The Slower Path: Ain't Never So Bad It Can't Be Worse - Part 11 - Sequel to Weighing the Costs
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Zoe takes a job. Mal's not happy.



Part 1: Favourite Things - Part 2: Long Day - Part 3: The Basics - Part 4: Brown Paper Packages Part 5: The Companion's New Clothes - Part 6: A Measure of Healin' - Part 7: Snow Cream Part 8: Staying One Day Ahead of Yesterday - Part 9: While the Cat's Away - 10: Weighing The Costs ________________________________________________

The Slower Path: Ain't Never So Bad It Can't Be Worse Sequel to Weighing the Costs by anjulie and 2x2 Rating: PG Word Count: 2046

Spoilers: Set post BDM Pairing/Characters: Mal, Zoe, Mal/Inara.


The study was elegantly appointed with glossy hardwoods and tall shelves holding leather-bound books that had never been opened. Full draperies of some material Zoe recognized but couldn't name spilled from the ceiling before puddling with luxurious waste on the floor. The mahogany desk they stood before gleamed in the muted morning light, the sun warming a jade foo lion that sat at neat attenion on the uncluttered surface. The whole room spoke of money and power and greed. Just standing in it made Zoe itch between her shoulder blades – or maybe that was the heavily-armed men who stood to the side and behind them.

Glancing at Mal’s impassive profile, she turned once again to face the man behind the desk, Mr. Loh.

"I’ve heard nothing of you in these parts,” he was saying as he surveyed them both from head to toe. Zoe got the feeling he wasn’t impressed, yet he hadn’t shown them the door either so she remained hopeful. Mal was being uncharacteristically quiet at her side, waiting to hear the offer. She knew he was worried about being outgunned as well as their surroundings. When they’d arrived at the address their eyes had met and eyebrows raised in unison. This was more than a wealthy businessman and they both knew it.

“I’m a great believer in expansion,” Loh continued as they stood waiting, “and I’m in an adventurous mood today so perhaps I will take a chance with you.” His eyes roamed over Zoe as he spoke, but he addressed his words to Mal.

“I have some work that requires...finesse,” he said smoothly as his fingers idly played with a gold letter opener. “My company has a delicate cargo to move to a mining colony. I could have the goods delivered to your ship by tomorrow morning if you could have them on Callas within two days. It’s a short-haul run, I know, but I will pay you in advance and send extra fuel cells with the payload."

“Sounds a little too good,” Mal answered him shortly, rocking back on his heels in a way that had Zoe’s spine stiffening. He’d taken an obvious dislike to Loh and she sensed the tension that ran through him. “What is the cargo?” Mal asked, an edge to his voice that had Zoe glancing at him from the corner of her eye.

"Not that we're picky about that," she added with a smile, wishing they were at a table so she could kick Mal's shin beneath it.

Mr. Loh carefully placed the letter opener on his blotter, aligning it parallel with the lower edge, the point facing west, before he spoke.

“Of course you are wise to ask,” he told Mal cooly. “I’m a procurer for the miners on Callas. They’ve been there for three years now. Their colony is strong and they’ve become very successful. Many of them are ready to settle down, to start families, but they are in need of wives. As you might guess, acquiring spouses on such a remote location is a bit of a problem. We have advertised and found several willing applicants. Twelve young women who, like me, are believers in expansion.”

“We don’t -“ Mal began tersely, hands curling into fists.

“We'll take it,” Zoe interrupted smoothly, moving closer to the desk, drawing Loh's attention to herself. “That is if you’re sure they're volunteers,” she qualified more for Mal’s sake than anything else.

“Excellent,” he answered her with a pleased smile. “And of course they are volunteers. I’m not a flesh peddler, Ms. Washburn, I’m a legitimate businessman.”

“And we’re here to do business,” she stated firmly before Mal could speak.

