BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

KAYNARA

Bed and Wine: Part 18
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sweet Leaf and Bitter Herbs. PG-13


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3421    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Bed and Wine: Part 18 By Kaynara *** Sweet Leaf and Bitter Herbs *** AN: Thanks to Grimlock for the consult. It’s Joss’s ‘verse; I just borrow it. *** The baby cried.  In earnest, Carly didn't like him much.  She suspected Mama didn't either, if the way he made her face crumple was any indicator.  He'd been a finicky infant, too small and ill often. He was eight months out now and still a pain in the pigou.  She could hear him this minute, sobbing in his cradle from the next room.  He'd outgrow these fits by year's end, become a somber toddler.  Tonight she wanted to smother him. The thought guilted her, and she climbed out of bed, located her slippers and went to find her mama.  Mama would know what to do. She'd fix him a bottle and nurse him back to sleep. Then they'd have cookies at the kitchen table, drink tea from the china like fancy ladies. "Mama?"  she called.  "Ma--" Mama wasn't alone in the kitchen.  A man's voice accompanied her softer drawl. Carly hesitated on the stairs, a slight girl with messy brown hair that hung often in her eyes.  She sat on the step, pressed her face into the bars of the railing.  The wood was cold through the thin fabric of her nightgown. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around her shoulders and listened hard. If she squinted, she could just make him out.  A tall figure, face cloaked in the shadows.  He wore black head to foot and his skin was the color of coffee with fresh cream. "Rum or bourbon?" her mother asked the visitor. "Mary...." "I need a drink, Derrial.  Don't make me drink alone." "Bourbon, then." He had a deep voice, soothing; Carly didn't much trust him. "One more, then you'll tell me...Oh, God.  Sweet, sweet Ye su.  He's dead.  Ain’t he." It wasn't a question, merely acceptance of fact. The man called Derrial didn't answer, just pressed a fist to his lips.  After a moment, he lifted the bourbon, swigged some down straight from the bottle.  Mama always scolded Carly for drinking from the milk carton.  Now she didn't say one word. “Was it them that he thought?” she said finally. “I believe so.”  His voice cracked on the last. “He afeared this would happen.  Told me so when last he came.” “He knew betrayal was a likely recourse.  Bold men often chance such a fate.” “Thems that got children oughta forfeit the right to be bold.  Once you got kids, your life ain’t your own.” “Perhaps that’s true, Mary…in a softer world.  A world such as the one he sought.” “Hump him and hump his world, Derrial.  I’ve a baby boy upstairs won’t never know his daddy.  Don’t ‘spect he’ll experience this softer world of yours anytime’s soon.” For a moment, neither spoke.  Mama’s shoulders shook with silent sobs. “I loved him too, Mary,” the man said at last.  “Gorrammit, he was my friend, too.  I know how you--” “You know *what*, Derrial…?  How I feel?  Is that what you meant to say?  Did you make love to him, Derrial?  Did you?  Then you couldn’t possibly know….” “He was like my brother.  We attended university together, drank together.  We went to pubs together and found willing women and got humped together.  You think I can’t miss him as you do?  Yearn for his company….” “You’ll pine for a drinking buddy.  I’m missing my lover.” He sniffed derisively. “There’s more to life than sex, Mary.” “Well, I ‘spose that’s so.  There’s also starving.” “No, Mary.  Three months ago, he willed his accounts over to me, with strict instructions that half the remaining credits be turned over to you at the time of his death.” “And the other half?  No, don’t.  Don’t say her name.  I don’t think I can bear it just now.” “He was a man, Mary.  Whole and flawed like any other.  To remember him as something else is to do him an injustice.” “Sometimes I hate him, Derrial.” “Sometimes I hate him too, Mary.” Mama looked up, blinking back tears. “Will they go for you?  He said any that stood by him was like to be took down.” The man lowered his gaze.  Carly thought she saw him frown but mayhaps it was a trick of the light. “You needn’t fret for my safety.  I just thought….”  His voice broke, and he had to begin again.  “I just thought you should know.  I’ll be on my way.” “Please don’t.”  It was a whisper, a plaintive keening that halted the man on his feet, had him turning.  “Don’t leave me alone right now, Derrial.” “Mary….”  He took Mama’s hands, filling Carly with an unfamiliar twitchiness.  “I’m a poor substitute for the man you lost.” His hand curved around her cheek and she leaned in, as though drawing strength from his touch. “Your hands are warm,” she whispered, so soft Carly strained to hear.  Without warning, she hiccuped. “Mary….” “Hush!”  Mama pulled away.  “Did you hear something?” From her hiding spot, Carly gasped, clapped a hand over her mouth. Quiet as a newborn kitten, she tiptoed up the stairs. Safe in her room, she leaned against the big oak door, breathing hard.  If Mama caught her eavesdropping again, she’d surely get a beating.  Though she wasn’t sleepy, not even a smidge, she climbed back into bed, tucked the covers up to her chin. When she woke, it was raining.  The man called Derrial was gone.  Mama stayed locked in her room till the rain stopped. Thirty-some-odd years later, Caroline slept under the awning of twin maples in her friend Moll’s flower garden. When she woke, she couldn’t recall who Derrial was, or explain the meaning of the strange dream, pulled as though at random from memories of a long-gone girlhood.  