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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal cuts a few corners to make a small job profitable.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2600 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Booted footsteps sounded on the grated steel deck.
“That was quick.”
“Yeah, Zoe,” Malcolm Reynolds told his first officer as they exited the piloting section of the ship. It also headed up communications, “It was. Practically snatched it up, I’d say. But at this low a score, he’d be a stupid not to.”
“Low score all around it seems, even for our new contact,” Zoe Warren told him, “So the plan is as we laid out then. He offered a little more in the end, not much, but a little more…” she said hopefully…
The two were a study in contrasts. The captain had a tall sturdy frame, a light complexion, and an ordinarily handsome face crowned with fine brown flyaway hair. Zoe’s skin was much darker, her frame feminine and strong, her face exotically beautiful set with large dark eyes. They had a depth of history that their friendship was built on. Nothing suggestive, only a war that they happened to be on the losing side of.
“Honest work for honest pay,” The captain said, “And it’s still not enough to fill Serenity for the trip, fuel costs money, as much as I wish it were otherwise.” Mal paused, “And we already had this discussion, didn’t we?”
“And I reckon we’ll have it a few more times before you leave, captain,” Zoe said without flinching, “Your plan needs work. I’d go so far to say that it…”
“It what?” Mal asked suddenly, “It sucks?” he feigned a little hurt in his voice, but Zoe knew him too good to even register it.
Her dark arms crossed her chest, “You could say that, sir,” but it might as well as been her saying that very same thing.
“We’ve had worst,” He stood with her, stretching his suspenders with his thumbs, “All I’m doing is substituting a little more lonesomeness for a little fuel. Kaylee and Wash think that the shuttle can do it. They said so last night when we talked…”
“Think is a might far from will, captain. Kaylee and my husband don’t have the responsibility of looking after you,” She folded her arms, “Nor the experience to do so…”
“Carried me on your back the whole war did you?” Mal asked.
“More often than not,” Zoe said unabashed.
“Would it help if I got a shiny badge with ‘CAPTAIN’ on it?” Mal said darkly.
“Only if I could pin it to your head on occasion,” Zoe replied smartly.
The captain instinctively rubbed his forehead, “Ouch.” Problem was Zoe might just do it.
“I imagine it would.” She said, “Hurt, I mean.”
“And I imagine you would,” Mal told her, “But if it does go wrong, you’ll be first to tell me, I’m sure.”
“‘I told you so’ only rewards itself when the recipient is among the living, captain…”
“Ain’t nothing goin’ to go wrong, Zoe,” Mal said, “Straight job, little pay equals safe.”
“And your backup?” Zoe said, “Does he know yet? Our little meeting was between you, me, my husband and Kaylee after dinner. I don’t suppose you got around to talking to the doc later on…”
“Doc’s a busy man,” Mal replied, though it was a sorry excuse, “Didn’t want to trouble him if the deal went south.”
“Trouble him?” Zoe laughed, “Trouble him? Now I know you’re reachin’. You enjoy torturing the man. May I recall the ‘Kaylee is dead’ prank?”
Malcolm Reynolds shook his head. But he didn’t immediately reply either. A reply would have validated his guilt. Not that he felt guilty, because the priceless look on the doctor’s face was still one of his most memorable moments.
“Doctor can take a punch.” Mal said.
“It ain’t the punches that I’m worried about.”
“He can take a bullet, too,” Mal replied, “I’ll take my turn as doctor if I have too…”
“And if it’s yours?” Zoe asked.
Mal gave her a dirty look, “I’m not going to shoot him.”
“Uh huh,” She smiled a knowing smile.
“You don’t have to be enjoying this, you know,” he said.
“Why’s that, sir?” But of course there was a humorous touch to the asking. Her captain had pulled her out of more adventures and such alive and kicking than she could count. More often than not he was responsible for them, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Zoe trusted him implicitly, but there were times that she enjoyed showing him up. This was one of those times.
“I’ve just never liked him, Zoe,” Mal stopped in the hall, “It’s no secret.”
She leaned against a railing, “It ain’t no secret that you haven’t been easy on him either, Captain. He would be well within his rights to tell you where to stick it.”
“But he won’t.” Captain Reynolds retorted, “It’s that fine shiny upbringin’ of his.”
“But you’re going to have to ask him and that’s going to be a little payback for a little of the grief you’ve given him.”
“What grief?” Mal asked.
Zoe leaned over as if he had whispered that last bit, “I’m sorry, sir. What was that?”
“So there’s been grief,” Mal conceded, “Never mind. I’ve been a little rough on the boy.”
“A little?” Zoe folded her arms, “How many times have you hit him?”
“And how many times have you hit Jayne?” she asked. She was of course referring to the surliest, crudest person on the ship. Jayne Cobb had a charm uniquely his, but his attitude was always insubordinate. And treacherous, as proven to Mal on Ariel months ago. Had he succeeded, Jayne would have had the doc and his sister turned into the authorities for a fat reward. Jayne learned several lessons that day. Two were prominent: Never trust a Fed. And what happens when you cross the captain.
As far as Zoe knew, Mal had done little but yell the brute down, but he got the point. He had hit the doctor twice in front of crew, once, Mal admitted to himself, Simon didn’t deserve, but the other he most certainly did. Jayne had been out of line far more, and other than nearly spacing him, had received far less, “Jayne’s different.”
“It would hurt more,” Mal quipped, “I think your husband has a pot on how thick Jayne’s head is…” he said rubbing his hand, “To say nothing about his jaw.”