“Then we have an agreement,” Mr. Loh told them as he stood and bowed his head slightly to Zoe. “Tomorrow please anticipate the arrival of the young women by shuttle,” he told them, his tone a dismissal. “You may give the particulars of your location, the account for your credits, and your fueling requirements to Chan,” he said, indicating his secretary.

“Captain Reynolds, please don’t hesitate to wave me if there is a problem. Of course, you look like a man who can handle any difficulties that might come your way. I look forward to our future association.”

Zoe risked a glance at Mal, nearly wincing at Loh's thinnly veiled sarcasm. Though his expression was unreadable, Mal's mouth was set in a furious line. She turned back to their new employer with a soft sigh. It was going to be a long ride home.

“'Spect we'll be movin’ on in the near future,” Mal said shortly, his words coming out clipped and sharp, "and we deal in coin, not account credit."

Loh's mouth tightened at Mal's demand, but he simply nodded. “Then I am fortunate to have made your acquaintance when I had the opportunity. Perhaps fate will be kind and throw you back into my path at some point," he said, motioning with a nod for his men to escort them out.

Without replying, Mal turned and strode for the door, not waiting for Zoe to catch up.

"Who are we to say?" Loh added softly, his eyes on the Captain as he swept out the door.

Let's hope not, Zoe thought as she followed Mal out with a restrained sigh.


Throwing the shuttle's hatch open with more force than necessary, Mal shoved it aside again angrily when it bounced back at him in protest, cursing the thing for a piece of go se.

He was mad. Livid, really. Oh, there had been times when Zoe had pissed him off in the past, but never like this. Never anything like this.

Clenching his fists at his sides to keep from hitting something, he paced angrily, turning away from the hatch abruptly as Zoe finally appeared through it, silent and grim, her own anger held tightly in control.

She watched with resignation as he moved around the cargo area, kicking at the cots, grabbing their folded blankets and stuffing them crossly into the metal storage locker, storming around stowing gear as if his life depended on it. He wasn’t mumbling under his breath, but he did shoot her killing looks occasionally. Knowing it would be a matter of waiting him out at this point, she efficiently folded the camp beds, moving them out of Mal’s way before he could swing his boot in their direction again, wincing a little as she heard him hiss when his foot connected with a tool box he’d left out earlier that morning.

“Might be you should use your head,” she said under her breath, "it's harder."

Mal ground his back teeth together, his angry breaths coming fast and heavy as he shot her a look that would've cowed a lesser person, biting back a scathing retort as he kicked the tool box again – carefully this time – shoving it into the far wall sourly.

"'Spect that gear's about as stowed as it's gonna get," Zoe tried again; a vain attempt to lighten his mood.

He glowered and threw a canister into its lockbox full force.

Zoe rolled her eyes and sighed. He could be a stubborn hun dan at times. "Thought we sorted this out yesterday," she said, frustrated. "Can't afford to be throwin' jobs away."

"We don't do slaves," he growled lowly.

"An' they ain't slaves!" Zoe growled back.

He glared at her, his look saying it was semantics and she knew it.

She hung her head momentarily, letting out a weary breath. "Mal—" she started, an attempt to smooth this over with him, but he cut her off.

"This one's on your head," he said. "Just so you know it. This ain't mine. This one's on you."

Zoe raised her head, her eyes meeting his with resolve. "Did what needed to be done and I won't say I'm sorry for it. You'd have done the same in my place," she informed him flatly. "Don't know about you, but I'm ready to go home," she added, brushing past him on her way to the pilot's seat.


Mal was out of the shuttle almost before they'd finished docking.

He stormed up the stairs, the laughter he could hear coming from the galley only setting his nerves on edge farther than they already were. The last thing he wanted was to see anyone. Pushing on resolutely, he strode into the kitchen, jaw set and teeth clenched.

"Hey Cap'n!" Kaylee called cheerfully, the rest of the table's occupants looking up as he entered the room.

"Welcome back," Inara said, smile faltering at the look on his face.