She felt uneasy the rest of the day but forgot it all the next morning. *** In earnest, he was eager to see her.  Maybehaps he was comin’ down with somethin’; after all, sentimental simply weren’t a part o’ his nature. He made a mental note to see the doc, just in case. Wouldn’t do for the captain to be under the weather, what with them settin’ down on Bellerophon within the hour.  But first he had a wave to send: “Is that my meddlin’ sister?  Hell, I hardly recognize you, Carly.  Guess you look a mite less fearsome on this bitty screen.” “Don’t let the picture fool you, Brother.  I can nag you just as easily from Boros.” “Oh, I don’t doubt it.  So how’s farm life treatin’ you?  Misty-eyed for molded protein yet?” “It’s not a farm, Malcom; Moll’s a landscape artist.  But she does grow some fairly-luscious hodgeberries in the east garden.  And yes, I’ll be sure to send y’all a crate come summer.” “Well, we’d be mighty grateful.”  He cleared his throat.  “You, uh, you get that package we posted?  Kaylee’s been whining at me to ask….” “Yes, yes I did.  I especially loved the captures of the baby.  She’s getting big.” “Yep, gonna eat us outta ship and sky pretty soon.”  “The rest of the crew though…everyone seemed so somber in their recordings.  Is something wrong, Mal?” “Shiny as a…shiny thing.  Got a job lined up in Sweet Leaf, matter o’ fact.  Headin’ that way now.” “For a thief, you’re a rotten liar, Malcom Reynolds.” “For a sister, you’re a pain in the—” “Mal!” He couldn’t quite disguise the smirk. “I best be signin’ off now, Darlin’.  You keep workin’ on those conspiracy theories.” “Oh, wait: one thing more.  It was sweet of you to send my sundries and whatnot. But I think you mixed in some old captures with the new ones of Raven.”  “Oh, yeah?  Which captures?  Never exactly been one for home theater….” That priest of yours…that shepherd.  Book, isn’t it?  You know, Mal, it’s the strangest thing.  I feel as though I’ve seen him before.” “Maybe he went on a rockin’ rim tour with the rest o’ the abbey.  Sang ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’ at the Snell Theater back on Shadow.” “Somehow I doubt that’s it.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Enjoy your stay on Bellerophon, Malcom.  Watch your back.” “Always do.”  He waved Mayella next, arranged for landing coordinates.  Be a nice change workin’ for folk didn’t meet and greet with guns.   And May seemed downright tickled at seein’ him, even promised a hearty meal for him and his crew.  He just hoped she wasn’t *too* tickled; lately his life was just slightly more interesting than he preferred.  Anyway, things seemed finally on the mend ‘tween him and Inara.  She had her secrets, surely, but he suspected they both had a few o’ those. Whatever this was betwixt them two…he wasn’t of a mind to stop it.  She touched him in the hollow place, didn’t quite fill it but made it feel again; that weren’t not small feat.  The first time he set eyes on Serenity, he wanted something more than just surviving.  Surely, he couldn’t quite possess Inara in the way he did this ship.  But then Serenity weren’t really his no more neither.  So maybe having her—both his girls—in his life was enough.  On good days, he could almost believe it. ***  Her shrieks sounded through the halls, finding him on his way back from the kitchen. Weren’t exactly unfamiliar, song of the little siren. Remembered from her bad days like a lullaby, ‘cept this tune made you wanna rip out your own arm hairs. Doc had moved lil’ sis to her own bunk, and Jayne lingered by the door, chewing bits of apple and listening to their exchange. The witch just called her brother somethin’ to make a whore blush. Best he could tell, she didn’t want her pain meds. “Alright. I give up.” Simon threw his hands in the air, retrieved the discarded syringe from the floor. “You’re an adult now, River; I won’t force you. Refusing pain meds goes against your doctor’s recommendation, but--” “Make a note on my chart, Simon.” He shook his head at her, but couldn’t quite keep his lips from twitching. “I’ll just be on rounds then.” Rolling his eyes, he shoved past Jayne on his way out the door. “Don’t say excuse me or nothin’!” Jayne yelled after him. “Hell, some people got no manners.” He peered into River’s bunk. For a genius and a killing machine, girl sure was poutin’ like a petulant teenager. Made him think o’ his big sisters, broodin’ over some boy or another half his childhood, hair all tangled and stringy, lower lip stuck out in frustration. He had a strange urge to give her ponytail a good tug and steal her makeup, not that the witch wore any. He cleared his throat loudly, waited for her to look up. “Ain’t my business, mind you.” He gave a shrug to show he didn’t much care one way or the other. “But turnin’ down pain meds ain’t exactly the brightest course. Put up a good show, sure. Don’t accomplish a whole lot in the long run.” “I wanna feel,” she said quietly. “Hell, girl. You don’t wanna feel this. Not nobody likes pain, ‘cept maybehaps the cap’n, and he ain’t really all there, if you get me.” “Everlasting pain. Sometimes sharp like needles. Other times its dull, kind makes your bones ache. Cold as ice or hot like coals. Meds make it run and hide but it’s always there...lurking in the shadows, waiting.” “Don’t gotta be that way, River.” He shrugged, uncomfortable with the turn of conversation. “Lots o’ things feel good. Life ain’t all torture an’ violence...not that the violence don’t sometimes feel good. Sometimes killin’ a man can be downright satisfactory....Well, there’s other stuff....” “Name some.” “Whiskers on kittens?” “Simon’s allergic.” “Simon’s ‘lergic to pussy? Well that ain’t no shocker.” She