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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Decisions have to be made but the result leaves no one happy."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1969 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "MEAN OLD MEN"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
STATUS: SEQUEL to "REPUTATIONS"
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "Decisions have to be made but the result leaves
no one happy."
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.
"MEAN OLD MEN"
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
It was weird but the best kind of weird he could remember in a long time. Sarah was happy but wary of the reaction of the others now that they were no longer cocooned in the safe isolation of each others' arms. The Captain saw the creeping hesitation in her eyes and gave her a little smile, his eyes twinkling with some deep dark amusement that for once was free of barbs or pain. She could not help but smile back. "Relax, *bao bei*, they'll love you."
Both eyebrows rose in disbelief bringing a slight flush to his cheeks. Her soft throaty laugh made him a little self conscious. "Why Malcolm Reynolds, who would have thought you could still blush?"
"May be older but not in my dotage yet."
"I'm not sure your crew will agree with you."
He caught her hand in his, fingers twining, drawing her in for a languid kiss. Her eyes fluttered closed for a second. When they opened she found herself caught in the deep well of his measured regard. The look on his face was intoxicating. Made her heart beat fast and heavy in her breast using up all the air in her lungs. "Not nothin' gonna hurt you, *xin gan*."
Her voice was little more than a breathless hush. "Think you can promise that?"
A brilliant smile dazzled her and Sarah almost forgot her name as he answered. "Nope." Mal sounded smug but there was such warmth and comfort behind it that she held her breath waiting for more. Needing it more than the air she breathed. "But I do promise to make you forget everyone but me."
Her smile flavoured his lips as he kissed her again, her free hand wrapping around his neck to draw him closer. The little cough had to be repeated with the volume up a notch before either of them realised they were no longer alone. Mrs Frye smiled at them from the doorway. "We're about to have dinner if you two lovebirds can drag yourselves into the kitchen."
The matching flushes on their faces made her grin even wider.
"'Course," She added without any shame. "Won't be ready for some minutes yet an' I have my brother Shen drawing up water case you two wanna bath."
That got their attention and good. Mal stared at her in surprise then looked at Sarah. Mrs Frye chuckled as the dime dropped.
"Tub ain't big enough for both of ya so don't be gettin' no ideas, *dong ma*? Way me an' Martin cope is I take the hot then when I climb out to dry off he takes the lukewarm. That way we both get clean on one drubbin'."
Mal swallowed slowly and gave Sarah a shy look, a raise of the eyebrows his way of asking what she wanted. She resisted the urge to laugh at his expression and beamed gratefully at Kaylee's ma. "We'd be obliged, Mrs Frye, if it's not puttin' you out none?"
She snorted. "Wouldn't'a asked if it was. I'll have the tub brought in then fetch some towels an' such. We'll hold eatin' 'til ya finish."
"You don't have to do that, ma'am..."
Mrs Frye shook her head at the Captain's protest. "My house, my rules. We eat together or not at all. That's simply the way of it. No need to rush but don't make a gorram marathon of it, 'kay? Want ya clean not rubbed transparent."
He laughed and nodded, Sarah calling out her thanks to add to his as her portly frame quickly disappeared back through the door. Mal chuckled as it closed behind her then turned Sarah in his arms and raised a hand to gently cup her cheek, a look in his eyes that was half wonder and half amazement at finding himself in the arms of this beautiful woman. Even when they kissed he could hardly believe all the empty places inside that she managed to fill. Warm lips docked with his, slow and teasing, becoming hungrier. He pulled back, eyes sparkling with amusement. "Ain't you satisfied yet woman?"
"What can I say, Mal? Been the longest dry spell of my life."
"Dry spell, huh?"
She swatted his arm playfully. "And don't you go mockin' me."
He wrapped both arms around her and drew her close. "Wouldn't dream of it."
They were interrupted by swearing at the door which juddered but refused to open. Mal stepped away from her and turned the handle just in time for Shen to stagger in with his uncle. The big metal bathtub heavy because it was half filled with steaming water. The Captain almost asked them why the good gorram they didn't bring it in empty then carry the hot water in a bucket at a time. A careful dig in the ribs from Sarah was warning enough to keep his rutting mouth shut. When it was dropped in place Shen straightened his back, grinned at Mal and Sarah then got dragged out of the room by his Uncle Pete before he could open his mouth and embarrass them both. Seconds later Mrs Frye bustled back in with a couple of large towels and some soap. Her smile so gorram wide Mal wondered if her face would ache. He could clearly see where little Kaylee got all her sunshine from. Her mama was fair filled to bursting with it.
