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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Let’s just call this chapter, “I remember a time when I didn’t dream about Firefly every night...or think in Chinese...or say ‘gorramn.’ ”
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2797 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Bed and Wine: Part 17
Let’s just call this chapter, “I remember a time when I didn’t dream about Firefly every night...or think in Chinese...or say ‘gorramn.’ ”
AN: Silee scene co-created by Grimlock.
AN2: Thanks to Stacy P. for the inspiration.
Her bedroom dipped and swayed as soon as she opened her eyes. Inara flung back silk sheets of a deep ruby-red and hastened across the room. She fell to her knees on the hardwood floor and was sick in the trash receptacle. After, drained, she collapsed back against the wall, tears and sweat mingling, dripping down her cheeks. The panic was palpable, just like the sickness in her belly each morning of the past two weeks. Still shaking, she rose, bent over the sink to rinse her mouth. She had to shower and dress before her luncheon with the colonel. She must stay in control, keep her appointments if nothing else. She knew the other women would notice her absence from the recreation facility this morning, miss her after when they lounged and gossiped in the sauna. She wanted a bath. She wanted to disappear.
“Inara?” She started at the sound of knuckles on wood. “Are you there, mei mei?”
“I—just a moment, Nique.” She grabbed a robe from her closet, wrapped it hastily around herself. She risked a quick glance in the mirror, noting the paleness of her cheek, the dark half moons beneath either eye. It couldn’t be helped.
“Dominique. Good morning.” She smiled, stepped back so her mentor could enter.
“Darling.” Nique kissed her on both cheeks, a common Companion greeting. She hesitated, pressed a hand to the younger girl’s temple. “Inara? You don’t seem well.”
“Silly me, sleeping through my morning bell.” She slipped out from Dominique’s hold, sat down at her dressing table to brush her hair. “Perhaps I’m coming down with something.”
In the mirror, she watched Nique lower her lovely form to the bed, smooth a single, graceful hand over the spread.
“How unfortunate! Should I send for the doctor?”
“Oh, Nique, no!” She met the older woman’s eyes in the mirror, tried to modulate her tone. “Really, I’m sure that’s not necessary. You mustn’t concern yourself overmuch; I’ll be fine.”
“Just a trifling malady, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure.” Inara agreed, fastening all her hair up with a clip. If Nique left soon, she’d still have an hour in the bath before she was due at the colonel’s. The thought filled her with remorse: how awful to wish her friend away!
“Tell me, Inara: is this the sort of malady that tends to strike most potently in the mornings?”
Inara’s hand stilled. Carefully, she lowered a hairpin to the dressing table, turned to face the woman on the bed.
“Come.” Green eyes appraised her coolly. “Sit by me.”
Inara obeyed, already feeling the sting of her tears. Holding them in hurt so much more.
“You mustn’t lie to me, mei mei.” She caught hold of Inara’s chin, jerked her face around till their eyes met. “We are sisters, Companions of the highest order. Lying is beneath us, dong ma?”
“Shuh muh.” Her voice was weary. “I’m sorry, Nique.”
“Hush.” She guided the girl’s head to her lap, stroked the damp hair while Inara wept. “I’m going to help you, but you must be honest with me. Does it belong to my brother?”
“I believe so. We were on holiday the week it happened…at least, I think that’s when it happened.”
“Your trip to Londinium…six weeks prior? You took your prescription faithfully, I’m sure?”
“Of course! I assure you, Nique, I didn’t miss a day.”
“I believe you, mei mei. But nothing is foolproof. There’s always the chance of error.”
“I’ve been here since I was fourteen, Nique. In all that time, I’ve not heard even a whisper of....”
“Oh, Inara.” Dominique cupped her cheek. “My dear, some errors can be easily corrected.”
An error—was that what this was? Subconsciously, she laid a hand on her belly, still deceptively flat beneath her nightgown.
“I hesitate to tell you this. I love you dearly and loathe to hurt you.”
She raised her face.
“How old are you now, darling?”
“Nineteen,” she murmured.
“Nineteen, and already you’ve an aptitude that can’t be taught, beauty that can’t be bought. There’s talk among the elders that you’ll make priestess before you’re thirty. Don’t blush; it’s just truth. Such potential, such glowing praise…well, my dear, such things tend to inspire rampant jealousy. I’m sure the others girls have made note of your success. You’ve barely been Companion a year and already to have regular clients…my brother being no small boon. My special attention also sets you apart from the others.”
“You’re very kind,” Inara murmured, not quite understanding.
“And you’re very sweet. Perhaps a trifle naïve even, through no fault of your own.” Dominique hesitated, ran her fingers down Inara’s shoulder. “This is pure speculation, you understand. Of course, I could be terribly mistaken. However, I really don’t think….My dear, past occurrences in Guild history arouse my suspicions now. I’ve heard tales of envious girls meddling with a successful Companion’s contraceptive prescription, replacing the active pills with placebo.”
Inara’s face paled. She pressed a fist to her lips.
“I—I’m going to be sick.”
This time Nique held her hair back as she retched into the trash can. But her stomach was empty. Inara was empty. Fatigued, she slid to the ground, felt Dominique catch her, hoist her to her feet.
“We can remedy this; I’ll arrange all the details.” She drew her hands down Inara’s quivering arms, pressed a light kiss to her lips. “Wash your face and undress. I’ll draw you a bath.”
Yes, Nique. Fix my mistake. Repair my blunder. I made a foolish error—naïve you say? I imagine I’m that. She brushed her teeth till the gums bled, rinsed her mouth with mint and cool water. Cold and trembling, she peeled off her robe, drew her nightgown over her head. She wrapped a towel around torso, held it to her chest as she walked toward the adjoining washroom.