raised a brow. He sighed. “I’m thinkin’.” Now it was River’s turn to sigh. “We could be here awhile.” *** Mal poked his head through the infirmary door. “That sweet song of earlier the sound of lil’ sis?” Simon looked up from his source box, motioned for Mal to have a seat on the table. “It seems River would prefer to manage her own health care options hence forth. I don’t know why I’m surprised, she’s read half my med books.” Mal rolled up his sleeve for the innoc; according to the Cortex, Reavers brought some sort of pox along with the usual maiming and death. Half the town was out with it. “You, uh...you want I should speak to her, Doc?” He winced at the pinprick, shaking his head when Simon pressed a hot-pink bandage to the flesh of his inner elbow. Clearly one of Kaylee’s purchases. “My sister’s a grown woman, Captain. That fact’s become increasingly evident and it’s time I accepted it as such. Actually, it’s long past.” “ ‘Spect there’s some truth in that.” He rolled down his sleeve, a little dizzy on his feet after the injection. “Any meds she needs...can go ahead and pick ‘em up in town. Sweet Leaf ain’t exactly big city, but they oughta have the basics.” “We are running low on a few items. Captain?” Mal hesitated at the door, turned back. “What is it you intend to do?” At the captain’s silence, he attempted to clarify. “I mean about the--” “I know what you meant. And I dunno, Doctor. Don’t got a single ruttin’ notion.” “You’ll tell me...when you get one: a notion.” “You’re on the short list. Make sure the rest o’ the crew’s innocked. We break atmo in an hour.” *** If Inara were fire and gold tinge, Mayella was like the sea--cool greens and jewel blues. She met them at the landing dock, flung herself at Mal as soon as he stepped off ship. “Malcom.” His name sounded muffled, spoken as it was against his chest. Her hands drifted down for a quick squeeze of his backside. “Hey, kiddo.” He patted her head a little awkwardly, tried to disentangle. “Mayella, this is my crew. Crew, May.” “Captaiiiin.” Kaylee shot him a death glare, nudged Inara forward with her shoulder. “Ain’t you gonna introduce everyone proper?” “We’ve met, actually.” Inara extended a hand, eyes lit with an amber light Mal didn’t quite recognize. “We were here a couple months back.” “Of course.” Mayella smiled curiously, taking the smooth bejeweled hand in hers. “Mrs. Reynolds, isn’t it?” Inara blinked, opened her mouth only to close it again. “Well, see, that was for a job,” Mal supplied. “Inara and me...we ain’t exactly--” “--anything official,” Inara finished with a smile that fell short of her eyes. “Be assured, Malcom Reynolds is still very much a bachelor. If you’ll excuse me...?” She strode away, Kaylee fast in her wake. Mal turned back to Mayella, forcing a smile. “So. How do I go ‘bout catchin’ this plague?” *** After, Mal caught up with her outside her bunk. She and Kaylee conversed in whispers, falling silent at his approach. “Ladies.” He nodded a greeting. “Kaylee, mind givin’ us a moment?” “Sure, Cap’n.” Her eyes were weary, and she squeezed Inara’s hand in passing. “You know where to find me, honey.” Mal held his breath, waited till they were alone. “I probably should have mentioned...May and me...well, we used to....” He let the silence serve as explanation. “I’m hardly blind, Mal.” She made her tone breezy. “You remember I’ve some degree of experience in that sphere.” He winced, and for a moment she softened, wondering whether she’d crossed a line. Then: “Inara…are you jealous?” “Please, Mal.  In your fantastic and highly-deluded dreams, perhaps.” A slow smile spread over his face, shifting his expression to one of amusement. “Oh, so those weren’t claws?  And, point of interest, you ain’t so much jealous in my dreams as…desperate.” “I’m…desperate.” Her voice was dangerously quiet.  He was workin’ her up into a powerful fury, and enjoyin’ himself more than a little. “It’s good you can admit as much.” “It’s fortunate that ‘May’ finds you so delightful.  In a few days, you’ll be feeling a little ‘desperate’ yourself.” She brushed past him with a roll of her dark eyes, hair hitting him smack in the face on her way down the hall. Mal groaned. “Inar--” “Sir, do you have a minute?” Zoe, looking all manner o’ beat. “Lookin’ like I got a few of ‘em just now,” Mal admitted with a sigh. He leaned back against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “What can I do for ya, Zoe?” “Mind my little girl for a spell? I need a night off, Captain. I *really* need that.” “Huh, ‘spect you are lookin’ a bit...” He trailed off, realizing there was no wise way to finish that sentence. “I’m first to admit Little Chick’s fine company, Zoe. But as it is, I got a meeting with the client in not half an hour. Hey, though, maybehaps we can get you a sitter yet, if’n you’re not too particular on references.” “Honestly, Sir? At this point, I’m liable to leave my baby with Jayne.” Mal shot her a sidelong glance. “You gotta stop doin’ that.” “Doin’ what, Sir?” “Readin’ my mind.” He mimed a shudder. “It’s downright freaky.” Zoe sighed, followed the captain down the hall. “This is gonna go great.” *** “Jayne!” A female voice, perturbingly insistent. Jayne nearly dropped his box of med supplies, being donated for a small fee to the people of Bellerophon. Beside him, Mal raised a brow. “Sounds as though you’re bein’ paged, Jayne.” “Quit your hollerin’, girl!” He rolled his eyes for Mal’s benefit. “Jayne...kid’s havin’ a rough time with it.” Mal cleared his throat, ducking his head to avoid eye contact. “Be a kindness to show her some. ” He retrieved the box from Jayne’s hold and continued down the corridor. Cursing inventively, Jayne stalked into her bunk, shoving the door shut behind