BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE

JEBBYPAL

Camouflage Ch 6
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Reflections


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2678    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

A/N: as usual, apologies on my speed of writing. Hope the wait was worth it. And thanks to my fearless betas, Cassie E, Neroli66, and more recently shdwdrgn.

Chapters 1-5

Chapter 6: Reflections

Zoe misses him as soon as he's gone. It's hard to believe that in their time together they've never spent more than a night apart. She knows that he should be back soon. Holds it like the promise he gave her so long ago. Yet she can't help feeling nervous; this time he's not under the protective eyes of the Captain, traveling with the careful hands of Kaylee, or even in the vicinity of anyone as gifted as Simon. No, this time he's on his own with her past.

She has to trust that Stu will bring him back to her and that the simple cargo pick-up is nothing more. Still, she finds time to worry and dislikes it. Waiting and watching are his job, not hers. They complement each other in such odd ways, the rash pilot with the patient soldier. On her walks through the long sterile corridors that are devoid of any glitter of real light, she longs for his smile and wit. She was right to bring him, she needs him more than the open spaces of Serenity. Leaving him behind would have been too much like losing her soul. She hasn't had it back long enough to reckless with it.

Will Wash understand when he sees the true shape of her past and her soul? She knows he's been uneasy with the glimpses of the shadows, that he worries constantly about what he might not know, but still she insists that Burton ease him into the Organization. What will his reaction be when he learns the entire truth?

Wash always went along easily with Mal's chivalrous crimes. He enjoys the swashbuckling and dashing at windmills. Still, he's never truly fought for an ideal in his life. She knows exactly how he spent the war, but she's uncertain if he ever regretted missing the opportunity for action and the chance to fight for his beliefs. Another war is coming. When he hears the call to battle, will he stay at her side? Or will he think that their time together was simply another deception for the cause?


Throughout the meeting, Inara struggled to maintain her composure. Concern, anxiety, joy, and anger all clamored noisily in her brian while her client sat easily in front of her. She was concerned for Wash and what he returned to. Moreover, she worried about Minister Bao's connections to the shadowy forces that Wash had described during their brief conversation.

Above those anxieties blossomed a joy as deep as what she had felt when Mal returned from Niska's station. River was alive; Zoe and Wash were safe for the moment. Still she struggled to control her anger – this meaningless greeting ceremony was a complete waste of time when she could be informing Serenity of what she knew. Then again, when she did report to Mal, she didn't have much to tell him. Wash hadn't possessed any leads to share with her.

Finally, she gave up the pretense of focusing on the business at hand. "I must apologize, Minister, but I was ill this morning. I thought it had passed, but I fear that it is returning. I would hate to deliver a less than exquisite experience for you. Perhaps we could reschedule?" A flicker of resentment appeared on the Minister's lightly wrinkled face before the proper mask was lowered. This man was not someone Inara would normally choose for a client, but he had seemed to be the one official in her pool of available clients on Georgia that would be loose-lipped about local rumors.

"Of course, I will contact you in the morning to see if you are fully recovered." The small bureaucrat quickly left her shuttle before she could explain that she meant to reschedule for another week or month entirely. No matter, she could wave him later in the day once she docked with Serenity.


Kaylee was tired. She understood why the Captain and Simon were so gorram moody, really, she did. She wasn't any happier with this situation than anyone else was, but you didn't see her sitting around the ship and growling at anyone who cracked a smile. It was just plain wrong when Jayne was the one being the most positive and cheerful. Gotten so that she just wanted to lock the door to the engine room so's she wouldn't have to worry about being snapped at. A plan she intended to follow until Inara got back.

Kaylee cursed a blue streak when she tripped in the dark corridor. The Captain had decided to turn off all non-essential lights and systems so they could conserve on fuel. Not that she minded, gave her a chance to work on those systems after all, but it would be nice if folk'd pick up after themselves so people wouldn't trip in the dark corridors.

