BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Taste - REPOST
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maya. Post-BDM. Breakfast, as cooked by Mal, doesn't go down too well, so he takes the crew out.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1708    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

“I don’t want any.”

“River, you have to eat.” Simon stared down at the unappealing sludge in the saucepan. “It’s good. It’s …” Even he couldn’t find the right words to describe the grey mass just lying there.

“Smells like crotch.”

He stared at her. “It doesn’t. It’s …” He looked down again, then grinned. “God, it does, doesn’t it?”

“Hey, that’s my best cooking you’re denigrating there,” Mal protested from his place at the head of the table.

“And it’s well up to standard,” the young doctor said. “Can’t you just take yourself off the cooking roster? This seems such a … a waste. Of your talents,” he added quickly. “I could order it, as a doctor. For the sake of our health.”

“I’ll take it under advisement, but for now, it’s all there is.” Mal lifted a lump to his mouth and held his breath as he chewed.

“Plenty for seconds,” Hank agreed, stirring his bowlful and tipping even more sweetener into it.

“It doesn’t help,” Kaylee said sadly.

“Hey, you doing it too?” Mal asked, staring at her. “Thought you’d at least be on my side.”

“Oh, I am, Cap’n,” she declared brightly. “And whatever’s left I can use as engine sealant.”

“Mal, admit it,” Hank said, obviously feeling the urge to commit suicide. “You’re crap as a cook, and since Freya ain’t been on board the last month you’ve got worse.”

“Your mind certainly doesn’t seem to be on the stove,” Zoe put in, holding a small piece of rusk so Ben could chew on it.

“And you can keep out of this,” Mal said, pointing at her with his chopsticks. “And okay, I’ll admit I wasn’t thinking about food when I was cooking, but -”

“Freya?” Hank suggested.

“She does seem to be on my mind a bit.”

“Only natural.” The pilot poked his food. “But could you think a bit more about cooking next time?”

Mal looked at his crew, and sighed. “Okay, fine. Everybody get their coats.”

Kaylee looked up expectantly. “Cap’n?”

“I’m buying breakfast. But you’ve gotta be in the cargo bay in five minutes or you get left.”

Xie xie, Cap’n!” Kaylee exclaimed, jumping to her feet.

---

They’d touched down on Boros as dawn broke, for once ship board and planet time almost concurring, and as they hurried out into the morning a thousand different smells assailed their senses.

Bethany was wide-eyed, taking in every sight, as usually she was confined to the ship when they landed anywhere, unless it was a place Mal considered safe enough for a three year old. Fiddler, on the other hand, had been locked up in her room, and had started howling even before they left the boat.

“Do they have an animal welfare agency on Boros?” Simon wondered aloud as the cargo bay doors closed. “He sounds as if we’re treating him really badly.”

“Only in so far as they make sure they get cooked properly,” Mal put in, locking up. “’Sides, Ben was at it all night long, and no-one complained.”

“You did,” Hank reminded him.

“Yeah, well, I’m Captain. I have to get my beauty sleep.”

“It’s not like it’s working.”

“I could leave you to look after the ship,” Mal pointed out.

“He’s teething, sir,” Zoe said, anxious to avoid any unpleasantness.

“Who, Hank?” Mal asked, raising his eyebrows. “Ain’t yours come through yet?”

Ben’s teething,” his first mate clarified.

“How come? Ethan didn’t get his first tooth ‘til he was near eight months only.”

“And he made enough fuss about that,” Hank muttered, settling his son in the sling around his chest a little more comfortably as they set off. “What about pilots needing their sleep? Can fly the boat if we only get twenty-six minutes, but the boss needs a full eight hours just to stand around and tell people what -”

“All babies are different,” Zoe said loudly. “And it’s just the one.”

“I go’ ma teef,” Bethany said indistinctly, holding her cheek away from her jaw so everyone could see the small white nubs.

“And real pretty they are too,” Mal said, smiling down at the little girl, who beamed back.

“And hardly a peep with any of ‘em, either,” Kaylee added.

“So how come Ben kept me awake with just the one?”

“His gum is sore,” Zoe explained. “Simon’s given me something to rub on it, and he’s been chewing on things, but I guess it’s just a case of being a matter of time.”

“Think I might take myself to sleep in the passenger dorm, then,” Mal said.

“That doesn’t help either,” Simon said quietly.

“Besides, your mother told you that you kept her awake with every single one of yours,” River pointed out, her dark eyes fixed on the Captain.

