“Come on, Pa!” the boy whined like a baby as he followed Jayne through the halls of Serenity, not doing his argument any favours at all. “You been calling me a little man since I was ten years old. I ain’t so little anymore, should just be man by now.”
“Ain’t havin’ this fight with you no more, Danny!” his father yelled back over his shoulder as he headed on up to the bridge where he was supposed to meet Mal. “Go back to your room like I told ya, afore I lose my gorram temper!”
“Da shiong la se la ch’wohn tian,” the young man muttered as he stopped following Jayne but didn’t exactly do as he was told by going back to his bunk either. “I’m seventeen years old!” he complained, albeit to himself as he slammed an angry hand against the ships wall and immediately regretted the action as pain shot through his fingers and up the length of his arm.
It didn’t solve anything, lashing out and such. He should know that by now, after his Ma and Pa both had proved it a dozen times over, not to mention the rest of the crew. As smart as Uncle Mal was he had a tendency to react with his fists first and brain later sometimes. Sure, it was sometimes hilarious to hit a man with a closed fist, even if’n it weren’t a smart move, not that Danny had ever done so himself. Nope, Danny Cobb, at seventeen, was still seen as one of the kids onboard and never allowed to help with any job where any violence might take place. Hauling cargo he was permitted to do, fetching and carrying, playing lookout, all of that, but never to get in a fight, side by side with his family, like he wanted.
Worst of it was, the little kids got all the real attention. He didn’t blame his sister or cousins for the fact they needed more fussin’ but it bugged Danny to no end that he didn’t fit anywhere. Too grown up to be a kid, but not grown up enough to be taken serious as a man.
“Are you feeling okay, Daniel?” said a voice and it was only now the boy realised he’d landed up right outside the infirmary.
His feet had just took him wherever, wanderin’ around with no real direction in mind. Now here was Uncle Simon asking if he was okay and staring at his hand... Danny looked down then and noticed the bruise already forming across his knuckles where he’d smacked the hull.
“It’s nothin’,” he said, shaking the ache out of his fingers. “Just a dumb accident,” he shrugged, turning to walk away, and running slap bang into two of the kids.
“What are you two doin’ now?” he asked as Jessy ran around the back of him.
Gripping onto his legs for all she was worth and gasping for air where she’d been running so fast, she couldn’t give her brother any decent answer, but that he got as Alyssa came into sight, bolting after her friend, dark red curls bouncing all over as she came hurtling through the galley towards Danny.
“She has it and it’s mine!” the little girl complained, running around to get to Jessy who easily ducked away.
The two little girls of six and seven damn near knocked the much older boy flyin’ as they used him for a hiding place and shield both, tugging at his limbs as they bolted this way and that around him.
“Jessy, what did you take?” he asked her, but his sister didn’t answer, just continued dancing around him, with Alyssa dodging back and forth trying to get to her. “Okay,” he said then, tired of this whole thing within a moment.
Reaching down, he easily lifted Jessy clear off the floor and high aloft in his arms. She squealed with surprise as her feet left the ground but laughed when she realised her brother had only helped her cause by getting her further out of Alyssa’s reach.
“Jessamine Cobb, what you got that ain’t yours?” he asked her then, ceasing her giggling in a moment as she turned grumpy and serious at the sound of his tone.
“Ain’t hers neither,” said the little girl definitely. “Lyssa don’t know how to share!” she poked out her tongue at the red-head stood below.
“Alyssa?” Danny looked to her next. “What’s this all about?” he checked with her.
“Nothin’,” she lied quite obviously and Danny soon grew tired of the whole thing, besides he had by now figured out everything he needed to know from the silence that followed.
With the two girls quiet he could hear himself think, and after that he could hear everybody else think. In a moment Jessy’s face fell as she caught the wave of images floating between her brothers mind and her own.
“Uh-oh,” she said, scrambling to get away from her brothers grip, quite pointlessly as he was never going to let her go.
Lowering her towards the ground, in one fast move he had her treasured item from her pocket before her feet ever hit the deck.
“This is what you were fightin’ over!” he practically exploded, startling Alyssa and Jessamine both. “A gun? My gun?!” he said angrily, and it were a wonder the entire ship didn’t hear his yelling as the two little girls stood before him, lips trembling and eyes fast filling with tears.
“It’s pretty,” was Jessy’s only argument.
“Ain’t loaded, never,” Lyssa added solemnly.
Danny couldn’t find words enough to express his frustration and so turned away and stormed from the room, even more angry now than a few minutes ago. For the sake of his own flesh that did not deserve more bruises he controlled himself enough so as not to lash out at any more walls, just slammed down into his room, the very place his father had ordered him to minutes before. Locking the door tight shut behind him, he continued to rave about the injustice of his life where no-one else ought to be able to hear.
Back in the galley, Shepherd Book had just caught the tail end of the ruckus, missing seeing anything but the back end of Danny disappearing as he entered and found two tearful children stood alone.
“What on Earth has been happening here?” he asked the girls, both fighting the urge to sob all over the place apparently.
He got no real answer and was only too glad when Simon hurried in to what had been happening too. Between them they ought to be able to get some answer out of the kids as to what had occurred, between the crying Jessy and Lyssa had now started doing full force.
“Jayne!” yelled Mal too close to the merc for comfort. “You listenin’ to a damn word I’m tellin’ ya?” he checked.
“Sure, Cap’n,” he lied, having not heard a thing since he first got up there on the bridge.
He hated fighting with his boy, hated it as much as did seeing River or Jessy cry. Tore at his insides to see any part of his little family upset, but he just couldn’t see his way to lettin’ Danny come out on a mission with him and the crew, no way, no how. Wasn’t the place for a kid, middle of a fire fight and such. There was a chance the boy’d get hurt or worse killed, and it was Jayne’s job as a father to make sure that didn’t happen. Of course, this was a simplistic way of viewing things, but Jayne was a simple man in a lot of ways.
