Delia Cycle #5 - A House Divided Cannot Stand
Monday, June 6, 2005

After months away from Europa due to snowbound conditions, Serenity's crew regards Stapleton as home away from home.


A House Divided Cannot Stand

by Maura F. ( Standard infringement disclaimers apply...I write for love, not profit. Of course, Delia would disapprove! )


To: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp from: re: snow M.- It's September 18, and the snow started five hours ago. It took Hank and I by surprise. Didn't expect first fall for two weeks. Luckily, we had already put up the long tunnel connecting my house to the Ag building. Took us an hour to connect Hank's house to the Ag building. By time we were done, there was an inch on the ground. I just finished putting up the high pitched cover for the top deck. Fourteen feet of snow would collapse the deck. We received the last shipment of supplies five days ago. Included were two additional snow melters I bought for Stapleton. Ag building filled with food, fuel rods & emergency supplies. We've done this before, we'll do it again. Previous Snows were relaxation, contemplation, rest. This one only offers only loneliness and isolation. My carefully planned projects hold no joy, except for Kaylee's dress and the new bed that sits in my room, waiting for your return. We spent the last month since you left preparing for the snow. Now, I wait for it to melt. Vid forecasts heavier than normal snow. If you don't hear from me for a while, don't get too concerned. Sometimes the satellite connection is poor in the strongest blizzards. - D. ---------------------------- Delia looked out the living room window. She wanted to enjoy the view while she still could. In a matter of weeks, snow would cover the first floor windows. Curled into her favorite crimson chair, she held her portable tablet in her hand absently. After sending the wave off to Mal, there was little to do. She needed to ration her projects and tasks. She had Kaylee's fluffy dress to transform into something fashionable. Delia also wanted to paint her bedroom. She had picked a grayish blue paint that reminded her of the sky before a storm. Getting up, she flipped the tablet into the empty chair and walked into the kitchen. She pulled a coffee mug down from the cabinet. Delia put a tea bag into it and flipped the hot water switch next to the sink. Hot water rushed into the cup and the bag started to steep. She watched it for a moment, then realized why it caught her attention. Mal had used this mug on his last visit. Looking at the floor, she saw her toes. The purple paint on her nails was chipping. She would need to fix that. Delia picked up the mug and sipped the tea. It was Day 1, and she was miserable at the thought of the next sixty days, exactly like today. ------------------------- Day 12 11:00 Morning Delia was dressed in an old shirt and pants. She was preparing her room to be painted. She moved the sparse furniture to the center of the room and covered the yellow carpet with old sheets. Snapping the nozzle onto the small paint can, she tested the color against the far wall. It was bluer than she remembered. Examining it up close, she saw that perhaps she had made a mistake. This color was cheery: a midsummer no clouds in the sky kind of blue. Damn! Hadn't this been grayer? Delia hesitated a moment. Should she continue painting her room this perky blue or wait till Melt to get something else? Delia decided to continue. At least, she would have a new color on the wall. Spraying back and forth, she evenly applied a layer of atmosphere on her bedroom walls. Her mind was already at the hardware store in Marksville, looking at samples. Yes, she should have picked two tones down. 15 minutes later, the spray nozzle clogged as it fed the paint towards the bottom of the can. She untwisted it and brought it into her bathroom. The clog flowed down the sink. She shook the nozzle dry and walked back into her room. Delia looked up to see the first wall she had painted. She smiled at the paint, it had dried darker than it had applied. No mistakes. It was perfect. It was the color of his eyes. ----------------------------- To : from : inaraserraRC@serenity.firefly.shp re: snowbound Dearest Delia, Sorry it took me a few days to respond to your wave. I've just gotten back from Beaumond, where I had a delightful appointment with an Alliance Head of State. We had a delightful evening at one of the best restaurants in Wilcox. When I mentioned we visited Stapleton, he mentioned your name! Somehow, I wasn't surprised that an Alliance Chairman knew your name. I think your sphere of influence is much larger than you let on with Mal. Robert Chappelle is a very interesting man. When Serenity returns to Europa, he and I have agreed to see each other, beyond Guild guidelines. In other words, I have a date!!! Thanks so much for introducing him to me. I understand from Kaylee that Mal has been a bear to the crew. I think the reality of being apart from you is starting to sink in. I have known Mal for a very long time. I have never seen him this drawn to a woman before. He has gone from totally closed off to now only slightly closed off. He and I may have had our occasional moments, but this is a totally different thing. I always thought I would resent the woman who took Mal's attention, but now I welcome her as a sister. She is dearer to me than I could have ever thought, and I know we all look forward to seeing her Europan homestead again. Love Always, Inara ------------------------------

Day 18 2:30 Afternoon After finishing a cup of soup and a few crackers, Delia decided to take apart Kaylee's dress. She walked upstairs with her tea and into her sewing room. The dress form in the corner had been adjusted to Kaylee's measurements. It was ready. She was ready. Where was her tablet? She had sketched a few design ideas into it three days ago. It was still in the living room where she had left it after answering Zoe's last wave. She padded downstairs and into the living room. Something was different. She looked around but couldn't quite touch on it. It was darker downstairs than on the third floor. Then, it hit her that the first floor windows were covered with snow. She had to remember to adjust the air purifier. She turned the tablet on as she walked back upstairs. It flared to life and was ready when she reached the sewing room. She accessed the files on Kaylee's dress, then looked at a picture she had downloaded from the Cortex. She thought it would work. If not, she had time to buy a dress and have it shipped to Persephone before the dance. Laying the tablet down, she turned to the dress. Delia took it down from the hanger and turned it inside out. "Here goes nothin'" she said aloud. Delia held a seam ripper in her left hand. Deftly, she inserted it into the seam that attached the bodice to that gargantuan bell skirt. With a quick tug, the seam collapsed and soon, the pink fluff was on the floor. Delia hung the bodice back onto the hanger and turned her attention to the skirt. With the design she had in mind, Delia estimated she could make a dance dress, a long skirt and perhaps even a pair of pants out of the enormous dome of fabric. Day 22 3:18 Morning Delia was in her bathroom. After showering, she had sectioned her wet hair carefully and was in the process of winding her auburn tresses into fat pin curls. When dry, her hair would tumble into a sea of curls. She was about half way through when she lost the feeling in her right hand. It didn't ache, nor tingle. It just wasn't there. No sense of touch. No feeling at all. She clenched her hand lightly a few times. What was going on? She had just gotten over feeling tingly in her shoulder, and now this. When was her next shot? It was Friday. Today was Wednesday. Wasn't it? She turned on the vid. The scroll on the News Channel said it was Tuesday. Delia really had to keep better track of these things. She did like the new paint. --------------------------------------- Day 33 To: from: kwfrye@serenity.firefly.shp re: Captain Pigu Delia, You really need to do something bout Captain. Ever since we picked up a load of porcelain from Whitefall he's been a total pigu and the whole crew nearly locked him in his bunk. He yelled at everyone, even Preacher last night at dinner. We were laughin and carrying on, and he came and yelled at us to get back to work. Then he looked like he was gonna hit Jayne cause he told him to keep his shirt on. Then, he left as quick as he came. Zoe went talkin to him and we heard her get yelled at. That night I saw Preacher with Cap in the cargo bay. They were hittin the punchin bag. Well, Cap was hittin it, Preacher holdin. Today, Cap was better. Not much, but better. Zoe said he was redirectin his energy, whatever that is. Hope my dress is gorgeous. I want to be as beautiful as Inara. Miss you bunches, Kaylee --------------------------------- 6:00 Evening Hank knocked on Delia's glass door. Leaning over from where she stood, she looked toward the door, and motioned him in. Tonight was her night to cook their dinner. They made it a point to meet every night for dinner, unless one was feeling poorly. "Hi Hank! Delia said, trying to convince him she was cheerful. "Hey Miss Delia." Hank said. He wasn't hiding his depression. It was hard to keep your spirits up sometimes. The only thing Hank looked forward to even remotely was his own vacation off planet after the Melt. He always went away when the hands returned. This year, he planned to see his sister and her family on Persephone. "That smells good." he said as he walked into the kitchen. "Ham steak and baked potatoes. Nothing fancy." Delia said. As she said those words, she realized those were the first words she had said aloud all day. "What's the word from the outside?" Hank asked. "Heard from Kaylee today. Serenity has a load of porcelain she's running to Whitefall. Said they were told it's porcelain, at least." "They live on the edge." Hank joked. "Well Hank, if you're not livin' on the edge, then you're takin' up too much space." "Now where've I heard that before?" "C'mon, chow time." Delia said. She had their plates in her hands. She had to walk quickly, so the plate in her right hand didn't fall to the floor. ------------------------------- To: from: zbwashington@serenity.firefly.shp re: Mal Mei-Mei, By now you must have gotten reports of Mal. He was unbearable as we left Whitefall. He and Jayne went to a bar while we were waiting for the shipment. Something must have happened... he has been yelling at everyone, no patience. He even threw his coffee cup at the wall in the Mess. Book talked to him; now it's a nonstop workout session. Thank goodness for the punching bag. Anything to keep his focus elsewhere. It's been hard on Kaylee, but she and Inara have been talking. I think she's ok. I yelled back at him last night. Told him to stow it. He stormed off to his bunk. Good times. Love, Jei-Jei. PS- Remind me to get more peanut butter when we are on Europa. Hubby has already gone through 2 jars! --------------------------------

