Sign Up | Log In
BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal’s moving backward fast, but learning as he goes, then – Wash gets to run a job for a change. Of course, it doesn't go smooth.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1245 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I’m just playing.
Rating: PG to NC17. I will not put warnings on each chapter, because I don’t want to give things away. In general, don’t be getting into any of this if you’re not prepared for adult storylines, violence, explicit sexual content, and - oh my - bad words.
Many thanks: to several fireflyfans.net members: LEEH and VERA2529 for hours of beta reading and entertaining discussions of many things. LEIASKY, TAMSIBLING, and LEIGHKOHL provided additional beta time on the early chapters. The talented MPHILLIPS did the lovely artwork. (Ain’t it nice?) FEI and www.chinesetools.com provided many colorful Chinese phrases. One of AMDOBELL fine fics provided a useful plot bunny. (I won’t tell which yet!) Finally – kudos to GUILDSISTER for her inspirational fic The Blue Sun Job.
Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ) and Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ). Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.
Chapter 8/14: Wash
Mal’s moving backward fast, but learning as he goes, then – Wash gets to run a job for a change. Of course, it doesn't go smooth.
The background murmur of lilting music, shuffling feet, and tasteful, polite laughter falls to a sudden silence when Mal punches Atherton Wing.
“I guess this is my kind of party!” Mal says joyfully, but the dark brown eyes he looks into are so familiar and so unknown that he’s startled right out of his festive mood.
And, apparently, out of the party.
He finds himself sitting at a rough wooden table across from Badger. Jayne is next to him, wearing a cowboy hat and stuffing his face with little cakes.
“Hurt our feelings,” Jayne says to Badger, then he slurps his tea/wood alcohol.
“You recall why that took place?” Mal asks, slipping into the talk as if he’s been a part of it all along. But his mind is working; he’s crunching away on something that doesn’t sit right. How exactly had he got here from the party?
Hang on – had that party even happened yet? Wasn’t that the whole reason he was here jawing with Badger? To find out about it?
“I had a problem with your attitude, is why,” Badger says. “Felt you was… what's the word…?”
“Pretentious?” Jayne offers, but Mal’s too busy to be properly annoyed. He squints up at the slatted ceiling, at the hazy sunlight that’s pouring into the otherwise gloomy little den. The light is bright, shining a diffuse golden-white.
“Exactly,” Badger continues. “You think you’re better’n people.”
Mal opens his mouth, but he doesn’t speak. The light reminds him of something. The hazy light, the sudden change of venue… these are familiar to him…
“Mal,” Jayne whispers hoarsely. “You payin’ attention?”
Mal lowers his eyes to the merc, but still doesn’t answer. He’s trying to recall… a place where impossible things can happen, where time can run backwards or sideways or any damn way it pleases and he might blink and find himself in a whole new situation without a bit of warning.
Jayne whispers slow and clear, like he’s giving Mal a cue. “You’re supposed to say – ‘Only the people I’m better than.’”
Mal continues to stare at Jayne blankly, then looks toward Badger. The little man shakes his head and waves a hand dismissively. “S’no use,” he mutters. “Gorramn fool’s got no idea what’s ‘appening. Head `alfway up his ass.”
“I think he knows,” Jayne says, then he leans closer to Mal, his face serious. “Don’cha, Cap’n? You know exactly what’s goin’ on.”
Mal looks up at the light again , then it comes to him. He slaps his palm against the table and stands up suddenly, knocking his chair back. “You ain’t real!” he says. “Neither a’ you. I’m dreamin’ again!”
Jayne leans back and grins. “You’re gettin’ better at this.”
Badger is looking happy too, but his smile is aimed at two crystal clear multi-faceted gems that fill the grimy palm of his hand. “Diamonds the size a’ testicles,” he proudly proclaims.
Mal glares at him, then figures: what the hell good is a waking dream if you don’t have fun with it? He draws and shoots Badger square in the forehead.
Jayne nabs the diamonds before the corpse that used to be Badger can drop them. “Eat `em to make you horny,” the merc says to himself, the sparkle in his eye bright enough to match that of the jewels. He tests one of the stones between his back teeth, then looks up at Mal.
“Time to get up,” he says, but the voice coming out his mouth isn’t his. It’s Zoë’s, and sounds tinny and electronic. Jayne doesn’t seem to notice the problem; he keeps talking with the wrong voice.
“We got a job to do, sir. Are you awake?”
Mal rolled onto his stomach, then crawled halfway up his bunk so he could reach the comm panel.
“I am,” he replied. “Be right up.”
He immediately tunneled back under the blanket, wanting to return to a dream that he couldn’t quite capture but he knew had been entertaining. All he could dredge up were disconnected flashes: sharp swords, frilly dresses, wood alcohol spiked tea, huge diamonds, dead Badger. He couldn’t make sense of it, except to figure that he was still nettled with Badger over those marked foodstuffs he’d been stuck with a while back.
After a few minutes, he gave up and threw the covers aside, hurrying to dress in the chill air. He had goods to deliver on Persephone today. Maybe he’d take the crew along so they could do some shopping. And – he reminded himself – he should try to avoid running into Badger, lest that shooting part of his dream come true. He didn’t need to put himself and his crew on the run.
It was best to drop off the cargo quick and be gone. No time to kiss the dirt.
Wash crouched beside a closed cabinet in the pantry. He’d tried opening it a few times, only to have it snatched away from him by a small hand that held a tight grip on the inside latch. Normally, he’d be fine to leave a drawer monster in its lair, but he needed something from the cabinet, and he needed it now. He tried again, slipping a hand around the edge of the door to try and pry it open, but sharp little nails pinched his fingertips and he pulled his hand back with a yelp.