“I’ve made the bath very hot so you mustn’t linger too long.” Nique unknotted the towel, helped Inara into the sunken tub. “It isn’t good for the skin.”
The water burned all over. She let it surround her.
“I’ve an appointment with Colonel Madson this afternoon.” Inara sank gratefully against the marble, felt Nique’s skillful fingers massage her scalp. “I’ll beg his pardon, ask him to reschedule….”
“You’ll do no such thing.”
Inara’s eyes snapped open.
“But…Nique, I’m not sure I can—”
“Yes, you can. You will. You’re a Companion, Inara. A lady of great strength. You’ll bathe and you’ll dress and you’ll meet him at two in your finest attire. Today you will arouse no suspicions. And tomorrow…tomorrow we’ll make everything well.”
“Dominique.” Her lashes pressed once before she forced her lids up. She slid a hand under the water, curved it round her belly. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Shhh. This is the way it must be, don’t you see? You’d ruin your career, meimei, your life even. And along the way, you’d ruin my brother’s. Fathering a Companion’s bastard baby? Surely you don’t wish that shame on him. Not after all he’s done for you….”
“Of course not.” Inara let her eyes drift closed.
“Good girl. Just rest now. Let me wash your hair.”
A week later it was done, though not in the way Nique intended. A pain in the night. Blood. She threw the sheets down the garbage shoot before knocking on Nique’s door. Trevor came to see her at the very-private clinic.
“Oh, Inara.” He stroked her hair back with his long, slender fingers. “Just rest and don’t fret, my darling. Nique’s seen to everything; the Guild believes you’re accompanying me on a business trip. When you return, everything will be as it was.”
Nothing would be as it was.
When he left, Dominique approached her bedside. She moved out of the shadows, stepped into the light.
“You told him.” She seemed stunned. “Why would you tell him?”
“I didn’t mean to go behind your back, Dominique. I’m very grateful for all you’ve done, truly I am.”
“And yet you snuck out in the night last week, paid a personal visit to his apartments.”
“I thought he had to know,” she said hoarsely.
“And to what end? Now his child is dead, and he can do nothing about it. You’ve only caused him suffering.”
Her eyes snapped upward, angry amber lights specking the brown.
“I’m suffering too, Nique. Is it such a sin to think we might suffer together?”
“My God. You love him.”
“No. He’s dear to me, that’s all.” She met her mentor’s cool gaze. “A Companion isn’t permitted the luxury of love, is she, Nique?”
Dominique’s smile was cold.
“Perhaps you aren’t so naïve after all, child.”
Goin' on a week, she'd been watchin' him. Ever since they brought River
back on board--Beauty beat black and blue, beat up inside where bruises don't show-Kaylee had been biding time, watching, waiting. Some o' the others acted like Simon didn't have no feelings. Sure, he could be stiff, formal. Sometimes his happy face looked an awful lot like his perplexed face which weren't so different from his worried one. But he still felt stuff. Sometimes she thought things hurt him more cuz he kept so quiet, hardly ever givin' breath to his thoughts. Still, after all these months, Kaylee figured she had him pretty well pegged. Her Simon Meter, was what she called it. One thing she noticed early on: the Core in him weren't never so evident as when he was feelin' lost. Life in the Black might not o' been polite, proper. On the other hand, it was rarely dull. Livin' out here could be wild and messy and dark, none of which exactly jived with the mindset of a surgeon-doc what liked his edges clean and neat. When things were smooth-like, he tended to relax a little, talk like normal folk. But when something was gnawin' at him, something like what those hwoon dan done to River...well, Dr. Tam tended to take over then. Course now that she was Mrs. Tam, things was gonna go a little different....
Kaylee waited in their bunk, sat cross-legged on the bed. She was feelin' a little discomforted, what with this thing she was plannin'. Had to be some commandment 'gainst wives ambushin' their husbands. Still, Kaylee wasn't gonna let things get bad like last time.
"Kaylee. Hello." He bent to kiss the top of her head. "I didn't expect to find you here; you startled me." That there: the formal.
"Sorry. You just seen to River?"
"Uh huh." Simon unbuttoned his shirt, set it neatly in the laundry bin.
"How is she?
"The swelling on her face seems to be going down. Her leg should
heal most rapidly, meaning she'll need physical therapy--"
"No. How *is* she?"
Simon trailed off, missing something.
"How 'bout you?" she pressed. "How you doin'?"
"How am *I* feeling?" He looked baffled. "I-I'm fine."
"Really? River's lyin' in that infirmary bed beat half to death and you're just fine?" She took a breath, forced herself to keep goin'. Forced herself to hurt him. "Not upset or nothin'?"
"Of course I'm upset; she's my sister." Simon raked a hand through his hair, wandered toward the narrow closet they shared.
"So you're upset. Frustrated?"
"Yes." He stared at the row of hangers, Kaylee's spare coveralls, a
pink shirt that left her belly bare.
"Are you mad?"
"Yes." His own shirts, a few more pair of pants: there wasn't much.
"Wish there was somethin' you could do 'bout it?"
Kaylee rose from the bed and crossed the room. She stood before him, hands on his shoulders.
“Then say so,” she murmured softly.
“What do you want me to say, Kaylee? Hmm? Would you prefer if I acted like Mal? Do you want me to shout and…and smash things?”
“Well, that’d be a start. Then you could get real crazy and tell me how you’re feelin’.”
“I—Kaylee--” He sank down on the bed, suddenly exhausted.
“Don’t hold nothin’ back, I can take it.” She sat beside him, rubbed lightly at his back. “Tell me what they did to her, Simon. Tell me what them hwoon dan did to your sister.”
For a moment, he just stared at her.
