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man in the moon

Fic: The Man In The Moon ("Mare Imbrium" - Part I)

Posted on 2008.02.02 at 13:24
Affectus (State of Mind): accomplishedaccomplished
Camena (Music): "Green Onions" - Booker T. & the M.G.s
Tags: ,

Originally posted to Copper For A Kiss on 24 January 2008 @ 12:46 am.



Fic: Mare Imbrium (2.1/6 of The Man In The Moon) - this chapter has been split into four parts due to size
Author:  Green Owl
Rating:  PG (Mr. Cobb asks his wife to "kill" one of their sons)
Summary:  AU.  River Tam arrives on Shadow and meets Mr. & Mrs. Cobb.
Previous Chapters:  Pareidolia (Prologue)

Disclaimer: 
I don't own or buy/sell/process this mind crack - I just abuse the hell out of it.

River Tam used the exposed skin between her little white glove and her jacket to wipe the perspiration from her forehead. 

She was standing on the platform next to her trunk and her bag, slowly melting into a puddle of steam as she waited for her uncle.  While River knew it would be cooler out in the residential section of the town, here at the depot station it was as mercilessly hot and humid as “the seven hells” her brother often swore about when their parents weren’t around to hear him.

Summer had come with a vengeance to the northern hemisphere of Shadow and the heat rippled in waves that near-to flattened those who weren’t used to the soaring temperatures. 

What could be keeping Uncle Mal?  If he didn’t arrive soon, River thought it might be entirely possible she would start sizzling in the sunshine like some kind of ambulatory breakfast meat. 

She opened her purse and started digging through the contents, desperate for a handkerchief.  What in the ‘verse had possessed her to wear an outfit made of such a heavy fabric?  It wasn’t even mid-morning yet and her slip was already wet through and bonded to her legs with a film of slippery sweat.

No handkerchief!  Drat! 

She felt more than a little desperate as she plucked at the skirt of her traveling suit in an attempt to cool down.  It didn’t help – droplets of perspiration were already forming on the backs of her thighs and making the long, slow, icky slide down to her ankles.  She wanted desperately to wipe at the offending moisture, but sixteen years of rigid Core upbringing kept her posture perfect and her hands firmly clenched around the handle of her purse as she mentally kicked herself more than once for wearing so many layers.

“Guess’n ya didn’t get the weather report for Hazard off the Cortex for today, didya, little one?”

River looked to her left and found a pristine handkerchief being proffered by a middle-aged woman standing next to her.  The woman was very, very tall, at least six feet, with short golden blonde hair and brilliant dark blue eyes that twinkled like the absurdly expensive star sapphires Mother had worn to the most recent Inaugural Ball. 

She also had a kind, warm smile and River’s awareness told her it was genuine.

“Thank you, ma’am,” she replied, accepting the white cotton square and dabbing at her forehead.  “Yes, I was a bit distracted this morning.”

“Understandable, this bein’ yer first time on Shadow an’ all,” the woman said with an amused smile. 

“How did you know?” River asked, more than a bit surprised. 

The woman looked her up and down, gentle laughter sparkling in her eyes.  “Yer wearin’ a dark blue dress with a matchin’ full-sleeved jacket, little white gloves and – my word – is that pantyhose you have on in this heat, young lady?”

“Yes, ma’am,” River said, trying to smile as she daintily dabbed at hairline and neck.  She looked at the woman’s outfit – a very sensible light cotton dress, sandals and lack of hosiery – and felt an extreme pang of embarrassment.  The feeling only became more intense as she felt a blush start to singe her cheeks and the tips of her ears while the woman looked her up and down, shaking her head. 

“Thank you, for the handkerchief, Mrs. – ?”

“My name’s Penelope Cobb, but most people just call me Nellie,” she said, extending a large square hand.

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Cobb,” she responded politely, taking her hand and dropping into a curtsey.  “My name is River Tam.”

“Well ain’t that just the purtiest little trick I’ve ever seen,” the woman said, her entire face lighting up as she smiled down at River. 

The lump of cold loneliness that sat in River’s stomach butted up against Mrs. Cobb’s glowing kindliness and it melted just a little bit.  The woman’s smile made River think of safe, comforting things she usually associated with her father:   a warm fireplace on cold night…toasted blueberry muffins with melted butter…a cool glass of water on a hot day…water… could use some water!

“Excuse me, ma’am, do you know where I might find a water fountain?”

The woman pondered the question for a moment before grinning at River.  “If I were much a wit-kicker as my Jayne, I’d be crackin’ somethin’ dire right ‘bout now with regards to that question, yer name bein’ ‘River’ an’ all.  But lucky for us both, I happen to have a lil’ less trouble mindin’ my manners.  If ya’ll just turn about, there’s a bubbler behind ya.  Why dontcha get yerself a quick sip?”

