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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Hoban Washburne is still working on getting used to being a woman after rejoining his crew as their new pilot, but she soon discovers her new body might have issues with her moving in -- and moving on -- as well. And returning a favor to someone who helped Mal and Zoe during the War for Independence might be harder than either of them imagines.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1163 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
WASH: DOUBLE BOOKED
Part 1: Reservations
This here is a sequel to WASH: CONNECTING FLIGHT, so you might want to go read that first. Just a suggestion. *grin*
The sky on Boros was a deep clear blue, with scarcely a cloud in sight. The hills around the Firefly class transport Serenity were green and rolling, and seemed to go on forever. And the temperature outside was absolutely perfect -- warm without being hot, and just the slightest breeze ruffling the grass.
In fact, it was just the right sort of weather for putting on your skimpiest bathing suit and lying out in the sun, so your man can stare at you in all your sexiness until his eyes plumb fall out.
At least, that's what Kaylee said when she burst into the pilot's quarters that morning, dived into her footlocker, and started flinging bits and pieces of clothing into the air. After a few seconds, the mechanic squealed and pulled out an entirely-too-brief yellow string bikini. She turned to the other woman in the room with a grin, holding up her prize triumphantly.
"I knew I saw this when I helped you unpack," Kaylee said as she tossed the bright bits of cloth at the totally surprised redhead. The pilot snatched them out of the air without thinking, then held them at arm's length, suspended between confusion and fear. "Now get your clothes off and let's get outside!"
The woman froze, unable to believe what she'd just heard. "Excuse me?"
"I said get naked and put on your suit, Linda!" Kaylee could barely contain her excitement. "Come on, girl, time's a'wastin'. Simon's in the cargo bay, and Jayne's outside doin' somethin' with all his guns. It's the perfect time to show some skin!"
Her current appearance to the contrary, Hoban Washburne had been a man for most of his life. He grew up, became a pilot, taught himself how to juggle geese, flew a ship that he loved, and eventually married a warrior woman who loved him back. Despite the fact that he, his wife, and the entire crew of Serenity were smugglers and on the run, Wash had nonetheless looked forward to a long and happy future.
But after a life-ending encounter with a large metal spike and a brief meeting with an unlikely angel, he learned that his old ship and crew were in danger, and the only way to save them was to come back to the Verse as Serenity's new pilot. Unfortunately, that meant both becoming Linda Rachel Wehr, a beautiful redhead with enough curves to make even a flight suit look sexy -- and keeping his true identity a secret from friends and family.
Wash had spent the past two weeks getting comfortable in her new skin, and up until the mechanic's surprise entrance, she had thought she was doing pretty well. She didn't get startled by her own reflection anymore. She had adjusted to how her new body moved, and learned how to handle a radically different set of personal hygiene requirements without becoming seriously unhinged. And she'd found an ally in River Tam, a prodigy, a "reader" and an Alliance-trained living weapon, who could see past the woman she had become to the man she had been. River helped her bridge the gap between her two lives when things got ... interesting.
Of course, nothing he had experienced before or since she became Linda had ever prepared her for dealing with Kaywinnet Lee Frye when she was on a mission -- especially when that mission involved getting Wash into a string bikini.
Oblivious to her friend's discomfort, the mechanic pulled her own equally skimpy bathing suit out of a pocket and started peeling off her jumpsuit.
"I ain't been ogled proper in longer than I care to remember," Kaylee said over her shoulder, "and a girl likes to be . . . appreciated once in a while, don't ya think? Besides, we can give the boys somethin' to look at besides bulkheads and cows -- without lettin' 'em know that's what we're aimin' to do, a'course."
Wash watched as her new best friend pushed her mechanic's coveralls down over her hips and let them slide to the deck.
'This is not happening,' she thought, small pulses of fear running through her body. 'This is just a really bad dream. Can a person have a daymare? Because if she can, I'm having one.'
"I love comin' up with new ways to get Simon excited." The pretty mechanic kicked her feet to get them clear, slipped out of her panties, and started unhooking her bra. "And paradin' around wearing near enough to nothin' without actually bein' naked always seems to do the trick when it comes to menfolk."
Her underthings in a pile on the floor, Kaylee stopped to give herself a critical glance in the full-length mirror. She twisted slightly and nodded before she started shimmying into her suit bottoms.