“They broke her arm, her leg…three ribs and her pretty nose. They harvested her—” His voice cracked, and he stopped, tried to catch his breath. “They took and took, took until there wasn’t…until she was….” His eyes were glazed, his voice hollow. “She’s so empty. That light inside her…it’s as if they stole that too. Dammit, Kaylee! I should have been there. I’m her brother, and she’s so very young, Kaylee. Don’t you see? I was supposed to protect her!”
“Shh. Simon, no.” She lowered his head to her lap, stroked her hand over his hair. “I was there, honey. I saw. Wouldn’t o’ made no difference, you bein’ there. Them three was like nothin’ I ever seen. Better ‘n the cap’n. Better ‘n Zoe or Jayne. All you coulda done was watched. And, knowin’ River, I’m pretty sure she’s glad you didn’t…see that, I mean. She loves you so much. So much love betwixt you two….”
“That’s all I can do now. Watch. I can heal her body, mend her broken bones. But they broke her on the inside. And I can’t do a rutting thing to help.”
She just smoothed his hair, rubbed gently at the scalp while he cried silently into her lap. Get it out, honey. Get it all out so you can fix River good and fast. You mend her body, we’ll all of us try to soothe her soul.
“She’s strong, your sister...my sister-in-law. You just keep rememberin’ that.”
She bowed forward to kiss his temple, and he cupped her cheek in his palm.
“Kaylee, you’re…I don’t know what I’d do if—”
“Don’t even say it. I’m yours. I’m yours and I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
The girl slept. At last. Simon would be relieved.
Inara closed the door quietly so as not to disturb her. She took a seat by the exam table, folded her hands in her lap. Beneath her swollen lids, River’s eyes moved, shifting to the rhythm of her dream.
*I’m sorry, sweetheart, poor, dear girl.*
Grown, she couldn’t heft the burden River carried. To play with a girl’s memory, her very self. To take possession of her, body and psyche: the fear of going insane would have driven Inara there. Fear could infiltrate every nook and corner, petrify, paralyze. Fear of living and of dying, fear of surviving as something other than one’s self. The loss of control—it was her most profound source of dread. She’d prefer death to such a loss.
Inara glanced up, blinking in surprise.
“River. What have you to be sorry for, honey?”
“So sad. Can’t fool her.” River stretched up a hand, ignoring the pull of the IV. “He’d rather it be yours. Wants a child but not like this. Not by her.”
“Not a baby. Abomination.”
“You don’t believe that. I know Mal doesn’t….”
“He wanted to watch it grow inside you, watch you swell….”
“Be better off dead.” Her eyes closed, tears welling at the corners.
“No. You mustn’t say that. Simon couldn’t bear it if something…none of us could, honey. We all love you, sweetheart, even if some of us haven’t the words….”
River smiled sadly.
“Not me. Baby.”
“Abomination. Lab rat. Better dead than theirs!” Her voice rose at the end, face contorting. “Can’t ever tell the others. Others won’t understand. Unnatural to want to kill what’s yours….Oh, God, I’m terrible.”
“Shh.” Inara stroked damp hair back from the girl’s tear-streaked cheeks. “It’s alright, meimei. You’re a mother against her will, a mother who’s lost all choice, all control. Any mother would understand what you’re feeling, your desire to protect your child against harm—”
“Don’t you see? Only way to save is to destroy.”
Inara watched River’s face crumble again, her eyes twin leaking saucers in the light of the lamps.
She’d brushed by him after the evening meal, squeezed his shoulder as he washed dishes and whispered for him to visit her later. He stared into the bubbles, somewhat conflicted. Oh, he wanted her: weren’t no question ‘bout that. And strange as it was admitting it, he didn’t much like sleepin’ by his lonesome no more. Not when there was another offer: a warm, snuggly offer with hair a man could get lost in, hands to drive him mad.
Lately, he found that he liked talkin’ with her at day’s end, remarking on its events, foretellin’ what the next might hold. He enjoyed the fightin’ and the teasin’ and the kissin’ her breathless. He took pleasure from puttin’ that look in her eyes, the one that sparked up when he did something soft or sweet: tugging her still-shivery form atop his after their lovemakin’, unfolding her hand to press a kiss in the center of her palm. Most times, she looked so surprised it damn near broke his heart.
To be truthsome, this was new for him as well. With Cora it was frantic fumbling, speedy couplings in the woods, his mama’s barn. Neither of ‘em knew a good gorramn what they was doin’; in fairness, neither cared. The act itself was the draw, the nakedness, the pleasure, best of all the sin. The snuck about like, well, kids. Forbidden fruit, and wo de ma, did it taste sweet.
After the war, fruit supplies dwindled. He and Zoe both felt the yearnin’ for comfort, the need to be held and touched, made to feel alive after all that death. They each took to bed with strangers, pretended after like it never happened. ‘Haps it was different for her, though somehow he doubted it, but Mal made love the same way he made war: with a steady, mindless devotion. Those first few years, he approached it as he would any other job. He’d see to it that the woman was pleasured; then he’d tried to lose himself. He tried over and over.
Mayella wrenched up those plans, of course. She dragged him to bars and dance halls, obliged him to laugh, mock his own gravity. She fed him homemade cheesecake and cheap wine and let him collapse on her breast each night. He called on her once and again, when Serenity was flyin’ near her world. She was a good girl and knew from the start what he wasn’t.
He weren’t the sort was in it for the long haul. In point of fact, he hadn’t the strength to haul it. So, for the life of him, he couldn’t figure how he had a girlfriend, or was nine months away from bein’ somebody’s daddy. Of course, this all mighta gone smoother had the girlfriend part and the baby part been somewhat more intertwined. But then, Malcom Reynolds was no stranger to things not goin’ smooth. Still, he had the twitchily-desperate desire for this particular part of his life to run smoother than the rest. Problem was he hadn’t the faintest notion o’ how to handle himself. His utter cluelessness, combined with sexual deprivation and an embarrassing want to cuddle had him knocking at her door.
