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man in the moon

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

Posted on 2008.02.02 at 13:44
Affectus (State of Mind): determineddetermined
Camena (Music): "Just One Look" - Doris Troy
Tags: ,

Originally posted to Copper For A Kiss on 24 January 2008 @ 01:17 am.



Fic: Mare Imbrium (2.4/6 of The Man In The Moon) - this chapter has been split into four parts due to size
Author:  Green Owl
Rating:  PG-13 (River skinny-dips and
has a silent conniption fit, a certain young man says and thinks mean and lewd things)
Summary:  AU. 
River's not exactly dressed for company...
Previous Chapters:  Pareidolia (Prologue), Mare Imbrium (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
)
Disclaimer:  I don't own or buy/sell/process this mind crack - I just abuse the hell out of it.


She couldn’t take it anymore.

“Aunt Inara, may I go for a walk in the woods?” River asked through the open window as her fingers came to rest on the piano keys. 

She’d been playing scales, arpeggios and some of the easier pieces she recalled from memory for two hours, trying to ignore the pull of the outside. 

Something was out there. 

Something alluring, the likes of which she’d never felt before.

Something that made her want to be closer to its source, instead of layering on protection or shying away from it.

“Of course, peaches,” Inara replied, her eyes closed as she almost purred with contentment from her perch on the chaise lounge.

“Want some company, River?” Kaylee called in through the window as she brushed her mother’s hair with strong, firm, measured strokes.

River wanted desperately to be alone, but she thought it might be impolite to say so, so she slipped into Kaylee’s sunshine and looked for something she could use to deter her.  “Thank you, but I think Diana would be jealous.”

“Who?” Inara asked, opening a languid, long-lashed eye.

“You know, Momma, my baby,” Kaylee prompted, not missing a beat as she continued to brush the long, dark hair that so resembled her cousin’s.  “Good call, River – I did promise Diana I was gonna tear into her dash this afternoon.  Is it all right if I stay here?”

“Of course.  I’d just like to take the time to familiarize myself with the landscape,” River answered as she closed the cover to the piano keys.

Kaylee grinned.  “You’re in for a treat!  We have some of the prettiest backyard in the whole state of Nebraska.”

River rose from the piano bench and pushed it in, careful of the ancient wood. 

She ascended the stairs to her room and changed out of her summer dress into a light top and a set of denims her father had bought for her.  As she was slipping on her walking shoes, the vision of a striped towel flashed through her mind. 

These isolated moments of the odd mental picture or two usually heralded some future need and even though River couldn’t see any reason in the ‘verse to bring a towel with her (and the fact that the towels in her aunt and uncle’s home were solid-colored, not striped) she went to the bathroom and got one.

Better safe than sorry.

As she came back downstairs, she caught the whispers of Uncle Mal making “franks and beans” and potato salad in the kitchen – whatever those were – and Zoe out somewhere “patrolling the borders”.

“Is there anything poisonous or dangerous that I should be aware of before I go?” River asked, stepping onto the porch.

“Just the hodgeberries, dear,” Inara replied with a secret smile, her eyes drifting shut again.

River smiled back as she recalled being secretly consoled by Aunt Inara with bao and lemonwater when she was eight.  She and Simon had been banned from the dinner table for pilfering hodgeberries from the Cambersons’ estate and all of River’s brilliant attempts to explain for their absence fell apart when their mother pointed out their purple-stained hands and tongues and held up the hair ribbon her daughter had lost in the mad scramble back over the wall.

Every criminal leaves evidence behind, nan.  Every single one.

“Just remember, we are going to the Cobbs’ barbecue at six,” Inara reminded River as she descended the porch steps and tucked the towel under her arm.

The sun was starting to slide from its zenith as River opened her mind, careful to de-select her aunt, uncle and cousins.

She couldn’t explain it, but once she’d woken up this morning and cleared the mineral deposits from her eyes, something outside started beckoning her, some kind of rich, luscious, delicious sensation that danced beyond her reach every time she tried to graft it onto what she knew.  Her skin felt like it was glazed with pepper paste and a warmth unrelated to the ambient temperature had started creeping through her veins. 

It was still there in the air, stronger now even, and coming from the west.  River turned towards that direction and started for the woods.

“Halt!”

River stopped in her tracks as Zoe came around the house, water gun trained on her.

“Prepare to be investigated for contraband material!” Zoe ordered and nudged the rolled-up towel with the barrel of the gun.

Somehow River kept from smiling as she shook out the towel and allowed the girl to visually inspect her.

“She’s clean!” Zoe called out to the house and an answering chuckle and thumbs up from Aunt Inara made the little girl puff up with pride.

“May I go now?” River asked, careful to keep any trace of humor out of her voice.