Once alone again they turned to face each other, time seemed to grind to a halt. A hundred conversations bypassing the need for words. They moved slowly, divesting each other of their clothes a touch and a kiss at a time. When they were both naked it took them a while to make it as far as the tub. At last Sarah climbed in and sank in with a look of bliss on her face. Mal picked up the soap and dipped his hand in the water, watching her eyes widen. He lifted the wet soap and began to rub it vigorously into a lather, then leaning into another kiss his hands got busy washing every single inch of that glorious body. The tub really was only big enough for one but between soapy hands, eager lips and too much enthusiasm he lost his footing and tumbled into her laughing arms. Water sloshed over the tub but Sarah wouldn't let him extricate himself. Possessive arms wrapped around him and pulled him down to her waiting lips. By the time they had finished there wasn't much water in the tub.
Inara Serra knew it was none of her business what the Captain did. Couldn't blame the man for taking what was offered. It wasn't as if she had any hold on him or he on her but it still made her blood boil. The thought of that *pofu* sending every brain cell the man had left heading south made her mad as *diyu* and knowing why she was so mad just made her temper worse. She tried to keep her eyes from looking at the door, the conversation round the table only on the periphery of her awareness. Zoe and Wash appeared to be disagreeing about something but their voices were so low she could not make out the words, only little truncated gestures that seemed to indicate frustration or irritation or maybe a bit of both. Kalyee was so happy the Companion forgot her dark musings each time she saw the girl's radiant face, the reason sitting so close to her that the two of them could have been joined at the hip. What was it about Carousel that brought out the foolish romantic in men? Inara amended that thought when she caught the Shepherd's eye and didn't even want to think about what was going through Jayne Cobb's mind. The look on the mercenary's face would probably earn him a thousand Hail Mary's in any church confessional in the 'verse. River sat next to Mrs Frye with Uncle Frank on the other side of her. Next to Uncle Frank was Mr Frye then Monty with Wash and Zoe.
When Mal and Sarah finally joined them Kaylee was unable to keep the chuckle from bubbling out, Simon smiling and trying not to smirk too much though it didn't look as if the Captain would have noticed anyway. Both had wet hair. Mal's was sticking out in damp spikes but he was clean and his face pretty near shone as if it had been polished. Sarah's hair was wet and only partly rubbed dry, it was already going frizzy, the curls no longer dropping in their distinctive ringlets to frame her smiling face. She pretty much glowed. Zoe had stopped talking and just stared at the couple. Wash felt happy for them both, amused at the effect Sarah was having on their oh-so-uptight and stern Captain. He had never seen the man so relaxed and happy. Almost made him want to pinch himself to see if it was real. The surreal mood was broken when Jayne spoke.
"About ruttin' time!"
Before Jayne could run off at the mouth the Captain quickly interjected. "Now Jayne, best not say anythin' you'll be made to regret afterwards, *dong ma*?"
Jayne glowered at him. Shepherd Book spoke mildly but with the kind of calm ease that managed to smooth the big man's ruffled feathers without bloodshed. "I don't think we want to do or say anything to delay this fine meal any further?"
The thought of food got Jayne's stomach to rumbling again. Kaylee got up to give her mother a hand and in no time at all they were tucking into a veritable feast. The mood lightening again around the table. Zoe flicked a glance every now and then across the table at Mal and Sarah. When Mal caught her eye he gave her a smile then looked back to Sarah as she said something soft and low. Zoe's eyes narrowed slightly then she looked away. River watched everything but said nothing. The bread in the basket catching her attention and diverting her from the food Simon had put on her plate. She blinked and mentally counted. Thirteen.
"The last supper."
For a moment the conversation paused. Simon looked at her with concern but Kaylee's hand on his arm soothed the stirrings of panic.
"This is dinner not supper." Corrected Book gently.
River blinked. "Right number, wrong setting, but no pieces of silver and no kiss."
There was an awkward little silence then River smiled brightly and seemed to notice the rest of the food on the table. Thanking Mrs Frye she tucked in as if nothing unsettling had been said. Shepherd Book caught the wary look on Mrs Frye's kindly face and gave her a gentle smile. Simon quickly started a conversation with Kaylee and gradually everyone began to eat. Malcolm Reynolds looked at River for a moment, a thoughtful look on his face. As he turned his head to say something to Sarah he caught a strange expression on his uncle's face and felt his stomach turn over. Monty raised an eyebrow but Mal shook his head slightly. Sarah's hand slipped into his and brought a smile to his face. But even though the mood had lightened again, the smile never quite reached the Captain's eyes.
"Where is he?" The Commandant demanded, eyes flashing.
