I laid under a blanket, somewhere between being fully asleep and half awake. Without opening my eyes I knew that I was not in my bunk, and the sounds of the ship told me that I was on the long sofa outside the infirmary. Trying to remember why I was there and not in my bunk, little flashbacks from sitting by the bonfire the night before popped into my head. Wash had agreed to take me to Sagami first thing in the morning, and I was going to stay there until the following morning, when Wash would return. Simon had agreed that River could come with me to see Yoshi. River…she had been so pleased when she realised that we would get to spend a full day together alone for a change.
I sensed movement, and for a second couldn't figure out why it pleased me. Then I remembered. When the party around the bonfire had started to break up, we had ended up on the sofa in the passenger lounge. When I had started to fall asleep, Kaylee had gone and got a blanket to put over me. I had dozed off with River cuddled up in my arms, listening to Simon and Kaylee talking quietly.
River’s head rested on one arm, my other arm arm around her waist. Her hands in mine across her. As I had stirred and started to move, she had pulled me tighter around her. I fell back asleep, with a smile on my face.
I opened my eyes, to see River smiling at me, still wrapped in my arms facing me under the blanket. Silence all around us. I moved my legs, and could feel River’s entangled in mine. We laid there for a few minutes, not talking, just looking at each other. Slowly, we moved our heads, and kissed.
“Ahem! Morning you 2! Coffee’s bein’ brewed upstairs if you want some…”
How long we had lain there like that I don’t know, but Wash'd had the forethought to announce his presence from the aft passage stairs, just in case.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, I walked into the kitchen from the fore passage, at the same time as River walked in from the other end of the room. We stood and looked at each other and both had smiles from ear to ear.
“So… you 2’re going to be away from us eh? The Doc’s given his blessin’ I take it?”
I turned to see Mal looking non the worse for wear after the night before.
“Yeah, Simon’s given us his ok…”
From out of the blue, River’s next sentence stunned both me and Mal.
“Simon is allowing me to go on the provision that I do not instigate sexual relations between myself and Taylor. But, if that is the natural progression that our relationship is due to take, then Simon can rest assured that we will use adequate protection to prevent my pregnancy.”
“Wuh de tyen ah! River, there’re some thin's I jus’ don’t need to know, an' you decidin’ that your ‘time’ is right is one thin’ I don’t need to know 'bout….tyen…”
We packed a change of clothes, and sent a wave to Yoshi to tell him that we would be landing in a little under an hour. A brief farewell, a veiled warning to behave myself from Jayne, Shepherd, Zoe, and Simon, prompted Mal to jump to my defence, saying it wasn't me who should be told to behave, which raised grins from me and him and confusion in everyone else.
We watched the shuttle lift off from one of Yoshi’s courtyards. It had been years since I had been here last, and thankfully, the circumstances this time were a lot better for my being here. We started to walk up to the house, along a gravel path that bordered a small lake.
“The buildings are reminiscent of feudal Japan, from Earth-that-was. So is a lot of the plant life.”
“Yeah. Old man Masamune is descended from a very old Japanese family. And here he is now…”
From the small building in front of us, I saw Yoshi Masamune wave to us. He was dressed in traditional Yukata clothing. Despite being nearly sixty, he still had a power and grace in his stride, that betrayed a lifetime of training in martial arts.
“Taylor, its been to long my friend! And you have brought a guest too! Hello my dear, I hope my humble home will be satisfactory for the night?”
When I had first come here, with Hiro, I had done my best to learn Japanese. On my second visit, immediately after the war, I had stayed months, and thought that I had finally gotten to grasps with it…
“Masamune-San, your bed house will perfect for our stay be. Too long is correct for eyes not to see you again.”
“Ahhh, Taylor, it's nice to see that you are still trying, but maybe we should stick to English?”
From beside me, River’s voice seems to float on the breeze.
“I think what he was trying to say, in a rather haphazard way, is that your hospitality will be more than what we need for the night, and although I cannot speak for myself as this is our first meeting, perhaps I can speak for Taylor-San, when he says that your welcome is a sight for sore eyes to two weary travellers.”
The look of amazement on my face was matched by the one on Yoshi’s.
“My dear! It gladdens my heart to hear my native tongue spoken so eloquently. I was unaware that there are any moons where it is still in common use aside from here?”
“I learnt it as a child. My father thought that it would be beneficial to know as many languages as possible. For every moon in the ‘Verse, there seems to be a different dialect. To know as many as possible could not be seen to be a hindrance.”
