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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
Light Rayne, slight Mal/Inara. Shopping and kangaroos. This one is longish
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1786 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer: characters and 'verse not mine, Joss's
“River needs clothes”, Inara announced baldly. The crew, minus Jayne, was sitting at dinner in the galley. Jayne was off doing something on the Cortex that was apparently urgent enough for him to pass up food. Inara could not imagine what it might be. Of course, she hadn’t been privy to the conversation between him and the resident psychic two days ago, which had run along the lines of;
“A kangaroo is an animal from earth-that-was. Strange in appearance. Jumped upright on its large back legs, and carried offspring in a pouch on the abdomen.”
“What’s that got to do with a court?”
“A kangaroo court is one in which trials occur without regard to legal strictures, or where objectivity is lacking. The outcomes are often determined before the trial begins.”
Jayne processed what he could of that for a moment then shook his head.
“Well, what’s that got to do with some extinct weird-lookin’ animal what hops around on big hind legs?”
River hadn’t been expecting that question, he could see from her expression. He knew it when she said, “I am uncertain of the colloquial origins of the expression.”
Wait a minute – did that mean she didn’t know? He’d found something she couldn’t explain? He was tickled, just tickled. But better make sure;
“You mean, you don’t know where it comes from.”
River’s bottom lip pushed out, minisculely. “Just because I am uncertain of the circumstances surrounding the first use”-
“Hah! You don’t know.” He left before she could get in the last word. He’d noticed she liked having it, the last word. It had tickled him further, not to let her get it.
The other people at the dinner table, and markedly Simon, paused now to look River over at Inara’s comment. Inara disliked being so abrupt, but the gentle hints she’d been dropping into male ears had the usual effect of subtlety on those two; none.
“What she has on does look kinda scruffy, Captain,” Kaylee submitted.
“What’re you tellin’ me for? She earns her own money. She can buy what she wants with it. Believe it or not, there’s one thing I don’t want to be in charge of on this boat, and it’s what my crew wears. Long as y’ aren’t naked.”
“Mal,” Inara was only a little reproachful, “we haven’t been anywhere near a decent shopping district in months.” They hadn’t been anywhere near a place to pick up a decent client, either, but there were about ten different reasons why she didn’t want to bring that up. However, her once-large financial reserve was beginning to get a little meager, and she would have to do something to start replenishing it soon, or she wouldn’t be able to afford the rent on her shuttle. She pushed that thought away, though, for more immediate and less daunting concerns. “What does the schedule look like for the next few weeks?”
Mal tried to figure out how to explain away the dearth of anything or anyone moneyed in their orbit, and found he couldn’t do it without revealing his reluctance to transport Inara to any more clients. Zoë spoke up before he could.
“We’ll only be a half-day’s flight from Shore’s Leave, on the trip to Lilac. We could be there in two, three days.”
Inara was unsure of this. She’d never heard the name. “Shore’s Leave? It sounds rather military.”
“Used to be, but now it’s a clearance post for anything you can imagine. A lot of it’s black market, but mostly untraceable. You’ll find some nice things there.” Zoë nodded, as if that made it final.
Inara didn’t know about trusting the ex-soldier’s judgment, given her strict adherence to things brown, black, and leather. Then she recalled the dress she’d worn to Wash’s funeral and nodded. “I’m willing to give it a try, if River is.” River, who had agreed wholeheartedly when Inara first broached the subject with her, looked at Mal and smiled. He grunted.
“Fine, then, we’ll call ahead and tell ‘em on Lilac that we’ll be a bit later. Won’t hurt much. And”- he eyed his first mate speculatively- “Zoë, you know the place, so you’ll take them around and give them the lay of the land.” It was a last-ditch effort to distract her and give her anything to do besides work, eat, not-sleep, and pretend not to be in pieces inside. Very last-ditch; Zoë wasn’t a shopping kind of girl. But he’d already tried everything else he could think of.
A few minutes later, Jayne came clumping down the corridor. Pleased that there was food left, he took his usual seat beside River and filled a plate. Then he sulked some when he saw the bread basket was empty. It had been Kaylee’s treat, real yeast and flour bought with her cut from the water bank job, to make real bread. Of course, every slice disappeared right away. None of the expressions he met held any sympathy.
“You wanted some, Jayne, you should’ve gotten in here earlier,” Mal lectured.
Jayne sighed and took a bite of protein something-or-other. Around his mouthful, and apparently addressing thin air, he said;
“The first use of the phrase was during the California Gold Rush, and the first known written use was in North America in Earth-that-were-year 1853. It’s pr’sumed it came from the idea of leaping to conclusion – the trial’s, that is. Like the kangaroo, y’know.” He chewed and swallowed. River nodded and picked up her glass. The rest of the crew was paused in various stages of food consumption. Glancing around after choking down a giggle, Kaylee saw what she never thought she would; Simon’s mouth open with half-masticated food still inside.
