Yes, River, There Is... (Part 1 of 3)
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just a short little tale to warm hearts this holiday season. Usual disclaimers apply...


"Leave Serenity?" Zoë repeated slowly, turning to face her husband on the bed. Wash nodded, leaving the buttons on his shirt alone long enough to take her hands in his. "We could pack a few things, find a hotel in the town and enjoy some quiet to ourselves," he whispered, tugging on her hands. "Think of what we could do in real, actual privacy..." "But, you mean, actually leave Serenity," Zoë repeated. He almost had her, he could tell. "It wouldn't be forever," Wash reminded his wife. "Just a week. Next week." " week?" Zoë pulled her hands from Wash's. "Next week of all weeks?" "I...what?" "It's Christmas," Zoë replied as though this meant something. "Well, yeah, but," Wash blinked at Zoë in astonishment. "It's not... No one here really does more than an extra toast at dinner. Maybe there's a pie. Can't we just...celebrate Christmas a week later? Or early?" "Put off Christmas?" Zoë stared. "Good luck tellin' Kaylee that. And you know she bought presents this year." "We live on a spaceship," Wash pointed out. "We barely remember what month it is... What difference does it make if we're here one week or another?" "It makes a difference to some," Zoë answered. Wash sat back on the bed and watched his wife stare at him. "If I talk it over with Kaylee and she's okay with putting off the semi-traditional Christmas toast," Wash finally acceded, "Will you talk to the Captain and take a week of our long-overdue vacation next week?" "One hurdle at a time, dear," Zoë smiled as she leaned down to kiss her husband. "No, I learned what that means," Wash said, moving to avoid the conversation-ending-kiss. "That means you won't ask him and you'll watch him schedule some wild scheme to steal - I don't know - orange foozles from some well-armed rich slob and then tell me that you can't take the time off because he'll get himself killed. Which he would if you weren't there to tell him that orange foozles have venomous bites. And then Jayne will get bitten and you'll get shot at and I'll have a heart attack and Mal will insist it was a good plan all along, if only the security codes hadn't been changed." "Orange foozles?" Zoë asked quietly. "I want a week with my wife," Wash insisted angrily. "Why is that so hard to arrange?" Zoë nodded, finally hearing what he was trying to not say. "I'll talk to the Captain," she promised. "Today. And I'll tell him to go after the purple foozles if he has to schedule crime during Christmas." "Even if they're not as valuable?" "Even if they're not as valuable." *** Mal finished washing his bowl from breakfast and set it quietly to the side. The morning was starting out to be a good one. When Inara had first asked if they could make a stop for one of her engagements, Mal never would have imagined it could turn out making him look like a hero to his crew. Jayne had some distant relation in the same town (different side of the tracks, of course) who invited him to celebrate the holiday with an underlying threat of telling Mrs. Cobb her boy ignored family at this time of year. Jayne had asked for time off gruffly while Book busied himself with pots and pans at the stove. Mal had agreed with a shrug. There wasn't much crime to be had just then anyway. The Shepherd, it turned out, was hoping to spend next week spreading joy and cheer in a neighboring town where some old friend of his had invited him to share in the Christmas festivities - if he could be planetside during the season. As the Shepherd had the decency to serve up porridge and hot coffee while he told Mal of this friend, the captain had been only too happy to let Book go for Christmas. Kaylee had then spent all breakfast making promises that the ship would be steadily tended to up until and immediately after the week, if only she could help carry presents around to the needy families with the Shepherd. Bringing joy to folks was something that appealed to the sunny mechanic. What she didn't know was that seeing her so happy - and it not having a thing to do with the doctor's attentions - was more than enough reason for Mal. And, hell: 'tis the season. He looked up when he heard Zoë's boots on the stairs. "Mornin', Zo," Mal greeted. "The Shepherd left some porridge on the stove, if you're in the mood." "I'll try a taste," she nodded. Mal noticed she stood with a purpose... He leaned against the cabinet and waited for