Video Deteriora Sequor (executrix) wrote in alterego_thon,
Video Deteriora Sequor

Firefly Fic: COURT-SHIP (PG-13)

Title: Court/Ship
Author: executrix
Rating: PG-13
Fandom/Claim: Firefly; Emma (Jane Austen)
Pairings: Inara/Simon, Kaylee/Jayne, Mal/Nandi
Summary: Although Companions are trained to guard their own emotions, some of them develop harmless weaknesses…such as a fondness for matchmaking.
Note: A number of lines are taken unaltered from dear Miss Austen's work, and put to other purposes. This is also true of certain lines springing from the workrooms of Mutant Enemy. Spoilers for all of Firefly, AU after Heart of Gold.

Oh! I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other; and therefore you must give me a plain, direct answer.

Brother and sister? Oh no indeed!

Inara Serra, handsome, clever, and on her way to accumulating a competence through her own honest efforts, had lived thirty-one years in the 'Verse (a fact that was known to few and was strictly embargoed as a topic of discussion) with little to distress or vex her. Like her father before her, she followed the prestigious trade of Companion, although she sought adventure by practicing her profession as a traveler rather than settling down in a particular city. This practice permitted her to expand her clientele rapidly, though it discouraged the development of regular clients and routine assignations. The real evils, indeed, of her situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.

Inara's mother, Gertrude Chilp, had married, as the phrase goes, to discommode her family. She was the proprietor of a chain of two hundred and thirty-nine hardware stores, scattered throughout the Rim planets and moons. Indeed, it would be difficult to purchase so much as a sack of roofing nails or a hatchet, or to view a Corticast, without encountering the Chilp empire or its animated mascot, Chill! The Penguin.

One of five children, Gertrude was the only one who had inherited either her father's squashed bulldog visage or his passion for hardware. Hence, she was also the one who inherited the hardware stores. By the time she reached the age of thirty-six, her handsome brother had selected a suitable bride, and her three beautiful sisters had bewitched men of fortune and position. Among the envious, Gertrude's business acumen, lack of interest in fashion or grooming, and predilection for reposing her spirits with a snifter of single-malt and a substantial cigar had given rise to speculation as to other predilections, which in fact were foreign to her.

One evening, when Miss Chilp visited Lilac in order to attend a convention, a would-be purveyor thoughtfully retained a Companion for her entertainment. The novel experience proved to be most agreeable. Inquiries by her Security department showed that Palacios Serra was nearing the mandatory retirement age of forty (or perhaps circling it repeatedly, like a small corporate spaceship waiting for a runway), and was not particularly interested in a position at a Training House. Furthermore, in St. Alban's, the latest place where Miss Chilp's attorneys had found it convenient to state she was domiciled, it would be cheaper to enter into a marriage settlement than to buy out his Guild contract. Thus, at one coup, Miss Chilp achieved publicity for herself and her business, obtained a home decorator and host for the endless tedious business entertainment, and ensured herself a late chance at respectable maternity. The last-named, however, once achieved, the now-Mrs. Serra was content to leave unique.

It could not be said that mother and daughter were estranged. They always met at least twice a year, when Inara would accompany her mother to a couture atelier. Without fail, Inara would be embarrassed by her mother's queries about the washing properties of muslins and her attempt to drive a hard bargain for the two evening dresses and three suits to be worn until they dropped off her body. Equally, without fail, the modiste would remind the premiere vendeuse to ratchet up the extortionate prices in compensation.

The relationship was more cordial between father and daughter. There was the strong bond of their shared profession, although in some other ways, they were un-alike. Inara had to be conversant with the notable books of the era, to be able to laugh knowledgeably at her clients' allusions. Furthermore, she had many idle hours to fill, and often turned to literature for instruction, diversion, and assuagement. In contrast, for his own amusement, Palacios Serra never took up any book but Debrett's Companionage, occupation for his few idle hours (the household was a busy one) and consolation in distressed ones. At such times, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. As soon as his fingertip hovered over the icon, his pocket encyclopedia would open his file.

It was Inara's habit to Wave her father once a week (thus heading off any attempts on his part at more frequent communications—or communications at times of professional inaccessibility or personal diversion). He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of everybody that he was used to and hating to part with them, hating change of every kind.

"I saw the pictures in 'Planet and Moon', Papa dear," Inara said. She referred to a reception at the Chilp-Serra mansion for Parvati Tchaev who had become (through her own good offices, Inara was convinced) Permanent Companion to a steelmaker."I don't think the gowns were quite as distinguished as at last year's Dragon Boat party. But the banquet looks very splendid. A degustation of twenty-two courses, all of them cooked from authentic Earth-that-Was recipes!"

Palacios Serra's stomach, after endless years of professional need to avoid embonpoint, could bear nothing rich. He could never bear to see anyone let him- or most particularly herself go in a surrender to middle-aged spread. The elder Serra was lacking in imaginative sympathy with others, and could cut only from his own pattern. He loved hospitality, but, apart from the latest concoction recommended by the latest best-selling diet book, he was rather sorry to offer anything so gross as food and drink when the more ethereal nourishment of gossip was more tempting. "I was glad to see that the models and the corticast starlets didn't eat anything—or if they did, not for long—but I'm sorry to say that the soft-boiled eggs remained nearly untouched. I would not recommend soft-boiled eggs in general, but one of our small eggs would not hurt anybody. Dr. Chienh includes them on Days 3, 9, and 44 of the South Sihnon Diet…"

Inara sighed, remembering very long dinners and very large plates with acres of porcelain thinly dusted with nouvelle cuisine, like the first snows of Autumn on the slopes of Fifty Emerald Mountain. "I daresay the dancing must have continued nearly until dawn."

"The sooner any party breaks up, the better," her father said. "And as for dancing, I am very sorry to say that acupuncture has been entirely useless for my plantar warts."

"I'm sure that Parvati is terribly happy with Mr. Lueng," Inara said, casting the net and waiting for it to come back laden with compliments.

"Oh, my dear!" the elder Serra replied. "Pray do not make any more matches! They are silly things and break up one's family circle grievously."

"Only one more match, Papa, only for Captain Reynolds, I must look about for a wife for him. You would like Captain Reynolds. This ship is so marvelously yare" (Inara crossed her fingers behind her back) "that it is a shame for him to remain a bachelor. And would not finding a splendid wife for him be a goodness—the only sort of favor that I can do him, apart from paying the rent promptly every Quarter Day?"

Father and daughter were united in their opinion of freebies, and he had solemnly warned her against servicing crew when she took up her present habitation, so there was no need for any discussion on this point.

