Title: The Cure
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: Hey guys, thanks for the continued support! I know that previously I've been a very quick updater, but things are a little different now, so essentially I'll be doing my best and aiming for 1-2 updates a week. If I'm taking too long feel free to kick me in the butt :) Also, today's codeword is NEFARIOUS. If you manage to include it in a review I'll send ya a sneak peek preview as a reward.
It was quiet on the ship.
It always was when they started their run. No matter what mix of crew he was flying with, Mal was never unsurprised by the initial silence. Wash tended to want time on the bridge to check if River made any more adjustments, Book liked time to sit quietly in the galley. When Zoe was on board she tended to stay in her bunk for a while at first, and Mal knew she was usually on a constant Wave with Matthew and her husband. Jayne liked to stay confined; there are parts of the ship he rarely goes to now, such as the passenger dorms. The only other constants were Simon and Kaylee, the latter of whom always seems determined to act as normal as possible.
Mal scoffed, normal.
He thought in some ways it was a relief; he spent hours sitting on the bridge, staring into the Black. He'd loved space since he could stand. Knee high to a grasshopper, his mother telling him stories of stars and great ships. After the hell of Serenity Valley, after he'd seen his world change and shatter, after his faith had been obliterated, he'd felt lost.
Wandering for days after leaving service, ignoring Zoe's attempts to locate him, until he came to a ship yard where he'd found his salvation.
He'd looked up and known he wanted to caress that night's sky like a lover, running his fingers through stars like long locks of hair.
He shook his head as if the movement would knock the thoughts of her lose. It didn't work.
It never worked.
It was the rarest of the indulgences he allowed himself, stalking silently to the passenger dorm, into a room he usually avoided like the plague. Today he couldn't resist, needed to smell her, the muted scent of her left in this room. It'd had been just long enough that the scent had degraded slightly, mixing with Tali's, until there was something softer, sweeter, gentler.
He needed that.
She nuzzles her nose against his cheek, breath warm and voice sweet. "For how long will you be gone, Ba ba?"
He inhales deeply. Her scent cuts through the darker, more tantalizing tang that's left on her clothing by contact with her mother. Here now is clean, sun warmed earth and cool springs, early morning mist making little rainbows. He feels his chest loosen, slightly.
"Not too long, baby-girl. Ain't but a regular run."
Natalia, his little Tali, nods. The movement sends her curls over her shoulders, and though they're brushed they're still as wild as her mother's. Apart from the blue eyes she's River's carbon copy; face carved in miniature, like a perfect little doll.
Said doll rolls her eyes. "Not a doll, Ba ba."
He grins. "But yer so purdy…"
She begins to giggle uncontrollably as he throws her high, catching her close to his chest. She tries to shoot him a serious look and fails miserably, dissolving into laughter as he throws her again.
Jayne falters, his grin disappearing. He knows River won't be glaring disapproval, knows she trusts him, knows she doesn't mind these silly games he plays with their daughter.
But he still feels guilty, as always. Tali senses his change in mood as River's voice travels from the porch.
"Like a leaf on the wind, bao bei. Soaring so high."
Tali looks at him with big blue eyes, seeking approval, wanting him to know it's all ok. He shoots her a smile that feels weak even to him, and her happy expression drops as she presses her cheek against his.
"Love you, Daddy."
He takes another minute to inhale, wishing he had the right words. He wants to say he's sorry, that he wishes he could be with her always, wishes he could stay with her and watch her every minute of every day, wishes he could wake up to her face smiling.
He glances at River, brown eyes watching him carefully. The breeze changes and brings a hint of her, and Jayne presses his face into his daughter's hair more tightly.
The pull is as strong as ever, setting his blood on fire, familiar tattoo beating in his ears. If his daughter is sun warmed earth her mother is a warmer…a scorching desert, a forest fire, a lava field. The blaze is so hot, so fast, so consuming he can barely see straight. The virus they had infected him with as a child screamed for him to lose control, to leave his sanity behind, to take take take without regard.
He put down his daughter's stuffed bear, moving to pick up a pillow. He inhaled deeply, the scent stronger, not enough to set him on fire, but uncut and undiluted. Rich, warm, roasted coffee without the bitter tang. His blood was warmed but didn't boil, and he wondered if this was what normal people called love.
He wishes he was watching her and thinking of kissing her, of something a man would normally want to do.
Instead he imagines how easily her purple tunic would rip, how quickly he could have her against the wall of the mansion, how she'd taste right as she came.
He put down the pillow, he had to leave. This wasn't love, this wasn't even affection. This was the sick obsession they'd so kindly bestowed on him, purely visceral reaction to a set of chemicals designed to bring out his most desirable traits.
He shook his head.
Aggression, rage, the sex drive and need for violence obliterating any semblance of control, of sanity.
Without the little girl in his arms the front yard would be a battle ground. There would be carnage.
