while. Inara was watching as well, noticed how Molly Connor kept stealing sideways glances at the Captain. How easy and comfortable it felt, as if he belonged with these people. That made her pause and watch him more closely. River noticed but for once was silent. Inara didn't understand but she would. Wash was laughing at something Blade recounted, telling tales of the Captain's all too brief but memorable time with them. But it was Molly's confession that brought the nearest thing to a full blown blush to the Captain's face. He stared across the table at her aghast. Molly grinning unapologetically at him as she held Todd's hand.
"You... you watched me while I was naked?"
Kaylee couldn't stop laughing. The Captain was so funny and the reactions around the table made her feel a little sick for home her own self. Hearing Simon laughing next to her chased the sad away and let the happy take root again in her heart.
"Wouldn't mind seein' it again, Mal. You clean up good."
He couldn't speak. His mouth working through shock, outrage and embarrassment but coming up empty. The noise around the table grew louder. Rafe clapped him on the shoulder but didn't tell his daughter off. Even Todd found it funny, the Captain's discomfort plain for all to see. Then they moved on to other things. Rafe explaining about Thomas and Michael Tollan, the mood becoming subdued and sad. Kaylee started crying, Simon putting an arm round to comfort her. Inara blinking back tears of her own. Mark and Ben exchanged worried glances but it was Molly who asked what they were too polite to do their own selves. "Does this mean we're gonna lose the ranch, *fuqin*?"
Surprisingly it was Inara who replied. "*Bu qu*. Before he died Michael made sure Cyrus White had the deeds to the land signed over to your father."
Ben gave her a solemn nod. "Don't rightly know how any of us can thank you, ma'am."
"We did nothing. Michael was simply righting a wrong, one the law could not prosecute on your behalf."
Now it was Mark who frowned, his normally quiet demeanour troubled. "*Wo bu dong*."
"It was an immoral practice not so much breaking the law." Inara explained. "Cyrus White let your father believe that the ownership of the land on which this ranch stands would never be in contention. That the fact that he still kept ownership of it would not affect Mr Connor's ability to carry on ranching."
Mark shook his head, his brain working even if he was beginning to think his ears weren't. "I still don't understand. If the land belonged to that *liumang* Cyrus White why'd he give it up, pa? Why not just take it back then claim the ranch?"
"It's what he was intendin' son but he figured without Counsellor Tollan - Michael - gettin' involved in our affairs. Seems he has all manner of skeletons in his cupboard, didn't want 'em rattlin' so loud folks'd look too closely, *dong ma*?"
"Speaking of skeletons," Said Book. "Thomas and Michael died and we were thinking it might be fitting if we could bury them here on Glory."
"Already said ya could." Said Rafe a little surprised the Preacher might doubt him.
"No, you don't understand. Not just on Glory. You have a goodly ranch here, Mr Connor, and I'm thinkin' it would be a kindness both men would have appreciated being a part of."
That surprised Rafe but the more he thought on it the more perfect a solution it seemed. He smiled warmly at Book. "Then I suggest we let 'em lie in our family plot. Has a goodly view of the valley. That way we can be near if they need the company an' close enough to keep them away as might wish to move 'em."
Mal nodded, happy. Inara looked emotional but when her eyes met his that Companion masked slipped back into place hiding her from him once again. He would have been mad once upon a 'verse but not now. Not now that he knew that was one road he would never travel. Was all kinds of sad about it at first but now it just felt right. They could never be to each other what they would need to be. Neither one able to let go of the past nor embrace a future without it. She would remain a Companion and he would remain a loyal if not always respectful friend. Each bowing to the roles fitted for them in life.
The funeral was a simple dignified affair. Inara was surprised by how many townfolk joined Rafe and his people at the graveside. Kaylee and Simon stood hand in hand, little Rose actually braving the press of people to stand with her father, sister and brothers. Zoe and Wash standing to the right of Inara, Jayne and Harry Simmons to her left. Then Mal with Molly, Todd and Hal Larkin. The Captain fixed his eyes on that home made casket, watching it slide down the ropes as Rafe's men carefully lowered it into the double sized plot. One coffin, two men. As devoted to each other as any couple bound by God. Felt all manner of strange to hear Book reading the words of the Lord over them as had never married in the sight of God. *Diyu* in many eyes it would be seen as right sinful for a man to own such love for another man. But was that any more sinful than denying it?
Something touched his sleeve and drew him out of his reverie. He looked down to see River sidle up close beside him. Her face pale and sad but seeming to get some kind of comfort from his presence. He opened an arm out to let her snuggle in close to his side, not even thinking about it. All he knew was she needed him right then and there. Didn't even have to consider the why of it. Once over they drifted back in ones and twos, none too anxious to return to the confines of four walls. Four walls. Mal stopped in his tracks, letting the others go passed. River tugged at his hand. He looked down and saw a beautiful smile sail the bow of her perfect lips. Her childlike grace filled with wisdom and a woman's wiles. The look in her eyes telling him plain that she knew every thought in his head. As creepfiying as it was he didn't feel threatened by her knowing. Oddly enough it was a comfort to him.