“Affirmative, Miss River,” Zoe replied. 

She clicked her heels together smartly and marched off to patrol the east side of the house while River set off for the leafy juvenile majesty of the woods.

* * * * *

All of Shadow’s forests were new growth, but the immature trees were still magnificent as they formed a mid-height canopy of pale green, emerald, jade and silvery-brown.  Someone with impeccable taste had chosen to sow the forest floor with creepers, ferns, mosses and mushrooms decades before and the seedlings had more than done their duty, providing visual interest as well as cover for insects and small animals. 

As she walked along a path that she had found, River recognized flowers she had only seen in pictures: white lilies of the valley, purple-blue lupines, golden buttercups, orange wood lilies.  Again, she was unprepared as the scents, faint and delicate as they were, assaulted her unprepared nose while the vibrant color palette drenched her eyes with new hues. 

Flowers in the Core were civilized and elegant: roses, calla lilies, birds-of-paradise and the occasional gardenia, among others, grew in pretty little rows or artfully arranged sprays in graceful urns, stylish window boxes and formal gardens. 

This untidy profusion of plants made River feel off-center and evoked unpredicted rills of shivering in her lungs.  The scents, the visuals, the sounds of birds and creatures, the tang of pollen, chlorophyll and rotting plant matter, it overcame her as much as the confectionery’s contents had, but this was different somehow. 

Her senses were sharpened here in this carelessly constructed wilderness, her blood simmering and her skin blooming with a fierce heat that had nothing to do with the sunlight.  She detached from her body while remaining in it to experience the new sensations from an objective point of view, and recognized her limbic system was responding the most.  The stimuli was provoking the right side of her brain to pulse and crackle with signal reception that stunned her with its clarity.

River inhaled slowly as she leaned against a tree trunk and savored the new sounds and sights and smells, none of which were coming from the direction of her aunt and uncle’s home. 

Laughter, kissing, admonishments, hugs, reminders as hands painted slabs of animal protein with a sauce thick with herbs and spices…fire was restrained behind bars in a metal box…massive glass jars full of thin, dark liquid baked in the full sun…ripe cherries trapped under rimes of icy water …golden cobs of corn danced in boiling water…and a river ambled through the depths of the forest. 

River straightened up quickly as the image of her namesake appeared.  Even under the arboreal canopy, the early summer heat beat down hotly as it was prone to during the early afternoons.  The idea of dipping her feet in cool water was looking better and better the more she thought about it.

Her sense of direction proved incredibly accurate as she struck off for the waterway.  Within ten minutes of walking she found the river she’d seen in her mind.  It was about twenty feet wide, at least ten feet deep and relatively young as it rushed headlong to spill over a wide outcropping of granite and become a ten-foot waterfall. 

The cascade created masses of soft white foam as it spilled into a wide, deep plunge pool and continued on to the south, running faster than it had above.  Further on down, moss-covered rocks formed a natural bridge of stepping stones as they dotted their way across the riverbed.  The plant life was mostly ferns and hodgeberry bushes except for a lone weeping willow that spread its branches near the edge of the eastern side of the basin. 

It was so peaceful, and secluded that River felt her mind start to decelerate, to hush and ease as the gentle splash of the falls became the only sound that she could make out.

Now this could be worth the entire trip, she thought, barely able to contain her glee as she clutched her towel to her chest and carefully descended the series of rocky ledges that framed the eastern side of the waterfall.

She made it down with a minimum of slippage and ducked between the hanging branches of the willow tree where she thought it might be cooler.  The heat underneath the leaves was mitigated somewhat by the moisture tossed into the air by the cascade, but it was not so cool that she stopped sweating entirely. 

River placed her towel at the base of the tree and took off her shoes, intent on enjoying the water and the solitude.

A stray thought came to her as a stream of sweat slipped down her spine while she was rolling up the legs of her denims.

Was she completely alone here?  If she was, she could take off more than the shoes…

River parted the branches of the willow tree and peered around.  A swift glance, backed with a hurried mental assessment, indicated that there were no dangerous or foreign organisms around.  She stepped back into the shade and rapidly shed the rest of her clothing.

The grass growing on the slope near the plunge pool was softer than the Constantinople hearth rug her mother had placed before the parlor fireplace to impress snooty Parliamentary officials.  River allowed herself to squeal with pleasure as she dug her toes into it while she made her way to the edge of the basin.

She entered the pool, yelping a bit as the chilled silky water lapped against her ankles, her knees, her thighs.  The water slipped between her legs as she waded in up to her waist and she gasped as the current caressed places on her body that didn’t receive a great deal of attention except when the family was away and she was under many, many layers of covers.