Becky's heart faltered at his reaction. "*Wo bu zhidao*."
Commandant Arthur Mitchell was not amused. His expression hardened, his voice turning soft and very deadly. "Not good enough, little girl. You don't slap a hand grenade in my hand and tell me you don't know where the *diyu* it came from!"
She blinked. "I ran away..."
"From where?" He snapped.
"That where he is?"
She shrugged. "Was."
He was fast losing the tiny store of patience he had left. "Explain, and don't take all day about it."
Voice shaking Becky told him their address on Boros. When she had last seen her husband and every detail she could remember from their last conversation. As the Commandant's steely grey eyes bore into her own, she had the sudden horrible feeling that she had just made a terrible mistake.
Funny, it didn't hurt a gorram bit. The icy breath of winter hardly stirred against his cold cheek. Couldn't feel nothing no more. A ghostly warmth spread through his frozen body. Eyelids sealed shut by the cold, breath shallow and growing lighter. He did not hear the sound of a brick being loosened, the shaft of murky light enough to dazzle made no impression on him. A light was aimed through the opening and shone straight at him. A gloved hand reaching in to touch his shoulder. No reaction.
The voice crackled in the second man's helmet. "Hard to tell. Feels stiff as a gorram board."
"*Wode ma*, you'd think freezing to ruttin' death would be enough without leaving the pathetic *wangba dan* naked!"
There was an awkard silence. Two very different men weighing up the pros and cons of what to do. "How many sorry *hundan* we gonna find in this *jianyu*?"
"*Bizui*! Such talk ain't healthy, *dong ma*? We got a job to do best we do it."
"He ain't on the list."
"Yeah, but he can't stay here. You know the orders - nothin' stays. Not birds, not people, not even the warmth of your ruttin' breath."
"Gorrammit Harvey, it was YEARS ago!"
Harvey nodded, his face partly obscured in the faceplate by the rest of his helmet. "Still ain't clear so they say an' I ain't about to argue about it now. Let's get him out and clean this hole."
His colleague had not moved, a strange reluctance gripping him. Harvey shook the suited figure and looked through the other man's visor to make eye contact.
"Never said ya had to like it, Perry. Quicker we clean up the quicker we get the gorram outta this creepy ass-end of the 'verse, *dong ma*?"
Perry nodded slowly, eyes wide and fearful. "Yeah, but what if who put him here comes back?"
Harvey gave a slow deadly grin. "Then he's more fool that this ruttin' poor *hundan*. Least this one died quick."
His friend could say nothing to that. In silence they dismantled the newly bricked up side of the *jianyu* and dragged the stiff body out. Imbetween loosening the first brick and making an opening big enough to admit a body, the last breath had petered out leaving nothing but the husk of a human life in its' wake. Perry walked back to a small tracked vehicle, returning minutes later with a body bag and a small wheeled cart with a hose attached. Harvey helped him straighten the body, the crack of bones snapping muffled by their helmets but Perry felt the breaks through his hands and inwardly shuddered. He hated his job. Hated being too afraid to walk away. Hated the fact that when he looked in the gorram mirror the face staring back at him scared the *goushi* out of him.
When they were done the bag was zipped up and the hose unwound from the cart. Carefully they sprayed the inside of the *jianyu* then the ground in the near vicinity until the snowy drifts sizzled with the chemical reaction to ice and air. A murky little haze hung over the site for several minutes as they put their equipment away then dragged the dead man to their vehicle and loaded him on like a sack of refuse. With a shudder Perry took one last look behind him and climbed in after Harvey.
It was one of those days when Wash Warren wished to every *shangdi* in the gorram 'verse than his beautiful but deadly wife would listen to him. Just this once. Was it so much to ask? Yes, it was. After all, he was only the husband.
"*Bao bei*, if Malcolm Reynolds let himself out of an airlock without goin' EVA would you do the same?"
Her eyes blazed at him with a fury totally out of proportion to their opposed points of view. "Cap'n ain't goin' alone."
Wash tried to be reasonable. He was a good man. Loving husband. A semi-muscular intelligent man. "He won't be alone, sweetie, Monty'll be with him."
She was not amused. Not swayed either by the look of it. "Not arguin' about this, *zhangfu*."
He tried another tack, inwardly wincing even as he did so. "Mal doesn't want you there."
The look on her face made him feel ashamed and so much wanting to take the words back that he stared with a sad kind of stunned expression that did not even dent her rising anger. "Not carin' what the Cap'n thinks either. This is so far beyond foolish Wash."
"Yeah, but it's a dead world, Zoe! What kind of trouble can he get in?"