him. “Tune in next week for another thrillin’ episode o’ the ruttin’ River Tam show. Watch the dumbass captain turn his best merc into a gorramn babysitter.” “Been lookin for you. Considered your list.” She met his eyes sympathetically. “Found flaws.” “What the rut you talkin’ bout, Girl?” “Your list. Pleasant or pleasurable experiences that don’t include violence...or cats.” Jayne scratched his face, thoughtful. “Is it just me, Girl, or is the hair on your head startin’ to resemble the hair on your...” “Hell, gimme that there brush. Wo de ma, from baby sitter to hair dresser.” She cocked her head away, suspicious. “Pinches when Inara does it.” “Aw, hell, River, I hope to hell you’re talkin’ ‘bout hair-combin’.” Gentle-like, he began workin’ through the knots. “Used to do this for my sisters. They’d slap me upside the head if’n I hurt ‘em.” “We should really get to the list.” “Fire away, crazy.” “Consumption of alcoholic beverages.” “Well, hell, that’s fun.” “Overindulgence tends to result in extreme discomfort the following morning. Sensitivity to light and sound, aversion to food. Often there’s vomiting. Also....” She hesitated, eyed him seriously. “Many who consume suffer the severe affliction known as beer-goggles. Not everyone recovers.” “Ughhh.” Jayne shuddered, as though reliving a particularly distasteful recollection. “Item two: sexual coitus. Preliminary research can best be categorized as...anticlimactic.” “So you’ve, uh...well, good for you.” “Awkwardness, aggravated by nudity and physical discomfort. A predominant feeling of bathos.” She noted his blank expression, shrugged. “It wasn’t like the movies.” “You should talk to Kaylee. If she remembers her first go.” He grinned. “Guess Inara’s like to have a fuzzy memory on those points as well.” “Literal and metaphorical tearing....” Now Jayne winced. “Well, you gotta do it more ‘n once, for rut’s sake.” “Couldn’t focus. Kept drifting....” “Hell, then you ain’t been done right.” Realizing how that sounded, Jayne set down the brush and stood up, retreating a few paces. Just ‘cuz they weren’t airborne didn’t mean Mal couldn’t shove him out the airlock in a few days time. “Well, hey. What about the rest of it? What’s the next item?” “Only two items.” “Drinkin’ and sexin’? That’s all I come up with?” “Yes.” “Well. Well, maybe you should reconsider the drinkin’.” *** Mal dropped Zoe in town on his way to the meet and greet. She climbed off the back of his borrowed rider, tugging her skirt down over her thighs. He started to rev up the engine but she lingered, one hand on the handlebars. “Sure you don’t need back up, Sir? “Just a get acquainted, this. Cargo ain’t even in town till tomorrow.” “Sir, what is the cargo?” “Not rightly sure,” Mal admitted, a little uncomfortably. “Not nothin’ to worry on, though. You just enjoy your night off. Don’t break too many hearts...or noses, dong ma? Ain’t exactly inclined to bust you outta jail tonight.” “I’ll try to behave myself,” she said dryly. “Sir...do you think Raven’ll be--” “Fine. Jayne’s only two thirds so useless as he looks. Only half as inept. Little Chick’ll be pretty near in tact when her mama returns.” “Be careful tonight, Sir.” “Zoe...when am I anything else?” The client looked to be about sixty, white-haired and bearded with owlish glasses and a measure of respectability afforded by age and experience with the wine list. “Captain Reynolds. Please sit. Do you tend toward reds or whites?” His voice rang higher than expected, faintly cartoonish in its lilt. Mal took his seat at the small, candlelit table, feeling not unlike one half of a slightly unorthodox blind date. “Honestly, Mr. Kane, I typically tend toward the barley wine.” Kane smiled, beckoned the loitering waiter. “Two beers, then. Will you have something to eat?” “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather get down to business. Heard you have some cargo needs moving.” “I can appreciate you’re eagerness, Captain. You’ve a reputation for..how do they say? Getting the job done.” “That’s what we do. And Mal’s just fine, by the by.” “Alright. Mal.” Kane seemed surprised, though pleasantly so. “Then you must call me Amos.” “Well, Amos, how can my crew be of service?” “I’ve a shipment bound for Persephone.” Amos sipped his beer tentatively, as though he didn’t quite trust it. “Nothing illegal, naturally.” “Naturally.” Mal hid a smile over his own pint. “But one does prefer to avoid Alliance meddling whenever possible.” “Shouldn’t be a problem, Amos. Just outta curiosity, what *is* the cargo?” “All in good time.” He patted Mal’s hand as a grandfather might, firm and reassuring. “Might I ask you a question, now, son?” “ ‘Spose you might.” “You’ll forgive my being a nosy old man. But then age entitles one to so few perks, yes? I believe I’ll hold on to my nosiness. Captain Reynolds...Mal...I’ll admit your behavior concerning the, um, Miranda, has piqued my curiosity. For a smuggler--forgive the term if its insulting--you’ve made yourself quite a number of interesting enemies.” “Some truth in that,” Mal admitted. “Would you do it again? That’s my question. If you could go back...would you replicate your actions?” Mal hesitated, met the older man’s eyes. “No. Any other questions?” *** He headed back to Mayella’s ranch, in want of a long nap. He awoke in the hammock to the melodious chatter of female voices. Sleepy and disoriented, he blinked against the setting star, turned his head in the direction of the sound. They sat together on the splitered-old oak of the porch swing, rocking idly and speaking as sisters, friends for long years over. Inara held her knees to her chest, her smooth, bare toes at odds with the weathered appearance of the wood. Beside her, Mayella stretched out a long, denim-covered leg, nudging them to and fro with a gentle rhythm. The two seemed deep in conversation, heads bent, temples angled toward each other. Mal couldn’t help wondering just what turn of discussion merited such complete absorption. As the only point of connection he could conjure was a common familiarity with his lovemaking techniques or lack thereof, he only felt like half a lecherous hump for spyin’. Squinting across the yard, he saw Inara say something that had Mayella grinning widely. Disbelieving, he watched, openmouthed, as Mayella unbuttoned her blousey thing to show Inara what looked like a very fine brassiere. *Womanly business.