Measure of a Man
Part I—The Wedding
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. Would that I did!
Author's Note: This story takes place some months after the events of "Hostages to Fortune." You don't have to read those first, but there are references in the story to those events.
Summary: Simon wants to meet Kaylee's folks, and Mal and River decide to tie the knot.
"Tell me, Mr. Reynolds, what comes to your mind when you hear the words 'Serenity Valley'?"
Mal awoke, cold sweat dripping down his brow and chest. River, trained now by months of practice, reached out soothing hands to calm him. The nightmares courtesy of his encounter with BlueSun somehow held more intensity than his old ones had. Perhaps because they incorporated old memories and new horrors so well, the effect was doubly disturbing.
Placing his hands lightly atop River's across his heart, he felt his pulse slow to a healthier rhythm. "Sorry, bao bei. Didn't mean to wake you."
River molded her body more closely to his. "'Salright," she slurred, slipping back into slumber.
Mal lay listening to the sound of her breathing, feeling the gentle rise and fall of her breasts against his side. He couldn't count how many nights he'd awakened her like this, but he suspected she would know exactly if he was of a mind to ask. He knew that she was watching him always like a hawk, and once upon a time, he would have resented the intrusion. But somehow he couldn't fault her for her concern. She had given him every reason to be open and honest with her about his experience with BlueSun. But Mal was by nature an intensely private man, and though he loved River to the point of distraction, the most painful of his experiences would remain his alone. And River, to her credit, did not demand any confidence he was unwilling to share. Brushing his lips lightly across her forehead, Mal slipped back into sleep.
"I've been thinking," Simon began, fiddling with the loose button on the bottom of his vest, "that maybe I'd like to meet your folks, ai ren."
Kaylee looked out from under Serenity's engine, eyes wide with surprise. "You pullin' my leg, Simon?" she asked suspiciously.
"No…no, not at all. I just thought , well, you know, we've been together awhile now and I'd like to meet your parents. But if you don't want me to, we can just…"
"No honey, it ain't that I don't want you to. It's just that ya' sorta sprung the idea on me. I mean, why'd you wanna…"
Simon interrupted her abruptly. "I love you, Kaywinnet Lee Frye, and I'd like to meet the people who brought you into the 'verse. Can we just leave it at that?"
Kaylee jumped into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist. "'S'okay by me, honey, long as Cap'n says all right."
Somehow, Simon had failed to think his plan through beyond gaining Kaylee's approval. He sighed, wondering how to get the idea past Mal.
Mal sat at his desk in his bunk, working on the ship's accounts. It was not a job he enjoyed, what with the need to keep the real set and a set designed to pass Alliance inspection, but it was one of those Captainy things he had to do.
It was easier to feed six crew members than nine, and he noted with some degree of satisfaction that there was still a little coin left even after the latest round of parts Kaylee had replaced on Serenity. So, he was in a fairly pleasant frame of mind when he heard the knock at his door.
"Ching jin," he called out, leaning back in his chair to see his visitor. He was surprised to see Simon's legs descending the ladder. It was a rare thing for Simon to enter here, unless Mal was recovering from some injury and needed medical attention. Simon fidgeted by the ladder, clearly uncomfortable.
Mildly curious, Mal asked, "What can I do for ya', doc?"
Clearing his throat, Simon answered, "I'd like to request a leave of absence, and I'd like to take Kaylee with me."
"Really," Mal said blandly. "For how long?"
"I think about three weeks should do just fine," Simon said earnestly.
"And what makes you think I'd be willin' to do without my mechanic and my medic for three whole weeks?"
"Actually, now is the perfect time." Simon began to plead his case. "Kaylee's just finished installing all the new engine parts, so there should be no problem with Serenity. No one is currently injured or sick, and the next job you've got lined up is actually legitimate cargo transport, so there shouldn't be any shooting, stabbing, or maiming this time."
"Sounds like you've given this some thought. Where exactly would you be wantin' to go?"
"I'd like to take Kaylee home."
"To Osiris?" Mal asked in surprise.
"Not my home. Hers. I'd like to meet Kaylee's family."
"Oh," Mal said, comprehension dawning. "You aimin' to have a talk with her Pa?"
Simon blushed profusely, but held his ground. "I imagine I'll be talking with her entire family if I stay there for three weeks," he said stiffly.
Mal suppressed a chuckle. "I'd imagine so," he agreed. "and what brought on this sudden notion?"
Simon sighed, knowing Mal was simply toying with him at this point. But he thought he might as well be honest with this man, since they were practically brothers-in-law. "It's just that I've never known anyone like Kaylee. She' so certain about the 'verse and her place in it. Even with all that's happened, all she's seen, she's till so full of hope and love." He paused, "And joy in living." He looked at Mal. "How does she do that?"
The teasing manner gone from his voice, Mal answered, "Ain't rightly sure, doc. But I'm grateful she does."
"I want to see where she came from, meet the people who helped shape her into what she is. Dong ma?" Simon asked hopefully.
"Dang ran," Mal replied. "We're only about tow days out from Harvest. Conjure we could make a little side trip to drop you off. Maybe the rest of us can even go dirtside for the day. Harvest is a right nice spot, best as I recall."
"Thank you, Captain," Simon said, turning to leave.
Mal couldn't resist a final comment. "Hope you're still of a mind to thank me after that talk with Kaylee's Pa."
Simon climbed out of the bunk to the sound of Mal's laughter.