Some of her anger abated though she still looked seriously pissed off. At least she was not looking pissed off at him any more. "You've met the Cap'n?"
He nodded, grasping the little olive branch with unseemly gratitude and sighed, a baffled expression creeping over his kind and comely face. "I just don't get it Zoe, what the *diyu* does Mal think he's gonna find on Shadow? He's already been once an' there was nothing there."
"*Cuode*. There was that *jianyu* he mentioned. An' the blood. Don't forget the blood, *zhangfu*."
Wash nodded, his eyes taking on a bleak look. "I wish just once he could walk away, Zoe."
She shook her head slowly. "That ain't the Cap'n."
For a long moment neither spoke. Each lost in their thoughts.
"I don't want you to go, *bao bei*."
Her lips flattened though her eyes softened just a shade at the look of misery in his gentle eyes. "I have to."
"*Weishenme*? What is so gorram important about followin' him, Zoe, 'cause I'd really like to know. I know you two went through the war..."
She cut him off. "This has nothin' to do with the war."
He paused, searched her eyes for some kind of clue, a sign, anything. His voice dropped to a quiet hush. "Then what *does* it have to do with?"
"It's hard to explain but Mal is family."
"I thought I was family?"
"You are, sweetie, an' a whole lot closer than that. You're my husband. This thing between me an' Mal is like an umbical chord, even when I don't want to follow him I can't not. Don't have any way to explain it better than that, it's like a compulsion, a need to keep him safe even when I'm mad as *diyu* at him." She paused, hoping against hope that he would somehow understand and if he couldn't do that praying that he would back off and just let her do what she had to do. "If anythin' happened to him Wash an' I wasn't there I'd never be able to forgive myself."
For several moments he just stared into her eyes, knew without a shadow of a doubt that everything she said was the pure unvarnished truth. He still didn't understand what bound them but he did understand her. Slowly he nodded. "Don't think I'm happy *bao bei* an' don't think I'll be forgettin' this but if you need to go that strongly I won't stop you."
Zoe nodded, knowing he had made a massive concession and privately vowing to make it up to him. "*Xie xie ni*."
"I just hope," Said Wash with quiet intensity, his eyes never leaving hers. "That he finds whatever the *diyu* it is that he's lookin' for."
His wife did not reply, not wanting to confess that she prayed he would not. She had a bad feeling about this. The kind that, like an itch between the shoulder blades, spelt trouble with a capital T. It wasn't that she didn't trust Monty to watch Mal's back, she did. But she and Mal had an almost telepathic way of working together. Able to sense what the other was about to say or do in a fraction of a second and react accordingly. It was the kind of intuitive bond that could mean the difference between life and death. Zoe had the feeling they were going to need every edge they could get their hands on.
When she and Wash returned to the kitchen the discussion was still going but in more muted tones. Zoe could see that Mal was getting tense, his lips thinning, eyes flattening in that dark brooding look just shy of violence. Never knew a man who could talk so soft and radiate such deadly intent. He was at his most volatile when he got the quietest. That quality put her on notice that the slightest wrong word or move could set him off. She noticed that Sarah seemed to instinctively know Mal needed space and gave it to him, yet stayed close at hand.
"I miss somethin'?"
Every eye turned to lock on hers. Zoe waited. The Shepherd cleared his throat cautiously. "Some of us were just expressing reservations."
Mal huffed. "Everyone's makin' a fuss."
Perhaps emboldened by Kaylee's proximity and her warm hand in his, Simon decided to speak his mind. "*Wo bu dong*. I thought you said Ty was from Boros?"
The Captain nodded. "He is but that don't change the fact that he died on Shadow."
Inara listened silently, the voice in her mind asking *does that mean you have to do the same?* At times she was sure Malcolm Reynolds had a death wish.
Frank Reynolds was fidgetting and trying to hide the fact. River looked up from her half eaten dinner and watched him as she listened to the conversation. Sarah looked sad but composed which made Zoe sure the Captain must have told her about the unexpected death of their friend. It was driving her nuts how *wangu* he was being. "I don't see what else you hope to accomplish, Mal."
His eyes locked on hers like lasers. Something flashed between them and with sudden insight Zoe understood then just as quickly wished she didn't. Wash frowned at them and wondered what in the nine hells was going on. He felt his wife withdraw from the conversation. A samurai with sword drawn no longer seeking blood. But tradition would not let her sheath the blade unbloodied. He mentally shook his head and wondered what the good gorram was wrong with him. Why were they making a fuss? If their foolish but heroic Captain wanted to waste his time returning to a dead world who was he to worry? But he knew why. Whatever touched Zoe touched him. The sound of Monty's voice cut through his reverie.
