Paper Faces on Parade
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post BDM, Mal/River, Simon/Kaylee, after Masquerade, the Beaumonde job, part 2.


The usual disclaimers, Joss blah blah blah, Mutant Enemy blah blah blah.

First of all, I'd like to apologize for my extended absence. It was really crappy of me to give the first chapter and then disappear. Like I said in my log, senior year was very trying and I didn't have much time to free write. But I do now, and that's all that matters. There is, hopefully, one redeeming factor. I have another year's worth of knowledge on writing, so it should be better. That's the hope, at least. :)


Day 2

It was such a wonderful dream, he just wasn't ready to leave. So why did he sense reality rushing in on him like a ton of bricks? "No... You can't make me..." Mal grunted sleepily, twitching his foot away to stop that awful tickling sensation. A giggle was the only thing that greeted his declaration, and the tickling returned to his foot.

"All right, that's it," he said, sitting up and opening his eyes, trying to blink the sleep out of them. When he could see clearly, he saw what had been causing that dratted tickle. The dratted tickler herself. "Yer in fer it now!" he grinned, grabbing River around the waist and pulling her over to get his much deserved tickley revenge. "That'll teach you to wake a man while he's sleepin'!"

River laughed wildly, squirming in his hold. "Is there any other way to wake a man?" she finally managed to gasp out.

Her question made Mal's still tickling hands pause and a frown crossed his face. "Well... he could have been... in a coma... or something... You just think you're so smart, don't you? Maybe I should start calling you miss Smartypants." he countered feebly. It was too early to be thinking right now. Mal gave a groan and rubbed the back of his neck. "There any particular reason you were wakin' me up? Or were you just bein' spiteful?" he asked.

"Hmm..." she replied, tilting her head to the side as if this was taking a lot of thought to answer. Mal just rolled his eyes and waited for the answer that was bound to bubble forth at any moment. "I haven't got anything to be spiteful about." she informed him, "But I thought that you wouldn't be very happy receiving guests half dressed and in bed."

"Guests? Wait, what?" he flung the covers off and swung his legs off the bed. When his bare feet struck the cold floor, he let loose a rather girly shriek, and quickly retracted them.

It was River's turn to roll her eyes. "Alfred sent a wave earlier this morning, asking if you would join him on a cruise of the planet. He should be here any minute now."

"Go se. Why didn't you say so?" he asked, successfully putting his feet on the floor this time. "Time is it? When'd he call? Why didn't you wake me up?" Mal rambled off his questions as he hopped around, trying to pull his pants on.

Mal's antics seemed to be amusing River, who was already dressed and ready, of course. A coy little smile played across her lips as her eyes followed his progress. "Almost two hours ago now. And I tried." she replied, her tone amused. "You resisted. I shook you, kissed you, I even hit you with a pillow."

"I was... having a really good dream." he replied and deliberately tried to think about something else, like the fact that Alfred would be there any second. River so did not need to know what he had been dreaming about, because he wasn't ready for her to get any ideas from that dream. Mal already found it difficult enough to resist the usual amount of tormenting and tempting that she applied to him daily. One of her eyebrows rose and her eyes took on a rather mischievous glint. Whether or not she had caught on and was now cooking up some scheme to torture him with later, he didn't know, but all he could do was hope. The only problem was, he didn't know which scenario he was hoping for more.

River rose from where she had been sitting on the bed and walked over to him, straightening out his shirt for him. "It was a good dream." she agreed, smirking at him. A rather uncharacteristic blush rose to Mal's cheeks.

"Don't... Git... Stay out of... Gwan nee tzi-jee duh shr." he retorted. Sometimes it was all kinds of unsettling to have River in his head. Other times... Mal shook his head to clear it, trying to ignore the sadistic little grin on her face.

Once Mal was sufficiently clothed and groomed, he and River wandered down to the dining room, where another lavish meal was prepared for them. Kaylee and Simon were already there, having a conversation in low tones which Mal couldn't make out, as much as he would have enjoyed eavesdropping. Whatever it was had Kaylee upset and Simon looking a bit exasperated.

Mal had just taken his first bite of toast when a servant girl entered the room, curtsied, and said, "The Sinclairs," before walking away. Her announcement was followed by the three Sinclairs they had met last night, and a fourth. A man, younger than Alfred, but older than Cassidy. Mal could only assume that this was the son Alfred had mentioned might have an interest in 'Maria,' AKA Kaylee.