* Rolling his eyes, he settled back on the bed of mesh, enjoying the warm blush of sunlight on his skin. He jumped when peals of laughter--Inara this time--traveled across the lawn to meet his ears. Oh, Dear God, don’t let ‘em be talkin’ ‘bout technique. With a groan, he sat up. “You know,” he said in a voice that carried. “Maybehaps you could relocate the girly gossiping to another porch swing, let a man rest in peace.” The ladies looked surprised then annoyed then amused in turn. “C’mon over, Mal.” Mayella smiled wickedly, met Inara’s gaze. “Yes, Mal.” Inara’s eyes twinkled in the twilight. “*Swing* with us.” “Ain’t that but a tempting offer. Think I’m comfy on my own, xie xie.” “A pity.” Mayella stood, rolling her neck to remove the creaks. “And here I was gonna regale Nara with the Square Dance Story.” “What’s the Square Dance Story?” Inara asked, intrigued. “In my own defense, for a man, she had awful soft hands.” “Oh, my.” Inara pressed a hand to her lips. “And on that note: I’ve some affairs that need attending, and this evening at that. So I’m gonna hafta leave you by your lonesomes tonight.” Mayella reached for the crotched blanket that served as her wrap, slipped it over her head. “I trust you’ll find some manner o’ amusin’ yourselves?” “Oh, ‘spect we’ll think o’ somethin’,” Mal assured. Mayella kissed Inara’s cheek, wiggled her fingers at Mal before heading for the door. “Don’t forget now, Malcom. I promised you a surprise.” “Ain’t exactly real keen on surprises of late.” “You’ll like this one. Night, kids; play safe.” Rolling his eyes, Mal wandered up to the porch, took a seat beside Inara on the swing. “Pretty night, huh.” “Very,” she agreed. “She’s lovely, Mal. Mayella....Funny and warm. I like her very much.” “Yep, good girl there. ‘Spose it’d be unseemly askin’ the nature of this newfound kinship.” Inara just smiled. “I suppose jealousy is a new feeling for me. I’ve not had much experience with that emotion in my line of work, and not that your usual arrogance helped the situation, but I...I do apologize, Mal. ” “ ‘Sokay.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “On you, green looks real pretty.” “Hey, guys.” Kaylee padded out onto the porch and planted herself between them, tossing an arm around each of their necks. “Wondered where you two got off to....” “Nope, Lil’ Kaylee, not nobody’s gettin’ off here.” He pretended to cringe as Inara reached around to slap his shoulder. Kaylee just laughed. “So me and Simon was just talkin’ before whilst we was in bed--don’t make that face, Cap’n; we’re married. Anyhow, you’ll never believe the idea he done come up with, you’re gonna love it!” *** A double date. Why in the nine hells had he agreed to this? Surely there was druggin’ involved...and wiles. Point of fact, they’d double-teamed him, hinting none-too-subtly that they could all of ‘em use the leisure time. He didn’t exactly take quarrel with that point; surely a night of relaxation and diversion weren’t a bad notion. He got fuzzy on the hows and wherefores, not at all certain how the four of ‘em ended up on a white-sand beach at midnight, slugging down a sweet apricot wine straight from the bottle and playing some silly game of Kaylee’s invention. Mal wasn’t certain as to the rules, as Kaylee was just a bit too buzzed for proper explanation. It seemed to involve a lot of lying and an equal amount of drinking. Still, situation weren’t all bad. Inara sat sprawled between his legs, head resting back against his chest. She held one of his hands in her lap, playing absently with his fingers while she laughed at some joke he’d missed. “Okay, honey, your turn.” Kaylee gave Simon a sharp nudge from her spot beside him. “See, this is fun. Right?” The others nodded, determined to make it so rather than disappoint her. “Your turn, Simon. ‘Member, two truths and one lie.” “I, uh, well. Hmm. Once, when my parents were on holiday, I rented out the bedrooms in the east wing to my friends by the hour. In the med acad, I spent two years on the pep squad. At eight, I broke my tail bone playing ice hockey.” He held up his hands. “Okay, which is the lie?” Mal grinned. “Hard as it is to reconcile the image of you playin’ contact sports, I’m gonna have to go with pep squad. You gotta be the least peppy person I know, next to Jayne.” Simon frowned, as though deciding whether to be insulted. “I’m...cheerful.” Mal snorted. Inara gazed politely at her lap. “Aw, no you’re not, Baby.” Kaylee snuggled into Simon’s shoulder, resting her cheek there. “Doc, you’re ‘bout as cheersome as...” Mal hesitated, at a loss. “Hell, I’m too tired to be witty. Name something un-cheersome, Lil’ Kaylee.” “Hmm, how ‘bout...you?” Inara giggled until Mal turned to glare. “You got somethin’ to say, Nara?” “Yes, Mal; I do. Kaylee, I think that’s an unfair assessment. I’m certain the captain was cheerful for an entire day last...spring, was it?” Kaylee choked on her wine, sputtering, passed the bottle off to Inara. “You know, Doctor. I think I’ve had just about enough o’ feminine company. Maybehaps you and