Wash was mildly surprised at how small an impression a totally naked Kaylee made on her. She gave it a little thought, but finally decided her lack of appreciation was due as much to the situation as it was to being as much a woman as Kaylee -- well, physically, anyway. Then, unable to avoid it anymore, she focused on her growing sense of panic at the thought of having to actually put the bikini on ... and leave her cabin.
She held the various pieces of yellow cloth out in front of her, trying to process how they would fit on her new body, and how little of it they would actually cover.
'I can't wear this!' Wash thought, trying very hard to keep her fear from reaching her face. 'It's only pretending to be a bathing suit -- nothing but triangles and string! And I sure as hell don't want to get . . . well, anybody excited if I can help it!'
Kaylee threw a look over her shoulder at the frozen pilot, and her lips twisted into a bemused smile.
"Come on, girl! Get a move on! Who knows when the Captain and Zoe are goin' to get back from meetin' with the customer?" She finished pulling the bottom on, and started fussing with the top, taking her attention away from Wash. "You know Mal don't care too much for being this close to the Alliance shipyards, so we may have to break atmo pretty fast when he gets back."
Wash looked at the scraps of cloth, then looked at Kaylee in her own bikini. Suddenly, the pilot's bottom lip began to quiver, and her brain stuttered to a stop.
Her top securely fastened, the mechanic turned to find Linda on the edge of crying. Her own happiness forgotten, she stopped and dropped to one knee in front of her friend.
"What's wrong, honey?" Her voice was full of concern. "Why're you so upset?"
Wash opened her mouth, but nothing came out. What could she say? It was Linda's suit, after all. Why would Linda be afraid of wearing her own suit?
Kaylee put a hand on her knee. "It's just a bathin' suit, n? hái. Nothin' to fret about. We ain't plannin' an orgy. Just want to tease 'em some is all."
"And that's the problem, jei mei."
Kaylee turned, surprised. River was perched on top of the dresser, looking down at the mechanic with a small smile on her face.
"RIVER! How did you get in here?"
"I took atmospheric control shaft C from the kitchen," she replied, her tone conversational. "I crawled across to the main wiring juncture, and climbed past the self-sealing bulkhead doors at frame 17 to maintenance duct 21A. Then I wriggled 3.7 meters forward and dropped through that access hatch there." River cocked her head slightly, as if amused by the question. "How else would I have done it?"
"You coulda come through the door, genius." Kaylee stood up and put her hands on her hips. "And you coulda knocked first."
"I was already up in the superstructure." The younger girl dropped down to the deck with a dancer's grace, and rose to stand in front of the angry mechanic. "Besides, if I'd done it your way, Linda would still be sitting there with her lip quivering, NOT telling you what you need to know."
For a moment, the two women stared at each other. Finally, Kaylee sighed. "And what exactly do I need to know, River?"
"That Linda doesn't want to 'tease' anybody, especially Jayne. Right, Linda?" River moved aside so Kaylee could see the pilot's head bobbing like one of those silly bobble-headed geisha dolls Mal had them smuggle once, back when jobs weren't quite as easy to get as they are now.
"Really? Oh, honey, I'm so sorry." The mechanic plopped down on the edge of the bed next to Linda and gave her a quick hug. "I didn't mean to push you where you didn't wanna go, honest! I just seen how close you and Jayne have been since we left the Skyplex, and I thought ... well, you know."
Wash felt confusion rising up behind her eyes. "Know what?"
Kaylee hesitated. "You know ... that maybe you're gettin' ... interested in Jayne. Like, interested interested. Lots of star watchin' when you're flyin' and talkin' up a storm in the kitchen when you ain't, and I thought ... you know, maybe you and he -- maybe you wanted to --"
"Hey!" Agitated, Linda stood up and moved away, crossing her arms as she did. To Wash, the feeling of cradling her breasts as they rested on her forearms made her a bit uncomfortable. It reminded her of her new body just when she'd rather forget. But the woman she had become (and whose memories she shared) didn't notice the weight at all. She was uncomfortable for a whole different reason, and she wished the other girl would just let the subject drop.
The pilot turned back to her friend, almost pleading. "Look, Kaylee, it's only been ... what, a couple of weeks? I am so not ready for ... Jayne is not ... he's not ... WE'RE not ... I'm just being friendly!"
"Well, there's friendly and then there's friendly," Kaylee said, a bemused smile playing on her lips. "From where I'm sittin', Jayne's actin' like he's courtin' you, and you're actin' like you're being courted. He holds your chair at dinner every night, and you let him. Hell, you give him a thank you and a smile, every night. He ain't cussed once since we left Santo orbit, and he's got this goofy grin that creeps onto his face when he thinks he's all alone ... or when he thinks you ain't lookin'."