"Captain Reynolds is a very pretty young man, to be sure, in those captures you have shown me, and he sounds a very good young man. I would not quarrel with him were I in his presence. But if you wish to single him out for your favor, suggest that he take on some business that will bring him to this quadrant, and have dinner with us. Invite him to dinner, help him to the best pieces of the protein cutlets and eggplant roast—our Hartfield eggplants are particularly rich in micronutrients--but leave him to choose his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of two- or three-and-thirty can choose his own wife."

Miss Kaywinnet Lee Frye, a girl of nineteen, was always welcome in Inara's shuttle. Inara knew her very well by sight and had long felt an interest in her on account of her beauty. Kaylee was a very pretty girl, whose blooming complexion, hazel eyes, light hair, and regular features were just of the sort Inara particularly admired. Kaylee was seldom out of temper, and her person, beneath her coveralls and brightly printed blouse, was shapely.

Inara's interest was further piqued when Kaylee let slip that the man she called "Daddy" was her stepfather, and not her father. "He was as good a Daddy as any girl could have," Kaylee said earnestly. "Made a good livin', treated Mama real good, taught me the mechanic trade, and, y'know, never tried none o'that funny stuff that stepfathers can be partial toward. And he never made no distinction 'tween me an' the kids he and Mama had together."

Inara's conclusion was that Kaylee, with her charm and delicate prettiness, must be the natural daughter of Somebody, which made her current associations particularly undesirable. Inara regretted that Kaylee spent so much time with coarse and unpolished individuals, very unfit as friends of a girl who would be quite perfect, given only a little more knowledge of the world. Inara thought it would be an interesting and certainly a very kind undertaking to take notice of Kaylee, and turn her into Somebody in her own right.

The youthful mechanic was often in the company of Jayne Cobb, the ship's mercenary; an acquaintanceship that Inara did not consider a very suitable one for her young friend. "Mr. Cobb, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business? He does not read?"

"Well, he reads Merc Monthly, and he's got a box o'somethin' stowed under his mattress—that'd be porno, I guess."

"And what sort of looking man is Mr. Cobb?"

"Oh! Not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first, but I do not think him so plain now."

Inara herself had seldom seen the merc. A grizzled bravo, whether on horseback or steering the mule, was the very last sort of person to raise her curiosity—precisely the order of person with whom she felt she could have nothing to do. A degree or two lower and a creditable appearance might interest her, and she might strive to be useful to such a person and his family. Several degrees higher, and he might be a client, at least as an occasional treat. But a merc could need none of her help, and was therefore in one sense as much above her notice as in every other sense he was below it.

"And do you think he is a gentleman?"

"Awww, he ain't as genteel as a real gentleman, but that time he insulted me at the dinner table, shucks, that was more to get at Simon than anythin' 'bout me atall. And the other day, him an' the Cap'n went out on the tiles, and he cleaned up pretty nice and put on a clean shirt with a collar an' all. Cap'n's fair sure to start a brawl whenever he lets himself out, but I bet they'd have Jayne back at that whorehouse any time, no questions asked. Maybe even comp him as a high roller."

For reasons she could not herself express, Inara felt disquieted. "Did…anyone else go out with them?"

"Naaah, Zoe's got Wash too whipped, and Shepherd's a Shepherd."

"And…anyone else?"


"You see, my dear Kaylee, on Serenity you have had very good specimens of well-educated, well-bred men. I should be surprised if, after seeing them, you could be in company with Mr. Cobb again without perceiving him to be a very inferior creature—and rather wondering at yourself for having ever thought him at all agreeable before. You must have been struck by his awkward look and abrupt manner and the uncouthness of a voice which I heard to be wholly unmodulated as I stood here."

"He ain't like the Doc, that's for sure. Simon, now, he's so shuai that you just want to take a bite out of him all over…"

Inara hurriedly put a stop to this line of discussion. "Dr. Tam's air is so remarkably good that it is not fair to compare Mr. Cobb to him. You might not see one in a hundred with "gentleman" so plainly written as in Dr. Tam."

"Sometimes I ain't so sure that what's written on him is 'gentleman' and not…."

"Kaylee! Now, what about Captain Reynolds?"

"I love my Cap'n!" And the captain was the very person fixed on by Inara for driving the mercenary out of Kaylee's head. Indeed, the match between the hard-bitten captain and the mechanic responsible for the health of the ship he so loved was so natural and probable that Inara was afraid she would be given no credit for arranging it.

Inara was sorry to hear the regret in Kaylee's voice when she said that the gun hand Cobb was downplanet on a job, but she felt that such an absence made it safe for her to emerge from her shuttle and mingle with the crew. The pilot and the Shepherd played chess; Zoe mended the thin places in the blouse her husband had purchased for her previous birthday; Kaylee lifted bearings out of a bowl of solvent with a chopstick and polished them. Inara opened her sketchbook and, working from memory, drew the small courtyard garden in front of the temple of the House Madrassa.

Captain Reynolds, lately holding the helm, came into the dining area for a mug of coffee. He looked over Inara's shoulder. "Huh!" he said. "That's really good. Seems like they taught you to do more things with your hands than…"

The Shepherd aimed a withering glance in his direction.

"Than needlepoint and tatting. Yeah. I mean to say, that's a mighty fine piece o'art you got there. You know what? You should draw a picture of little Kaylee here."

Inara gave a small, private grin. "She would certainly be a delightful subject for the pencil of any artist. Kaylee, would you like me to draw your portrait?"

Kaylee's eyes glowed. "Never had nobody draw me before. Mama and Daddy took captures, of course."

The next day, Inara, wearing an old terrycloth shell suit, was deep into her third set of abdominal crunches when Kaylee entered the shuttle. A little flustered, Inara made her friend welcome, offered Madeira and baked apples but was refused, and searched through her trunks to find her drawing implements.

When she returned, Kaylee was stretched out on the couch in a state of nature, placidly filing her nails. Inara gazed at her friend's lissome, youthful, yet ample body before clearing her throat and saying, "Do you think this is wise, Kaylee? Because, unless you are to keep this drawing entirely private—and privacy is a precious commodity in this ship—well, it cannot help but be seen by the gentlemen of the crew."

Kaylee shrugged, sending a lock of hair tumbling over one soft shoulder. "Ain't nothin' for them to see but what Nature put there. And nothin' they ain't seen before…well, dunno about how many nekkid girls Simon's seen 'less they was dead an' bein' cut up…"

"Yes, yes, Kaylee, that will be enough about that." She stabbed pushpins into the four corners of the drawing paper, and took up her pencil. She reflected that the Captain must be more familiar with back-bar nudes than with any other form of artwork, and perhaps her own humble effort would turn his thoughts in the direction of her young friend.