To: from: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp D, I need to tell you something. Don't be sore. When Jayne and I were on Whitefall three days ago, I met a woman in the bar. She was flirtin' something fierce, and I've been so hua lately without you. I kissed her. I wanted to go upstairs with her, but I didn't. I'm sorry. I've been taking it out on the punching bag. It helps. Now I know why Jayne lifts weight so much. -M. ----------------------------------- To: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp from: re: Whitefall M.- I'm not mad. We see each other when you are here. We care for each other. But if you choose to be with another woman, I can't stop you. Don't take it out on the crew. -D. ---------------------------- To: from: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp re: Whitefall You didn't stop me. I stopped me. Wanting someone and wanting to do something about it are different. I didn't wanna do anything 'bout it. I like having someone. I never felt this way before. You are too different from anyone I ever met. I like the way you cook dinner with a gun strapped to your thigh. I like the way you're out for yourself but take care of those around you. I like the way you stick it to the Alliance whenever you can. I like you. Not just love. I like you. -M. ---------------------------- Day 40 Delia woke in a restless mood. She was starting to get cabin fever. She wanted desperately to take her mind off the loneliness and isolation. When she spied her tablet sitting on the dining room table, she knew what would help. Shopping. Delia signed onto the cortex and searched for men's formal wear for the dance. She bought lingerie, a new pair of boots that went over the knee, a new hat for Hank, some books., a hair clip for Zoe..... After her spending spree, Delia went to her bathroom and drew herself a hot bath. Sprinkling jasmine soap into the water, she smiled at the thought of Mal. She imagined him in her bathtub next time he was on Europa. Then she looked at the box in her hand. She walked over to the cabinet and scanned the various bottles and boxes. Vanilla, violet, almond milk, rose. She frowned. Delia walked back to the tablet and signed back on to the cortex. She scanned and found it. Unscented bubble bath. She didn't think Mal would appreciate smelling like roses. ------------------------- Day 49 In her sewing room, Delia fitted Kaylee's skirt to the form. Pinning it inside out, she made the skirt slim and fitted. As she bent to pin the hem, she had an idea. What if she trimmed the ruffles? They were still looking a bit flouncy. She wanted this dress to be perfect. Nodding, Delia unpinned the skirt and laid it out on her table. Scissors made quick work of the layered ruffles. Much better. She shook her right hand. She wiggled it back and forth. It was still numb. Delia repinned the skirt onto the form. She threaded the machine with blue thread. Just a few more steps, and Kaylee would be dancing in style. --------------------------------- To: from: captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp re: D.- God, I miss you. Haven't seen you for a couple months and I'm feelin it. It's hard not layin into the crew sometimes. I'll be in my bunk, thinkin about the hot tub, or on the bridge, thinkin about us there, and then something stupid happens. Last week, we had a hold full of weapons bound for the outer rim and we nearly got pulled over by an Alliance cruiser. Luckily, Kaylee had made another cry baby last week and they let us go. Gorram Alliance. Let folks go do their work in peace, stead of mucking things up. I'm twisted between thoughts of you and prairie grass and the deep black I live in. Hope to hear Melt is coming. Can't wait to see you -M. -------------------- Day 55 Delia was in her kitchen. She had a large pot of water starting to boil on the stove. Kaylee's skirt hung on a dining room chair. She hummed to herself as she tried to wait for the boil. Mal's last wave had put her in a good mood. She anticipated the first sign of Melt any day now. Soon, so very soon . Glancing into the pot, she saw it was ready. Delia took the little box of dye in her hand and dumped it into the pot. After a few minutes stirring time, she went to get the skirt. She continued humming as she dunked the skirt into the pot, and glanced at the clock. 3 minutes and Kaylee's skirt would be blue. -------------------------------- To: kwfrye@serenity.firefly.shp from: re: your dress! Dear Kaylee, I'm proud to tell you the dress is finished! It is just as beautiful as can be, and just as you and I discussed. I did trim the ruffles a bit, though. They were a bit flouncy. It is gorgeous, and I can't wait to see you, and you in it. I hope Captain is treating everyone ok. I know he can be a jerk sometimes. Keep your chin up, Melt is just around the corner. It never lasts more than 2 months. How is S.? Are you doin' like I told you? He'll come around. Love you bunches, Delia ---------------------- Day 68 The greenhouse depressed her. It was solid white; the plasticine sheets on the windows were completely blocked by snow. No sign of Melt. She looked around at the sagging greenery around her. The lights and heater weren't helping. The lemon tree looked poorly. Her houseplants were positively diseased. Delia just couldn't bring herself to save her plants. She was depressed. She was anxious. She hadn't had a message from anyone in a few days. She left the greenhouse and walked upstairs to the bedroom. Looking out through the side of the high pitched roof that covered the top deck, she saw why. The blizzard that raged outside was blocking communication. Until it stopped, there would be no connection. Delia walked back to her bedroom and turned on the Vid. Snow. More Gorram snow. --------------------------- Day 79 Delia stayed in bed most of the day. She watched the Vid, reception was back as the last blizzard had ended five days ago. The only time she left her room was to call over to Hank and make sure he was okay. He was, but was feeling a bit sick. Could they not have dinner tonight? That suited her fine, she was calling him to tell him not to come over. Delia grabbed a biscuit left over from last night's dinner and walked back upstairs. She propped herself up in bed and watched for 6 hours without moving until she fell asleep. ---------------------------------- Day 82 To captmreynolds@serenity.firefly.shp from : re: MELTDOWN M.-Melt has begun! When I went downstairs this morning, I noticed the rooms on the first floor were brighter. The snow has definitely receded, at least by several feet. Vid says official total for Stapleton was twenty two feet. Biggest snow in eighteen years! I'll wave you again when I hear the snow melters. That means digout has begun. I can't wait to see you again. I've got a brand new bed with your name all over it. -D. ------------------------------- Day 92 10:00 Morning Delia ambled across the living room to the kitchen to refill her coffee mug. Her slippers whispered against the carpet. She felt better this morning, better than she had in weeks. Delia had set her hair again last night, and it fell across her shoulders in waves. It made her feel better. She could see out the front windows and across the street to the Jackson's house across the way. Maybe later she would stand at the window and watch if the youngest looked out the front of his own house. They could wave at each other. She was looking forward to contact with someone other than Hank when her telfonix rang its happy tune. --------------------------- Mal was in his bunk, trying to read the book Delia had given him. It was about swordsmen. He hated swords. But she had given it to him, saying it was from Earth that was, and was a great story. He kept reading the opening lines over and over. He couldn't concentrate. Mal knew that in a few minutes, they would be within communications range with Europa. He put the book back to its original resting place on the desk. Lifting his boots from the floor, he knew he had to go to the bridge. When he climbed the ladder out of his bunk, he took a deep breath. It was the same, recycled air they had been breathing for two weeks. He longed for the clean air on Europa. Fresh, clean air that smelled of plants, dirt, and Delia. "Wash, what's going on?" Mal asked cheerfully. "We're about 30 minutes from Europa." Wash said. "Can we get..." Mal said. "Got it ready, Sir." Wash said with a smile. Wash flipped a switch and pressed the button on the com. Delia's sensual voice filled the bridge. --------------------- Thank you for visiting Europa. Unfortunately, Hammond's Market is currently closed for the winter. We expect to reopen within five days, as Melt has begun. If you need supplies, fuel or food, please visit our sister store The Trading Station, located at 32.901 on the Europan landscape, in the Northern Hemisphere. We look forward to your next visit to Hammond's. Thank you. End of Message. ---------------------- Mal listened to the message with his eyes closed. It had been four months since he had last heard her voice. He brushed her hair back over her shoulder. He touched her cheek. "Captain? Hello? Uh, yeah. We can get Europan telfonix signal in about two minutes." Mal nodded his head lightly. He paused a moment, then picked up the ship wide broadcaster. "Hello Serenity. We are 30 minutes outside of Europa , and we'll be placing a buzz to a woman on that moon momentarily. If you'd like to say hi, come to the bridge. And, uh, don't hog the view screen." Mal said. Heads all over Serenity popped up at this announcement. Kaylee lay in her hammock in the Engine Room. She had been looking at a magazine she had gotten a year ago and had read a thousand times before. Kaylee bolted up from the hammock and out the door as the magazine slipped to the floor. Zoe was in her bunk. She was brushing her teeth when she heard the announcement. She also heard the anticipation in Mal's voice. Four months was a long time when you are in love. ----------------------------- Delia answered the buzz casually. It was probably Harlan, telling her the melters were coming her way. "Ni Hao Ma" she said as her eyes glanced up to the screen. Mal's face filled the monitor. He had a small smile on his face. She mirrored it back. Suddenly Mal's body lurched right, and Wash's goofy grin filled the space. "Hi Delia!" "Hi, Wash!" Then, he was gone, replaced by Zoe. "Mei-mei" "Jei-jei" " Delia answered. She couldn't contain her grin. Mal pushed Zoe out of the frame and replaced her with himself. He rolled his eyes slightly. "Where are you?" Delia asked "'Bout 175 miles over your head." Wash yelled. Delia laughed as Mal obviously reached over and punched him. She heard a soft "ow" off screen. "How are you?" Mal asked. "Getting better every minute." she replied. Kaylee rushed onto the bridge and nearly sat on her Captain's lap as she thrust her face into the camera lens. "Delia!" Kaylee rejoiced. "Honey, how are you?" "I'm great. I missed you so much! I hope everything is good. How was the snow? Was it deep? Did you go nuts? How is my dress?" she babbled. "Uh, I missed you too. The snow was white. And deep. I'm utterly insane. Your dress is beautiful." Delia answered sequentially, still smiling. Zoe's hands reached into the frame and Delia saw Zoe physically remove her from Mal's lap. Delia had to stifle a laugh. "Say goodbye" Zoe said "Bye Delia!" Kaylee called. Mal turned back to the screen, his hand sweeping his forehead. He had been waiting for this call for months and now every gorram member of the ship was ruining it. "Supplies hold out?" he asked after collecting himself. "We had more than enough." Delia answered. "Hank?" "Ready to get off this gorram rock." Delia said "Tunnel work okay?" "Like a dream, as usual." Delia said. "Can I get a few minu..." Mal asked the empty room. He looked around and saw Zoe closing the bridge door behind her. She had whisked everyone out. She smiled at him through the glass then disappeared. Mal turned back to the screen. "I've missed you qingren" he said simply. Delia put her hand up to the camera lens, and it appeared to Mal that she reached out and touched his face. He bit his lip, and as her hand retreated, his hand moved to Serenity's lens. "I've missed you." she said. "What have you been doing to keep busy?" Mal asked. If he dwelt on his loneliness, she would see his desperation. "I have a rigorous schedule. Undressing, bathing, putting on lotion, dressing again. It's been brutal." Mal closed his eyes briefly "Don't do that to me. I can't see you for a week." "Actually, it's only about 4 days. I heard melters this morning. It'll take them a few days to melt the entire town. They usually do a good job trying to get me open as soon as possible. Hammond's visitors are the main reason the town thrives." she said. Mal nodded, then smiled. "So we can go get your cargo on Persephone?" "Yep." It was one step closer to Europa. "Don't be surprised. I've got a lot being shipped in for the season." she said. "I'm sure we can handle it." Mal said confidently. "You look good." she said. Mal smiled, slightly embarrassed. He had made sure to get a haircut on Boros. "Hey, is Zoe there? I need to talk to her." "Zoe" Mal called to the door. "You're up." The bridge door slid open and Zoe entered the bridge. Mal saw through the briefly opened door that the entire crew was in the dorm hallway, leaning against the walls. Mal got up and let Zoe sit down. "Hey you." Zoe said. " Listen, does Wash have anything to wear to the Marksville Dance?" Delia asked. "He's got Hawaiian shirts and uh Hawaiian shirts. That would be a No." "That's what I thought. There'll be a box among the cargo marked Alesso Couture on it. There are clothes inside are for him, Jayne and Mal.." "Sure, but I didn't think Wash and I were going. I don't have anything either." Zoe said. "Yes you do." "You bought me something? "It arrived 5 days before the snow." Delia said. "Slinky?" "Wash is gonna need defibulators it's so slinky." Mal smiled. He had never seen Zoe in a slinky dress, but he had an idea. "What color?" "Red" "You're the best." Zoe said. "Simon's turn" Delia said. Zoe got up and got Simon from the hallway. Mal could see Kaylee was getting increasingly agitated. "Hi Simon." "Hi Delia. Everything okay?" Simon asked. He knew something must be wrong if she was asking to talk to him. "No. The numbness. It went from my shoulder, skipped my elbow and has stayed in my right hand for over a month." "Bad?" "Can't feel it. No sense of touch, or sensitivity to hot or cold. No strength" Delia said. "Have you been taking the shots?" Delia nodded. "Have you tried exercising it?" Delia shook her head. "Try grasping a ball in your hand. Roll it from finger to finger. Don't squeeze it too hard. You want to stimulate the nerve endings, not give them a big workout. Do you have any Zormenthitor?" "Yes" "Take one a day for the next 5 days. It'll help too." "Thanks, Simon, I will." Simon stood up and walked to the edge of the bridge. He looked at Mal who shooed him out the door. "Now you'll have to get here quick." Delia said. "Huh?" "You heard what Simon prescribed." she said slowly and sensually. "I need to grasp a ball in my hand, and then roll it with my fingers. Who are we to go against Doctor's orders?" Delia said. Mal closed his eyes and yelled "Wash, I need to get on that gorram moon!" Delia thought she heard far away laughter. "Xinaide, you better get to Persephone quick." Delia said. She had called him Darling. Delia talked to Jayne, then to Book, and finally to Inara. "Tell Kaylee I had to go. I'll see you soon." Delia said. "We'll talk again when we are about to land in a day or two." Mal said. Delia kissed her finger tips and touched the screen. It went black. "Wash, Let's go get that cargo on Persephone." Mal ordered. Wash and Zoe walked back onto the bridge. Wash sat down in his chair. "Eww, my chair's all wet." Wash joked. Mal leaned over and swatted his head. "Zo, we'll be touching down at Westdowne Dock this time. The Central Mail Authority has Delia's cargo. They know we're coming for it. We need to clear our cargo deck of anything not tied down. Delia said there are lots of boxes. " ---------------------------------- 6 hours later, Serenity touched down at the Westdowne Dock. Mal and Zoe walked out the forward cargo bay to the Mail Facility. They had been able to dock fairly close to their loading dock. --------------------------------- "I'm lookin' for Alfred O'Brien?" Mal asked the guard. "In the office. Second door on the left." he said. Mal and Zoe walked down the hall and through a glass partition saw a large man behind the desk. "Alfred O'Brien?" Mal asked, peeking his head in the office. "Yes?" "I'm Captain Harbatkin of the Firefly Serenity. I'm here to collect some cargo for Mrs. Delia Hammond of Europa?" he said. Mal never used his real name with the Alliance. "Oh, good. 'Bout time you got here. I've been kickin' those boxes for weeks." The man heaved himself from his desk and walked out of the office. Mal and Zoe followed him down the hall and through a doorway into an enormous warehouse. Boxes and crates were everywhere. Boxes flew past them on conveyor belts and down into waiting trucks. "LISTEN UP!" O'Brien called to his crew. "Shippers are here to take away the Hammond goods. Let's shake a tail feather and get these people on their way." Mal liked the sound of that until he heard a cheer go up from all corners of the warehouse. "Hammond's stuff is there" O'Brien said to them, with a broad sweep of his hand. Mal and Zoe stared at a sea of boxes piled against one whole corner of the warehouse. "You said you got a Firefly? Hope you can lift off." O'Brien smirked. ---------------------------- The workers quickly assembled a conveyor belt that reached to Serenity's cargo gate. The postal workers were so eager to get the goods onboard they helped the Serenity crew unload the goods from the belt and carry them into the ship. The boxes flowed into Serenity for nearly a half hour. Zoe monitored the flow of goods for about 20 minutes, occasionally turning over a box to read the label. When the Alesso box passed underneath her gaze, she picked it up off the line and walked into Serenity with it. She put it on the steps leading to the stairs. "Hey we need to leave a walkway" she called out. There were an awful lot of boxes. As the boxes flowed to a trickle, O'Brien walked out of the warehouse and toward Mal. He was carrying three boxes and a clipboard. "Captain Harbatkin? I need you to sign here, accepting the cargo." Mal took the clipboard and signed his alias to the bill of lading where marked. "Thanks. And here, you need to sign for these three individually." Mal looked at the three packages in O'Brien's hand. "Ok" Mal signed his fake name three times to a hazmat slip, a weapons declaration, and a certified box. O'Brien handed him a copy of the sheet. "I need Mrs. Hammond to sign her name next to yours to certify these three were received. She needs to take it to her post office as soon as she can so it gets back to me. Can you make sure she understands that?" "Will do." Mal said, taking the three boxes from O'Brien. The two men shook hands and Mal walked back to his ship. As he walked up the gangway, he looked at the bill of lading and realized how much cargo they had actually received. 412 boxes. What was she thinking? ------------------------- "Okay. Kaylee? Can you turn on the thrust override? I need about 45 seconds of pure thrust to get her off the ground." Wash said into the com. Kaylee went to the engine room from her perch on the catwalk and flipped some switches on the control panel. "Wash, you have the power." Kaylee said into the com. "Liftoff from Persephone in 30 seconds" Wash called over the inter ship com. Mal heard Serenity's engines start to warm up. He walked from the catwalk onto the bridge. "We gonna make it?" Mal called up to the bridge as he approached. "Good question. Let's find out." Wash answered. Wash pushed the thrusters before him to full and pressed a button next to them. Serenity's engines whined louder than Mal had ever heard. Slowly, Serenity rose from her moorings and lifted into the sky. "Westdowne, this is Firefly Serenity. We're taking off heavy. Can you move traffic away from South 492?" Wash said into the com, a little frantically. "Serenity this is Westdowne Control, Roger that request. How many?" "Seven" Wash answered Control. "Serenity out." "We're off." Mal said. Wash pushed the yoke forward and Serenity's engines tilted to propel the ship forward. "Now for the tricky part. We can't just.. Whoa.. Lift straight up. I need to skim at an angle until we get high enough. " "Hm. Well, now at least we know our load limit. What was that from the traffic controller? Asking how many?" Mal asked "He was asking how many souls we have on board, case we crash." Wash said, eyes glued to Persephone's horizon. ---------------------- Mal walked back to the cargo bay's cat walk. All but Wash stood and eyed the enormous load. It was at least ten boxes deep, and covered the entire floor, except for a cross shaped walkway carved out through the center and toward the stairs. "Maybe she's lost her mind." Zoe said. "Maybe she's got a shopping addiction. Not much to do on a cold winter night by yourself." Kaylee said. "She said most of this was restock for the Mart. But this is ridiculous." Mal said. "Remind me never give her access to my Cortex account." Jayne said. "She is a very giving person." Book observed. "Maybe she's giving something to everyone on Europa." Simon said. Wash came down from the bridge. He was flushed. "Ok, that wasn't fun. Kaylee, re-engage the thrust override, and can you check the rod in the hole?" Wash said. Kaylee went back to the engine room and came back with an incredulous look on her face. "We used half a rod getting off Persephone." she reported. "I thought we might. I'm surprised we were able to do it at all." Wash replied. "Ok, folks. Six hours to Europa. We probably won't be able to land for a day or so once we get there. Let's make the most of our time. Let's get dinner on the table. Who's turn is it?" Mal asked. "Yours." the crew answered, nearly in unison. ------------------------------ After dinner, Mal went to see Simon. He was in his room, resting. Mal knocked on the fiberglass door and got a splinter in his knuckle. "Yes?" "Hey, it's me. Can I talk to you?" Mal said. Simon slid the door open. "Come in, Captain. What's up? "Delia. Her hand. Is it serious?" "Don't know till I look at it. Test her nerve endings. Might be temporary, like the shoulder." Simon replied. Mal nodded slowly. He worried at the splinter in his knuckle. "So it isn't a sign that things are progressing." "No. She may have been knitting too much. She may have moved it wrong. I don't know. Let's go over to the Infirmary for a second. I want to show you something." Mal and Simon walked the short steps to the Infirmary. Simon pulled a file from the lower cabinet and laid them out on the counter. "Here look at this. These are her first blood results. These are her second and third. They are nearly identical. All in a year's time." Mal leaned over and looked at the numbers on the counter. Simon realized he had better expand on what the Captain was seeing. "These numbers here tell me her blood content is normal. Her organs are working fine. This set here indicates abnormal levels of neurodepressants. That's the Barett's Syndrome. This one here, is her Profoscacil load. It's constant. She'll never read normal. But it tells me she isn't using." "Using? " "Delia probably had one hell of a Profoscacil addiction coming out of Carthage." Simon said casually. Mal was silent: another piece for the puzzle. Simon reached for a pair of tweezers in a box. He took Mal's hand and started to remove the splinter as he talked. "These are really good signs. She's not getting better, but she's not getting worse. I'm confident that if she... there it is...if she takes care of herself, she'll probably live with merely annoying symptoms for the rest of her life." Simon explained. Mal nodded again. "Thanks. And, thanks for this" Mal said, holding up his hand. "Don't tell her I showed you those tests. They're private." Simon said. ------------------------ A few hours later, Serenity slowed down automatically. The crew was asleep and the ship's computer had reached its pre-plotted destination. Wash's alarm went off nearly simultaneously. He reached and silenced it quickly. 12:40 Morning. He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. He ran his fingers through his hair. In the dark, he fumbled for the sweat pants he had put on the edge of the bed just for this purpose. He glanced over at Zoe, whose eyes were closed. She rolled over and made a small moaning sound. Wash got up and walked to the ladder. Climbing up, he saw Zoe roll back over. He went up and out to the bridge. He had to take care of Serenity for a minute. Wash was in his chair, flipping switches. Serenity had done her job; Europa lay beneath them and he put the ship in orbit over the moon. He was just about to stand up and return to bed when he heard the bridge's door close. He turned the chair around to see Zoe was on the bridge. She was wearing his short paisley robe, and nothing else. "I'm sorry. Did I wake you?" he asked quietly. Zoe shook her head. Her hair, loose around her shoulders, fanned out in waves. She walked over to where he sat and leaned against the com. "We're here. I was shutting her down." Wash said. Zoe nodded and smiled. "We most certainly are here." she said softly. Zoe leaned over and kissed Wash gently. He was surprised for a moment. They had fooled around on the bridge before, but never as privately as this. Everyone was asleep. He knew why she was on the bridge. Instantly he was aroused by her presence, her hair around them, her kiss. Wash pulled his wife down onto the chair and they kissed passionately. ----------------------------- Mal's eyes popped open. Looking at the clock, he saw they had reached Europa 15 minutes ago. He lay on his bed for a few minutes. He tossed and turned. He knew there was a very good chance Delia was awake at this time of the morning. He wanted to call her. He wanted to call her in complete privacy. Mal grabbed his shorts off the floor and slid into them. He made his way up the ladder and started to walk toward the bridge. He had forgotten to wear shoes. His bare feet on Serenity's metal grating was uncomfortable. He looked up and down the hall. He was hearing a strange noise. It wasn't one of Serenity's normal strange noises either. It was lower. He took a few more steps before he decided the noise was coming from the bridge. Funny, the bridge door was closed. As he reached for the door, he understood the noise, and why the door was closed. He paused for a moment, then peeked. Yep. He wasn't mad at all that they were making love on the bridge. He was mad because he couldn't call Delia. He turned slowly and walked quietly back to his bunk. He would have to call her in a few hours. -------------------------------- The next morning, Mal was in the Mess, drinking coffee. His eyes were red, and the bags under them betrayed his fitful sleep. He closed them and saw Delia on the screen. Her auburn hair curled around her face. She giggled and laughed - so pleased to see him again. She was wearing her jade robe. He reached out and undid the sash that closed it, and the robe fell open. He reached out to touch... "Morning Captain!" Kaylee said cheerily. Mal's eyes flew open. "Oh, good morning. Sleep well?" he asked "Not so much. I kept waking up. Thought I heard footsteps." Kaylee said, as she got a cup out of the wall and filled it with coffee. "I didn't hear anything." he replied. Wash entered the Mess. He was wearing his aqua Hawaiian shirt- the one he wore when he felt good. "Good morning." Wash said. "Bet it is." Mal said with a teasing lilt to his voice. "Everything make out okay last night?" Mal asked as he raised his cup to his lips. "Huh?" Wash said, looking at Mal. "You know, the getting to Europa thing we're doing?" Mal responded. Oh, this is gonna be good. I wanna see him squirm. "Oh, it's fine. Got there on schedule." "Good. You know, whenever we come over Europa, I just start to feeling good. Really good. All over." Mal said "I feel the same way, Captain." Kaylee said in a pleased voice. "Oh, Didja hear that Wash? Little Kaylee here feels the same way. I'm bettin', however you don't feel it the same way Wash and I do." Mal smirked, scratching the side of his face. Wash shot Mal a look but Mal just had to continue. "You just get an urge , Kaylee, a primal urge. Seein' that beautiful, lushness in front of you, wouldn't you agree, Wash?" Mal teased. "You can stop at any time." Wash said. Kaylee looked at them. This crew was nuts. Mal got up from the table. He reached for his coffee cup. "You know, all this talk of lushness has made me wanna make a call. If you'll excuse me." Mal said as he walked out of the bridge. He passed Zoe on her way in. Wash saw him say something to her and walk away. Zoe was utterly confused. "He just told me to use the white soap, not the pink on sheepskin. What does that mean?" she asked. Wash leaned over and bonked his head on the Mess table a few times. ---------------------- Mal had a spring in his step as he walked to the bridge. Good coffee, even better jokes at Wash's expense. Now he was gonna call Delia. Mal walked onto the bridge and set his coffee cup down. He nearly sat down but realized the sheepskin was still on the chair. With two fingers, he lifted the skin off the chair and put it on the floor. Mal leaned over and inputted Delia's telfonix number into the com. He leaned back and waited for her beautiful voice. "Ni Hao Ma" a gruff voice said. It was Hank. "Hey Hank, it's Malcolm Reynolds." "Captain Reynolds. Good to see you again. Are you over Europa?" he asked. "Yep, and got Hammond's cargo too. You really gotta control that woman. She went nuts shopping. We nearly didn't get off Persephone we were so heavy." Mal said. "Sure, Captain Reynolds, sure. I've known her long enough to know their ain't no controllin' Miss Delia - with or without a credit balance." Hank joked. A voice in the background interjected. "What's this about me and a credit balance?" "Hank and I were talkin' bad about you." Mal said. Delia stood next to Hank on the monitor. "I'm sure." she said with a smile. "Captain Reynolds, I'll be talkin' to you." Hank said, as he walked to the glass door. "Take care, Hank." "Are you above me?" Delia asked a few moments later. She smiled at their secret. "Yes." Mal said. He smiled back. "A position I quite like. Whoops, hope no one else is on the bridge." Delia said. "We're alone, for the moment. Hey, got your cargo. You said it was a lot of boxes, but my hold is filled to the brim!" Mal said "Most of it is Hammond's stock." Delia said. "I'm sure" he replied. "Melters there yet?" Mal asked. "Actually, they are just clearing the market area. Haven't gotten to the landing pads yet. Maybe tomorrow." Delia said glancing over at the door. Mal heard the swooshing noise of the sliding glass door. Hank must have reentered Delia's kitchen. "How long will it take them to clear it?" Mal asked. "A while. Maybe a whole day." she replied. Hank's face reappeared on the screen. "Captain Reynolds, I been thinkin. You got those twisty engines on a Firefly, right? Well, when you come down, can't ya just blast the snow off the landing pad?" Hank asked. Mal scratched his head. "Hold on for a second." Mal got up and grabbed the inter ship com "Wash to the bridge." "Hank, now that's an idea. Lemme ask the man who flies her." Mal asked Wash popped onto the bridge. "Yes Captain? Hey, Delia!" Wash said. "Hi Wash!" "Can we go down over the landing pads and use the engines to blast the snow off the pads?" Mal asked. "Well, yeah, we could. I guess. But we're heavy. Could be hard keeping her at an altitude where we don't get blast coming back in the engines. Yeah, it can be done." Mal looked at Delia. "Let me see if I can get the melters to move away from Hammond's. In 15 minutes, blast away. Oh, and Wash? Try not to blow out my windows, please?" Delia said. "See you in a few. Serenity out." Mal said Mal turned to Wash who had a hard look on his face. "Mal, I swear, if I thought I could make a fist, I'd hit you." Wash said. "Oh, c'mon. Don't be sore. I'm sorry. Really. I didn't see anything. Much." Mal said Wash walked over and took his chair. He flipped on the inter ship com. "Serenity, prepare to land on Europa in 15." He flipped the switch off and looked at Mal. "What? Just get me down there...please? It's been over 4 months, not 8 hours like you." Mal said seriously. Wash used the inter ship com again. "Kaylee can you put in a new rod? We're gonna be burnin' hot for a few minutes." He flipped the com again. "Really, Wash. It's not a big deal. Just wanted to pull your chain a bit." Mal said Wash shook his head. "You gonna see her like that?" "Whad'ya mean?" Mal said, looking down at himself. "You haven't shaved. Your hair is a little ...funny." Wash replied, pointing to his own head. Mal stroked his chin and realized he needed to shave. He had 20 minutes before he saw her. -------------------------