“I’d use something heavy then,” Zoe said, “Maybe a wrench…”
Mal coughed. There had been a wrench involved in Jayne’s education on Ariel. With the same application that Zoe had in mind.
“What was that, sir?” Zoe asked, suspicious.
“Got a little something,” he coughed half heartedly, “In my throat…”
“Uh huh,” She didn’t believe him for a minute, but Zoe couldn’t make the connection.
“Go on,” Mal said gesturing for Zoe to wrap it up.
“There’s to be a pot on yours,” There was levity implied in her statement, but Zoe stared at him mirthlessly.
“I imagine there is that,” The captain said, “Can I get in on it?”
Zoe regarded him coldly, “I’d say more, but I see I don’t have too…”
“Do you now?” Mal asked, “How’s that?”
“Because you’re going to ask him and not order him,” Zoe replied, turning to walk away.
“I could order him you know…” Mal called after her.
“You could…” Zoe called back.
But they both knew he wouldn’t.
The captain found Simon right where he expected he would. In the ship’s infirmary pouring over the results of his sister’s daily tests. He and his sister were wanted by the Alliance, something that had brought Mal no end of problems. Problems that were fun to skirt, but still…
The doctor rescued his sister from an Alliance facility months ago on the suspicion that they were harming her in some way. Simon Tam had been right, at the time he had no idea what had been done to his sister, but it had been all kinds of unnatural. It had cost him everything to land on Mal’s ship, all his privilege, all his rank in the Alliance populace. He had had it all, but now it was ashes. He would reflect on it from time to time, but not nearly as much as he could. Simon focused all of his energy to help his sister, because, now, River Tam was all her brother had.
There was a slight movement indicating that the doctor had heard the door open, but he did not turn around. Mal found that that was one of the more infuriating things about the doctor. That one would have to address him to get his attention. As if his business was more important.
But it didn’t make it any less infuriating.
“Doctor,” the captain said.
Simon Tam turned around still engrossed in a file containing his daily findings, but shutting it when facing the captain, “Captain,” he looked around, presumably for anyone else, “What can I help you with?” He had a young lean form, angular handsome features that at least one of Mal’s crew found so.
There was a definite businesslike tone in his voice, stressing the relationship between the two men. Zoe was right. He hadn’t treated the doctor fairly. The only time that he ever really talked to the man alone was if one of the crew was injured or if his sister had done something unsettling. There was a moment that Mal wondered if they would ever get past the formality, or if he ever really wanted to. Would he ever be comfortable with calling the doctor by his first name?
“Captain,” Simon prompted again.
There was an intake of breath, “We’ve got ourselves a job, doctor.”
“I see,” the doctor opened his file again, “And how will we be promoting the general larceny and petty crime in the Black today?”
And then there were comments like that.
“Today, not so much,” Trying to remain civil, Mal changed topics, “How’s your sister?” Mal looked out the windows in the infirmary. The design of the ship had it uniquely separated from the deck that it was located on. It reminded Mal of a type of toy that he remembered seeing during his childhood. An egg-shaped doll that would open the reveal a smaller version of itself; which would be hallow and so on and so on… “She seems to be less…” he struggled for a discreet word for…
“Crazy?” Simon said blandly, reading the captain’s mind. Mal flinched. This wasn’t the way he had wanted the conversation to go at all. He wanted to at least give the impression that he was making the attempt to be civil. Instead, he hadn’t set the doctor at ease at all. Just mentioning River had put Simon on the defensive in a hurry.
“Yeah,” This was hard. Mal secretly wondered; if he could hit the man would it make it easier? He glanced back to the doctor.
“She’s doing well, which is as much as I can say right now,” Simon’s eyes narrowed, “Captain. If there is something you need, say so…”
“What makes you think that I’m holdin’ something back?” Mal asked him, “I thought your sister cornered the market on the mind readin’ on the ship.”
The doctor indicated the captain’s clenched fist, “Top three percent, captain…”
“Oh, that, well,” he forcibly unclenched his fist, “I’m going to need your help on the job, doctor,” Mal smiled that crooked smile of his, “That’s all.”
That winning smile.
Simon’s eyes never really left Mal’s hand, “Of course. Whatever I can do, captain.”
“We’ve a complicated run this time around, doctor,” the captain explained, opening a drawer in the counter he was leaning on, looking just to look, “Not much profitable, mind you,” he turned, “Those are usually the more larcenous jobs…”
The doctor nodded, “You take the honest jobs when you can, captain…”
“Believe it or not, this is one of those,” Mal agreed, “They’re less jingle, but less complicated. Don’t usually have to fight for what’s yours.” If only honest jobs could pay the way, Mal thought. But the reality of things was quite different.
“A curious turn of phrase considering most of your work involves theft…”
“Usually,” Mal couldn’t stop smiling despite himself, “But the part you play in this one will be inspecting some goods that are going to be passed on. Medical stuff, you see. Times being what they are, there is an unsettling amount of untrustworthiness about and since dispersing the Ariel merchandise; we have been gettin’ us a bit of a reputation with some of those goods,” he looked at Simon, “There maybe a whisper or two about us having a black market doctor on board…” Definitely the wrong thing to say.
“If that is the case, shouldn’t we be distancing ourselves from said jobs?” the doctor asked.
“Whispers aren’t that loud, doc. And work is difficult to come by as it is,” Mal said, “We can’t have it the way we want it all the time…” The captain’s tone of voice brooked no argument. Simon didn’t care for it, but he knew enough not to argue, “Is that all, captain?”
The captain was struck by a notion, “Do you trust me, doctor?”