“Feedin’ the baby, Sir. Still wanna come down?”
“Contrary to popular opinion, I’m a man grown, Zoe.”
“So you gonna wait up there?”
“Seems I am,” he admitted, leaning against the wall.
She called him down a few minutes later.
“You are gettin' entirely too mouthy of late,” he observed, taking a seat on the bed. “Gonna hand over my niece?”
“She’s been spitting up some.”
“Oh, I’ve had women do worse.” He took the sleepy-eyed chick to his shoulder, hugged her warm body to his. “All babies good as this one?”
“Don’t know, Sir.” She hid a smile. “Just have the one.”
“Yeah, but…you’re a woman. Should know about…womanly things. Right?”
Zoe appraised him through narrowed eyes.
“You got somethin’ on your mind, Captain?”
“More like a whole bunch o’ blanks,” he muttered.
“Can you, uh, not look at me when I say this?”
“You want me to turn around?”
“Would be a kindness,” he admitted.
She had to bite down hard on the inside of her cheek. Deliberately, she turned to face the wall.
“That better, Sir?”
“Suppose we’ll see.” Raven reached around his neck, grasped a handful of his hair in a tiny fist. He woulda laughed, ‘cept the chick had a good grip and it kinda hurt. Gently, he detached her hand. “Zoe, you, uh…you remember all that stuff I said ‘bout shipboard romances bein’ a bad idea?”
“Does sound vaguely familiar, Sir.”
“Maybe you noticed I didn’t exactly heed my own wisdom in that arena.”
“Have heard the occasional rumor.” Zoe sighed, turned to face him. “You and Inara had a fight, I take it. This about River’s baby?”
“Not rightly sure. I know it was a mite shocking at first—hell, still is near a week later.”
“She takin’ it pretty bad, Sir?”
“That ain’t it. Or, not just that. I don’t know, just seems to me it’s a mite more complicated than that.”
“Always is, Sir. You gonna tell me what happened or do I start guessing?”
He considered ordering her to turn around again, realized it wouldn’t help.
“Other night…she and I was….” He raised a brow pointedly, waited for Zoe’s nod of recognition. “Anyhow, once I was…that’s when she….” He shrugged. “Said after it was a panic attack, that she had ‘em now and again.” There was a reason he went to Zoe for these things. No one else could to decipher his inchoate manner o’ storytelling.
“Any idea what brought it on, Sir?”
“Could hazard a guess.”
“Sir, sure it wasn’t you.”
“Well, that’s good o’ you to say. But seein’ as I was the only other one in the room…At any rate, Inara ain’t exactly eager to talk on it. Rather pretend like nothin’ happened.”
“Have the two of you made love since that night, Sir?”
He lowered his face to the baby’s neck, hoping her mama wouldn’t see his face change color. Oh, Dear God, he had to get better at this stuff…if for no other reason than he couldn’t bear askin’ Zoe for advice every day.
“Not exactly,” he admitted.
“Not exactly,” she repeated. “Have you, ahem, tried?”
“Well, we slept together in her bed last few nights…just, you know, sleeping….” He shrugged. “Been turnin’ in kinda late past few days…feelin’ all manner o’ tired.”
“No need for explainin’, Sir. I was married, remember?”
He raised a brow.
“So you and Wash had…off periods?”
“Had an off month ‘fore he shaved off that bun mustache. Always got good again though.”
“You made him go a month?! Mother of….” He stopped, realizing they were getting just a mite off track. “It’s not that I don’t wanna…have intimacies. I surely do. It’s just….”
His smile was sheepish.
“Why’s I always have such a hard time admitting that?”
“Oh, reckon ‘cause it’s different this time. Different ‘cause you love her.”
He stood up, jolting the chick who whimpered, settled her head back on his shoulder with a yawn.
“Hold on, Zoe.” He patted the baby’s back to soothe her. “I—I didn’t ever say that.”
“Might come a day when you wish you had.” She took her sleeping daughter from his arms over his murmur of protest, settled her in her cradle. “Gonna be okay, Sir. Just take it slow with Inara. Listen if she feels like talkin’. Don’t treat her like she’s glass, but let her know she’s precious. Do something makes her feel good.” She smiled. “You need suggestions on that measure, Sir?”
“See what I’m talkin’ ‘bout with the mouth?”
He caught a whiff of it comin’ down the ladder: vanilla. Weren’t your mama’s sugar-cookie vanilla neither. This was different, spicier. It made his nose tingle, aroused a desire he couldn’t name. She was lighting the last one as he descended, her figure clad in scarlet satin that skimmed her knees, dipped long between her breasts.
“I’m pretty sure candles are contraband, cupcake.”
“Then it’s lucky I’m sleeping with the captain.” Her eyes twinkled in the flickering lights. “Just relax, Mal. And also, take off your pants.”
He crinkled his forehead.
“No. No, that just sounded oddly familiar-like.”
She smiled, started unbuttoning his shirt.
“I lose a game o’ strip poker I don’t recall playin’?”
“I’m pampering you. Pretend to enjoy yourself.”
“Ohhh. Wellll. How come?”
She led him to the bed in his undershorts, gave him a light shove so he’d sit.
“I know this week must not have been easy for you, Mal. And I’m sure my behavior the other night was upsetting, to say the least. I meant it when I said I’d make it up to you.”
“And this is...with the up-making?”
She smiled again.
“Lie on your belly.”
“Inara.” He caught her wrist, rubbed his thumb lightly over the pulse point. “We okay?”