Wash steered Serenity into Europa's atmosphere. The engines whined as the ailerons tilted, slowing the ship's descent. Breaking through the clouds, he saw Europa in a way he had never seen - pure white. He pulled back on the throttle and adjusted Serenity's angle of attack. She responded immediately and the ship slowed even more. He didn't want to dive bomb into Stapleton. With the weight Serenity carried, Wash preferred a soft glide.


Mal felt Serenity slow and he sensed they must be close. Wiping the leftover foam from the bottom of his neck, he smiled at his image. Mal ran his comb through his sandy locks. As he leaned to put it back down on the edge of the sink, something glinted in his hair. Squinting at the mirror, he saw a gray hair. He was 35 and he had found his first gray hair. Mal reached up and yanked it from his head. He smiled again. -------------------------- Mal walked up to the bridge. Zoe was already there, observing her husband piloting the ship. "We're 20 miles shy of Stapleton., due South. Just 'bout to cross the Great Divide." Zoe said. As they flew over the Europan landscape, they could see a great chasm before them. It was about 1 mile wide, a yawning split in the land. Dirt and rocky gorges flanked a river at its base. As they approached the Northern side of the Divide, they could see the Stapleton drains, gushing water into the Divide. It must be the runoff from the Melters. 3 minutes later, Stapleton's steep roofs were visible. The landscape was a sea of white. It was clear that the Melters had indeed carved large swathes of snow from the main street. "I'm gonna circle around town and fly behind Delia's side of the street to the landing pads. I want to crawl up to them. Can't go to fast. I'll loose control." Wash said. They flew two hundred feet above the ground toward Delia's house. Wash estimated where the landing pads should be and slowed to a stop. He turned the ship slowly and Serenity's bow faced the back of Delia's house. Out the bridge window, Mal saw Delia standing on her top deck. She waved to the ship. "Rev her up. Make Delia go inside." Mal said. It was too cold for her to be outside without a coat. Wash turned on the air brakes and pushed the thrusters up a quarter. Delia retreated into her house. Serenity hovered in place as the engines tilted slightly backwards. Plumes of snow shot a hundred feet in the air back toward the foothills. Wash moved Serenity side to side a few feet at a time, moving slightly backwards each time. Within ten minutes, the landing pad was cleared to the tarmac. Wash moved Serenity starboard, and blasted as close as he dared to the Ag Building. It was clear within a few seconds. Wash turned his attention closer to the house. He angled Serenity counterclockwise toward the path and again with Serenity's starboard engine, blasted the path that led to the mart. He moved Serenity back, and she touched down on Europa, the first ship in the Southern Hemisphere in nearly 3 months. The engines wheezed as they slowed and stopped. Serenity had not liked the prolonged hover at her current load. Mal smiled as he let go of the hand rail above his head. He slapped Wash's shoulder a few times. "Good job." he said simply. "Folks, welcome to Europa, its 17 degrees outside. Bundle up. " Mal said over the inter ship com. Mal and Zoe walked off the bridge. "I'm glad we're here. I wanted to see what Europa was like with the snow." she said. "Personally, I prefer swaying prairie grass and a sunny day, but ok." Mal said. "Either way, we're here." Zoe said. She kicked her bunk's door open and descended to get her and Wash's coats. Mal walked down the ladder to his bunk and reached for his duster. As he turned, he spied the book Delia had loaned him. He slipped it into his pocket. ----------------------- Jayne reached down and unlocked the forward hatch door. As he pulled it open, an icy cold blast of air filled Serenity. The crisp fresh scent of Europa in winter greeted the crew as they snaked through the river of boxes filling the hold. Mal walked out into the brilliant sunshine reflected off the snow. The ground crunched below his boots. He looked toward the house and saw Delia was back on the upper deck. She waved and was greeted by a wave of hands responding in kind. She cupped her hand around her mouth and shouted something. "What did she say?" Mal asked. "I think she said Ag building." Jayne said. "What's that mean?" "We must need to go through the tunnel. Jayne, close the hatch." Mal said. The crew carefully negotiated the tarmac, still slightly snowy. The Ag Building was one hundred fifty feet to their left. Kaylee nearly slipped on the ice, but Simon caught her before she fell. Mal opened the side door to the Ag Building, and the crew entered the room. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust after being in the lustrous snowscape. They carefully made their way to the front of the building, stepping over firewood, boxes and the occasional fuel rod. Wash opened the front door of the Ag Building and they stepped into the tunnel Delia and Hank had constructed. It was 60 feet long, clear plastic but looked white from being covered in snow. There were lights on the side of the tunnel every ten feet. Mal closed the door to the Ag Building behind him. As they walked the corridor, Mal could feel his excitement grow. He heard the sliding glass door open, and Delia's voice welcomed Wash, then Zoe back to her home. As his crew entered the house, they fanned out into the room after being hugged. Finally, he was face to face with Delia. "Good to see you again." Delia said, hugging Mal. He hugged her back as much as he dared in front of everyone. "Glad to be here." Mal replied. Delia reached up and took his coat from his shoulders. She folded it over her arm and felt something in its pocket. "Everyone, bring your coats in here. Jayne, nice hat! Put your things down here." The crew followed Delia into the back parlor and removed their coats. Delia looped back around and went back to Mal. He pulled her past the dining room table and into the kitchen. They shared a brief, passionate kiss before the first of the crew shuffled back into the dining room. "Anyone hungry?" Delia asked, looking around the room. Her gaze ended with a smile at Mal. ------------------------- Gathered around the table, the crew shared the lunch Delia had quickly prepared. A quick beef stirfry over rice, and some premade egg drop soup. She pulled bottles of wine from the rack on the far wall, and they enjoyed a relaxed, comfortable meal. "When can I see my dress?" Kaylee asked. "You and that xingjian dress." Mal commented. Inara reached over and thwapped Mal in the arm. "Thanks, Inara. Kaylee, you'll see it tomorrow. I need to finish something for it." Delia said. Kaylee's face fell, but she could wait another day. "Jayne, how's your arm?" Delia asked politely. "Oh, it's okay. Bullet messed up my tattoo." he mourned. "Lemme see." Delia said. Jayne pulled up his sleeve to display his left shoulder. The crisp design was marred by the bullet's path grazing his shoulder. "Man who did mine is a good artist. May be able to fix it. He lives in Stapleton." Delia observed. Jayne brightened at the news. "I heard we got a tattoo." Wash said with a smile. "You're not me without it." Delia said, winking at him. "Maybe I should get one. Across my chest. Maybe Zoe in big letters. Or I love Zoe" Wash mused aloud. "How 'bout I'm a chicken shit." Jayne smirked. The table laughed as Wash picked up his chopstick and winged it at Jayne. "Oh, great. Now I can't eat." Wash moaned. Delia got up and picked Wash's chopstick from the floor. She handed it back to a grateful Wash. The table was crowded and he wasn't sure if he could have gotten up from where he sat without jostling everyone. "So the dance is tomorrow night? " Kaylee asked excitedly. "No, night after tomorrow." Delia said. "Oohh, I can't wait. " Jayne said facetiously. "I love fancy dancin'" "Jayne, you're escorting the Cortland twins." Delia said nicely. Jayne's eyes got wide. He'd have a matching set on his arms. "I don't got nice duds." he said. "I've got some things ready for you." Delia said. "I've got a vest for the Captain, and something for you too, Wash." Wash ducked his head. He had hoped to avoid going to this thing. Maybe he could wear his sneakers. "You look like I just shot you Wash." Delia laughed. She got up from the table and moved to get more wine. "Wash, you'll look like a dandy." Mal said smiling. "I got a wave from Robert Chappelle." Inara said. "He'll be escorting me. " she said. "I'm so glad. He's such a nice man." Delia smiled "Is it a date, or is it, you know, a date?" Mal asked. "I have no whoring on my schedule this week. I'm on vacation." Inara said Delia smiled at Inara. She liked the way Inara took Mal down a few pegs occasionally. ------------------------------ Mal, Jayne, Wash, and Book played cards at the dining room table after lunch. Zoe and Inara washed the dishes, as Delia and Simon talked in the living room. Kaylee listened intently. Something must be wrong with Delia. "Go like this." Simon asked Delia. Delia tried to copy his hand but was only able to flex it half way. "Does that hurt?" "Yeah, in here." she replied. "What about exercising it. That hurt?" "Not as much. My hand gets tired quickly." she said. Simon sat thinking when Kaylee asked the question Delia didn't want her to ask. "Something wrong, Delia?" she asked. "I'm fine, honey. Just sprained my hand. I'll be fine." Delia said reassuringly. Kaylee smiled at Delia and Simon. -------------------------------

"Dishes are washed." Zoe said. Entering the living room, she saw the way Simon and Kaylee were looking at each other. Inara had sat down with the men. "Can we go upstairs , Delia?" Zoe asked. "Sure. Excuse me, you two." Delia said sweetly. Delia followed Zoe up the stairs. "Show me my dress!" Zoe whispered. She wanted to see it privately. Delia took her hand and led her into the guest bedroom. In the corner were three dresses. Delia walked over to the red dress and put her hand on the dress form's shoulder. Without a word, Zoe walked up to the dress. She touched its filmy fabric and moved it so the crystals danced in the light. "Oh, I don't know. I don't think I can pull off a dress like this." Zoe said. "'Course you can. You will be stunning." "I'm not usually stunning." Zoe said. "Trust me. All eyes will be on you in this dress. " Delia said. She eyed the low drape of the bodice doubtfully. "Is that Kaylee's dress?" Zoe asked, pointing to the second dress. Delia nodded proudly. "That can't be the same dress. She's gonna be shocked." Zoe exclaimed. "Shocked good or shocked bad?" "Shocked good. She'll be a woman in that dress." "Let me show you something else." Delia said, pulling her hand. Delia led Zoe up the next flight of stairs to her room. I have something else stunning for you to wear." Delia said. Opening her bedroom door, Delia led Zoe to her jewelry box. She opened it up and pulled a pair of diamond earrings from the velvet. Zoe's intake of breath told her she approved. "I...I love them. I love the dress. Thank you." Zoe said, hugging Delia. "You keep the dress, but I'll be needin' the earrings back." Zoe and Delia laughed. Zoe reached over and put the earrings back in the case. She ran her fingers over the top, and her fingers stopped on a simple gold band. She picked it up and looked at Delia. Wordlessly, she put it back in its place. Then, she picked up Delia's POW Medal. The small gold disc with red lettering fit in the center of Zoe's palm. "Nice piece of jewelry for 2 years of my life, huh?" Delia said. She plucked the disc from Zoe's hand and put it back in the box. She closed it and reached for Zoe's still outstretched hand. "Like my room?" Delia asked. "It's beautiful. I love the color. He's gonna love that bed." Zoe said. "Think so?" "He's got a thing for brass beds." Zoe said. "Oh, really?" ------------

