Serenity had come to Harper's Landing on legitimate business for once, and the crew was making something of a holiday about it.
After Zoe, Jayne and Mal had unloaded the cargo, the pilot had announced he was kidnapping his wife and they could be found staying at the hotel in town, should any emergencies arise. Mal had been more than happy to let them go. They'd made a half decent profit off the genseed they'd picked up at a good price thanks to Warrick Harrow's WAVE, and he was inclined to rest a while planetside. Inara had no appointments scheduled until the following week, and a few days on a border world far from any Alliance presence had seemed a Godsend. Jayne had disappeared in the general direction of the local saloon, and Kaylee had decided that she'd like nothing better than an afternoon spent soaking up sunshine.
Simon had balked at first when Kaylee had suggested a picnic, but now--stretched out in the grass, watching his sister gather wildflowers and weave them into a crown, birds singing overhead, the sun beating down and a warm wind ruffling his hair--he understood that simple joys could be the most profound.
They had a modest lunch spread out on the rough wool army blanket laid out on the grass. It was summer on Harper's Landing, and Kaylee and River had gathered blackberries that grew wild along the side of the road as they'd walked from the clearing where Serenity set down yesterday. They hadn't walked far; just to the hill where Kaylee decided they had the best view. The town was spread out below them, snuggled up close to the river like a child against its mother.
Simon unscrewed the cap from the thermos of tea Book had contributed to their afternoon, and poured a measure into the metal cap. Kaylee and River preferred it sweetened with honey or sugar, but he'd gotten used to drinking tea plain during all-nighters in Medacad. The liquid was warm but not hot, and left a bitter aftertaste that was familiar, even if the surroundings were not.
Kaylee had worn the dress before, and Simon knew it was far from new. He could see where the hem has been let down, and there were loose threads where the ties attach at the sides. It was a child's dress, rather than a woman's, but she had a woman's body beneath the flowered cotton. He'd been noticing that more and more lately. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away as the breeze picked at the sheer cotton dress, moulding it against her curves as she stood up straight, almost on the balls of her feet, to wave to River. The sun was behind her, limning her hair with gold, and he could see the shape of her thighs through the thin material.
He was reminded of how he'd first seen her, twirling a paper parasol at Eavesdown docks, caching what sun she could before they picked up and took off for the black. She liked a bit of sunbathing when they were planetside, she'd said. She loved being out in space she'd told him, but sometimes she missed blue skies and the sun on her face.
Simon was glad she'd dragged him out of the infirmary, insisting that he could catalogue supplies any old time, and he was wasting a perfectly beautiful day. River had been itching to get out, and he'd gone as much for her as for Kaylee, who was taken with the notion of a picnic. It reminded her, she'd told him, of Sundays with her family, her daddy fishing with her brothers and cousins, and her grandmother giving them big slices of peach pie and bottles of milk to wash them down.
Kaylee and Inara had gone walking into town that morning, and she'd come back to the ship with a paper box of buns stuffed with sweet bean paste--a rare treat, and one he hadn't had since childhood. River had made rice balls for their lunch, laughing at the way the rice stuck to her fingers as she shaped them. Mal had waved to them with a father's tolerant and amused smile as Kaylee had led him down the ramp, their lunch tucked under one arm, the other loosely draped around Simon's waist in a possessive gesture that was almost unconscious.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd just sat, eyes closed, feeling the warmth of the sun on his face. Jianying, he decided, didn't count. No world where the high point of your day was not getting set on fire really counted as shore leave, in his mind. He'd been too preoccupied with worries about River, worries about the Alliance, worries about how he simply didn't fit in his new life aboard a smuggling ship, to enjoy the weather. Getting kidnapped by hill people had put thoughts of fine weather out of his mind.
Canton had been too hot. The stench of the mud and clay and unwashed workers marred any potential enjoyment of finally getting out of the cramped quarters. Then there had been the whole getting beaten and almost killed by Jayne's former business partner. Definitely not even close to an experience he would ever savour... Though there had been a moment, before he'd registered Mal standing over them, before his head had reminded him that drinking to excess was a very bad idea. There had been those few seconds, before he'd managed to completely offend the young lady he'd just awakened with draped across him, that he'd savoured. The warmth, the comfort of her curves pressed against him, and the smell of her hair had been almost worth it.
Not quite. But close.
It had been easy, at first, to mistake Kaylee's child-like exuberance for childishness. But what he once mistook for simplicity he now saw as a different kind of strength--one he wished he possessed. He was continually amazed at her ability to see wonder in the most mundane things. To capture joy in simple pleasures.
He opened his eyes when something brushed against his cheek. Kaylee had a long blade of grass in her hand, and couldn't hold back a giggle as he pulled her down beside him.
"You look happy," she said as she rested her head on his shoulder. Her bare feet were dusty, and her toenails were painted blue--Inara's handiwork he decided. His grey cargo pants were frayed around the cuffs, and he wanted to kick off his shoes as she had, and feel the cool grass between his toes.
"I think I am," he said as he threaded his fingers through hers.
"You ain't sure?" she asked, her tone teasing. He looked down at their hands, his fingers ghostly white against hers, even though this was the first time in a long while either of them had seen the sun.
"I am happy," he repeated, leaning towards her almost shyly. The wind kicked up, her hair blowing against her cheek. He reached up and stroked her jaw with his thumb, tracing the curve of her neck with his fingers. She leaned over, shifting her weight so she was on her side, clsoer to him. Her pink tongue darted out to moisten lips before he covered them with his.
The sun was warm on his hair and neck as he kissed her slowly, counting heartbeats as she sighed into his mouth. The birds continued to sing overhead as his thermos of tea cooled, and he let his hand drift down to cup her hip beneath the skirt which had bunched up slightly. Her knee pressed up against his, and he could feel the warmth of her thigh against his own.
"Good," she said as they parted, sounding satisfied.