Tam folded his arms, “Yes?”
A better answer than Mal expected, but it irked him still, “I see,” The captain flattened his hands against the countertop, “How’s that?”
“I can’t say that I understand you, captain,” the doctor said, “But I understand the need that you have for your crew to have a doctor.”
That raised a hackle or two, “‘Your crew?’” Mal asked, “You don’t believe that you’re part of the crew?”
“Not a part of the crew that you want,” Simon said with a trace of uncertainly in his voice, “But a part of the crew that you need.”
“So there is a trust…” Mal exchanged a look with him.
Simon held it.
“Good enough, I suppose,” Mal straightened, turned and left.
Zoe was just outside the infirmary. Mal hadn’t seen her during the discussion between him and the doctor, but he didn’t have to. He knew she was there.
“I didn’t have to ask him,” Mal said in passing.
“You didn’t order him either, did you?”
“I don’t suppose that you told him that you’re going to be alone with him in a shuttle for around forty eight hours?”
“It’ll give us something to talk about, Zoe,” the captain smiled, “And we won’t be spending all the time in the shuttle now, will we?”
“Talkin’ isn’t exactly the doctor’s strong suit, captain…”
“Maybe he’ll bring a book.”
“And what will you be doin’?” she asked him.
“That would be tellin’.” Mal retorted, “Now come on and help me move the cargo.”
“Inara sent us a wave,” Zoe told him, “Wash just told me through the intercom.”
Mal stopped, “Did she now?”
“She should be in just after we finish moving the cargo,” Zoe said, “I assume you’re going to talk to her before you leave?”
“Meaning what?” Mal asked.
Sometimes he could be completely transparent, Zoe thought. Especially to her. Every member of the crew had a place in the captain’s heart. Even the ones that weren’t getting the cut. He tried to keep them at arms length, but it didn’t make it any less true. Inara Serra with her finery and strength of character hadn’t only taken a place in his heart, but was rapidly becoming in possession of it. And unless Zoe was imagining things, Inara seemed to be enamored of Mal as well. They fought to each others amusement, a type of flirtatious argument that they were perfecting in form and function.
Unless something happened soon, Zoe imagined that they would quit their games and move on to something serious.
“She’s rather fond of River,” Zoe said, “And I’m sure Inara’d give us a hand with her.”
“Of course,” Mal said; something else clearly on his mind, “Did you tell that husband of yours to get down to the cargo bay?”
“I did,” Zoe said, “He’ll be right down.”
“I don’t see why I always have to lift the heavy stuff,” Jayne growled as he picked up his end of the sealed crate, “And why Goldilocks over there always gets to watch…” he jerked his head back toward Wash behind him sitting on a similar crate.
Mal grunted with his end, “You’re good at it, Jayne,” while the captain wasn’t as strong as Jayne, he and the preacher came in a solid second, “It’s on the list.”
“Yeah,” Wash yelled, “It’s not like we hired you for your brains!”
Jayne’s dark goatee jerked from a twitch in his eye.
Kaylee stared accusingly at Wash from across the bay. She had a few tools in hand and a few more parts on the floor. Mal had asked her what she was working on and she said something about realigning a transducer… or was it a capacitor? At any rate, Simon’s sister, River was watching her quietly. Watching so that she could draw Kaylee on one of the several drawing pads that Simon had bought her days ago. Mal glanced at the drawings and found them impressive. There was an incredible amount of depth for black and white. Kaylee absolutely adored them, vowing to pin them up in her room. Today wasn’t one of River’s more responsive days, but it was one of her calmer. That she could singularly concentrate on one thing without interruption was a good sign, but the immovable solemn look on her young beautiful face didn’t sit right with Mal at all. Even Kaylee couldn’t make her smile.
Jayne stared at Mal meaningfully, “I’m good at hurting people.”
The captain nodded, “Also on the list.”
The mercenary glanced back at the exuberant Wash, “I ain’t made my quota yet today.”
“Neither has Zoe,” Mal said deadpan as he walked.
Jayne shook his head, “Sometimes I think that’s the only reason he married her,” he said not quite out of earshot of Wash, “So he could have her fight his fights.”
The pilot whistled at the barb that would have had anyone else spitting lead, “Maybe she had to get someone to start them for her?” he called out.
Zoe took his shoulder, “Sorry honey,” she pointed to Mal, “That distinction goes to that man there.”
“Glad I could help.” Mal said. He had taken lead up the stairs, shifting the weight down to Jayne.
Wash turned around to her, “Then what do I have to do?” he asked plaintively.
She gave him a suggestive glance, “You have to ask?”
He piped up immediately, “Oh.”
“You know,” Jayne said, “we coulda had preacher help us with this, Mal. Instead of having to listen to that one run his mouth while we do it…”
Jayne was really becoming attached to the Shepherd, Mal thought, though not for the first time. The brute wasn’t much for company, but Book endured it better than anyone on the ship. Sought it occasionally. The preacher was a mystery; his knowledge of the Word of God wasn’t as impressive as some of the other that he had displayed on occasion. Mal kicked around the idea that he had been an Alliance officer before he had ‘taken up the cloth’ as it were.
Didn’t bother him much.
Everyone had the right to change.
To atone, as the preacher himself would surely say.
‘Course there was the question of the object of his atonement.
“Shepherd ain’t in it for the cut, Jayne. And I’m not askin’ for free work,” Mal said as they walked up the stairs.
“As much as it pains me to say,” Mal said out loud as he and Jayne approached the shuttle, “And it really pains me to say it, too. I have to agree with Jayne…”
“About hurtin’ people?” Jayne asked hopefully, “You said ‘pain.’”
