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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Their new passenger is settling in...
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 963 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
3. Stuck in the Middle With You
Simon and Kaylee offer to do the dishes. Ilargia watches them.
“They’re a sweet pair of kids, aren’t they?”
Mal reckons Simon hasn’t been called ‘kid’ in years. River laughs.
“Don’t know if the Doc would thank you for that, Ms Donovan.” says Mal. Jayne’s choking happily, storing that one away.
“Oh, I know. Bless him.” She stands. “Would you mind if I made tea?”
Mal is going to show her where the tea things are, but she’s already reaching up. Crew mostly drink coffee - tea was Inara’s preserve. Gives him a strange feeling to see someone else using the pot. She had her own special set for clients, but this was one that got used when she sat at table with them...
Inara was always so neat and graceful, so damn poised. Can’t imagine her running about the cargo deck in bare feet, waving a cleaning rod.
Gives Jayne an odd jolt, watchin’ her make tea for other folks. Like a punch he wasn’t expecting. Been turning over the memory of sitting in the kitchen with her, quiet like in his mind, through the day. Like he told Mal, he’s got manners; his ma taught him good, and just ’cos there’s little call for ’em in the normal run of things don’t mean he’s forgotten. An’ it was kinda nice to sit, without having to act mean.
Always reckoned on Core folks being different somehow. The crazy ain’t no guide, course, but her brother...Jayne didn’t like him from the get go. Made him feel stupid and dirty and foul-mouthed. Which was by way of being so, but still...Seemed to be their way, all clean and clever, and the rest of the ‘verse just dirt to be stood on. But Ms Donovan - Ilargia - she seems like regular folk. Smart and classy, but not stuck up, ready to sit and talk with a man, without treating him like he’s gonna jump at her.
‘Course, she don’t seem like she might mind if he did jump at her, but Mal’s been most specific about what will happen if there’s trouble.
Ilargia’s at home in the kitchen, quick assured movements, no ritual grace. She catches Mal’s look, laughs.
“The only tea ceremony I have any patience with is ‘milk or lemon?’”
He can’t figure if she means anything by that.
“You don’t drink coffee, then?”
“Oh, I prefer tea.”
“An’ besides, coffee makes you a crazy person.” Jayne puts in suddenly.
“I should never have told you about that.” She points at him, mock stern. Mal’s lost. Jayne’s grin widens.
“Oh, it’s a good little tale, Mal...”
“Don‘t you dare...”
“...involving a man ended up wearing his dinner.”
“It could happen again, Mr Cobb.” She laughs at him, with him.
“What’s with this ‘Mr Cobb’ business?” Mal’s amused.
“Remnants of a polite upbringing, Captain. You might try it sometime.” She’s pouring Jayne tea. Remembers how he likes it, too, shot and sugar.
“Aw, hell. Told you before, call me Jayne. Most everybody does.”
Mal knows he’s missed something. And he had to pour his own drink. Sniffs the flask.
“Hnng. What the hell is this stuff?”
“My own home brew. Exported without licence and deeply illegal.”
Woman’s full of surprises. Mal’s waiting for one to turn sour on him. Jayne’s entranced. Woman who can cook and has her own still. Fact that she’s a curvy little armful with long hair and wicked eyes don’t hurt neither.
Everyone is picking up on the after dinner cabaret now, settling themselves with cups and quiet grins. Zoe takes a sniff of the flask, sticks with her coffee. Ilargia grins at her.
“You can clean guns with it, too.”
“Seems an odd hobby for Core folk.”
“Some people juggle geese.” Zoe gives River a hard look, but she’s waving her fingers through the steam from her cup.
“It ain’t a skill I’d expect to find. Learn that at your college, too?” Mal’s fishing.
But she smiles at him, balancing her tea bowl in both hands and regarding him over it. Never met a woman with eyes that green.
“You want to know about me, Captain Reynolds, all you have to do is ask. Whole life is an open screen.”
“Just can‘t figure how a lady such as yourself ends up on the raggedy edge, is all.”
