The Little Things
Part I—Through the Night
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. Apparently, they own me.
Author's Note: This story takes place immediately after the events of "Small Beginnings."
Summary: Zoe tries to help Anya adjust, and the crew settles back into what passes for a normal night on Serenity.
Anya whimpered in her sleep, tangling herself hopelessly in the bed sheets. Zoe disentangled the child gently, drawing Anya's slight frame into the curve of her body. Anya snuggled into the warmth, murmuring sleepily, "I miss Mama."
"I know you do, little one," Zoe answered past the lump in her throat. "Go back to sleep now." Rubbing the little girl's back gently, she allowed herself a moment of fantasy. What would Wash have done to soothe the child? Shadow puppets no doubt, she thought, the mental image making her smile.
Anya shifted slightly. "Zoe," she said, voice muffled against Zoe's side, "Am I gonna be here with you ever and ever?"
"As long as you want to be," Zoe answered, her voice steady and calm.
"Those bad men won't come back?"
"No, they won't. And no one on this ship would ever let anyone harm you, Anya."
With the typical honesty of a five-year-old, Anya said, "But you were on this ship, and they got you."
Zoe sighed. "They didn't snatch me from Serenity, child. I was alone on the street, remember?"
Anya pondered for a moment. "You came when the bad men grabbed Mama and me."
"Yes, I did. But I should have been more careful, so they wouldn't have seen me coming."
Anya smiled. "Like a super secret hero."
Zoe chuckled. "Something like that." Turning serious, she added, "But I shouldn't have been alone. I should have been with someone else who could help me. We should never wander off alone in a strange place, right?"
Anya nodded soberly. "Right," she answered, yawning widely. She closed her eyes and whispered, "I won't wander off, Zoe."
"I know you won't," Zoe said, stroking her hair softly. "Go on back to sleep now."
Mal pulled his boots off with a tired tug. "Well, I can honestly say I'm glad this day's done," he said, pulling down his suspenders and unbuttoning his shirt.
River moved to help him, running her fingers lightly over the new bandage around his midsection that Simon had changed earlier in the evening. "Does it hurt much?"
Mal smiled wryly. "Only when I move, or breathe, or think about movin' or breathin'." He leaned down gingerly to kiss her nose. "Good at least we got the womenfolk where they needed to go, and thanks to Inara's first rent payment, got enough food to replace at least the basic staples."
"You should have let Jayne carry the boxes," River chided gently.
"Seein' as how we just got him outta the hospital, I didn't think that'd be exactly charitable. Besides, Simon ended up doin' most of the heavy liftin'."
"I guess that would explain why everything in their bunk is quiet for a change," River observed, grinning wickedly.
Mal chuckled. "Maybehaps I'll put the good doc on loading duty regular-like. That way we'll all get some sleep."
Slipping out of his pants while carefully avoiding bending to do so, Mal climbed into bed. When River slid in beside him, he asked, "Bao bei, you really okay with 'Nara bein' back on the boat?"
River nodded against his chest, choosing not to answer verbally.
Mal pulled her closer to him, tucking her securely in the curve of his shoulder. "You ever gonna tell me what you and Inara talked about before we left her on Greenleaf?"
"No," River answered simply, no hesitation at all involved.
Mal laughed lightly. "Didn't think so."
After a moment, River asked curiously, "Are you okay with her being back and planning to take on clients again?"
"'Spose so," Mal answered slowly. "We can always use the extra coin, and it's good at least to see she knows what she wants now."
River giggled abruptly. "Well, for the most part. Hasn't realized everything she wants just yet."
"Why do I get the feelin' I don't even want an explanation of that little thought?"
"You're probably right about that…for now," River answered, stretching up to kiss him sweetly. She ran her fingers lightly across his furrowed brow and on through his soft, short hair. "No need to worry, air en. Everything is going to be all right."
Mal closed his eyes, loving the sound of her reassuring statement and the feel of her cool fingers massaging the worries of the day away.
Inara sat in her shuttle, talking with the House Priestess of Madrassa. Though it was night on Serenity, it was mid-afternoon on Sihnon. The priestess looked at Inara appraisingly. "I'm glad to see you are doing well, Inara. But I must admit, I am less than pleased by your decision. It will be quite inconvenient to find an instructor to fill in permanently. Iliana was only teaching the girls until your return. I thought that was understood."
Inara tried to control her irritation. "I am sorry for any inconvenience. But I'm sure someone adequate can be found for the position. And as I signed no formal agreement," she paused delicately, reminding the House Priestess that she was not dealing with a novice, "I see no real impediment to my proposal."