When Inara had completed the preliminary sketch, and Kaylee had resumed her garments, the Captain, uninvited as ever, barged into the shuttle. He gave a low whistle. "Now, ain't that some drawin'? You do even better when you got somethin' right pretty to look upon. Hey, ya wanna let me have it for a littlesome? I can tell Wash to loop us around to Bixley, and I can go downplanet and get this framed, put it up over the couch."

"'Bout time we got rid of that ugly thing with the cups stickin' out," Kaylee said.

Inara flinched as Mal said, "Darlin', I can see for a fact from this very fine picture that you got a couple a' them stickin' out your ownself." He swaggered away, the rolled-up drawing tucked under his arm.

Inara smiled, pleased at the success of her stratagem (as well as how the drawing had turned out) and touched her young friend's shoulder tenderly. "Anyone can see that, in his own crude way, the Captain is very fond of you," she said.

Inara could not feel a doubt of having given Kaylee's fancy a proper direction, for Kaylee seemed far more aware than previously of the Captain's dignified mien and handsome features. Inara was soon pretty confident of creating as much liking on Kaylee's side as could be any occasion for. She was quite convinced of Captain Reynolds' being in the fairest way of falling in love, if not in love already.

Zoe tested the temperature of the coffee biggin with the back of her hand, then placed it back on the stove to re-warm. "Where's Kaylee?" she asked the Shepherd, who sat at the table, reading a three-week-old newspaper from their last stop.

"In Inara's shuttle. Perhaps you recollect that portrait that Mal asked her to draw?"

Zoe nodded. "Huh. So you think this is what that's about?"

"As a celibate, I can but surmise, but…"

"Wonder what's gonna become of her," Zoe said, pouring a cup of tepid coffee.

"So do I," the Shepherd said gently. "Very much. She always says she will never marry, but ladies often do protest excessively. I do not know if her feelings have ever been deeply engaged. I do not know if it is my age, or my sentimentality, or my cloth speaking, but I would like to see her respectably and happily established in a suitable home. I should like to see Kaylee in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good."

"Kaylee?" Zoe said with a snort. "You think we been talkin' 'bout Kaylee, Preacher?"

Inara decided to give Kaylee one of her own dresses, and to re-cut it in the latest fashion.
As Inara pinned the costly fabric into place, Kaylee said, "Always kinda surprises me, 'Nara, that you ain't married or at least spoken for. All fancy and pretty and charming, and you get to meet lots of men who'd be a good catch. Gotta be, to afford you and all."

Inara laughed. "My being charming is not quite enough to induce me to marry and surrender my position in the Guild. I must find other people charming—one other person at least. No, Kaylee dear, I do not expect to marry at all."

"Shoo! Your Daddy got married, and he was a Companion too. And bein' an old maid just makes you a big joke."

"I shan't marry if I cannot improve my style of life, and the odds are that, should I marry, I would regret it."

"Don't usually hear gals talkin' that way. Usually, it's the fellas."

"I don't need to marry, for money or for status. I don't need a husband to give me consequence, and, unless he were a man in an admired walk of life, it would be me that gave consequence to him. Perhaps I should surrender all for love, but I have never been in love, and I do not think it is in my nature to fall in love. And if it were, it would give the lie to all the tests of all of the Guild's psychologists. Don't forget, Kaylee, I would not be a poor old maid. A single woman with a very narrow income" (and here Inara paused to wonder about the financial provision the Captain made for his crew; surely they did not stretch to superannuation) "must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! But a single woman of good fortune is always respectable and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else."

During a prolonged stay at the juncture of No and Where, once the crew had exhausted the charm and interest of many of their accustomed interests and pursuits, Wash's suggestion that they should play Dumb Crambo was accepted with enthusiasm.

The Captain was the first player, and his face lit up when he saw the word that he had picked out of the slips folded up in the mercenary's sunset-hued hat.

Inara started to rise from the large chair at the head of the table, but Mal shook his head and gestured for her to remain there, as he held up his index finger to indicate that he performed the first syllable. Indeed, he took the now-depleted wicker bread basket and settled it gently upon her head, in the style of a diadem. He raced back toward the doorway, and advanced once again, at a stately pace. A few feet away from Inara, he halted, performed an elaborate bow accompanied by many flourishes, and sank (impeded somewhat by the tightness of his breeches) to one knee.

He looked expectantly at his crew. "Uhhh…breadcrumbs?" Kaylee suggested, and indeed a fine stream of them were filtering down into Inara's coiffure.

"Bedlam?" Jayne suggested.

"Ambassador?" Simon said diffidently. Mal rose with a creak, and gestured to encourage the young doctor. "Diplomacy? Treaty?"

"Loony bin?" Jayne adventured.

Mal scissored his hands three times, as if to say, "Forget it!" and started over. He seated himself ponderously in one of the chairs along the side of the table, draped a placemat over his head, and flourished the small wooden mallet that Wash had been using to crack walnuts.

"Nuthouse?" Jayne said, this time with some justification.

"Court!" the Shepherd said with great satisfaction. Mal nodded like a bobble-head geisha doll and wiped his brow. He took off the placemat, and pushed back from the table. He thumped his palm in the center of the table, waved his arms encompassingly, and strode back to tap a bulkhead.

"In-sane 'sylum?" Jayne ventured.

"Might be right at that, Jayne," Mal said, and was universally glared at for this breach of protocol.

"Serenity!" Kaylee said. "My good girl!" Mal nodded, and rotated his hands to encourage further speculation along the same lines.

"Rocket!" Wash said. Mal's eyes bulged with the intensity of his effort to elicit the word, so near and yet so far.

"Ship!" Zoe said, and Mal nodded.

To signify the whole, he approached Inara once again, seized her hand, nibbled her fingers, and knelt, pretending to locate a small velvet box in the pocket of his breeches, although no member of the crew believed that anything of such amplitude could be secreted therein.

"Courtship!" Wash said, with a simper at his wife, and Mal nodded, once again and gave him a thumbs-up. The entire company burst into applause. Inara smiled, delighted, assuming that such a pantomime had been put into the Captain's head by the thought of veritably presenting Kaylee with such a bauble. Inara did not think that the Captain could afford a diamond ring, at least not one of any great dimension, but she rather hoped that Reynolds would consult her upon the selection of a pearl or perhaps a rose quartz ring that would flatter Kaylee's eyes as well as causing them to light up.

Before the next performer could obtain his or her proper slip of paper, a klaxon sounded. The lights in the recreation area first dimmed, and then flashed red.