Zoe and Delia walked downstairs. Simon and Kaylee were still on the couch, exactly where they had been left. Zoe saw the men had just finished a card hand, and Mal was walking toward the bathroom. "Ok, folks. Let's get back to Serenity. We've a big day of box unloading ahead of us tomorrow." Zoe said to the crew. Everyone understood this was their cue to leave the Captain at Delia's for the afternoon. They gathered their coats from the back parlor and left through the tunnel. Delia was adjusting Jayne's wooly orange hat when Mal came out of the bathroom. "See ya, Captain. Have fun." Jayne said devilishly. Mal started toward Jayne but he quickly slid the glass door behind himself. "He's a crack up." Delia said. She leaned over to gather the cards from the table. "Oh, yeah. A funny one." Mal said, making his way to stand behind Delia. He put his arms around her shoulders and hugged her to him. She put the cards back on the table and snuggled into his chest. Delia leaned her head back into his shoulder. They stood like that for a long moment, enjoying the closeness. Mal bent his head and slowly kissed her exposed neck and ear. She turned to face him within his embrace, and kissed him tenderly. --------------------------------- Delia lay in Mal's arms, on her left side. Her right hand lay softly on his chest. He reached up and clasped her hand with his left. Mal closed his eyes. It was this time that he treasured most about Delia. The ability to just be, quiet and still - no demands on him. Delia was not possessive or clingy. Their relationship might have become more than either had originally wanted, but they felt comfortable with the idea they each had Someone out there. Whether they were apart for weeks or months, they simply picked up where they left off. He could simply be. "I like the decorating." he said quietly. "And the bed?" "Goood bed." he replied, thumping the mattress. Delia hugged him tightly then got up. He watched her walk naked into the bathroom (and filed it away for future use) and heard cupboards open and close. Then, water began to fill the tub. He lay in bed, listening to her walk back and forth in the bathroom. Then, a period of silence made him wonder what she was doing. He swung his legs from the bed and padded into the bathroom. She was standing at the sink, looking in the mirror. She had twisted her hair onto her head and was attempting to secure the clip with her right hand. She couldn't work the clasp. Mal reached up and snapped it shut for her. Delia glanced in the mirror and smiled at him. Mal put his arms around her and cupped her breasts in his hands from behind. He kissed her neck and lay his chin on her shoulder. They looked at their shared reflection . "I found a gray hair this morning." Mal said to the mirror. "Such a shame. Guess I need to trade you in for a new model. And I was gettin' to like you, too." Delia joked. Mal tilted his mouth and lightly bit her left shoulder. "Go get the book I lent you. I think it's still in your coat pocket." she said. Mal walked downstairs and retrieved the book. He also grabbed a bottle of whisky and two small glasses from the counter. Walking back upstairs, he realized he was naked. He must be really comfortable at the house if he could walk around naked without a second thought. Back in the bathroom, Delia was already in the tub. She spied the bottle in his hand. "You read my mind. Get in." she said. Mal put the book, bottle and glasses on the table next to Delia. He gingerly stepped into the large and sudsy tub. He sat down, his back to her. He leaned back, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. Delia poured two glasses of whisky and handed one to Mal. "Ok, where did you leave off?" she asked. Mal was silent. "You started it, didn't you? " "Oh, yeah. Page 246." he said quickly. Delia looked at him and held the book in her left hand. As she read, she changed her tone to infer different characters. He closed his eyes as she read to him. --------------------------------- < The Englishmen had drawn their swords, but they were caught between the two fires. They hesitated again, and again, pride won out. A second kick split the door. "Stand back, d'Artagnan, I'm going to shoot" shouted Athos."Be patient, Athos," said d'Artagnan, keeping his presence of mind. He turned to the Englishmen. "Gentlemen, Consider what you're going to do. You're in a bad situation. All you can accomplish is to get yourselves riddled with bullets. My servant and I will fire three shots at you and three more will be fired from the cellar. Then, my Friend and I will still have our swords, and I assure you that we know how to use them. Let me handle this matter for you. I promise you that you'll soon have your wine." "If there's any left." Athos said mockingly .> ----------------------------------- This book was much better with Delia reading it. He relaxed into her chest and stretched out his legs. Mal sipped his whisky, relaxed, and listened to the woman he loved read to him. The next morning, Mal walked back to Serenity through the tunnel. Entering the hold, he was again surprised by the mountain of boxes in front of him. He snaked his way to the Mess area where he guessed his crew had gathered. He guessed right. "Good Morning, all." Mal said cheerfully. "Hey, Captain." Kaylee said. "Delia has made us breakfast. C'mon." Mal said, with a wave of his hand. Forks dropped to the table and everyone scurried to retrieve their coats. No matter what she had prepared, it had to be better than the texturized protein and powdered eggs they had been ready to eat. ------------------------ The crew entered Delia's kitchen and were enveloped by the aroma of breakfast. Delia had made several large stacks of pancakes, a plate of fried sausages, and she stood at the stove frying eggs. "Good Morning, everyone. Sit down. Dig in." she invited. Inara raised the glass of orange juice in front of her to her face. "Is this real?" she asked. "Yep, grown right here on Europa. " Delia replied, glancing at Inara's cup. Inara hadn't had real orange juice in a year. She sipped it slowly, savoring the tangy acid. The crew ate heartily. Kaylee enjoyed the pancakes but had been hesitant to try the brown liquid she saw Wash pour all over his stack. She watched Captain pick up the little pitcher and pour the liquid on his own pancakes. Kaylee picked up the little white pitcher and poured a little on her finger. It was sticky! "You never seen maple syrup before?" Jayne asked. "Maple syrup" Kaylee echoed. "It's the sap from a tree. Really sweet. Try it." Mal encouraged. "You're eating tree sap?" Kaylee was repulsed. "That's fake syrup. No maple trees on any planet or moon here." Mal replied. Kaylee made a face. "Put your finger in your mouth." Mal said. Hesitantly, she lifted her index finger to her mouth and tasted it. Slowly, she smiled, then grabbed the pitcher and poured the syrup on her pancakes. "Shiny!" Kaylee grinned. "So, what's the plan for today? Do we want to unload those boxes?" Mal asked. Everyone at the table stopped laughing at Kaylee and collectively groaned. Delia shook her head. "My hands should be back on moon today or tomorrow. We'll do it when they get back. I do need to get my hands on a few boxes today, though." Delia said. After breakfast, Delia sat in the living room and pulled her brown leather boots over her slim tan pants. She grabbed a black knitted shawl from the coat rack and her black felt hat, then followed the crew through the tunnel and Ag Building to Serenity. Once she reached the frozen ground and the tarmac, she was revitalized. It was the first time she had been outside in nearly four months. "I think, next year I'll be weathering the snow from some place tropical." ------------------------- Mal held open Serenity's hatch and let Delia in first. He wanted her to see the cargo unobscured by the crew. Delia held her breath as she looked at the sea of brown and gray before her. The crew filed in around her as she touched the nearest box. "Xingjiao wo" she said softly. Wash turned his head and coughed slightly at Delia's cursing. "This can't be all for me. You must have picked up someone else's cargo too. Ha, Ha. Very funny." Delia said. "Delia, every box has your address on it." Zoe said. Delia closed her eyes and heard a buzzing sound in her ears. She shook it out of her head. She ran her hand over her forehead and smoothed out her hair twisted down into a long braid. "Ok. Well. I clearly have some issues. Help me find a few things." Delia said shamefacedly. The crew fanned out to find boxes marked with Delia's name, not Hammond's Market. As one was found, they called out the vendor's name and Delia said yes or no. "Addsion's?" Kaylee asked. "Nope." Delia called. "Lin Cha Designs?" Mal yelled from far side of the cargo bay. "Yes!" Delia said. Zoe walked over and showed her a box. She knew what it was and didn't shout the merchant's name. "Oh. Yes. I want that." Delia laughed. She patted Zoe on her arm. She was glad Zoe had found that one and not Jayne. After sifting through the cargo, Delia chose 16 boxes out of the 412 to be brought into her house. "What's this stuff?" Jayne asked. "Clothes, food, gifts, things I promised for others." Delia said. Mal remembered the three boxes for which he had to sign. He went over to the locked cargo bin and retrieved them. "I had to sign for these. This one's a hazmat, this one's weapons, and this one's just certified.." Mal said to Delia. "Hazmat one is new pods for Rosie. Weapons is a new gun for Harlan and a few I ordered for the Mart. But I have no idea what this one is." Delia said. "Open it." Jayne said. "Later." Delia replied softly. She would open it in private. "You need to sign some papers, too." Mal added. "I'll do that later, too." Delia said. "Ok, everyone, pick up a box and let's get them to the house." Mal called. ---------------------------- Mal sat down on the bed next to Delia. She had the small certified box in her hands. Carefully, she removed the wrapping to display a small box. Inside was a gray jewelry box. Delia's down turned smile surprised Mal. She looked at him, then back to the box. Lifting the jewelry box out of its shipping container, she noticed a small note card at the bottom. Delia - Delicate but Strong, Like You. - Love, Luther. "Who's Luther?" Mal asked. "Chairman Luther Andrews, I'm assuming. Head of Commerce on Beaumond. He was the buyer of the big score you transported." Delia said distractedly. Delia opened the gray jewelry box slowly. Inside was a diamond bracelet. 12 flowers constructed of ovoid diamonds for petals and round diamonds in each center formed the links. This was a bracelet of immense value. She held up the twinkling strand in front of her and the light from the window shot rainbows of color across the room. Mal whistled quietly. Delia puckered her face left and right. This was definitely not good. She recognized it, too. It was one of the bracelets from the box Mal had brought her. Mal looked over at her. "Is there somethin' you're needin' to tell me?" Delia didn't hear him at first. She was trying to figure this out. Then, she realized what Mal was implying. "No. No! I'm actually more concerned about the note. He signed it Luther. He called me Delia.. Chairman Andrews is very formal. Always refers to me as Mrs Hammond, or even Widow Hammond. Never once has he called me Delia. And he is always Chairman Andrews. He said Love. I'm his fixer. I'm not his love." "No return address, no insurance, just the signature of the Captain of the Shipping Vessel." Mal observed. "How would you feel if a man you barely knew sent you a diamond bracelet worth, say, 100,000 platinum and sent you a card written like that?" Delia asked Mal. "I'd be downright petrified if a man sent me a bracelet." Mal joked. "Me too." Delia replied seriously. "So what are you gonna do?" Mal asked. Delia took the bracelet over to her bureau and pulled a pair of plain cotton underwear from the drawer. She carefully wiped the bracelet from all angles, and when she was satisfied it was clean of her fingerprints, she laid the bracelet back into its original container and closed the lid. Then, she did the same thing to the gray jewelry box. Then, using the underwear, she placed the box back into it's shipping container. Finally, she wiped the wrapping best she could and carefully rewrapped the box. "Let's go sign some papers." Delia said with a smile. ------------------------ Simon walked into the engine room. He was disappointed. Disappointed with River's lack of progress, and disappointed he couldn't take Kaylee to the dance. She had been acting rather coolly to him for the last few months, and he couldn't figure it out. He'd tried to talk to Kaylee about it, but each time she'd kept him at arm's length. Simon knew Kaylee talked to Delia a lot. Delia seemed to like him. She had never even hinted to Simon that he and Kaylee might not be shiny. A subtle shift had taken place and he found himself thinking about her often. He dreamed about her. He had imaginary (successful) conversations with her. The women of Serenity had conspired to turn Kaylee's desperation into a chance with Simon. It was working. ------------------------ Kaylee lay underneath Serenity's engine, tools strewn around her. She heard someone approach and turned her head. "Hi Simon." "Hi Kaylee. What are you doing?" "I'm tweakin' the grav drive. "Tweakin'? What does that mean?" he asked. "Did you feel that hard pull when we hit atmo?" Simon nodded. "I felt like I was gonna be sick. Sicker than normal." "Yep, that's it. It needs a tweak." she said simply. Kaylee looked at Simon looking at her. She realized this was one of those moments Delia had told her about. "Did you need something Simon?" she said politely. Simon found himself at a loss for words. He had wanted to apologize to her for not being able to escort her to the dance. But then a fleeting thought crossed his mind. What if he had been able to go to the dance, and had asked to escort her, and she had said No? "Simon? Do you want anything?" Delia would be so proud! "Oh, uh. No." he stumbled. "Can you hand me the grav modulator?" she asked. "Which?" he fumbled. He had no idea which one she wanted. "The red box with the black handle." As he handed the modulator to her, their hands overlapped briefly and she smiled up at him broadly. His head spun and he managed to smile back at her weakly. Suddenly, he felt hands on his shoulders. Delia and Inara were on either side of him. "You ok Simon?" Inara asked. Simon fled the engine room. "What's wrong with that boy? Did you use feminine wiles on him?" Delia asked. "No, I just asked him for the grav modulator." Kaylee said with a sly smile.. "Well, go get yourself cleaned up and meet us on my second floor. It's time to see your dress." Delia said. ------------------ Sitting in the Mess with Wash, Mal heard an excited screech coming from the engine room. "Xingjian dress." he muttered. Wash grinned at Mal across the table and shook his head. ------------------- Kaylee ran through the tunnel and slid the door open. As she slammed it shut, Delia looked up and at Inara. She wiggled her eyebrows. Kaylee's feet thumped up the stairs as she raced to the second floor. Delia met her in the hallway. Kaylee was nearly out of breath. "So, you know I cut your dress up." "Yeah." There was an excited edge to her word. "You know I changed the color." "Yeah" Building excitement... "It's a more grown up dress. You're a woman now. You need to look like one. Zoe and Inara agree you're gonna love it." Delia said. "Show it to me!" she cried. --------------------- Inara opened the bedroom door and pulled Kaylee into the room. Kaylee's hands flew to her mouth as she saw her dress on the form. That's not the same dress. That can't be... "That's not the same dress!" Kaylee gasped. "She did an amazing job." Inara said. Delia had taken the pink mountain of a dress and carved it into a woman's dress. The bell skirt was gone, replaced by one that was slim and tight. She had cut the sleeves and back out of the blouse and made it into a deep, plunging halter. The three pink layers of ruffles were trimmed down, and were now three different shades of blue. Kaylee was silent, hands still to her mouth. "Honey, are you okay? I hope you like it." Delia said hopefully. She couldn't quite read Kaylee's response. "Like it? I love it!" Kaylee said, as she threw her hands around Delia's neck and hugged her tightly. "It's just like I wanted!" she cried. Inara wiped the tear from her eye and hugged Kaylee as well. "I have one question." Kaylee asked, raising her hand. "How do I ...I mean, the neckline is...ok.. . My boobs are gonna fall out!" Kaylee said. Delia and Inara laughed. "Hon, it has a built in shelf on each side, see? And we use a little magic tape, too." Delia said. "I just thought of something." Inara said. "Mal is very protective of Kaylee. He's gonna hit the roof when he sees her in this dress. Kaylee's face fell when she realized Inara was right. "Don't worry. You leave Mal to me." Delia said. -------------------------- After Kaylee's dress was revealed, Delia and Inara went back to Inara's shuttle for tea. The experience of helping Kaylee had drawn them even closer to each other. The other