Bandiagara, Part 10b
The elephant in the living room, and the dawn of a new day
Someone had to mention the elephant in the living room, and Jayne figured it was gonna be him. Only it weren't no elephant. And it was in the cargo bay, not the living room. But it was big. And smelly, too. "Mal," he said, "Someone forgot to empty out the septic vac on Beylix." He glared at Simon, 'cause the Doc was always tryin' to get out of septic vac duty, and he figured it was him what forgot. Jayne had momentarily forgotten how the work had broken down on Beylix—how Simon, Kaylee, Zoe and Mal had worked liked dogs collecting the junkyard gleanings that had filled Serenity's cargo bay, while Jayne had been preoccupied with his friend Janice.
Mal looked conscious of something. Pleased. But he wouldn't answer. He looked down at his folded hands and his mouth twitched into a half smile.
River spoke up. "We can turn trash into treasure."
"Gorrammit, girl, you done said that a hunnert times already." Jayne glared at her. Enough of this 废话 fèihuà.
"Wasn't there a fairy tale where they turned straw into gold?" Zoe asked, knowing perfectly well what Mal had in mind.
"Yeah, but ya can't turn 牛屎 niú shǐ into gold," Jayne replied, a bit angrily. Fairy tales weren't gonna empty the septic vac. He just knew it was gonna be him.
"Can't ya?" Mal said. "How about turning 牛屎 niú shǐ into timonium?"
"Now how the 地狱 dìyù ya gonna do that, Mal?" Jayne asked, in all seriousness. To his annoyance, Mal burst into stifled guffaws, joined by a snort of laughter from Zoe and uncontained hilarity from River.
"Already found a buyer for it, Jayne."
. . .
Mal lay next to Inara in the half-light before dawn, propped on one elbow and tracing light circles on her chest with his other hand. At intervals he dropped his head down to kiss or taste her body.
"You're thoughtful this morning, Mal," Inara said softly, as she stroked his neck and shoulders lightly with her fingers.
Mal's exploring tongue stilled a moment. "You mean to say, you can do what I'm doin' thoughtfully?" he inquired. "Huh. Have to think on that a moment," he added impishly.
"Oh, you!" She batted at his ears playfully.
He continued his ministrations silently—thoughtfully, no doubt. Then he spoke. "Inara, I've been wondering…"
He paused, so she gave him an encouraging smile.
"Will you make an honest man of me?"
She met his eyes. His look was half-bantering, half-serious. "Make an honest man of you?" she answered with a smile. "I can't do that. That's something you have to do for yourself, Mal." She stroked her fingers through his hair. "Besides, I wouldn't stand a chance, Mal. Not as long as you keep doing these illegal but noble acts. It's irresistible."
He sputtered a moment, then propped himself up on both elbows and grinned. He kissed her chest a bit more—thoughtfully, he reflected—then he spoke. "I was just wonderin'—everybody here in Fajara thinks we're married…" he began.
"And why is that, Mal?"
"I didn't start it. I don't know where they got the notion." He gathered his thoughts. "But I have to say, I never been happier than when the people here call me your husband, or when they tell me that my wife saved another child's life at the clinic. I could wish it would be this way always."
"I love where we've been these last two weeks," Inara said, then clarified. "I don't mean Bandiagara, specifically. I mean where you and I have been, with respect to each other."
"Why not make it for keeps, then?"
"Did you just ask me to marry you?"
"I believe I just did." She looked at him silently, so he made it plain. "Inara, will you marry me?"
"Are you sure, Mal?"
"No, think about it. You'd be happily married to me here, but what about when we're elsewhere?" He began to protest that his love would not diminish anywhere, but she overrode him and continued. "I have a past, Mal, one that you'd have to accept and deal with if we're to be together." He fell silent, and she elaborated. "Suppose we were walking together, on Persephone for example, or any of dozens of other worlds where I have worked, and I were greeted by a man—someone who had been my client—and he were to look at me with a smug, satisfied look on his face. How would you react?"
I'd beat that smug look right off the 他妈的狗娘养的tāmādē gǒuniángyǎngde face, thought Mal, and Inara said, "I thought so," even though he hadn't said a word. Had his thoughts been so transparent?
You look that way, too, after a good night, Mal, she thought, and maybe you've seen that look on me. She shifted her position on the mattress. "You're not ready for this step. I can't have you doing violence to all my former clients, Mal. They are powerful people whose influence can work to our benefit, and besides, there are too many of them. Don't look that way, Mal—this is part of who I am, an unchangeable element of my past. If you can't accept that, we have little chance of a future together.
"Don't tell me you have no unsavory elements in your past, Mal," she continued. "I have to learn to deal with and accept your past, as you with mine." She looked searchingly in his face, and it seemed to him that it was her inner self, the real Inara, seeking to connect with his inner self. "We have a lot to do—getting to know one another and coming to terms with history—before we're ready to take this step."
"I take it you're not sayin' 'yes,' then," Mal said, less disappointed than he thought he'd be with this outcome.
"I'm not saying 'no,' either," Inara responded. "I'm saying it's best if I don't answer the question right now." Her eyes grew bright. "But I'm delighted you asked." She bent over and kissed him. "It's the first sincere marriage proposal I've ever had."
"Really?" he asked, astonished. For the first time in a long time, he saw his glass as half full. She had said not now. He heard it as yes, later. "What's the matter, all the men in the Core blind?"
"This discussion is over," she said. He began to protest when she added, "The sun is up. We don't want to—how'd you put it the other day?—'bake like scones on a griddle'."
It was true. The rooftops were uncommonly pleasant places to be at night, but during the day, the relentless heat of the sun made their sleeping quarters untenable, starting no more than a few minutes after sunrise. No grilled Captain today. Nor grilled Companion. They hastened to dress and walked to breakfast, hand in hand.
. . .
废话 fèihuà [rubbish]
牛屎 niú shǐ [cow shit]
地狱 dìyù [hell]
他妈的 狗娘养的 tāmādē gǒuniángyǎngde [f-king son-of-a-bitch's]
And that's a wrap! For this story, anyhow. The tale will continue in the next story, Two by Two by Two. I hope you enjoyed this one. Please leave a comment or review.