“It isn’t a story worth much. I was born into a world with a few too many rules and expectations, decided I could do with a few less. I was supposed to study economics and political theory at college, go into government service. But I got interested in history.” There’s cool intelligence watching him. “I got very good at working out what wasn’t being said. War never touched me, but I didn’t agree with it. I have a little problem with overbearing authority.”
Woman is starting to remind Mal most powerfully of Nandi, which is something he don’t care for.
“Are you going to be a problem to me and mine, Ms Donovan?”
“Aim not to be. Day or so, you drop me off on Hecate and our business is done. I’d rather we were friendly ‘til then. Besides,” suddenly, she’s smiling past him, “your security officer takes his job seriously.”
“My...” Mal turns in his seat. Sight of his mercenary not meeting anyone’s eye.
Security Officer. He’s never had a title before. Always been ‘crew’. On hand to dish out bullets or beatings as required. Do the heavy lifting. Ain’t a problem - he likes fighting just fine - but a man likes to be appreciated.
Ilargia yawns suddenly, laughs.
“My body clock is still completely buggered...I’m going to have to go to bed. Goodnight.” Gets to her feet. “Well, I’ll see you all in the morning...or whatever passes for it out here.”
Way Jayne’s watching after her don’t sit well with Mal.
Long as Mal’s known the man, he’s chased women most places they’ve been. But, putting it bluntly, they’ve been there for the chasing, and damn easy to catch for the right price. Prim little creature like her shouldn’t even register. (Mal likes graceful dancers, and he’s too wrapped in his own mind to notice a fall of soft hair, or eyes that don’t look past a man.) ‘Stead of which, great lunk is following her about like a gorram pet. He gives Jayne a quizzical look.
“S’just her joke.” Jayne growls. “Don’t want her thinkin’ I’m nothing but a violent, mannerless oaf.”
Mal stares at him.
“You are nothing but a violent mannerless oaf, Jayne.”
“I know, but I don’t want her thinkin’ that.”
“Are we gonna need another little talk, Jayne?”
“What I gather, she ain’t too keen on getting friendly with crew.”
“Petchko’s a chou sha gua.” Jayne puts his cup down. “I’m gonna have a little talk with him next time we cross paths.”
Man’s gone from sullen tolerance to knight errant in the space of a day.
“How d’you get hold of that piece of tattle?”
“She told me, dumbass. Likes us a helluva lot more’n Tanaka’s crew, an’ all. ‘Cept maybe you.”
“Thinks you’re a hardass.” says River cheerfully. In all senses. Doesn’t say what else Ilargia was thinking. Doesn’t think the Captain would approve of the thought about his pants. “Likes him, though. Thinks he‘s...interesting.”
“That’ll be one word for it.” Mal’s entertained. Jayne ain’t. Precious few secrets on a ship, ‘specially with the crazy. Doesn’t want people making fun, is all.
“She’s a real nice little woman.”
“I’m not sure you presenting her with your kills is quite as charming as you might believe, though.” Simon pours himself another coffee.
Jayne scowls at him.
“Ain’t presented her with nothin’. She likes my stories fine.” Scowl becomes a nasty grin. “Kid.”
Simon’s turn to scowl.
“Jayne’s got a cru-ush.” sings Kaylee.
“Never known you interested in just talking to a woman before.” Zoe joins in.
Jayne gets to his feet.
“Me an’ Ms Donovan get on just fine, without everyone else hornin’ in. You all got smutty minds, is what.” Stomps off to his bunk.
Kaylee bites her lip, ‘cos giggling would be bad.
“Has Jayne Cobb just accused us of havin’ low minds?” Zoe shakes her head, and there is almost the beginnings of a smile there.
“World must be endin’.” Mal agrees.
Has a little idea in mind, to put a spoke in Jayne’s wheel, come the morning.
Zoe looks at Mal’s grin.
“You made him to do the septic vacuum?”
“The job we were waiting to do when we had to lift off?”
“The job that’ll make him smell really bad?”
“That is...all kinds of evil. You are psychotic.”
Mal’s cheerful response to that dies in his throat. Zoe turns her head to see what has ruined his day.
The Alliance Customs cruiser is not inconspicuous, hanging in space like a whole heap of ugly.