"Oh my God! Wash!" Kaylee cried when she stooped to examine the lumpy object that had tangled her feet. She was halfway to the nearest intercom before she stopped suddenly. Neither Mal nor Simon would be too happy to see the prodigal pilot. Examining his body again, she winced when she discovered the blood-encrusted hair on the back of his head as well as several bruises. It was doubtful that he'd be be treated before the interrogation started. No, it would be best if neither one of them found out just yet, but she couldn't just leave him laying in floor either. Normally she'd enlist Jayne to help her with anything heavy, but he was likely to just go and blab as soon as he knew.

Without Inara on the ship, there was only one ally left. Book had been mighty quiet since the others disappeared, but he hadn't been as quick to condemn Wash as the Cap'n or Simon. Mind made up, she quickly fetched Book from his room where he sat still trying to figure out Zoe's coded letter.

"Kaylee, I really don't think there is much I can do to help you in the engine room," Book stated as Kaylee led him through the darkened corridors towards the engine room with the flash light she'd snagged.

"Nonsense, Shepherd, you did real good when we left Whitefall. I just need your help with something heavy." Kaylee felt bad lying to him, but she was too worried that Mal or Simon might be prowling around to describe her find out in the open.

"I just hope you have enough light in the engine room. I don't look forward to…Oh dear lord!"

"That was my thought exactly as soon as I picked my face up off the grate."

"But how?"

Kaylee shrugged as she stuffed some grease rags under Wash's head. "I just found him, didn't look for how he got on board. Figured he could use a little time before the Captain…"

"Before I what?" Mal's voice echoed from behind her. Kaylee froze and looked imploringly at Book for help.

Book patted her on the shoulder with a comforting smile before standing to confront what was sure to be a surly Captain. Pulled up with him, Kaylee resisted the urge to close her eyes and wait out what would be a legendary storm of "Mean Old Man Mal". Hopefully God planned for her and Book to live a lot longer than the next few minutes. Book pushed Kaylee to the side and directed the flashlight to Wash's face.

Mal looked first at Wash's body, then at her and Book with a dumbfounded expression. "You were gonna keep this from me?" he asked. His voice got louder with every word and Kaylee couldn't help but shrink from it.

"She merely wanted to make sure that Wash was uninjured and awake before she informed you, Captain," Book placated.

"Oh so he could kidnap more of my crew? Or maybe this time he'd just knock us all out and fly the ship into a star?" the Captain snapped angrily. Kaylee hated it when he got like this. Zoe was the only one who could make him see reason when he was this mad and pig headed.

"Perhaps she just wanted to make sure he could survive facing you," Book suggested.

Mal walked in closer as he yelled, "Oh, so now I'm so dumb and angry that I'll kill him before finding out where he dumped the others?"

Kaylee felt like crying, but was too fed up with everyone on the rutting ship to succumb to hysterics. "Just stop it both of you," she screamed. Book and Mal both backed up a tad and looked at her in disbelief. "Right now, we don't know nothing and Wash is still unconscious. If we're gonna learn anything, I think he should be seen to. Gently," she warned the Captain loudly, but respectfully.

She could tell that Mal was still fuming by the scrunched lines in his face. He'd done the same thing when he'd walked in to find the entire kitchen and dining area redecorated. Kaylee'd made the mistake then of making fun of his worry wrinkles, something she'd been careful to avoid ever since. "Well are you gonna just stand there? He needs to be in the infirmary." Mal gave her an odd look before bending down to grab one side of Wash as Book followed suit. She ran ahead telling herself that she was just lighting the way so Wash wouldn't be knocked around anymore than necessary. If asked, she would patently deny that she was scouting the way to make sure the Simon was nowhere in sight.

Thankfully, they didn't encounter either Jayne or Simon on the journey to the infirmary. "He does have a rather large knot back here. Most likely a concussion," the Shepherd offered as they arranged Wash's still unconscious body on the exam chair. Kaylee was worried. She didn't know much about doctoring, but she did know that it wasn't good when someone was unconscious this long.