River smiled her thanks at him and moved as quickly towards the fountain as swiftly as breeding allowed.  The water wasn’t icy, but it was at least cool and she was thankful for the relief as she took a long careful drink.  She surreptitiously wet the handkerchief as well and dabbed at her cheeks and neck as she made her way back to the platform.

“So, young’un,” Mrs. Cobb began as River came to stand next to her luggage once more.  “What brings ya here to Hazard?  Are ya fixin’ to stay or just passin’ on through?”

River tried to take a deep breath, but it felt like she was trying to inhale through a wet blanket as she attempted not to slouch.  “I’m just here for the summer, ma’am.  And you?”

“Born and raised,” Mrs. Cobb said.  “Just got back from seein’ one of my eight babies off to the service.”

“Eight?” River inquired, taken aback. 

It was an unheard number of offspring for a family to have in the Core – special licenses were required to even have a second child.

“Eight,” the woman repeated proudly.  “Reproduction laws don’t apply out here on the Rim, so me an’ the mister just relaxed an’ let Nature take her course.”

River opened her mouth, about to say something when a tall handsome older man in a Stetson came striding down the platform.

“Oh, thank the Lord an’ Lady yer back, Nellie!” the man said, wrapping Mrs. Cobb in a bear hug.  He pulled back and gripped her by the shoulders.  “I was near ‘bout ready to end myself!”

“Slow down, honey!” Mrs. Cobb counseled, patting him on the back and giving River an encouraging smile.  “Introductions, first.  This young lady is Miss River Tam and we’ve been havin’ a right nice visit while I’ve been waitin’.  River, this is my husband, Lee Cobb.”

He took off his Stetson hat and placed it against his chest.  “Oh, ‘cuse my haste!  Charmed, Miss Tam, quite charmed.”

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Cobb,” River replied as she curtsied again and took him in with one quick look.  He was a tiny bit taller than her father, possibly the same age, handsome in a rangy, grizzled, square-jawed way that made her think of sun-warmed leather, Kodiak bears and the collection of phonographic recordings that her father had played for the two of them when she danced on his feet as a child.

Mr. Cobb quickly put his hat back on his head, using both sets of thumb and forefingers to settle it as he returned his attention to his wife.  “My hand to God, honey, I’m at my wit’s end!”

“Why dontcha take a deep breath tell me what happened?” Mrs. Cobb urged.

He worked his jaw as he took his wife’s hands in his own.  “I want you.  To go home.  And kill.  That boy.”

River’s eyes widened as she pretended not to listen.  Oh dear, filicide?  And so early in the morning, too.  How exciting!

“Which one?” Mrs. Cobb asked intently.

“Which one ya think?” Mr. Cobb shot back.

“He didn’t.”

“He did.”

Again?”

“Again.”

Mrs. Cobb rolled her eyes.  “Buddha George W. Shrub!”

Mr. Cobb nodded, grimacing.  “Yep, that ‘bout sums it up.”

The couple appeared to be speaking some form of shorthand parental dialect that only they seemed to understand, but River could feel Mr. Cobb’s vexation infecting Mrs. Cobb very successfully.  It almost helped to take her mind off of the heat.

Almost.

Mrs. Cobb grinned as she caught sight of River’s ever-widening eyes.  “Dontcha worry none, sweet girl.  We ain’t gonna kill him, just dish out some punishment, Rim-style.”

“‘Rim-style’?” River queried.

Mr. Cobb folded his arms and became more than a little intimidating.  “Usually it’s the kind that includes foregoin' dinner and gettin’ a whippin’, but the young man in question is a mite old for those old-fashioned methods.  In such cases, we do a lil’ improvisin’.”

“Oh.”  River digested the information with no little amount of trepidation. 

She was too young to have a license to operate a moving vehicle.

“I s’pose the reason why you’re tellin’ me this is ‘cause it’s my turn to discipline our son,” Mrs. Cobb commented as she straightened her husband’s lapels.

Mr. Cobb grimaced and something in his gaze softened.   “I, uh, I left the punishin’ to ya because I know I’m liable to go easy on him, on account o’ him havin’ yer pretty blue eyes an’ all.”

“Lee, darlin’, you can be such a pushover sometimes,” she said, letting out a rueful chuckle.

“Can’t help it,” Mr. Cobb said, slinging an arm around her waist and kissing her cheek.  “I missed ya, darlin’.”

“I was only gone for three days,” she replied before she kissed his lips.

“Still felt like an age,” he muttered, kissing her back.

Their mutual devotion was palpable, but River didn’t mind the additional warmth.  It sparked her interest, this open fondness they had for each other.  Her parents never indulged in any kinds of public displays of affection.  She wondered if this was also something that was “Rim-style”.

“Well, we’re ‘bout to take off.  Are yer kin comin’ to git ya or can we give ya a lift anywheres?” Mr. Cobb asked River as he shouldered his wife’s traveling bag.