Upon consultation of the nearest monitor, Kaylee and Wash rushed to the bridge. They returned, a few minutes later, space-suit clad, each holding a helmet under an arm. Wash also held a third suit, helmet zipped in place, which he handed to his wife. "Sorry, folks, we're having a Situation here, so kindly everybody hit the shuttles ma-shang. When we get it back under control then, through the good offices of the call-back system installed by some highly talented and unassuming person, bring the shuttles back and resume your whist drive already in progress."

"Kaylee!" Mal said. "What is it this time?"

"Real bad corrosion in the pin feed down on Number 708," Kaylee said. "Oil leaked out, looks like that got to the pivot skip, best I can figure it, there was a small smoky fire. Fire went out by itself but the smoke tripped a fail-safe. Which woulda been good, but when it went down, a bearing arm snapped. So we'd best not put any speed on 'er."

"Fine, we'll stay put. Didn't have much call to go noplace fast anyways."

"Can't do that, Cap'n. Long and short, the air scrubber's bollixed. Too."

"Kaylee, what are you doin' all those hours I pay you for? Filin' your nails and readin' moopix magazines?"

"Asked you three weeks back to put into port and replace the pin feed lines."

"So why didn't you when we was dirtside on Merryton?"

"I was all set to gonna, but then we needed that for bribe money that time you got bound by law."

"Never could figure why you didn't just bust me outta jail," Mal said resentfully. "Especially with Miss River bein' a prodigy of shootin' and all."

"Why don't we talk this over behind each other's backs and our fans and all, if we don't all die?" Wash asked, his voice rising.

"If you gotta stay, Kaylee," Jayne said, his eyes, dark with concern, searching her face. "Then I'll stay too, hand you stuff, y'know."

"Aww, if that ain't noble as a grape," Kaylee said, some of the worry knitting her brow lifting away. "But you just scoot along, we ain't got but three suits prepped anyhow, and we'll need to shut down Life Support A-S-A-P. But don't get your panties in a bunch, nobody's gonna be goin' down with the ship."

"Come on, River," Simon said, escorting his sister toward Shuttle Number Two. He had made a quick assessment of the situation, and agreed with Kaylee's and Wash's conclusions. The Shepherd followed them. Jayne continued to importune, Kaylee continued to reassure him, and at last he made a fourth, filling the capacity of the shuttle. Inara and the Captain therefore took off in Inara's shuttle.

Inara realized, with a sinking heart quite unconnected to the ship's mechanical problems (she had great faith in Kaylee's professional skills) that the door was to be lawfully shut on them. They were to flee from danger tete a tete, and the Captain had been drinking too much of Kaylee's ghastly wine.

As soon as the shuttle escaped from Serenity's body, Mal was upon hers. As soon as she was able, Inara unfolded the wolf. She shuddered. Perhaps, she thought, it was her fault for wearing her purple and gold salwar kamiz.

No wonder the Guild had established gentle customs of prolonged negotiation, so that attentions might be sorted as to their acceptability. Spontaneity was all very well, where the payer of the attentions was aware of their acceptability to the recipient. But here, the surprise was a disagreeable one indeed. Inara did not find the Captain unhandsome. If she were not irate at his betrayal of her young friend, Inara might have yielded to foolishness first, and regretted it after.

As it was, however, she retreated to her own corner of the sofa, pursed her lips, and said with glacial politeness, "I am much astonished, Captain Reynolds! I shall politely suppress any memory of your sovereign lack of politesse. Nevertheless, if there is any message you wish me to convey to Kaylee…"

"Kaylee! See here, 'Nara, ain't nothin' wrong with the girl girl-fashion, but…girl, is all I'm sayin', and is that enough for a man?"

{{It was enough for Mr Cobb, or at least so he was ready to declare}} Inara thought, but did not remonstrate. Inara analyzed the situation once again. The Captain was not particularly inebriated, for him, but that only made his presumption (toward one woman within his orbit) and inconstancy (to another) the more culpable and the less forgivable. "You have made yourself too clear. But what of your attentions to Kaylee, over these past weeks?"

"Didn't do nothin' in the way of attentions 'cept they was attendin' to you, Nara. You know I'm crazy 'bout you. Drives me near mad thinkin' what you get up to, durin' your workin' day. Bad enough what I do."

Precisely at that moment, the red button was depressed, elevating the spirits of Inara, at least. "All clear!" Kaylee's voice came over the comm.. "C'mon back now, soon's you like." The Captain remained silent long enough for his tenant to pilot the shuttle back to the mothership, and the party gathered once again in the common area.

"Nobody flies like my Mister," Zoe said proudly, her arm about her spouse's shoulder. "Fixes things good, too."

"Could we just, for once, have some kinda ruttin' soiree without practically croakin.?" Jayne asked.

Inara slowly closed her eyes, reminding herself that pursing the lips causes collagen breakdown.

Shepherd Book cleared his throat and opened his ever-present Bible, searching for an appropriate passage that had not been cut and pasted. "Perhaps we should all join in a brief service of thanksgiving."

"I'll be in my bunk," Jayne said.

The incident had proved a shock to Inara, not least for the blow that it aimed at her own opinion of her perspicacity. Still, she soon decided that she thought all the less of Captain Reynolds for daring to press his attentions upon her, concluding that he wished to marry well and attach the prestige of the House Madrassa to his own bedraggled craft and enterprise. But, although he had spoken of infatuation, she did not descry any signs of sincere attachment.

Furthermore, she predicted, with all the certainty with which she had foreseen a betrothal for her friend Kaylee, that Captain Reynolds would soon seek the hand of Miss Somebody Else, even if she came from a less exalted sphere in life. She could not pity the Captain, but her heart was wrung by wondering what would become of the attachment in Kaylee's mind and spirit—one that Inara had done so much to bring about and cultivate?

Nevertheless, Inara could not be entirely at war with the Captain. She felt only a moment's impulse to terminate the lease of the shuttle and move elsewhere, not least because of his sturdy frame and somewhat primitive charm of address. And if she had mis-read his intentions, she could not unduly blame him for permitting the hope of advancement to give him a false reading of her own feelings toward him.

She resolved to redouble her small attentions and favors to Kaylee, to console the heartbroken girl. But Kaylee, who once would positively shut off her blowtorch when an invitation to the shuttle was tendered, now often set the com vibrating with a barely civil that she was occupied.

Inara offered Kaylee a pair of earrings. "Thanks, but they suit you. Wouldn't suit me none."

Inara, stung, put the earrings back in her jewelry box. Of course she should have purchased a remembrance for her friend when she had been absent for two weeks' work, but her engagement had been at a modest moon, where even the best work in the marketplace was crude next to the plainest item in her own jewel case. Inara placed a consoling hand on her friend's shoulder.