it. "We'll be planetside a while," Zoë began slowly. "We will," Mal agreed. "Are there any plans in the works, Sir?" "Shepherd's playin' Santa Claus and Kaylee's got designs to be the Christmas Elf," Mal admitted. "Nara's got that fancy holiday party she's attending. Jayne even has some auntie lookin' to feed him for a few days. Those the types of plans you expected?" "Can't say I'm disappointed," Zoë replied. "This a good time to request some time off?" "This is," Mal smiled. "You and Wash planning on wandering off to do some late Christmas shopping?" "Of a sort," Zoë answered, relaxing. "He already made the reservations." "Well, I hate to stand between a man and his reservations," Mal grinned, moving from the cabinet. "You and Wash have a good time." "Thank you, Sir," Zoë smiled. "We'll do our best." "One question, though," Mal stopped, turning to face his first mate. "Why is everyone convinced I'll say no?" "It's Christmas, Sir," Zoë shrugged. "Time to be with...ones you care for." "It's only a season, Zo," Mal responded. "Only means something if you let it. Go have a week with your husband." "Thank you, Sir," Zoë smiled. Mal was already gone, walking towards the cargo bay and - more than likely - to see if he could get a rise out of Inara. Zoë made her way to the porridge and served up two bowls to take to the bridge. Now that she had approval for leave, she found she was excited about the upcoming getaway with her husband... *** The next few days were a flurry of anticipation. The drop-off of the latest job went exceedingly well - for a change - and everyone seemed to be looking forward to the chance to leave the ship for some well-deserved time off. Everyone's thoughts were set on leaving... Simon realized how empty the ship would feel with so many gone for a week. He started to say something to the captain about it, but Mal shrugged and walked away from him. He realized how very empty the ship would feel then. And did. The majority of the crew left and Mal went to tidying up the cargo bay. River sat in her room, drawing images of snow-covered trees. Simon re-organized the infirmary and read a novel he'd been meaning to finish. Dinner was considerably smaller than usual and quiet. River threw bread crumbs. Simon cleaned them up. The next day, Mal cleaned his weapons, polished his boots and did laundry. River re-organized the kitchen. Simon put everything back the way it was - from what he could remember. Dinner was quiet again. River spent the night vomiting. Simon changed her medication and did his best to calm her. The days followed similar patterns. Mal kept to his own routine. River seemed vaguely aware of her surroundings. Simon split his time between River's care and his own chores. Simon began to look forward to the return of the crew...even Jayne...for conversation's sake, if nothing else. *** Christmas morning, Mal woke to find River sitting cross-legged at the foot of his bed. "We've been over this at least once before," he blurrily mumbled, struggling to sit up without losing any blankets - or their warmth. "There was a fat man in a red suit," the girl replied, unaffected by the captain's plight. "Wanted to know where the stockings were hung." "Did you tell him by a chimney with care?" Mal sighed, finally getting both feet on the floor. Then he re-thought over River's words. "Wait, what fat man?" "Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world." "Where is the fat man now?" "Wherever you left him," River shrugged. "It was your story." Mal relaxed. Over dinner the previous night, Simon had tried to approach the captain about what to give Kaylee for Christmas since she had already hinted she'd gotten him a small token. Mal, realizing it was Christmas Eve, and in an attempt to not get involved, had ended up telling several stories he remembered his mother telling on Christmases long ago. He tried to stick to those related to presents given and received - a watch fob for a husband who had sold his watch to buy haircombs for his wife who had sold her hair for the watch fob being one of his favorites to tell. As the evening had progressed, the two men found they remembered bits and pieces of several various stories and poems and carols...River had apparently been paying very close attention to the men. But then again, when didn't she pay close attention? "Was there a reason for you waking me?" Mal finally asked. "Christmas morning," River replied. "No lumps of coal were found. Reason suggests toys should be distributed among the good boys and girls