“No, but thank you kindly all the same.  I’m sure my uncle will be here soon,” River answered graciously.

“Such a little lady,” Mrs. Cobb said with glowing approval just as a teenage girl rushed out onto the platform, ponytail flying as she skidded to a stop.

River immediately coveted the sleeveless shirt and denim cutoff shorts the girl wore. 

“Hi, Mrs. Cobb, Mr. Cobb!” the girl said, beaming at them.  “Either you seen a girl ‘bout my age what just arrived?”

“This one here the one yer lookin’ for?” Mrs. Cobb replied, indicating River.

“Oh yes, you must be River!” the girl said as she extended her hand.  “I’m Kaylee!”

The girl to be pretty in a way that was wholesome, fresh, and unfamiliar to River because her expression was so open and sincere – very, very different from all of the covertly vicious Core girls she’d had been permitted to associate with by her mother.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Kaylee,” River answered, shaking her hand gently as she recognized the girl from the captures Aunt Inara had forwarded to her.

“Me, too!” the girl replied, extending the handshake into a vigorous and welcoming pump that indicated her DNA was composed mostly of sweetness, high spirits and hospitality.  “Gosh, I’m so sorry you had to wait, but Momma’s been cravin’ sweets somethin’ fierce and Pop got held up in Hammond’s Confectionery’s, strugglin’ to choose ‘tween circus peanuts and orange slices and plumb forgot ‘bout the time and when we looked up the train had come and gone and so he sent me to letcha know we ain’t forgot ‘bout you!  Got any other luggage ‘sides this beast?”

River couldn’t understand most of what Kaylee had managed to say in one breath, but she did recognize the word ‘luggage’.  “I only have this one trunk and my bag.”

“Shiny!” Kaylee said, eyeing the trunk.  “Fancible as it is, that there’s big enough to hold a dead body an’ prob’ly just as heavy.  I’m thinkin’ we’re gonna need ourselves a forklift…or maybe some boys!  Be right back in a sec, ‘kay?”

And with a toss of her russet ponytail she was gone again.

“The heat doesn’t affect her energy level, does it?” River ventured, looking to Mrs. And Mr. Cobb.

“Not a whit,” Mr. Cobb said, grinning and shaking his head.

Mrs. Cobb agreed.  “Girl works in Alleyne’s Garage eight hours a day an’ comes out as fresh an’ cheerful as the moment she walks in.”

“She works?” River asked, her curiosity sparked again.

“Most every young’un ‘tween thirteen and twenty ‘round here works in the summertime,” Mrs. Cobb replied.  “Helps to take their minds off the heat, especially if the place is air-conditioned.”

“I hear tell she’s got a way with machines,” Mr. Cobb added.  “Fixed my tractor up right nice when it broke down last month.”

“But she…works?”  River was still confused.  Wasn’t Aunt Inara wealthy enough so that Kaylee didn’t have to work?

“Ain’t no shame in earnin’ an honest wage,” Mr. Cobb muttered, scowling as he made his way up the platform.  “None o’ us rich enough to slack off like those moneyed Core swankies that use Shadow for their favorite vacation spot.”

River bit her lip as she tasted the faint acid in his voice.  Tucked into her purse was a bankcard loaded with several hundred credits her father had slipped her after Mrs. Dao’s final pat-down for “illegal cargo”. 

Mrs. Cobb noticed her discomfort as she lagged behind her husband.  “Here now, no unease, little one.  Mr. Cobb gets a bit ornery sometimes.  We’re havin’ a barbecue tomorrow evening startin’ ‘bout six or so.  Why dontcha bring yerself an’ the Serras?  I know Mal’d be right happy to not have to cook an’ it’ll give ya a chance to meet my sons.  They’re wild ones when they’re ‘round other boys, but they’re right nice to womenfolk.”

River tried to smile, comforted by Mrs. Cobb’s thoughtfulness.  “Thank you very much, ma’am.  I’ll be sure to pass on the invitation.”

“You do that,” Mrs. Cobb said, patting River gently on the shoulder, then turned her attention to the entrance to the parking lot.  “And here’s lil’ Kaylee with two strapping young men in tow, as usual.”

Two tall, dark and handsome boys about Kaylee’s age were trailing after her, as she made a beeline for River. 

“Excuse me, sweet girl, but I’ve got to go ‘kill’ that son o’ mine right now or Mr. Cobb will get even more ornery,” Mrs. Cobb said, giving River another sunny smile.  “You make sure you stay cool, you here?  This here summer promises to be one helluva scorcher.”

“I will!” 

River smiled at Mrs. Cobb gratefully as she caught up with her husband.  That woman’s children must be very nice if they were very lucky they were to have such a fine woman for a mother.


Prompted by and dedicated to romanceguru.

Enjoy!

Much affection,

Green Owl

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