"I regret exceedingly that, through my encouragement, you encountered a painful disappointment. Oh, he is not the man I took him for! I thought he would be a good match for you, but his poor judgment in his…his…affinity with that person…shows that he did not, and never has, deserved you."

"Y'know what Jayne says? You can lead a horse to where you say there's gonna be water, but horse makes a damn fool of itself if it takes it into its head to drink, specially if he can see plain it's a mud puddle."

"It's not as if I actually like Jayne," Simon said, wiping the bottom of his tea bowl on the sleeve of his sweater and putting the bowl back down on Inara's table. "But if he likes Kaylee, and Kaylee likes him, and even if it were the business of anyone on the crew…"

"The Captain has not been elliptical in his expression of opinion with regard to crew romances," Inara said, chiding herself for failing to provide a saucer for the bowl. "And Kaylee may pick and choose, particularly if she does not confine herself to her crewmates, but takes advantage of such decent company as may be obtained downplanet. After all, Kaylee is just the sort of girl that every man wants to marry. She is so pretty and so agreeable, and surely the skills she displays in her work may be turned to domestic use." {{Of course that is what everyone says to me, and I resent it}} Inara thought. "Why, if you yourself were ever to marry, Dr. Tam, she is the very woman for you."

Simon shut his eyes and opened them again a moment later. "I….? I…never! Not with Kaylee!" he repeated. "I don't know if the friendship between the two of you is a good thing," Simon said. "I mean, for Kaylee. You will puff her up with such ideas of her own beauty, and of what she has a claim to, that, in a little while, no one within her reach will be good enough for her. Instead of being happy, and contributing to the happiness of her spouse, she will be lonely, and perhaps weighted down with other cares. Is that what you would wish for a person whose soul is as unspotted, whose spirit is as free, as Kaylee's?"

"Was I not accurate the first time, Dr. Tam?" Inara said, the lightness of her tone warring with the uneasiness within her breast.

"I do not esteem freshness and innocence the be-all and end-all of womanly virtues," Simon said. "But you must have seen yourself, as I have seen to my great cost, that this is not a 'Verse that treats them kindly. Must not those of us who have gained maturer judgment by passing through the fire, endeavor to spare those who have not yet learned of the world?"

As a resident of Serenity's main hull, Kaylee was often in the company of the doctor's young sister, River. Contacts between Inara and River occurred far less frequently. It could not be said that an immediate rapport was established between the two, and Inara was often conscious of mis-liking Miss Tam for her secretive—or positively odd—manner, while withdrawing herself into reserve to a degree that in itself might be considered unfriendly.

And yet, how painful to be eclipsed by this nine-day's-wonder of a girl! Kaylee was in raptures at how beautifully River danced and sang. Simon regretted audibly that he could not afford to purchase a piano for his sister, asseverating that the crew's spirits would be lifted inexpressibly by River's splendid performances of the classical repertoire. The Captain gruffly acknowledged the materiality of River's contributions to his post-fatality rescue. The Shepherd, although distressed by her resistance to his creed, nevertheless praised unstintingly her deep studies of mathematics, philosophy, and Earth-that-Was history. Wash paenized her knowledge of paleontology. As ever, Inara found it difficult to discern Zoe's opinion on any matter of consequences, and Inara was loath to admit agreement with Jayne's somewhat uncharitable muttered characterization ("gorram off-her-axle freak.")

Inara knew that the scholarly young dancer's fall from Fortune's wheel should have inspired nothing but pity and compassion. And yet…

For fear of invidious comparison, Inara refrained from acquainting herself with scandal about women of the town. Therefore, she knew only the broadest outline of what had transpired at the Heart of Gold. Various passages of arms had occurred--something to do with a baby, not yet of an age to outgrow its first caps. Inara pieced together, from accounts supplied by the least voluble of the ship's company, that Dr. Tam had assisted in an accouchement that would have been commonplace in calmer circumstances. Captain Reynolds and one of the establishment's denizens—indeed, its manageress—had contracted a mutual regard.

Apparently it was also true that Nandi—for such was the lady-manageress' name--had also required some medical assistance, for a grave accident much like Kaylee's, and with a similarly happy outcome thanks to Dr. Tam's surgical expertise. The initial tendresse between the Captain and the entrepreneurial lady, strengthened by the experience of laughing in the face of death, threw them into one another's arms.

The honeymoon was such delight, that they got married that same night.

It was but seldom that Inara supped with the ship's company, but curiosity to see the present (and, apparently, lawful) Mrs. Reynolds led her to don her newest gown and a parure lately presented to her by a favored client. She was about to sit at her accustomed place at the head of the table when the Shepherd cleared his throat.

"I believe, Miss Serra, that a bride is awarded first precedence in any company."

"Almost worth gettin' married for, ain't it, Inara?" Kaylee said. Inara forced herself to smile at the Reynoldeses, and smiled more genuinely at Kaylee, comporting herself with grace in what must have been a painful situation.

"But a Registered Companion in good standing, I believe, takes precedence over anyone below the rank of Parliamentary Representative, or Diocesan Bishop," Simon said. He took his encyclopedia from his waistcoat pocket, but after performing a few searches, his face fell, and he said, "Oh." He made to move down the table to make a place for Inara, but neither Kaylee nor River would yield, and no one else of the company was aware that a contredanse was underway, so Inara crossed to the other side of the table and sat down next to Wash.

Once seated, Inara was able to peruse Mrs. Reynolds' features. Inara found her a bold, flaunting creature, with smoky, tigerish eyes, clad in a low dress and gimcrack ornaments, her inappropriately jejune coiffure tumbling down to her marmoreal shoulders.

"Well, 'Nara," Captain Reynolds said. "You and the Missus are bound to have a lot in common, what with bein' fellow-alumnuses of the Whore Academy an' all."

Nandi simpered. "What my caro sposo means is that, although you were there rather before my time, we cannot quite be so described, for I did not complete the course of tuition."

Jayne, who had already been furnished with certain particulars involving the decease of a dulcimer, chortled.

Nandi poked disdainfully with her chopsticks at the plate she had lightly laden for herself. "My dear Mr. R., purple molded protein is not any more seen at the tables of the best society. My brother-in-law at Maple Grove will not hear of it."

River dropped another huge ladle of mashed potatoes on her own plate, from a moderate height. She considered launching a volley of dinner rolls at Jayne but rejected that tactic for lack of subtlety. "We had a chef, two sous-chefs, a garde-manger and four apprentices in our kitchen at home," she said. "And we had purple molded protein all the time.

Simon grinned at her conspiratorially. "You forgot the pastry chef," he said. Kaylee's heartbreak touched his own emotions but, as a man, he was not without sympathy for the Captain's obligation to place his legs beneath a table where dined not only his wife but the woman he had offered to make his wife so shortly before, and the woman that that second woman had denominated his bride-elect.