thing they seemed to have most in common was love for Mal. While Inara's feelings had cooled to a protective, motherly, but combative feeling, Delia's had developed into a strong love for a man she could never be with. "So how do you plan to keep Mal in check?" Inara asked. She sipped her tea as Delia spoke. "Well, later on tonight, I'm going to remind him again that Kaylee is a grown woman. And , that her dress reflects her maturity. And, that if he doesn't approve, he'll need to take it up with me, not her. And, if that doesn't work, I guess I'll knock him on the head with a fuel rod. " "Good plan." Inara laughed. "So tell me about your appointment with Chairman Andrews." Delia said casually. "How did you know it was him?" Inara asked. "He's really the only official I know on Beaumond. You said he mentioned me." "Yes. In the most complimentary way. He referred to you as the Widow Hammond." "That would be Chairman Andrews. He didn't say anything else?" Delia inquired. "No, not really. We had dinner and drinks. That was about it. He called you delightful." Delia nodded. Nothing more to explain the bracelet. Inara studied Delia intently for a moment. She lifted her teacup again and drank, but then looked over the cup at Delia. "You can ask me, you know." Delia said. "I've been watching you. How you react to things, how you talk to people, persuade them to do things. Little things, too. I have to ask. Have you had Guild training?" Inara asked. Delia smiled demurely at Inara. "See? You're doing it." Inara said. Delia smiled again. "Guild training? Yes. At the Academy? No." Delia said. Inara's puzzled look drew Delia out. "You know that I was a spy for the Independence Movement. Part of my training was in field ops - typical military stuff. And then..." Inara tilted her head. "Then, the women in my class were taken for private training from a Guild Instructor." "How long? "Just eight weeks." "But Guild instruction is never taught outside the Academy." "She was an Indie sympathizer. " Delia said. "Don't suppose you'd tell me her name?" Inara asked. Delia shook her head slowly. Inara knew she wouldn't divulge that. "I knew it." Inara said. "Guess we have more in common than we originally thought." Delia said. Delia and Inara raised their teacups and toasted each other as Mal walked uninvited into Inara's shuttle. "Inara, have you seen De..." he said. The two women burst out laughing. "I don't like this. I do not like this at all." Mal said, as he backed out of the shuttle. Delia and Inara's laughter followed him down the stairs away from the shuttle. ---------------------- On Beaumond, a conference call was being held to discuss the operation underway. Lt. Col. Charles Min was on the telfonix with his immediate supervisor, Commander Anton Mason. "Yes, Sir. We have received word from Persephone. A Firefly came and went. Should be on Europa now." "Who is in the field?" Mason asked "We have twenty agents in the field at Marksville with Major Paschal." Min explained. "Good. I want to make sure this doesn't fall apart. " Mason said. "Sir, we have everything covered." Min replied. "Is he cooperating?" "Yes, he's been most helpful." Mason said. "I think our timing couldn't be more perfect." Min said. Commander Mason nodded at the screen. "Transport them to Beaumond immediately upon arrest." ------------------------------ Delia took Mal's hand and led him up the stairs. They stopped on the second floor. "I have something I want to show you." she said. "Delie, you can show me just about anything." he laughed. "Hon, you need to see Kaylee's dress." Delia said firmly. "I don't wanna see that dress." Mal suddenly pouted. "I think you should. I changed it a whole lot and it's been told to me you might not approve of what I've done." Delia said. "Not approve?" "If you got objections, I want you to tell me, not Kaylee." Delia said. Delia reached out and opened the door to the guest bedroom. In the corner was the dress form that wore Kaylee's dress for the dance. Mal walked into the room and stared intently at the dress. He glanced behind it and saw it had no back. He reached out to touch the neckline but quickly withdrew his hand. Mal turned slowly and walked out of the bedroom. Without comment, he rubbed his chin and throat a few times. He ran his hand through his hair. He swallowed hard a few times and tried desperately to keep his anger under control. "How could you do that? I wish you had asked me first. I woulda told you not to do that. That dress is ...unseemly! She might as well be goin' naked! " he yelled. "Mal..." "Don't Mal me. I can't let her go out in that handkerchief! You turned her perfectly wholesome dress into a dress Inara would wear...for whoring!" he raged. Delia's mouth slowly opened. She was outraged that he would have this reaction. Now, she realized it was the right decision, to let him see it first. He would have ruined the night if he had raged at Kaylee like this. "You gotta get something else. She ain't wearin' it. That dress ain't gonna be seen except to be taken to the incinerator. What if a man saw her like that at the dance? Her chest all exposed? That skirt so tight? How could you, Delia? She's a child! You should be ashamed!" Mal yelled. Delia had quite enough of this. "You hold it right there." Delia said, anger rising in her voice. "That dress ain't unseemly. Kaylee is a grown woman. She wants to wear this dress. She's ready to wear this dress. Women on Europa wear dresses like this for parties. She ain't gonna stick out. I swear. So what if a man admires her? So what if someone you don't know asks her to dance? When you see Kaylee in that dress, it's gonna be a shock. You're used to seein' her smeared in grease, not showin' this much skin. Mal, she's gonna look to you for your approval. You need to think on your response." Delia said angrily. "I already thought on it. She ain't wearin it." Mal hissed. Delia pointed her finger at Mal and poked it for emphasis on his chest. "Who do you think you are tellin folks how to live their life? 'Cause you're the Captain? Because it's your way or else? Because you own that gorram tin can? No, I'll tell you why. It's because you can't stand not being in control. You can't allow Kaylee to grow up because that means you weren't in control. You can't stand to think about Zo and Wash havin a baby and not bein' on Serenity cause it means you didn't control them! I will not allow you to screw up this night for Kaylee, or anyone else's because you're a control freak! " Delia raged. Mal clenched his fists tightly. "I'm gonna take my gun, and shoot that dress up, and that'll be the end of it." Mal said evenly. "Mal, I got a gun too." Delia said just as smoothly. Her lips were a thin line, and her eyes flashed with anger. She would not allow this to happen. She didn't care if she never saw him again. He was not going to ruin the party. Mal made an exasperated groan and thumped down the stairs. As he turned the corner of the living room, he grabbed his duster off the couch and walked to the sliding glass door. He paused for a moment and looked back into Delia's house. He bit his lip, and slid the door closed behind himself. Delia sat quietly on the guest bed. She looked at the dress. She listened to the door slide shut downstairs. Delia wiped away the tear that managed to escape her eye. --------------------------- Mal ran through the tunnel and into the Ag Building. He shouted with frustration as he kicked a fuel rod over, hurting his foot. He stormed out the side door and ran over to Serenity's side hatch. His anger boiled over when he saw the sea of boxes sprawling across his ship's hold. "WASH!....WASH!" he screamed Wash popped his head around the corner from the Infirmary with a puzzled look on his face. "Cap? Everything ok?" Wash called down to him. "Get me off this rock. NOW!" he yelled. Wash didn't understand what was going on. He walked carefully onto the catwalk and stared quizzically at Mal. "We're leavin'? Now? What about the cargo?" Wash said cautiously. "We're gonna hover 50 feet off the ground and push this fenbian out the door! We ain't stayin!" Mal raged. "And we ain't comin' back." Mal's outburst had drawn the entire crew to the cargo area. Inara had her hand to her mouth, covering her dismay. Kaylee started to cry. Zoe stared down at Mal with disbelief. "Don't look at me like that! We're going. NOW!" Mal worked his way to the stairs on the left side of the hold. As he climbed, he noticed no one had moved. "Wash, why ain't the engines revved up yet?" Mal said evenly. As Mal said this, Kaylee ran down the stairs and wove her way through the cargo hold. Not far behind her were Zoe and Inara. They followed the sobbing Kaylee out the hatch. "GORRAM IT!" ------------------------ Delia was walking downstairs as she heard the sliding glass door open again. She paused on the stairs momentarily, but then heard Kaylee's sobbing filling her kitchen. As she turned the corner into the kitchen, Kaylee fell into her arms. "Wh..Wh..What ha..ha..ppened?" Kaylee cried. Delia wrapped her arms around the crying girl and looked up at her friends. "He ordered Wash to take off." Zoe said quietly. "That's when we left the ship. Wash won't leave without us on board. Mal can scream all he wants. He can't fly the ship." Inara said. "I'm so sorry. Kaylee, honey, calm down. Everything will be okay." Delia said. "Was...was it ..bout..bout.. The dress?" she sobbed. "Yes, the dress. And a whole lot more. Listen, Kaylee. Listen to me. Captain has a decision to make. He'll be makin' it in the next 15 minutes or so. Let's just sit here and wait. If Mal comes over here, he's decided one way. If it's Wash or anyone else...I just want you all to know how much I love you..." Delia said Kaylee's sobbing became more frantic as she realized what Delia was saying. ...and that space won't keep us apart." Delia finished, looking at Zoe and Inara.. --------------------------------- Mal raged inside the cargo hold. How dare they leave the ship. Serenity was leaving! He couldn't believe Zoe would do this to him. What was Delia thinking? How could she not tell him she was making Kaylee's dress into that...thing. He slumped down on the landing and leaned against the back railing. He put his head in his hands. Mal couldn't believe what had just happened. He was leaving Europa over a dress. A flippin' dress. But what Delia had said was way out of line. Nobody talked to him like that. Nobody. He was in charge. She couldn't go against him like this. He heard footsteps on the stairs walking up to him. Raising his head, he saw Book offer his hand. -------------------------------- He hit the punching bag many times. Hard. It felt good to knock the snot outta something. Book held the bag firmly to brace himself against Mal's rage. How could Delia turn on him like this? What was Zoe thinking? That xingjian dress! Mal felt the anger melt away as he hit the bag over and over. As he connected to the bag, he felt a warm, radiant pain in his right hand. He had better stop punching. He stopped mid punch and walked away from Book. Mal sat down heavily on the weight bench. Book followed and sat next to him. "Do you think I'm a control freak?" Mal asked quietly. "I think you're one of the most controlling men I've ever met." Book said honestly. "But that isn't totally a bad thing, Mal. You think you know best. A lot of times, you do. Sometimes... you don't." Mal sat quietly, listening to Book. He looked at him carefully. "Do you think, this control thing, is holdin' Kaylee back? "You confuse guiding and controlling. Guiding is imparting your wisdom and letting the person make their own choice. Controlling is insisting the person take your choice." Book said softly. "But what if she's makin' a mistake?" Mal asked "Mistakes are hers to make. And learn from. We all make them. We should all learn from them." Book said. Book looked at Mal and bit his lip. "Are we talking about something in particular?" Book asked. "Kaylee's pink fluffy dress. It ain't.." Mal made hand motions over his chest. "pink and fluffy no more. It's a woman's dress. A dress a woman would wear to get the attention of a man." Mal said discouragedly. "And Kaylee isn't a woman?" Book asked "She's a girl." Mal said with an exasperated tone. "Is she Mal? Or is that the way you still see her?" Book said. Mal sat quietly, thinking about what Book had just said. Then he remembered who had instigated this entire episode. "Delia is meddlesome." Mal said firmly. "No, Mal. She's not. She was following Kaylee's direction on the dress. She is a good woman. With our best interests at heart. Delia is an important part of our lives. All of our lives. Your life. " Book said. Mal put his head in his hands and rubbed his face. If they left now, they could get to Persephone before midnight. ------------------------ Delia stood in the kitchen. She had left the living room a moment before. She hadn't wanted Zoe to see her quiet tears. She leaned on the counter with both hands for support as the glass door slid open behind her. Delia's back stiffened as she looked up and saw Mal reflected in the glass from her cabinet. When Zoe, Kaylee, and Inara heard the door, the three women peeked around the corner and saw Mal glaring into the kitchen. He had an angry look on his face. Zoe took Kaylee's hand and the three women filed out the door past Mal's angry posture. "Please, Captain." Kaylee said as she walked out. Mal closed the door behind Inara. ------------------------- Delia turned around when she heard the glass close. Her eyes still glittered angrily, but Mal saw the red rims and knew she had been crying. They stood for a moment, toe to toe but acres apart. Mal moved first. He took a few steps and sat down at the kitchen table. Delia nearly wept with relief, but kept her composure. She moved from the back of the kitchen to the front counter. Delia put her hands back on the counter so as not to betray their shaking. In carefully measured tones, Mal spoke to the woman he had to remind himself he loved. "I appreciate...the chance to see the dress privately. I don't like it. I don't approve. But I won't stop Kaylee from wearing it. I ...will be nice. I will be..." Mal stopped mid sentence. Delia walked over to the kitchen table and sat down next to him. "I will be polite. But I gotta tell you, this ain't easy. " Mal said. He turned and looked at her. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. " Mal concluded. He reached out and grasped her hand. Man, his hand was starting to hurt! "I'm sorry I yelled at you, too. I said some things I..." Delia said "I needed to hear." Mal said. Delia looked him in the eye. "I'm used to bein' in control. People followin' my orders, my lead. You... ain't one of 'em.. There's a lot of change goin' on right now. I ain't too good with change. Apparently, I am good at bein' a control freak." Mal said with a slight smile. Delia put her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh. "But you're my control freak." she said softly. Delia stood up and lifted Mal out of his seat by his hand. He grimaced slightly at the pain. She reached out, and they hugged a solid, healing embrace. "Would you have shot me?" Mal asked against her lips. "Yes." Delia said. "I thought so....I think I broke my hand." ----------------------- Sixty feet down the tunnel, Kaylee, Zoe, and Inara hugged each other as they saw the hug and kiss. They went back to Serenity to tell the others the ship would not be leaving. ----------------------- Wash and Zoe spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Europa. The melters had removed the snow from Main Street, and were working on clearing between houses and the surrounding countryside. The more snow they could remove, the less chance of flooding. Gloved hand in gloved hand, they walked the street, and looked. "Most of the houses are on this side of the street." Zoe said with a wave of her arm. "This must be the school. It's small." Wash said. "Maybe there aren't a lot of kids in Stapleton. " Zoe thought aloud. "Yet." Wash said, looking at Zoe. She smiled back at him. The more they saw of Stapleton, the more they both came to see this could be their future. "I don't think I could handle being house bound." Zoe said. "No... think we'd winter elsewhere. You, me and someone else stuck in the house? Don't see that workin' out too well." Wash smiled. Zoe noticed an empty lot at the end of town. She wondered how much land costs on Europa. She wondered how much different the town would be when they settled there. "Maybe we could look into seeing how much land costs here." Wash said casually. "Maybe we could." Zoe said, squeezing his hand. -------------------------- Dinner was casual aboard Serenity that evening. Mal and Delia were still at her house. Everyone assumed they were making up. Jayne had left to be with his Cortland twins. Kaylee made macaroni and cheese with ingredients she had gotten from Delia earlier. Zoe heated up a pre-made plain protein casserole. "Macaroni and Cheese is shiny good." Wash said. "Thanks, Wash." Kaylee said. "Wish I could say the same for this casserole." Zoe said. "We could go eat at the Range Bar." Book noted. "Nah, I think it's just fine." Wash said. He lifted a piece of the casserole to his