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man in the moon

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

Posted on 2008.02.02 at 13:39
Affectus (State of Mind): chipperchipper
Camena (Music): "Earth Angel" - The Penguins
Tags: ,
Originally posted to Copper For A Kiss on 24 January 2008 @ 01:07 am.



Fic: Mare Imbrium (2.3/6 of The Man In The Moon) - this chapter has been split into four parts due to size
Author:  Green Owl
Rating:  PG (River attempts to steal Shakespeare's Sonnets and Zoe brandishes many, many guns
)
Summary:  AU. 
River Tam meets the family and has her first none-Core dinner.
Previous Chapters:  Pareidolia (Prologue), Mare Imbrium (Part 1, Part 2)

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


Minutes and miles passed before they turned off the road and pulled up to a building that was small by River’s comprehension of structures, but considered rather large by her uncle and her cousin and the rest of Hazard.  It had two stories and was painted a soft purple-blue that contrasted beautifully with the dark shingles on the roof and the white shutters.  It also had a wraparound porch that featured a swing attached to the rafters and a set of white woven furniture. 

A gorgeous, dark-haired, hugely pregnant woman reclined on the chaise lounge, sipping a glass of water and reading a small book of verse.

“Hi, Momma!” Kaylee called, jumping out of the car and running around to open the trunk.  “How’re you an’ my baby sister doin’?”

“Brother!” Mal corrected, opening River’s door for her.  “We ain’t havin’ another girl!”

“Hi, sweetheart, we’re doing just fine,” Inara called back as River ascended the porch steps.  “Did your delusional father remember to pick up the circus peanuts as well as your cousin?”

“Keep your panties on, bao bei!  They’re right here!” Mal said, holding aloft the bag before he put it in his mouth and helped Kaylee with River’s trunk.

“If I’d have ‘kept my panties on’, as you so politely put it, we wouldn’t be in this situation would we?” Inara replied serenely before turning her attention to her niece.  “Oh, River, what you must think of us!  I must have changed so much since last we saw each other; you certainly have.”

Five years was long enough for a little girl to grow into a young woman, but Inara Serra was just as River remembered, all grace and poise and elegance, even while she was draped in a massive tent-like garment that did little to hide her ridiculously ripe abdomen.

River kissed her aunt on both cheeks and sank into a graceful pool of black skirts, crinoline and very, very damp slip.  “I’m just happy to see you.  You look so beautiful, gū gu.”

“You’re very sweet, qiàn, but I know I’m as big as a New Melbourne blue whale, no thanks to him,” Inara said, indicating her husband as he and her daughter hefted the trunk up the steps.  “You must be tired, dear, and longing for a cool bath.”

“I am,” River admitted, not the least bit surprised at how easily her aunt deduced her needs.  The woman was once as sought after as a Companion as her father had been.

“And as soon as you return Shakespeare’s Sonnets to me, you may do so,” Inara said softly, her eyes boring into River’s.

River blushed scarlet as she held up the book which she’d attempted to stealth-filch from the table where her aunt had put it down.

Inara chuckled at her niece’s embarrassment as she pushed an escaped lock of hair back from the girl’s face.  “Don’t think it wasn’t elegantly done, peaches, but I lived in sin with a petty thief for quite awhile before I married him.  I don’t pretend to know all of his tricks, but I do know that one.”

“Oh.”

Inara placed the book back on the table and folded her hands across her belly.  “Your father sent me a wave a day ago, explaining his request for library privileges to be granted in trade for good behavior.  I plan on abiding by his wishes, but you must promise me there will be no more attempts at text larceny.  Do I have your word on this matter?”

“Yes, Aunt Inara,” she replied, feeling her blush intensify. 

River felt as if she’d spent most of the day either confused or blushing and she didn’t like either of those feelings one bit.  She frantically searched for a subject change as she directed her attention to the yard where an old tire hung from the branches of a massive oak tree that shaded the house.

“How did the trees grow so quickly?” River asked, curiosity overwhelming her shame.

“Shadow was one of the first worlds to be categorized and colonized as a pleasure planet,” Inara answered.  “The starchitect decided it would be patterned after the North American continent in the 1950’s so the first thing they did after the atmosphere and water cycles were secured was to plant trees.  That is one of the first ones ever affixed.”

“And the tire?”

“Classic Americana,” Inara said.  “And Zoe likes it.”