Everything they do is a tightly coordinated dance; who runs the forests, where they meet with Natalia, who goes on runs in the Black and who stays behind. For the first few weeks after they destroyed the facility Jayne had stayed at the house.
For a little while they'd thought they could do it.
Never alone in a room together, never without Natalia.
Until one night he'd woken up hungry, and she'd woken up thirsty.
He winced at the memory of that night.
He'd moved to the cabin the next day.
Jayne left the room and moved towards his work out bench, wondering how much longer he could live like this.
How much longer he wanted to.
Kaylee looked up as Simon entered the engine room, shooting him a bright smile. She knew he hated being away from River, from Tali, from Matthew. But they both knew how lucky they were, getting to go on every trip into the Black, together.
Her smile faltered as she thought about missing Matthew's first steps, Tali's first word, constantly feeling like she was missing out on her family.
Simon knelt beside her, hooking a lock of hair behind her ear. He gave her a soft smile, and she knew he could read her thoughts as easily as River right now. It was the same discussion they'd had a million times, the same loop, the same circle. They loved Tali, they loved Matthew, and they loved each other. Kaylee knew what she wanted, Simon knew what he wanted, and what they wanted more than anything was something they could have.
But at what price?
Kaylee thought about Inara preparing to leave, about River and Jayne fighting a losing battle with training they never asked for. She thought about Zoe and Wash, struggling to hold together while their son began to feel the effects of the Ares virus. They thought about Mal and Book, both withdrawing further and further into themselves, making people wonder if they would ever be able to find their way out. Vera fighting to keep them going, Ginger watching with sad, regretful eyes as Jayne's will to fight lessened every day.
Could anyone bring a child into this?
Simon's arm slipped over her shoulders at the same time her eyes welled up. She pressed her face into his neck, knowing that the material of his shirt would dry her tears, and the whirr of her beloved engine would silence her sobs. After the tears dried and they'd made one another feel better as best as their bodies allowed them, they both lay silently, grateful they had each other.
Wondering how much longer than would be enough.
Early morning and no one in sight. Book knew the Captain would be checking on Serenity, as he now did almost obsessively, missing the Black and his source of freedom. Vera would be out with River and Tali, the former needing to run and the later off to visit her father for the day. To Book's relief there was a light summer rain on the windows; things would be easier for Jayne today.
As he sat on the overstuffed couch he heard a door creak open, bright blue eyes peeking around the corner. He hid his smile behind his coffee cup, pretending to be engrossed in his book. Another creak as little feet snuck across the room, and Book struggled to bite back the grin that threatened to break his face.
Matthew sprung over the back of the couch, and Book was relieved he'd set down his coffee cup. He grabbed the little boy, giving him a brief wrestle before tucking him against his side.
"That you did, little one."
He saw Zoe glance around the corner of the door, and shook his head once. Matthew was fine, for now. She nodded and disappeared back into the bedroom where her husband lay sleeping.
Book smiled down. "Now, what shall we do this morning?"
Matthew shrugged. "Dunno, Ye ye."
It didn't matter how many times he was called Grandfather by Matthew or Tali, it still made him feel his chest was several sizes too small.
Book entered the bridge quietly, a cup of tea in his hand as he approached Mal. "Captain."
The younger man nodded without looking away from the stars, and Book sat in the pilot's chair that Wash had recently vacated. Each man was silent for a moment, before Book's low voice rumbled through the room.
"That she is."
"Such beauty is always better shared."
"Don't get sweet on me, Preacher."
Book allowed himself a smile, though he wasn't sure whether it was the gentle humour or the title that amused him.
"I never said you should be sharing it with me."
Book didn't need to turn to know that Mal's eyes had hardened. "In no need of sermons today."
"Never offered one. Just wondering why you'd let someone who loves you walk out of your life?"
Mal's eyes never left the stars. "She's made her choice."
"Has she now."
Mal finally turned. "You got somethin' to say, Shepherd?"
"As a matter of fact-"
"Well hold yer tongue. Ain't lookin' for advice; she wants ta leave. Who'm I ta keep her?"
Book stood, turning so Mal was forced to look at the material patch covering the obliterated socket where a healthy eye had once lived.
"The same hun dun who let her walk away the first time."
Book shook his head, setting his tea on the table and rooting through the cupboards. They always had decent food on board now, but he wasn't in the mood for cooking. He wanted something fast, and when he found the protein bar he unwrapped it quickly.
He was chewing and staring at the heavy block lettering and half blue circle on the wrapping, when Wash entered. The pilot looked exhausted, but Book was unsurprised. Matthew had begun waking up from nightmares now, screaming and hissing about monsters wearing gloves. One night had been so bad that Zoe had woken River in a panic as a howling Matthew fretted and swung. The colour had been leeched from his skin, mocha turning to unhealthy grey as his breathing became fast.
The Reader had placed her hands on his temples, locking eyes with the little boy. Her face had gone pale and her eyes wide but she'd held firm.
