New Leaf

Author: justslummin

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.

Rating: PG

Summary: Epilogue of sorts to "Black Widow". Inara talks with Lord Harrow, Mal checks in with Badger, and Simon takes inventory.

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Inara smiled her most engaging smile. "I'm so pleased that you could find time to see me, Lord Harrow," she said in honeyed tones.

"It's always a pleasure, Miss Serra," Lord Harrow replied, privately wondering what Inara could want from him. He did not have to wonder for long.

"I know that you are very busy with all of your various enterprises," she began. "But I was wondering if perhaps I could talk with you about one of them in particular."

"Of course," he said, inclining his head politely. "Which one do you wish to discuss?"

"If memory serves, I believe that you are the owner of the art gallery in the Eavesdowne Square."

"Yes, I am," Lord Harrow answered. "Though I am ashamed to admit, I can tell you very little about it. I am not really a serious student of art. I purchased the gallery as part of a larger investment opportunity."

Inara's smile faltered imperceptibly. "I see," she said. "I had hoped to get your opinion on some drawings and paintings I've been working on."

Harrow's eyebrows rose slightly. "I didn't know you were an artist as well as a Companion."

"Well, truthfully I haven't had as much time as I'd like to devote to it. Until now, that is," Inara said quietly. "You see, I've just recently retired from the Guild, and am considering making what has been little more than a hobby for me into a potential new career."

"Ah," the older man said, understanding dawning. "And you had hoped to have an audience for your work in my gallery?"

Inara blushed slightly. "I had rather hoped to at least get your opinion about the feasibility of pursuing my artwork. No one on Serenity has what I would call an objective eye."

Lord Harrow chuckled. "Yes, I can see how that would be so," he said dryly. "And while I would be honored to see your work, I fear I could not offer you an intelligent observation either. However, if you wish, I believe I can persuade the manager of my gallery to give you an honest appraisal of your talent."

Inara's smile was radiant. "I would very much appreciate that, Lord Harrow."

"Think nothing of it," he said easily. "Do you have a portfolio of work ready for viewing now?"

"Yes," Inara said. "Some of it is older, but I've got a few new pieces that I feel might be suitable."

"Good enough," he replied. "I'll call the gallery and arrange for a meeting for you with the manager. Would later today be convenient?"

"Most convenient," Inara said. "In fact, I would prefer it. One never knows where Serenity might be at any given moment."

"I'm certain that makes life…interesting," Harrow replied with just a bare hint of wistfulness.

"If by interesting you mean precarious, I would agree," Inara said, her bright eyes twinkling with hope for her future.

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Mal sat across from Badger, eyeing the little man carefully. "You sure this is a complete list of what the Widow had?" he asked skeptically.

Badger made a great show of taking umbrage. "I'm wounded," he said, clutching theatrically at his chest. "Wounded that you would even think I'm doing something untoward wi' the books."

Mal snorted. "Yeah, I can see that you're real upset. Now tell me true, Badger, 'cause I got exactly no patience for games."

"That's as complete a list as I can produce," Badger said, widening his eyes innocently. "And a sight more than you'd be apt to get from a lesser man, if you don't mind me saying. The Widow had spent a good deal of money in her ill-advised search for yours truly, and she was….somewhat depleted." Looking earnestly at Mal, he added, "And it didn't 'elp the old shrew's finances any when you damaged the Skyplex like you did. Costs coin to fix that kind of thing."

Mal looked at River surreptiously, and she nodded almost imperceptibly. "All right then," Mal said. "I'll accept these figures as they stand, provided you pay me in cashy money today."

Badger swallowed nervously. "Will take me 'til at least tomorrow, mate," he said defensively. "Seein' as 'ow there's been so much unpleasantness, I don't keep that much coin on the premises anymore."

Mal nodded. "Tomorrow by noon, or I'll be collectin' it from your hide. Dong ma?"