"You know anything about what should be done, Preacher? 'Cause frankly, I generally leave this stuff to Zoe and somehow I don't think that the Doctor is going to be too gentle," Mal replied.

Book finally found the tools that he had been searching for and leaned over Wash's face as he examined him. "Well my layman's opinion is that he's concussed, but there don't appear to be any complications."

"Yeah, but I sure could use him awake sooner rather than later," Mal said as he started to inconspicuously monitor the door and windows. Kaylee hid her smile. She knew that when the Captain calmed down, he'd start to see sense. She chewed her nails nervously as the Captain paced while Book waved smelling salts under Wash's nose. Soon the desired effect occurred as Wash tried to escape the noxious vapors and weakly pushed Book's hand away.

"Come on, son, time to wake up," Book ordered as he patted Wash's face. Slowly, the pilot's eyes opened and he looked around the room in confusion.

"Zoe? Where'd that hundan go?" he asked.

"Only bastard I see is the one in front of me," the Captain replied darkly.

Kaylee glared at Mal's back before sliding past him into Wash's field of vision. She quickly hugged the perplexed man. "Oh Wash! It's good to have you back. It sure hasn't been fun needing three grumpy people on the bridge to fly the ship."

"Grumpy?" Wash asked. "What? Wait a second, how in the hell? Where's 'Nara?" he asked desperately.

"Why? Did you sell her off to someone too?" Mal asked as he pulled Kaylee away from the exam bed.

"Sell? Mal, what the hell are you talking about? I saw her on Georgia…" Wash trailed off before beginning to swear loudly in Chinese.

Simon's voice drowned the curses out. "What in the hell is going on?"

"Trying to find that out my ownself," the Captain answered.

Kaylee desperately looked to Book. This couldn't be happening. She'd hoped to keep Wash away from Simon until Inara showed up. She couldn't protect him from both Simon and the Captain. She couldn't!

"I suggest we all calm down," Book said gently.

"Calm down! You want me to calm down? Where is River?" Simon demanded as he launched himself at Wash. Kaylee was relieved when Mal managed to catch Simon before he reached the pilot and winced as Simon's body hit the wall as Mal fought to contain him.

"Settle down!" Mal ordered. "He ain't gonna be able to tell us nothing if you beat him senseless."

"Could we maybe postpone the yelling till after this axe finishes splitting my head open?" Wash complained as he held his head. Kaylee patted his shoulder as she watched the confrontation between Mal and Simon. Simon was not calming down in any sense of the word and Mal's hold on him only seemed to further enrage him. She hoped he didn't do something stupid like try to hit the Captain.

"Kaylee, help Wash to the bridge. I'll be along soon," the Captain ordered.

Kaylee attempted to hurry Wash along, eager to be away from the violence that had finally spilled over after the problems of the past few weeks. Unfortunately, moving fast did not appear to be something that Wash was capable of right now. He swayed dangerously when he stood and Kaylee had to steady him to prevent him from hitting the deck. With Wash leaning on her, she was unable to look back at the three men she left in the infirmary. Hopefully there wouldn't be many injuries.

"Say something if you need to sit down or anything," Kaylee told Wash. She was in no mood to end the day with vomit on her overalls. Wash groaned in reply as he tried to make his feet work well enough to go up the stairs to the kitchen. Kaylee almost moaned in unison when she heard Jayne cuss at the sight of the man leaning against her. She borrowed a few of the curse words Wash had used earlier when Jayne's gun left it's holster and took aim at Wash over the pot of coffee he was preparing.

"Jayne, don’t be an idiot. The Captain knows he's onboard and he ain't in any condition to do no one any harm," Kaylee lectured.

Jayne didn't acknowledge her words as he approached. She wanted to yell for the Captain, but didn't since she knew he had his hands full with straightening Simon out. Instead, she pinned her hopes on the notion that Jayne wouldn’t do any violence while she was present.

"Don't look so good, little man," Jayne growled as he raised Wash's head by grabbing his hair. "You'll look even worse if you don't tell me where Vera is!"