Jayne is doing the job properly. Getting blown out the side of the ship in a cloud of frozen piss ain’t high on his ‘to-do’ list. But he knows that Mal is punishing him for something - just can’t quite figure out what. Seems like no-one can put a foot right on board since ‘Nara left. Reckons Mal should take some time out to get himself...
Something huge out past the side of the ship, all sorts of lights and alarms, and he nearly adds to the whole load.
There’s a hard fought chequers game in progress. Simon’s got Ilargia on the run, but Kaylee’s catching him up. River’s winning, of course.
Proximity alarm causes them all to pause, heavy metallic thump of docking. Zoe comes into the lounge, stone face giving nothing away as ever.
“Ms Donovan, will you come to the cargo bay?”
River can feel confusion and apprehension, begins to get restless. Simon soothes her, shoots a worried look at Kaylee.
“No time for a space walk - have to duck out - lock a shuttle down.” Mal says, quick and quiet, striding past. Collects Ilargia by an elbow, makes her miss a step.
Time to find out what kind of go se Badger’s dropped them in this time.
Boarding party consists of three men in smart uniform. And a half dozen guns poking round the door frame.
“Man would like a word.” says Mal tightly, “Captain Chang...”
She’s out of his grip, striding forward. Man’s tight official mask cracks into a smile.
“Gia, I thought it had to be you.”
Mal’s been left standing on the deck like a gorram spare part. The guns and goons have all taken themselves away, ‘cos it’s turned into some rutting mutual admiration society.
Captain’s showing his bars, and she’s admiring them, buffs them with her cuff.
“I see you got a promotion. Does this mean I can hitch a lift with you next time, instead of paying commercial rates?”
“No, it does not. Are you still living out on Hecate?”
“That I am, as I’m sure it says on the little file you have. But Hecate, beautiful and bucolic as it is, lacks certain things that make life worth living, so yours truly has been doing the groceries...for the whole damn town.”
The tone is just right, wry and funny. Captain Chang sniggers.
“I have the manifest. These are all your crates?”
“Yes.” She runs a critical eye over them. “Do you need to open any of them?”
He scans the list, eyes the nearest crate. Hands the papers dismissively to Mal.
“Seems to be in order. Pass on by...oh, I’ve had a wave from Chandra - class reunion in the summer. Do you think you could tear yourself away from rusticating and grace us with your presence this year?”
“I’ll give it serious consideration. Unless my pi gu ex-husband is there.”
“You don’t change, do you?”
“The effects of my environment.” She’s escorting him to the door.
“And what an environment.” Looks about him. “Couldn’t you find a better way to travel?”
“I’m soaking up the local colour. Living history.”
“Throwback. Well, take care of yourself in the boonies.”
“See you, Patrick. Love to Casey.”
The door shuts, and pressure seals snap off. So does Ilargia’s smile.
“Wanker.” she says, then grins weakly. “I suppose he’s not that bad for a brass hat, but a class reunion - tien ah. Corporate climbers bragging about careers and kids.”
They are all staring at her. Com crackles.
“Docking released, and we’re green to go.” Kaylee sounds all kinds of surprised.
“Old friend?” Mal manages.
“We were at college together.” Stretches her neck. “Well, that was all kinds of lucky that he’s still on this route. Hoped he would be.”
“I’m glad you’re such a trustworthy woman, Ms Donovan.”
“So am I, Captain. Wouldn’t want the Alliance sniffing about the hold, would we?”
She gives him the tired kind of look he usually gets from River.
“You do remember that we were introduced by Mr Badger, Captain? Whilst he is a dear little man, I suspect that he is not always honest. Don’t know what you’ve got stored, and don’t care to.”
Jayne can’t believe she just talked some high-rank brass off the deck easy as smiling. Watches her walk up the stairs with admiration.
Mal looks after her with quite different intent.
“Who the gorram hell we got on board, Zoe?”
Ilargia pauses at the top of the stairs. Gives a rueful grimace; her hands are shaking.
“Plausible deniability.” Quiet whisper makes her jump. River’s slipped Simon’s hold, leaning over the rail above her. She and Ilargia look at each other a long beat, then River puts a finger over her lips, dances away.
Ilargia can feel the sweat between her shoulder blades. Too damn close.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 4:30 AM
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