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Chapter posted Jan. 25, 2007
Simon looked up from his light-slate as River approached him. He smiled absently at his sister, a distance in his eyes that had been there ever since Mal told the crew where they were going, and there were unaccountable creases in the vest he wore. A bad sign, that; boy'd put his Core clothes away months ago in favor of blending in with his adopted world, and seldom took them back out of storage less'n he felt the need for a reminder of where it was he'd come from.
Mal cleared his throat, stepping up behind River, and Simon's gaze flashed to the Captain's face. A little more awareness came into the doc's expression, and he swallowed, setting the light-slate on the table in front of him. "Mal?" he asked, hesitantly. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Mal said, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared down at the younger man. "Just a few things I'd like to clear up."
"What-- what things?" Simon asked, brow wrinkling as he considered Mal's words. He glanced back at River again, clearly under the impression she'd had something to do with it; she returned the look with a half-amused, half-disdainful smirk, and he refocused on Mal with a startled look to him.
Mal shook his head. "I was under the impression we done had this conversation already," he said gently, "but maybe I was mistaken. Or maybe you ain't noticed our Kaylee wanderin' around without a smile to her this mornin'?"
Simon glanced toward the corridor that led to the engine room, eyes wide, shifting uncomfortable-like in his seat. "I, um. I suppose I've had a lot on my mind today," he said slowly. "I hadn't meant to upset her."
Of course he hadn't; boy probably hadn't been thinking 'bout much of anything beyond himself and his sister, if what River'd told Mal had been a true picture of what was rattling around that brain of his. And no reason it wouldn't be; only made sense he'd slip back into long habit first sign of a threat. That behavior had seen he and River through tribulations as would have felled lesser folk. Still, it weren't exactly the most practical response here. Not if'n he planned on staying aboard as part of the crew.
"You plannin' on leavin' her behind, then, after all?" Mal prodded him. "Goin' back to your folks and your fancy job at the hospital?"
Simon swallowed at that. "I-- no! Of course not!" he objected. "I never would-- She can't think that I'd--" He half-rose from his chair, staring off down the corridor again, then sat back down at the flutter of River's pale hand on his arm. "No, I suppose she would," he continued glumly. "And I can't say, truthfully, that the temptation isn't there; life was much easier under my father's roof, before River went to the Academy, and Father's money could buy much better treatments for her now than I can provide."
He swallowed, staring up at Mal again. "But I've learned too much, seen too much since I left Osiris, to ever believe that I could go back to the hospital, take up my residency again and wave the flag of the Alliance as though nothing had ever happened," he said, intently. "And I'd be a fool if I thought Parliament didn't already have other plans to gain control of my sister. I won't put her within their reach if I can help it, nor myself in their hands as a hostage against her."
Mal nodded at him thoughtfully. Mayhap he'd been underestimating the doc, after all. But that still didn't account for the boy's behavior. "Then what's the problem?" he asked.
Simon grimaced. "It's just that with the way things were when I left... I'm not sure what Father's reaction will be to seeing me again. Even if he agrees now that saving River was the right thing to do-- and that's by no means certain-- I know he'll want me to come home and resume my life the way it was before. I don't know how to tell him that I'm already home, and that I don't intend ever to go back. And as for Mother--" He trailed off, staring down at his clasped hands. "It would be one thing, if River and I were still fugitives. Now that we could go back and won't... it's going to break her heart."
"Can't be helped," River said matter-of-factly, settling slowly into the seat next to Simon and laying her head on his shoulder. Simon settled an arm around her with the ease of familiarity, and rested his cheek against the crown of her head as she continued.
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, Simon; you won't ever be her little boy again."
"Speakin' of cleaving," Mal put in, one more question lingering in his mind. "Why is it you're tellin' all this to me and not my mechanic?"
The pinched expression on Simon's face as he looked back up at Mal was answer enough.
"Didn't want her to worry none, I take it," Mal continued solemnly, before Simon could come up with a more polite way of putting it. "Since there ain't no chance your parents are goin' to approve of her, no matter whether they welcome you back or not."
Simon's lips thinned and he sat up straighter, the guilt in him hardening visibly into resolve. "I told you," he said firmly. "As long as she wants me, I'm hers. It doesn't matter whether my parents approve of her or not, or what they say to me when I see them. I just--" He sighed, and some of the fierceness in him faded. "You're right. I didn't want to upset her."
"Well that's just dumb!" Kaylee's voice rang out suddenly, from the direction of the engine room. Mal glanced toward the open, empty door, startled, and saw her determined face peering around the lower left side of the door; she must've been sitting on the grates there awhile, listening to the men go on.