She watched as confusion and pain washed over the pilot's face in tandem. "Vera? Kaylee, what kind of go-se is the ape talking about?"

"Kaylee, I thought the Captain asked you to see Wash to the bridge," Book's voice echoed from behind her. She breathed a long sigh of relief as Jayne released Wash's head. Quickly, she maneuvered Wash around the mercenary and thanked God for Book's timely interruption.

Once in the safety of the bridge, she lowered Wash gently into the pilot's cushioned seat. After making sure he wasn't going to fall out, she closed the bridge door. "Anything I can get ya?"

Wash groaned as he turned the seat so he could rest his arms and head on one of the nearby instrument panels. "A new head and an explanation as to why everyone has gone space crazy wouldn't be amiss."

Kaylee looked for the first aid kit in the lockers. An aspirin or two couldn't do any damage.

"Kaylee?"

She sighed. "Not much to explain. Captain and the others are pretty tetchy that you drugged us all…"

"What?" Wash yelled and then moaned as the sound set off more pain.

Kaylee handed him the bottle of pills and continued. "And Simon is convinced that you kidnapped River for the reward while everyone is hoping that Zoe's disappearance meant she was tracking you."

Wash closed his eyes for a moment before dry swallowing several tablets. "Kaylee, I thought you'd learned your lesson about partaking in Jayne's happy stash."

She smiled weakly. "Wish that the past week or so was nothing more than a bad dream. But it seemed the only explanation seeing as the knockout drug was in the food."

Wash froze. "Food? She said the feds piped gas into the ship," he muttered quietly.

They both quickly looked up when the door opened to reveal the Captain. "Kaylee, time to start dinner," Mal ordered. Kaylee looked back and forth between the two men. Mal didn't seem to be furious anymore, nor was he seething cold hatred. At least now, Wash knew what he was accused of, assuming he could hold it in his head anyways. Finally, she nodded and gave Wash a quick hug before hurrying off the bridge.


Wash watched Kaylee's back disappear down the corridor to the kitchen. He felt a bit of fear settle in his gut when Mal turned to close the door to the bridge and secure it. No one would be running to save him even if he had the energy to yell for help. Course, given what Kaylee had told him, he doubted that anyone on the ship would be doing that.

Mal leaned against the locker and glared down at him. He looked calmer than he had before Simon burst into the infirmary, but his face was also devoid of any emotion. Wash didn't really like facing this particular version of the Captain. At least not unless he was in a room full of people including his wife whom he could hide behind.

"Where are they?"

Wash resisted the urge to gulp. "I assume you are referring to Zoe and River?"

"I sure as hell ain't asking about Snow White and the dwarves."

Wash's headache increased as his thoughts struggled to find a coherent way to explain his experiences since he woke up in the shuttle with Zoe and an unconscious River. Silently, he cursed the Captain's tightfisted ways. The aspirin Kaylee had given him had probably expired. "I never caught the name of the ship, but Zoe said that it would be safe. They'd protect us till you all got free from the Alliance and could come for us."

"Zoe said? Alliance? What in the gorram hell are you talking about, Wash?"

Wash's thoughts swam and the bridge went black for a few moments. Finally, he decided he was just too tired to try to explain everything. Easier to give Zoe's explanations and see if they made more sense to the Captain than they did to him. "She said you told her to get River to safety after the feds piped sleeping gas into the ship. Took me too so she wouldn't be worried every minute she was away. Then she docked the shuttle with a ship containing many people in brown uniforms and saluted some guy called Admiral Burton. I wasn't too excited about signing up with a military outfit considering it would get me executed for treason if we ever encountered the Alliance, but she said you'd understand and like it. Course River said that she was Zoe, but not my wife…and to warn you about the tacks. Or…"

Mal finally interrupted, "River is Zoe? You signed up with the military? Boy, I think you hit your head way too hard." Wash took the cue to fall silent. He longed for sleep or unconsciousness, anything to escape the pounding in his head. The silence stretched for some time as Mal's expression became more and more confused.

