BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MERRYK

Crew, But Not - Chapter 9
Thursday, November 29, 2007

Arriving on Greenleaf, Mal and co. go to finish the job, and Simon and River are left on the ship again.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2417    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 9

There was something about that kitchen table that made Simon think. Jayne would sit at it, and it was only a tool, a prop for feet. Inara would sit at it, and it would be shamed that she deigned to do so. Zoe sat at it, and it was functional but treated well. Mal sat there, and it was well-treated, but clearly subordinate. It was when Wash and Kaylee sat there, and Shepherd Book as well, that the kitchen table was something precious and special, a beloved piece of a beloved ship. Simon didn’t mind the kitchen then.

“We’ll be on Greenleaf soon,” said Book, chopping the pale protein bars into small cubes at the table while Simon rummaged in the cupboards.

“Day after tomorrow,” answered Simon. “And I’ll be glad.”

“Don’t like flying?” asked Book.

“Well—no, not particularly,” said Simon, surprised at the question. It was not what he had meant. “I get claustrophobic.”

“Quite an irony,” said Book with a low rumbling chuckle.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter what I want anymore, does it,” murmured Simon, reaching back into the dark recesses of an oddly positioned cupboard to pull out a bag.

“Mm, that looks promising,” said Book, looking up.

“Pasta,” said Simon, surprised.

“Let me see,” asked Book, and Simon came over to show him it. “Ah, whole grain. Roughly ground, too; probably a payment from one of the Rim worlds they visited.”

“Is it too old?” asked Simon as Book gave him the pasta back.

“No, the bag is well sealed. We just need to find something to do with it,” Book answered.

“Other than that, there’s just dried milk and canned things,” said Simon with a sigh.

“No flour or cornstarch, though, so no white sauce,” mused Book. “No canned tomatoes, I suppose—too much a luxury for this crew. Perhaps a spicy brine sauce...” he trailed off.

Simon looked up at the clock and then to River, sleeping on one of the armchairs in the alcove. She had grown used to taking naps, but Simon found that she slept less fitfully when out of the infirmary—no surprise, as the bed there was more for function than comfort. Now she dozed, twitching but asleep, holding close the blanket instead of wrapping it around her, legs curled up and bare feet poking out from under her dress.

“Yes, that should work,” said Book to himself.

“Pasta then?” asked Simon.

“Yes; if you would heat the appropriate water and salt, I’ll prepare the sauce,” said Book.

Simon moved to the counter, saying over his shoulder, “I’m very grateful for this.”

“It’s nothing,” Book brushed off. “I enjoy cooking, and it’s nothing new for a young man to know little about what food he eats. You’ll learn.”

“Mm, yes, well I think I’ve learned more in the past two weeks than I ever wanted to learn before entering medacad,” commented Simon as he filled a pot.

Book laughed. “Oh, and you’ve just cracked the tip of knowledge. Still, this trip is going better for you than the last one.”

“Well, let me see,” said Simon dryly. “Less feds, less shooting, less surgery. Less threatening, too. I’d say it’s an overall improvement.”

Book laughed again. “It’s never a bad situation if it’s improving.”

Simon supposed not—it was organized chaos and frustration, at least.

~*~*~*~*~

“Sunrise over Greenleaf’s real purty today,” said Kaylee brightly, joining most of the others up in the bridge. The last day before planetside had gone by, again with the slightly bored and restless tone among the crew, and now they were ready to disembark for a day.

“And finally, this heavy cargo can be gone,” said Wash. “Flying has felt like flying one of those huge blocky transports—no smoothness.”

“It’s been a tough trip for her,” agreed Kaylee, patting Serenity’s side sympathetically. “Every time I go t’ see her she has somethin’ to tell me.”

“It’ll pay well, though,” said Zoe, smiling at her man and Kaylee nonetheless while leaning on the back of Wash’s chair.

“Yeah, but I don’t know how much that’s worth,” said Wash.

“Money’s worth it,” said Jayne shortly.

“Well, I’m a reasonable man, capable of compromise...” began Mal.

“No, really,” said Wash in mock dry shock.

“...and a job that’s plump with ripe cash is worth inconveniences occasionally,” continued Mal, but not without a rather quelling look to his pilot. “How soon till we’re down?”

“Oh, twenty minutes, give or take a few, depending on how lucky I feel,” said Wash lightly, but keeping both hands on the wheel. “The dock’s a bit tricky here; might want to clear loose articles up.”

“Get on it Jayne,” confirmed Mal.

