Just...enjoy, basically. I certainly enjoyed writing it! I've been looking forward to this chapter for at least the last ten, but when I finally got here it severely resisted being written. If inspired, please leave a review to let me know what you thought! love xx Shezzi
This was a bad day. She knew that it was a bad day before she even woke up in the morning, could feel it even in her dreams. Her head was crawling with things that didn’t belong there, horrible secrets that had never been hers to keep.
She hid in the dark corner and rocked herself silently, trying to keep the monsters at bay by playing the old ‘if I can’t see them, they can’t see me’ card. She didn’t want Simon to find her; she knew he would try to help, but she was so scared of how he would try to help that even knowing it could make her at least a little bit better didn’t entice her to allow him.
She couldn’t keep herself from whimpering when one of the really bad ones woke up, the whimper growing in volume until it was a moan, and from a moan it slowly approached a scream as the secret spilled out more and more from its defective containment vessel, once more spilling across the surface of her mind and spreading its filth everywhere, contaminating her with its hideous story. She wept, trying to push it back in, scooping and pushing at it with her hands, trying to force the slippery, sentient liquid back into its former hiding place. It slipped and slithered around her, gathering itself up and striking at her corporeal form and she finally screamed as it began to smother her.
She shot to her feet and ran, out of the alcove and across the floor of the cargo bay, only to collide with a wall disguised as Mal.
“Woah, there, where do you think you’re goin’?” he asked, hands steadying her shoulders. River twisted in his grasp, understanding but not comprehending why the wall was holding onto her, only knowing she had to run. Then a sound reached her, soft and gentle, and somehow the sound caught the memory and spun it back on itself, twirling tighter and tighter until it was spun into a rope, then coiling the rope back into the box where it lived. A small, calloused hand settled onto her shoulder, pulling her out of the restraints the wall had on her, and she suddenly found herself staring at Buffy, through whose slightly parted lips the soft song, the tune to which was really barely more than a simple series of musical notes, was emanating.
“When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed,” Buffy sang. When she saw that the memory had released River from its malevolent grip, she finished the verse and smiled at her young friend. “Better?” River nodded, eyes wide as she stared at Buffy. “Good. I’ll see you.” Her head dropped forward, eyes closing, then came back up with a start, eyes wide as she looked around the cargo bay. “What…oh,” the memories of the last few minutes rushed into place, and she smiled gently at River. “Want to play?”
River grinned, taking one step backwards, then reached out a hand and tapping Buffy on the arm. “You’re it,” she cried even as she took off across the cargo bay.
Mal watched them go with an indulgent smile that quickly turned into a concerned frown. “Careful on the stairs, girls! One of you…”
“Is gonna slip and fall and die and you ain’t cleaning up the mess,” the two girls leaned over the banister to say back to him in scarily identical imitation of his own voice delivered in perfect synch. Mal rolled his eyes but had to laugh, even as the two girls, one blond, one brunette, continued racing up the stairs.
Mal walked through the Persephone docks, heading for Mitchell’s place, a list of merchandise tucked under his arm, merchandise that they were the only ones with a claim to. Niska had had a great many things on his station; medicines, machine parts, information…a wealth of information, but they weren’t sure that they could actually use any of it, hadn’t even been able to sort through most of it yet, antiques, art, foodstuffs…anything you could buy, sell or steal, he had some. Mal figured Mitchell probably had some idea of where they might be able to redistribute some of that wealth to their own enrichment and their recipient’s good fortune.
Buffy waited for River to come out of the bathroom, a small smile on her face. She had an idea that she knew River would love, because River liked to talk about what a stupid-head Simon was about certain things. If they planned this just right…
Book smiled at Zoe and Wash as he exited her shuttle, grateful for the lift to the abbey outside of the town limits. He was at the Bathdown Abbey not to meditate but to research; he was sure he had read a reference to a ‘Slayer’ somewhere in this library, and he was determined to root it out, hoping that he could give Mal the answers he needed. The couple were going for some ‘alone time’ in Persephone, and would pick him up in five days to return to the ship. They had dropped Jayne off at his mother’s place already, shaking their heads at the sight of the fearsome merc swarmed under by children who clearly had absolutely no fear of him.
