Epilogue: Raindrops and Revelations

Rating: G

By Abby ()

Summary: This takes place several months down the road from "River, Author," but it can be taken by itself as a little vignette. Mal and River take a walk.

Notes: Didn't intend to keep going with this, but my Mal muse is bothering me something fierce and I had to get this image out of my head that he gave me. Enjoy!

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It started raining on their way back to the ship. The kind of warm rain that hits a world been dry for some time and the smell of it filled Mal's nostrils with dirt and ozone, making him feel alive. He would have been on the ship already with the others, if River hadn't of insisted on taking a leisurely pace, walking with her face upwards, skin meeting the droplets. She had abandoned her boots some time ago and was walking through the wet clay barefoot, savoring the feeling of earth squishing between her toes. With her boots in hand, Malcolm glanced at her with interest, wishing quietly that he was still able to approach the world with wondrous abandon as she was.

She must have read his thought, as she was so easily able to do these days. "Not too late, you know." Her eyes were closed, water running down the sides of her upturned face in rivulets.

"Is that so?"

She smiled slightly. "Just try it."

Still a little incredulous, he leaned his head back slightly.

"Take your shoes off."

His eyes snapped back to her. "Gorramit, why are you always making me take my shoes off?" he asked teasingly. When she replied only with a grin, he snorted in fake annoyance. Setting down her boots, he bent over and loosened his own shoelaces with his freed hands, taking off boots and socks and planting his feet firmly in the mud, his weight sinking him. He had to admit, it was warm and soft, reminding him of when he was a young child, tipping out the contents of the cattles' water trough, mixing up the dirt to make pies, only to get whipped and hosed down later by his ma.

He looked over at River, who was smiling at his images flitting across her consciousness. Keeping her eyes closed, she tilted her head in his direction. "You're getting closer."

He shifted slightly, thinking he should be uncomfortable with their one-sided conversations, realizing he never was. "Almost not fair that you get to visit my musin's whenever you fancy it, and I never get a chance to get in that pretty li'l head of yours."

The translucent skin of her cheeks blushed, and she momentarily allowed herself to glance at him. "Ask and you shall receive." Her tone was serious, daring, yet not forbidding. From the way her eyes were piercing his, he could almost sense that she was simply waiting for him to make that jump. "Another time. Your inner child needs attending." She turned her face back to the sky.

Mal followed suit, craning his neck up, eyelids shut tight, and, feeling a little bit silly, hooking his thumbs into his belt to maintain a modicum of manliness. He felt the rain hit his face in large droplets, their temperature almost indistinguishable from his own, creating the sensation of ghostly whispers across his weather-worn skin. He tried to empty his thoughts and simply try to soak in the experience, learn what was being taught…

He ended up choking. Coughing and spluttering, he attempted to clear out the water that had managed to run up his nose and down his throat. It took a few seconds for him to notice that River was laughing at him, and the lesson was clearly over. "I think I remember reading somethin' about chickens drowning this way," he commented, doubled over, wiping furiously at his face.

She smirked at him when he straightened up, grabbing up a large portion of her hair and wringing it out with her hands, leaving it twisted over her shoulder. "Can't harm me." She said matter-of-factly. "Albatrosses are well adapted to water."

It was Mal's turn to laugh. "Even so," he replied good-naturedly, taking in her soaked state and her wilted dress. "I don't think albatrosses are exempt from catching colds."

He shrugged off his brown coat, oiled and designed to repel moisture, and slipped it around her shoulders, settling it on her frame. He didn't anticipate the satisfaction that he derived from seeing her wearing it, swimming in the folds of cloth, hem almost skimming the muddy ground. He absentmindedly straightened the lapel, freeing her long hair from under it, combing out the soft, black strands in between his fingers. He noticed that she didn't make a move to stop him, so he settled his hand at the nape of her neck, watching her lean into his touch. She was watching his emotions play across his face, and he saw them reflected on her own. Trust, comfort, an inexplicable fondness… It welled up in his chest, and before he knew it he was leaning forward and kissing this delicate creature, ever so carefully, on the lips, tasting the rain intermingling. It was innocent, it was refreshing, it was…wondrous.

She broke away, gazing up at him, the clouds and the hint of something else shimmering in her bright eyes. "Told you it wasn't too late."

All he could do was stare back in amazement. Slowly he came back to his senses, picking up their boots with one hand and reaching out to her with the other. Finding her slender fingers peeking out under the coat sleeve, he grasped her hand tightly, protectively, and led them slowly back in the direction of the ship.