Part I—Making Good
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Author's Note: Takes place after the events of "Whiplash" in the continuing Mal/River storyline. To those stalwart folks who have read the storyline up to this point, I thank you for your patience with the long wait for this one. And I'm sorry if I'm a little rusty. For those who are new to the storyline, thanks for tuning in!
Summary: Mal decides it's time to make good on a promise he made to his son.
"Think it might be just the thing," Mal said, his lips brushing against River's ear as they lay side by side in their bunk. "Last job paid decent enough we could take our ease for a spell."
River nuzzled closer into her husband's warmth. "No objections from me. Adam would be thrilled. But," she paused for a moment, a slight frown marring her pretty features. "Don't know that Inara would be wildly pleased. Nor Jayne for that matter. And I really can't picture Simon…"
The small chuckle that rippled through Mal vibrated pleasantly against her cheek. "What? You mean to say Simon's not a rugged outdoorsman-type?"
River poked his ribcage. "No making fun of my brother," she said, though Mal could feel that her lips had curved into a smile on his chest.
"But he's such an easy target."
"Still, no teasing if he agrees to go. Dong ma?"
Mal sighed. "Can't promise that, bao bei. Might just be too temptin'."
River rose to her elbows, giving Mal a solemn look. "No teasing," she repeated firmly.
Mal shrugged, trying hard not to consciously think of all the ways he could tease Simon, as his Reader wife was boring a hole through his forehead with her stare. "Anyway," he continued, attempting to distract her from her current train of thought. "Thought I might look into a few of the places I've heard about. Might be able to find out about rates and such. No use to mention it to anyone else 'til I know if it's doable." He smiled the lazy, slow smile that made River's heart beat faster. "Meantime, I can think of some other activities that might entertain Adam's mama."
"Sounds….intriguing," River said, leaning down to capture his lips and forestall any further conversation.
Adam peered over the top of Hannah's crib, running his hands over Jayne's fine carving. "Daddy's gonna take us, Hannah," he whispered, excitement shining in his eyes. "Just like he said."
Hannah looked at her older brother solemnly through the slats of the crib as if she understood completely what he was saying. Rolling onto her stomach, she pulled her knees up under her and rocked back and forth before falling back onto her side.
"Don't worry," Adam said, pressing his face to the slats. "Crawlin's easy, once you get the hang of it." He paused for a moment. "Walkin' too. And runnin'. And talkin', with real words like everybody else. Once you can do that, everything's easy peasy." He reached his hand through the bars and patted his sister's chubby little arms. "I'll help you."
Hannah grinned toothlessly, grasping his larger fingers in her small fist.
"What are you doing, Adam?" Anya asked, slipping into the room. "You're supposed to be asleep."
"Hannah wanted to talk," Adam said, trying to stifle his sudden yawn.
"Well, you'll have to talk tomorrow," Anya replied with as authoritative a tone as she could manage. "It's an hour past your bedtime already, and now it's my bedtime too. I need to get into my pajamas."
Adam rubbed his eyes with his fists. "'Kay," he said, shuffling toward the door. "Night, Hannah. Night, Anya."
"Night," Anya said, holding onto the door. "See you tomorrow."
"Gonna be a surprise tomorrow, you know," Adam said, turning around to grin at her.
"What kind of surprise?" Anya asked.
"Not gonna tell, less'n I get to stay up some more." Adam eyed his friend mischievously.
"Not gonna work, Adam Reynolds," Anya said, though she could not suppress her own grin. "Guess I'll have to wait and hear it tomorrow."
Adam frowned. "But it's really the bestest surprise, Anya," he continued, widening his eyes and looking hopefully up at her.
"Tomorrow," she said firmly. "Want me to tuck you in?"
"Can do that my own self," Adam said, drawing himself up to his full height. "I ain't a baby, you know."
Anya put her hand on her hip. "That's good then. Go on to bed. You can tell me all about it in the morning." Watching for a moment to make sure the little boy headed to his own room, Anya could not help but wonder what tomorrow's surprise would be.
Simon lay staring at the bulkhead and thinking about the woman lying in his arms. For all that he knew Kaylee would stand beside him no matter what the fates allowed, Simon was worried. It was not that they were arguing exactly, he thought tiredly. In fact, it occurred to him that perhaps a good fight would be a refreshing change from the delicate way they had been tiptoeing around each other since his return from the treatment facility.
Kaylee was, in large part, the person that kept Simon from slipping over the edge into addiction again. And yet, though she was his lifeline, Simon was reluctant to talk with his wife about his daily struggle to avoid temptation. The thought of disappointing her so completely chilled him to the bone and he could not bring himself to unburden his heart to her. It had crossed his mind more than once that Kaylee seemed just as determined as he did to avoid the subject at all costs.
It seemed to Simon that their conversations now revolved almost solely around Daniel or whatever was happening with someone else on the ship. And any time the discussion wandered into more personal territory, they both withdrew into a stilted silence like two wounded animals carefully circling each other.