me take a swim.” “Oh, shiny!” Kaylee leapt up, already peeling her top over her head. “Skinny Dipping!” “That’s not a good idea.” Simon and Mal spoke in unison, exchanged uncomfortable glances. “Aw, c’mon, don’t be babies. It’s a gorgeous night and we got this big empty beach. Who’s to stop us?” “Common decency?”Simon tried. “In earnest, Lil’ Kaylee, I’ve seen you in your skivvies more ‘n enough for one lifetime.” “Was just tryin’ to lighten the mood.” Kaylee shrugged. “Things been feelin’ a little tense past few weeks.” “You know, Kaylee, I think skinny dipping sounds like the perfect suggestion. “ Rising, Inara began unbuttoning her blouse. “I haven’t been in ages.” Kaylee gave a little cheer and tossed her own tee shirt in Simon’s lap. “If they ain’t man enough to join, guess we’ll just have to entertain our own selves.” Inara smiled, shimmied out of her skirt. “I guess we will.” She followed Kaylee down to water’s edge, offering Mal one last over-the-shoulder gaze before tossing her hair and wading into the cool cobalt blue. “Bye, boys,” Kaylee waved, echoing Inara’s hair toss. “Huh,” Mal said from his spot on the sand. “Huh noted and agreed upon. I believe a challenge has been laid down, Captain.” “Would seem so.” Mal sighed and started unlacing his boots. “Try not to stare at my ass now, Doctor.” “I’ll do my best to refrain.” He pulled his sweater over his head and unbuckled his trousers, turned to Mal just in time to see the captain lower his undershorts. “Um...Captain. I believe the ladies left on their, uh, delicates....” “Ain’t one for doin’ things half...uh, assed.” He grinned, strode boldly toward the shore. “Come now, Doc. Man in your profession oughta be reasonably comfortable with the human anatomy.” “I’ve certainly seen yours time enough.” Rolling his eyes, Simon dropped his shorts and followed. In the distance, the girls’ skin gleamed shiny-white between the inky black of the sky and the sea. He listened to the sound of their laughter as the water lapped at his feet, the night air fresh and cool and clean. This--seeing Kaylee happy--was Simon’s serenity. *** The cantina spilled out into a courtyard, strewn with palm trees and paper lanterns and remnants of the papaya margaritas that were the pub’s key selling point. Zoe sipped at something clear. Gideon pegged it a vodka tonic until he remembered she was still nursing. Water maybe, or a club soda if she’d felt the yearning for something fizzy. Gideon ordered a rum and Blue Sun, shaking his head at the little turquoise umbrella that served as stirrer. He took a seat at an empty table and watched her dance. She’d worn a black and white wrap dress that left most of her long legs bare, dipped just low enough at the neck to send frustration levels on the rise. She’d clipped up her hair with a barrette made out of a shell, and skinny tendrils fell down to tickle her neck. Sipping his drink, he studied her movements. Fluid and willowy, whether alone or with a partner, eyes closed to let the music overpower. In any of the capacities they’d known one another--intimates, enemies and lately, reluctant allies--he’d never seen this side of her. Actually, aside from their admittedly speedy roll in the proverbial ship’s bunk, he’d never seen her without her holster. He’d have bet a hefty sum of coin she had a pistol bound to her shapely thigh under that heady little dress. He ground an ice cube between his teeth--a bad habit though certainly not his worst--and wondered whether she’d ever danced this way for her dead husband. Repulsed by his own mind, he ordered another rum and Sun--he hadn’t the stomach for shots--and averted his eyes. Clearly, she’d come here to escape. Though he’d happened upon the same shoddy pub--hardly a feat in a town of three thousand--Gideon would allow her that reprieve. He started toward the exit, resigned to leave her to her night in Mexico. Ducking under a pool cue, he slipped past two girls who tried to crown him with a sombrero and ignored the sulky brown eyes of an hourglass blonde. A disturbance near the bar caught his gaze, and he hesitated. A woman, obviously a professional and likely underage, if such things held weight here on the Rim. The guy was medium height, pretty-faced for a boy. A cowboy hat rode low on his temple, and a meaty hand held firm to her wrist. “I told you no, Wyatt. Ain’t workin’ no more tonight.” “And what would old man Rawlins’ think o’ that, Shelley? Knowin’ your cheatin’ him outta an honest night’s wages....” “Wyatt, just let me alone.” Her voice took on a note of pleading. “I’m real tired, okay?” “Well, see that ain’t no trouble. Was plannin’ on you bein’ on your back anyhow.” His friends laughed, and the girl, Shelley, lowered her face to her whiskey. The cowboy wrapped an arm around her waist, bumped her back into his hips. “You feel that, sugar? That’s what they call a sense of urgency.” She was squirming now, bending forward in her effort to pull away. She tried to wiggle down out of his hold but he wrenched her upright, shoving her full-on against the bar. “I ain’t playin’ no more, Shelley. You’re gonna give it to me, hear?” “Hell, Wyatt, I’ll give it to you for free.” Gideon let his fist fly into the kid’s pretty jaw. He stood over the cowboy’s prone form, shaking his stinging hand. “Was it good for you?” The girl hung on his arm after, all wide eyes and gratitude. “Listen, Mister. That was mighty good o’ you, truly. Most folk wouldn’t even...was real sweet what you done. I wasn’t lyin’ before ‘bout bein’ too tired. Elsewise I’d do you for nothin’. Maybehaps you come by tomorrow night?” “Thanks for the offer, but I’m really not interested.” He brushed her off, met Zoe at the door. She was shaking her head. “You do have the