when stockings do not provide lumps of coal. Disbelief in a large man with a team of flying caribou, however logistically defiant he may be, paradoxically results in no offerings of wrapped parcels at an early hour on this day. Usually something of a loud crashing noise is provided to entertain until caregivers are driven from their beds. Smiles and wishes of peace to all men ensue." "One more time in plainspeak," Mal asked, rubbing his eyes. "I was a good girl," River replied. "But Santa didn't come." Mal looked at her quickly. She truly looked hurt...he felt a tug at his heart. "There's...a lot of...worlds to get to," Mal stumbled over the words. "And all in one night. Did you sleep at all?" "Is that required for his arrival?" "Absolutely," Mal rushed, relieved to have been given the out. "No sleep, no chance for him to arrive." "But in your poem, the man saw him fill stockings," River pointed out. "And he laughed, in spite of himself." "But the children were nestled, all snug in their beds," Mal argued. River looked dejected. "Tell you what, there's still some night left. Try sleeping and mayhaps he'll show. How could you not know about the sleep rule?" "Buddhists don't celebrate Christmas," River yawned. "Sleep," Mal said, standing up and trying not to think of a plan yet. "Try to dream of...sugarplum fairies and nutcracker princes." "There's no tree," River murmured. "You sleep," Mal instructed, indicating the ladder with one hand while he did a quick scan for his boots. "Let...Santa...worry about the tree." "The rules dictated belie the sainted title," River sighed, curling up on the captain's bunk. "A saint would forgive an inquisitive mind, surely..." "No, don't fall asleep there, River," Mal tried to stop the inevitable, but the girl was already asleep. Giving up, he tucked the blanket around her before grabbing his gear and climbing up the ladder. Knowing no one else was on the ship gave him the security to change there and leaving a bundle of clothes at the bottom of the ladder and making his way to the passenger dorms. "Where am I gonna find a yu ben de tree at this hour?" he muttered to himself. Then he remembered: with Inara in her shuttle off at her appointment, the Shepherd and Kaylee took the other shuttle and Zoë and Wash had taken the mule, promising to drop Jayne off at his auntie's on their way to the hotel. Mal was going to have to walk to town. "Gao yang zhong duh goo yang," he groaned. "Captain!" Simon blurted, appearing suddenly from around the corner. "Ai ya, Doc!" Mal gasped, nearly losing his footing. "I can't find River," Simon explained quickly. "She was in her room, but I can't find her now. She kept going on about the Christmas stories - I think she may have gone into town." "She's not in town," Mal ground out. "She's in...she's asleep. She's safe." "Where is she sleeping, if not in her room?" Simon asked, his confusion etched into his features. "Look, Doc," Mal shrugged, walking around Simon to continue on his mission. "You can't keep track of your sister, don't expect me to fill in that slot for ya. I have other things need doing just now." "Other things?" Simon repeated, following Mal into the bay. "Everyone is off-ship on vacations and engagements. What other things could possibly take priority over telling me where my sister is?" "You look hard enough, you'd be surprised what you'll find," Mal smiled, knowing the doctor would never go into his bunk without express permission or an emergency. He opened the small door and stepped out into the early dawn. "Where are you going?" Simon asked, wrapping his arms around his chest to keep the cold out. "To find a gorram Christmas tree," Mal muttered, his breath rising in clouds as he began the trek into town.


Sunday, December 13, 2009 4:20 PM


browncoat santa? very sweet.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 5:51 PM


Oh, this is sounding soo good! Looking forward to more. Loved that Mal couldn't just tell Simon where River was, but had to annoy him first.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 6:40 PM


Whee, fun. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009 3:53 AM


I love that Mal's going to give River a Christmas ... but I bet he's careful what stories he tells in the future! Love this.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 8:02 AM


I loved how you had River analyze Christmas and Santa and presents. "I was a good girl but Santa didn't come." That just about broke my heart. Very well done.


You must log in to post comments.