mouth and smiled a thoroughly fake smile as he pretended to enjoy it. "Let's just have some quiet time here. Tomorrow is going to be a late one." Inara said. Simon ate his dinner quietly. He needed to go see River. ---------------------------- River had times when she was clear, lucid and made sense. Other times, she drifted in a dream world inside her mind. She would laugh and twirl around, excitedly talking nonsense to herself. Other times, she would cower in the corner of her room, warding off invisible enemies and crying out in pain. Simon had tried different medicines, in different amount, in different combinations. He knew that no amount of medicine would change the fact that River's brain had been damaged. He could not predict what her reaction would be in any particular moment. Simon fixed River a plate of food and brought it to her room. She hadn't been in the mood to be at the dinner table earlier. He knocked quietly on her door. "River? River, are you in there?" he called. "I'm here." she said quietly. Simon slid the door open to her room. She was curled on her bed, studying a book. "Hi, I brought you some dinner." Simon said. "Delia gave me this book. I can't understand it." River said. Simon lifted it up to see the spine. Wuthering Heights by Bronte. "It's from Earth that was. It's about a young woman who loses her love. I think I read it in school." Simon explained. "Wuthering Heights is the name of the mansion. Wuthering also means a dull roaring wind. The man's name is Heathcliff. Her name is Catherine. " River recited. "Listen, River...I was wondering if you'd show me how to dance." Simon said. --------------------------------- By late that evening, the melters had reached the back of Delia's house. They cleared the patio, around the Ag Building and around Hank's house. Mal sat sipping whisky on Delia's couch. She came down the stairs with her boots. "What are you doing?" Mal asked. "Goin' outside for a minute. I'll be back in a flash." Delia explained. She wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and walked out her front door. Mal was confused, but sat back and relaxed. She'd be back. Since their blow up, they had carefully avoided talking about certain subjects: Kaylee's dress, Being a control freak, and Delia's threatening Mal with a gun. Mal heard a weird sound coming from the back of the house. It was a scraping, crunching sound. He got off the couch and walked to the back door. Looking out, he saw Delia was removing a piece of the tunnel. "What are you doing?" "Getting ready for the best part of Melt." Delia said with a smile. ---------------------------- "Are you sure about this?" Mal asked. It's 12 degrees out there!" "I do this every year to celebrate Melt. I promise. Please?" Delia said. Mal sat down on the couch. He pulled his boots on his bare feet and stood up. He was naked underneath his robe. Delia walked past him, clad in her jade robe. Her hair was twisted on top of her head, secured with a clip. He followed Delia out the back door and through the hole in the plastic she had made. She walked over to the hot tub and grappled with the large, insulated cover. "Give me a hand." Delia asked. Lifting the cover off the tub, great billows of steam rose from the surface. The water bubbled viciously. "Ok, now. Jump in quick!" Delia said. Delia quickly took off her robe and hung it on a peg next to the tub. She sat on the edge of the tub and removed her slippers. Deftly, she eased herself into the steaming water. She looked up at him with a huge smile. Mal followed her lead a few moments later. Soon, he too was in the tub. "You're right. This is good." Mal said. The contrast between the hot, bubbling water and the frigid cold air was both relaxing and invigorating for Mal. Delia sat on the opposite side of the tub, eyes closed, arms outstretched on the rails of the tub. Her breasts floated gently near the surface of the water. Mal watched her for a moment. "What'cha thinkin' 'bout?" he asked. "I'm just thankful. Thankful winter is over. Thankful for Serenity. Thankful for you." Delia replied truthfully. She did not look at him; she still had her eyes closed, arms outstretched. Mal reached over and pulled the clip from her head. Her hair cascaded down and floated for a moment on the surface of the tub. "I like your hair down." he murmured. Mal moved to her side of the tub. "Whatcha doin? he asked softly. "Gettin' seduced, I think." Mal kissed her softly at first. She got up and straddled his lap. They sat there together, kissing, touching and holding each other. "Ooh, I"m getting cold. Move lower." Delia said. Mal moved them as one to a lower seat in the tub. "Much better." Delia said. "Deeper is so much better." ------------------------------- The next morning, a shuttle landed next to Serenity. The noise of an early ship roused Delia from her bed. She picked her robe off the floor and quietly slid it on. Mal was still asleep. She walked across the hall and watched the ship's gate crunch down on the cold, crisp ground. Her men were back. She smiled broadly. Hammond's would reopen today. --------------------------------- Delia padded softly back to her bedroom. She went to her closet and got her slim, black pants and the long sleeved blouse that tied on the side. Glancing back at Mal, she saw his eyes were still closed. She let the jade robe slide off her back and it puddled on the ground at her feet. She reached for her bureau, removed underwear and slid them on. Delia turned and reached for her bra. Mal's eyes were fixed upon her. "I thought you were asleep." Delia said. "Something woke me up." he said. "I'm sorry. " "Don't be. I'd 'ave missed the show." Mal said. Delia slowly put her bra on in front of him. She reached for her pants and slid them on. Then, she wrapped the blouse around her body and tied it on the side. "That's what you were wearing the day we met." Mal observed. "Was it?" Delia asked coyly. Delia crawled onto the bed on hands and knees. She crawled up his body and kissed him passionately. "Guess what?" she asked. "Dunno." he said. "Mart reopens today." Delia said triumphantly. She scampered off the bed and ran downstairs to greet her men. ----------------------------- Inside the Mart, Delia raised her finger to her lips. Mal looked at her curiously. What was she doing? She raised a com channel near her mouth and started to speak. It was the same sensual tone that had drawn him in so many months ago. ...Thank you for visiting Europa. We welcome you to visit Hammond's Trading Mart, located at 467.443 on the Europan landscape. We offer the finest in food, clothing, settler necessities, souvenirs, and have quick access to parts for nearly every model of ship flying. Hammond's also has great prices on fuel rods. Easy in, Easy out at our landing pads located behind the Mart. We are open 22 / 7 for your shopping convenience and look forward to your visit. End of Message. ------------------------------ Mal and Delia walked back to Serenity followed by Hank and the hands. Opening the lift gate to Serenity, Hank turned incredulously to Delia as he saw the boxes. "Missy, I think you and I need to have a talk!" Delia carefully avoided looking Hank in the eye. Mal hit the com on the side of the ship. "Ok, everyone. We're gonna unload Serenity." ------------------------------ It was warmer mid morning, nearly 35 degrees. The Serenity crew and Delia's men formed a chain leading to the Ag Building. Handing boxes from Serenity, the crews unloaded the cargo hold in under 2 hours. Delia was near the end of the line, looking at labels and directing boxes into separate piles. Occasionally, she would direct boxes aside into a small, third pile. "Looky here, I got a empty hold!" Mal crowed. He danced a little bit in the empty space. "So I went a little overboard this year..." Delia said. Mal smiled a bit as he took Kaylee's hand and twirled her in the cargo hold. Delia looked at Zoe who shrugged her shoulders. "Zo, let's you and I cook lunch. We'll bring it back here." Delia said. "Me? Don't you want Kaylee to help you?" Zoe said. "Yeah, you probably want someone who can cook." Wash said. Zoe turned and gave her husband an icy glare. "I mean, Zoe is an excellent cook. I'd be thrilled to eat what she made." Wash corrected himself quickly. Delia laughed as she took Zoe's hand and led her out of Serenity. Zoe mouthed a silent plea to Mal ..."Help me!" Mal shrugged his shoulders at her. ----------------------------------- An hour later, Zoe and Delia returned to Serenity with a large pot and a basket with bread and wine. As they walked into the hold, Delia set the pot down and took off her hat . The noise from the hatch closing drew Wash and Mal from around the corner of the Infirmary. "What's for lunch?" Mal said down to them "Chili and fresh bread." Zoe said. Mal excitedly hit the com next to the Infirmary. "Lunch in two minutes. Chili!" ---------------------------------- Serenity's women were on the third floor of Delia's house getting ready for the Marksville dance. Kaylee sat on the bed as Inara styled her hair. Delia dug through her jewelry box for Zoe's matching earring. Zoe was getting ready in the bathroom. "So when I came out of the shuttle, I could hear Mal cursing. He had cut himself shaving!" Inara laughed. Delia turned and smiled. If he mucks up this night, I'll slit his throat... Inara had gotten ready in her shuttle and had walked to Delia's. She wore a powder blue gown that clung to her curves. On her breast, she wore her Guild Medallion, signifying her status as a Registered Companion. "What's Simon doing coming over here?" Delia asked innocently. She stood at the window and watched Simon approach. Mal sure had good timing. "Simon?" Kaylee asked excitedly. "I want him to see me in this dress!" Suddenly, Kaylee realized what she was wearing, and for the first time was embarrassed. She looked down at the low cut dress and looked at Delia with a scared look. "Kaylee, if you can't let Simon see you in that dress, maybe Captain was right. Maybe we should get you a new dress." Delia said seriously. Inara reached over and swept a little lipstick across Kaylee's lips. Delia handed her the small gold earrings and she put them on. Kaylee stood up and went to the staircase. She was half way down as Simon opened the sliding glass door. "Delia? Zoe? Kaylee?" Simon called into the house. "Stay on the landing and call to him" Inara whispered. She and Delia were just around the corner out of Simon's sight. "Simon, in here." Kaylee called. "Hey, Captain wants to know..." Simon asked but his question died in the air as he saw Kaylee on the landing. She was radiant in the slim ballgown. His eyes floated from her upswept hair to the creamy expanse of decolletage showing to the slender skirt and then back to her eyes. Those beautiful eyes. "You look...beautiful" he breathed. Kaylee smiled that dazzling smile at him. "Thanks" "I'm sorry I can't take you to the dance." Simon apologized. "It's okay. Maybe you and I can dance together later." Kaylee said spontaneously. Inara and Delia looked at each other and smiled. "I' that." Simon whispered. "What did the Captain want?" Kaylee reminded him. "Oh, uh, he was wondering how much longer. I think they're ready." Simon reported. "Tell Captain we'll call over soon as we're ready." Kaylee said. "Okay." Simon said. He was transfixed by that neckline. "I'll see you later tonight." Kaylee said sweetly, and she turned and walked back up the stairs. Simon slowly walked out of Delia's house and back to Serenity. Delia, Kaylee and Inara returned to the third floor. "Kaylee, that was perfect." Delia said with a hug. Zoe came out of the bathroom. She was dressed and nearly ready to go. "What's perfect?" "Simon just saw Kaylee." Inara said. She knew Delia had set this all up. "Really!" Zoe said. She knew as well. "And she told him she'd dance with him later." Delia said. Zoe turned and smiled at Kaylee. "Oh, yeah. You're ready to wear that dress." Delia sat down on the edge of the bed and hiked her skirt up. She lifted her left leg and slid a small garter up to her thigh. She got up and went to her bureau. Lifting out a box, she removed a six inch knife and inserted it into the garter. As she looked up, she saw six eyes watching her. "I don't leave home without some sort of weapon. We won't get frisked. The men will." she said simply. "Don't think I got a place to fit a weapon" Zoe said, looking down at her tight dress. Delia got up and looked at herself in the mirror. She decided she didn't like the jet bead earrings she was wearing. Opening her jewelry box, she pulled out the large, winking diamond cascade earrings that had been a wedding gift from her former in-laws. "Done." Delia said with a smile. "Let's call the boys." -------------------------------------- Mal, Wash and Jayne sat at the Mess table playing cards. It had been 10 minutes since Simon had returned in a daze. He had walked distractedly into the Mess and told Mal they would call. He wandered out without another word. Wash smiled at Mal. "Musta seen Zoe." Wash said. "Somehow, I'm thinkin it wasn't Zoe." Mal said. "What is takin so gorram long?" Jayne grumbled. "I got ready in five minutes." "You're just naturally pretty." Mal joked. Just then, the com buzzed and Zoe's voice filled the Mess. "Gentlemen, we're ready." ------------------------------------- Mal, Wash and Jayne picked up their coats and walked to the forward hatch door. Mal put his brown duster over his new black jacket. Under it, he wore the bright red vest Delia had bought him. His tie was a ribbon of black and red silk. Wash and Jayne wore similar coats, but Wash had been thrilled to see his vest : an aqua blue Hawaiian print. Jayne's vest had simple gray stripes. As they walked toward Delia's patio, Wash and Mal talked about the clothes. "Don't know why Delia bought me this vest. My old one was fine." "Dunno, but I love mine." Wash said. "I feel like I'm wearin' a straightjacket." Jayne grumbled. "And you know how one feels 'xactly how?" Wash joked. ------------------------------- As Delia walked out of her bedroom, Zoe turned and reopened Delia's jewelry box. She palmed the small gold disc and she and Kaylee followed Delia downstairs. ------------------------------- Inara was sitting in the living room with her escort, Robert Chappelle. As Mal, Wash and Jayne walked into the room, Chapelle rose to greet the men. "Captain Malcolm Reynolds, this is Robert Chappelle." Inara said. The two men shook hands in a friendly manner. Inara was introducing Wash and Jayne as Delia came down the stairs. Her black dress flowed softly down the landing as she walked up to Mal. He was speechless. Her dress' bodice started above one breast, swept across her chest and under the other breast and continued low across the small of her back until it reached back up and covered the other breast. It had two small black straps. The skirt flared softly down to the floor and was not as tight and slim as Kaylee's dress. Her auburn hair was down across her shoulders. She looked elegant, graceful, and refined. "You are stunning." Mal said. Delia smiled at him and put her hand on his chest as Zoe turned the corner behind Delia. Wash's eyes had been on Delia but then a flash of red caught his eye. Looking up, he saw his wife descending the staircase. His breath caught in his throat as he saw Zoe wearing the sexiest dress that must have been pulled from his deepest dreams. The bright red floor length dress was tightly fitted from the bodice to the knees, where it flared out. The fabric was lightly studded with sequins which caught the light as she moved. The tight bodice swagged from the thin straps to reveal the tops of her breasts. Her hair was pulled back into a twist, but small curls escaped to the front. Delia's earrings sparkled in her ears. He had never seen Zoe dressed this way. Wash reached up and slowly clasped his curled hand over his heart. "You look...amazingly beautiful." Wash sighed. He leaned over and kissed her tenderly. "Zoe, you look gorgeous." Mal agreed. "Hey, eyes on your own woman." Wash laughed. "Kaylee, we're ready to go!" Delia called up the stairs. Mal closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Kaylee walked down the stairs carefully to avoid catching her heel in her dress. As she turned the corner at the landing, Mal heard Wash's intake of breath, and he opened his eyes. The halter dress fit her perfectly and she radiated happiness. Kaylee walked down the three steps into the living room and smiled at everyone. She turned her head and looked at the one person whose opinion mattered. "I was wrong. You are a woman." Mal said. He reached out and took Kaylee's hand to kiss it as he had seen Simon do to Delia a few months before. Kaylee blushed and giggled. "Do you have a shawl to wear?" Mal asked innocently. Delia turned to look at him and shook her head. He would never change. -------------------------------- Wash and Inara walked back to Serenity to fire up the shuttles while Jayne walked down the street to collect Kimi and Karen Cortland. --------------------------------- Jayne knocked on Delia's front door and let himself and the Cortland twins into the living room. The two blonde women were dressed in identical slinky dark blue