"Alfred, so nice to see you again." Mal greeted them. Thankfully, Simon and Kaylee had stopped their discussion at the entrance of the servant girl. Simon had even managed a faint smile, but Kaylee still looked quite disgruntled.

"And you, Mr. Andren. I hope you don't mind, but I brought Val and Cassidy to visit, they were most anxious to spend the day with your Claudia." Alfred replied. Mal thought that Cassidy had more interest in spending the day with 'Harold,' but that was just his opinion, which Kaylee seemed to share as she attempted to cover a derisive snort with a sneeze.

"And the handsome young fellow? I can only assume that he's the son you mentioned yesterday." Mal said hastily to draw the attention away from Kaylee.

"Ah, yes, this is Zachary." he introduced his son. "My successor in the business, as luck would have it." Alfred smiled conspiratorially at Mal and wiggled his eyebrows in Kaylee's direction. Clearly he thought it would be beneficial if the two hit it off and sealed a family alliance. Too bad for him, the 'Andrens' didn't actually have any money. "Zachary, this is Mr. Jack Andren, Mrs. Claudia Andren, Miss Maria Andren, and," here he hesitated half a second, "Their butler, Mr. Harold Ramsey."

Zachary, however, did not seem as enthusiastic as his father about the blatant attempts to influence his love life. He glanced at Kaylee and seemed to repress a sigh. Still, he said in perfectly polite tones, "It'd be an honor, Miss Maria, if you'd accompany me to the strawberry harvest festival."

The words 'strawberry harvest festival' lit up Kaylee's eyes like wildfire. "One of our dearest friends is in the organic fruit trade, and every harvest season, he celebrates many different festivals." Alfred supplied, "They are quite enjoyable."

"Well... I don't know," Mal said, trying not to grin evilly at Kaylee who was looking murder if Mal didn't let her go to wherever the strawberries were. "I guess that'd be all right. As long as you keep her out of trouble. I'm trusting you with my beloved little sister here, Zachary." he winked at the young man, receiving only the smallest of smiles in return.

"Of course, Mr. Andren." Zachary replied, "Miss Maria?" he asked, holding out his arm. Kaylee graciously slid her hand into the crook of it, all the anger and despair of before drained away at the thought of strawberries. She even waved cheerily at Mal as she and Zachary left the room.

"Shall we be off and leave these ladies to their chatter then?" Alfred asked Mal.

"Sounds like a plan." Mal replied, an anxious knot twisting in his stomach for half a second as he thought about leaving River and Simon alone with these people. Then he remembered that this was their society. They'd grown up in it and hopefully knew how to handle themselves. He just hoped River could keep the crazy at bay while they were there, though he hardly noticed any episodes anymore. Apparently he really did make her more normal. Leaning down under the pretense of kissing her cheek, he whispered, "Divide and conquer." in her ear. Her only response was a smile, but that was good enough for him. He followed Alfred out to the veranda where a hovercraft awaited them.

"She's fully stocked with the finest wine and whiskey on Beaumonde." Alfred informed him as they stepped on board. Mal couldn't help but notice two other people inside. "This is Maya, my chief of security, and her second in command, Kale." Alfred said, referring to Zoe and Jayne. That was their cover, they'd been at it for three days already, gaining the trust of the Sinclairs. "Between them, I think two businessman such as ourselves will be safe for a planetary cruise."

"Very thoughtful of you. I couldn't agree more." Mal said as the hovercraft took off.


The Strawberry Harvest Festival

Kaylee couldn't believe her good fortune. At first, she'd been more than a little put out at having to spend time with Zachary, but as the day progressed, so did her good spirits. First of all, she got to accompany him to a strawberry festival-a strawberry festival! Her most favorite thing in the whole world besides engines!-and secondly, he really wasn't interested in her.

Sure, he liked her well enough, but he wasn't attracted to her the way his father hoped he would be. This was absolutely okay with Kaylee, though. Zach was a nice guy, and really interesting. If circumstances had been different, she could see a lasting friendship. But, as it was, he was rich guy whose fortune she was trying to swindle. That kind of put a damper on their relationship.