Simon was more than a little apprehensive when Serenity's ramp was lowered to reveal a small army of Frye relations milling about the docking area. When they caught sight of Kaylee, the crowd surged forward eagerly, surrounding the couple with assorted brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins all jostling for the closest spot.
Standing arm in arm with River surveying the scene, Mal smiled in amusement as the diminutive Mrs. Frye parted the crowd to embrace her daughter.
"We're mighty pleased you could see yer way clear to bring our lil' Kaylee for a vist, Cap'n Reynolds," said Mr. Frye, shaking Mal's hand heartily. "We ain't got much, but what we got's yourn long as you and yer crew would care to stay."
"I thank you kindly for your hospitality, but we got business to tend to. We'll likely onlu be able to stay the day."
"Mrs. Frye'll be none too pleased with that answer. She's done got 'nough cooked to feed ya' for least a week."
Mal laughed. "Well, Jayne's with us, so I conjure that's not like to be a problem."
The happy crowd made its way to the Frye home, Mal and River bringing up the rear. Observing River's radiant smile as her turned her face to the sun, Mal said, "You look all kinds of happy today, darlin'."
"Oh, I am," river replied. "This is a good place. And Simon will find a family here."
"Thought he had a family with us."
River sighed softly. "Will have more. Simon needs more."
"It's good he'll have 'em then," Mal said. "And do you need more?"
River stood on her toes to reach his lips. "Got all I need right here."
Mal took her hand, looking thoughtfully at his ring on her finger. "You know, bao bei, there's bound to be a preacher or a magistrate somewhere in this towm. How ould you feel about a wedding today?"
River looked at him incredulously. Mal thought, suddenly flustered, that he may have just made a mistake. "That is, less'n you'd like somethin' a little more…formal."
River looked pointedly at her bare feet on the dirt road. "In case you hadn't noticed, Captain Reynolds, I don't usually stand on ceremony."
Mal grinned and swung her up into his arms. "Matter of fact, I believe I had noticed that about you, bao bei." Setting her back down, he said, "Guess we'd better let our hosts know where we're goin', then."
When they arrived at the Frye home, Kaylee's mother would hear none of Mal's plans. "You'll not be walkin' this slip of a girl into town in the heat of the day." Turning to one of her younger sons, she instructed, "Tommy, you go saddle up one of the horses for Captain Reynolds."
Ignoring Mal's objections, she continued," Preacher Johnson lives in the white house with the little picket fence this side of town. He's married and buried two generations of Fryes right here, and I 'spect he'll come quick enough if'n you tell him there's fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits waitin' on him after."
Mal could see he had no hope of winning this argument. "I thank you kindly ma'am," he said, bowing slightly.
"Get on with ya', so's we can get your lady ready," she said, green eyes twinkling with merriment. "There's work to be done."
When Mal left, she turned her sharp eyes on River. "Where are yer shoes, girl?" she asked in astonishment.
Kaylee quickly came to River's defense. "Ma, some folks ain't all that fond of shoes," she said, putting her arm across River's shoulders.
"Don't be takin' that snippy tone with me, baby girl. I was only askin'. I got nothin' as will fit then feet anyways."
"I've got a nice pair of combat boots back at the ship," River said sweetly.
"Good lord, child, that's worse than bare feet. Mebbe we can find ya' a skirt long enough to hide 'em, at least." So saying, she led River up the stairs into the attic. Lifting the lid of a huge old cedar chest, she gently held up a beautiful old dress, slightly yellowed with age, but covered in lace and intricate beadwork.
"I weren't much bigger than you when I married Mr. Frye," she said, a softness in her voice at the memory. "If'n you'd like, I could run up a couple of side seams and I think it would fit ya' just fine."
River looked at her, eyes bright with unshed tears. " I think that would be lovely," she said, impulsively hugging Kaylee's mother.
"Okay then, lil' one," Mrs. Frye said, her own voice a little shaky. "Don't dawdle now. Get yerself cleaned up and I'll send Kaylee down with the dress in a minute."
After a quick detour to Serenity to pick up the rings he'd had hidden since their trip to Greenleaf, Mal arrived back with Preacher Johnson in tow. He was amazed at the transformation in the house. Large vases of roses picked fresh from Mrs. Frye's garden adorned the small tables and mantel over the old fireplace. The wonderful smells of home cooking wafted from the kitchen, causing his mouth to water. All the Frye kinfolk crowded into the room and down the hallway.
Mrs. Frye quickly directed the proceedings, ordering Preacher Johnson to stand by the fireplace. Pushing Mal into position in front of him, she said, "Now who's to stand with ya' Captain?"
Zoe stepped forward, the picture of dignity and composure. Jayne stood awkwardly to her other side, as Mal slipped her the rings for safekeeping.
Kaylee and Simon came to stand on the other side of the preacher. Then a hush fell over the usually noisy brood, as River descended slowly down the stairs.
Mal could hardly breathe as he looked at her. Her hair was up in some sort of wildly feminine arrangement, with tiny rosebuds entwined in her dark tresses. She wore a breath-taking dress, and just peeking out beneath her skirts were those wonderful bare toes that were all River. He knew the sight would be burned into his memory forever. She smiled softly, taking his arm to face the preacher.
Mal didn't hear most of the ceremony, lost as he was in the unfamiliar sensation of utter happiness. He thought of his own Mama, and how she would have loved this woman beside him. And he thought about the woman standing to his left, and how she stood there always through everything in his life. But mostly, he thought of River, the name sending pleasure down his spine and deep into his soul. And when the Preacher asked, he vowed before God and man to love and cherish her always, a vow he fully intended to keep.
To be continued. Warning: Angst ahead.