"Little soul, big world."
Matthew had slowly begun to relax, some of the colour coming back to his cheeks. Zoe had grasped him tightly to her as Wash asked Simon whether it was the Ares virus.
Simon hadn't been able to answer.
Wash nodded as Book silently offered him some tea. He missed Zoe, he missed Matthew. Being away felt like missing limbs still offering phantom movements; he woke up reaching for them in his sleep, the bed almost warm for a second. Two weeks together, one week apart. He loved flying, loved being in the Black, feeling Serenity shift and roll underneath him, humming her familiar tune.
But he was missing part of his soul every time they left Purgatum.
The reason for their separation entered the galley. Jayne held up a bottle of whiskey and Wash nodded, accepting the glass as it was passed down. The big man never drank on Purgatum, never even a sip, a feat that was more than a little impressive for a man who believed in little more pleasurable than a glass of whiskey with a cigar by sunset.
But Wash knew why.
He knew Jayne wouldn't give himself a second, couldn't give himself a moment where his inhibitions, his self-control might be lowered. The reins can't slip, there can be no moments of weakness. But when they're on ship he can breathe a little easier, if only for a moment.
"Doc, it can't be that hard."
Simon hissed in irritation, and Jayne almost felt guilty.
"Don't gorram whine at me; when I'm near Tali it ain't bad, I can control it. Can't ya work somethin' out? That's gotta mean somethin'."
"Jayne, what is it you think I do all the time? I have tried everything, River even let me draw a little blood from Tali to use for testing; it's useless. Whatever pheromones that Tali emits aren't masking agents, dong ma? They're biological contingency plans; they're your body's way of ensuring it doesn't destroy its own offspring. It's not that they let you control yourself around River; it's that they take priority. There's no way to create a build up because it's in Tali's DNA; she's yours."
Simon was so tired of apologising, so tired of being unable to fix things, to cure Matthew, to help Jayne. He was so tired of running tests, working hypotheses, failing to produce any kind of result. He was so tired of failing his crew, his niece, his sister.
He was tired.
Jayne's feet were heavy as he entered his cabin, glancing at the window and wishing, more than anything, that it would rain.
He needed the rain.
Simon's voice rang in his head.
Jayne felt that pang in his chest he got when he thought about River.
Tali was his gorram world, the only shiny thing he woke up for, knowing who and what he was. Her smile, the games, the way she would explore with him, look at him with eyes filled with trust like he was anything but a monster, feral. Lucky didn't cover it; she had been created in the worst of ways, but his baby girl was his everything. He was hers, entirely, and she was his.
Full, pouty lips and eyes the colour of rich whiskey filled his head.
Tali was everything, he had everything.
The scent of fruit ripe and fresh for picking, slim limbs and the darkest of roads.
He just wanted a little more.
Wash, Book and Jayne sipped at their whiskey silently for a moment before Wash broke the silence.
"Matthew caught his first catch the other day."
For the next few moments, as they discussed their children, Book's grandchildren, there was peace. They could pretend they were a normal family, chatting about achievements, living normal lives.
If only for a moment.
2507 – A very large, very private facility
"Pax formula requests have been made by members of Parliament; interest in the compound has grown. They want to do planet wide testing immediately."
He smiled, showing perfectly straight, white teeth. "I believe we should let them."
Dr Matthias narrowed his eyes. "I thought your interest lay elsewhere, in The Academy."
He nodded. "Amongst other things. But we are still looking for appropriate candidates, and I am perfectly happy allow the Alliance access to such good work as this."
Dr Matthias seemed relieved. "This could help create such better worlds; Dr Carmichael's work is impeccable. Chan chose well."
He smiled, the expression attractive but not meeting his eyes. "Indeed. Chan has proven most helpful. Was there anything else?"
The smile asked politely, the eyes warned against further requests. Dr Matthias disappeared from the screen.
He looked at the rare orchid sitting on his desk, glass case carefully surrounding the near extinct blossom. He takes a sip of orange blossom laced iced tea, deciding he wants something stronger. He sent his order through to the private kitchen, looking forward to a cleanly made martini with Isian gin and rare olives from Capricus. Perhaps some Turkish delight made with the delicate rose water they'd imported from Sihnon.
He moved away from the expansive desk towards the enormous windows of the corner office. Rich carpet, ancient mahogany desk, and the incredible view of Osiris' Capital below. He let his mind drift as he surveyed the scene below. He would need to contact the Operations department, as well as put a boot to Chan's ass. The Breeders were a start but nowhere near what they were looking for, and Mathias was still searching for a candidate who would survive the neural stripping for The Academy.
He decided to request additional staff support for that particular venture, just in case. Possibly some of the Handlers. They always did such splendidly thorough work.
He let his eyes adjust from the scene below to his own image in the expansive window. He shifted slightly, adjusting his tie, and stepped back to take in his full reflection. His tailor was right.
It really was a beautiful suit.