"They will come."
His eyes searched hers for meaning. The others had gone now, Shepherd Book being the last to leave. He had spared them a glance but mercifully left his moralising for them as wanted to hear it. "Who, *xin gan*?"
She reached up with her free hand and traced his lips, her eyes softening for just a moment. He held his breath and waited. "Everyone who can. Sometimes it is the only way to mend something."
He nodded, bent down to drop a kiss on her forehead but she raised her head at the last moment so that her lips caught his. Surprised he froze. Her smile blossoming against his lips made him chuckle, then his amusement was drowned as she let go of his hand and put her arms around his neck to draw him into a kiss so deep and sweet that it stole all the breath in his lungs and made his heart beat out of kilter with the shock of it. Not that she had kissed him, for River was all kinds of unpredictable. But how good it had felt. Shaken he just stared at her, watching how those lips now curved gently, her eyes smiling, the look tender. Knowing. "*Tianna*, what you doin' to me?"
"I can help too."
He didn't have an answer for that. Not sure yet he could handle it or whether he ought to even think about handling it. Certain the Preacher would have a special hell in store for him if he did so. Her eyes laughed back at him.
"One thing at a time."
He cocked his head at her. They should catch up with the others but if she had any more creepifying announcements he was not sure he wanted anyone else to hear them. "What you meanin', River?"
"Big day tomorrow."
He raised his eyebrows, she laughed gently at him. He found he liked her teasing, all soft and tender enough to make a heart melt - if he had a heart like to melt that is. Not that he did but it gave a man pause for thought. Best not to dwell on it. His life was confusing enough as it was. Then she was tugging his hands and before he knew it they were hurrying as the sky above them clapped its' hands and every pregnant cloud burst above their heads. Mal looked up and cursed, River laughed and slowed their steps, turning and throwing her head back as the rain trailed wet shining fingers down her impish happy face. Mal stared. Blinked through the rain at her, both of them soaking wet. She caught the look on his face and kissed his hand, not so much an invitation as a promise. Then they ran for the house, River laughing as they dripped water all over the place. Little Rose laughing at them while Molly got them towels. Behind Molly the mercenary appeared to see what all the noise was about. He raised his eyebrows and just stared for a moment at the Captain and River. Well. Tomorrow would be an interesting day.
Morning was a full affair, folks bustling back and forth, all wanting to get freshened up and dressed. It was almost as if they sensed something was in the wind. Zoe felt happier than she had for days, pushing back the little lingering finger of fear crouched and hiding in the back of her mind. Not gonna think about it. Wash kissed her and she deepened it, sparking off echoes of their love making. As grateful as could be for the room given over to them for the night. A regretful feeling stealing over her that they couldn't take a big old bed like that back to Serenity. Not that she could complain about the use they had made of it. Chung-li set out a breakfast fit for Kings. Rafe put a hand on the man's arm and just looked into that much loved face. Chung-li smiled at him and the two men took their seats. Mal went over to the front window and looked out, watching the sky with an intensity that drew the Shepherd to his side. "Something wrong, Captain?"
He shook his head after one last reassuring look and smiled at the Preacher. "Nope. Gonna be a fine day, Preacher. A mighty fine day."
If Book expected more of an explanation he was disappointed. The meal was a cornucopia of rare delights. Wash couldn't stop eating Chung-li's home made sausages, the beef in them enriched with spices he had only heard tell of. Tasty and hot they exploded on his tongue and left him crying for more. Zoe laughed and tapped his stomach, her eyes crinkling as she teased him. "I married me a fat old man."
"Hey, less of the old! I've led a hard life, *bao bei*."
The Captain laughed from his end of the table. "An' it's about to get harder."
All conversation stopped, every eye now fixed on the Captain. He flushed slightly but was determined not to feel awkward about it. He hadn't meant to ruin the mood. River smiled across the table at him and he looked at Rafe then let his eyes travel slowly round the big old table to include every one of them. "Seems we got us a day or two's furlough. An' if I remember rightly Rafe you got no barn worth speakin' of."
Rafe stared at him but the Captain continued before he could question what he was about.
"Reckon we got us enough able bodied folk for a barn raisin'. What you say to that, Rafe? Reckon your folks are up to cookin' up another fine feast?"
The look Rafe gave the Captain was all that was needed to see how the offer touched him. "Be mighty obliged for the help, Mal, but maybe your people would rather rest up?"
Jayne Cobb huffed as he loaded his plate for the third time. "Ain't nothin' puttin' up a barn."
Sounds of agreement went around the table and Mal smiled, proud as *diyu* of his people. As the meal ended and folk got to their feet River looked at him and grinned. "Told you."
He nodded. "So you did, *xin gan*."