“Go away!” River’s muffled voice demanded.
Wash sighed and settled onto his rear. This really wasn’t his thing, trying to reason with River when she was in one of her moods, but everyone else was busy. Simon and Kaylee were plotting the hospital visit, and Zoë was with Mal, explaining – as she often did these days – how today was going to be very much different from what he’d woken up expecting. Jayne, of course, wouldn’t react kindly to River getting in the way of business, and was likely to deal with it with a heavier hand than Wash would like. Book might have been helpful, but the Shepherd hadn’t been around this morning. Maybe he was trying to avoid involvement in the day’s criminal activities.
All of which meant that Wash was the only one left to calm the beast. Force wasn’t working – maybe reason.
“River, honey, why have you taken over the cupboard?”
“That only works if you have someone to seek, and I don’t see anyone –”
“Don’t want to be found.”
“Huh. OK, I promise that I’m not trying to find you and I won’t tell. But I really need to get in there.”
She didn’t answer. He sighed heavily, then decided on a different tactic. “Can I tempt you with a bribe?”
There was a moment of quiet, then a word of interest. “Bribe?”
“Um… dinosaurs. Hours of fun, and I don’t share them with just anyone.”
The reply was dismissive. “For intellectual juveniles. I’m a grown-up.”
Though she couldn’t see him, Wash made a face in response. “Look, River, I really have to get those clothes. The captain, Zoë and Kaylee need to be dressed up, or they won’t make it into the hospital without being noticed. Do you want them to get arrested?”
She didn’t answer, and Wash began (to his shame) to consider fetching Jayne to muscle his way in. But then the door opened a crack. Pieces of dark blue clothing squeezed out, one by one, and Wash gathered them up. He held the medic uniforms in his arms, ready to go on with the day’s business now, but some bit of concern for River made him hesitate.
“So,” he asked, “is there any particular reason you don’t want to be found?”
Her reply was hushed. “Giving them space to set up.”
“Set up what?”
“Party,” she said, her voice a conspiratorial whisper.
“Party? Oh yeah, I heard about that. Guess the surprise is out.”
River made a dismissive pff sound. “Can’t surprise me. I know everything.”
Wash shook his head. The day ahead was full; maybe no one had explained to River exactly how full. He didn’t want to see her disappointed. If things went bad – as tended to happen – he didn’t want the poor girl hiding in the cabinet all day and night, waiting for a party that never got started.
“River? You should be prepared. With all that’s going on today, the festivities may get delayed.”
There was a pause while she thought about it. “Delayed?” she asked, a little worry in her voice.
“It’s very possible we’ll be busy running for our lives.”
The cabinet door slowly pushed open. Not a lot, but enough that he could tilt his head and see two eyes glinting in the dim light.
“But don’t worry,” he added. “Belated birthdays are much better. Everyone feels so guilty that the gifts are fantastic.”
She replied with a little smile. Funny how drawing that teeny bit of a happy out of her gave him such a warm fuzzy feeling. It made him want to do more.
“Why don’t you come out? It’s not everyday you get to see Mal playing dress-up.” He held up one of the medic suits as a temptation, but his attempt went wide of the mark. Her smile fell at the mention of the captain.
“No,” she replied, then ran a hand against the side panel of her small enclosure. “Maybe later. Dark is cozy.”
She did look cozy in there, nested in a pile of towels and cast off clothing, like a cat in its favorite napping spot.
“So you want this closed?” he asked, one hand on the door.
“Yes. Thank you.”
Wash wanted to give Zoë as much time as possible with Mal, so he took the medic suit that he’d worn on Ariel and left the others on the dining room table. Zoë and Mal had suits already fitted to them; Kaylee would have to do with the one he’d worn himself. It would fit better than Jayne’s, anyway.
He found the mechanic seated at a stool next to Simon in the infirmary, both of them intently studying a diagram on the cortex screen. Wash sighed – their stools were slid apart, keeping a careful space between them, as if they were afraid to touch. But they were in the same room together, and that was something.
Simon lifted his head when he noticed Wash. “How is Mal doing?” he asked, getting to business without even a hello.
“I’m not sure,” Wash replied. “I’m staying out of that part.” He plopped the EMT suit onto the counter next to Kaylee.
“Does he remember anythin'?” she asked, worry in her eyes. “Is he still mad at me?”
“You’re clear,” Wash said. “We all are.”
Kaylee sighed in relief, and he shared the feeling – Mal had been an ugly mood last night when he’d found out about the plan with the imager. The only way Zoë’d got him to cool down was to promise that it wouldn’t happen, that they’d talk about it more and come up with a new plan in the morning. It hadn’t been such an honest thing to pull, given that Mal wasn’t likely to remember any of it after he slept, but what else could she have done?
And her ploy had worked - Mal'd woken up without a clue.
“You ready to go?” Wash asked, looking at the diagram they’d been studying. It was a building map – the hospital.
“Just about,” Kaylee said. Her eyes passed over Simon with a friendly warmth before she looked at Wash. “I just wanna go over the imager controls one more time,” she added, “then I’ll suit up.”
Wash was cheered by that – despite the way these two were keeping themselves at a distance, something had changed between them.
Simon also looked like his mood had lifted; he smiled at Kaylee. “We’ve gone over everything plenty of times,” he told her. “You’re going to do fine. And I’ll be on the line if you need any help with the imager.”
Kaylee nodded and smiled, but didn't make any reply. They were like a couple of flirting teenagers, Wash thought, and he was about to leave them to it when he remembered River. “One more thing, Doc,” he said. “Thought you might like to know – your sister has moved into the pantry.”