Mal glared at her.

---

“Cap’n, that was a right shiny breakfast,” Kaylee said, sitting back and patting her stomach. “Don’t think I could stuff another mouthful.”

“Just don’t expect it every time I’m supposed to cook.” Mal pointed at his crew with the last piece of bread. “This was a one-off, since we’ve been doing so well with the jobs ‘n’ all.” He wiped it around his plate and chewed before swallowing.

“Jayne will be sorry he missed it,” River said softly.

“I’m sure he’s getting fed far too much on Lazarus, mei-mei,” Simon said, stroking her back.

“Anyway, if he’d known the Cap was paying he’d have eaten ‘til he burst,” Hank said. “Just to be ornery. And that would‘ve been too messy. Apart from being gross.” He grimaced. Ben was chewing on his finger again.

“You’d better see if you can get him a teething ring,” the young doctor advised.

“It’s on my list,” Zoe said. “Along with diapers, liners, baby cream -”

“And that’s just for me,” her fiancé joked.

“That might be funnier if we weren’t all thinking it,” Mal said. “And you only got an hour for shopping. Cargo arrives at ten and I want us to be gone before noon.”

“What are we hauling this time, Cap’n?” Kaylee asked.

“Manifest says it’s cosmetics.”

“What, lipstick, eye colours and the like?” Her eyes widened.

“I guess. Although since this is a deal put together by Badger, I somehow don’t think that’s all that’ll be in the boxes. Which is why we’re dropping off the radar as far as possible.”

“Course is all set,” Hank said, sounding all business-like again. “Take us a bit longer, but we shouldn’t run into anyone we don’t want to.”

“Good work.” Mal looked at his young mechanic. “And no taking a gander through the stuff, seeing if you can’t get yourself some free samples.”

“I’m not a thief!” Kaylee said, outraged, then had to laugh.

“Yeah. Right. Just like the rest of us ain’t.“ Mal stood up, easing the slight tightness of his waistband. “Well, I for one have got a couple of things to get my own self, so be back at the boat in an hour.” He headed for the cashier to pay for their meals as Zoe and Hank hurried away.

“He seems a lot happier,” Kaylee murmured to Simon as she wiped Bethany’s face before they set off.

“I think he’s thinking that the more time that passes the closer they are to being back together.”

“You think it’ll be soon?”

“I don’t know. From what little he’s said of their conversations, Inara certainly seems to be talking more, but … I can’t help thinking she needs to see a professional.”

“Freya understands that,” River said quietly, picking up the last dumpling from her plate. “That’s what she’s aiming for.”

Simon looked surprised. “She didn’t say.”

“It’s become clear she doesn’t have the training to deal with all the ramifications. And although there are points of contact, of similarity … Inara needs someone who can guide her through it.”

“Does Mal know this?”

“No point in telling him. He can’t help.” She popped the dumpling into her mouth. “Shopping,” she said around it, and hurried out of the café.

---

Fifty-nine minutes later and everyone was back in the cargo bay, showing each other their various purchases.

Bethany was waxing ecstatic over her new shoes, all shiny black patent that she obviously loved so much it was going to take threats and cajoles at bedtime to get her out of them.

“… ’n’ I had to put my foot in this machine, and it whirred and buzzed and all these lights flashed, and then it came out with the exact shape of my foot on this piece of paper, only it was in figures not pictures and then they fed it into this other machine and it got all crunched up and ten minutes later I got them! Ain’t they beautiful?” she asked for the hundredth time.

“They sure are,” Mal said, smiling at her enthusiasm, his own purchases stowed safely in pockets or tucked inside his brown coat.

“… and there it was,” Hank said, looking down at his son and his new teething ring. “Never figured to get one so nice for that kind of money.”

“It’s certainly a good buy,” Simon said. “I’d say it’s at least two hundred years old, maybe more.”

“Old?” Hank was surprised.

“It’s silver, and the workmanship is outstanding.” The young doctor touched the scrolls on one side of the ring. “I doubt it was ever used by a baby. Probably made as a christening gift.”

“So it’s worth something?”

“At least ten times what you paid for it. Probably a lot more, depending on where you sold it.”

Hank quickly took the ring from his son’s mouth, and Ben’s hands waved in the air as his face screwed up ready to start crying.

“Can’t have that, can we?” Mal said, surprising everyone by taking a plasticast ring from his pocket and putting it into Ben’s grasping fingers. Instantly he took it to his mouth and started chewing, gurgling happily.

