Bandiagara, Part 1a

Bandiagara follows One Man's Trash, and picks up right where that story left off. It is the 9th story in my series that begins with A Lion's Mouth.

Rating: All my stories are PG to PG-13 to occasional R. You will not find detailed descriptions of blood, gore, and sex, but you will find situations appropriate for mature readers, innuendo, implication, and (gasp) swear words. This story is PG-13 to R.

As always, thanks to my sister for beta reading.

Who stole the hot water?

Inara docked the shuttle with Serenity. Kaylee sat in the passenger seat, still furious with Simon, but so tired she could barely keep her eyes open. When Inara finished the shut-down sequence she turned and looked over to find Kaylee drooping in her seat. She stood to tiptoe past, but Kaylee started awake, and resumed her ranting right where she'd left off.

"Made me so mad, actin' like I was too dumb to follow directions, when he didn't have no clue what to do, neither. Just had fancier words to talk about how dumb he was."

"妹妹 Mèimei," Inara said. "You've had a hard, hot day's work. You need a bath and a good long sleep."

"Oh, now, Inara, that does sound good," Kaylee said, her voice softening somewhat. "But where 'm I gonna find a bath aboard Serenity? I'm so tired I don't think I could even stand up long enough for a shower."

Kaylee really was tired, Inara reflected, because it was Kaylee herself who had installed Serenity's only proper bathtub, right here in Inara's shuttle. Inara didn't remind her—that kind of thing had clearly gotten Simon in the doghouse—she just set about getting out the tub and rigging it up.

It was ingenious, really. Space in the shuttle was limited, and the tub was a collapsible bath. When fully expanded, it was the size and shape of a Japanese お風呂 o-furo—not as long as a Western-style bathtub, but deep, and fully capable of providing a good, hot soak for a full-grown adult. When collapsed, it folded down into a nearly flat panel the size of the bottom of the tub, and fitted neatly behind the wall panel of the shuttle. Kaylee had rigged hoses that attached to the faucet in the shuttle's head. The tub was a water-hog, of course, but Inara figured if anyone had earned the right to use Serenity's hot water, it was Kaylee, whose expertise had been in constant demand the whole time they were on Beylix.

She sat Kaylee on the stool, washed her hair in the sink, helped her sponge herself off, and then assisted her into the tub.

"Ahhhh!" Kaylee sighed, relaxing into the warmth of the water.

The bath was not as hot as Inara would have liked—apparently it took more hot water than Serenity had to fill it up, and she'd had to compromise to a mere "warm." The tub really had been used to its full potential only when Inara had the shuttle parked somewhere suitable planet-side, with access to plenty of hot water. But Kaylee found it cozy and comforting enough—she was nowhere near as fussy as some of Inara's clients had been.

"Inara, I think I just done died and gone to heaven," Kaylee murmured. "Or maybe I'm dreamin'. If this is a dream, it's a good one—don't wake me up." She closed her eyes. Inara let Kaylee have her privacy, but stayed nearby. The young woman was actually tired enough that she might just nod off and slip under the waves. Inara didn't want any accidental drowning in her shuttle.

. . .

The water in the shower was colder than a 巫婆的乳房 wūpó de rǔfáng. Mal was no hedonist, but even he had to admit that he preferred to have a little warm water to mix with the cold. He turned the water off and stood shivering as he scrubbed the dump filth from his hair and body. Hell with shaving, probably just cut himself, way he was shivering. Only time he'd bathed in colder water was the time near New Kasmir when the only option was glacial meltwater. Now that was cold. "Gah!" he exclaimed, despite himself, as he rinsed off the soap. Might not be glacial meltwater, but it ran a close second. Damn Zoe. He was gonna hafta have a word with that woman—clearly she'd gone and used up all the hot water before he got there. She might be an expectant mother, and deserved some indulgence on that account, but there weren't no call for her to use up all the hot water Serenity had to offer when there were six others on the boat could use it too.

He was toweling off when there was a knock on the door. He hastily covered himself—might be Inara, and he didn't want her to see him in this state. Actually, no man wanted any woman to see him in this state. Cold water shrinkage was no joke. Fact of nature that a man's tender parts tended to run and hide when beset by cold, but that didn't mean any female should bear witness to such a state of affairs.

Again the knock came, more insistent, and Mal hastily donned his trousers and shirt. He picked up his towel and opened the door to find Simon glaring daggers at him. Mal returned the glare with interest, as he stepped through the door and coolly buttoned his shirt. Doc had no call to be glaring—Mal'd been in there less than five minutes. He was surprised Simon hadn't taken care of this earlier—hadn't he been back at the ship before Mal and Zoe? Hell, he'd even do the Doc a favor—"Simon, you might want to wait. Ain't no hot water to speak of." He tucked in his shirt, pulled his suspenders over his shoulders, turned and walked away, while Simon's redoubled glare bounced harmlessly off his retreating back.

. . .

Inara recognized Mal's knock at the shuttle door.

"Inara, may I come in?"

She pre-empted that action by going out to him. "Kaylee's just fallen asleep in my bed. I'm going to let her sleep it out there. She's had such a hard day."

"That she has, Inara. I worked her to the bone. Not nobody else could sort through that junk heap and find the hidden treasure like Kaylee."