captain’s way of making friends.” Mal could certainly be off-putting. And yet he had a friends, a whole ship’s full. Where was the logic?” “Hwoon dan had it coming, and if I hadn’t, you would’ve. Just saving him the shame of getting it done by a girl.” She hid a smile. “Was good of you, though. Not many would go to such trouble for a ‘lowly’ whore.” “Violence toward women is abhorrent.” Gideon shrugged. “No matter how lowly the woman.” He motioned her to precede him out the door. She had a look of bemusement, but he missed it in the darkness. *** After, she laid her head on his chest, listened to his heart thud under her ear. He stroked her wet hair with one hand, the other holding her close as the night breeze dried their skin. She shifted, resting her hands on his chest, her chin in her hands. He seemed strangely restful, lips curving lazily as he met her gaze. “There’s a pretty lady drippin’ water all over me.” He fingered a sodden curl. “Malcom Reynolds swimming in the buff, and with his crew nonetheless.” She smiled. “In truth, I never thought I’d see the day.” “And now said crew’s gettin’ busy down the beach.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the sighs and giggles. “This a typical double date?” “I imagine wine consumption and skinny dipping still feature rather heavily in the teenage dating scene.” “So what happens now that I got you damp and drunk?” “I believe you have that backwards, Captain.” “Darlin’, this was all part o’ my master plan.” While she was rolling her eyes, he rolled her over on the blanket, settled into the space between her thighs. He stifled her soft gasp of surprise with his mouth, used his lips to nudge hers apart. He suckled her throat while her fingers fisted in his hair. After a moment, he lifted his head. “Huh.” “What is it?” “Nothin’. Was just thinkin’ this is the most normal thing you and me ever done.” She smiled, stroking a hand down his face. “Make love to me, Mal.” He raised a brow. “If you’re not ready yet...well, I can settle for heavy petting.” He cupped her breast to illustrate. She giggled, pulling his face down to the curve of her neck. “I assure you I’m ready, Mal. I want to...what’s that quaint Earth-that-Was expression? Go all the way.” “I gotta give you a pin or somethin’ come mornin’?” “Your varsity jacket, I think.” “Well, ‘spose it’s okay, long as I don’t gotta wear your clothes as part o’ the deal.” “Oh, what a thought.” “Tell me something truthsome-ly, Nara. How do you feel, right now this minute?” “Truthfully? I feel fortunate, Mal.” “Yeah.” He brushed her lips. “Yeah, me too.” *** Around three in the AM, Mal kicked Simon awake, motioned for him to gather up Kaylee. “Aw, Cap’n. Why can’t we just sleep here?” she whined, all droopy eyes and irritable. “Well, Lil’ Kaylee, this here’s a private beach, likely belongin’ to fellow owns that big monstrosity yonder. And whilst I give you and Simon free reign on Serenity for conductin’ your, ahem, marital relations, some folk don’t take so kindly wakin’ up to such. Dong ma?” “Captain Meany,” she murmured around a yawn but stumbled to her feet. Mayella gave them run of the ranch, but there were hardly bedrooms enough for the whole crew. Back on Serenity, Mal saw Kaylee and the doc off to their bunk before half-carrying Inara back to his. They made halfhearted attempts to undress, but the wine and the sex had left them lazy. He laid her out on his bed and collapsed beside her. He woke to a voice he couldn’t quite place. One thing for certain: it surely didn’t belong in his bed chambers. Reluctantly, he squinted open one eye. “Son of a bitch!” Mal sat up, disbeliving. “That you, Monty? Or is this just another o’ those dreams I ain’t like to mention.” “C’mere you hwoon dan and gimme a hug!” Inara jumped a little, made a subtle attempt to raise the sheet over her chest. Realizing this was a friendly invasion, she considered going back to sleep. But Monty was grabbing her hand in his beefy one, tugging her into a hearty hug as well. She attempted a pleasant smile. “Good morn--” “Well, now look at this! The great Malcom Reynolds got hisself a girl. And a right pretty one at that!” He elbowed Mal significantly. “Yeah, she ain’t half bad.” Mal grinned as Inara rolled her eyes. “Maybehaps you and me go for a walk, Monty, let the lady dress in peace.” “Well, okay, but later me and the little woman gonna have a talk. Malcom Reynolds, a romantic? Now that’s somethin’ I gotta hear for my own self. May didn’t tell me none o’ this when she done asked me to come.” Monty offered Inara a wide grin and a wink before starting up the ladder. “May, huh? Damn that girl and her surprises. Though as surprisin’ goes, this surely ain’t the worst sort. You really come all this way just for a visit? I’m touched, Monty.” With an apologetic cringe for the half-dressed lady in his bed, Mal followed Monty up to the deck. “Well, Mal, that ain’t entirely all. Doin’ a job o’ my own for ole Amos.” They wandered toward the kitchen, empty at this ungodly hour. Mal measured out grounds for coffee, watched it brew in seconds. “You know Kane? Huh. Whatdya think of him, truthsome?” “Trustworthy fella, Mal, you can be ‘sured. Ran guns for the Browncoats, you know. Had his own ship, heap almost as ugly as yours.” “Don’t ‘spose you can tip me off as to the cargo I’m transporting?” “Amos didn’t tell ya?” “Hell, Monty. How contraband we talkin’?” “No, no. Nothin’ like that. It’s just....” “Don’t make me withhold caffeine, Monty. I’ve seen you without a cuppa. Vision ain’t pretty.” “Aw, don’t get your panties twisted, Mal. It’s just a few penguins.” “A few what?” Monty grabbed the mug and took a long swallow. *** TBC in Part 19: Mr. Reynold’s Penguins. Girl needs feedback.