Oblivious to the reactions of anyone else, Jayne was perturbed when he elicited none from the person his little speech was aimed at. He kicked her leg. Simon mustered enough gumption to form a weak protest at this abuse, and was roundly ignored.
“Is there some specific reason you’re sharing this – obscure – information with us, Jayne?” The captain enquired mildly.
“Wasn’t talkin’ t’ you, was talkin’ t’ her. Hey, y’ hear me?” He jabbed River’s arm with his spoon. Simon stood up; Kaylee pulled him back down.
“How could I not hear? I am right here. Thank you, Jayne, for the illumination. The increase of knowledge is always desirable.” River leaned over to pinch his leg, not the one nearest her, in retaliation for the kick and the jab. And because she leaned over that far, he got a face full of fancy-smellin’ hair and the press of her chest against his arms. Huh, girl had more under those big dresses than he’d given her credit for. Not huge, but nothin’ to be embarrassed about.
And he was startin’ to clue in that she did these little things on purpose, touching and showing and teasing, and that was just all manner of exciting. She’d just done it right there in the open, in front of her brother and Mal; the girl had balls. Well, not really, or he wouldn’t be interested. But she was gutsy! He hadn’t figured yet how he was going to respond, but respond he would. Speaking of which;
“What yer sayin’ there, is I increased yer knowledge level,” he pushed.
River sighed long-sufferingly. “Yes, this once, you did.”
Satisfied, Jayne nodded sharply and turned back to his food.
“Damn right I did.”
She took up her water glass with her left hand while her little right one landed on his knee and proceeded to inch up, but not high enough for anyone else seated to see. Yup, definitely doing it on purpose. Then he felt something else, and glanced down. She laid a slightly crushed bread slice on his thigh and lifted her hand away. He wanted that hand back more than he wanted the still- warm, buttery bread.
The arrival on Shore’s Leave caused a stir of excitement in Kaylee, and Mal did feel a mite guilty when he heard her talking about how long it’d been since she’d shopped for anything besides supplies or engine parts. So he declared it a girls’ day out, shooed all four women off-ship, and pulled Jayne to go over the upcoming Lilac job in lieu of Zoë.
“Where’s yer staunch right arm? She sick?” Jayne wanted to know. Mal blinked at the word “staunch”, but refrained from commenting on all the new knowledge Jayne seemed to be accumulating lately.
“No, they all went shopping.”
“Good. We need more snacks.”
“Not grocery shopping. Girly shopping. For girly things.” Mal waggled his hand vaguely.
“No snacks? What, then, tampons?”
“No - well, maybe, I guess – I don’t wanna discuss tampons with you, Jayne.”
Kaylee was very animated as they left the ship and Zoe knew it was going to be a long day. But she hadn’t been able to get River’s words out of her head, and supposed she’d try to act on them; she was getting weary of the morass her soul was in, and had no better way to try to break free of it, so she supposed she’d try River’s suggestion.
Having bought bread ingredients and butter, Kaylee didn’t have enough money left to purchase another fancy dress, but she thought maybe Inara could help her pick out a nice clip or comb for her hair. She was more excited about River getting new things; when they’d counted out her accumulated earnings since Miranda, it came to quite a bit. River hadn’t spent any of her income.
This moon was a bit chill, which they’d dressed for but in layers. They had to leave the mule in an attended lot, which Zoe obviously disliked but had done before, and enter a bank of elevators which dropped them about five stories below ground. Inara’s opinion of Zoe’s shopping expertise was dropping rapidly, and she was expecting an unappealing cave-like environ, dark and dank. What she got when the elevator stopped and they exited was warmth and light, scents wafting softly from strategically placed air vents, and a colorfully varied clientele wandering about. It was a cave, one enormous room with shops built in rows curved to fit the wall’s contours. The walls themselves were formed of some soothingly reflective mineral which transmuted the calm yellow light into pinks and oranges.
Zoe observed Inara’s pleasantly surprised reaction and let herself smile, albeit a bit grimly. “Nice, isn’t it?”
“It’s grand,” Kaylee enthused, “Just like a fairy tale, Zoe.” She looked for River’s reaction, and found her gone.
“Where’s River?” Inara asked in the next instant, and after some anxious scanning, they found her partway down the nearest corridor of storefronts, peering into windows and bending over and around exterior displays. Grateful she hadn’t entered any of the stores on her own, Kaylee led the others to catch up with her.
Which they hadn’t but just done when River dashed across the path and in through an entry marked with the emblem for some type of craftsman. Automatically, all three started after her. But when she realized the entire storefront was glass and they could observe from the outside, Zoe stopped them.
“Wait,” she said, “let’s giver her some space.”
