Best Laid Plans

Part I—The Reunion

Author: justslummin

Disclaimer: I own none of these characters.

Rating: PG

Summary: This story takes place immediately after the events of "Measure of a Man." Mal and River return to Serenity, while Simon deals with some issues.

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River watched Mal pad silently across the cabin floor, gathering up the last of their belongings.

"Come back to bed, ai ren," she said sleepily. "It's hours yet before Serenity docks."

Mal turned to look at her, stretching like a sleek cat in the early morning sun. He loved the look of her, momentarily relaxed and inviting. It was a look he'd rarely seen since her miscarriage. Though they both tried to present their best brave faces for the other, the hurt was too deep, the wound too raw to be ignored.

Sliding under the sheets beside her, he was pleased when she turned to embrace him, her smooth skin cool in the morning chill. "You sure you're ready to go home, darlin'?" he asked.

She nodded against his neck, but said nothing as she put her tongue to another use, lightly flicking it against Niska's scar on his left ear. He shivered at the contact. Woman knew exactly how to get a man going, he thought, as his hand ran gently down her bare back. Maybehaps they did have some time before they had to leave for the docks.

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Whatcha' doin', honey?" Kaylee asked, leaning in the infirmary doorway. Simon sighed. "Nothing really. Why do you ask?"

"It's just ya' been lookin' in that same drawer for about ten minutes." She walked in, and put her hand on his shoulder. "What's goin' on?"

"Kaylee, has it occurred to you that everything bad that's happened in the last few months is my fault?"

Kaylee looked at him, astounded at his assertion. "How ya' figure that, Simon?" she asked seriously.

"If I hadn't had the brilliant idea of meeting your parents, we wouldn't have been on Harvest during the epidemic. River could have been seven months pregnant now with a healthy child. For that matter, if I'd have stocked more meds for fever, maybe the baby would have made it anyway."

"Bao bei, ya' couldn't have known any of that was gonna happen. It ain't in no way your fault."

Simon began to pace back and forth in the small space. "Do you know what I tried to do when River didn't wake up? I tried to persuade Mal to let me dispose of my own sister's baby. And do you know what I said to him when he didn't agree?"

Kaylee had never seen such a look in Simon's eyes. "I don't know, honey," she whispered.

"I said the most cruel thing I could think of, something that would hurt him because I wanted to hurt him. What kind of doctor does that? What kind of man?" He slumped against the exam table.

Kaylee wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "You're a good man, Simon. I know ya' didn't mean whatever ya' said, and I know ya' wouldn't of took the baby."

Simon turned haunted eyes to look at her. "When I thought River wasn't going to wake up, I didn't care about the baby, only about River. And what I said to Mal, I meant." He paused uncomfortably. "At least partially."

"Simon, we was all goin' through a rough patch. I'm guessin' we was all bibbledy from it. But that don't make ya' a bad person. And it all ended all right. River'll be home today, and everything'll be shiny again, sure as spittin'."

Simon leaned into Kaylee's embrace. "I hope you're right, al ren."

"Dontcha' know by now I always am?"

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Mal thought that he'd never seen a more welcome sight than Serenity setting down in Harvest's port. He and River stood arm-in-arm watching Zoe's docking manuevers.

"Fair sure Serenity will be happy to have you at the helm again, darlin'," Mal said, as he watched the landing critically. Zoe was adequate at the helm, but lacked the flair of a true pilot.

"More happy to see her Captain," River said, giving his arm a squeeze. Before the ramp had fully lowered, Kaylee leapt out to embrace the two. Simon hung back, happy to see his sister walking and talking, but dreading the moment of reunion. River looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun, and smiled up at Simon. They walked to meet each other, and Simon embraced her tightly. "Mei mei," he said, unable to form a thought beyond that.

"I'm home, Simon. Finally home."

Mal walked up, extending his hand to Simon. "Looks like things are good here, doc."

"Better now that you've brought River back, Captain."

A slight nod passed between the men. The moment was interrrupted by Jayne.

"Where's all yer stuff?" he asked, noting Mal and River carried no baggage. "Thought I might as well help ya' carry it so's we can get in the air and find us a job might actually make some coin for a change."

"Got here in time to hear Jayne's complaint, I see," Zoe said, coming down the stairs into the cargo bay. "Good to have you back, sir."

"Good to be back, Zoe. Any trouble on the trip?"

"Smooth as silk, Captain," Zoe said

"Good to hear." Turning back to Jayne, Mal said,"Get the mule ready. Me and the doc's goin' to the cabin. There's monitors and medical supplies to pack up, and a few odds and ends to handle."