COMMENTS

Sunday, March 12, 2006 2:25 PM

AMDOBELL


Penguins? Oh right, you must mean the chocholate busicuits of the same name, I can't imagine the waddling variety on Mal's boat. Story is shiny but why does Kaylee have to keep interrupting Mal and Inara? Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, March 12, 2006 2:47 PM

2X2


Skinny Dipping!!!

Squeee!!! hehehe....

My favourite part:

“Tell me something truthsome-ly, Nara. How do you feel, right now this minute?”

“Truthfully? I feel fortunate, Mal.”

“Yeah.” He brushed her lips. “Yeah, me too.”

happy sigh.....

So happy to see this part posted! hooray! Wonderful as always..

Sunday, March 12, 2006 3:36 PM

RMMC


Penguins? My, but that's gonna be one cold cargo hold. And then the smell of their food. This'll be one very fishy deal. *giggle*

Another wonderful chapter! Yeah!

Sunday, March 12, 2006 4:07 PM

MISSKITTEN


Shiny chapter and LOL at the skinnydipping :P Loved that one. Please let us have some mroe of that shippy goodness in the next chapter :)
~ misskitten

Sunday, March 12, 2006 4:17 PM

CCKE


Penguins?!? *can't wait to see what that's all about*

Loved the chapter! Mal/Inara was cute as always :)

Sunday, March 12, 2006 5:28 PM

SQUISH


Ah yes, skinny-dipping, hair-brushing, and girl-gossip (wonder what they were talking about?!). Nice installment.

Glad to see Carly back, even in a dream/wave. Was Mal's father an operative?? (when I first saw Book's name, I had a StarWars/Firefly crossover moment "Mal, I am your father." I didn't really think you'd go there, but it just hit my brain like that!).

I love it when Monty shows up in fics! Is he going to try to bring Mal into the underground movement?? And what they heck are penguins (I'm just sure it means something other than those little things that got their own movie last year).

Must we wait another week?? Can we beg, buy you cookies, anything??

Monday, March 13, 2006 2:58 AM

TAYEATRA


Teehee! Penguins! Classic!

(I have a feeling that's far too many exclamation marks for one line.)

Please don't keep us waiting a whole week... Please *Wide eyes*

Monday, March 13, 2006 4:18 AM

KAYLEE86


more skinny dipping and more with Jayne and River....

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 10:55 AM

SIMONSGIRL87


Wow! Great chapter filled with lots of great parts! Can't wait for the next one! Keep up the fantastic writting!

Friday, May 5, 2006 6:14 AM

BELLONA


hehe. penguins...and YAY!!!! MONT-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! (i like monty, in case you couldn't tell)

b


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