It was a merry barn raising with the crew of Serenity putting their hearts and souls into it. What surprised Zoe was how many folk from town also came to join in, among them many of the womenfolk they had saved from the forty-four. Even more unexpected was the food they brought with them. It seemed that cortex link or not there wasn't a secret worth a damn that a body could keep on Glory. Inara watched with a little smile on her face and helped the women with the food and making fresh lemonade. It was like being trapped in a parallel world. One as far removed from the Alliance and Reavers as it was possible to imagine. But even this glimpse of paradise had to end and all too soon the barn was up, another fine repast had been eaten and the crew of Serenity could feel the tug of the Black telling them it was time to go.
Rafe drew Mal to one side, his smiling face not smiling no more. Serious as he had ever seen him. "Don't want you to go, Mal. You got a place here any time you're wantin' it."
"An' I appreciate that, deed I do." The Captain paused the better to master his emotions. "Can't begin to tell you how much I've enjoyed bein' here Rafe but this ain't home, *dong ma*? I can feel the pull of Serenity an' have to be gettin' me an' mine back into the Black."
"Seems to me you an' your crew could do worse than settle here on Glory."
"An' it's a mighty handsome offer. Don't think I'm not grateful, Rafe."
"*Wo zhidao*," Said Rafe softly. "But no is still no, *dui*?"
Mal nodded. The rancher sighed but rustled up a smile from somewhere though his heart ached with impending loss.
"Ain't gonna feel the same without you Mal an' that's the truth."
"Mayhap we'll be able to come back an' visit."
A genuine smile wiped away the forced one. "Be sure you do, Mal. I'm a man as likes to keep his promises. Wouldn't like to think you're a man as would break his."
The Captain nodded, shook hands with his friend then made his goodbyes. It was hard to part from Rose, her eyes so full of tears her mouth wouldn't work but her hands worked fine. Her fingers flying through the shadow shapes that were theirs alone. He laughed softly and signed back, all the things in his heart that she had touched and healed. For just a moment or two it was like he had his Gracie back and he was powerful grateful that they didn't have to put anything into words. The knowing of it too private for anyone else to share. He hugged her then was moving fast, the crew waving and calling out their thanks to Rafe as they turned to head for the ship. As they approached the Firefly transport Mal stopped in his tracks, the others carried on for a few yards then Zoe turned to look back a frown of worry creeping on to her face but the Captain was not looking at her. He was looking up at his ship.
River smiled at him. "Home."
He looked down, caught the look in her eyes. Complete understanding. "Home." He agreed.
Then they were on board. Wash was lifting off, Jayne and the Shepherd tying down the crates of supplies from Rafe and the townsfolk. It was hard to leave all that warmth and friendliness behind but the Black was calling. Inara waited for her moment to catch the Captain alone. Typically it was hours later when they were deep in the Black. When a tired but content crew were sleeping from their labours. The Captain was on the bridge, staring out at the Big Nothing like it had all the answers in the 'verse staring back at him. "They thought you'd left them. That you weren't comin' back." She said softly.
Mal had figured as much, mostly from the way Zoe had acted around him. Not that she had said a thing about it. Still, it surprised him. "*Shenme*? Why would they think that?"
She stared at him a moment, pleased to see how well his face was healing. Most of the burnt skin now replaced with new, his nose pretty much straight again. He looked good and what was more he looked rested, at peace even. "You left Zoe the accounting books, Mal."
"That was so..."
She cut him off. "BOTH sets."
The dime dropped and his mouth opened in realisation. "Never meant *zaijian*. Would'a said if I did."
Inara shook her head. "No, you wouldn't. You never speak if you can make actions do it for you."
Her words amused him. "Actions, huh?"
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the implication he was some kind of Big Damn Hero. When she spoke again her voice was soft. "You frightened them, Mal."
"Didn't mean to. Told 'em I was takin' a break. Be gone a few days." He waved a vague hand at his healing face. "Besides, why would I ever leave?" He paused and let his eyes roam around the bridge before looking at her with a twinkle in his eyes. "Someone needs to keep Kaylee out of trouble an' all my things are here."
"Yes," Said Inara, feeling herself relax. "Why indeed?"
Long after Inara had left Mal stared out into the Black. Slowly sifting through his thoughts and grateful for the crew that settled round him like family and the ship that held them all safe and protected in her metal arms. Her steady thrumming heartbeat all kinds of soothing. Reflecting on everything that had happened to them and all the things they had endured and seen. How all those moments of their lives had bound them together in a web stronger than silk or steel.
"Beyond the place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the Captain of my soul."
- Poem 'Invictus' written by William Ernest HENLEY
"Yeah," Whispered Mal to the unblinking Black. A deep content stealing into his soul. "Why would I ever leave?"
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *qu* = yes (lit. go) *dong ma* = understand
*diyu* = hell *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wode ma* = mother of God
*liwu* = gift *ba ba* = daddy *laoban* = boss *xin gan* = sweetheart
*fuqin* = father *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand
*liumang* = bastard/asshole/gangster/criminal *tianna* = oh God!
*wo zhidao* = I know *dui* =correct *shenme* = what *zaijian* = goodbye
Friday, December 24, 2004 8:19 AM
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