“Sir?” Zoe said, her eyebrows raised.

“Gotta make sure I get some shuteye somehow,” he said gruffly, tickling the little boy under the chin.

“Yes sir.” Zoe smiled warmly.

“’Sides, you’re gonna have to keep that little bit of nothing until he grows up, and you can pass it on,” Mal added, heading up the stairs towards his bunk. “Keep it in the family.”

“Hey, we got an heirloom!” Hank said, holding up the teething ring.

---

In his bunk Mal laid out his purchases on the bed, running the soft silk of the top he’d bought Freya through his fingers. It flowed like red water, and he knew he couldn’t wait to see her in it.

“Pretty,” River said.

“Conjured you’d be down here sooner or later,” Mal said, not turning around. “Figure she’ll approve?”

“I do.” She stepped closer to him, touching the flame-coloured fabric with her fingertip. “What else did you buy?”

“Nosy, ain’t you?”

“I can show you what I bought,” she said, her head on one side. “Except you said you didn’t want to know about things like that.”

He glared at her. “I don’t.”

“Then I won’t.” She smiled, her youth shining through. “So, what else?”

“Well, I … I saw these and I couldn’t resist.” He held up a small pair of suspenders, just like his but child-sized. “For Ethan. Got a notion he’d be ready for ‘em by now.”

“He wants to be like his daddy,” River agreed. “He loves you.”

Mal felt warmth run through him. “Yeah, I guess he does.”

“He’ll look just like you. Freya will cry.”

“Can’t have that.”

“Still will.” She touched the last box. “What’s that?”

Mal suddenly seemed to come over embarrassed. “Nothing.”

“You bought it. Unlikely you’d buy an empty box of nothing.”

“Didn’t say it was empty. Just nothing to do with you.”

“I could look.” She tapped her temple.

“The sooner we get you back to lessons with Frey the better,” he warned. “Ain’t having peeking on my boat.” He paused. “Least, none that I didn’t order.”

“So show me.”

He glared at her again, but she didn’t back down. “Okay, just … don’t laugh.”

“Why should I?”

“Because it’s …” He coughed, and removed the lid of the box. “Just something I bought for Frey.”

River looked down, her body still for a long moment. “Oh.”

“Do you think she’ll like it?” he asked, his face a little worried.

River ran her fingers across the soft leather, the stitching holding it together. “I think she’ll love it.”

“Only she asked for something pretty to wear, and … well, I got her that top, but then I saw this, and I …” He paused. “And last time she couldn’t wear her gunbelt, and I know it made her feel left out.” He knew he was trying to justify it, and squared his shoulders. “Hell, it’s just a gift.”

“She’ll adore it,” River said, lifting the shoulder holster from the box. “And she’ll adore you for thinking of her.”

“Always do, albatross. Always do.”

“Captain, cargo’s here.” Zoe’s voice reverberated around the small cabin.

Mal crossed to the com. “Get it stowed, and -”

“Well, there might be a problem to that.”

“Problem?” Mal turned to stare at the young woman next to him. “What kind of problem?”

There was the distinctive sound of mooing coming from the speaker. “It seems that Badger arranged for some other items to be added, and didn’t think to let us know.”

“Is that cows?” Mal asked, his heart plummeting.

“Certainly appears to be so, sir.”

“I don’t do cows. Not any more.”

“It’s not … just cows, sir.”

Mal sighed. “I’ll be right there.” He shut off the com and headed for the ladder. “Why doesn’t it ever go smooth?” He started to climb. “And Badger is gonna be sorry he ever -”

River waited, and was rewarded with a sound like a rocket shuttle going past the entrance to the bunk, followed by furious and joyous barking.

“What the hell was that?” came Mal’s voice, drifting down from above.

“A Vorpal cat,” Simon’s voice replied.

“A what?”

“A Vorpal cat. Very rare. Almost extinct, in fact.”

“Well, if you don’t get it off my bridge before Fiddler catches it, it’s gonna be even more extinct.”

“No worries, Cap’n.” Kaylee sounded bright. Too bright. “We’ll just get it back in its cage with the others.”

“Others? How many of these things are there?”

“Not … many. A few. Some.”

“Kaylee …”

“Not to worry, Cap’n. Honest.”

“Hank!” Mal’s voice pounded through the ship without benefit of comlink. “Get Badger on the vid!”

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