“The pantry?” Simon asked.
“She wants to make sure you’ll have all the privacy you need to set up her birthday party.”
A fond smile warmed Simon’s face. “That’s thoughtful of her.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be able to pull that off today?” Wash asked. “Because she’s sounding pretty expectant.”
Simon shrugged, but then he grinned like he was fairly pleased with himself. “I stocked up on everything I needed some time ago. I figured there was a good chance we’d be up to our noses in crime and mortal danger when the day came.”
“Just keep in mind that we may be leaving in a hurry,” Wash said as he stepped out the hatch, “with a fanfare of projectiles and bad guys on our tail as usual.”
Simon looked thoughtful, but Wash didn't wait around for a reply. He jogged up the stairs, though he wasn’t looking forward to seeing how things were going with Zoë and Mal.
The captain had come out of his bunk an hour ago talking about making a quick drop on Persephone. What had followed was fast becoming Zoë’s daily routine: first, with carefully worded questions, she worked out Mal’s idea of where and when he was. Then she came up with a compelling reason that the plans for the day had changed, and did her best to convince Mal of it.
This time, Zoë had been prepared in advance; she and Wash had come up with a story last night. Apparently, Bernoulli – who’d got them the job on Canton and had always been a steady contact – had waved sometime in the night with a cherry of a job they couldn’t pass by. Some data needed to be retrieved from a hospital’s computer. Nothing secret, so security around it was minimum. Mal, Kaylee, and Zoë would go after it, wearing medic suits that Simon had acquired overnight. (Their fingers were crossed that Mal wouldn’t ask too much about that last part.)
As for how Zoë would deal with Mal's obvious dislike of the holo-imager… that was still a mystery. But it was Zoë’s problem to solve; Wash had his own duties today.
He grabbed the two remaining suits from the table and climbed the stairs leading up to the bridge, where Zoë’d taken Mal for privacy. He paused outside the hatch when he heard Zoë’s voice; she was making an argument that was, by now, familiar.
“Captain, sometimes plans need to change. This new job is real easy. We got suits to wear, so no one’ll even look at us. Simon knows everything about the place, he’s settin' Kaylee up right now.”
“But why didn’t you tell me up when the wave came in?” Mal asked. “You know I handle the business.”
“You’d gone to bed already. Anyway, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Of course I mind,” Mal said, saying each word slow and clear. He was sounding deeply annoyed, his don’t mess with me, I’m the captain attitude coming on thick. “Call Bernoulli right back and tell him we need more notice.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why the hell not?”
“He’s… out of reach for the rest of the day.”
Mal snorted. “Out of reach? He gave us a job and disappeared, and you don’t see a problem?”
Wash leaned against the edge of the hatchway, careful to stay out of sight. There was no way he’d walk in on this before Zoë settled it, but now that he’d heard this much, curiosity wouldn’t allow him to slink away. Besides, listening in was the only way he’d find out what was happening between his wife and Mal these days. Zoë never talked about it, not in any real detail.
And I’m just silly enough to think it’s my business, he thought to himself bitterly.
“Captain,” Zoë said, her voice tired. “We never had any problem with Bernoulli before. This job is safe, but I don’t have time to go over every bit of it right now. Could you please, just this once, trust me?”
Wash thought that might be it, but after a long silence, Mal spoke again, his voice sounding just as tired as Zoë’s.
“Zoë, you know I trust you… Look, I ain’t never had to talk to you `bout this, because there never was need. We’ve always had a system. You and me – we worked it out pretty early on that I do things my own way. Now… I ain’t ever closed my ears to you when you had something to say, but I thought you understood. There’s gotta be one person in charge, and that’s me. You made that choice yourself, long time ago.”
Zoë’s voice was strong, but it was the kind of firmness that spoke of desperation, like she had to get this settled and was ready to fight dirty. “Captain, maybe… maybe I got second thoughts. Maybe I wanna arrange something myself, from time to time.”
Wash expected some sort of explosion from Mal, a stern lecture on who was in charge, but all he heard was the pilot’s chair creak as someone sat down heavily. It had to be Mal – the captain’s voice was diminished when he replied.
“That may be. But it’s still my ship. I can’t have somebody changing plans behind my back, without even talking to me. Not even you.”
“It don’t matter,” Zoë said, her voice hard. “I said we’d do this. We don’t pull it off, we’ll have some powerful folk asking why not. You got no choice but to go along.”
Wash let out his held breath, trying to do it quietly. Since the day he’d walked on to this ship, he’d never expected to hear Zoë pulling one over on Mal like that. She’d always walked soft around him, even in things that shouldn't have been any of Mal's business.
Four years ago
Wash acts as post-coital mattress for as long as he can. With Zoë, that’s not very long. She’s a solid woman, and it’s difficult to catch his breath with her sprawled on top of him.
They’re in her bunk. That’s gotten to be a habit; he’s here so often that his own bunk is pretty much bare while Zoë’s is overflowing with the belongings of two people. Her narrow cot is overfull as well.
“Do you think we could get a bigger bed in here?” he asks as he slides sideways, letting Zoë’s now pliant body settle into what space opens beside him. She replies only with a sated grumble.
“Even better,” he continues, “why don’t I just move the last of my stuff over? I live here anyway, let’s just admit it.”
That’s enough to rouse her. She lifts her head and blinks at him a few times, as if trying to work out if he’s serious.
“Captain don’t exactly approve of all this,” she says.
“Now that you mention it,” Wash replies with as much irony as he pack into his voice. “I may have picked up on that. Wasn’t easy – Mal’s such a subtle guy.”
Zoë sighs. She never does go for any jibe on Mal; it’s the one sticking point in an otherwise flawless affair.