The beeping of the cortex ended the silence. Out of habit, Wash spun around to answer it, but was unable to say anything as the bridge continued to spin violently. Mal's tight grip on his shoulder did nothing to make the spinning stop.

"Inara, what's up?" he heard Mal ask as he closed his eyes to try to stop his stomach from escaping.

"I'm ready to dock and have something to tell you Mal…But I see you already know," the Companion's voice said.

"Don't know rightly what that is, but I'm glad you're back," Mal replied.

Wash finally got his wish and didn't hear anymore.


River's head and body ached from inactivity. This room and place terrified her with both its familiarity and its newness, but the blackness of unconsciousness held no comforts either. In the present, the doctors and technicians were impatient and demanding. Before, they had been methodical and confident. None of them cared though; she was a thing. In the past, a thing to make and perfect. Now, a thing to understand and dissect.

She pulled against her restraints, rubbing already bruised skin raw. Those thoughts weren't helpful. Simon would come; he came before. Serenity would come; it wouldn't leave her here to rot. In the meantime, maybe she could do something to help. If she failed, it would at least be a better way to pass the time than staring back at the eyes.


Zoe felt like she hadn't slept at all since Wash had left. Her eyes closed and time passed, but no amount of rest was ever achieved. Maybe the pills the nurse at the infirmary had given her would help keep the dreams away, she thought as she drifted off.

The cabin was beautiful. It was just as they had always talked about – small, but comfy. Lots of open land as far as the eye could see. She couldn't wait to see what he'd done with the interior.

"I waited for weeks, you know. I thought that if I waited long enough that you'd appear. Eventually you never came, so I went back to what I'd left," Stu said from behind her shoulder.

"What are you talking about? I'm here now, that's all that matters."

"You destroyed our dream just like you'll destroy your husband," his voice whispered in her ear as she watched the cabin and lands turn to ash. "Are the ghosts of our family lonely? Is that why you insist on joining a war we fought to prevent?"

"You didn't fight it," she screamed back at him. "You weren't there. You haven't seen,"

"I haven't seen what?" Stu asks as the scorched ground beneath her feet changes into Persephone, then Haven, and other worlds she can't remember the names of. "The corruption? The greed? The death?" Ariel and Osiris replace the images of poverty, struggling farms, and shanty-town slums. "Or the wealth? The profit made on the bones of our loved ones and those you fought with?"

"They took everything and they just keep taking. They won't stop unless we make them, Stu."

"Except your war won't touch them. It won't ever kill them if you just keep making more people like them," he argues. "You talk about what I haven't seen, bao-bei, how about what you've never witnessed?"

When she sees the boy strapped in the chair, Zoe tries to close her eyes, but he won't let her. He holds her head straight and forces her to watch it all, to see every second of the procedures, the tests, and the failures. "Watch it all, Zoe, and remember. This is what you missed. This is what you want your army to perfect to help you win your revenge." The onslaught of the nightmare stops finally and is replaced by images of life on Serenity, of Simon and River happy. That too is torn away as images of River strapped down in a blank room appear. Scenes of Simon sitting alone on Serenity, solitary in his despair and anger. "Tell me, Zoe, who will protect you from his war of retribution?"

The bed is drenched in sweat when Zoe finally manages to wake up. The darkness and the sounds of the ship seem alien, only the absence of her husband reminds her where she is. Slipping out of bed, Zoe dresses with an economy of movement trained over many years. Sleep won't visit again tonight and the empty cabin suddenly feels too much like a tomb.


River smiles as she lets unconsciousness take her away. The sneaky mice might think they have her confined, but every trap has a back way out. The mice just don't know it yet.


The next day, Wash was finally coherent enough to fully explain everything that had happened since he'd left. Inara had already relayed what little he'd been able to tell her when they met on Georgia. But a lot of questions remained, questions that Kaylee knew would keep Simon awake until they were answered. She almost didn't care what the answers were as long as life on the ship returned to what it had once been. The ship was still too empty and quiet for her tastes.