“Close your eyes. Oil or lotion?”
“Depends...where’s it goin’?”
“On that note, perhaps we’ll skip the sensual massage. I’m fairly certain you couldn’t lie still for the requisite thirty minutes--”
“Quit your whining, woman.” He grinned at the fury in her eyes, then winced when she slapped his shoulder none-too-lightly. He pointed to the oil, murmuring something about pretty little kittens with claws.
He was feeling all manner o’ awkward nowbouts. Surely lyin’ here gettin’ rubbed down with smelly stuff weren’t followin’ Zoe’s expert advice. He reached up to tug at the strap of her nighty thing but she just shook her head playfully. He watched, a bit anxiously, as she poured oil in her palm, patted her hands together. Then she was massaging something hot and musky into his shoulders. And he didn’t have a whole lot of thoughts.
“Do you like this?” she asked close to his ear.
He made some sounds that weren’t human speech, and she took them as a yes. She followed his groans like a map, lingering in the tight spots, letting his pains and pleasures dictate her direction.
“How’sit all warm?” he slurred into the pillow.
“Magic,” she answered, amused. “Or maybe wiles.”
She moved her hands lower, kneading with the base of her palm. This role fit her as smoothly as a favored silk gown, easy as the oil over Mal’s back. Like a priest accustomed to the pulpit, she took to her task, her hands eloquent as a sermon. Like an ancient prostitute made famous from her ointments, Inara caressed him into repose, then used her nimble fingers to stroke him up to arousal.
“Turn on your back,” she instructed, her tone just the proper balance of firmness and flirtation, purity and promise.
Sleepy and stimulated, he obeyed. She smiled down at him like a virgin sacrifice, her hair a cloud of midnight, one skinny strap dangling down her shoulder. Knowledge and innocence all bound up in a devastating beauty. He reached for her, but she stilled his hand, warmed hers with more of the oil. Lost, he let her hold his gaze as those slender, skillful hands spread over his chest, ventured purposely down his belly. At his waistband, she hesitated, fingers stilling.
“Don’t you think you’d be more comfortable without those?”
“Dunno ‘bout comfortable. Interesting, surely.” But he lifted his hips, let her drag down the cotton of his undershorts.
“Close your eyes, Mal. Let the sensations carry you.”
*Where my goin’?* he wanted to know, but was wise enough not to ask. He found out the instant her hand locked around him, already hard from the massage. She stroked his length with the oil, alternating feather-light brushes with a firm squeezing motion that nearly ended him.
He opened his eyes, searching hers for signs of panic. But her smile was effortless, her fingers fluid. He reached up to cup her face, and she leaned into his palm, eyes flickering closed. He traced her lips with the pad of his thumb, moaning a little when they parted, took his fingers into her mouth and sucked.
“Ai ya, I want you, Inara. I wanna make love to you.”
She lowered herself into his arms, her hair spilling forward over his face, lashes tickling his cheek as he explored her mouth with his tongue.
After, it was long minutes before he came back to himself. Curled beside him, she balanced on one elbow, head in hand. Her fingers stroked over his chest, lips poised in a warm, sleepy smile as she regarded him.
“Mornin’, “ he said, though it couldn’t have been midnight.
“Good morning.” Amused, she brushed his lips with hers. “Are you alright?”
“Not rightly sure,” he admitted. “Ask me again whence my heart stops poundin’. I’m an old man, ya know.”
“Not from my perspective,” she assured.
“How ‘bout you?” He stroked her hair, sex-tousled and wild after their encounter. “You shiny, Nara? For honest?”
“Don’t I look shiny?” Her eyes sparkled.
“That you do,” he agreed. “I gotta check on a couple captainy matters...if only I could feel my own legs nowabouts.”
“Think you can cope without me for an hour?”
“I’ll feel very used.” She yawned, snuggled more deeply into the sheets.
“Wench.” He kissed her neck in a way that made her shiver, finished off with a light hug that had her crumbling. “One hour. Don’t start without me now.”
She waited till he was gone before sitting up, wrapping herself in a robe. Carefully, she assembled materials for a sponge bath, filling a basin with warm, lavender-scented water. A ritual as ancient, as salient, as the tea ceremony, handed down from one companion to the next, taught along with human psychology and the karma sutra. Cleansing. Renewal. She opened the robe to the waist, dragged the loofah along her skin as she had so many times before. She didn’t feel cleansed and renewed. She felt filthy. She soaked the loofa again and bathed her neck and shoulders. She couldn’t rinse away the guilt with sweet-smelling water, and its pervading ache filled her, wrenched right to the bone.
“Nara?” The noise of boots on rungs. “Think I mighta left my stylin’ suspend--hey.” He took in the scene, baffled. “What’s all this?”
“Nothing.” She set her lips in a smile, closed her robe. “I just felt like a bath. You know how oil clogs the--”
“Don’t lie to me.” He shook his head slowly. “This--this is a companion thing, if recollection serves.” He could recall Kaylee commenting on the post-coital bathing ritual in some awed diatribe on the oohs and ahhs of companiony-culture. Once he’d had the dubious fortune of walking into Inara’s shuttle just after she’d bid a client farewell. He’d muttered something witty and cruel, left quickly with his flesh aflame. Now she was the one to blush.
“Really, Mal, you mustn’t--”
“Oh, I mustn’t. Tell met he truth. You play me just now?”
“Mal, I--” She lowered her gaze, wordless.
“Oh, this is just...You treated me like a ruttin’ client, Inara! Just closed off any part o’ you capable of actual feeling and let me make love to...to...to an illusion! You’re good, sweetheart, I’ll give you that. Hell, I didn’t even notice I was screwin’ someone else! What gives the right, gorrammit? Don’t you think if I’d wanted a whore, I woulda hired one? ”
Her eyes widened, and she spun on her heel, starting for the ladder.
