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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal and Isabel reach an understanding before the crew starts back to Persephone.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 696 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Not mine, just messin' around here.
“Hey, Mal’s gone,” Wash said to Zoe as they walked up to the ranchhouse for breakfast. Zoe looked over at Serenity and saw what Wash had seen – that the folding chair on Serenity’s ramp was empty.
“Maybe he went to bed. I hope so – he was in a bad way, yesterday.” Zoe started toward Serenity briskly, when a shout from the horse barn stopped her.
“Zoe, are you looking for Captain Reynolds?” It was the barn manager, Abby, calling. “There’s a note in here for you from him.”
Zoe and Wash walked toward the barn and Abby met them halfway. She handed Zoe a folded note. It read “Gone to check on cow-calf pairs with Isabel. Back in a week. Have a big time without me. Mal.” Zoe read it aloud to Wash.
“’Checking on cow-calf pairs’. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it referred to in that phrase –“
“—Keep that thought to yourself, dearie. We don’t have any reason to make assumptions. Let’s get breakfast.”
“Zoe, where’s Mal? He ain’t on Serenity,” Kaylee asked Zoe when she came into breakfast. Zoe, River, Wash and Simon were already at the table.
“He’s gone up the creek to check on cow-calf pairs with Isabel,” Zoe answered.
“Check on cow-calf pairs?”
“That’s a direct quote,” Zoe said.
“Do you think –“
“We don’t need to think anything except that we’re grateful that he got up out of that folding chair. Dong ma?”
“Oh. Okay. I guess. You really think –“
“I really think there are wonderful hot springs in the creeks hereabouts,” Zoe said.
Early the next morning Mal and Isabel started out looking at cattle. They found the first little bunch an hour or so up the creek from the camp.
“You wanta entice ‘em in or you want me to do it?” Mal asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Watch.” Mal swung down off Fat Ninny and dropped the reins. Ninny was perfectly content to stand groundtied for as long as you needed him to. Mal walked toward the cows, which scattered. Once he got into the middle of the pasture he lay down flat on his back, hands folded on his belly, eyes closed. One by one the cows came back to look, gradually getting closer and closer until he could have reached out and grabbed an eartag if he had wanted to.
“Okay, Isabel, you c’n come look at ‘em. Just don’t spook ‘em, all right? I don’t figure on havin’ ‘em run over me,” Mal called quietly to Isabel.
Once Isabel stopped laughing, she came up quietly and took the notes she needed.
“Malcolm, I never saw anybody do that before,” Isabel said.
“You didn’t? That’s an old trick. It’s awful handy if you’re checkin’ on ‘em alone. You lie down and they’ll come right up to you. Nothin’ on earth nosier’n a heifer.”
The day passed pleasantly, a little riding, a little counting cows, a good lunch on the creek bank.
"Isabel, I have a question for you." Mal said at lunch. "I have two questions for you."
"And they are?"
"What made you think Atherton might have been tryin' to get back at you when he went for us?"
"Oh, it's an ugly story, Mal."
"It's got Ath, bound to be ugly," Mal said.
"After John and I called it quits, Atherton came around. It was apparent to the meanest intelligence that all he was interested in was Daddy's position. Atherton thought I might be desperate and ashamed enough to take him; I wasn't and I was rather rude about sending him on his way."
"Seems kinda minor to me."
"That wasn't the end of it. Atherton took it in bad part; he told everyone that my marriage had fallen apart because I was so cold no man could bear to sleep with me."
"So, I behaved as badly as he did. I told my dearest woman friend that the issue had been Atherton's; and that he didn't really like women, that pubescent girls were what he prefers. Which, by the way, I believe is true, but it was wrong of me to say it. I've seen how he looks at those 13-year-olds at the horse shows and it's frightening. I've never admitted that it was I who started that rumor. I'm ashamed to have to own up even now, out here. And I have no reason to believe he's ever acted on that predilection."
"Rumors seldom spread if they don't strike people as true."
"You had another question. I hope it won't be as embarrassing."
"When you came on Serenity the first time, looked your horses over and then looked me over, what was on your mind?" Mal asked.
The crimson blush started at the vee of Isabel's white shirt and rose up her throat, across her cheeks and all the way to her hair line. She averted her eyes from Mal's.
Mal shouted with laughter.
"Wodema, Isabel, you will never cease to astonish me. Let's go dunk you in the creek before your hair catches fire."
Mal built a fire in the woodstove and Isabel put supper on the table when they got back to the camp. They talked about cattle and horses, what it was like to live in the black.
“People think it’s lonely out there, and it is, but the ship’s a world of its own – a world with pretty tight boundaries, most times. I like bein’ able to see what’s comin’ towards me – in the black, you usually can. Once in a while, you get surprised, but not near as often or as easy as you c’n get surprised on the dirt,” Mal said.
“Would you have gone back to Shadow, if you could have?” Isabel asked.