“Aw, Mal,” began Jayne, but trailed off and thumped down the passage to the kitchen.

Simon was feeling a little more at ease—his pasta with Book’s spicy strong sauce and marinated protein chunks had gone over quite well two nights ago, and last night’s leftover concoction from Kaylee had been a welcome continuation. River had refused to eat anything but the plain pasta, though she had attempted to drink some of Jayne’s alchohol before Simon quickly gave her some reconstituted milk, and today she had downed some protein mush with hardly a protest. Tolerable was a word he could honestly use when describing things on board.

“Finish up, we’ve got to land clean,” declared Jayne, scooping up the nearest abandoned plates with one arm and taking a last bite with the other.

Well, mostly tolerable. Simon sighed inwardly and took his and River’s plates to the sink.

“Big day,” said River.

”Any day we get paid is big,” said Jayne. “Lots o’ small days, lately. Ain’t been good times.”

“I suppose that says something for the efficiency of the Alliance, that smugglers find it hard to work,” said Simon coolly.

“Alliance don’t know a thing about efficiency,” said Jayne back, rather snappily. “Anyway, you’d better wish for good times, ‘cause we ain’t keeping on dead weight if everyone is starving.”

Simon did not deem that important enough for an answer.

“Can we go?” asked River suddenly.

“Go? Go where?” asked Simon.

“Go home,” she said, in an obvious tone. She had a bright look on her face, if not a smile.

“No, River, this isn’t home,” said Simon, hating to ruin it. “Greenleaf isn’t home.”

“Have to stay?” she asked, confusion and disappointment coming on her face.

“Yes,” said Simon, “it’s best to stay put.”

“Damn right,” grunted Jayne, coming to the sink with the last armful of dishes.

Simon would have said something, but he didn’t. There was only so far he could go with Jayne.

“Won’t work,” said River, her brow furrowing a little.

“Of course it will, we’ll be fine,” assured Simon. “We can do things here.”

She frowned, but took a piece of the hair that fell over her face and said with grudging acceptance as she stared at it, “Need to wash hair.”

Simon nodded, saying approvingly, “That was what I was just thinking.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Kaylee?”

“Yeah, Cap’n?”

“Zoe, Jayne and I are going to fly into town,” informed Mal, hands in his pockets as he watched Kaylee fiddle with the engine. “Don’t know exactly where Lord Tembriar lives, but we’ll go to him once we find out. Probably won’t unload for a couple hours or so, but you and Wash can be ready by then?”

“No prob, Cap’n,” said Kaylee, coming up from under one of the panels, a spot of grease on her nose that made her look positively adorable in Mal’s eyes. “How long we fixin’ to stay?”

“Two days, that’s all. Not hard to find a job ‘round here, and that’s all Inara needs.”

“Shiny,” Kaylee said. “Don’t need nothin’ much, so I guess I’ll get t’ see the sights.”

“Long as you don’t stay away all day and don’t tell anybody where you’re goin’ to,” added Mal.

“Yes, Cap’n,” chuckled Kaylee, dropping back down to finish with her work.

“Shuttle’s all set,” said Jayne, coming up behind Mal.

“Let’s do this, then,” said Mal, walking back up to the kitchen where Zoe was strapping on her favorite gun. “That cargo’s been burning through my hull a good enough while now.”

“That’s certainly true,” murmured Zoe.

~*~*~*~*~

Lord Tembriar seemed to have a larger dislike for the general populace than his wife, though he was well known in town, and his house was located in the hills outside of the main town. With greater variety in its landscape than most, Greenleaf managed to please some who cared for looks, and displease others who cared for function. Beyond the flatlands, there were few settlements—the perfect low budget place for those who didn’t like the Core. And apparently, being well away from Core-like cities was a priority for Lord Tembriar. Well away.

“Is that—”

“No, Jayne, it’s just another hill.”

“Aw, come on, it has to be—”

“Hill, Jayne.”

“This is crazy.”

“Won’t disagree.”

“Ain’t that—”

“No, Jayne.”

“Jayne,” spoke up Mal at last, “just don’t talk.”

It was mid-morning when something other than a piece of landscape entered their horizon. Jayne didn’t speak, but his exhalation was loud and clear enough.

”At last,” said Zoe.

“Not so shiny a taste, I see,” said Mal, as the low riding house slowly grew in their sights, a dull green color with a slightly darker trim.

“That’s a blessing,” commented Zoe.

“You sure this is the place?” asked Jayne, eyeing the modestly decorated and sized place with confusion.