"Of course," Simon agreed quickly, letting go of River.

"Everybody else, get ready to leave the world soon's we get back."

"Any particular course, Captain?" River asked lightly, as the crew dispersed, leaving Simon and Mal standing alone.

"Anywhere but here, bao bei."

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Mal and Simon rode silently for about half the journey to the cabin. Finally breaking the silence, Simon said," She looks good, Captain. You did well."

"Like I told ya', doc, she's stronger than ya think."

"I suppose so. It's just, I've spent so much of my life watching and worrying about her, it's hard to break that cycle."

Mal regarded Simon coolly. "Spose it would be at that. I conjure I'll be worryin' about her for a long time to come my own self. That's the nature of things, I guess, when you get bound to someone."

"And are you really, Mal," Simon asked, "Bound to River?"

"Til I die, Simon. And if'n I was to believe Book's way, even after, I reckon." The statement was made so simply, so certainly that Simon just sat for a moment, watching the trees passing by as the mule wound its way to the cabin. Despite their prickly relationship, Simon found something about Mal to be steadying, and he puzzled over it. He had once told Mal that he envied Kaylee's certainty about the 'verse and her place in it. But now he came to realize a similarity in Mal's manner as well. Not Kaylee's bouncy optimism, to be sure, but an understanding of himself in relation to the 'verse, a quality that Simon had yet to achieve. Perhaps that was why River had chosen him, Simon thought. While he still had reservations about their union, he could understand why they had come together.

"I guess she won't be needing me to look after her anymore," he said, almost to himself.

Mal stopped the mule to turn his complete attention to Simon. "She'll always need ya', Simon. You're her family, her flesh and blood. Nobody will ever be able to replace that. Dong ma?"

Simon swallowed thickly, embarrassed by how deeply those simple words affected him. "Of course, Mal," he managed.

Nodding, Mal turned back to the road. Changing the subject, he said, "Kind as Kaylee's folks have been, I'll not be sad to see the last of this cabin. Ain't exactly got the happiest memories."

"I admit, I'll be eager to leave Harvest myself," Simon agreed. "But I need to do one other thing once we've loaded the equipment."

"What's that?"

"I need to stop by to talk with Mr. Frye."

Mal looked at Simon in surprise. "Ya' mean in all the time we were here, ya' never got that talk in?"

"It was never exactly the appropriate time," Simon said defensively.

"Spose you're right about that," Mal acknowledged, pulling the mule up to the cabin's door. "Reckon we can spare a few minutes before we get back."

Simon, heart pounding uncomfortably in his chest, followed Mal inside.

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"Whatdya' s'pose is keepin' 'em?" Kaylee asked River, chopping the vegetables in preparation for the noon meal.

River smiled. "Alot to be sorted out. Have to tread softly. Takes extra time."

"Yeah, well, time's wastin' whilst we sit here waitin' on 'em. I got an uncomfortableness 'bout this rock," Jayne grumbled as he snagged an apple with his knife.

"This 'rock' is my home, Jayne Cobb, and I'd thank ya' to speak civil 'bout it," Kaylee said, brandishing her paring knife.

"No offense, lil' Kaylee, but we ain't had the best of times anytime we been here." Even Kaylee couldn't argue that point.

"Some of it was good," River said softly. "It's a nice place for a wedding." She caught the wistful took in Kaylee's eyes. "Will be a grand place for yours too, Kaylee."

"Ain't nobody askin' far as I can see," Kaylee said a little too quickly.

"Could be apt to change anytime," River said. "One just never knows."

"Thought you was a mind-readin' genius, moonbrain. Ya' got a prediction for lil' Kaylee here?"

River shot him a deadly look. "Don't call me moonbrain."

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Equipment loaded and cabin secured, Mal and Simon rode back to the home of Kaylee's parents.

"Spect ya' might find the Fryes out back in the shed. Mr. Frye likes to tinker a bit back there in the heat of the day."

"Yes, I remember," Simon said, suddenly dry-mouthed at the thought of speaking with Kaylee's father.

Sensing his reluctance, Mal asked, "Ya' want I should come with ya', Simon?"

"Good god, no," Simon blurted, aghast at the very thought.

Mal laughed. "I didn't think so. May well get on with it. We're burnin' daylight here."

"All right, all right. I'm going." So saying, Simon climbed out of the mule. "Wish me luck."

Mal shook his head. "Not apt to need it, I'm thinkin'. Mrs. Frye seems kinda' partial to

Thus armed, Simon set out to find Mr. Frye.

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To be continued—Please leave feedback if you're so inclined. I'd appreciate it!