Poor Wash didn't look like he'd hardly slept at all either, but then again he probably hadn't considering his concussion. Everyone in the kitchen quieted down when Wash finally sat down at the table. "I don't really know where to start. I was knocked out the same as all of you by the food," his face twisted as he recalled that fact. "When I came to, I was on the shuttle with Zoe. River was unconscious still," he paused for a moment and rubbed his head. Kaylee could barely sit still. "Zoe said that the Feds had nabbed all of you. That she was taking River and me somewhere safe until Serenity could come for us."

"River shouldn't have been asleep from the smoother still; what did Zoe do to her?" Simon demanded.

Wash shrugged. "She said she was concerned about River having a fit. I honestly don’t know what it was that she kept giving her." Kaylee put a hand on Simon's shoulder to calm him down. Wash shouldn't have to apologize for what he wasn't responsible for and nothing could be done about it now. She tried not to be hurt when Simon shrugged her hand off.

"Anyways, we went down the rabbit hold next I guess. Zoe docked with a Zeta35 Transport that had a lot of people in brown uniforms on it." Kaylee looked at Mal when she heard that. His face was blank though. Seemed like he'd managed to find some patience at some time during the night.

"An admiral met us. Real old guy, Admiral Burton. I went with River, who was taken to the infirmary, while Zoe was taken to our bunk assignment I think." Wash looked like he didn't really want to continue the story, he'd gotten really fidgety and all. "I waited there with River till she woke up, but when she did…I dunno if it was the drugs or what. She made even less sense than usual. She told me that Zoe wasn't my wife and that I had to watch out for tacks," he shrugged, "But I don't have the faintest clue as to what she was talking about. Then she threw the biggest fit I've ever seen. She almost made it out before some huge guys stopped her. I tried to get her to calm down; I tried to get them to stop, but the next thing I knew I woke up next to Zoe."

He continued to quickly, Kaylee assumed to keep Simon from throwing a fit similar to his sister. "Anyway, things didn't get much better than that. Met someone that Zoe had grown up with, hell found out where she'd grown up which was progress I guess, and then had her encourage me to join up with whatever the hell kind of outfit it is that ran the ship. That's about it."

Book was the first one to speak somehow. "What do you mean you found out where Zoe grew up? You two were married after all."

"Zoe never was big on talking about times before the war, Shepherd," Mal answered.

Wash nodded. "It always was a bit of a sore spot for us, but after I found out that her family had lived in Yunnan on Kangchen it made a bit more sense."

Kaylee gasped. The Butcher at Yunnan had been the first bit of political news she actually remembered paying attention to. A true tragedy, the deaths of the women and children had caused some to whisper that Blue Sun had lied about the miners arming themselves and storming their operations there. It had been the first of quite a few "tragedies" on the Rim planets. Only difference was that the later tragedies had had survivors, many of whom had gone on to become Browncoats.

"You mean she had relatives in Yunnan," Book corrected.

Wash shook his head. "No, Stu said that they'd both grown up there. They'd just had the luck to have been out of town during it."

"As much as I love to hear about Zoe's roots, I don't see what this has to do with River," Simon said.

Mal spoke up at that point. "Best I can figure is that this is some group of ex-soldiers that have organized. Possibly Independents or Alliance, don't know at this point."

"There were rumors after the signing of the treaty that a significant portion of the Browncoat's artillery and high level officers were unaccounted for," Book offered.

"It doesn't really matter which side they are as far as I'm concerned. They have River and I intend for us to get her back. If Zoe wants to stay, that's her decision," Mal stated.

"But how are we gonna get her back?" Kaylee asked. "We've been looking for any sign of 'em this entire time."

Wash finally grinned. "One of the nice things about signing up with their outfit was that I finally got to roam the ship a bit. Big ship like that, they don't have enough personnel to crawl around in every nook and cranny. I found an out of the way nook where I managed to hack into the radar and communications. Set up a nice little random beacon system, I just need to hunt around for a bit for which frequency it's on right now. It should lead us right to it."