“Can’t we enjoy this without complicatin’ it?” she asks, and tries to turn onto her back. She can only manage it by nearly pushing Wash over the edge of the cot, so he props himself up on his elbow to hover partly over her.
“It wouldn’t be a complication,” he says. “It’d be a lot simpler.”
Zoë keeps her eyes closed, as if her sleepiness will end the discussion. “I don’t want to shove this in his face. He has enough to worry on.”
“And we don’t? We’re grown-ups, Zoë. We can leave the same bunk and walk in on breakfast together without getting grounded. Or we should be able to.”
She doesn’t reply, but he feels her body tighten and pull away from him the slightest bit. He tenses up himself – what is it with Mal and Zoë? He’s tried to find out, asking all kinds of sneaky questions, but Zoë skirts them with a deftness he can’t keep up with. Or, more often, denies him with a bluntness she doesn’t even bother to hide. She refuses to talk about Mal, other than to state, in no uncertain terms, that the captain is in charge.
“Look,” Wash says, “I understand he’s protective. He’s known you a long time, and it makes sense that he wouldn’t want a slick, good-looking man like myself to come along and break your delicate heart.” He traces a figure over the still sweaty skin of her chest, then lays his hand over her breastbone, like he’s protecting what’s inside. Just to let her know that it wouldn’t happen.
“It ain’t like that,” Zoë says, but she doesn’t explain any more.
“So how about you make an honest man of me?” Wash asks, surprisingly the hell out of himself with the question.
Zoë’s eyes fly open, and the look she gives him is long and doubtful. “How exactly would I go about doin’ that?”
“You know… the whole ‘to have and to hold’ thing.”
Zoë props herself up so she can look at him better. She’s fully awake now. “You mean get married? You want us to get married?” She sounds almost amused at the idea. It’s not the reaction he’d have hoped for, if he’d taken the time to form hopes.
Zoë must see the disappointment in his face. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s just… I ain’t exactly expectin’ this. You want me to be your wife?”
Wash is momentarily stunned. How he could not want this incredible woman in his life, as much as possible and for as long as possible? How could she be shocked to know it?
Before he can explain that to her, she starts setting down her terms. “I ain’t gonna cook. I don’t clean. I don’t dress up fancy. I ain’t exactly in a bright and shiny mood all the time. And I don’t ever –”
“Whatever,” Wash interrupts, and he slides on top of her; it’s her turn to be the mattress. “I don’t care about all that. I just want you in my bed as much as possible.”
Zoë snorts and grins. “I thought you were plannin’ on movin’ into my bunk.”
“If we got married, we could lay claim on the biggest bunk.”
“Captain’d never go for that,” she says, then her smile starts to fade, replaced by something sad.
Wash sighs and drops his head onto her shoulder. He doesn’t intend to let this go so easily. “Fine,” he says. “I understand. You and Mal... you both need your brooding time. If we were married and living in the same bunk, you’d have to cut way back. I can imagine how it would be – me in your way all the time, wanting to cuddle up in our big bed, and all my things here, my dinosaurs on display and my clothes cheering up your dreary closet. It’d sure be hard for you to be moody. Really, I understand. It’d be too much of a lifestyle change.”
He lifts his head a little to see if his strategy is working. It is; Zoë’s staring at the ceiling thoughtfully, but the corner of her mouth is pulling to the side as she fights a smile.
“I mean really,” he goes on, “What kind of idiot would want non-stop sex and entertainment when she could stay by herself in a small, dark cave and glower moodily all day–”
“All right, cut it out,” she says. Her words are sharp but her face has given in to the smile. “I’ll talk to the captain.”
“Really?” Wash asks hopefully. Zoë saying she’ll talk to Mal is as much as he can hope to hear – it’s about as good as a breathlessly joyful “Yes, I will!” from another kind of woman.
Zoë’s eyes meet his. “Guess I could do with less broodin’ time.”
“Hmm. But then… you might lose all your sex appeal–” Wash starts. He doesn’t get to finish. Zoë wraps her arms and legs around him and tries her best to roll. He can tell that the wrestling match to follow is going to be hard for the little bed to contain.
The silence from the bridge was almost painful; there wasn’t even a whisper of movement. Mal wasn’t saying anything aloud, but he must have been giving Zoë one hell of a stare.
“Sir, you can take my head off all you want when we get back,” Zoë finally said, “but right now, we don’t have time. Simon got into the hospital’s schedules – the system Kaylee’s gonna be hacking is sittin’ idle just over an hour from now. That’s our best chance to get in. Wash’ll be bringing the medic suits, and Kaylee should be about ready, so as soon as we get changed we can move out.”
Wash figured it was time. He silently backed down the stairs, then clumped his feet against the grill as he climbed up again, making sure that they knew he was coming.
“Disguises!” he called out. “Get your paramedic disguises right here!”
He found Mal just where he’d pictured him: sitting in the pilot’s seat, arms folded and an expression of barely controlled rage on his face. Zoë stood by the co-pilot’s console, arms matching Mal’s but her eyes sending thanks to Wash for intervening.
“Get them now or the price goes up!” Wash said, determined to break through the mood.
“Sir,” Zoë said, her voice cool and even. “How about you get changed and meet me down in the cargo bay. I’ll be along in a few.”
Mal stood up, facing Zoë. “We are gonna have one long talk when this is over,” he said stiffly.
“I understand,” Zoë replied.
Wash held out a suit, but stayed well to the side as Mal grabbed it and went by.
“Leave it,” Zoë grumbled from where she sat on the bed that nearly filled their cabin.