evening gowns which were heavily encrusted with sequins. Jayne beamed from ear to ear at Wash and Mal as he reintroduced the women to the crew. Kaylee looked around and noticed something strange. Everyone was wearing color except Delia. "Delia, you told me folks wear red if they served with the Indies. Why ain't you wearin' red?" Kaylee asked. Zoe's head dropped a few millimeters. "Honey, you wear blue because you're not married. I wear black because I'm a widow. It wouldn't be right for me to wear red." Delia said. Mal clasped her hand. "But it would be right for you to wear this." Zoe said. Zoe reached up and pinned the POW medal to Delia's bodice. Delia looked down at it, and then at her dear friend. "I didn't think I wanted to wear that. Somehow, it feels right." Delia said. Zoe reached out and hugged Delia. "Okay, folks, let's go dance." Delia said, as the whine of the shuttles landing away from their dock points became louder. ------------------------------- Wash flew shuttle 2 with Zoe, Mal, Delia and Kaylee on the five minute flight to Marksville Inara flew Robert Chappelle, Jayne, and the Cortland twins in her own shuttle. Much to Inara's dismay, Jayne disappeared into her room with the twins and away from the bridge. If he fooled around on her bed with those two, she would be very angry. -------------------------------- The Great Hall in Marksville was a cavernous room that could easily hold over 2000 people at a time. Tonight, more than 1200 residents from the surrounding towns danced, sang, ate and drank to celebrate the end of the Snow. As they entered the Hall, Mal could see that this party was indeed like Delia said. Ordinary folks dressed to the nines, having a good time without pretense. Kaylee pointed excitedly. At one end of the Hall, a large buffet table groaned with foods, wines and desserts. The crew found a large table, big enough to seat all ten at a time, with room to spare. "I'm gonna go get some dessert!" Kaylee said as she walked away from the table. Mal looked at her dubiously. That dress was too darn tight. He looked at Delia who gave him a "Give it a rest" look. Wash and Zoe walked out onto the dance floor and held each other close. Mal smiled at the sight of them , so different from their normal every day appearance and mood. Wash dressed up, serious. Zoe, soft and feminine. ---------------------------- Kaylee walked up to Mal with a small plate of cake and strawberries. "This here's a really nice party....don't go hittin' nobody, k?" "What, I'm just standin' here!" Mal complained. ---------------------------- Robert and Inara walked to the opposite side of the Hall, away from the crowd. They sat down at a table at the edge of the party so they could talk. She smiled at him tenderly. He wasn't interested in her body (much)...he was genuinely interested in her, what she thought and how she felt. Inara could sense the difference in his interest and she was delighted to have a man who instantly didn't wish to bed her. ----------------------- Delia had gone to the buffet table with Jayne, Kimi and Karen. Mal watched her for a few minutes, laughing, talking. He saw the way her hips wiggled with delight as she ate a piece of chocolate from Jayne's plate. She held a glass of wine in her hand, and balanced Mal's whisky in the other. Mal walked away from where Kaylee stood and to Delia to fetch his drink. ------------------------- Mal and Delia walked out onto the balcony to enjoy the view from the terrace. It was 19 degrees outside, but they felt only warmth, as the balcony was enclosed in a thermal force field that was invisible to the naked eye. Delia sipped her wine and leaned against the railing. Mal looked out onto the view of Marksville below. "I'm glad we came to the dance." Mal said. "Good. I could tell you weren't thrilled. It's generally not my thing, either." "I'm just glad to be with the most beautiful woman here." Mal said. "Good answer!" Delia said, as she leaned to accept his kiss. Mal and Delia walked hand in hand back into the Hall. --------------------------------- A man walked up to Kaylee as she watched the party scene and ate strawberries from a plate. He was elegantly dressed in a silk jacket and matching pants. The man was blond, with thick glasses. He stood next to her and casually looked around, and occasionally glanced at Kaylee and her low cut dress. Looking around, Mal spotted this scene at once. The man looked around and back to Kaylee. Then he whispered something to her. I'll kill him if she reacts. As the man turned his head, Mal saw it was Simon! Somehow, he had gotten to the party. He was wearing old glasses and an old blond wig Mal recognized from Delia's closet. He should have known...Delia! Where was she? She was at their table, talking to Wash. Mal looked to Delia and caught her eye. Her look questioned him, but as Mal jerked his thumb to the left, indicating Simon and Kaylee, Delia smiled and winked. She resumed her conversation as if nothing was wrong. Simon could get caught! Serenity could be found out! OK, you're doing it again...Just nod your head at her and smile. Mal nodded his head at Delia and smiled. She raised her wine glass to him. He was learning. "Miss, I wonder if you'd like to dance" the man said to Kaylee. "Uh, sure..." Kaylee said hesitantly, turning toward him. She wanted to dance, but who was this...Simon!!! "What are you doing here? " Kaylee asked incredulously. "I couldn't miss seeing you here. I just couldn't." Simon whispered. ----------------------------------- Simon took Kaylee's hand and he led her to the dance floor. They danced to the slow music, holding each other close. Everything else melted into the background. There were no other dancers, or bounty hunters, or broken engines waiting to be fixed. It was just the two of them, together. ---------------------------------- Wash, Zoe and Delia walked to where Mal stood. Wordlessly, the two couples watched the newest in their midst enjoy this magical night. Mal put his arm around Delia's waist, and she leaned her head against his chest. Wash and Zoe stood hand in hand next to them. Jayne had Kimi and Karen on each arm, as he whirled them around the floor, toward the rest of the crew. Zoe looked around the large ballroom and saw dancers, revelers - people enjoying the party. Something up front caught her eye. Movement. Raised Voices. Something was clearly wrong in the front of the Hall. "Fenbian...Alliance!" Zoe hissed. Heads turned toward the commotion as Zoe sounded the alarm. "Jayne, get him out of here!" Mal urged. Jayne casually walked away from the Cortland twins and onto the dance floor. He whispered quickly into Simon's ear. Simon jerked his head around, grabbed Kaylee's hand and they followed Jayne toward the back of the room and out the back door. As they walked out of the room, Mal turned back to see where the Alliance soldiers were headed. Oh, no. They were headed directly at him. Mal automatically started to put his hands up. "Delia Maddox Hammond, you are bound by Law to stand down." "Excuse me?" Delia and Mal said almost simultaneously. "You are under arrest for the transport and receipt of stolen goods, and you are under suspicion for involvement in the theft of diamonds on Ariel." a voice in the back of the soldiers replied. "Oh, this is ridiculous. Who's in charge, here? Major Paschal, I should have known. Can't get me in your bed so you have me thrown in jail. This is a new low, even for you." Delia said snidely. "No, Mrs. Hammond. No mistake. " Paschal said. Major Paschal reached out and grabbed Delia's wrists. He turned them a few times before she pulled them out of his hands. "Where is it?" he demanded. "Where is what?" Delia asked. Paschal turned to his aide and whispered something in the man's ear. The aide shrugged. "Take her into custody. Make sure you frisk her." Paschal said. The soldier close to her started to pat her down. As he reached her leg, he felt the bump under the fabric. He lifted her dress and pulled the knife from its sheath. He dropped the hem back in place. Delia shrugged to Paschal. Mal was impressed. "Where are you taking me?" Delia asked "Beaumond, for interrogation and trial." Paschal said impassively. Paschal went to Delia and handcuffed her behind her back. She looked into Mal's eyes He started to speak, but Delia shook her head imperceptively, no and closed her eyes. Zoe put her hand on Mal's arm. A large crowd had been drawn by the commotion of Alliance soldiers . Many whispered angrily at their arrogance, and at their mistake at trying to take Delia Hammond away. As the Alliance turned to take Delia out of the Great Hall, Mal overheard Paschal as he spoke to Delia. "We're also looking for the Captain of the Firefly parked behind your market." "That'd be me." Mal said loudly. Paschal stopped and turned around, so he and Delia faced Mal. He nodded at the Captain's bravery. "Escort Captain Harbatkin along for the ride." "2 hours. Give us two hours. If we're not back, go to Beaumond." Mal whispered to Zoe. --------------------------------------- The Alliance contingent and Major Paschal escorted Mal and Delia out of the Great Hall and into a small shuttle just outside the front entrance. The shuttle arrived back at Stapleton a few minutes later, and landed near the Alliance Skipper parked next to Serenity. Delia and Mal were led into the Skipper and placed in a small office just inside the main hatch. Three guards watched them sit silently side by side at the end of a table. Delia looked at Mal and apologized with her eyes. He acknowledged with a nod. ----------------------------- Paschal entered the room alone and sat at the opposite end of the small table with a folder and an electronic tablet similar to Delia's own. "Where is it, Mrs. Hammond." Paschal asked again. "Ok, I give. What are you talking about?" Delia asked. "I want the bracelet." Paschal said. Delia didn't blink, or give any visible sign of reaction. "I still don't know what you're talking about." "You received 412 packages into Persephone. They were picked up several days ago. A Firefly picked them up. A Captain Harbatkin signed for them. Here is a copy of the bill of lading bearing his signature. A Firefly is parked next to us, behind your market. You say you are Harbatkin. Is that your Firefly?" Harbatkin asked. Mal nodded. Delia said nothing. She stared poker-faced through Paschal. "Save us time, Mrs. Hammond. We won't have to search your house and your market and turn them upside down. That was something Delia did not want to happen. "You bastard. I received 411 packages, but no bracelet. I did, however, decline to accept one of the packages." Delia said, Gods, she hoped this worked. "There were three packages that had to be signed for. One was a Hazmat, one was a Weapons Declaration, and one was Certified Mail. Mrs Hammond refused the Certified Mail." Mal said carefully. He thought he knew where she was going with this. Looking at her slight nod, he realized he did. "Why did you refuse it, Mrs. Hammond?" Paschal asked. "It had no return address, no postage marks. Nothing. Looked suspicious." Delia said. "Do you want to sign for it Major Paschal?" Mal asked earnestly. A bubble of laughter came from Delia. She couldn't help it. She bit her lips and smiled. Paschal looked at Delia with an angry glance. He looked at her chest and noticed the small gold disc. "Mrs. Hammond, I'd forgotten you were an Independent A POW. " he sneered. "I'd forgotten what a monkey butt you are." Delia sneered back. Mal's laughter surfaced this time but Delia never took her eyes off Paschal. "Well, 1st Lieutenant Hammond, I still outrank you." Paschal said. Mal looked at Delia. A 1st Lieutenant? He had been a Sergeant. She outranked him.! "Release us, Paschal. You have no reason to hold us here." Delia said firmly. "Where is the paperwork, Captain?" Paschal asked. "On my ship. I can go get it." Mal said as he stood up. "Escort Captain Harbatkin to his ship. Bring the paperwork and the package here." Mal got up with a glance at Delia, yes, she'd be okay, and left with the three guards. Delia looked at Paschal. "Sorry about the monkey butt thing. Just said that for the mailman's amusement." Delia apologized. "So you're not with him?" Paschal asked. "That piece of gosuh? No, I'm not with anyone...right now." Delia said softly. Training, once given, is never forgotten. Delia sat up slightly and closed her eyes. She breathed deeply and eased her cuffed hands underneath her bottom and thighs. With a quick lift to her legs, her locked hands slid under her feet and were in front of her. "One of the benefits of being in shape at my age, Major Paschal, is staying very limber, and pliable." she breathed. Delia stood up. She walked over to Paschal's end of the table and leaned back against the edge of the table in front of him. Thank the Gods I'm wearing this amazing dress "So, Albert. You've got me in a very vulnerable position. What are you gonna do with me now?" Delia asked in a little girl's voice tinged with sensuality. She reached out with her cuffed hands and touched Paschal's cheek. As she moved, she allowed her hair to cascade off her shoulder and onto Paschal's hands which were still on the table. With a sideways glance, she saw him stroke her hair gently. She had him. "Albert" she breathed into his ear. He smelled her perfume, her hair, that delicious female smell so different from his own... Paschal let a long, slow breath out, trying to control himself. "I've been on Europa since March. Check the shuttle logs. I don't know anything about a robbery on Ariel. I run a market. Albert... I'm a very good girl. I have needs. Needs you could satisfy. Once you see the paperwork, and the package...I need you to release us." Delia purred into his ear. ------------------------------------ Mal returned with the soldiers as she said her last words. He saw her bent close. Delia glanced up and winked at Mal. She got up from where she leaned and sauntered back to her chair, hips swaying. Mal walked back to his chair from the other side of the table so as not to block Paschal's view of Delia's backside. He knew exactly what had just happened. The guards placed the paperwork and the box in front of Paschal. He glanced from the paperwork to the package, then back again. "Mrs. Hammond, you did decline the package." Paschal confirmed. "I have no reason to be anything but open to you, Major Paschal." Delia smiled. Paschal looked at Delia, then at Mal. Mal smiled at Paschal with his arms folded over his chest. "The package hasn't been opened." Paschal said. "The paperwork clearly has Captain Harbatkin signing for all three packages, but Mrs. Hammond clearly has written declined on the third line here." Paschal punched some buttons on the tablet in front of him. He read for a very long time as he scrolled through a year's worth of shuttle logs. "You haven't been off moon for a while, either." Delia smiled broadly at Paschal. "Major Paschal, what is this all about?" Delia asked. "Chairman Luther Andrews was found guilty of possession of stolen goods, those diamonds from Ariel, 4 weeks ago. He indicated he got the jewels from you." Paschal explained. "I see..."Delia said sadly. " Luther was my...bang jiar. It ended badly. He must have tried to get some revenge against me when he was arrested." Delia explained. Delia put her chin in her still cuffed hands. "Can you have one of your men fly us back to the dance, please?" --------------------------------- As he walked back into the Great Hall with Delia, Mal glanced up at the clock. One hour, Forty Nine minutes. They had been gone for an hour and forty nine minutes. Zoe should still be here. They walked deeper into the Hall and saw the crew seated at one of the tables, waiting. "Captain, Delia!" Kaylee cried as she jumped out of her seat and rushed to hug them. "Everything ok?" Zoe asked. "Shiny!" Mal said. "How did you get out of that one?" Inara asked. "Just had to get them to see things my way." Delia said, and glanced at Inara. The look that passed between them, and the identical, sideways smile they shared was not lost on Mal. "We tried to fly Simon back to Stapleton but saw the Alliance ship was next to Serenity. We came back here. Thought it was safer." Jayne said. He was seated with a Cortland girl on each side. Mal nodded. "We can talk about this later. Folks, this is a party. I'm all gussied up. I'm gonna go dance with my girl." Mal smiled. ---------------------------------- He took Delia's hand and led her back across the dance floor. The song was slow, and the dance floor was crowded with couples swaying. Mal held Delia close as they finally were able to enjoy a dance together. Mal looked around and saw the rest of his crew had gotten up and were dancing as well. Mal smiled and pointed for Delia. She saw Jayne had an arm around each Cortland sister and was slowly trying to sway with both. "I don't like bein' that close to Alliance." Mal whispered. "You don't? I was the one with my tongue in one's ear." Delia said. Mal smiled at her, then pulled her close to his chest again. "I can't believe you outrank me." Mal said. "No, I don't...Captain." Delia said. Mal looked down at her and she reached up to touch his neck. He bent his head and they shared a soft gentle kiss.