"We won't be gone more than a few days at most."
Simon appeared to be thinking something over, his look serious and thoughtful. He stared at the Captain. "You're looking for clues."
Jayne huffed, totally unimpressed. "Waste of gorram time."
The Shepherd frowned slightly. "Jayne!"
"Well it's true. Why we tiptoein' 'round this anyway? Man's dead. Shadow's a gorram graveyard an' nothin' we do or say'll change that. I say we fire the gorram body into the nearest sun an' be done with it."
To everyone's surprise the Captain didn't get angry but nodded slowly at Jayne, his expression serious. "I'm thinkin' to do just that." Jayne's frown began to lift but deepened when the Captain continued. "Just as soon as I get some answers."
It was Inara who said what they were all thinking. No inflection at all in her voice. "And what if you don't get any answers?"
The Captain did not reply. His silence telling them he would not stop until he did. Frank Reynolds looked like he wanted to say something but changed his mind. Mouth shutting like a trap, eyes darkening as if someone had switched a light off. Mal ignored him. Memories sifting through his mind unbidden. A boy's happy and glowing face animated with the kind of joy that was so rare now. Years of shared experiences sprinkled through a life with more than its' share of hard knocks and broken hearts. Boy had followed every gorram thing Mal did as if it was the handbook on Life, the 'Verse and Every Gorram Thing. Captain hadn't seen it for the longest time but Zoe had. When did their lives get to be such a tangled mess? And why the good gorram had Ty not only been killed but in this exact way? Not one mark of violence on his starved body yet he had been left to die in a place created especially for the purpose. What was the significance of making that place Shadow? Instinctively he already knew why. Because it was his own home world. A planet he was exiled from revisiting for the rest of his natural life.
Later Kaylee managed to speak to the Captain alone. Her worry and fear self evident on her face. Of all the things that Mal regretted upsetting his mechanic was top of the list. That and taking the ruttin' shine off their first planet-bound Christmas since he had bought his boat. "Now don't you worry, little Kaylee. Ain't nothin' gonna happen."
She bit back tears. "If you're goin' we should all go."
He knew she was thinking safety in numbers. How could he explain to her that numbers didn't matter a good gorram if a bullet had your name on it? Instead of worrying her with such reasoning he pulled her into a hug and tried to lighten her worry some. "Don't need to be doin' that, ain't like anyone's gonna mess with a mean old man like me."
"Ya ain't mean nor old even," She broke off at his grin, realised what he was doing and frowned up at him. "An' what about them as did this, Cap'n? I been thinkin' what if they're worse than mean old men their own selves? What if killin' Ty wasn't what this was about?"
He held a breath then carefully, slowly, raised a hand to brush the hair from her face. She looked so intent and serious. "What you tryin' to tell me, *mei mei*?"
Kaylee took a deep breath then let her fear rush out in a tumble of anxious words. "What if they on'y killed Ty to get to you?"
For several seconds he could hardly breathe. How in the nine hells had his sweet little Kaylee come to such a conclusion? He had thought only him and Monty were thinking along those lines. And now Zoe. But Kaylee? It hurt that she could guess so much from so little. He hid some of his disquiet in another hug, holding her close as he whispered gently into her hair. "Hush now, Kaylee. Trust your Cap'n to know what he's doin'."
She sniffed then nodded into his shoulder because no matter how bad things got she did trust him. As he pulled back the Captain dropped a soft kiss on her forehead, smiled at her, then turned and walked off to where Monty was just outside the front door. As Kaylee watched him go she felt as if the ground beneath her feet was turning to quicksand. Everyone else was already out on the front porch but Kaylee stayed rooted to the spot in the hallway of the house she had been born in. She trusted the Captain but she didn't trust whatever might be waiting for him on Shadow. Jayne had it right. They should have just fired the gorram body into the first sun they came across.
* * * * *
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *xin gan* = sweetheart *dong ma* = understand
*diyu* = hell *pofu* = bitch *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *si* = dead
*wode ma* = mother of God *wangba dan* = fucking bastard *jianyu* = prison
*hundan* = bastard *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *goushi* = crap/dog shit
*shangdi* = god *zhangfu* = husband *cuode* = wrong *wo zhidao* = I know
*weishenme* = why *xie xie ni* = thank you *wo bu dong* = I don't understand
*mei mei* = little sister
Friday, February 25, 2005 6:28 PM
Sunday, February 27, 2005 1:27 AM
Thursday, March 3, 2005 8:55 AM
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