There was still yet another stroke of luck to fall on Kaylee today. Zachary really did not care for Valerie at all, and there was even some distance between him and Alfred. "Valerie's not my mother." he told her, "She's simply my father's wife. My mother died when I-when I was very young." he went on, "I don't much care for my stepmother, even if she is Cassidy's mother." Clearly, Zachary cared for Cassidy, which meant that he would be protective of her. Okay, no smutting the blonde princess in front of him. No sirree. "And she's changed my father somehow. Before he married her, he was always happy and smiling and just enjoyable to be around. But now, it's like he's walking on eggshells. Like both of us are. And no matter what I do, I can never be as good as Cassidy in her eyes. She even tried to get my father to name Cassidy his successor, but both my father and Cassidy refused it."

So Valerie was pulling the strings, but Alfred could occasionally put his foot down. Got it. "Out of respect for you, or just because she didn't want to do it?" Kaylee asked.

"Both." Zachary replied, "Cassidy doesn't like to be in the spotlight."

Kaylee had to suppress her snide comments here, then reply with, "That makes sense I guess. It's nice that you guys care about each other so much." she said. Zach just smiled at her.


The Andren Villa

It'd been an hour or so since Simon and Cassidy had disappeared to tour the gardens, and the conversation between Valerie and River was slowly turning around to the arranged marriage, which is what River most wanted to talk about. The words 'arranged marriage' always produced a very guarded reaction from Val and River wanted to find out what that was about.

"You say your family wanted to strengthen their alliance to the Andrens. Pray tell, what is your family business and how did it benefit Mr. Andren enough to take so young a bride?" Val asked.

"Doctors." River replied, it seemed appropriate to use the truth. At least then there'd be less of a web of deceit to weave. "The whole family is invested in medicine." she said. "On Osiris. Capital City." she gave a nostalgiac smile. "And I'm not so terribly young. I'll be eighteen in two weeks."

"Awfully young to be married. But, it can't be helped, I suppose. Just hope that one day, when you're my age, you don't look back with regret. You and Jack seem to get on well enough." Val responded. Was that it? She was spiteful about being married to a man she didn't love? There seemed to be more, but River just couldn't lock onto it.

"I'm very fond of Jack." she replied, "I've known him for years. I knew what I was getting into." she told Valerie. "I was sleeping a long time before I met him. I didn't wake up until the day I laid eyes on him."

Val's perfectly manicured eyebrows rose, "Well, I'm very happy for you, Claudia. It sounds like you may have a pleasant marriage after all. Don't get me wrong, Alfred is a decent man, but there's no real spark between us. And he needs direction all the time. The man simply can't make decisions for himself. I'm the reason we have what we have now. The reason we have our fortune!" she seemed startled by the words she'd accidentally let slip, "I'm sorry, my dear Claudia. I didn't mean to speak out of turn. But you understand what I mean about husbands? They're sheep, and we are shepherds."

"I'll keep that in mind." River said. She heard the door open as Zach and Kaylee came into the room, apparently laughing about something. River wasn't sorry that they cut off the somewhat dark conversation she was having with Val at all. The two new arrivals joined them and a much lighter conversation was struck up. Zach and Kaylee must have gotten along very well, because they were laughing quite a bit. So much so, that Simon and Cassidy returned to see what the fuss was. Kaylee fell silent after they came in.

Mal and Alfred returned around dinner time, and Mal absolutely insisted that the Sinclairs stay for dinner. It was a rather pleasant meal, everyone chatted nicely and when it was over, the Sinclairs left, bidding them a fond farewell and promises of more adventures tomorrow.

"Zoe says that the Sinclairs are running some kind of side operation." Mal said after they were gone, "You know, the kind that could get you in trouble with the Feds?"

"If they are, then it's Val's doing. She shepherds her flock well." River said.

"Zach says that Valerie isn't even his mother. She married Alfred when Zach was seven, and he said his father's never been the same." Kaylee supplied.

"I mostly only got silly flirting from Cass, though I think she knows more than she lets on." Simon said. Kaylee glared.

"Interesting. I got the impression from Al that his wife calls the shots, yes. And he's not happy about what she's calling." Mal said."Anyway, I'm glad everyone is getting along so well. With any luck, we'll have this job finished soon and we can drop the fancy charade. I prefer Serenity to this snob fest anyday."


To be continued...


Gwan nee tzi-jee duh shr - Mind your own business.



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