“Hey.” Groaning, he caught her wrist. “Weren’t no call for that. I didn’t mean--Ye su, I didn’t mean that. Ai ya!” He released her, raked a hand through his hair. “Last thing I want’s to hurt you. Why’s it always end up that way?”
“It’s alright.” She sighed. “You’re hurting, Mal; I understand that. And now you feel violated.”
“I--never mind about that. Don’t much wanna talk on that hospital stay just now.”
“I--I meant by me, Mal. You feel that I took advantage.”
He raised a brow.
“Bao bei, you go ahead and take advantage any time you feel the notion. One condition: it best be you doin’ the takin’. I know I ain’t schooled fancy but I do take pride in pleasurin’ you, darlin’. Can’t bear the thought o’ those sighs and shudders bein’ pretend, dong ma?”
“I shouldn’t have done what I did...I only wanted. Go suh! When you touch me, Mal…it’s like I lose control of myself, both body and mind. All those sensations and emotions: its overwhelming. And it…it frightens me. The things I feel when we make love...I’ve never felt them before.”
He smiled a little.
“Say more stuff like that.”
She smiled back.
“There’s something I want to tell you. It may make you uncomfortable.”
“Darlin’, we’re havin’ a relationship talk. I’m already there and back.”
Zoe returned from the kitchen with the bottle, found him standing over the cradle in the common room.
Her expression was indignant, hands posed on either hip.
“She has the look of you.” She brushed past him without a word, bent to lift the child. “Still, there’s something of her father, perhaps around the mouth.”
“Don’t believe you ever met her daddy.”
“I never did. But I’m reasonably familiar with your mouth, and that ain’t it.”
“ ‘Ain’t’,” she remarked, ignoring the implication. “Next you’ll be thieving and pulling scavenge jobs.”
“I’m just trying to fit in here. You aren’t the easiest bunch, you know.”
“You don’t say.” She settled on the sofa, poked the nipple of the bottle into the baby’s mouth.
“Maybe you could, you know, counsel me.”
“Kinda therapy you need, Gideon, would take a professional. Or maybehaps a preacher.”
He rolled his eyes.
“I didn’t mean psychotherapy. Just…advice.”
She smiled wryly.
“Oh, yeah. This is a good day.”
She gave a long-suffering sigh.
“You got somethin’ to say, say it.”
“Right. Mal. Captain Reynolds. You’ve known him a long time.”
“Too long to be handin’ pieces of him over to you on a platter.”
“I’m not asking for a bio, Zoe.”
“What exactly is it you’re after, Gideon?”
“A moment of his time.”
“Captain ain’t exactly holdin’ court just now. Man’s got a lot on his mind.” Her eyes narrowed. “Seems you do as well. Don’t suppose there’s much chance of the Alliance taking you back after what went down at that hospital. Pretty soon you’ll have to state your loyalties.”
“Do you really doubt them, Zoe?”
She lowered her gaze to Raven, sucking steadily at the milk.
“Best you stay outta his path a few days, give the captain time to cool down. Wouldn’t hurt for you to find a job on the ship. Help Kaylee out in the engine room or some such, show the captain you’re not thoroughly useless. You might do well approachin’ him on the bridge, after dinner when things are quiet-like.”
Gideon nodded, reached out a tentative hand and touched a finger to the child’s arm.
“You’re radiant, you know. I’ve seen you without your clothes, and…wow. But watching you here, feeding your daughter—you’re exquisite, Zoe.”
She just laughed.
“Panic attacks tend to stem from feelings of chaos, a sense of control being lost. As Companion, I almost always felt in control of my situation and emotions.” In a way, her former life offered a great deal of stability, an internal order. Ritual and repetition. Each appointment began with the traditional tea ceremony and ended with the loofa. In between, she would see to the client’s needs, both the physical and the psychological. It was soothing, simple even. She never felt lost in the woods. “When I was with a client, I always knew what was expected of me, Mal. A life without love, without children…I believed my fate rested entirely in my hands. But fate’s too grand, too far-reaching to fit into your palm. It’s impossible to map one’s own destiny. Those pesky complications….”
“Do know a thing or two ‘bout them....So the other girls? They messed with your meds....”
“Perhaps. Or maybe it was just a fluke; after all, accidents do happen.”
“That ain’t your take though.”
“She switched your prescription. Bu hui hen de po fu--”
“We can’t know that for certain. But, yes, I think it’s likely.”
“Why? I don’t get it.”
“Dominique was my mentor, Mal. My teacher. I told you she had certain feelings for me...complicated feelings. And by then, Trevor and I had grown very close.” She searched Mal’s face for signs of discomfort with the turn of conversation. He wasn’t exactly enjoying himself, but neither was he reaching for his gun. She supposed that was progress. “I think she may have done something like this to ensure my...continued dependence. She wished to bind me to her. I suspect she pushed me toward her brother with the same intentions, though the bond Trevor and I shared made her jealous in the end.”
“That’s one twisted jian huo.”
“I imagine she was sad. Lonely. Often a companion’s life can be that.”
“So you miscarried....” His tongue tripped on the word but he got it out. “Elsewise...elsewise would you have kept it?”
“Trevor wanted me to have her.”
“Her?” he repeated dully.
“He said he’d take care of us both.” She smiled sadly. “In a way, he was young as I. Hopeful.”
“How ‘bout you?” He reached for her hand, changed his mind and let his fall to the bed. She smiled, linked their fingers.