“No,” Mal said much to the mercenary’s disappointment, “About Wash picking up the end of that crate and having a marital moment with his wife.”
Wash jumped off the cargo, “Here?” he gestured about, “In front of everyone?”
“Pick up the crate, sweetcakes,” Zoe grabbed the other end, “You’re getting Jayne excited.”
“Not holding this heavy crate with the captain, I’m not,” Jayne retorted.
“Yes, dear,” Wash bent over to help.
There was some grunting immediately, “Not on the list, not on the list!!!” he exclaimed, “Flying the ship and witty retorts!”
“Stow it, dear.” Not that Zoe didn’t enjoy her husband’s ranting; she just didn’t want to have him hurting himself while he did it. That and she wasn’t happy with the weight of the cargo either. Zoe Warren watched her husband’s fair face redden from the exertion as they carried the crate up. He didn’t notice the attention as he was too mindful of the stairs. By the time that they got to the top, it had turned such a hue that his hair appeared white.
Wash gasped, “I am.”
Jayne grabbed the handle from Wash without so much as a grunt, “Good job, little man.” Wash didn’t make a single comment as he staggered to the pilot’s seat in the front of the shuttle.
Mal took the handle from Zoe, “Got it.”
“Yes, sir,” Zoe went to join her winded husband. She, most noticeable to Mal, was not exhausted, “Are you sure about this, captain?” she called to the back of the shuttle, “We could just take Serenity to New Denver…”
“No, no, honey, then we’ll have to move all the cargo back…”
Zoe ignored him, “It doesn’t sit right to stay on course while you do this.”
“What is this?” Mal asked from behind, “Is this Kaylee’s doing?” He wasn’t angry necessarily, just a little startled.
There was a noncommittal grunt from Jayne. Whatever the captain found, he didn’t know about it.
“Yeah, captain,” Wash replied, “Something to guarantee that you have a little more fuel on the run.” He looked at Zoe hopefully, “By River’s calculations you were running it a mite thin…”
Zoe mouthed, ‘River?’
“She was feeling mathematical.” Wash shrugged, “But not the killin’ kind, mind you…”
Mal didn’t hear them. He and Jayne were still noisily securing the cargo, “When did ya’ll do this?”
“About an hour ago, captain…” Wash told him, “What d’ya think?”
“I think,” Mal’s head popped out of the small cargo hold of the shuttle, “I think we’ve got an over amount of worrying about a small side trip,” he looked at Zoe, a pleased look in his eye, “But a bit of consideration ain’t gonna kill us, will it?”
“That was the aim.” Wash said.
“As for taking Serenity to New Denver,” Mal said, “We already went over this, Zoe. But you warned me, so we’ll go over it again. If we use Serenity to make the run, we eat the profit in fuel,” he came to stand over Wash’s chair, “Besides…” he pointed out, “They like us around here.”
“They don’t know us around here,” Zoe objected.
Wash shrugged, “Same difference, dear.”
“Look how I’m changin’, Zoe.” Mal said with an exaggerated gesture, “Now I’m agreein’ with your husband…”
“Not my fault.” Wash said, seeing the cold look beginning in his wife’s eye, “Not my fault.”
“…first Jayne, then Wash. I’m really changing, Zoe,” he continued to gesture grandiosely, “A better, more improved Malcolm Reynolds, what do you think?”
Jayne joined them in time for Zoe to stand, “What’s all the yammering about?”
Ignoring Jayne as she usually did, “Has all the same problems as the old one…” she said to Mal, “Does some of his thinking without his brain in the skull. What happens if they don’t like you on this run? What if you run into trouble?”
“I can be charming.”
“Without your gun?” Zoe asked.
“I didn’t say that I was leaving that.” Mal replied.
“Maybe you should take Zoe with you…” Wash offered.
Mal focused on the blonde pilot, “And leave who in charge? Jayne?”
“Hey!” Jayne said behind them, “We didn’t do too bad last time…”
“Before or after the doctor drugged you?” Mal asked.
“Well…” the mercenary nearly scratched his head, “You’re taking him with you aren’t you?”
Zoe rolled her eyes.
“Oh,” Was Wash’s only response.
“Let’s wait a minute and ask the captain,” Mal said. He paused, “Well, it’s unanimous. We’re going with the captain’s plan. All the nays can stow it ‘till I give a goh-se…”
There was a significant silence leading into a thick tension between the two.
“That would be our cue, Jayne,” Wash stood and left his seat, passing the mercenary.
“Like I’m going to miss this,” Jayne replied.
“Jayne.” Both Mal and Zoe said in unison.
“Alright, alright,” the big man said, “I’m leavin’ already.”
As soon as the two left, Zoe and Mal sat down. The tension melted away.
“Thought they’d never leave,” Mal said blowing out a breath, “S’not like you to bring up something more than once. You’ve said your piece, Zoe. Is there something else?”
Zoe shook her head, “Still a stupid plan, sir.”
The captain picked up a plastic dinosaur off the pilot’s console, “Pick up a new batch did he?”
She focused on the toy, “Actually,” Zoe reached out, “I think that’s one of his favorites.”
“Oh,” Mal passed the dinosaur over, “Listen, Zoe…” he said, “It is a dumb plan, but it ain’t our worst. Serenity will still be in the area and there ain’t any Feds about. We gotta make some money, and we have to take some risks…”
“Still a stupid plan. The window’s too big. Forty eight hours, Mal?” she said, “Two days?”