Badger nodded, as Mal and River stood to go. Watching the couple walk away, he wondered sourly at what point Malcolm Reynolds had decided to become such a hard man to handle.

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"So he was telling the truth?" Mal asked, somewhat incredulously.

"As far as he ever does," River replied, slipping through the crowded streets gracefully. "Not enough of an untruth to precipitate violence."

Mal nodded, figuring that was really the best he could hope for where Badger was concerned. "Think I ought to stop in to see Easy? See if he has something for us to do whilst we're here? I ain't got the slightest notion how long Inara's business might take."

"Not long," River answered. "She's hurrying."

"You're not gonna tell me what she's doing, are you?" he asked.

"Nope," River said, giving him a wide grin. "But she will, when she's sure."

"Best I can ask for then," Mal said.

"And I don't think we should go see Easy," River added. "Hannah's getting hungry."

Mal looked at his wife sharply. "She sending you a message tellin' you that?"

"No," River answered evenly, knowing that it was a source of concern to Mal that his daughter might share her mother's abilities. "I just know. My breasts are full, so she must need to nurse."

Mal nodded, hurrying along toward Serenity. That, he thought, was an answer he could deal with.

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Simon stood in the infirmary, watching Zoe meticulously counting the medications he was stocking into Serenity's supply cabinets. More than a little embarrassed that his lack of control had made such a thing a necessity, he cleared his throat nervously.

"Um, Zoe, I just wanted to say that I am….well, I really appreciate you doing this. And I'm sorry for the inconvenience I've caused to you all." He shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

Zoe looked at him impassively. "Got no problem with helping you keep a decent inventory, doc," she said blandly. "Probably would have been a good idea to do that all along, seein' as how anybody's likely to be getting corpsified any time on this boat. And if you were to have done that and none of us had known where to find anything in here, that would have been a shame."

Knowing that was as close to a dispensation as he was likely to get from the terse woman, Simon nodded. "Good point," he said, straightening his shoulders slightly. Turning to his cabinets, he said, "I was thinking that the narcotics could be put in a cabinet separate from the other drugs. That way, if someone needs a regular analgesic in the middle of the night, they can get to it without waking anyone up. And of course, we could lock the cabinet with the more…addictive drugs."

Zoe nodded. "Kaylee told me she can rig up a system so's whoever goes into the secured cabinet leaves an electronic fingerprint. Can even rig it so it keeps a log of entries that would be fed directly into the Captain's private log, if you want."

"That would be good," Simon said, mildly surprised that Kaylee had told him nothing of such an arrangement. Though on second thought, he realized that he and Kaylee had talked very little about his substance abuse problem, all things considered. It was a topic they both seemed quite determined to skirt if at all possible.

As if reading his thoughts, Zoe said, "She just wants you to be safe, Simon. Wants to do anything she can to keep you safe."

"I know," Simon said, swallowing past the sudden lump in his throat. "And I want the same thing. Just still a little too raw to talk about it, I suppose."

Zoe nodded. "She'll be there, when you're able," she said. "That woman loves you."

Simon smiled. "You make it sound as if you wonder why," he said.

"Past the point of tryin' to figure why anyone loves anyone else," Zoe said softly. Clearing her throat, she added, "Decided there was no rhyme or reason to it when Inara fell for Jayne." She was gratified to see the young doctor's troubled expression turn to merriment.

"I would have to agree," he said with a trace of his old sarcasm.

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Jayne stood looking at the painting hanging on the wall of the small gallery on Eavesdowne Square. Frowning, he wondered exactly what the picture was supposed to represent. It looked nothing like anything he could recognize. Thinking that Inara's paintings were bound to be better than the oddly shaped blotches of color he was looking at, he looked around somewhat disinterestedly. Knowing that if Inara had not needed a bodyguard to help clear a path through the docks with her unwieldy portfolio, she would never have asked him to accompany her here, he tried to blend in with the people milling about looking at the exhibits while he waited for Inara to emerge from the manager's office.