“I was nineteen. I felt like my life was crumbling. To put it simply, I panicked.” She recalled the hysteria, paralyzing fear that came wave upon wave until, physically and emotionally exhausted, she fell into fitful sleep each night. “I couldn’t bear the loss of control. My body, my career--it was all slipping through my fingers, and fast. So I named her. And then I agreed to kill her.”
“Hey.” Mal cupped her cheek. “You was just a kid yourself and bein’ played by those in deserve of horse whipping.”
“I was River’s age, or nearly.”
“ ‘Bout that...what they done to her…’spect that stirs up some memories of a personal sort.”
“I suppose it does.”
“We can go slow with the, uh, physical part. Ain’t no need to rush.” He followed her gaze to his lap. “Not much need anyhow.”
She smiled, cupped his cheek in her hand before letting it fall away.
“There’s something else, Mal. The miscarriage...my body caused it. They said after I might never be able to have a child....I should have told you this before.”
“Hey, now. Listen to me. That don’t matter to me none, dong ma?”
“I know you want children, Mal.”
“Inara...what I want is you.”
She looked at her hands, trying for his sake not to cry.
“Marina,” she said after a few seconds of silence.
He raised a brow.
“That’s what I would have called her.”
“Well, that’s a real pretty name.”
It still hurt.
He could never anticipate the gut-punch, felt it each time, hard as the first. Limbs cast, her pretty face mangled….
Simon didn’t believe in God but was rutting close to hating Him.
“May I sit with you, River?”
“Not feeling especially loquacious.”
“That’s alright. Actually, I—I want to do most of the talking.”
“I may fall asleep.”
“I’ll try not to take it personally. Six years. Do you know what that number represents?”
“Six years. Phrase. Six is an adjective, years a noun. Plural noun. Six modifies years.”
“Exactly.” He shook his head. “I’m six years older than you, and still you do everything first. You were the first to read Lolita—”
She murmured something under her breath.
“What was that?”
“In Russian,” he agreed. “You mastered calculus before I, deciphered the code for Father’s liquor cabinet—though the last in light of recent psychic revelations is *slightly* less impressive. Guay, you even kissed a boy first. I believe you were nine.”
“Kissed a girl first, too.” She smiled vaguely.
“When did you kiss a—?” He groaned. “You know what I meant—brat. And now, I’m twenty-five years old. I’m married. I’m married to a space mechanic. I’m a fugitive, married to a space-mechanic, and living on a spaceship. Between us, I genuinely believed I had the better shot of giving Father a coronary. I even dreamed about it, arriving on their doorstep, perhaps during the gala for summer solstice. By then I’d have a couple kids, name one Serenity and the other…Dragon maybe. ‘This is my son, Dragon. Say hello to Grandma, Dragon.’ And of course you were there: brilliant, quirky Aunt River. But hands down, I had you beat in the categories of disgracing one’s self and defiling the fine Tam name. It was a sweeping win, a noble achievement after years of being overshadowed by my beautiful, brainy little sis. And now I find myself handing over the crown. Yet again, the award goes to the talented River Tam, who at the ripe young age of nineteen gives our parents their first grandchild, not just any grandchild, mind you, but one fathered by the infuriating renegade-pirate-thief Malcom Reynolds, scourge of the Allied governments and a man whom mom and dad already loathe and abhor. In truth, River, I don’t know why I even try.”
She blinked at him, stunned, and he wondered whether he’d gone too far. Then a faint smile lifted her lips.
“Inappropriate use of humor.”
“Well, you were always the funny one, too.”
She traced the outline of his nose and mouth with her index finger.
“I think you’re funny, Simon.”
“Yes. Yes, I’m quite the comedienne.”
He lowered his head to her pillow, stroked her hair with one hand.
“I won’t always say the right thing, meimei.”
She met his gaze, arched her brow in a gesture reminiscent of the old Earth-that-Was expression: duh. Not for the first time, he thought that she’d have made a fine actress.
“Shocking, I know. But then you’ve only seen me at my witty and articulate best….I—I’m trying, River. All our lives, I’ve been six years older. All our lives, I’ve been struggling to keep up.”
For several seconds, there was silence save the sound of their breathing.
“I like the name Dragon.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
The carpet was a thick, plush periwinkle. Through open-toed sandals, Rebecca felt the soft stalks tickle the sides of her feet. She shivered a little from the climate control, rubbed briskly at her bare arms. She’d worn her favorite sun dress for the occasion: a spring green that exactly matched her eyes. In three months, she hoped it wouldn’t fit.
A brisk knock sounded at the door. She and Rex stood to greet him in whose office they waited.
“How are you, Rex?” The doctor clasped his hand firmly.
“Oh, I’m alright, Matty.”
“Good to see you again, friend. And how are you feeling, Rebecca? Or should I say, ‘Mommy’?”
“I suppose that’s up to you, Matt.” She laughed, smoothed a hand self-consciously over her cap of auburn hair.
Her voice was breathless, aching with hope. Rex laid a hand on the small of her back, rubbed an easy circle with his knuckles.
“We’ll know soon enough.” Matt winced after he’d said it; for Rebecca, it could never be soon enough. “My tests indicate we’ll be set for implantation early next week.”
He was rewarded with a smile that cut high on her cheeks.
“Is there anything I should do? Or not do?”
“You just take it easy for a few days, dong ma? Doctor’s orders.”
“Hey, Matty, how’s that old boat o’ yours. That hunk of go suh still flyin’?”
“Rex, language,” Rebecca chided. She glanced down, noticed she’d forgotten her cardigan. It was no wonder she’d felt a chill before. “Honey? I’m so silly, I left my cardigan in the other room.”
“Want me to get it for you, Beck?”
“No, no. You boys talk ships. I’ll find my way.”