“It’ll be one between check-ins…” Mal said, “We’ve done drops before.”
“With Monty, someone we trust. Someone we know,” Zoe said handling the dinosaur, “And your back up is going to be the doc?”
“Better than none,” Mal said.
“You sure got a funny way of looking at things.”
“I’m a funny guy,” the captain agreed.
“You are a mite more cheerful today than normal, which you know puts me on edge,” Zoe searched his blue eyes, “It’s almost like you don’t believe it yourself, captain, and that gives me the uncomfortables all over. The fact that you’re ignoring your own judgment…”
Mal didn’t blink under her scrutiny.
“Got that look, do you?”
“What look?” Mal asked innocently.
“That look that says that you won’t listen to reason no matter the source,” Zoe said disgustedly.
“Oh,” Mal smiled, “That look.”
She stood, “Come on, it’s time the doc was let in on the plan.”
Zoe passed the dinosaur to Wash waiting outside the door, “Brutus!” he exclaimed.
She flinched from her husband’s exuberance. Zoe could almost feel Jayne’s leer. Not that she cared.
“I left him behind yesterday, I guess. You found him?”
“Captain was playing with him,” she said as Mal came out of the shuttle.
“Mal, is this true?” Wash asked, drawing the toy protectively to his breast.
Mal glanced at Zoe’s not-so-straight face and back to her husband’s framed in boyish gasp, “Oh,” he sighed guiltily, “I suppose it had to come out sometime,” he took Wash by the shoulders, “Yes. Yes, Wash, I was playing with your dinosaur,” he exchanged a look with Zoe, “You’re right, Zoe. It does feel better.”
“I told you so, sir.”
“That you did.”
Jayne coughed, “You guys are weird,” he walked away, “And you tell me I’ve got problems. I’m going to find the preacher,” He glanced back, “Maybe get a workout goin’…”
“What was that?” Mal asked as he stretched a sore arm.
“A warm up,” Jayne replied.
“I’ve got others, captain…” Wash called out for Jayne’s appreciation, or lack there of.
“No. No, Wash,” the captain said theatrically, “I’m a one dinosaur man. I’m afraid it’s Brutus or no other…” Mal continued, not that he could match Wash’s coming performance, but…
“No Mal, no,” Wash reeled back dramatically, “He’s mine. All mine…”
“I can’t hear you!” Jayne called out.
“If that’s the way you feel about it…” the captain tugged on his chin.
“The final word?” Mal asked.
Mal gave him a look.
“I mean, no… No, Mal…”
This could have gone on for some time but Zoe quickly realized that the captain was going to make her suffer for even having her husband go on a comical tangent the way she did, “Honey?” Zoe sighed.
“Yes, dear?” Wash paused, his attention rapt.
“Read my mind.”
“Oh,” he reached up to put his hands (Brutus in one) on either side of her head and made a show of concentrating, “I see…” he paused again, “I see… I see I should go to our room and put up the plastic toy…” he looked up, “How’s that?”
“It’s one of your many gifts, dear,” she said deadpan.
Wash nodded and walked away, “Of course she doesn’t mean it, Brutus. Of course you’re not a plastic toy…”
“And watch out for Inara,” Mal called after him. “She’ll be here in a minute or two.”
“Work, work, work…” was Wash’s only reply.
Zoe watched him leave, her hand to her head, “Need a husband?”
“Not much for blonde and funny,” Mal quipped to her, “Kaylee!” he yelled.
A head of tied back brown hair popped out from underneath the grated floor, “Yes, cap’n?”
“What d’ya do to my shuttle?” Mal asked, hands out emphatically.
“Didn’t Wash tell you?” she asked reluctantly, “I thought that he would…” Kaylee faltered.
Zoe gave the captain a dirty look. Be nice.
“Of course he told me about it,” Mal said, “But he didn’t show me how to use it,” he waved up, “Get that pretty head up here and show your stupid captain what you’ve done for him.”
“Aye, cap’n,” she smiled and started up the stairs.
“I’ll go and help the doctor get ready,” Zoe said.
Mal nodded, “You do that.”
As she walked away, “I’m thinkin’ I should outfit the good doc with a sidearm, captain,” Zoe turned, “What are your thoughts on that?”
It was time for Mal to give her a look, but before he could say anything Kaylee popped up to his side, “Cap’n?” she asked sweet and lightly, “You ain’t mad are you?”
Mal watched Zoe turn with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Kaylee,” he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, “It’s hardest thing in the ‘verse to be mad at you…”
She looked up at him with those innocent wide eyes of hers, “But you ain’t, right?”
“No,” he ushered her in the shuttle, “But stop being cute and get in there…”
The shuttle’s hold wasn’t much, but it was enough to carry the pair of huge crates that the crew had just loaded into it. And a curious container off to the far corner of the ship. On it there was a dial and a couple of throw switches on a pair of pipes leading into the shuttle paneling. It looked a little haphazard with some of the hull plates bent out for the pipes, but Mal knew better. Kaylee beamed at it, proud of her work.
“It’s real simple, captain,” she wiped her hands on her green coveralls, “This dial shows you how much is in the spare tank,” she told a hold of one of the switches, “And you throw these to feed the engines off of it.”
“I don’t have to do anything else?” Mal asked.
“Well…” Kaylee said, “You’re going to have to slow your burn rate…” she smiled, “Serenity’s fuel is a little bit richer than the one for the shuttle…”
“Skimmed a bit off of her reserves, did you?” Mal asked.