Mal said nothing, his eyes flicking over them all before he turned and marched purposefully to his food locker, pausing only long enough to pull out a bottle of amber liquid and grab a tin cup from the counter before heading toward his bunk.

"Hey, we got a job or what?" Jayne called after him.

"Ask Zoe," Mal ground out over his shoulder and then disappeared up into the crew deck, the hatch to his bunk closing after him with a loud, echoing clang.

The rest of the crew stared at each other in confused surprise.

Inara stood. "Maybe I should—"

"Let him be a while," Zoe warned as she came up into the kitchen slowly. She headed for the stove and poured herself a cup of coffee, drinking the hot liquid gratefully.

"So, we got a job?" Jayne persisted, looking to the first mate.

"We do," Zoe said with a nod after swallowing. "Need you an' Kaylee to organize some bunk space in the cargo bay, we'll be takin' on some passengers first thing. "Passengers! That's shiny!" Kaylee exclaimed, smile fading slightly as she glanced over at Inara, instantly aware that the Companion wanted a word with Zoe, alone. She jumped up with forced excitement, moving to the other side of the table. "Ain't that shiny?" she asked Jayne with a pointed look, tugging the big man up from the table.

"So long as it's payin'," the mercenary said, oblivious, following reluctantly as Kaylee dragged him from the room.

Inara watched them go, waiting until they were out of earshot before turning to Zoe. "What is it? What's happened?" she asked guardedly.

Zoe sighed and looked towards Mal’s bunk. “Man hates to give ground – and he had to give a lot of it today,” she said regretfully before turning back to Inara. “Things are like to be tense between me and him for a few days, but that’ll pass."

Inara blinked in surprise at the other woman's words. It was extremely rare for Mal and Zoe to disagree on anything, and never in public, so to hear that there was tension between them only served to heighten her concern. "Who are these passengers?"

"It's women," Zoe said at last. "A group of 'em shippin' off world to be wives on a minin' colony. They ain't slaves," she clarified at the Companion's look of alarm. "Ain't bein' forced against their wills. Every one of 'em volunteered, but it skirts too close to the edge for the Captain. He ain't happy about it," she said softly.

"No. Knowing Mal, I don't imagine he would be," Inara agreed. "I'm surprised he even took the job."

"He didn't - I did," Zoe said, meeting the Companion's astounded gaze evenly. "We need the work. We're past the point where we can afford to pick and choose." She sighed, her eyes cutting down a moment, before lifting to meet Inara's again. "Gotta take what comes our way, no matter how much it chafes at his sensibilities."

She finished off the last of her coffee, gone slightly cold, and turned to set the cup in the sink. "Contacts'll be here bright and early," she said, still facing the sink. "Be nice if he was in a better frame o'mind by then." Zoe gave Inara one last look over her shoulder. "This work ain't so solid it can't be lost," she said solemnly, leaving the Companion to her own thoughts as she left the room.

______________________ Go to Part 12: Worse ______________________


Wednesday, May 21, 2008 8:23 AM


This feels all manner of wrong Zoe going against the Captain like that. I have a feeling this job is going to bring nothing but trouble and not simply because of Zoe's actions. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 8:33 AM


If only Joss Whedon had had time to develop the characters more I think he would have had moments exactly like this. Zoe is such a strong character and she is in no way inferior to her Captain. She is, in fact, his rudder to steer by. I wish we could have seen such quality writing in later episodes. Please don't stop growing these characters!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 4:01 PM


Loved to see this side of Zoe & Mal's relationship - strong enough to weather a storm with compassion and understanding between the two. Interesting chapter - what could possibly go wrong with such a simple job?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 9:51 PM


Wow, I could feel Mal's anger burning off the screen. And while I understand Zoe's belief that they need the job, I'm not so sure it's going to be as easy to get past this argument. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 22, 2008 1:31 AM


very nice shifts between the formal and informal speech of characters - and of course (as always) the piece flowed very nicely:)

Thursday, May 22, 2008 8:06 AM


Yeah, I couldn't quite swallow Mal just standing by while Zoe spoke up for him. Perhaps there were goings on in previous chapters that accounts for this?