Inside the office, Inara was fairing only slightly better. Harrow's manager, a sharp-faced woman in her late fifties, sat gazing at Inara's paintings with a completely blank expression. Supremely grateful for the training she'd received at the Guild House, Inara sat with her hands folded in her lap, outwardly calm despite the pounding of her heart against her rib cage.

After an eternity of dead silence, the older woman finally lifted her head to stare at Inara. "Lord Harrow tells me that you were a Companion."

"Yes, I was," Inara replied evenly. "I have recently retired from the Guild."

"To pursue this?" the woman pressed.

"Not entirely," Inara answered honestly. "There were other reasons as well. But I am most anxious to pursue this, if you think that there is a possibility that my work would find an audience here."

The older woman sighed. "Your work is adequate," she said as kindly as she could. "I am not entirely convinced that you are ready for any kind of formal exhibition. Your earlier work is….somewhat uneven. However, these latest pieces…" She waved her hand over the drawings in question. "These are quite lovely. Almost as if they were drawn by a different woman."

"I suppose they were," Inara replied reflectively. "I went through some life-altering events between the first of those and the last."

"It shows," the manager said. "And your work is better for it. However, there is simply not enough of the latter to make even a small exhibit worthwhile."

Inara's mind whirred with possibilities. "Pardon me for being so blunt, but are you saying that if I could produce more work similar to the quality of these last drawings, you might be interested in allowing me a small exhibit here?"

"I really couldn't answer that question until I see the work done," the woman answered honestly. "But perhaps so." She thought for a moment. "Especially if you would be willing to reveal your former occupation for the exhibit. There is, after all, quite an interest in the life of a Companion. The secrecy of the Guild ensures that a certain mystery remains."

Inara frowned. "I…I'm not sure I would want to do that," she said, the thought making her unaccountably uncomfortable. "I would prefer that my former occupation not play a role here. I would hope that my work could stand alone."

The older woman smiled and nodded, pleased with the answer for reasons she could not fathom. "And perhaps it will," she said. "I would welcome another visit when you have finished some more pieces. I will look forward to it."

"As will I," Inara said, rising gracefully from her chair to gather her work back into the portfolio. "I am somewhat unsure as to when I might be on Persephone again, but I will check in with you when I am." And gracing the woman with a dazzling smile, she walked out into the gallery to find Jayne.

The older woman watched her from the doorway of her office, smiling when she saw the former Companion link her arm with the huge man who had been scowling at some of the gallery's more abstract pieces for the last half hour. Realizing that the passion she saw in Inara's latest pieces were quite probably due to her obvious love of the man, the manager hoped for the sake of Inara's art that it would last.

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Mal lay beside River on their bed, Hannah between them nursing happily. Thinking that he never tired of the sight of his wife nourishing his daughter in such a natural way, he sighed contentedly.

"You act as if you were the one being fed," River whispered, smiling softly.

"Suppose it does feed my soul a mite to see such a beautiful sight," Mal answered just as quietly.

"That was quite…poetical," River said. "How is it that you can still surprise me?"

"Ain't easy, bein' as how you're in my head," Mal replied. "But you're forgetting something."

His grin drew River in. "And what is that, ai ren?"

"That I am a man of mystery," Mal said, leaning carefully over Hannah to capture River's lips in a soft kiss.

"That you are," she replied, a little breathless at his kiss.

Mal chuckled, enjoying the reaction he never failed to elicit in his beautiful wife. "Hold that thought," he said, gently slipping off the side of the bed so as not to jostle the contented Hannah. "Just need to check that everything is secure 'fore I come to bed."

River's slow smile took his breath away. "Everyone is fine," she said softly. "And Serenity is secure. No need to leave just yet." As she spoke, she carefully moved Hannah to her bassinet. Turning back to Mal, she reached out a slender arm. "Come back to bed, ai ren," she whispered.

Thinking that he was not likely to ever refuse such an invitation, Mal complied gladly, content in the knowledge that Serenity held them safe for one more night.

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