“Well, if you’d rather search around some more to find something you’d think likelier, another hill perhaps—” hinted Mal.

“No, no, this is prob’ly it,” Jayne hastily answered.

Zoe seemed to fight the urge to roll her eyes.

A large building on one side of the complex appeared to be a sort of parking garage, but its doors were closed, and so Mal drew up the shuttle on the square platform in front of the entrance. He noted the smaller windows, the outposts on the roof that probably had guards, and the pacing men all around the place that seemed to be in security uniforms.

“Not so lax on security, I see,” said Zoe, as they opened the shuttle door to see a group coming up to meet them.

“What’s your business?” asked the leader, one hand resting on his holster, his men standing with weapons at ease but available.

“Business with Lord Tembriar,” answered Mal.

“Do you have an appointment?” His tone was smooth, almost monotone.

Figures, thought Mal as he answered, “I do.

“Follow me, please,” said the other, nodding his head at them.

“Mal—” began Jayne in a low tone.

“I didn’t say you could talk,” answered Mal firmly. They followed the security chief, and cast a glance behind them as the other men filed in behind them.

Mal took note of everything here: the corridors, the doors, the exits, the guards. Every part of this house seemed designed to be defensible, and there was practically nothing that did not serve that purpose. Absent minded and twitchy, thought Mal. He moved his eyes to one side without turning his head, and saw Zoe marking aspects of the place as well. There was nothing to suggest that anything dangerous would happen here, but nothing to suggest that it wouldn’t either. There were several turns before they stopped.

“Wait here a moment,” said the lead security officer, and he walked forward a few paces to a large door. Pressing a button, he spoke discreetly into a microphone and waited for a moment. After receiving an answer, he turned and nodded to Mal and his men. As they came forward, he entered in a code on the keypad, and the door slid open smoothly.

“Here we go,” murmured Mal. He adjusted his coat and followed the security officer into the room.

Nearly as spartan as the rest of the house, Lord Tembriar’s room was populated mostly by a large round table and a desk in one corner. His lordship was currently at the latter, bent over papers and not looking up as they entered. Mal and the rest of them walked across the room, which was fairly large and hard-floored, until they were nearly before the desk. Lord Tembriar was a squirelly man, lithe and twitchy with large eyes hidden behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He was clad simply in a dark grey suit with elegant lines, similar to the styles that Simon seemed to prefer, and wore a thin green necktie.

“Ah, I didn’t think anyone had scheduled today,” he said, then suddenly looked up to notice Mal. His eyes darted up and down his figure, and then he paled visibly. “Mr. Travers, this man has no appointment with me,” he said, looking to his security officer, but with eyes darting back to Mal frequently.

“I’m afraid that’s not quite true,” said Mal, frowning a little. “I do remember scheduling for this very day with your wife.”

“My-my wife?” asked Lord Tembriar. “Don’t be so foolish,” he continued, his hand clicking his pen rapidly. “I’ve received no news from my wife in two weeks.”

~*~*~*~*~

Left over back, right over back, Simon folded his shirts and laid them on his bed. He smoothed out what wrinkles he could, but overall accepted their softened and loosened appearance. No point in starching and ironing out here. Eventually they would probably even lose their crisp white color and become threadbare, and yet he wasn’t ready to give them up. They—made him feel comfortable.

As each shirt joined the pile, he kept an ear open for River. He had left her a couple rooms away in the bathroom with a pan of warm water and some shampoo, since today seemed like a good day for her. Back as far as he could remember, she never really liked keeping clean. Their nurse kept her in pretty clothes and put up her hair in a neat style, but River seemed to consider quantum physics more important than the state of her face. Like so many things, this had changed and yet stayed the same. She was willing to consider cleanliness, but often seemed lost with it, as if she had forgotten the steps. But though he still brushed out her hair, today she decided to wash it by herself.

A broken scream rang out, and he dropped the shirt he was folding. It was rarely so simple. Opening the bathroom door, he saw what he had feared. Kneeling before the pan of water with tangled hair lathered in frothy white bubbles that dripped down her back, River rocked back and forth, her equally lathered hands covering her face as she cried. Simon came forward, kneeling and wrapping his arms around her.

“Shh, mei mei, shh,” he began, but she still rocked back and forth in his arms. Knowing by now that she would come back only when she was ready, he quietly held her close. First the crying stopped, then the rocking, and in a couple minutes she was resting her head on his chest, each breath a halting half-sob. Her dress was now damp, and so was his newly cleaned shirt. “Hey, mei mei,” he murmured. “What’s wrong?”