I stood, completely amazed at learning another of her hidden talents.
“Well, Taylor, you have managed to make an old man very happy in your first few minutes of your visit already. Now come, let us eat, breakfast is prepared ready.”
As we followed Yoshi along the path, I turned to River…
“I didn’t know you spoke Japanese.”
“There are a lot of things about me that you don’t know. And over the years to come, I want you to learn everything about me, and I you."
We walked up the path hand in hand, and listened to the birds in the trees.
“So young man, what is it that brings you to my little corner of the ‘Verse?”
I cleared my throat.
“You once told me, that should I need a blade, then you’d provide me with one. Well, I think I’ll have need for one soon. I’ve come to make use of your talents Yoshi-San. I’m willin’ to pay whatever price you ask. Money’ll be no object.”
“Ahhh, I knew the day would come when you would ask. You need not offer payment Taylor. You were my son’s best friend. In all his letters, he spoke of you like a brother. I am indebted to you in fact. I can never repay the man that comforted my son in his final moments. I will have what you ask prepared for you before you leave in the morning, but there is just one final thing I wish to do.
She is truly a beautiful young woman Taylor. And there are a multitude of hidden depths to her, like an ocean. River is a fitting name.”
I joined him by the window. River stood watching Yoshi’s apprentice sword-smith sparring with one of the students of the school. His apprentice was in his mid-forties. To became a master sword-smith took a dedication spanning almost a lifetime. The students in the school now, would hopefully one day become apprentices’ themselves.
“Isn’t that what you taught me, ‘Kenjutsu’? He looks to be at master level already. An' the boy’s talented too.”
“Yes, that is what I taught you. And yes, Takeda is almost ready. When I retire, I can be assured my legacy will be in good hands. Why not go and spar a while. It will do you good to practice. I fear you wouldn’t have had much chance in the last few years, and Kata can only do so much, my friend.”
I made my way to the field where she sat watching the sparring. Her eyes followed every move, every swing and parry of the wooden ‘bokuto’ swords used for practice. We sat in silence, letting the warm sun heat our backs. When Takeda stopped, and waved in our direction for me to approach and replace the student, River stood and walked forward. Twenty minutes later, I was apologising to Takeda for the fact that River has managed to best him at his own game…
Evening came on quickly. The staff in the school lit scented lanterns as darkness fell. The smell of food cooking mingled with the scents from the flowers in the garden. River was approached by two of the elder female staff and was taken away. A few minutes later, I was taken to a room and allowed to change into attire more be-fitting a meal in such a setting.
When I walked into the dining room, there was a banquet laid out. But it wasn't the food that took my breath away. River stood in the centre of the room, looking stunning in a jade green mandarin dress, next to Yoshi.
“I am sorry I cannot stay to dine with you both, but, for your gift to be ready, I will be working through the night. A bed has been made for you, and you shall not be disturbed this evening. I bid you both good night.”
“Thank you Yoshi-San. For everythin‘. Goodnight.”
Two hours later, after we had eaten our fill, I walked hand in hand with River to the room where the bed space had been prepared.
“River, d'you remember the explanation you gave about why we blush?, about how ‘love’ can be thought to be visible?”
“Yes, I do. Why?”
“Well, I want you to realise, what I’m feelin’ for you now, is beyond butterflies in the belly. I know that Simon gave you a lecture about us behavin’ ‘cause he gave it to me too. I just want you to know, I don’t care how long we wait ‘fore ‘that’ happens. I’m just happy for every moment we spend with each other.”
She stood there, and looked at me. She had long since stopped being ‘little River, Simon’s sister’ to me. All I saw was 'River the beautiful young woman’.
She reached up to the fasteners of the dress on her shoulder, and started to unclasp them.
“Simon didn’t tell me to behave, he told me to be careful. So I intend to be careful, but maybe not behave…”… and she allowed the dress to fall to the floor...
The following morning, we were woken by the sounds of a brush being swept across the wooden decking outside the walls of the little bungalow. I moved under the blanket, and my skin tingled as it brushed against River’s. She rolled over in my arms, and I watched as her hair fell across her face. If my heart had stopped beating at that moment, I wouldn’t have minded. I had spent a night with the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I laid there debating if I should wake her to tell her how I felt.
“…you don’t need to say anything Taylor, I already know, and I love you too…” ...she said, without opening her eyes.
I grinned. Perhaps having a lover who knew what you’re thinking meant that the little silences wouldn’t be really silent after all…