Mal nodded. "Good job, Wash. How long do you think it will take?"

"Starting now, hopefully only a few hours," Wash answered.

"Get to it then. Book, why don't you give him a hand," Mal said.

"Then what?" Simon asked as Book and Wash left the room. "We don't know who these people are or why they want River."

Kaylee watched nervously as Mal walked over before answering. "We'll think of something, Doc. I don't know how many times I have to tell you before you believe, but I don't leave my crew behind."


Wash settled in his seat ready to work. It felt good to be back at the helm of Serenity, he couldn't think of another ship that he ever felt as comfortable or happy flying. They fit each other and she'd never let him down yet.

"Hold up a second, son," Book asked. The Shepherd seemed uncomfortable for some reason. "I don't know if it's my place or not, but I thought that you should know. Mal found this in your quarters when he was looking for an explanation or a clue."

Wash looked at the yellowed letter that Book handed him. He'd never seen it before and he didn't recognize the writing. Somehow he couldn't picture Mal ever writing his wife a letter that began with "Dearest Zoe". It was well worn and stained, but the words on the page were all gibberish. All the words except the closing line: "Love always, Stu".

He'd been such an idiot. No wonder the bastard had taken such cold pleasure in beating the crap out of him during their practice sessions. Made sense now how Zoe had defended him too. They'd grown up together, the man actually knew about her past like Mal knew about her experiences in the war. Where did that leave him fitting in? He might be her husband, but he seemed to be the only one who didn't know anything about who she was. The others had shared time, memories, and pain with her, he'd only shared her bed.

Book suddenly spoke and reminded Wash that he wasn't alone. "It's just a letter and an old one at that. Since we've had no luck decoding it at all, we don't even know what it means."

Wash nodded mutely. Right, shouldn't worry about it at all because Zoe had so many living family and friends who would sign a letter "Love always". No, he knew who it was from, he could only imagine what it said.

He examined the writing again. Maybe Mal and Book couldn't decode it because it wasn't a code at all. He'd gone to flight school with a guy from some backwater Rim planet that he couldn't even remember the name of. Interesting thing about him though, he had an accent that was barely understandable. He'd been a hell of a lot of fun though, so Wash had bonded with him immediately. Eventually learned that the guy, Anwar was his name, had grown up speaking a pidgin dialect that his family had used ever since they'd left Earth-That-Was. He even wrote in it. Anwar had taught him the basics of it. Really wasn't that difficult, you just had to know the base languages.

Slowly some of the gibberish began to resolve into possible words. He couldn't be a hundred percent sure that he was translating it right, but given the situation it sounded right. Wash folded the letter up. First things first, find the right frequency and pinpoint the location of the homing beacon. Then he could figure out the message contained in Stu's letter to Zoe and decide what to tell Mal.


Mal couldn't take it any longer. Jayne had been skulking around with a thoughtful expression ever since Wash had reappeared with his revelations. With a heavy sigh, Mal walked toward the relative privacy of the bridge with the knowledge that Jayne would follow like a faithful pet...or a persistent stalker. The man obviously had something he wanted to get off his chest. "Alright, out with it, Jayne."

"Just been wondering is all."

Gorram it. He didn't have time to play counselor for his crew. They had a rutting Shepherd on board, for cripes sake. "Seems to be a time for all kinds of mysterious happenings."

Jayne glared at him. "Just don't make no sense is all. We all know the gorram girl is a reader. Hell, I even think she knew what would happen on Ariel before I did." Mal's jaw ached as it inched tighter with the memories of that betrayal. Sometimes it seems like he always trusted the wrong people. "Girl knew it, I tell ya, and you didn't see what she did with Badger that time either. Crawled inside his head and became some ghost from his past."

"She probably overheard us talking about him at some point."

"Doesn't explain how she knew what we didn't. And what about that bounty hunter?"

"You weren't even awake for that."

Mal watched with interest as Jayne's fists clenched. "That's beside the point, Mal, and you know it. Girl has everyone she meets pegged within a second as to their intentions. So how'd she miss so badly with Zoe?" Jayne asked.

