The Last Spartan – Chapter Thirty-Seven
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The ride back to the estate was quiet. Between the wounded, including a live but unconscious Neera Trivett, and the recently freed prisoners from the facility, no one had time to dwell on the loss of Janos.
Mal sat on the bridge, the weight of Jayne's envelope heavy in his hands. How would he tell River? Or Prim?
He sighed forlornly, his mind numb with what had happened.
Never thought of Jayne as self-sacrificing, Mal admitted. He'd miss the big man, he decided suddenly.
River, Prim, and Kaylee were waiting when the ship entered the hangar. Simon was also nearby with several attendees, waiting for the wounded. As the ramp descended, the wounded were ferried out first, placed on beds and wheeled away to the hospital.
Mal descended the ramp last, dread settling in the pit of his stomach when he spied River watching anxiously. Prim was stone-faced.
"Mal, where. . .?" River started, then stopped at the look on his face.
"I'm sorry, Albatross," Mal said softly. "He. . .he ordered the rest out, seems like, but he didn't make it. He was. . ." Mal broke off, his own calm destroyed. River started shaking, and Mal wrapped her in his arms. Finally the dam broke, and the River ran free.
The tears fell for a long time. Mal stayed the whole while.
"He wanted me to give you this," he told Prim a little later, handing over the courier envelope. "Just in case." He turned to River.
"This, I was entrusted to give to you, personally, 'tross," he told her, handing over the letter. She took it with trembling hands, and left the hangar, Dixon and Harwood in tow.
"Prim, I. . ." Mal started, but didn't know what to say.
"I know, Captain," Prim said kindly. "I understand."
There didn't seem to be anything else to say, so the two men simply walked in silence toward the great house.
A house that would seem so much more empty, now.
Time stood still, it seemed, and flew by at the same time. River retreated to Janos' study with her letter, leaving strict instructions that she was not to be disturbed for any reason. Dixon and Harwood assumed positions outside the door, faces grim.
Prim went to his own office, where he began sorting through the documents left for him by Janos. Inside he found a letter addressed to him, which he read first. By the time he finished the letter, he was smiling.
Neera Trivett was back on her feet in two days. Mal wasn't sure how people like Jayne healed so fast. He was aboard Serenity, working in the cargo bay when the warrior woman appeared in the doorway.
Mal had called to cancel his job, not wanting to leave with things in the air like they were. In that time he had reflected on the things Jayne had said. He still couldn't see a way to do what the big man had asked, but he was no longer avoiding the issue. If a way presented itself, he'd look hard at it before saying no.
He looked up at her, smiling when he saw who it was.
"Well, look who's up and around!" he called.
"Thanks to you," Neera returned the smile, walking into the bay. "You shouldn't have done it, you know," she told him seriously.
"You're welcome," Mal shot back sarcastically, and she laughed. Mal wondered at the sound. He didn't think he'd ever heard her laugh.
"So, getting ready to leave?" Neera asked casually.
"Yep," Mal nodded. "Wanted to stay a little while, make sure Albatross, River," he clarified at Neera's confusion, "was gonna be okay. Simon and Kaylee are staying. I talked Lucas into coming with me as my new mechanic." As if on cue, Kaylee and Miles walked by, Kaylee making sure that Miles was up on everything.
"Just remember that coil," she was saying. "Try and talk Cap'n into a new one. I never could," she shot him a withering glance, and Mal snorted. Kaylee smiled at Neera as she and Miles continued on their way. Neera watched them go, then turned back to Mal.
"So, I hear you got a job open on this heap." Mal froze.
"Might," he nodded, wondering what she was getting at.
"I'm looking for a job," she said casually. "Pretty good with a gun, got a strong back," she winked. "And I'm a big girl, for my age." That made Mal loose his straight face, and the two shared a laugh.
"Well, job pays ten percent, plus your own bunk," Mal told her. "Course, you only get paid when we get paid. Sometimes people we deal with, they like to try and keep our share."
"Well, I'll have to talk them out of that," Neera told him. "So how 'bout it, Captain? I need to be away from here for a while. Too many people starting to realize I ain't getting any older."
Mal nodded, having wondered why she here. He was a little disappointed, he admitted, realizing that he'd hoped she was here because of him. Odd, he hadn't realized it before.