“It’s choking me!” Wash replied, pulling at the collar again. “I mean, really, how does he save lives when he can’t even breath?”
“Just don’t think about it,” Zoë said, looking up at him. “You look real official and respectful, and that’s what we need.”
“Sure, respectful. Until I turn purple and pass out.”
“Please don’t, dear. You have to make the contact and sell that stuff. I don’t know how Mal’s gonna handle this – there’s a good chance we’ll be wantin’ to get out of here on the quick side, and go as far as we can.”
Wash nodded his understanding, suddenly feeling sober. They had enough fuel to set them to moving, but, if they planned on getting any useful distance from Londinium, the level of the tanks would be a problem. And they could only fix that if they got some money out of Badger's cargo.
He turned from the mirror to watch Zoë pull her hair back. She swore when a few thick strands got caught in the tie, then yanked at it impatiently, making the tangle worse.
No doubt about it, Wash thought, his wife was on edge. Nervous, even.
“Let me do that,” he said, and he batted her hands away. Zoë didn’t say anything, but let him take over. Gently, he worked out the knot in her hair, imagining the much messier tangle of thoughts which must be taking up the inside of her head. The next few hours were going to be a handful for Zoë. She was responsible for the survival of the crew, and she had to juggle two simultaneous jobs and one confused but still bossy and overbearing captain. Wash meant to do all he could to help her.
He used his fingers to comb her hair back into a low ponytail, and after he carefully fastened it, he leaned forward to kiss the crown of her head.
“Don’t fret, my sweet dove,” he said. “Sugar daddy’s here.”
His words managed to surprise a snort out of her. “Sugar daddy?”
“That’s right. The money part will be all taken care of.”
Zoë turned to face him, a smile relieving the tension on her face. “Thanks for doin’ it, honey. I didn’t want to put it on you –”
“Hey,” he replied, looking her in the eye. “Don’t worry. I can do this.”
“I know. I’m just sorry I ain’t sendin’ you with better company.”
They were interrupted by a pounding at the hatch, and Jayne’s raised voice. “You in there? Let’s go! Time to meet the whores!”
“I am really, really sorry,” Zoë repeated.
“You can make it up later,” Wash offered graciously. “I’ll consider us even if you tear this vest off me.”
“I think I can manage that,” she said, laying a hand on his chest and leaning closer, but another loud knock came from above before she could do anything more.
“You hearin’ me?” Jayne yelled. “Time to go!”
Wash sighed. “I’m in charge, right?”
Zoë stood and grabbed the cap that went with her medic uniform. “I told him, with all the proper threats, that you’re the boss of this run. He seemed okay with that.”
“Really?” Wash asked, surprised that Jayne would give in.
“I think he’d rather focus on the ladies than the job.”
“Nah, that’s not it. He just recognizes my negotiation skills. My talents as a salesperson. Jayne respects me. Knows I’m a good boss.”
Zoë didn’t seem to find that worth arguing; she just pushed him toward the ladder.
“Jayne,” Wash said as he emerged from his bunk and followed the merc into the dining room, “we’re supposed to look like businessmen, not clergy.”
Jayne had his nicest pair of black trousers on, but he’d paired them with one of Book’s high-collared gray coats. “I ain’t wearing that gorramn purple no more,” he replied, then he patted the jacket. “This’ll do just fine.”
“It ain’t a bad idea, actually,” Zoe said from behind Wash. “You’ll be carryin’ paperwork from a monastery, so it makes sense to dress as a Shepherd.”
“But Jayne? Trying to pass as clergy?” Wash said skeptically. “It won’t take a trained Companion to see through that.”
“Now – not all clergy is dullards,” Jayne said. “And not all pass on what workin’ ladies have to offer.”
“You’ve done research into your role?” Wash asked dubiously.
Jayne thumped down into a chair at the table. “I talk to the Shepherd lots. He says they don’t cut it off or nothin’, and there ain’t no reason a man of God can’t do a little worshippin’ of the female form if he wants. It’s a personal choice.” He ended his lecture with a knowledgable nod.
“Where’s Mal?” Zoë asked impatiently.
“Ready to go,” Jayne replied. “Come in a few minutes ago, and said he’d meet us in the cargo bay. Looked mad as hell. I’m glad I ain’t the one dealin’ with him.”
Zoë ignored that last part and stuck to business. “You all set with what you n’ Wash are out to do?”
“Ain’t a problem.”
“All right, then, let’s – ”
She was interrupted by Shepherd Book. He leaned in the aft hatch, his breath coming a little short as if he’d just run up the stairs. “Zoë, we have a problem,” he said. “Mal fell asleep.”
“He was sitting on the steps in the cargo bay, looking mighty angry, so I let him be. Next time I looked in, he was out. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes, and I woke him, but…”
“Looks that way. He was heading this way - up the fore stairs.”
Zoë dropped her head in her hands in frustration, but it was only a second before she looked up and spoke firmly.
“All right, you all take the back way to the infirmary. Keep Simon and Kaylee there, and if you see River get her out of the way. I don’t want Mal seein’ anyone – especially not you two dressed up like you are. I got enough to explain. I’ll keep him on the upper deck, get him out of sight. Wash, if the bay’s clear, you and Jayne get going. Make the delivery and get back here, fast as you can.”
“Some crew we’re gettin’ to be,” Jayne muttered, “the gorramn captain, fallin’ asleep in the middle of a job.” He shook his head as he grabbed the gray box and headed toward the aft hatch, following after the Shepherd.