It felt heavenly to indulge in such a forbidden activity and River chose to concentrate on her father’s words as she firmly pushed her mother’s scolding voice out of her head.

We just want you to have a little fun before you’re too old to enjoy being young.

This definitely constituted “a little fun”. 

River giggled as she dunked her head under the water and discovered to her delight and surprise as she surfaced that her breasts were quite buoyant. 

She had always worn a bathing costume when she had been in the pools on the Core and never noticed any reaction her secondary sex characteristics had to submersion. Of course, they weren’t very large – years of ballet and dance had kept her body fat extremely low and her breasts were barely enough to fill the smallest size brassiere that an adult woman could wear – but there they were, gently rising up her ribcage, her very own miniscule flotation devices.

As she investigated the depth of the pool, she found that she couldn’t touch bottom, but it didn't alarm her.  She’d been swimming since she was an infant and wasn’t at all frightened about water that was deeper than she was tall. 

Daddy had taken her to lessons when she was six months old, holding her gently in both of his massive hands while she grinned toothlessly and kicked her chubby little legs.  While the captures of said lessons were less than pleasing to the eye because she was not as graceful as she was now, she loved them because she could see how much her father had doted on her even when she was so little, rubbing her nose with his and kissing her repeatedly on her bald head, making loud smacking noises and a complete fool of himself at the same time.

River recalled the images fondly as she tilted her head and spine back and brought her hips up to the surface, her whole body achieving a full-on float. 

Long, serene moments passed as she floated on the surface away from the spray of the cascade, her hair wafting out to halo her head as little eddies of water lapped at her neck, her stomach, her hips.  It felt especially wonderful because the sunlight warmed her front as the water cooled her back.

She closed her eyes as she flipped her wrists and ankles, letting her body drift aimlessly while she relaxed.

Bliss…

The surface of the pool rose and dipped suddenly and River gasped as water rushed into her nose and mouth.  She flailed wildly, unable to breathe as the water closed over her.

With a little effort and calm nerves, she surfaced and immediately started snorting and coughing water out of her nose and mouth. 

What in the ‘verse had that been?

She couldn’t see anything because her hair was in her eyes, but she distinctly felt the “something” that had lured her to the woods in the first place tickling her in the recesses of her forehead.  She ducked again of her own accord and came up facing the sky, the water quickly drawing her hair back from her face as she looked around, searching for the source of the disturbance.

It turned out to be behind her.

River whipped her head around and found herself seven feet away from a very large man.

Actually, he was closer to a very large boy who was on the verge of becoming a very large man. 

The bones in his face had not yet matured fully, but he was as tall, if not taller, than her father.  He was wide-shouldered, thickly-muscled, strong featured and handsome by any planet’s standards.  His looks suggested some kind of adolescent predatory animal to River, especially the way that he scowled at her with those striking cobalt blue eyes under their strong eyebrows.  His nose was also strong – it would be challenging to capture it perfectly, but she thought she could do it given enough time and the correct lighting. 

She liked his lips best of all – they were beautifully shaped and his jaw accentuated them marvelously.

He was so agreeably formed…perhaps she could get a sketch pad and ask him to pose for her during her stay…surely that wasn’t forbidden…?

“Who in the seven ruttin’ hells are you?!” he demanded in a growly voice.

Something in her psyche snapped her out of her appreciation of his appearance and she found herself become more than a little irritated by his rude tone. 

“Who are you?” she countered icily.

“I asked first!” he shot back.

“So?” she volleyed just as rapidly.

He glared at her.  “So you’d better answer the gorram question or else!”

“Or else what?” she demanded, arching an eyebrow in an inadvertently dead-on imitation of her mother at her “incredibly refined, yet unfathomably livid” finest.

“Or else I heave yer skinny little ass outta this here pool, Core-girl!  This ain’t yer waterhole!”

“You needn’t be so antagonistic,” River said in a perfectly frigid, yet scathing tone.  “I would be more than willing to answer your question if you were capable of showing even the least bit of common courtesy!”

River gasped and clamped a wet hand over her mouth as she finished.  Oh my goodness! 

What in the ‘verse had possessed her to speak to him in such a cutting manner? 

She sounded just like…her mother!

“Common courtesy, princess?” he sneered nastily as he treaded water.  “That’s a ruttin’ joke ‘cause this is my family’s land you’re trespassing on.  I could have ya ‘rrested quicker than ya could blink!”

She couldn’t think of anything to say to that so she just stared at him, wondering a multitude of things, including just when she’d actually crossed the property boundaries, what her aunt and uncle would say if she actually was arrested, how could she manage to come here again without being discovered, exactly what was it about him was so familiar and why was he had started leering at her in such an licentious manner?