Inara smiled as she lay back. Five glorious days with no clients whatsoever. Five days to shop, relax and recharge planetside.
She heard giggling outside her door, and crossed to open it, smiling at the infectious noise. “What are you two up to?” she asked, looking at Buffy and River, who were on either sides of her door, their faces suddenly as bland and innocent as a cat with a feather on its whiskers.
“Come and play, ‘Nara,” Buffy said, dancing forward to catch Inara’s hands in hers, tugging her out of the shuttle and away, even as, behind them, River moved in very briefly to fiddle with the opening panel before following after, Inara not even noticing.
Mal was in a good, if slightly confused, mood when he knocked politely on Inara’s door, not entirely sure why he was here but…there had been a reason, he was sure. Buffy had been talking very very fast and he had somehow gathered that he should go to Inara’s and there was a very good reason for it and…he forcibly slammed the door on that particular train of though, since it was starting to run on almost as badly as Buffy had. He’d sent her and River off to find Simon and come to take care of…whatever it was Buffy had said Inara needed him for.
The door opened, and Inara blinked in surprise to see him there, eyeing him suspiciously as though she expected him to say something rude, which he had to allow on past behaviour was an understandable expectation.
“I was told you needed me to do…something…the message weren’t entirely clear,” he said, pushing his hands into his pockets.
“Oh, Buffy found you. Yes, I was hoping to prevail upon you to perform your landlordly duty and…change my light bulb,” the last was muttered through clenched teeth. “I don’t even know how it blew, but it’s up much too high for me to reach…”
“Oh, easy fixed, Inara.” Mal smiled at his tenant, making an effort to be nice and not say anything that would get him hit or kicked out.
“I’ll make tea,” Inara offered with a genuinely welcoming smile.
“That’d be right nice of you,” Mal replied, stepping into the shuttle, the door sliding closed behind him with a firm click. He took the blub she had laid out and, stepping up on the small stool she had set up for the purpose, found that even he could only just reach the fitting even with the extra height. He swapped out the bulbs, then stepped down and flipped the switch, smiling when the light came on.
“Tea?” Inara gestured gracefully for him to sit, and he followed her directions, accepting the dainty cup that somehow managed not to look utterly ridiculous in his hands.
The two drank in peaceful silence, then Mal chose the one topic he knew for sure they could talk about without arguing. “How are Buffy’s lessons going?”
“Really well. She seems to be remembering the characters before we even start learning them these days. Have a look at her calligraphy.” She pulled out a sketch pad and displayed some beautiful characters in different classical styles. “Her spoken language isn’t improving as much, but she’s still making progress in that too.”
“I noticed. I like this one,” he said admiringly, running a finger over one particularly striking calligraphy, a single character done in one of the most elaborate styles.
“It is nice, isn’t it,” nodded Inara, taking the book back to look at the character and casually closing it, setting it back on the shelf and trying not to look as though she was cursing herself silently.
“Well, thanks for the tea, Inara,” Mal said, standing suddenly, feeling uncomfortable.
“You’re welcome, Mal, thanks for the lightbulb,” Inara replied as she crossed over to the door in front of him and tried to open it, tried being the operative word. She jiggled the handle, a frown growing between her eyebrows, then turned to look up at Mal, a suspicion beginning to form. Mal stepped up beside her and tried to open the door with considerably more force, but nothing happened.
“What in tian shi de is this?” Mal growled, yanking on the door. It didn’t respond at all.
Inara turned and made her way to the control console, frowning down at it. She hit several buttons, entering what was supposed to be the security override on the door, but nothing happened.
“Mal, I think something strange is going on here,” she called over her shoulder. “The emergency override isn’t working either.”
Mal frowned, looking first at the door, then at the control panel suspiciously. “Inara, try powering up, I want to test something,” he said slowly.
Inara quickly punched the power-up sequence, but the shuttle didn’t respond. She then tried the radio, and the cortex, neither of which were functioning.
“Nothing, Mal,” she told him over her shoulder.