“Zoe?”

River froze as she heard the click of a gun close to her ear.

“Identify yourself,” a firm, no-nonsense, and very young voice said behind her.

“Your name,” Inara prompted silently, gentle laughter struggling to break free of her lips.

“River Nǚ-Shén Tam.”

“Rank?”

River was again at a loss.

Inara made a subtle gesture, indicating the space between River and herself.

River caught on immediately.  “Niece to Inara Serra.”

“Serial number?”

“Age,” Inara mouthed.

“Um, sixteen?” River ventured.

There was a sound of the hammer uncocking and a small girl stepped around River and posed like some sort of 21st century western heroine.  She wore head-to-toe brown of varying shades that complimented her mocha skin and dark ringlets, and carried a massive water gun in both hands.  A full water pistol was strapped to her right thigh and her belt held two large water balloons.

“Zoe Warren Alleyne, bodyguard to Mrs. Inara, ten years old,” she said in a brisk voice.  She stuck out one of her small hands, but didn’t smile.  “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss River.”

River took it cautiously.  “Likewise, Miss Zoe.”

“Just ‘Zoe’, please, Miss River,” the girl corrected, taking her gun up in both hands again.

“All quiet on the north side, Zoe?” Inara asked the girl in a solemn voice.

“Yes, ma’am,” Zoe replied, snapping to attention.  “Permission to patrol the south side?”

“Permission granted, Corporal Alleyne,” Mal said, stepping out onto the porch and working his shoulders.

Zoe clicked her heels together and marched off to the other end of the porch.

“Bodyguard?” River asked Inara.

“Her parents used to run the garage in town.  They fought on the losin’ side in the War of Unification, died at Serenity Valley,” Mal explained, his voice tight as he looked off in the direction the girl had gone.  “We took her in; outbid a Corebred hundan who wanted to burn the family business to the ground because it had been owned by Browncoats.  That way Zoe can inherit it instead of having to pay the enormous taxes the Alliance placed on property belonging to Independents.”

The silence was as bitter as Mr. Cobb’s remark had been and River tasted it in the back of her mouth like medicine or the watercress in Grandmother Serra’s dainty tea sandwiches that she tried to dispose of before she ate them.

Good gracious, River Tam, sit up straight and eat what’s on your plate. 

And no making faces, young miss. 

Remember, you are a lady and ladies eat what’s put before them and do not ask questions.

* * * * *

“What is it?” River whispered to Kaylee as they sat down to dinner that night.

The platter that graced the center of the table bore a large chunk of brown meat surrounded by what looked like root vegetables.  A serving bowl sat on one side of it and featured carrots, onions, and some green sliced items River vaguely recognized as celery sitting next to it.  A gravy boat completed the dinnertime triad.

“Pot roast,” Kaylee whispered back in an excited tone as she slid her napkin onto her lap.  “Pop’s specialty!”

Mal picked up a large knife and a two-pronged instrument, about to cut the meat as Zoe bowed her head and prayed in a quick, brusque tone:

“Bless-us-oh-Lord-for-the-cow-and-taters-and-veggies-that-died-so-the-Independents-may-rise-again-Amen!”

“Gorramit!  Beat me to the carvin’ again!” Mal said in a mock-exasperated tone as Inara and Kaylee snickered behind their hastily folded hands.

“Just because you’re a heathen doesn’t mean I have to be one, sir,” Zoe replied, looking at him steadily as she tucked her napkin into the front of her shirt.

“You’ve been hangin’ ‘round Preacher Book too long, Zoe,” Mal warned, serving his wife, Kaylee and River some pot roast.  “Better see to that, Inara, before she goes on jihad and kills us all in our sleep!”

“Pop’s an atheist, Mom’s a Buddhist, I’m agnostic,” Kaylee explained to River under her breath.

Inara rolled her eyes as she reached for the gravy boat and anointed everything on her plate.  “Yes, she’s a Believer, Mal.  No, I don’t think Zoe would murder us for the glory of her God.”

“Correct, Mrs. Serra,” Zoe said, her expression rigid and severe.  “God never condones murder done in His name and those who do will burn in Special Hell for all eternity along with child molesters and people who talk at the theater.”

River smiled as she helped herself to vegetables, intrigued by what made Zoe act the way she did.