Then she remembered she didn’t have any clothing on and he could probably see a great deal more than she’d ever exposed to anyone except her physician.

Oh, drat!  Triple drat! 

“Got until the count o’ three before I drag ya out!” he warned, holding up the three last fingers of his right hand.  “One…”

He lowered his pinky.

She made a face at him. 

He was bluffing.

She was sure of it.

“Two.”

He lowered his ring finger, making an obscene gesture with the sole remaining digit on his hand.

“Charming,” she drawled frostily. 

He had to be bluffing. 

No one could possibly be so vulgar as to physically remove her from the pool when she was naked.

“Three!”

She realized he meant business as he reached out the other hand to grab her.

“All right!  All right!  I’m going!” she yelled, paddling quickly for the shore.

She knew she would be completely exposed when she got out of the water and threw a glance behind her shoulder.

He was watching her.

“Turn around!” she ordered, crouching to keep her body concealed in the shallows.

He rolled his eyes.

“Do it, you ill-mannered simian!” she commanded haughtily and heatedly.  She picked up a smooth rock at her feet and held it up.  “Unless you’re inclined to find out how precise my aim is.”

His shoulders heaved with silent, mocking laughter as he complied.

River waded out as fast as she could, sprinting for the sanctuary of the willow tree and the cover of her towel, cheeks burning as she heard him chuckle.

“Whatcha coverin’ up for, Core girl?” he called out loudly.  “Ain’t got nothin’ to hide!”

River gripped the towel about her body tight as she poked her head out between the curtain of branches and stuck her tongue out at him.

“You offerin’ to use that on me?” he asked, sneering at her. 

River was appalled. 

No one, but no one, had ever used such crude, impolite, sexually-suggestive language with her before in her entire life! 

Tangled up as she was in the experience of being highly outraged, River was unprepared for the unanticipated mental image that exploded in her mind, showing her exactly what he meant in explicit detail.

As the full import of his words and thoughts sank in, she felt heat snake its way between her thighs and flare to life in a part of her body that a proper Corebred lady would never, ever refer to in polite company.

She felt her knees go weak as the heat shot through her belly and out her fingertips. 

Oh my, that never happened before!

“If not, stick it back in yer head an’ git!” he suggested callously.

Her knees immediately regained their ability to support her and she retreated behind the branches, thinking all sorts of very unladylike and rather violent thoughts at him as she hurried into her clothing.

Stupid son of a drooling whore and monkey! as she hurried into her underwear.

Common, ill-mannered peasant! as she yanked on her denims and top. 

Inbred boorish backbirth! as she shoved her feet into her shoes. 

River ignored him completely as she emerged from the shade of the willow tree, and made sure her posture was painfully correct as she carefully picked her way back up the stone steps.

When she reached the top, she turned and looked down her nose at him, drawing upon every single lesson Grandmother Serra had taught her about civilized conduct and correct comportment as she squared her shoulders and held her head high.

“I apologize for intruding on your family’s property,” she announced regally.

He grinned up at her, displaying a very nice set of straight white teeth.  “Since you said it so ‘polite’ ‘n all, I’ll excuse it just this one time.”

River nodded and turned, about to leave when she caught another stray thought from him.

It was both graphic and inappropriate, as it involved a comparison between her bearing and a physical impossibility having to do with a broom handle and her backside.

She pursed her lips, thrust her chin in the air and strutted back into the woods.

Some people just had no manners at all!

River’s very dignified march back was ruined by a sudden sunshower that started just as she spotted the house through the trees. 

She sprinted all the way, but she was drenched to the bone as she reached the shelter of the porch.  She hung the twice-soaked towel over the back of one of the wicker chairs before sinking down into it and watching the rain fall in the sunlight as she folded her arms and struggled to curb her temper.

Oooh!  What a nasty, ornery, foul-tempered beast!

She savagely prayed with all of her considerable might that she would never, ever have to see that boy again.

Then she panicked a little when she recalled that Hazard was a very small town and if she did manage to procure employment like she knew she’d have to, she might have to – oh goodness, no! – wait on him.

“Hey, little bit?”

She looked up to see her uncle poking his head out of the kitchen window, a ridiculously tall, poufy white chef’s hat perched on his head.

“Yes, Uncle Mal?”

“You’d best go on up and get showered and get dressed.  We’re headin’ off to the Cobbs’ in about a half hour.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, gathering up the towel and heading into the house.

River only hoped that the despicable young man was the son of a pair of highly-reclusive farmers who had no interest in socializing with anyone in town.

If she had to spend one minute more in that boy’s infuriating company, she thought she might go mad!

* * * * *

nan – child / daughter (formal)


Prompted by and dedicated to romanceguru.

Much affection,

Green Owl

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