"Is it all right if I come in?" Simon asked, hovering uncomfortably at the door of the shuttle.

"Of course," Inara said, although she was a little out-of-sorts at being seen in a plain cotton house-robe with only a little mascara and the merest tinge of cochineal-tinted gloss on her lips.

"River…hasn't had a good day," Simon said. "She's sleeping now. Oh, are you working on your portfolio?" he asked, glancing at the Cortex terminal. She gestured for him to sit in the co-pilot's seat.

"I'm thinking about re-balancing," she said. "I think I need more fixed-incomes, with so much of my investments in equities."

"Ah, I see you are a risk-taker. You are admirable in that, as in so much."

"I? Surely not."

"A year ago, I would have said that neither of us would ever need to work a day in our lives, yet both of us, after extensive training, had adopted demanding professions. I daresay that many would say that, in light of our backgrounds, we should have devoted ourselves to charity work…"

"Indeed not!" Inara said. "If the effort and the responsibilities are to be ours, so to should be the payment!" They laughed together.

"And we both had a certain standing, a certain respect in the World's eyes. Which, of course, you retain, and I have lost. And once…I had something to offer. I was not a hated fugitive, unwillingly propelled into derring-do. River has adapted to our new situation, our new company, far better than I. And, like a hungry ghost, incapable of being satisfied, I…I haunt whatever reminds me of home, of civilization, of beauty and goodness and everything that is colorful or savory or amusing, or…well, I suppose I have depressed your spirits and ought not to remain." And he turned and left, his shoulders hunched.

"Open wide!" said Simon, dispensing a spoonful of the latest elixir he had compounded, and watching to see that River actually swallowed it.

"Yuck!" she said, once she had. He turned to place the spoon in the autoclave. "It's going to be all right, Simon," she said. "It'll take a lot of time, and a mountain of bribe money, but Papa will make everything right, and we will be able to go home. Perhaps, with some augmentation in our number."

"I wish I could share your optimism," Simon said.

"I'm not being optimistic," River said. "I know!"

"My dear sister, we confront the entire weight of civilized law ranged against us, and we two do so alone. We have been utterly abandoned by our family…"

"Simon, you said you were going to kill me and the little tiny bits of my body were never going to be found after you scattered them. That time that I fixed your project the night before the science fair."

"River, I was thirteen! That was…half my life ago, and you're still throwing that in my face!"

"Precisely," River said. "And so you see, my dear brother, not all asseverations made at the family fireside can be tested for their truth value."

Anxiety for the safety of the doctor and his fugitive sister needs must be balanced against a deficient exchequer. It was decided that it would be safe enough for Jayne, Zoe, and Kaylee to convey Simon, by shuttle, to the isolated moon where a crime lord stated a wish to alter his appearance in return for an immense sum of cashy money. Jayne forged the papers. Kaylee was prepared to pass as the surgical nurse, had there been a routine Fed traffic stop and the need to bolster the plausibility of the masquerade. Should the affair run smoothly, she would then be able, on the return journey, to apply a good deal of the proceeds to the purchase of mechanical objects. Zoe was there had there been, as so often there was, trouble.

Burke Derybshire's not-unhandsome appearance was altered for a (rather more youthful) slightly less-unhandsome appearance that would fail to trigger facial recognition software. The procedure was medically a trivial one, and the signs appeared fair for Simon and his cohorts to leave before it would be possible to summon the authorities and betray them for the reward, should such be contemplated.

Emboldened by the success of the operation, unwilling to think the worst of humanity in every instance, hypnotized by the glow of the stacks of bills in the titanium briefcase now chained to Jayne's wrist, and responsive to Zoe's contingency plan of having packed a slinky dress, the quartet agreed to be treated to a celebratory dinner in an elegant restaurant.

Derbyshire sat in the middle of the banquette, surrounded by security staff and concubines dressed in advanced mode. The Serenity party, rather against their inclinations, therefore were seated in chairs, their backs to the door, although all four consoled themselves that their view of the door, by means of a huge mirror, was ample.

Serenity's crew were also united in their fervent wish that the expense of the meal had been reflected in the lading of the plates, for they all, whether by birth or mere acculturation, took greater joy in roast beef than in molecular foam.

Halfway through, Simon's appreciation of a luscious, ripe Chateau Uranium Rock 2498, with top notes of cherry and blackberry, was interrupted by the scrape of Kaylee's chair as she fled the table.

Simon went after her, desperately hoping that she had not barricaded herself in the Ladies' Room. He found her near the kitchen, battling back tears. "I'm just a dumb hick," she said. "Why do I even go in nice places, if all that ever happens is everyone's mean to me?"

"You are not a dumb hick," he said. He took decision for a moment, hoping that such lack of noblesse oblige was characteristic of arrivistes and/or criminals, and not of the wealthy as a general rule. "I'll wait here, Kaylee. Go and wash that sweet face of yours, and I'll make them very sorry they ever hurt your feelings."

Kaylee's smile broke through the clouds. "Awww, that's a kind thought, but…you're doin' a bit better now than when Stitch Higgins smeared your vest all up and down Main Street, but…Derbyshire's got four thugs. Jayne and Zoe's the best but…if there's shootin', the bullets could go through the briefcase and wreck up the bills."

Simon patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, no violence will be involved." He dug through his trouser pockets until he found the ancient lipstick, in a battered brassy case, worn to a cyclamen stub, entrusted to his keeping because neither Kaylee nor Zoe had an evening bag. "Go make yourself even prettier, and then we'll show them all."

When Kaylee emerged, Simon proffered his arm, and led her back through the restaurant. "I told, you, no autographs!" he shouted at a harmless, indifferent diner, and repeated this statement at intervals until they returned, and he pulled out Kaylee's chair with an extra measure of deference.

"Autographs?" one of Derbyshire's doxies asked.

"Isn't she a wonderful actress?" Simon said, putting on bonhomie. He even went so far as to lean back in his chair and spread his fingers in the middle of his waistcoat, as he had often seen his father's friends do. "You didn't even recognize her!" He leaned forward and lowered his voice so that it projected into every corner of the restaurant. "She's the only person ever to win a…a….Scoreby! and a….a….Woobie!....and….umm, a….Ruby!....all in the same year! And her new album hasn't even been recorded yet and it's already gone Plastic! And she's going to be playing the violin with the Sihnon Philharmonic. But, well, I don't suppose you'd have heard any of that. In a…bucolic place like this."

"Then what's she doing here?" Derbyshire asked. "Ya said she was a scrub nurse."

"Research," Zoe said. "Her next moopix is gonna be about a brilliant surgeon who's also a racemule driver."