“Wash,” Zoë called out, and she motioned for him to stay put for a second. She stepped close and spoke to him softly, but her eyes had a kind of hardness that made him a wee bit uneasy. “If by some slim chance you come across Inara in that House,” she said, “not a word about Mal.” Wash opened his mouth, but she didn’t let him speak. “She made her choice, and she ain’t welcome here. If you find yourself needin’ to make that clear to her, do it.”
Zoë turned toward the fore hatch without waiting for a reply.
Wash hurried below decks to find Book explaining the situation to Simon. Kaylee was having a quiet word with Jayne, and Wash saw her slip him a small white envelope. Funny time to thinking about pen pals, Wash thought to himself.
He glanced into the cargo bay; Mal was there, talking to Zoë on the catwalk, so Wash went back to the common room. They settled to wait, except Kaylee and Simon, who took a last chance to review.
Then something odd happened – despite Zoë’s plan to keep Mal busy upstairs, the captain came in from the cargo bay at a flat-out run. He hardly glanced at Wash and Jayne, just rushed to the infirmary hatch and froze, staring inside.
Zoë was a few steps behind the captain. “Go,” she told Wash in a lowered voice.
“But... what…?” Wash stuttered.
“But… how…?” Mal said at roughly the same time, and he turned to look at Zoë with his mouth hanging open.
“Just go,” Zoë told Wash in a firm whisper. “Now!”
Wash nodded and led Jayne off the ship.
Wash sighed, but as much as he would have liked to shush the merc, they had to stay in character now. They'd made it to the Companion House without incident (only one short pause at a postbox they passed.)
Jayne wasn’t doing too bad so far; he’d kept his voice down and hadn’t made a fuss when Wash turned down the offer of cocktails, asking for tea instead. Of course, it could be that Jayne’s brain was too busy running his eyes to handle anything else.
They were seated in a small but luxurious parlor, the gray refrigerated box on the table in front of them. The woman who'd greeted them had taken one look at the box's contents and disappeared with the Certificate of Origin which Book had provided. There hadn’t been any sight or mention of Inara. Not that Wash expected it – Inara had been based on Sihnon, not here on Londinium. He was more than glad about that; he had plenty to sort out without getting in the middle of an argument between his wife and Inara.
He was having a strong feeling that the job wasn't going to turn out well. He couldn’t put a finger on it... Maybe it was the lukewarm welcome he and Jayne had received; the ladies of the House didn’t seem to have been expecting them. Not that it was easy to tell with trained Companions, and Wash certainly hadn't ever been the best at reading women...
Five years ago
Wash isn’t getting much assistance from his assistant. There’s a lot of fixing to be done before this extremely rough diamond of a boat will fly the way he means to fly it. The ship’s mechanic is the one who should be doing the majority of the work, but it hasn't been going that way.
“Bester,” Wash says, and he rolls out from under the console enough to see the young man sitting against the aft bulkhead of the bridge. “Throw me some 18 gauge wire. About… half a meter of it.”
Bester frowns in the open-mouthed way he has. “Eighteen?” he asks. “Whad’ya need that for?”
“To connect the hydraulics to the console.”
Bester looks aside as he thinks about it, his mouth still hanging open. “But... why ya wanna do that?”
Wash's impatience grows. “Helps me fly the ship. You know – pilot has controls, controls make the ship fly...”
“You don’t need no line to the hydraulics. Ain’t no ship I ever been on had that.”
Wash sighs. “Could you just get the wire?”
“Okay,” Bester says with a doubtful shrug, and he starts routing through a box. “Hey,” he says as he digs. “You think Zoë’s into music? Think that might get her in the mood?”
Wash sighs again. He’s continually amazed at Bester’s ability to go on tangents. “Why do you care?” he asks.
“Are you blind?” Bester blows his breath out in a sound of appreciation. “Ain’t you ever looked at her?”
Wash shrugs, then slides back under the console. Since he came on board, he’s had eyes for little but the ship. He hasn’t taken time to think about the crew, other than the obvious uselessness of the mechanic.
“I guess… Yeah, I guess she’s attractive,” he finally says. “In her own way. But she’s not really my type.”
“Good thing,” Bester says with a laugh, “`cause she can’t stand you.”
Wash is so shocked that he nearly drops the soldering iron on his face. He catches it and stares at Bester in shock. “What? What do you mean?”
“Don’t tell me you ain’t seen – she don’t `xactly try to hide it. She hardly ever talks when you’re around. And ain’t you seen the looks she gives you?”
“Well… um… not so much. She looks at me badly? In a bad way?”
Bester only shrugs, then starts digging in the box again.
“But that doesn’t mean anything,” Wash says. “I bet she doesn’t like anyone. She doesn’t talk much anyway, and never laughs. I bet she doesn’t even smile.”
“She does with the captain,” Bester says. He finds a bolt in the box and starts tossing it in the air, catching it in the opposite hand. Single object juggling. “You should’a heard her in the cargo bay yesterday. Cap and her were tearin’ up the bulkhead, talking ‘bout the stuff they could smuggle in there. I’m surprised you couldn’t hear them up on the bridge.”
Wash abandons working and sits up. “She laughed?” he asks.
“Loud and long. She’s pretty when she does it, too. Gott'a wonder what she's like when she really–”
“So maybe her and the captain…?”
“Nuh-uh. I cleared that up right off. Didn’t want to step on Mal’s toes. He’s kind’a serious about some stuff, you know? But she ain’t with no one.”
“Oh.” Wash gives the clueless but disturbingly fit mechanic a long, measuring look. “Do you ever make her laugh?”
Bester grins. “Tryin’.”
Wash narrows his eyes for a second, then he gets back to work.
He'd been way off with Zoë. Of course, once he'd set his mind to it, he'd won her over. It’d taken his best efforts... it was probably the toughest thing he'd ever done. Really, not many men could have managed it.