“Yep,” Kaylee said, “And if you don’t need it, we’ll just put it back…”
“Alright, Kaylee,” Mal said, “Is there anything else? I’m thinking soft landings are a must…”
“It’s secured, cap’n,” Kaylee said defensively, “Me and Wash made sure of that.”
For a moment, Kaylee’s fingers never left the switch. It was so easy to read Kaylee, and Mal could see that she was worried. Might be worried about him, but the captain knew better. Simon was a project of Kaylee’s and he would bet that this was it, “Cap’n…” she said
“Simon’s one of us, right?” Bingo. “I mean, you wouldn’t do anything…” she let the sentence hang, “I mean, you wouldn’t, like…”
Mal folded his arms, but despite that there was a small current of guilt in him, “Spit it out, Kaylee Frye.”
She turned around, her blue eyes on the deck for a moment before meeting Mal’s, “You’re not going to do anything mean to him are you?”
The question hung there for a minute, “No,” Mal said, “I’m not going to do anything mean to him, Kaylee.”
“Of course, you’re not,” and before Mal could react, she hugged him warmly, “I shouldn’t even asked…”
Mal laid a hand on her back, the other trapped between him and Kaylee. Mal didn’t shrug it off. It never ceased to amaze him how warm and genuine his engineer was and how lucky he was to have her on board. Maybe he thought that Simon didn’t deserve her attention: a little jealousy on his part?
“Doin’ the whole cute thing, again…” Mal said.
She released him, “Sorry, cap’n.” but the smile never left her face.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mal said, “Now git…”
“Me and the captain,” Simon intoned, “Alone? For forty eight hours?”
Zoe nodded, “Looks that way…” she paused, “Simon.” Trying out the doctor’s name, she found that she wasn’t that comfortable with it.
Not that the doctor noticed, “And River?” he asked.
“That’s going to be up to you, doctor. What would you like to do?” Zoe asked, “Except for you staying on the ship,” she quickly amended, “We’ve looked after your sister before, and other than Book’s bible, nothing came of it…”
“I don’t suppose I could talk the captain out of it…” Simon asked.
“Already been tried,” Zoe said businesslike, “You’re not the only one that had a problem with the job,” she sighed, “But the captain’s in one of his stubborn moods.”
“Is there any other?” Simon asked.
That was a joke and Zoe smiled in spite of her self, “Careful, doc. You might actually be loosening up. But this mood’s a bit different. More jokes, less bullying.”
“He bullies you?” Simon asked her incredulous.
She shrugged, “He’s the captain. Doesn’t need to bully.”
“I suppose River could do without medication for a couple of days,” Simon said slowly, “There’s nothing that she is not on that will give her any chemical withdrawals. May do her some good to be off of them for a while…”
“May?” Zoe asked.
The doctor thought about it, “Should.” He said with some authority, “I wish I could be more specific, but…”
“Understood, doctor,” Zoe said, “We’ll take good care of her.”
Zoe could see that Simon didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to leave his sister. And he sure as hell didn’t want to go on a mission with Mal. The doctor sighed, “Does the captain delight in tormenting me?”
“As far as I can tell, that’s his way of communicating that he cares,” Zoe said, “Not that that’s a comforting thought for you, I imagine.” She said after catching the distraught glance the doctor gave her.
Simon blew out a breath, “It’ll be fun, right?”
“I’d be careful about that, doctor, the captain’s idea of fun might be a bit…” she paused to find the right word to complete the thought but failed, “Busy for you.”
“Am I going to get shot?” Simon asked.
“Can’t imagine the captain would shoot you without cause.” Zoe said.
“No,” Simon said mildly distressed, “By other people. Shot at.”
“Oh.” Zoe said, “Captain seems to think this will be an easy run, being this side of legal and all…”
“And what do you think?” Simon asked, “Unless you weren’t the one to try to persuade the captain otherwise about the job,” he said.
“I was, but I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Can I guess?”
“Guess away, but if you guess that it’s a whole lot of unspoken risk for too little a gain you might be gettin’ close.” Zoe said, “If you were to guess that. And I was at liberty to say either way.”
Simon registered it quickly. She was as happy as he was about the mission, “Of course.”
“Now that we’ve got the awkward stuff out of the way, let’s work on the nature of the job. The first cargo is a bit of pesticides for New Denver. Concentrated stuff for crops and the like. Then we pick up the second cargo, which is what the captain was mentioning to you…”
“The medical supplies,” Simon inferred.
“Check them out, make sure that they are what they’re supposed to be and take them to New Denver’s moon. They’ve a facility there that’s outside of Alliance influence, but does pretty well without it. Can’t imagine that it’ll remain that way for long, but for now, that’s the way it is.”
“And the unspoken risk?” Simon asked, “What are you worried about?”
“The fact that that’s it, is all. Too many unknowns. I’d feel better if the captain wasn’t doing this on his own,” Zoe stopped and looked at the doctor, “Shouldn’t have said that last bit, but I don’t have to tell you what happened the last time we thought it a simple job…”
The doctor knew. The last time involved Mal and Zoe’s husband, Wash. And a man that Mal had crossed, Adolai Niska. Niska had captured the pair and tortured the both of them for the crossing. The whole crew rescued them, but it had been a near thing.
“The captain’ll take care of you, doctor,” Zoe said.
“And what about himself? Will he take care of himself as well?” Simon asked, “Is that it?”
Zoe said nothing for a minute, “I can’t expect that it’ll be easy, and I really doubt that he’ll appreciate it, but that’s going to be your job as well. I don’t have to tell you that the captain doesn’t do trust well, do I, doc?”
“What do I need, Zoe?”