“I don’t have any idea, Isabel. That’s like askin’ what you would do if you were somebody else. I ain’t that boy who left Shadow – I ain’t even the man I was five years ago. Lotta things I wish I’d done different, or not done at all since I left Shadow. But that horse left the barn so long ago the barn’s rotted and fallen into the cellarhole.” Mal looked across the table at Isabel. “Now, I just try to keep us safe, keep us all flyin’, keep that day’s trouble confined to that day. What about you, Miss Warrick? What d’you wish you’d done different?”
“Oh, I told you all about me in Edgarton. I wish I’d been smarter, sooner, about who I was and who I wasn’t. Although, without a certain amount of stupidity I might never have ended up here. Maybe if I’d been smarter and more willing to disappoint my mother I’d be running a fancy horse barn on Persephone – but I’d rather be here. I rather think I’m a better rancher than I would have been horse trainer for other fancy rich girls.”
“I think you’re doin’ a fine job of bein’ here. You run a good operation, Isabel, you treat your animals fair and your land looks good. I noticed how you fence off the creek except for the places you want’a let ‘em drink – keeps your creeks in better shape, doin’ that. Not everybody does that – more work now, but your land’ll thank you in fifty years.”
They sat facing each other companionably, Isabel’s elbows on the table, her chin in her hands, Mal leaning back against the wall, arms crossed across his chest, stocking feet on the bench next to her.
“I guess the thing I regret most is marrying John,” Isabel said, continuing her train of thought. “I learned something, but I think he only got banged up – he really deserved more than I was able to give.”
“Seems to me that you’re a right generous woman. Not too many women I ever had any dealings with woulda put up with my gou se on that ramp for as long as you did nor washed and doctored my feet the way you did. Not to mention your general open-handedness. Look at the way you took my crew in and gave every one of ‘em what they needed.”
“John didn’t need what I’m good at. I’m good at figuring out what needs doing and then doing it – I’m not squeamish or sensitive. I think I was too matter-of-fact for him – he needed some mystery,” Isabel said.
“Mystery’s way overrated, in a woman, in my opinion,” Mal said.
“Well, good, because I haven’t got any mystery at all. Let’s go down to the springs – it’s lovely to lie in the water in the dark and feel the cold air on your face.”
“I don’t think I ever met a woman who loved water as much as you,” Mal said.
“I know a man who loves it just as much as I do.”
“That’s a fact. I don’t think I’ve ever been as clean as I am right now – I’ve been in the creek three times already today. But I’m happy to go again,” Mal stood and held out his hand for Isabel. “Let’s go swim and then I’m ready for bed. All this fresh air and sunshine are wearin’ me out.”
“Oh, is that what’s wearing you out and making you long for bed?”
“Mind your mouth, miss, mind your mouth.”
It had been a long time since Mal had slept as well as he slept up on Gilead Creek. It had also been a long time since he had experienced his body in the way he did there. These things were not unconnected. On Gilead Creek Mal remembered what it was to enjoy the pleasures of the body – not just those he shared with Isabel, although they were certainly a source of joy for both of them – but fresh air, sunshine, water to swim in, the work with the horses and cattle. For too long his body had been useful to him only for the abuse it could withstand – which was considerable. By the end of the week he looked younger than he had in years. He would never again be the boy who had left Shadow, but for those few days that boy could be glimpsed again.
“Where’s Mal?” Jayne asked Zoe when he got back from town with Isabel’s ranch hands.
“Gone up country with Isabel to inspect cow-calf pairs. He’ll be back this evening,” Zoe said.
“He’s doin’ what with who? I heard it called a bunch a things but I ain’t never heard it called that. And with that skinny thing?”
“Be shui, Jayne, or I will hurt you. You will keep your remarks about Mal to yourself, dong ma?”
“Oh, all right, don’t get your undies in a bunch. Got any idea when we’re leavin’?
“Tomorrow morning, I think. Isabel’s beef was supposed to be ready to ship today. I expect we’ll pick it up tomorrow and be on our way back to Persephone,” Zoe said.
“Whattaya think Mal’s gonna do to Atherton Wing?”
“I have no idea. But I don’t suspect it will be pleasant.”
Isabel and Mal rode down from the camp towards the ranch. They stopped and dismounted just at the point where they could see the ranch buildings spread out below them, Serenity sitting behind the horse barn.
Isabel turned to Mal. “I wasn’t going to say this. I promised myself I would never ask this – but I find I need to. Malcolm, would you ever consider staying here, on Elysium?”
“Please don’t ask me that.”
“I already have.”
“And what do you think the answer is?” Mal said.
“I think the answer is no.”
Mal nodded, the years that had slipped away up on Gilead creeping back into the corners of his eyes and mouth.
*End of part 21*
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 4:00 PM
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 4:55 PM
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 5:20 PM
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 10:28 PM
Saturday, November 10, 2007 4:49 AM
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