**Part Twenty-One**

Word Count: 1,080
This is for the LJ community 50_baby_fics Prompt #41-Mystified

Mal stared out from the cargo bay certain he was seeing things. For the briefest moment, he wished it was him out there, walking away from Serenity with River by his side. Funny, he pictured things like that now where once not too long ago he never, ever imagined someone walking alongside him.

If he didn't know better there was a bit of a romance blossoming between the ship's doctor and the companion. It was subtle, and they weren't obvious about it, but the signs were there. Even if they didn't see them.

"The husband is correct."

"He is, huh?"


And then he realized what she'd said and that she'd been talking about him. "Well, I knew that. What does little sis have to say about such a development?"

"What's there to say? Simon is a grown man. Inara a grown woman. I cannot control how they occupy their time. Nor can you."

"I never said I could."

"What does Mal think of this development?"

He shrugged. "It's a bit perplexing, wouldn't think Simon would go for the type."

"And it has nothing to do with who she is?"

"What?" He turned to face her then, giving her his undivided attention. "If you're asking me if it's because it's Inara and not just any ol' companion my answer is no."

"You're sure?"

"Here we go again," he muttered. "I've told you at least half a dozen times it's not like that between me and Inara."

"I believe you."

"You get this look on your face that says different."

Mal glanced out again, Simon and Inara were fading into the distance now. He had to admit they'd make a fetching couple. Not that he believed they were to that point. He imagined with River not just acting normal-like for the most part but married and with a baby that Simon realized he needed to do something with himself out here. And Inara really didn't have anyone else on Serenity to enjoy and discuss the finer things she knew and was accustomed to. Certainly, nothing Mal could keep up with for very long. He couldn't blame either of them, only knew that if it went further than it was currently his mechanic was going to get her heart broken.

"I do not," she said.

"You do, too. It wasn't like that between us and it couldn't be like that between us."

"And yet, you look at her at times…"

"She's an attractive woman, River, trained to be excessively so. I'm not blind."

"If we weren't married?"

"It'd still never happen. She was on this boat long before you came along. I don't know what else you want me to say or do."

She looked away then, which was usually a sign that she had an answer to his question. Not that he'd really asked a question there. In a way he had, though.

"I just don't understand it."

"What?" she asked.

"How things work. Shepherd would probably say it's fate or God's will. I don't believe in the latter, not so sure about the former. Throw people together I suppose and things will eventually happen. Friendships, relationships form."


"Those, too. Like personalities are going to gravitate toward one another I suppose," he said with a final glance in the direction of the couple in question.

He faced her then and she looked away. Again. What was behind that? There were times being this close to a reader made him wish for some of her abilities. Just once he'd like to know what was going in that pretty head of hers. She glanced at him sharply then, eyes wide. He saw something akin to expectation in her eyes. He cleared his throat. Damn if he'd ever understand women in general, this one in particular.

They were married, slept next to one another, were intimate, and yet he'd be damned if he understood her any better than he had months ago. She talked and he listened, but she had little to talk about that was pleasant to think of given her past few years were spent in captivity. So, that left essentially her childhood and there wasn't much to discern there. She was a prodigy, a genius, one of those children that scared everyone else because they were just that good at everything they did.

In some ways, he felt like he was the one shaping her, making her into the person she was going to be. It was bothersome in a way. He wasn't cut out for such a task. He'd signed up for it, though. And temporary though the intent was at first it'd gone beyond that.

"One of these days," he muttered. What exactly he meant to say, he wasn't sure. He'd bought Serenity the intention being to remain free, a modern day pirate if you will, the wind constantly taking his boat where it willed. And somewhere along the line he'd found himself accumulate friends, and now the beginnings of roots. A wife, a baby that while not his by blood he was growing attached to every day. He scratched his head, not really liking where his thoughts were taking him today. All because Simon and Inara took a walk into town together? It made no sense.

"The answer you seek will come to you one day, Mal."

"You think so?"

"I know so. It's already there, you have only to look for and find it if you so desire," she said, ascending the steps that would take her away from him.

"Why don't you just tell me then if you already know?"

She stopped her ascent and turned to regard him. Clearly, she had the answers. He saw it written plainly on her face. "I cannot tell you what you are not ready to accept or even understand."

"Right," he said, not at all certain that he had any idea what she was going on about. Were they even talking about the same thing? Or was he thinking one thing, but her mind was picking up on another line of thinking on his part. He was going to say something more, but she was already gone.

"Damn women," he muttered, setting about clearing the cargo bay of the items he was set to deliver on this moon.

A little physical labor would help clear his mind, get it back on where it should be. Getting paid and finding more work. If possible, he'd get both accomplished today.

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