“Did’ya see the red-head?” Jayne whispered, calling Wash's attention back into the richly decorated parlor. “God bless Ma Nature for putting a lady like that together.”
Wash frowned at Jayne, who seemed to be taking his borrowed outfit a little too seriously.
“Let’s stay focused on what we’re doing,” Wash said softly. “We have to get this sale.” He checked his watch. “What’s taking them so long?”
“You think we can ask for a bonus?” Jayne asked, his whisper rising a little. “Like a free ride maybe?”
“No – we can’t,” Wash said impatiently. “We have to get back to the ship as fast as possibly. There’s no time for you to… you know.”
“Wouldn’t take long,” Jayne said earnestly. “It’s been a while.”
“Oh, well then...” Wash replied. “In that case, we’d better just rearrange all our plans so you can have your…” Too late, he noticed a woman standing in the doorway, listening. He snapped his mouth shut, then gave her an innocent smile and wave.
“Were you interested in meeting one of the Companions on more intimate terms?” she asked Jayne. Though the question was suggestive, her tone wasn’t. She sounded very businesslike, and it seemed to confuse Jayne.
“Well, I…” the merc stuttered.
“No, he’s not,” Wash interrupted firmly.
“Yeah, I am,” Jayne said, the words coming out loud now that he’d found his tonuge. “If it’s included in the price. Or even at a disc– ow!”
He stopped when Wash landed a kick on his shin. They both looked up nervously, but the woman smiled graciously. “I’ll talk to the Priestess, see what we can do. But please stay here. It won’t be much longer.”
“So… what’s taking so long?” Wash asked.
The Companion hesitated barely a second, but then she smiled with the same kind of plastic grace that Inara used to have when she was lying. It was a small thing, but Wash saw it.
“She’s gathering the payment,” the woman said. She cast one more silken smile toward Jayne, then turned and left.
That exchange was enough to make up Wash’s mind - he'd managed to romance the very tough Corporal Zoë Alleyne; he could trust his instincts toward a trained Companion. He counted to ten, making himself wait until the woman was out of earshot, then whispered: “Jayne, grab the box.”
“We’re going now.”
“Maybe you ain’t payin’ attention, but we ain’t finished yet.”
Wash wasn’t about to wait. He stood and picked up the box himself.
“Hey, little man,” Jayne said in a louder whisper. “We’re about to close a big deal here, with a little fleshy bonus. You’re gonna ruin it!”
“Tell you what – you stay here and wait for the uniformed enforcer types to show. I’m leaving.”
“You mean the po-lice?” Jayne asked. “What the hell…?”
Wash stopped in the doorway to check that the hall was empty, then looked back. “You think a Companion would just give you a freebie?”
Jayne hooked a thumb in his belt. “Well… I – ”
“You think Inara would give you a freebie?”
Wash started down the hall, and was relieved to hear a soft curse and heavy footsteps behind him a second later.
“So, how exactly we gonna get off world?” the merc asked in a hushed voice. “As I recall, takes fuel for that. And what we got in this box ain’t the right kind of fuel.”
“Gaōyáng zhōng de gūyáng,” Wash muttered to himself, but he had no answer for Jayne.
The merc wouldn’t leave it alone. “You heard Zoë. We don’t pull this off, we can’t get far.”
“And us being arrested for poaching would help how?” Wash snapped.
Jayne turned away and scratched his head, leaving Wash to work this out on his own. He needed to think fast; they couldn’t stand out here all day. He could wave Zoë… but no, that wasn’t an option right now; her hands were full enough with trying to get Mal into and out of the hospital.
“Let’s get to the ship,” he said as decisively as he could. “We’ll talk to Zoë when she gets back. Maybe there’s something else we can do.”
Jayne turned back to him. “Yeah, there’s somethin’ we can do,” he said, and he snatched the box away from Wash. He heaved it onto his shoulder and set off down the street.
“Wait!” Wash called, but Jayne kept walking at a quick clip. Wash had no choice but to follow – he wasn’t going to let the mercenary run away with the crew’s sole monetary asset. He caught up just as Jayne reached an intersection and turned onto a larger street, heading toward the high rise business district about half a klick away.
“You can’t do this!” Wash said. “I’m in charge!”
Jayne snorted dismissively.
Wash scratched his head as he hurried along. How exactly did one get Jayne to fall in line? Mal and Zoë could do it – generally, by just using a glare. But Wash wasn’t big, wasn’t scary, and wasn’t armed. His one strength, outside of a cockpit, was his charming personality. His chattiness.
Well, if that’s all he had…
“Uh… Hey Jayne. You maybe wanna tell me where we’re going?”
“You’re going to make your own personal use of that?” Wash asked. “Retiring to a life of aphrodisiac aided sin?”
Jayne grinned, but didn’t slow down. “There’s an idea.”
Wash exhaled impatiently. Oddly, Jayne didn’t sound belligerent, just determined, and that threw Wash even more. He didn’t know how to deal with Jayne in this kind of mood.
They moved fast, and soon reached the downtown area, entering a wide square full of scurrying business people. Wash suddenly felt very out of place; everyone was tastefully attired in black or somber shades of dark blue and grey. Simon’s vest, which had seemed so dull and drab as compared to Wash’s usual clothes, stood out like a purplebelly battlecruiser in a rimworld junkyard.
Jayne didn’t seem bothered. He was actually dressed a little more fittingly than Wash, with his dark pants and gray coat, but he blended even less. He walked through the crowd like a bull making a b-line for a cow in heat, one arm still holding the box balanced on his shoulder, his other arm swinging loose but free hand in a fist. Suits and pigeons scattered before him, parting with nervous looks and sounds.