"I don't know, Jayne. Not like she came with a rutting handbook." Jayne looked peeved that Mal didn't have an answer for him. Frankly, Mal was a little peeved that the mercenary had picked up on this new mystery. Moreover, he was more than a little tetchy to have yet another mystery added to this entire humped mess.

He ignored Jayne until the other man left him in peace on the bridge. Space in front of them was empty enough that he could pretend to be alone with his thoughts. Almost pretend that none of the last few weeks had happened. The pain of Zoe's betrayal ached too fiercely though. His Ma had been right when she'd told him that he couldn't depend on no one but himself after his Pa split.

Odd thing was he blamed himself for the whole mess, not Zoe. If he'd been less self-involved with his own pain, more open about his past, maybe then he would have noticed how closed she was. As it happened, it was natural that they drifted as close as they had after they were assigned to the same squad. Everyone else was always going on about the folks they left behind and what they planned to do when the war was over. By the time he'd met Zoe, he'd been in enough firefights that all he wanted to do was survive to rest until the next one. It felt good to be around someone who didn't demand anything, someone who could come up with distractions other than reminiscing on better times.

After the war, he just wanted to get away from people. Fewer people around him, the fewer he had to watch die. Zoe had seemed adrift and had no plans, so he dragged her with him. That's what they did for each, carried the other when they couldn't crawl. It kept the loneliness at bay enough so that lying down and giving up didn't seem like much of an option.

Then she'd gone and married Wash. That almost hurt as much as what was happening now. Zoe had been the one thing that was his that hadn't been destroyed by the Alliance. There was always the chance that he'd lose the ship or that the crew would leave, but he'd started to depend so much on Zoe that the idea of her making any type of life that didn't include him felt like he was being abandoned.

Sure, he'd been a bit jealous of Wash too. Man had gotten to have what Mal had only dreamed about briefly. He'd stopped fantasizing about it quickly when he began to have nightmares that if he ever did kiss Zoe, then she'd taste like the bloody mud that sometimes ended up in his mouth on the battlefield. After a few of those, thinking about her in that way was like thinking about a corpse.

Now she was gone and had betrayed them all. For what? A shadow organization that was still fighting the war? For revenge for her family? He could understand it; once upon a time, he might have even joined her if she'd bothered to explain. He just couldn't believe that he'd been so blind to the pain that she had kept alive for so long.

TBC

COMMENTS

Wednesday, April 27, 2005 7:06 PM

CASSANDRAE


EEE! Jebbypal, that was teh hawt shit! Omg, I need another chapter, like now! So many things I loved, Mal's conflict at the end, the conversation with Jayne being annoyed at not having an answer...Zoe's dream, this story is developing so well--you should never doubt that. *cheers*

The scene in the infirmary was too funny, Kaylee playing mediator. Poor thing. You write the crew's interactions with such flair and ease, I admire you for it. (Is envious) And is it me, or does your Mal get better each time? *sigh*

Shiny work, and I promise to be quick about the beta next time. :head down in shame:

Thursday, April 28, 2005 7:33 AM

AMDOBELL


Excellent! I am so relived that Wash is back on Serenity and really love how he fitted the other ship with a beacon so that Serenity would be able to track her (once he finds the frequency). It was also nice to see Kaylee worrying about Wash and being wary of Simon's anger and irrationality because of the absence of River. Mal calming down then thinking things through with Wash then Jayne was very in keeping as was the Shepherd being cool and reasonable. It feels like forever waiting for new chapters so please keep up the good work - but faster, *dong ma*? Shiny stuff, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, May 19, 2005 9:00 PM

CASTIRONJACK


Hmmm... The rabbit hole indeed. Well written. I'm still looking for Zoe's reason for betrayal. Jayne had an excellent point, though. Why didn't River see through Zoe the first time they met? Expired aspirin, hehe. Like I've told others, writing the quality takes time, especially when you're trying to give all nine their lines.

So, take your time and...

Keep flyin'


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