Mal frowned, and looked around the room carefully. There was a very plain, large box in one corner that he hadn’t noticed before. He noticed it now because it just didn’t fit – Inara didn’t do plain objects, simple yes, plain no.
“Hey, ‘Nara, what’s this?” he called to her as he crossed to it, poking it with one finger.
“I don’t know,” Inara frowned at the box. “It wasn’t there this morning. I went out to play with the girls, we ended up playing hide and seek…” her voice trailed off as Mal flipped the box open to display a wide variety of foodstuffs, almost all luxury items, and her mouth fell open. “Oh, they didn’t,” she said flatly once she’d regained control of herself.
“It looks to me like they did,” Mal replied slowly. “I don’t see us getting out of here until we’re let out, less’n we make some more or less permanent changes to the shuttles integrity, which a) wouldn’t really benefit either of us, and b) I’m not even sure we could do without specialised tools.”
Inara sighed and began poking through the contents of the box. After a few moments she found a folded piece of paper and drew it out, unfolding it to find it was covered in Buffy’s very exacting script. “Don’t bother trying to get out or contact anyone. You can’t. And don’t think Simon and Kayley will be coming to your rescue any time soon, because they’re enjoying their own ‘alone time’ right now. River and I will be fine; contrary to popular opinion we can actually take care of ourselves, and we promise not to leave the ship. You two need to actually talk to each other, or that’s what ‘she’ says, anyway. So, talk. And do other things. Enjoy your holiday!
Inara finished reading the note and held it out with a shaking hand to Mal, who received it with a raised eyebrow that quickly lowered, along with its fellow, to shadow his eyes.
In Kaylee’s cabin, a similar box and note had been open, and the doctor and mechanic were staring at each other, wondering how on earth they had ended up in this situation.
River and Buffy sat at the kitchen table, grinning at each other. It had totally been worth all the work; sneaking out of the ship to procure the foodstuffs, writing the notes, rigging the cabin and the shuttle, including the radios, intercoms and, in the case of the shuttle, the start-up sequence and controls.
Now they had five whole days to spend on their own, proving that they could to take care of themselves, thank you, while their respective guardians worked out their relationship issues.
Five days later, Mal and Inara were lying together in a tangle of sheets, her head pillowed on his chest with her hair spread around it, some trapped under Mal’s where he had turned to press a kiss to the crown of her head before falling asleep. They woke at the same instant, but it took them a moment to figure out what had woken them. A solid click from the door was what had disturbed them, and they glanced at each other before looking over at it once more.
“Did it just?” Inara didn’t actually say the word, not wanting to jinx them.
“I’m thinkin’ it did,” Mal replied, even as Inara lifted off him, causing him to lift his head so her hair didn’t get pulled. He rolled over and sat on the side of the bed in a single movement, searching for his pants, and quickly found them, pulling them on as he crossed to the door. Inara stood, pulling the silk sheet up with her and draping it around her form.
Mal took the door handle in one hand and pulled, and the door opened, displaying the quite ordinary looking walkways beyond it. On the floor in front of the door was a tray with two plates of steaming pancakes, bacon, eggs and syrup, accompanied by a large bowl of strawberries with cream. With a slight shrug, Mal bent down and collected it before turning back into the room. “Why don’t you set this up for us, ‘Nara, I’m just going to have a short…conversation,” he told her with a smile. Inara, rather than take the tray and have the sheet fall to the floor with anyone in viewing distance copping more than an eyeful, nodded to the table. He set it down and, with a courteous nod, quit the shuttle and closed the door behind him before turning to the face the ship, his face impassive.
“ELIZABETH PERSEPHONE REYNOLDS!” he bellowed.
Simon and Kaylee were already awake when the hatch to Kaylee’s cabin gave its tell-tale click. They glanced at it, and kissed once more before Simon went to check it out, and check on River, who he had barely been able to stop worrying about the whole time he and Kaylee were alone together. He almost stepped in the tray of food, but managed to pass it down to Kaylee, who squealed excitedly over the strawberries, before stepping fully into the corridor and glancing first one way, then the other.
“RIVER ELISE TAM!”