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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Malcolm agrees to Isabel's proposal.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 748 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
As promised, the flowage of Gilead Creek was very pretty. The country around Elysium was steep, with the pasturage concentrated along the creeks. As they rode up hill that first day they encountered little groups of Isabel’s cattle, all cows with calves at their sides.
“Good-lookin’ animals, Isabel.”
“Thank you. I leave them out here until the winter, unless it looks like being exceptionally harsh unusually early. I like to have a look at them now, see where we are, get a rough count, make sure I haven’t lost too many of this year’s calves, check on the first-time mamas.”
“Good ranchin’ practices, those.”
They reached their destination in mid-afternoon. It was a small camp with a porch, a cook stove, a cold-water sink, a table with two benches, and a single bedframe. The creek was just down a sandy path from the porch; steam rising from a pool suggested this spot had been chosen because the hot springs Halcion was famous for broke through here. Isabel said that several smaller creeks flowed into Gilead for several miles upstream from the camp and there were cows to inspect all along the smaller creeks.
Mal unloaded the pack horse and made camp while Isabel went back down and counted the last bunch of cows they had passed. Mal cleaned up Fat Ninny, whom Isabel had insisted he ride, and the pack horse, hobbled them and put grain in their feed bags. A spring poured water into a horse trough and also provided water for the camp. It was a handy arrangement, he thought.
He built a fire in the cook stove just to drive the damp chill out of the camp. Isabel’s bedroll went on the bedframe, his on the porch. He unpacked the food hampers and put what Ellie had sent into the mouseproof containers under the work counter. She had sent beans and rice, which he had expected, but also dried fruit, apples, coffee, summer sausages, eggs, bacon. He discovered a bottle of excellent whiskey and in one of the hampers was a collection of meat in a container that would keep it frozen for several days. It was ample provision for two people. There was even a pie on the top of one of the hampers. Ellie had sent towels and soap, also.
He found a container labeled “first night dinner.” He opened it and discovered a lamb stew, which he decanted into a cast iron pot after he washed the pot in the stream. Put on the very back of the stove it would be warm by the time Isabel returned. Mal went back outside and took the feedbags off the horses so they could graze a little and get water if they wanted.
Well, Isabel had said she would be some time, since she not only wanted to count her cow-calf pairs, she wanted to try to look at some specific animals and see how they were doing with their first calves. Time enough for him to try out these famous hot springs.
Mal looked around the cabin and spotted what he was looking for: a bootjack. He put one heel in and pulled off first one boot and then the other, then peeled off the socks. A powerful smell of horse liniment filled the air.
“Wodema! My toes are purple!” Mal said to no one. “What happened here?” A closer look revealed that what he suspected was gentian violet, a veterinary fungicide, had been painted between each of his toes. Whoever had done it must have thought he was headed toward trench foot. Apparently the same person had then rubbed his feet with horse liniment, to judge by the faint green tint and strong odor of camphor. The likely perpetrator was Isabel. There was a thought to conjure on: Isabel washing and doctoring his feet.
Mal finished stripping, picked up a towel and went down the path toward the creek. As advertised, there was a prime hot spring. He sank gratefully down into the water. Forty hours in a folding chair, five on the ramp of Serenity and six on horseback had left him thoroughly crippled up, but an hour of hot water did wonders for both his body and his spirit. He got out of the water, wrapped the towel around him and walked up the camp. Shaving, that would be a good thing. And clean clothes, another good thing.
By the time Isabel returned, Mal was stretched out on the porch floor on his bedroll, nine-tenths asleep.
“I’m going down to the springs, wouldn’t you like to join me?”
“I’ll let you go without me, Isabel. Supper’ll be ready when you are.”
Isabel was not gone long. She merely washed quickly and dressed herself in a clean white shirt before walking back up to the camp. Mal was sitting on the porch steps, holding a small glass of whiskey. Another sat beside him, already poured for Isabel.
Isabel walked up and stood before Mal, rebraiding her hair as she stood.
“How many white shirts do you own, Isabel?”
“At least two dozen. It’s my uniform – black or khaki breeches and a white shirt.”
“Seem kinda impractical to me, is all,” Mal said.
"Eminently practical. They get bleached and hung on the line, then they’re as good as new. Even blood comes out. You might consider it yourself,” Isabel replied. “Mal, I don’t want to talk about my shirts. I noticed that you put my bedroll on the bedframe and yours on the porch, and that you wouldn’t come down to the springs with me. I , I –“
“ -- Isabel, I’m all manner of grateful to you for everything, up to and includin’ washin’ and doctorin’ my feet. I ain’t aimin’ to make assumptions here or presume on you in any way –“
“Mal, you told me you didn’t need or want a mercy fuck, I think you called it. I’m going to tell the truth as best I can, Malcolm, and I want you to know this is difficult for me to say. For both of us, these few days can be a gift, freely given and freely received. I have not been hurt in anything like the ways you have, both your body and your heart, but I think I am right in thinking that if you can simply accept the ease I’m offering we will both be the better for it. I saw how much better, happier, you looked just now, after an hour in the springs. Our hearts and our bodies are inextricably linked: pleasure for the body can bring ease to the spirit. Please accept the ease I’m offering you, Mal. And I will gratefully accept the same in return.” Isabel turned away as she finished speaking.
Mal stood up and took both Isabel’s hands.
“Isabel, you know –
“—I know that this is just a little piece of time that we can steal. I have heard that thievery is one of your sidelines, when it becomes necessary. Malcolm, let us steal these days.”
“They’re already in my breast pocket, Isabel, they’re already in my breast pocket. Let’s leave that hair braiding for now.”
“And this one?”
“A bad pony and a stone wall. I had to have the fracture reduced surgically. This one?”
“A bad man named Niska. This?”
“Tossed and stepped on by a four-year-old Thoroughbred. My fault, completely. This one?”
“Henry Exline. This one?”
“My younger sister’s archery enthusiasm. This?”
“Alliance shrapnel. New nerve cluster – careful there, miss.”
“I’m always careful.”
“Not so’s you’d notice, you ain’t.”
“Careful enough for my purposes.”
*End of part 20*
Tuesday, November 06, 2007 4:05 PM
Tuesday, November 06, 2007 5:36 PM
Tuesday, November 06, 2007 6:12 PM
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 7:30 AM
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