Zoe told him. She briefed him about the nature of the cargo, some medicines that he might bring with him in case things did go wrong. But at the end, Zoe sighed, “I hope you find answers for your sister, Simon,” She genuinely smiled at him, “Cause I sure could use a cure for crazy…”
Tam finished out filling his small red case, “Or at least something to knock the edge off,” he said, “Because it would be a boring ship otherwise…”
Zoe looked at him. Yes, she thought, he really is starting to grow, “Got that right, doc,” she said.
The first thing that Inara saw through the window on Serenity’s hatch was the captain’s smiling face. In some ways it was a relief, in others it was quite the bother. There was a mischievousness in that handsome face of his that Inara Serra could do without. A touch of the Mal’s insufferable personality that made it easier to not love the man the way she did.
There were things that had to be unspoken and withheld, Inara had long told herself. Her feelings for the captain fell into that. But lately she had to wonder if it was as true as when she had first known it.
And that was why she had to leave.
Her truths were starting to bleed, and reason didn’t seem to be enough to hold her to that oath.
She hadn’t the time left, and Inara would be damned if she hurt the ones that she loved and Mal not the least.
Not that the captain saw a lick of this introspection.
All he saw was the resigned roll of Inara’s dark eyes.
He opened the door for her.
Throughout the cargo bay, the companion saw every head turn. Except for Wash, Simon, and Zoe, they all were there. Kaylee sitting down with a serious River pouring over sketches, a smile on her lips as she looked up. Book and Jayne, stood together; the mercenary’s ever present leer on the rough hewn face of his, the Shepherd’s silent greeting in his eyes.
And the captain standing in the threshold.
“Permission to come aboard?” Inara asked him when he didn’t relent, “Mal?”
He closed the gap. Would it have been anyone else, they might have done something suggestive. But neither the captain nor the companion were unarmored, it took only a look for both to know that it was just a gesture.
“Not just yet,” he pushed past her, “We gotta talk.”
Inara sighed before shutting the door herself, catching a wave from Kaylee as she did so, “And for a moment I thought that you were happy to see me,” she indicated the door, “That was almost genteel…”
“You came back?”
“I told you I would, Mal,” Inara said sadly, “I’m not quite done yet. It’s a little harder to get your affairs in order this far out in the Black.”
“Still don’t know what you’re going to do, do you?”
Inara let that pass, “Happy to see me?” she asked him, “That goofy smile of yours had to be for something.”
He sampled the said smile while helping himself to Inara’s sofa, “I am,” he said, “And I’m sure they are too,” he pointed through her, meaning the rest of the crew, “But we’ve got a job, and I need to know if you’re still aiming to leave,” he said without preamble, as he said it Mal considered the couch, “I’m going to miss this…”
“First time you sat on it, you didn’t care for it at all,” Inara said, remembering, “Said ‘it was all kinds of unnatural.’”
He thought about it, “I did, didn’t I?”
“You did,” Inara said.
There was a pause.
“So…” Mal started, “Are you still…” he looked into her eyes, “With us?”
“Do you need me?” Inara said without thinking.
“Yes.” He stood up, “Yes, I do.”
“I need you to look after River, while me and the doc make a run.”
“Oh,” Was all that she trusted herself to say.
“Well?” Mal asked.
“I’ve got some time,” Inara said, not much time, “Like I said, I’ve a few affairs to neaten up before I leave. Preparations actually,” She stopped herself, “Wait. You and Simon?”
“Is there any other doctor on board?” Mal asked, “Gorrammit, why is everyone having such a hard time with this?”
“Alone?” Inara asked, “You and Simon. By yourselves?”
“What?” Mal asked, “Is that so hard?”
“You hate him.” Inara pointed out.
“I do not.” Mal said defensively.
“So he’s not one of my most favorite crew, is that a crime? On my own ship?” the captain said, “I don’t have to like the man to work with him… Take Jayne, for example…”
Inara wouldn’t have none of it, “You like Jayne.”
“What?” Mal asked as he followed Inara with his eyes, “I’ve got to hear this.”
“You like Jayne because he’s Jayne, he says whatever he wants whenever he wants. And he says it in the crudest way possible.”
“It is one of his winningest attributes,” Mal conceded, “Ok. You win that one.”
“And he keeps you sharp,” Inara said.
Mal’s eyes quickly narrowed but Inara wasn’t facing him at the moment and she missed it.
She touched Mal’s shoulder, “You’re not going to shoot him are you?”
The captain smiled, “Jayne or the doc?”
Inara laughed, “He has a name, Mal,” she ran her hand off his shoulder as if she was collecting dust from him, “And you can’t even say it.”
“I promised a certain prairie blossom that I wouldn’t lay a hand on him,” Mal said standing straighter.
“Are you going to shoot him?” Inara asked again, “I’ve got to be specific, you understand, Mal. I’m one of the few on this ship that look at him past his sister and title.”
“Shooting him would…” Mal watched her as she sat down, “qualify as… mean…”
Inara had quickly realized who Mal was referring to, “Kaylee’s so dear.”
“She is,” Mal looked at her, “And she’s the one you worry about tellin’ the most isn’t it? About you leavin’, that is.”
“That’s not fair, Mal.” Inara said, “That’s not fair at all.”
“So’s leavin’ without much of an explanation,” Mal accused her, “And if you hadn’t noticed in the last year, I don’t play favorites.”
She didn’t say anything. Mal expected disappointment, but there was nothing. God, he was going to miss her. Part of him wished that there was something that he could do to make her stay. But there was the other that respected that she had to lead her own life. He sat down next to her, “I think I could be the doctor,” he said.