"Kaylee..." Simon said, pleadingly, struggling to let go of River and get up, but his sister held on fast. She had a smug look to her, too, Mal noticed, like she'd known Kaylee was there all along.
Kaylee cut the doc off before he could ramble on. "All this time I been worryin' over what your parents were gonna say, and how you were gonna react to it, and whether it'd do more harm than good for me to bring it up, when I didn't have to!" She got to her feet and stomped into the dining area, rattling the floor with the passion of her advance, then stopped across from Simon with her hands on her hips.
"I'm... sorry?" Simon said, wincing. He tried to free his arm from its entrapment behind his sister again, and this time she let him go; he stood up, and edged around the table to reach for his woman.
Kaylee let him take her hands, but the small, disappointed frown gracing her features didn't fade. "You don't gotta protect me from things like this, Simon," she said to him, sternly. "No matter what your parents say, it can't be any worse than I heard at that fancy party on Persephone, and I didn't let that hurt my feelings none. I know I ain't fancy, or educated, or none of the things your parents want for you. But you love me, right? That's all that matters."
Mal glanced from one to the other of them, noticing the way the air around them was starting to congeal from excess of gooey emotion, and decided his job there was done. He glanced up at River's knowing gaze and cocked his head in the direction of the nearest stairwell, then tiptoed away as quietly as he could in his boots, escaping down into the lounge area.
Jayne was still there, surrounded by gleaming metal, his largest knife in one hand and a whetstone in the other. He looked up as Mal arrived and grunted. "'Lo, Mal."
"Jayne," Mal acknowledged him, casually.
"Things gone back to normal up there, I take it?" Jayne asked, stroking the whetstone down the blade.
"Seem like to be," Mal answered, shrugging as he moved away from the stairs. Whisper-soft sounds on the stairs behind him announced River's arrival; he wasn't surprised when she drifted around him, eyeing Jayne's knife collection with interest, but the mercenary froze at the sight of her.
"Thought I heard Kaylee yellin'," Jayne said warily, then dropped the whetstone and began hastily clearing up his weapons, starting with the ones closest to River. He was still more'n a mite skittish where the girl and sharp edges were concerned, despite everything-- thought that was probably for the best, in Mal's captain-y opinion. Last thing he wanted to see was Jayne taking a positive interest in the girl, the way the man tended to respond to women and dangerous weapons in general.
River smiled mysteriously at Jayne, but didn't pause to harass him; she kept walking, disappearing into the cargo bay, padding somewhere out of sight.
Mal shook his head as he watched River go, then turned to Jayne with a wry smile. "Girl's got a way about her, sure enough. 'Tween her and that sister of his, doc ain't got a chance."
Jayne snorted as he slid the last of his knives into its sheath. "Now, see? That's why I don't never go with the same woman more than twice. Any more'n that, they start gettin' ideas and expectations and all."
"Is that so?" Mal replied, amused. He had nowhere else to be at the moment, and it'd been awhile since he'd had a friendly chat with his mercenary; he cast about for an empty chair, then sat down, picking idly at a loose thread in its fabric covering. Before the mess on Ariel, the pair of 'em had been fair regular drinking buddies, something Mal'd been doing without since ZoŽ hooked up with Wash and started spending her dirtside time apart from her Captain. He'd been missing that a mite, since. Ship full of women like he had-- wondrous creatures that they were-- he weren't exactly spoiled for choice in male companionship.
Jayne rolled his eyes by way of response, then began rolling up the length of fabric he tucked his personal weapons in for transport to his bunk. "You're one to talk. Only woman you been intimate with more'n once since I known you was that fēngle wife of your'n."
"Don't know as I'd call that intimate," Mal replied, ruefully. "There may've been nakedness involved both times, but it sure weren't mutual. And it ain't like she don't have a hundred other husbands, too."
"Yeah," Jayne agreed, chuckling. "You think maybe we'll run into her again sometime?"
"What, you that eager to be the next on her list?" Mal smirked.
"Nah," Jayne replied. "Ain't a lot of future in that. But things ain't never boring when she's around."
"Well, I'm thinkin' we can do without her brand of excitement for awhile." Hopefully, she was still deep in jail somewhere, or locked up on Haymer's estate; Mal didn't like to think on what she'd do to him in name of revenge the next time they crossed paths, now that he'd thwarted her schemes twice.
A loud clunking noise echoed down the stairwell, interrupting the conversation, as someone opened, then closed, one of the bunks in the fore passage with undue haste. Both men looked up, and Jayne chuckled again.
"Sure sounds like someone's in a hurry," the mercenary said, leering in the general direction of Kaylee and Simon's new joint quarters.