"And, you're kinda cute," she purred, moving up next to him. "For a mortal. I wouldn't mind sharing a ship with you for a while."
"I gotta rule about ship board romances," Mal told her, as she looked at him hungrily.
"I hate rules," she whispered huskily, and Mal felt his knees water.
"Ain't over fond of'em, myself," he managed. "But no bitin'," he pointed out, and she laughed. A throaty, full sound that Mal found himself wanting to hear more of.
"Not unless you ask," she promised, and kissed him.
Serenity lifted off three days later, with two new crew members, and two old ones. River and the others had accompanied the departing crew to the pad, and goodbyes were said. Inara was able to be there, having been up and around for the last two days.
She and Mal had been able to part on good terms, for which both were glad. Inara had been tempted to leave after the news of Jayne's failing to return, but Prim and River had prevailed upon her to stay.
Kaylee cried, of course, but she and Simon had agreed they would stay on. Simon was now the official physician of Flumenea Somnium, the estate of River, Lady Janos. Jayne's instructions had left her as his sole heir.
As Serenity made her way out of atmo, those who remained returned to the house.
"Mei mei, how are you feeling?" Simon asked carefully.
"I'm fine," River smiled. Simon was worried about her. Since emerging from Jayne's study, River had been in an almost dream like state. He knew everyone dealt with grief differently, but he was. . .
"I'm fine, Simon," River told him again. "I appreciate your concern, but all is well. I promise," she added, looking him in the eyes. "If something were wrong, I'd tell you ge ge."
"Okay," Simon relented, and Prim smiled. He held Inara's hand in his, and the two shared a knowing look. They had talked, quietly, after Inara was up and around. They were taking things slowly. Enjoying every minute.
"Prim, where do we stand on the people evacuated from the facility?" River asked.
"Most are already back with their families, My Lady, through various third parties as you requested. There are eight currently still on the grounds. We've not been able to learn anything about them, as yet. They have been slow to respond."
"We're treating them, River," Simon assured her. "Most of the trauma seems to be psychological. I think we'll eventually be able to at least find out who they are." River nodded.
"We're monitoring the cortex for missing persons reports as well, River."
"See to it that they, and their families, are taken care of," she ordered. She paused for a moment, then spoke again.
"I will be leaving, shortly. I'm taking Athena. I will be gone for some time, I imagine. Prim will be in charge in my absence. Should you need me, you can WAVE."
"River, I don't think that's. . ."
"I didn't ask, Simon," River said formally. "You are my brother, and I love you, but it's time you realized I'm a grown woman." Simon, chastised, nodded meekly, and Kaylee snickered.
"I need time, Simon," River told him. "I'm going to travel for a while, and I have something I need to do. Somewhere I need to visit. I'll return, in time."
Simon knew there was no point in arguing, and didn't. He was surprised that Prim and Inara didn't put up any objections, but wrote it off to their now being River's retainers, and thus loyal to her.
Whatever the reason, there was no way he could stop her, and he had a great deal of work to do.
Athena drifted softly onto the public pad in Capital City. River descended the
ramp alone, having ordered Harwood and Dixon to remain on board. Both had objected, but River had been firm. The two watched from the door as their Lady disappeared into the city.
River walked along the main boulevard, taking in the sights without really seeing them. Finally she arrived at her destination, a restaurant called Florico's. She entered, where she was immediately ushered to a private table. As River took her seat, the waiter left her with a menu, and a promise to return shortly.
River had only just started to peruse the menu when a familiar voice spoke.
"Hello, My Lady." She looked up into the shining blue eyes of The Last Spartan, and smiled.
"Hello, my love."
Wow, I'm exhausted. This story simply refused to end when I wanted it to, which was, oh, around chapter 15-18, somewhere along in there. It just kept growing, and growing, and I just kept on feeding it, I guess. Sorta like a pet alligator that finally gets so big it's eating the neighbors lawn furniture. Lol.
Lord and Lady Janos may well return, though I shudder to think of the work I'm piling on myself with that statement. If you want more of them, let me know, and I'll see what I can come up with, down the road.
But up next will be the newest installment in the Shade verse. After a few days of rest, mind you, lol.
Thanks to everyone who commented. Your compliments kept me writing, and your criticisms helped me make a better story. I appreciate that, so much.