“So, once Kaylee gets the stabilisers proper fixed up, we’ll be all set for a landin’,” explained Mal, from the beginning since he was damned sure Jayne was lying to him about listenin’ before. “Zoe’ll come with me, meet the guy, make the deal. Jayne you’ll be look out case things don’t run so smooth, always in contact with Wash here. Wanna make a hasty exit either way when we get done here, ain’t my favourite place to be.”
The relative silence that followed but a moment was soon shattered by yelling and screaming, footsteps both light and heavy along the catwalks and down the corridors, giving him that special kind of headache he was fast getting used to but still not lovin’ even a little bit.
“Right, that’s it! Go Hwong-tong!” he boomed, slamming his hand on the console and making Wash wince before he stormed out of the door and down the hallway.
Lyssa almost tripped him up as she came bolting through in tears, headed straight for her kin, and Jessy was just now reaching the bottom of the steps into the cargo bay as Mal hit the catwalk above. Below him, Jessy ran to River who had been playing down there with the Tam kids, also clearly upset as Simon and Book suddenly appeared from either direction, looking concerned.
“What in the gorram hell?!” the Captain exploded at all concerned, as those from the bridge heard the hollerin’ and came on through to see what the fuss was really all about.
They’d had half a story from Alyssa, between sobs and fits, but not a bit of it was making no sense.
“I heard yellin’ right back in the engine room,” said Kaylee as she appeared behind her husband, wiping grease from her hands with a rag. “What’s...?”
“Ssh,” Simon hushed her swiftly, mindful of Mal’s increasing temper as his face went puce and he slammed his hands against the railings.
“Right, we all here, we all better be set to listen!” he boomed. “This here is my ship, and not a damn playground. I never planned on startin’ no kindergarten and it ain’t happenin’ now, so kids, you learn to behave or so help me...” He shook his head, unable to think of a reasonable threat as so many pairs of sad and apologetic eyes stared up at him from below and across from either side. “I need some peace and order is all. Gotta try to keep things runnin’ smooth, dong ma?” he urged his crew, a little less worked up than he had been a moment ago. “Can’t keep y’all safe if I got you runnin’ around like crazy people, screamin’ like you’re bein’ eaten alive.”
“I’ll second that.” Zoe nodded. “My little Warrior here knows better, right, honey?” she asked the little girl who stood beside her, hand clutched in her father’s own.
“Yes, Ma.” Alyssa nodded dutifully.
“And the rest of you?” he called down below. “You understand Uncle Mal needs his sanity?”
“Yes, sir,” the twins chorused, a they were prone to doing.
“Uh-huh,” agreed Jessy from her place sat on River’s knee, just about done snivelling now.
“That’s good,” said Mal then, looking around at his assembled crew. “’Cause I don’t like bein’ the bad guy, just part of bein’ Captain sometimes,” he reminded them, before walking away.
Malcolm Reynolds wasn’t used to feeling bad about anything much, but he didn’t much care for yellin’ at his crew as a rule, ‘specially not the kids who never meant no harm. Sometimes it wasn’t easy, keepin’ everything together in times of crisis and such. Not that they was havin’ a crisis as such, but work here on Persephone had a tendency to go south all too often...
“You look like you have the weight of the world upon your shoulders, Mal,” said her voice then, a hand creeping onto his shoulder from behind.
“You feel free to help me lift it off.” He smiled in spite of himself as he turned to Inara, his hands going to her waist as her arms slipped easily around his neck like the most natural thing in the world. “Can’t tell you how glad I am to have you back.”
“Oh please, do try,” she teased him as he moved to kiss her long and hard.
It was the strangest feeling for Inara. She kissed a great many men, she lie with them, performed all manner of services. They did things for her too and brought her a great deal of pleasure in various ways, but nobody in the whole of her life could make her feel quite like Malcolm Reynolds did with just a kiss.
She suspected that love made all the difference, for love was most certainly what they shared, there was no other way to explain how two people, so different in so many ways, could have been together all this time and retained such a relationship through all the twists and turns life had thrown their way. Of course, just when things started to feel calm again, one more curveball came sailing towards them.
“Well, that’s some talent you got there, darlin’.” Mal sighed as he and Inara parted lips but nothing else, their arms tight around each other still. “Almost forgot how mad I was five minutes ago.”
“Should I even ask what made you so angry?” she ventured, mindful of bringing on another bout of fury, but also hoping to help if she could.
“Ah, ‘s nothin’, just the kids makin’ noise and all.” He waved away her concern, alongside the temper he knew he should have kept better control of before. “Just when I’m concentrating on a job, I gotta focus. Can’t have all these distractions. Damn sure I never asked to play kindergarten teacher! Reckon it was simpler herding cattle.”
“You know they mean no harm with their games.” She smiled. “They love and respect their Uncle Mal”
“Maybe so, bao bei.” He nodded. “But makes me mighty glad at times they ain’t callin’ me Daddy. Not sure I could be handlin’ a whole bunch of little ones twenty-four-seven, no let up, no matter how good a Uncle I make,” he smiled, planting one last kiss on her cheek before turning to walk away. “I got work to do now, but I’ll see ya later, after the exciting crime.”
“Yes, we’ll talk,” she said softly, forcing a smile until she was sure his back was to her and he was far enough away he wouldn’t turn back again.
It was true, they had a great deal they should talk about, but Inara didn’t relish the idea of such a conversation. Mal always seemed to love the children, but more than once had made it clear he was glad they were not his own. Today of all days, she could have used a change of opinion from the man who meant so much to her. Now, how could she possibly tell him that there was every chance she was carrying his baby?