“Oh really?” Inara asked, aware of his closeness but again, thought nothing of it.
“Having the attention of three of the four women on the ship has got to count for something…”
“Oh Mal,” Inara sighed, “You’re incorrigible.”
“Zoe says I’ve got to work on my charm,” Mal said, “How’s it coming?”
She shook her head, “I don’t think it’s the charm itself…”
“It’s the intention behind it,” Inara said.
“And that would be?” he blinked purposely.
And suddenly he was there, closer than she could imagine. Close enough that all she would have to do would lead him…“Out,” Inara pointed to the door.
Mal stood to his feet, “I think I’m going to miss that too…”
Inara said nothing.
Before he exited, Mal turned one last time, “And Inara,” Humor strangely absent from his voice, “You’re not leaving without sayin’ goodbye. Because if you do,” he opened the door, “I’ll drag you back for it.”
He closed the door.
“You wouldn’t be the man I’ve come to love if you didn’t,” she said to no one but herself.
“Doctor,” Mal said as he caught his first officer herding the young man from the direction of the infirmary, “Did Zoe tell you about the rest of the mission?”
“That she did, captain,” Simon tossed a glance at Zoe. He had his medical kit in hand, “Best be prepared.”
“Of course, of course,” Mal patted his gun on his hip, “I’d say between these we’ve got everything covered.”
The rest of the crew was there to see them off. Even Inara, who had recently come back from one of her business calls. She stood on the opposite side of the cargo bay, near the entrance to her own shuttle. Everyone else was down below.
Simon went to his sister first, “I was looking for you, mei-mei,” he took her face in her hands, “I bet you knew about this before I did.”
The gaze that returned was solemn, “Have fun,” River said.
The doctor smiled for her sake, “I’ll try,” he kissed her on the forehead, “No needles until I get back,” He looked her in the eye ruefully, “But no knifes or guns either.”
“Be good.” River mimicked his smile, “Big day. Head up.”
Shepherd Book stepped forward, “We’ll look after her, son. I got a new bible for her to…” he glanced at River, “Correct, if she has the urge.”
“Thank you.” Simon smiled.
Surprisingly, Jayne was next. Simon couldn’t help but wince in anticipation. There was a quiet moment as the big mercenary hesitated, “Try not to get yerself beat up again, doc.”
“Jayne,” Kaylee said reprovingly.
“Or cut up.”
“What?” Jayne said, “It’s not like he’s not coming back…”
“Thanks,” Simon put a hand on his shoulder, “That was…” he looked back at a befuddled Zoe, “Touching.”
Jayne brushed off his hand, “So’s that.”
Spontaneously, Kaylee pecked the doctor on the cheek, “For luck,” she said, blushing furiously.
The doctor glanced up to the captain, sighing inwardly. He looked back to Zoe who nodded encouragingly, “Time for an adventure.” Though there was a touch of the condemned in his shoulders, he walked up to the shuttle with Zoe and Kaylee in tow.
“Cap’n’ll take care of you,” Kaylee whispered.
Simon nodded, biting back the ironic reply, ‘That’s what I’m worried about.’
Before he entered the shuttle, he looked one last time at his sister standing next to the Shepherd. River met his gaze and nodded slightly. A thought appeared in his head, ‘I’ll take care of them,’ coming across as slightly maternal.
His imagination. Had to be.
Simon missed the look that Kaylee gave him as he stepped through the threshold.
Wash replaced him instantly from inside the shuttle, “You still know how to fly this thing, captain?”
Captain Reynolds ignored the jibe, “It check out?”
“Port thruster’s a bit touchy, but nothing serious,” Wash said.
“Alright, then,” he turned away from Wash, “How about my kiss for luck?” Mal asked out loud, his eyes on Kaylee. He stuck his chin out and offered Kaylee his cheek. He closed his eyes for emphasis.
“Of course, cap’n.”
And then there was something that Mal didn’t anticipate.
Wash sayin’, “Who am I to refute tradition?”
The captain’s eyes snapped open just in time for both Kaylee and Wash kiss him on opposing sides of his face.
Inara from the opposite side of the cargo hold caught the shocked and incredulous look on Mal’s face almost like it was framed. Decorum went out of the window as the laugh could not be denied. Zoe’s demeanor too, evaporated, and she soon joined the companion in riotous laughter.
Down below, Book’s expression was amused but contained, River’s confused.
Jayne’s was horrified.
To the left, the captain could feel Kaylee’s confusion.
Mal slowly straightened so that she could see Wash, who himself was wearing a straight face.
“I’m sorry that I can’t wait for you,” Wash said his blue eyes large, his hand to his heart, “But I’m already spoken for…” he pointed back to Zoe, “But do return pray tell…”
Kaylee put her hand to her mouth as she realized what Wash had done. Giggles were imminent.
Zoe had to have the support of the nearest bulkhead as she heard the last of her husband’s reply.
Mal finished straightening, a forced smile on his face; a malevolent twinkle in his eye for Wash, who had wisely stepped back toward his gasping wife. He surveyed the remains of his shattered dignity, pulled his long brown coat down about him, and entered the shuttle.
The laughter continued long after the doors were slammed shut.
Monday, September 13, 2004 2:16 AM
Monday, September 13, 2004 3:32 AM
Monday, September 13, 2004 7:08 AM
Monday, September 13, 2004 9:17 AM
Monday, September 13, 2004 1:51 PM
Friday, November 26, 2004 3:07 PM
Monday, June 6, 2005 9:33 AM
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