Mal's quick smile of agreement faded quickly as he considered the problem of the Tams again. "That reminds me, Jayne," he said. "You know the doc's concerned his folks might not be all too pleased to see him again?"
"Yeah." Jayne nodded, frowning. "What's that got to do with me?"
Mal leaned forward in his chair, elbows braced on his knees, and gave Jayne his best this-is-orders stare. "I get the feelin' he'll want to meet with them first time on his lonesome, without his sister along. Kaylee and River ain't like to take that too well, so he'll probably try and sneak off Serenity sometime after we land. I'd appreciate if'n you'd keep an eye on him."
Jayne made a disgusted noise. "Aw, Mal! Why I gotta play babysitter? What if I done made plans already?"
"Then un-make 'em," Mal said, firmly. "Look. Operative may've been tellin' the truth; Parliament might just leave well enough alone. Warrants are gone off the Cortex, and that's a fair sign right there. But what if they don't? What if they done set a trap at his parents' house, just waitin' for Simon to bring River home, and take him right off the street? Busy Core planet like Osiris, we'd have no idea nothin' was wrong 'til troops showed up at the dock, lookin' for the rest of us."
Especially with that transmitter still in the wiring, he thought. Hopefully, Kaylee'd be able to untangle it soonest and shift it to another ship after they landed, but weren't no way to be sure.
"Tāmā de," Jayne grunted. "Why I gotta do it? He won't be happy if he sees me followin' him."
"Then don't let him see you," Mal replied, stubbornly.
Jayne glared at him a moment more, enough to salve his pride, then sighed. "Can I at least take some grenades with me this time?"
Mal couldn't help but chuckle at that. "I ain't never gonna hear the end of that, am I?" He aimed an admonishing finger in Jayne's direction. "All right. But just two, you hear? And don't you dare use 'em 'less the Alliance or Reavers is about to come down on us, dŏng ma?"
Jayne rolled his eyes. "I just like to be prepared, is all. Gotta have the right weapon for the job, and sometimes you don't know what that is 'til you find yourself needin' it." He glanced fondly at the locker on the hull-side wall where the extra explosives were stored, then grimaced suddenly. "Speakin' of weapons," he continued, turning back to Mal. "That package you got the other day. It come from the same place the Shepherd did, when we picked him up that first time?"
The smile slid off Mal's face at the question. "Might have done," he said, cautiously, worried that Jayne might have seen-- or heard-- more about its contents than Mal wanted public just yet. "Had a lot of books and things in it; I ain't been through 'em all yet. What's that got to do with weapons?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Jayne said, frowning in concentration. He got up from his chair, then paced over to the metal grillwork of the short steps that led to the cargo bay, and knelt next to the edge of the risers.
"Uh, Jayne," Mal said, perplexed by the man's behavior. "Reckon that's not exactly an answer."
Jayne's scowl grew fiercer as he stuck his arm into the space under the second step. "Just a second, I know I put it under here-- Ah! Gorram it!" He flinched, then appeared to wrap his hand around something out of sight. When he pulled his arm back again, a length of wood and shining metal came with it. The palm of his hand was bleeding where he'd accidentally grabbed the blade of the thing-- some artist's distorted idea of an axe, it looked to be.
"What in the tiān xiăodé is that?" Mal blurted, staring at the strange weapon.
Jayne shrugged and crossed the room again, shifting the meter-long weapon to the other hand. He held it out to Mal, pointy haft-end first, and curled his wounded hand up to halt the bleeding. "Dunno. Shepherd gave it to me, that last time on Haven. Didn't say where he'd got it, just that it was important, and I was to give it to you after the box showed up. Some kinda instructions in there, or somethin'."
Utterly baffled now, Mal reached up to take the axe from him. He hefted it slightly, surprised by its light weight, then inspected the red-tinted blade. "Pretty lookin' thing," he said. "But I ain't got a clue what it's..."
He trailed off then, glancing involuntarily toward the cargo bay, where River had disappeared off to. He remembered how she'd held those makeshift Reaver axes, bodies strewn all around her; blade like this was practically made for her style. Had to be a Slayer weapon.
Unease roiled in the pit of his stomach. It weren't just words any more; this Slayer thing was very real, and the sooner he figured out what Book had meant him to learn about it, the better.
Clattering noises from the infirmary startled Mal out of his introspection; Jayne had gone rummaging in the doc's things to find something to bind his hand. Well enough; Mal didn't know how he was going to explain this thing to him yet, nor anything else of what Book had sent.
"'Preciate it, Jayne. I'll just be in my bunk!" he called to the mercenary, then stood and headed for the stairs. He had some more reading to do.
fēngle = "crazy"
© 2007 Jedi Buttercup.