"And a opera singer, too," Jayne said. "Whadda they call that? A deviate?"

Kaylee's eyes shone, and not, this time, with tears.

The Captain looked at the Wave print-out in his hand for a fourth time. Its tone was somewhat colder than had been Monty's wont, but then their overlapping connubiality did not conduce to undisturbed continuation of their long friendship.

"What is it, my dearest?" Nandi asked.

"Old Army buddy," Mal said. "Says, last time we spoke wasn't too courteous, but now he knows that warn't really my fault. Says he's got a new spread now, and it's spring there so if we want to bury the hitched….uh, hatchet, and come'n pick his strawberries all day and then get knee-walkin' drunk at night, well, that's jake with him."

"Free booze!" Jayne said complacently.

"Shepherd, you might could do some o'your botanizing, if we go visit Monty," Captain Reynolds said.

"Strawberries!" Kaylee said. "Can't we go there, please, Cap'n? Ain't got much to keep us busy anyhow."

"Sure thing!" the Captain said. "I'm glad to see that sparkle back in your eyes, Kaylee."

"Well, if her wishes and not mine are to be consulted," Nandi sniffed.

Jayne guffawed, and Shepherd Book took advantage of the lack of Biblical strictures vis a vis ankles to head off speculations about what was or was not to be obtained that night.

They landed at Monty's place first thing in the morning. After they had been shown around, Monty hinted broadly that he'd let his workers take the day off—not that they weren't a fine group of folks, but the temptation of having wanted criminals about could prove too much for them—but the crop had to get picked anyway, there was a big order and all. So the Captain said, "You've turned into a real businessman, Monty," ordered the crew to settle down to work, and set to work himself.

Monty took his ease with a brown bottle of home-brewed beer, beneath his own vine and fig tree. Dottie, his commensal companion ("She married up with a brute that don't hold with divorce, so she says she'd never think of gettin' married again, Mal. Once I saw we got along good, I offered to make her a widow for Christmas, but she turned me down") escorted the second Mrs. Reynolds to the kitchen and presented her with the rocking chair. Nandi did not snap very many beans, but Dottie later declared she was as good as a play.

The boxes at last were all filled, including a couple of galvanized pails for the Serenity crew. Mal, Kaylee and Jayne all offered to pay for the berries Kaylee consumed in medias res. Monty declined, with only a jest that she like to ate her own weight in strawberries, whereupon the crew trooped down to the creek. Inara soaked the feet now released from high-heeled sandals.

"Y'all got awful quiet," Mal said, wondering if he should go into the house and see what Nandi was up to.

"Ain't done no farm work for a while," Kaylee said. "Forgot how it can knock you back. I'm lookin' forward to the barbecue tonight. Gonna do full justice to that hog Monty's got in the pit."

"Doc even done something useful for a change," Jayne said.

Simon sat up and hugged his knees (he had been lying on the grass, to the prejudice of his shirt). He contemplated some remark about the lucrative and trouble-free mission recently completed, and the relative difficulties of plastic surgery and standing around looking tall, but decided it would be pointless and merely exacerbate old enmities.

Kaylee leaned back and looked at a cloud. "Wonder what you're all thinkin'," she said.

River brightly offered to tell her, to a chorus of "No!"s and "Don't"s.

"Hey, you're my crew, you should be doin' somethin' to entertain me," Mal said.

"I could go off, see if someone's got a guitar I could borrow," Jayne said. The negatory chorus was repeated.

"Well, we can take it in turn and say one thing very wise," Inara said, with an enchanting laugh, turning toward the Shepherd. "Or two things very silly…Or three things that are patently insane…River, why don't you start?"

Simon stood up, turned his gaze upon Inara, and turned as white as a queensware tureen of Palestine Soup. "That was not generous, not gentle, not noble, Inara," he said. He put his arm around River's shoulder. "If we're not wanted here, I suppose we can walk back to the ship. In the sun. In the heat of the afternoon. My sister was once the cynosure of all eyes, Inara. Our family's position was such that she would have been admired even without natural gifts, but with those she was—so briefly!—blessed with in every abundance. And now she is poor, and has sunk from the comforts she once knew. If her life is not greatly abbreviated, as I fear it will be, her condition will sink even further. Her situation should secure your compassion, not your derision."

Inara looked after them, aghast.

As the siblings passed Kaylee, River flashed a thumbs-up, and Kaylee winked at her. {{Honest to Pete}} Kaylee thought. {{Not only is River nobody's fool and near as big a nosy parker as 'Nara, folks go forgettin' that she's a Reader.}}

"That warn't exactly your finest moment," Kaylee said, once Serenity had broken atmo and the two ladies met for their accustomed debriefing subsequent to social events. Inara flushed darkly, but was forced to concede a nod.

"Oh, it is such a waste that our young doctor must be cast into exile in this dreadful place…" she said, gesturing toward the slender metal walls that encapsulated them.

Kaylee shrugged. "It's good enough for us."

"She has brought him nothing but peril and disgrace," Inara continued. "Once, no doubt, she was full of promise of every kind, but now…and yet he gives of himself unstintingly."

Kaylee gave her an odd look. "Tianna! 'Course he does! They’re family!"

"Their parents do not…"

"Well, that's just 'cause they're le-se parents, and he's a good brother. Cute, too, with them big eyes and that soft-lookin' black, black hair. My cousin Ruthyanne had a buck rabbit looked like that once. Only Simon's got dimples and his teeth don't stick out. Anyways. Your folks are supposed to love you no matter what, not payin' it out an inch at a time but only if you win the baton-twirlin' contest or what have you." She shook her head. "Never thought I'd feel sorry for you, 'Nara. For that matter, never thought you'd feel jealous of a crazy girl that's got nothin' but the clothes she stands up in, and half of 'em mine anyway."

"I am glad to see that you are in good spirits," Inara said mournfully.

"Like my Granny said, there's as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. True enough, where she lived, the fish was like to have three eyes, but that don't mean she didn't have her head screwed on the right way."

Inara felt cold suspicion smite her heart, by mere process of elimination. Kaylee spent little time away from Serenity, and the ship's company was not large. "Do you mean me to understand, Kaylee, that you are…fishing once again?"

Kaylee nodded and smiled. "Betcha I caught one too. Caught a big one…"

"And you believe that this…this…the sea creature in question…is…entangled?"

Kaylee's smile broadened to a positive beam. "It's all because of you, Inara!"

All in an instant, Inara learned how much she longed for what she had lost—no, had never had—had carelessly discarded. "Oh, if only I had kept my stupid, interfering, mouth shut!"