“Whew!” Mal said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand before cutting into the roast again.  “Guess I’m going – I can’t never seem to shut up during them romantic comedies!  How many slices, Zoe?”

“Two, please, sir,” Zoe replied.  “By the way, sir, Preacher Book says that God has a Select Heaven for those who do not judge others, but let them live their lives and do for others, regardless of consideration for profit.  Based on my studies, sir, you, Mrs. Inara and Kaylee have a very good chance of going to Select Heaven.”

“What about River?” Mal asked, playing along with the serious tone as he served her.

“Reconnaissance has yet to be completed,” Zoe replied, staring at River.  “Early reports indicate that even though she is from the Core, she does have some redeeming qualities such as good posture and a firm handshake.  No pre-emptive strikes required as of yet.”

“That’s tremendous, Zoe.  See, River, no need to fret ‘bout Zoe water-bombin’ ya in the middle of the night!” Mal said as he gestured to the platter.  “Make sure ya get some taters!”

River selected and placed one of the smaller pieces of the starchy solid on her plate as Mal, Inara and Kaylee smiled at her with encouragement and Zoe’s face remained expressionless.  It was somewhat awkward, having the entire family watch her like they were now, but then she compared the contents of her plate to theirs and understood.  They had all piled their plates up very high and she had about enough to fit inside of her fist. 

She spooned two more “taters” onto her plate, just to make the white space less obvious.

Zoe’s voice cut through the silence again.  “Miss River also put her napkin on her lap without being reminded and has not begun eating before Mrs. Inara, so I suppose there may be some hope for her yet.”

Mal gave the youngest person at the table a lopsided smile.  “Well, you tell the preacher that I find such teachings to be right shiny in my book.”

“Yes, sir,” Zoe said, and placed her hand on her fork, ready to eat as soon as Inara took a bite.

“Momma’s picked up her fork,” Kaylee said, nudging River.  “Dig in!”

River – unused to such plain speech, but strangely impressed by it – looked down at the contents of her dinner plate with some trepidation.  The gathering of potatoes and the deluge of gravy threatening to drip off of the sides was wholly alien to her. 

Tam family dinners usually consisted of some kind of lean meat and three or more sautéed vegetables, all artfully arranged.  Her plate contained two slices of the “pot roast” plus three boiled new potatoes and a serving of the vegetable medley, all of it slathered with “Serra’s Special Sauce” as Kaylee referred to the gravy while she’d poured it all over River’s food. 

She wondered briefly if she might had inadvertently triggered the “no dinner” clause for attempting to make off with Aunt Inara’s book. 

Surely people did not each such untidy foods?

River looked up and saw that her aunt, uncle and cousin(s) were eating their victuals with evident relish so she sighed and picked up her knife and fork.  She carefully whittled off a perfect crescent moon-shaped bite from the pot roast and slipped it into her mouth.

It was an inferior cut of meat, but the hours of slow cooking and thyme seasoning it had rendered the beef tender and wonderfully tasty.  River savored the delectable mouthful and almost forgot her mother’s admonishments to eat slowly lest she make a hog of herself in front of her relations, and shame both family and her upbringing in the process.

Is this was what the food would be like for the rest of her stay, perhaps her exile would not be so terrible after all.

* * * * *

The room where Kaylee and Uncle Mal had placed her trunk was a tiny cupboard compared to her bedchamber at home, but River had loved it as soon as she saw it.  It was so snug and so pretty that even though she could barely manage to wedge the emptied trunk under the north window, she couldn’t help but feel cozy.  Truth be told, she found the lack of space to be comforting instead of confining.

The walls were painted a soft shade of lilac blue with a pair of lacy half-curtains that shielded the lower half of the window and a fringe of different lace framed the top of the window.  The bed was barely a twin, but it was soft and comfortable, covered in a white, purple and emerald quilt that seemed to have been handmade according to the uneven construction and the irregular stitching.  The wooden floor was painted white and a few rag rugs dotted important locations such as the space before the double dresser and the spot where her feet would land when she woke up in the morning. 

River’s favorite part of the room was the little white writing desk that sat before the window facing west.  Aunt Inara had thoughtfully placed a stationery set, some stamps, and a pen in one of the drawers so River could write letters home to her parents and her brother.  She was grateful for the small show of trust – twenty sheets of paper were better than none!