Inside, River was questioning the grizzled man at a low counter. He listened a few moments, nodding, then shook his head. River began to gesture with her hands, evidently indicating shape and dimension, but he continued to tell her no. Finally she pointed over his shoulder at something, and when he retrieved an electronic pad and stylus for her, bent over it and began to scribble away at it. She made a few corrections to whatever it was and handed it back. He looked at it, then at her, eyebrows up. She nodded firmly, handed over some of the contents of her money-holder, and then pointed to the digital time readout on his wall. He bobbed his head at her, and she looked triumphant as she exited.
“River, you didn’t just pay that man upfront for something he hasn’t done yet?” Kaylee questioned concernedly.
“Half now, half upon completion,” River responded. Happier with that, Kaylee turned in the direction Zoe led them.
“What did you order?” Inara wondered out loud, following along towards what she assumed was the apparel district. River hummed for a moment before answering.
“I don’t wish to disclose it now.” She glanced over her shoulder at the companion, silently asking for understanding. “Perhaps later.” So Inara let it be.
They passed one store which Inara stopped them and backtracked River to, where they purchased a specific type of shampoo. River was looking very pleased, skipping an occasional dance step by the time they reached the windows with mannequins posed behind them. But then she herself was posed before a mirror, and the enjoyment was gone from her.
The mirror girl didn’t look like her. It was disturbing. Slowly, she counted in her head; four girls in the room, one girl in the mirror with three crowded behind her, oohing and giggling. Well, no giggling from Zoe, but she was smiling, and not in a small way. Zoe in the room, Zoe in the mirror; Inara and Kaylee in the room, Inara and Kaylee in the mirror. River in the room (she was almost certain, anyway); did it follow, then, that was River in the mirror? Maybe the mirror lied, but she didn’t know what its motive might be.
She looked forward to meet the eyes of Inara who was behind her, which was strange, but that was the way of mirrors. This one reflected the truth about all the others, so that meant . . .
“I don’t know me.” It was the tree branch and the gun, all over again.
The other faces became concerned at the quiet words. “What does that mean, River?” Kaylee questioned.
“Or this mirror is a deceitful thing. Who can tell, who can know?” Lines of distress rode River's forehead and nose.
“River, it’s you,” Inara inserted decisively. “Clothes are just a layer, meant to hide or reveal what’s beneath them. What’s beneath stays the same, except for some added or subtracted confidence or self-awareness. Your body, your mind, and your soul are unchanged. Do you understand me?”
River didn’t intend to mindread, but she felt the thoughts behind the words and knew Inara believed what she said. Bolstered by that thought, she nodded, then paused.
“Will he know me?”
“Oh, mei mei, he certainly will. And then”- Inara’s delicate brows rose suggestively, “he’ll want to really know you, which is the purpose of this trip, isn’t it?”
River nodded a bit shyly, while Kaylee exploded with questions and Zoe’s own eyebrows rose enquiringly.
Kaylee’s hands were fists clasped in excitement. “Will who know you? Jayne, do you mean Jayne? Oh, I knew it, I KNEW it that day you were both in the galley-”
River interrupted. “Will he like it?” she asked uncertainly of Inara’s eyes in the mirror.
“Sweetie, no man could fail to love it. If you’re certain you want him to.”
River turned around and faced the real companion, not the reflection one. “I know your opinion of Jayne, Inara. But I want him to.” The last words were resolute.
“You’ll blow him away,” Kaylee asserted. “In a good way, I mean, not a destructive one.”
Under Inara’s instruction, River bought the light rose clingy-on-top Mandarin-styled pant outfit she stood in. Other additions were a shimmery flowing dress in a cream tone, some pastel sundresses that fit better than her current ones, and everyday shirts and pants. Inara enquired about the state of River’s underclothes, and then an intimate apparel store had to be visited. Zoe recommended a pair of boots that wouldn’t slop up and down on their wearer’s feet. Finally, Kaylee got her hair clip and Inara replenished her tea and incense supplies. In the lingerie store Zoe had even purchased new underwear. Inara paid attention, curious. She was right; both pairs were black.
Bags and packages weighted all eight arms, even Zoe’s, by the time the quartet felt ready to head back to Serenity. Once again, when they reached the correct lane River darted off to the same shop she’d visited before, was given something for which she paid, and came back out cradling it carefully in the crook of her arm. The curious women waiting for her were disappointed when they saw it was a plain white box.
River shook her head before any of them could ask. “I am not telling. Asking is pointless.”
Kaylee protested, pleaded, and wheedled all the way back, but River stood firm.
Saturday, July 29, 2006 7:06 PM
Sunday, July 30, 2006 6:02 AM
Sunday, July 30, 2006 6:24 AM
Tuesday, August 01, 2006 12:18 PM
Monday, March 05, 2007 12:14 PM
Wednesday, August 06, 2008 2:24 PM
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