"As you wish," the House Priestess conceded. "When may we expect you to pick up your personal belongings? Your replacement will have need of the rooms."
"I'll make the arrangements with Captain Reynolds as soon as possible," Inara assured her.
The older woman nodded curtly. "Then I suppose this matter is at its conclusion. Good day, Inara."
"Good day," Inara said, reaching to cut the transmission before huffing in irritation. For a trained Companion and master of her craft, that old woman was certainly gifted at annoyance, Inara thought, glad to be finished with that unpleasant task.
Jayne wandered to the galley, restless despite cleaning his girls carefully and working out on the weight bench for a long while. Figuring a quick snack would solve the problem, he rummaged around in the cupboards, and found a tin of biscuits. He sat down to eat a few, and found himself thinking how they might taste with some of Inara's special tea.
Jayne had no illusions about the pleasant time he'd spent with Inara. Now that they were back aboard Serenity and among people she knew other than him, he expected that their casual conversations would come to an end. Women like the Companion did not typically seek out the company of hired mercenaries to share tea and dumplings, in his experience.
So, it was with a measure of surprise that he watched Inara glide gracefully into the galley. Smiling sunnily, she said, "Good evening, Jayne."
"Evenin', 'Nara," he answered. "Want a biscuit?"
Inara looked at the tin dubiously. "I think not. But I would like some tea. Would you like me to make you a cup, as well?"
Jayne nodded acceptance, his heart suddenly lighter than it had been several minutes ago. "Might improve the taste, at that."
Inara set about making the tea. Handing him a delicate cup, she sat across the table. "Trouble sleeping?" she asked casually.
"Nah. Not really. Just feelin' a little hungry. You?"
"I had to stay up to talk with the House Priestess. I was arranging for my permanent replacement as an instructor. "
"As I recollect form Mal's conversation with her, she's a hard pill to swallow. She give you any grief?"
Inara miled. "None that I wasn't expecting. She can be quite…formidable."
"Puts me in mind of a mean old lady back home. Always yammerin' on about hellfire and brimstone, if I got outta line durin' the church service on Sundays."
Inara laughed. "The House Preistess isn't that bad. I doubt she'd condemn anyone to eternal torment…well, not unless she was seriously inconvenienced, at least."
"So," Jayne said after a moment, "You good to go with the whole work thing? Ready for clients and such?"
Inara shifted uncomfortably. "The shuttle's not furnished of course. And there are a few …other problems."
Jayne, wisely, did not ask the nature of the other problems. "'Spect it'll all work out, when you decide to put yer mind to it."
Inara nodded, comforted by the confidence he seemed to have in the statement. Wondering suddenly why it should matter to her either way, she sipped her tea daintily.
"Well, guess I'll be headin' on to bed, then," Jayne said. "Be good to sleep in my own bunk again."
"Yes, it is good to be home," Inara answered. "Good night, Jayne."
"Shhh," Simon said, threatening to put his hand over Kaylee's mouth again.
"If ya' want me to be quiet, ya' can't be doin' that," Kaylee protested, her voice rising in a slight squeak as Simon's hands continued their patient exploration.
"We have to be more quiet now," Simon whispered. 'There's a child onboard. I don't know about you, but I for one do not want to have to explain to a five-year-old girl what's going on in here."
Kaylee laughed. "We could always tell her we was just playin'."
Simon rolled his eyes. "Have you actually talked to Anya? She's not exactly the disinterested sort. What would you do if she asked you what game we were playing?"
Kaylee giggled. "I'd tell her we're playing doctor, of course."
Simon covered her laughing mouth with his own to muffle the sound.
Mal stood knee-deep in a river of dark red, casting about wildly in the swirling torrent, unsure exactly what he was searching for. River stood beside him, blood dripping down her arms and legs where she plunged them into the ocean surrounding them. "Can't find him," she cried in panic. "Have to find him." Mal, tired beyond all hope of rest, flailed around blindly, hoping to find whatever River needed. Feeling a shape beneath his fingers, he pulled it out of the river. It was an infant, shriveled and limp in his hands.
Mal awoke, gasping at the horror of his dream, a variation of one he had had many times since Harvest. This time, mercifully, he had not awakened River too. She, at least, seemed to be sleeping more peacefully of late. Perhaps it was that every day she was pushing herself both mentally and physically, but Mal had caught her several times napping at odd hours. It could be she'd caught something from one of the captive women or children. He'd ask Simon to take a look at her in the morning.
Still asleep, River moved instinctively closer to him, burrowing into his warmth. Mal brushed his lips lightly across her hair and held her closer still. Closing his eyes, he fell into a mercifully dreamless sleep.
To be continued