Monday, June 6, 2005 4:25 PM


You must write really fast or just had a lot done before you started posting all these.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 1:26 AM


I just love this to pieces and really was impressed with how sharp Delia is on the uptake, realising straight off the bat that someone was trying to set her up with the jewellery and calmly wiping her prints off the item and the package. I also loved Mal's reaction to his first sighting of Kaylee's dress and how Delia got through to him that she is grown up and he should let her make her own mistakes. So in character for all of them and such a good read. Can't wait for the next shiny part, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 8:57 AM


I can't get the mental pic of the gang all dressed up out of my head. Don't know if it's in character or not- but I loved this episode just the same.

"I have needs...needs you can satisfy..." Yikes! I'll be in my bunk!


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Delia Cycle # 6- Desperate Times
After a risky job for Patience, Serenity is shattered by news from Europa.

Delia Cycle #5 - A House Divided Cannot Stand
After months away from Europa due to snowbound conditions, Serenity's crew regards Stapleton as home away from home.

Delia Cycle # 4- The Box
Serenity gets a job from Delia and enjoys some much deserved shore leave on Europa.

Delia Cycle #3 - A Body in Motion Stays in Motion / A Body at Rest...
Serenity goes to the Outer Rim while Delia heals.

Delia Cycle # 2 - And Dream of Sheep...
Mal and Delia's relationship continues as an old enemy rears his ugly head.

Delia Cycle #1 - Saving Graces
Serenity lands on Europa for repairs...and Mal gets a little more than he bargained for.