“Chaos,” she murmured from behind her hands, and pulling a little away from him.

“What kind of chaos?” Simon asked, turning her head so that she was facing him, and gently moving her hands from her face.

She didn’t look at him, but shook her head slowly.

“You don’t know?” he prompted. She shook her head again. “It’s okay, everything is all right here,” he continued, reaching over to pick up a towel. Her hands were still soapy, and he wiped them clean as he murmured, “Everything’s all right.”

“Fear, confusion,” she said, her face contorting in fear again. Her hands pulled away from his and buried themselves in her hair. “All around me.”

“No, mei mei, it’s okay,” said Simon, holding her head in his hands so that she looked at him. “I’m here; there’s nothing wrong.” He paused, and brushed a tear and a soap bubble from her face. “Except for this; you have soap in your eyes,” he said soothingly, and dipped a corner of the towel in the water.

She fell silent and still as he washed her face, distant from him and yet keeping close. Soon he had rinsed her hair and patted it somewhat dry with the towel so he could comb it out. There was no effort on her part to do it herself; she seemed to have forgotten why. When the last tangle was gone, she sat for a moment facing away from him in silence.

“Are you all right?” he asked, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Is—is the chaos gone?”

Turning back, she curled up next to him like a child, and said without tears, “Getting worse.” And he had nothing to say, just kept his arms wrapped around her to keep as much of the chaos away as he could.

~*~*~*~*~

“I don’t think we’re understanding each other,” said Mal, stepping back a little and bringing up his hands calmingly. He saw Jayne tensed out of the corner of his eye, though Zoe was still calm.

“Mr. Travers, I don’t have any business with this man,” insisted Lord Tembriar, sitting back and still clicking the pen.

“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to leave,” said Mr. Travers, putting a hand on Mal’s shoulder. Another man touched Jayne, who grimaced and knocked the hand off.

“Whoa, now, wait a minute,” answered Mal, stepping away from the invading hand. “There’s a mistake here, because I did have words with Lady Tembriar, and she hired me to move some belongings that you left behind.”

Lord Tembriar stood up, pushing his chair back quickly and standing tall. “This is insane,” he said. “I didn’t leave anything behind.” His eyes shifted from Mal to Zoe to Mr. Travers.

“Well, your lady did say that you probably wouldn’t notice, but I do have a bay full of cargo that she says is yours,” continued Mal, resting his hands on his hips.

“Your story sounds more like thievery than legitimate business,” spoke up Mr. Travers in a cool tone.

“Indeed,” said Lord Tembriar, adjusting his jacket.

“We agreed on a price, you received a bill,” insisted Mal.

“Don’t make things worse for yourself,” said Lord Tembriar. “I never received anything.”

“Should I notify the authorities?” asked Mr. Travers.

“There’s no need for that,” said Mal assuringly. “We’ll wait for you to identify the goods and contact your wife, if you need.”

“It would take a day at least to receive a message back,” said Lord Tembriar. “And you know that,” he continued, pointing a finger at Mal. “I don’t care where you got the cargo, it isn’t mine. I brought everything that was mine with me. I don’t know why you’re trying to force this on me, and make me pay for it no less, but I’m sure the federal officers can clear this up.”

Mal looked to Zoe, who looked back with an expression that was enough for Mal to comprehend. This was not the best situation they had been in, and though not currently dangerous, they didn’t like where it could go.

“Keep watch on them, and inform the local police force, Mr. Travers,” finished Lord Tembriar. Mr. Travers nodded and left. Two other guards held a ready hand on their guns, while one confiscated the guns of Mal, Zoe, and Jayne, and also the latter’s several knives. Mal sighed, holding his hands up in a cooperative way while Lord Tembriar’s security team went about their job. Lord Tembriar took a hasty sip of water, put the cup down, and started to leave. Mal cast a glance at him, wondering what would be the best method of dealing with him, when his lordship passed very close to Mal.

“Why won’t you people leave me alone?” he hissed, and then walked out of the room, leaving Mal to blink.

COMMENTS

Thursday, November 29, 2007 4:07 PM

LEIASKY


Ohh, nicely done. I love how you intersperce Simon's moments with River into the story, as was done in the series.

Definitely looking forward to the next chapter!

Saturday, December 1, 2007 3:46 AM

KATESFRIEND


Looks like they're working for one of the psychotics Mal mentioned in The Train Job. Very interesting story line and a wonderful look into the smaller events that make up their days. My favorite part was your first paragraph describing the kitchen table from everyone's point of view - a classic!


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