After dinner she came upstairs and changed out of her dinner dress into her nightgown, intent on writing Simon and Daddy about her first day in exile, including the bizarre foods and beverages, unusual turns of phrases, and the very peculiar, unusually pious adopted cousin-in-law who liked to threaten people with water pistols, but she had underestimated the toll that traveling had taken on her body,

The letter went unwritten as she prepared for bed, washing her face, brushing her teeth, curling up with Chang Ngo on top of the bedspread and trying not to think about perspiring as she watched the curtains undulate in the warm phantom breeze that barely managed to lift strands of her hair. 

Nighttime on Shadow was cooler, but not enough to make the pretty upstairs bedroom a desirable sleeping location.

River had resigned herself to trying to nod off amidst a pool of her sweat when Kaylee lightly knocked and cracked open the door.

“I’m gonna sleep out on the back porch,” she said, indicating the bedding she held in her arms.  “Wanna come?  It’s loads cooler!”

River thought about it for one brief moment before she gathered up Chang Ngo, the sheets, a light blanket and her pillow, and followed Kaylee downstairs.

“What about Zoe?” River whispered as Kaylee tiptoed down the hall and slid through the door.  “Won’t she want to sleep down here?”

“Sakes, no!” Kaylee whispered back as she spread her sheet over one of the two twin beds on the back porch.  “Says she’s in training and ‘all hardships must be endured’ or else she’ll become soft.”

“She’s very passionate,” River said, spreading her own sheet over the other bedstead.

“Wait ‘til you meet her best friend, Wash,” Kaylee said, sliding in between her sheets.  “He’s quite the character.  Ya’d think a ten year-old boy wouldn’t wanna have nothin’ to do with a ten year-old girl, but they get along like corn an’ lima beans.”

“Lima beans?”

“Momma says they’re an acquired taste,” Kaylee confided, flipping her braid onto the pillow.  She then reached over and pulled the chain to turn off an old floor lamp that had been relegated to the back porch because it had surrendered the fight against rust.  “Though, me, I’m still wonderin’ when I’ll acquire it.”

“Oh.”  River slipped in between the sheets and slowly lifted and spread her hair across the pillow, weary in a way that dancing had never made her.  But even though she was exhausted, she knew she couldn’t go to sleep until everyone else in the vicinity was asleep, too.

She knew and was used to the flavors of the people at home – her parents, her brother, Mrs. Dao, and the staff that had been with them for many, many years.  These new life forms were unfamiliar to her palate and her nervous system couldn’t seem to quiet completely in their presence. 

River could feel Aunt Inara and Uncle Mal in the next room over as they slept nestled like spoons – enough space between them for air to circulate, but not so much that they were completely apart.  Their touching was intimate and tender and it made River feel like she was intruding on something she had no right to feel.  Upstairs, the little corporal’s iron control remained firm even in slumber as River sensed unshed tears being swallowed deep down. 

Those three were silent enough, but Kaylee’s drowsy warmth still itched in River’s sensitized forehead. 

River turned her head towards Kaylee and saw that she was gazing up at the waxing gibbous lunar body that hung low in the sky.

“What’s its name?” River asked.

“What?” Kaylee muttered.

“The satellite,” River said softly.  “What’s its name?”

Kaylee rolled onto her stomach, settling her body into her favorite sleep position.  “‘Luna’, but we just call her ‘the moon’.  Starchitects tried to make her as close to the real thing as possible…craters ‘n…all.  Can see a face if you squint…”

Mare Imbrium…Mare Serenitatis…Sinus Aestuum…Mare Nubium…Mare Cognitum…names of the craters drifted sluggishly across River’s  mind, soft and light as summer leaves floating down an indolent stream.

River felt her restlessness finally settling down as Kaylee’s sunbeams faded into the moonlight. 

As she gazed up at the sky through the screen that kept the insects away and the tangle of leaves that vied for light during the day, for a moment she thought she might have seen the man in the moon – not the hawkish profile of Thoth, but a man’s face, jolly and jovial – smiling down on her as if he knew what was in store for her during these next ten weeks.

River wondered what it could be as she cuddled Chang Ngo close and drifted into unconsciousness.

* * * * *

bao bei – sweetheart

gū gu – aunt

qiàn – niece

hundan – bastard


Prompted by and dedicated to romanceguru.

Enjoy!


Much affection,


Green Owl
 

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