"No, it's all good! You helped me! You made me feel I was someone special, so now he does too. Oh, 'Nara, you should have been there!"

"I had to work…the St. Alban's Derby, followed immediately by the Beaumonde Cotillion, and New Lutetia Fashion Week…"

"You would have been crazy about the restaurant, and the fancy dishes, and the nosy wines, and the people, well, you're used to 'em, you get paid to put up with 'em. And he put 'em all in their place, warn't nothin' in it for him. So he must care about me. Uhh, I gotta go back to work. Mrs. R. said her tooth-fillin's was gettin' all shook up, and truth to tell, I think Number Five's runnin' a little rough. Best go check."

And the young mechanic left, whistling an air, leaving Inara alone with her bitter reproaches. What she had prided herself on as kind attentions to her inferiors, now scalded her recollection as condescensions that were ill-judged or even ill-mannered.

Inara set out her chessboard, and peopled it with soldiers and courtiers, in accordance with a book of chess problems. But after a mere few assays, she swept down the pieces still standing and tidied them away once again. She thought of going into the main body of the ship, so at least she might be lonely in bad company, so the solitude of her shuttle would be all the sweeter.

But she feared that it would be solitude indeed, having forfeited her one—no, her numerous—chances to earn the young doctor's regard. Though he esteemed it but little, he had fitted himself in with the ship's company, reckless of the differences of their stations. Un-inured to violence, he had nonetheless borne himself bravely. Unknowing of what had brought his sister to her current state of abjection, he had nonetheless pledged to safeguard her. And this was the man whose friendship she had assumed was hers by right, with no need to offer sympathy or aid in exchange.

As a general rule, Inara but lightly regarded Kaylee's judgment, but in the tidings that thrust icicles into her heart, Inara was convinced that Kaylee was as truthful as a Judge of Israel, as accurate as an astronomer. For lengthy and glorious seconds, Inara schemed to win him back, deeming that Kaylee's natural gifts were inferior to her own, even without training as a make-weight. In a pitched battle, it would as paper against artillery, a slingshot against Vera. This would be her blazon: that she, and no one else, must marry Dr. Simon Tam.

But the pleasures of this train of thought ceased abruptly. Inara was certain that once Simon plighted his word, he would not go back, even if he were to be seized by regrets as arctic as her own. No one who had sacrificed so much out of loyalty could belie himself, for any consideration whatsoever.

"Well," Inara said, producing her best decanter and finest distillation of the fruits and herbs of ten earths. "I suppose I must give of my most precious stores to congratulate you two."

"Inara, for God's sake, would you stop telling me I'm in love with Kaylee when I haven't been, aren't….am'nt? is that word…and will never be as long as you are alive? What am I saying, as long as my memory lives on to mourn you?"

Inara swallowed an entire glassful of costly sips abruptly. Her eyebrows shot up. "Then you forgive me?"

"Forgive? Long ago. It was River who was the injured party, and she says she took no hurt, and all is as it should be. Was no one constant to you, or did you fear that none would be, because of your human flaws and imperfections? Well, no matter what injuries the past has inflicted….now there is one." First Simon's hands smoothed her hair, then clasped her waist. "And as for myself, I am glad that you are not perfect," Simon said. "For if you were, with all my deficiencies of character as well as fortune, I could not dare even to seek your company and your friendship…"

What did she say? Just as she ought, of course. If this is what a mere lady would do, how much more so a Companion bred and schooled.

"It will not do," said Palacios Serra, moving to shut down the Wave but then pausing for a Parthian shot. "Yes, I suppose one might have been on visiting terms with the Tams if the introduction had occurred under more auspicious circumstances…"

Inara sighed, thinking that the constraint to take up another volume of Debrett's had spoiled her father's temper. "I would so suppose, Father, insofar as half the office towers of Central Osiris City rest upon land purchased by their ancestors when it comprised pig farms."

"Oh, I know that the good days will never return, but even in this decadent era, a colossal price upon one's head is no substitute for a marriage settlement. No, Inara my dear, it will not answer."

Inara continued to pursue genealogical researches on the Cortex, in hopes of finding the distinguished line of which Kaylee was a by-blow. To her great disappointment, Inara discovered that Kaylee's Mama's present husband was her first husband. Kaylee's real father very possibly would have married Joanne Frye, but for the impedient presence of at least one other wife on at least one other moon. Inara shuddered that this was the connection she had been preparing for Dr. Tam, or even Captain Reynolds. (The latter, however, could cast no stones in respect to matrimonial irregularity.) The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.

And, when Inara made this point to Kaylee, Kaylee said, "Shoot, 'Nara, it don't do much good to tell me to keep my legs together, wouldn't do no good atall for me to tell my Mama to 'fore I was even born."

"What is all that noise?" Inara asked. Simon looked up from the shuttle's Cortex terminal, where he was reading the Journal of the Bellerophon Medical Association. "Oh, it's no great distance, of course, but Jayne is moving Kaylee's things into his bunk, and knowing them…well, they're making rather heavy weather of it."

"Are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him? Did not you misunderstand him? You were both talking of other things—fuel cells, ammunition, after-care of combat wounds; and might not you, in the confusion of so many subjects, mistake him? It was not Kaylee's favor he was certain of—it was the dimensions of some souped-up grenade launcher."

"Well, speaking of souped-up," Simon said, withdrawing a black velvet box from behind the terminal. "I wish I could buy you a diamond the size of a baked potato, but…isn't it a beautiful ring? River designed it, and she and I made it together."

"It's the most beautiful ring I've ever seen," Inara said insincerely. A flawless stone that Inara couldn't identify, apricot in some lights, rosy in others, was set in a frame of stylized botanical elements that writhed with odd energy. Simon smiled and slipped the ring onto her finger.

Inara was certain that one passage from the Shepherd's Bible that River had confiscated related to enemies' heads and the most efficient heaping of coals of fire thereupon.

"However did you get my father to agree to our betrothal?"

"Well…" Simon said. "I promised him that I'd do, you know, a little work around his eyes. I told him he didn't need it, but we should plan ahead."

Mrs. Reynolds thought that the wedding was rather shabby, and very inferior to her own notwithstanding that it had been an elopement. There was very little white satin, very few lace veils, and it had not been possible to prevail upon River, her brother's honor attendant, to retain her shoes throughout the ceremony (a civil one performed by the Captain, although the Shepherd delivered a homily carefully purged of sectarian references). The wedding reception, already chambre by Mrs. Reynolds' reaction to the declension of her numerous offers to serve as Matron of Honor, was cut short by the need to depart before the arrival of the Fed at the modest hostelry where Jayne had thrown an unrelated merry-maker through the front holograph.

In spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.
Tags: wave one fic
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