She wandered back to the room where they’d examined her, strapped her into stirrups to see if her womb would prove suitable housing for precious cargo. But the indignity meant nothing when compared to the reward. Two potential prodigies, waiting dormant in a petri dish. In a mere nine months, she could hold one in her arms. Or two. Was it selfish to wish for both? Nine short months. An eternity and yet she’d already waited so long. She’d be thirty-five her next birthday, Rex forty-six. That made eight years of trying. Eight years of failing. But this time would be different--she could feel as much.
She found her sweater where she left it, folded neatly on a chair in the corner. She slipped her arms through the sleeves, hesitated with her fingers on the doorknob. She blew on her bangs, vision narrowing in on the file lying open atop the counter. They’d told her almost nothing of the biological parents. She knew that they were brilliant and gifted, wholly devoted to the Alliance and eager to see their offspring raised by a loving family. Their dream was that their children be reared to help the government in which they believed so strongly. Rex intimated that both were wanted by the Independents, that their lives might be in danger should they stay.
“I don’t understand,” she’d murmured, frowning. “A couple wants to give us their embryos?”
“Are you happy, Becca? If not, say the word.”
“I--I can’t believe it. Our babies.” She shook her head, disbelieving.
“Of course, the Alliance would see to their education. These aren’t just ordinary children, Beck. Bright doesn’t begin to describe them.”
“But...they’d be ours? They’d live with us?”
“Yes, yes. Maybe some overnight camps and the like when they’re a few years older. And by the time they’re teenagers, I’m sure we’ll appreciate the reprieve. But, hell, that’s ages away.”
“Language, Rex,” she murmured.
“Sorry...what do you think, Beck? Do I look too decrepit to be somebody’s old man?”
She’s just smiled and flung her arms around his neck.
“I love you, Rex Gray.”
In the small room at the clinic, Rebecca Gray pushed a piecey bit of hair behind her ear, bent over the file. There was one thing she longed to know; it didn’t take her long to learn.
“River.” She tried the word out with her tongue. “So that’s your name. I’m going to take good care of your children, River; that’s a promise.”
On the ride home, Rebecca dozed. She smiled in her sleep, a lilting curve of the lips that indicated she was at peace. Often it proved true that one decision shaped the course of a life. One encounter, one wrong turn. Rex rested his arm along the back of her chair, let his mind stray back to old memories.
It began just weeks ago: two old men shaping the fate of worlds in their swimsuits.
Matty settled his damp, lanky body back against the lounge chair, shook his hair, scattering water droplets. In the distance, twin moons hovered over the horizon, pale against the robin’s egg sky.
“Cigar, Rex?” He flipped the lid on an intricate mahogany box, offered it to the man sprawled on his stomach beside him.
“Help yourself, Sir.” Matty grinned, passed Rex a flamer.
“Ah, that’s good, Matty,” Rex said on a sigh. Through the smoke haze, he watched Rebecca swim in the sunken pool, her long, lithe body stroking through the blue-green ripples. She emerged in the shallow end, the morning star gleaming off the gold streaks in her hair. She raised her face to the sky, blinking against the bright.
“They’ll be serving lunch in a bit. Rex, I know I promised you the weekend, so you’ll have to forgive my boorishness. But they’re banging down my door, man.”
“I want this for you and Becca.” Matty held a hand to his temple, squinted across the patio. “Water warm enough, honey?” he called.
Rebecca smiled, lifted her hand to wave.
“I met the Tam girl, Matty. And she’s everything they say. But Reynolds? The man’s so shattered…all the king’s horses, if you know what I mean.”
“I’ll agree he’s unpredictable. But broken? Come now, Rex. Broken men don’t single-handedly strive to take down totalitarian regimes. The Alliance recovered well, remarkably so considering what could have transpired. Still, the Miranda recording had the potential to cripple your government.”
“Your government too, Matty,” Rex said lightly.
“Oh, sure, sure. But I’m a scientist, Rex. Politics is your world.”
“My world.” Rex snorted. “Some days I’m not sure.”
“These kids, Rex. They’re gonna be something else. Reynolds may be battered, but he’s a born leader, a visionary. It took Hell to destroy him. It took Serenity. And of course, you know who his father was....”
“Hmm,” Rex murmured. “Two embryos?”
“Two, impeccably engineered embryos, representing mommy and daddy at their best. Physical prowess and cunning intellect. The power and presence of a born leader. Resourcefulness, charisma. Girl’s a beauty, too.”
“And we’ll have ten years with them? Uninterrupted?”
“Socialization in Core society is important to the higher ups. Of course, BSB will require regular medical examination, some say in their schooling.”
“And after that? I won’t have children of mine sent off after those gorramn cannibals.”
“Rex, be reasonable. In ten years time, the Reavers will be all but exterminated. Those the hunters don’t get will succumb to the radiation sickness--you know they fly without Core Containment. Telemachus 01 and 02 will be leaders, brilliant political minds. You have the chance at shaping the very future of the Alliance…to rear its future from the breast.”
“The Tam girl…what they did drove her mad.”
“It’s different this time, Rex. I promise you that.”
Rebecca wandered over, towel wrapped about her waist. Rex sat up, patted the space between his legs for her to sit.
“Are you boys talking business?” she chided. “And on such a lovely morning.”
Rex wound a protective arm around her torso, squeezed her to his chest.
“You’re right, Becca,” Matty agreed. “How absolutely boorish of us. Come, you two: its looks like Nell’s served our lunch.
He told Rebecca that night, an edited version of the offer Matty made. She could sense the gaps, holes in the plot. Of course she suspected: his wife was no fool. She was wise enough not to question…desperate enough.
A week later it was done. God help us, he pleaded. Somehow, he doubted even God could help him now.
TBC in Part 18. Feedback gets a girl writing~
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