I love the introduction, the extravagance of the heavy curtains. Great description and scene setting! And the job is an interesting one. A dozen mail order brides in the cargo bay... oh the opportunity for entertainment of both the dramatic and mischevious types! I wonder how Jayen will handle this...

Oh - I was confused about the discussion of credit accounts. It sounded like Loh was dismissing Mal and cancelling the job, but apparently not. Still not sure what happened there.

Overall, though, good chapter! A fun read.

Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:27 PM


Thanks everyone for your shiny comments! We really appreciate your feedback :o)

And a note of clarity for Mal4Prez and anyone else who may have found a few things confusing...

Back in 'Weighing the Costs' we learned that Mal skunked a done deal because he wouldn't raise a glass to the Alliance with his contact. Fisticuffs ensued, Mal got a couple of cuts and bruises for his trouble, they lost the job, and Zoe gave him a bit of a talking to about how they couldn't afford to turn away jobs, that what they had back on Serenity was worth swallowing a little toast. So, that's the setup there for why Mal stood by.

As for the little exchange about the credits - Loh was asking for their credit account, to which Mal clarified that they only deal in cold, hard, coin. Also shows a bit of a class distinction, small time vs. big time business, that sort of thing.

So, I hope that clears that up for anyone with questions.

Thanks again for reading everyone! We'll have more just as soon as we can get it written :o)


You must log in to post comments.



History of an Object
There’s no reason to keep it, damaged as it is. Save one. Doesn’t matter that it’s finer than any other cup on the ship, even with the crack. Doesn’t matter that it would never hold liquid again without some of it seeping through. Burning your fingers. Was only one reason he still has the cup.

Five Years' War
The night was warm. Clouds, low on the horizon, blue black in the last light of the setting sun. Nothing but the breeze and the buzz of the cicadas breaking the stillness. A perfect evening.

The Close Shore, At the End, Untenable
“Dead ’re in my head tonight,” he said finally. “Can’t get ‘em out. Don’t got the booze or the bar to distract me. Don’t know why I’m here ‘cept I don’t think I can go through it alone.”

The Slower Path: All the Difference - Part 15 - Sequel to The One Less Traveled By
She let out a breath, saying nothing for a long moment before she raised her eyes again. “There are some things I want you to know,” she said softly. “Things I want you to understand.”

Much as he wished he could ignore it, he could see it was important to her that he know whatever it was she wanted to tell him. He knew he wouldn't have let himself see it in the past, but that weren't where they were anymore, or at least, not where they wanted to be, either of them. Their relationship had changed, was changing, and he weren’t so stupid he didn’t recognize that. He didn't know that he wanted to know it, much less understand it, but she was reluctant enough to talk about any aspect of her life as it was; could be he might ought not stop her when she wanted to.

Unlucky at Cards...
“I… You can’t be that lucky!” Mal moaned as Inara beat him again, laying out her cards with a flourish.

The Slower Path: The One Less Traveled By - Part 14 - Sequel to Regrets
They fell silent again, struggling to find the ease that they had found, before; before the argument that had almost ended things.

"I feel like-," she started.

"This is-," he said at the same time.

They looked at each other. "Awkward," they both said, laughing lightly.

Always Had Faith
Faith in a higher power? That was always Mal's thing, the Captain, back in the war.

Loved and Lost
Love’s the biggest kind of hurt there is.

And I wouldn't trade that love for nothin'.

The Mood That Passes Through
He felt the first trembling shudder go through her, heard her breath hitch and felt her fingers grip his skin; knew it was comin', the wave that was cresting the walls she'd built to hold it back, whatever it was. Knew they were about to come crashing down around her. The first sob still hurt though, still lanced through his heart like a searing hot blade to hear her make that sound.