Wash followed in Jayne’s wake, beginning to wish he’d tried to tackle the merc and take the box back. They were attracting way too much attention. If any security types actually were called in to the Companion House and were now out hunting them, Jayne was making it as easy as possible. And where the hell could the man be headed? A power lunch with CEO’s?
It got a little clearer a few minutes later, after Jayne left the square and headed into a very different neighborhood. Nestled on the edge of the business district was a cluster of narrow streets lined with the kind of drinking establishments that fit a man like Jayne. The merc marched up to a door between shaded windows, garbage on the concrete steps and unpleasant smells all around. He shoved open the door and stepped through the entrance without hesitation.
Wash followed less confidently, and he was more than a bit surprised at what he found inside. Fully lit, the place might not look better than the streets outside, but the lights were dim and moody enough to make the black floors and mirrored walls looked something close to classy.
In any case, no one inside was looking at the décor. The brightest thing in the room was the nearly naked woman on a platform that extended through the center of the scattered tables. Jayne gave the dancer an appreciative look, then headed for the bar that sat in a low pit on the far side of the room. Not sure what else to do, Wash followed.
“You want somethin’?” Jayne asked when Wash joined him at the bar. It took Wash a few seconds to realize that Jayne meant a drink.
“It’s a little early in the day and I’m kind of on the job. Hey – and so are you.”
“Relax,” Jayne said. “It’s all about how you do business, little man. Watch and learn.”
Jayne ordered, and when the bartender set his drink down, he leaned over the bar. “Miss Jessi still running this place?” he asked. The bartender responded with a nod. “You might wanna tell her to get out here. I got somethin’ she’ll be real interested in.” Jayne nodded toward the box he’d set on the bar next to him.
“You know Miss Jessi?” the bartender asked, skeptically studying the preacher coat that fit snug over Jayne’s shoulders.
“I done business with her ladies a time or two,” Jayne said with a smirk. “And I did appreciate the service. Now I got somethin’ special to offer in return.”
The bartender looked to Wash, who decided it was best to play along. Maybe he could even help, now that he had an idea what Jayne was planning.
“I’d listen up,” Wash said with his friendliest smile. “This is some valuable stuff we have there, the finest selesta you can find. You really don’t want to miss this opportunity. You won’t get another chance, and our prices are absolutely the – ow!” He stopped when a boot slammed into his shinbone – hard.
“You’ll have to excuse him,” Jayne said to the bartender. “Socially challenged. Diarrhea of the mouth. How’s about you pour him a glass of your house whiskey to keep him busy…” Jayne paused and held up a bill – much too large to pay for nothing but a couple of drinks. “…and go get your boss lady. Dŏng ma?”
The bartender didn’t take any time to consider. He grabbed the money and shoved it in his pocket, then poured a generous drink for Wash before he disappeared through a door behind the bar.
Wash threw back half of the whiskey right off. He needed it to soothe the sting of being called socially challenged by Jayne Cobb.
“So,” he asked Jayne. “You got rich friends you never tell us about?”
Jayne took a swig of his own drink. “What? You figure somebody runnin’ this place is rich?”
“You must think she’s rich enough to buy our... product. That is – I assume – the reason we’re here?”
“Hell. Jessi can’t afford all this,” Jayne said, knocking his knuckles against the box.
“And again I ask – what are you doing?”
“I figure there ain’t a rule sayin’ we have to sell it all in one place, right? So how’s about we visit a few little joints like this, places that don’t care about poachin’ laws, and sell it in little bits. Might even make more coin that way.”
Wash glared his annoyance at Jayne, but a little voice in his head was telling him that, crazy as it seemed, the merc might have a good idea here. He wasn’t ready to admit it out loud, though. Not until his frustration with Jayne had a chance to mellow.
Miss Jessi made her appearance a minute later. Wash got ready to do business, but Jayne gave him a shockingly eloquent glare. Wash settled back on his stool, waved for a refill of his whiskey, and let Jayne take the box and follow the lady into an office.
To kill the time, Wash turned his back to the bar and surveyed the establishment again. As a pilot who’d spent most of his life traveling the less savory parts of the `verse, he’d seen his share of strip joints; there weren't many options as far as places to grab a drink on some worlds. He knew enough about the scene to work a few things out about this particular place.
Despite the rough exterior, this wasn’t the kind of trashy dump where women (and, possibly, men) worked for what cash got tucked into their stringy little outfits. This place was a level above that, economically speaking. The woman on stage at the moment was standing upright, her hips moving in alluring little circles. Unlike some of the more acrobatic strippers he’d seen, the full details of her anatomy weren’t available for inspection, and probably wouldn’t be until one of the hunched patrons scattered around the bar paid extra to take her to a private room.
And, in those back rooms, there likely was more than sexy dances for sale. If so, there’d be paraphernalia, tidbits that wealthy men working in the area would spend good money for when they ducked in here on their lunch breaks.
Okay, Wash thought, so maybe this could work. Maybe.
Thursday, May 24, 2007 4:43 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 4:53 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 5:24 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 5:28 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 8:48 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 11:42 AM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 2:13 PM
Thursday, May 24, 2007 5:36 PM
Friday, May 25, 2007 9:27 AM
Saturday, May 26, 2007 5:02 PM
You must log in to post comments.
OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR
All FIREFLY graphics and photos on this page are copyright 2002-2012 Mutant Enemy, Inc., Universal Pictures, and 20th Century Fox.
All other graphics and texts are copyright of the contributors to this website.
This website IS NOT affiliated with the Official Firefly Site, Mutant Enemy, Inc., or 20th Century Fox.