Feeling the steady beat of her heart against his side, he closed his eyes and wondered how to span the distance that had come between them. And Kaylee, for her part, lay dreaming the restless dreams of a woman whose world had tilted dizzyingly off-kilter.
"Just tell me what the problem is," Jim said, his brow wrinkled with concern. "I want to help you with whatever it is."
Zoe looked at him blandly. "I imagine I can handle it myself just fine," she said.
Jim ran his fingers through his blond hair, standing it up on end distractedly. "Didn't mean to imply otherwise," he sighed, wondering not for the first time how it was that Zoe could state a fact so calmly and still radiate such absolute annoyance. "Quite frankly, I can't imagine anything that you couldn't handle with one hand tied behind your back, standing on one foot, with one eye closed. But that fact does not in any way lessen my desire to help you."
Zoe drew a long, deep, cleansing breath. "I know that," she replied quietly. "But I'm not ready to talk about it just yet." Swallowing thickly, she added, "It's been a long while since I've been part of a…." She paused, strangely hesitant to say the word aloud.
"Part of a couple," Jim finished for her. "God, Zoe, you can't even say it." He looked at her in exasperation. Enfolding her in his arms, he felt the residual stiffness in her shoulders. "I mean to be here, with you, for as long as you'll have me. What else do I need to say to get you to confide in me?"
Zoe closed her eyes for a long moment. "What people mean to do and what ends up happening are sometimes a gorram 'verse apart." Hearing his quiet sigh, she pulled away and looked into his troubled blue eyes. "I just need some time to suss out this thing," she said more softly. "It isn't that I don't want to discuss it with you, but I just….can't right now."
Jim arranged his face into a pleasant smile, tamping down his own frustration. "Then I suppose I'll just have to wait until you can."
Mal scowled at the Cortex screen, willing the numbers to add up differently.
"No luck?" River asked, floating into the cockpit and resting her hands on his shoulders.
"Only places I see are in the Core," Mal growled. "Not at all what I was aimin' for, and not near cheap enough for us to afford, even if I was of a mind to go that deep into the system." He leaned back, resting his head against her torso. "Least I hadn't said anything else to Adam about it."
River sighed. "Knows already."
Mal turned to look at her. "How? He been reading me again?"
River nodded. "Didn't mean to." Seeing Mal's jaw tighten, she added, "It's difficult for him to control it. Requires practice, and patience. Don't be angry with him."
"Ain't angry with him," Mal replied tiredly. "Just wish I didn't have to disappoint him is all." He thought fleetingly of how inconvenient rearing a Reader could sometimes be and quickly suppressed the thought.
"It will be all right, ai ren," River said softly. "Perhaps there will be another opportunity sometime."
Mal tapped the arm of the pilot's chair for a moment. "Could maybehaps be something else I could work out," he said, thinking aloud. "Might not be quite the thing I was lookin' for, but it might do 'til we can manage somethin' else." Leaning forward again in his chair, he turned back to the Cortex screen. "I know a fella' who might be just the one to talk to. And I conjure Monty would know how to get in touch with him."
River kissed the top of her husband's head. "Knew you would come up with a plan," she said, heading to the door.
"Yeah, well, don't count your chickens," Mal replied, busily typing in Monty's wave coordinates. "It's a long shot."
River grinned. "Always is," she replied. "Long shots are our specialty."
Monty's face coalesced on the screen with a wide grin. "Mal," he said heartily. "Thought I might not be seein' you again any time soon, what with the Alliance still all twitchy and such."
"Good to see you too, Monty," Mal replied, grinning. "Takes more than some increased patrols to keep me down. You know that."
"That I do," Monty replied, stroking his beard.
"See you've managed to grow another soup-catcher," Mal said.
"No woman to stop me," Monty responded. "And I missed it when it was gone. Think it adds considerable to the look."
"Oh, I'd have to agree with that," Mal replied, smiling. "You wear it well."
Monty laughed. "Much as I'd like a good palaver with you, we'll be out of range in a few, so…"
"Just trying to figure how to get in touch with Lambert," Mal said quickly. "Thought you might have his location."
Monty nodded eagerly. "Has a farm out on Whittier nowadays."
"So I heard," Mal said. "You got a Cortex address for him? Thought I might go out for a visit."
Monty rummaged around on the desk in front of him. "Got it somewheres around here. Give me a minute." Mal nodded and watched in fond amusement as Monty scattered a mountain of little scraps of paper across his desk.
"Quite a filin' system you got there, Monty," he said wryly.
Monty held up a scrap triumphantly. "Works well enough for me," he said, grinning.
Mal nodded once again as Monty rattled off the Cortex address. "'Preciate it," he said after repeating it.
Monty inclined his head. "Tell him I asked after him," he said. "Hadn't seen that boy in more'n three years now."
"Will do," Mal said just as the screen went black. Thinking that Monty had not been exaggerating when he had said his ship would be out of range in a few minutes, Mal sat back in his chair and thought about the man he was about to contact. Wondering if he had changed as drastically as Mal himself had over the years, he tapped in the wave coordinates and waited for Lambert to answer.
To be continued