"She had a blow-up with Simon." Mal raised his eyebrows, so she filled him in on how Simon and Kaylee, unable to fly themselves back from the dump, had had "words." To her surprise, Mal looked more and more miserable as she told the story, even though she told it light-heartedly.

"It's my fault, you know," he said, when she finished.

"How could it be your fault, Mal? You weren't even there!"

"Yeah, well, that's the point, ain't it? I left them stranded high and dry. Just ran off with the mule, tellin' them to fly the shuttle back to Serenity when I knew right well enough neither of 'em's a trained pilot. Never even thought to check back, just assumed they did as I said. Came back with Jayne and just barged in here and ordered Simon to run that test, like he'd been resting up at his ease drinkin' lemonade ever since I left the dump." He turned to walk away.

"Mal! Where are you going?"

"Gonna find Simon, and apologize. Reckon I better wait and let Kaylee sleep it out, afore I apologize to her."

. . .

Kaylee slept through, and a somewhat subdued crew met for dinner. Zoe set the autopilot and joined the mostly silent group at the dinner table. At first everyone was too hungry to talk much beyond, "Please pass the tofu," but soon Zoe found herself on the receiving end of one of Mal's looks. Strange thing was, she couldn't tell what the 地狱 dìyù he meant. Had no clue, in fact.

Mal flashed Zoe a look, and she looked back at him with a baffled expression. This was so unusual that Mal did a double take and looked at her again. His message was clear—in his own mind at least. What the地狱dìyù you mean by using up all the hot water, Zoe? Didn't appreciate the cold shower. She still didn't get it.

"What're you talkin' about, sir?" Zoe asked into the complete silence.

Inara, Simon, and Jayne were so used to Mal and Zoe's wordless conversations that they didn't find this question in any way unusual. Ip, however, was mystified—he expected the Captain to reply, "Wasn't saying anything." River, on the other hand, understood it all, and was having a hard time containing her giggles.

"The water, Zoe," the Captain clarified.

"What about the water?" she asked, an edge entering her voice.

"The hot water," Mal elaborated, glaring right back at Zoe. "Someone used it all up." Next to him, Inara looked conscious and actually reddened a little, but Mal didn't notice, as he was too busy accusing Zoe. River hugged her arms across her chest—her ribs ached with the effort of holding in her laughter. Inara shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

Zoe rose to her own defense. "Wasn't me used it up. I was only in the shower five minutes. Three of that was washing my hair. And the hot water conked out before I could rinse the shampoo out. Rest of my shower was cold…sir," she added pointedly.

"Don't look at me," Simon said to Mal in his most put-upon voice. "I had to shower in ice-cold water, after you told me that you'd used up all the hot water."

"Did not use up all the hot water," Mal retorted. "Weren't none to use up. Coldest damn shower I've had since that glacial meltwater bath in New Kasmir." He shivered at the memory and did not see Inara's uncomfortable squirm. "Colder than a summer day on St Alban's."

"A summer day?" Jayne asked. "That don't sound so cold."

"It's an expression, Jayne," Zoe replied.

"You been to St Alban's, Jayne," Mal reminded him. "Don't you recollect how cold it was?"

"Yeah, Mal, it was cold—but it was the middle of a ruttin' snowstorm," said Jayne, with an air of stating the obvious. "You know, Mal, winter."

"I recollect well enough, Jayne. And no, actually, we were there in summer. That was a summer St Alban's snowstorm."

"耶稣 Yēsū, that was 发情 fāqíng summer?" Jayne exclaimed, at the same time as Simon asked, "Is that the warmest it gets on St Alban's?"

"It's no wonder Tracey wanted to move his family to a warmer place," Inara commented, to cover her mounting embarrassment. "And now I understand the proverbial expression, 'Colder than a summer day on St Alban's'."

"I have to admit, I never did get that one, before," Ip commented. "I thought it was a misquote."

River was squirming in her seat with the effort of restraining her guffaws. The rest of the crew were so busy bickering over who had "used up" the hot water that they didn't notice. She didn't trust herself to point out that Serenity had a flash heating system that provided continuous hot water, rather than an old-fashioned reservoir tank. No one had "used it up." Clearly the heating element had burnt out—probably when Inara filled the tub while Zoe showered and Ip did the dishes. River knew Kaylee could have pointed that out in an instant—but River wasn't about to speak up on that point. The situation was way too entertaining.

Inara couldn't make eye contact with Mal, who glared around the table trying to spot the hot-water thief. Zoe and Simon glared right back at him, while Jayne glared, too, but in his case there was nothing personal about it—it was just a habitual expression. Ip looked around, baffled by the strange group dynamics. River couldn't contain herself any longer, and hooted with laughter. "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

. . .





妹妹 Mèimei [little sister]

お風呂 o-furo [Japanese-style bath (Japanese)]

巫婆的乳房 wūpó de rǔfáng [witch's breast]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

耶稣 Yēsū [Yesu]

发情 fāqíng [ruttin']

Will Mal discover what happened to the hot water? What do you think? Review and comment, please.

I want to acknowledge the work of Mal4prez. In Chapter 22 of Back Stories III, a bath tub appears in Inara's shuttle, and that is the inspiration for the tub in this chapter. So, after you review this story, immediately go and read Mal4prez's stories, and send her some comments and way to encourage her to give us another chapter of her amazing epic fic.