Wash stood there, dumbstruck. Inexplicitly, she felt her bottom lip begin to quiver again.
'I thought things were going so well,' she thought sadly. 'Jayne seemed to be growing up more and more each day. Now Kaylee thinks he's falling in love with me -- and I just let it happen. More than that, I encouraged it!'
Kaylee saw that lip start moving again and jumped to hug the other girl.
"Aww, honey, it's not a bad thing," she whispered, holding Linda as she trembled. "He's been so much nicer since you came aboard, and that's a fact. And he's got muscles on his muscles, and sweet eyes ... and that smile ain't half handsome. Maybe gettin' together with Jayne isn't the worst idea in the Verse."
"Besides," the mechanic said, pulling back to look in the pilot's eyes. "I've seen the same goofy grin on your face when you think he ain't looking. I'm thinkin' you like him more than you think you do -- or more than you want to admit."
Wash's blood froze. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.
The pounding on Linda's door took everyone but River by surprise. Her lip twitched once, as if she knew it was coming. The door swung inward, and a voice echoed down the ladder.
"Hey, uh, Linda? Didn't you say you wanted me to show you how t' shoot?"
Wash saw a way out of continuing this talk with Kaylee.
"Absolutely!" she hollered, her happiness and relief apparent in her tone. "Can't wait!"
"Great!" She heard the smile in Jayne's reply. "See ya outside!" The door slammed shut.
Linda turned to Kaylee with a smile, only to find the mechanic grinning at her. Kaylee's eyes were bright with pleasure. She grabbed the pilot by her shoulders.
"Jayne's teachin' ya how to shoot?" The question came out as a whisper, and Wash nodded, giving Kaylee a questioning look.
The mechanic squealed, jumped up and down, and wiggled all over like a puppy. Then she gave Linda another hug. The confused pilot did her best to return it.
"Why're you so happy?" she asked.
"Because he's teaching you how to shoot! Hell, girl, don’t you get it? You're goin' on a gorram date!" Kaylee grinned and gave her another squeeze. Still a little in shock, it took her a second to realize what the other girl had said.
"A ... a date?"
Kaylee nodded happily. "Guns and such are what Jayne knows best. A'course he's gonna want to bring 'em out and show 'em off for you." The other girl's eyes glazed over, and her grin became a dreamy smile. "He'll stand real close, and put his arms around you ... just to fix your aim. Then he'll put somethin' long and hard in your hands that explodes if you touch it just right." She stifled a giggle.
Wash turned to River, panic in her eyes. "A date?"
River threw her a small smile, and the pilot heard the younger girl's voice inside her head. 'Just go with it for now, Hoe-bann. It's not a tragedy. It's exactly what you were planning on doing anyway, only now Kaylee's slapped a label on it you can't deal with yet. We'll talk later, okay?'
Linda sighed, nodded, and turned back to the mechanic. "A date," she agreed, resigned to the inevitable. "Of course it's a date. What else could he do, find a five-star restaurant in the next cow pasture over?"
"You'll see," Kaylee said, giving Linda another hug. "Trust me, it'll be fun!"
"Fun," Wash replied, with a shaky smile. "Absolutely."
River leaped, spun once in mid-air, and landed crouching on top of the dresser.
"My work here is done," she intoned, her tone solemn. Then a little smile played at the edges of her lips, and she pulled herself up into the ship's in-between spaces, and was gone.
Kaylee shook her head.
"She's gonna fry something important crawlin’ around up there someday," she muttered, "and fry herself too, unless I can talk her into walkin’ around like everybody else. Thing is, all those ... side trips ... mean she probably knows Serenity better than I do by now – so I ain’t got much to say to make her stop."
The mechanic took a step back and gave Linda a critical once-over. "But You! Just look at you! You can't go on a date dressed like that!" She turned to Linda's closet and started burrowing again. "Get those gorram clothes off, and I'll see what I can find that'll make him want to pull your trigger!"
With another sigh, Wash turned away and started pulling her tee shirt over her head. 'Undressing for Jayne already?' she grumbled to herself. 'Is that what I've come to?'
Inside, a small part of her woke up and whispered, 'Whatever Kaylee choses, I hope it makes him smile. I really do like his smile.'
Wash frowned, confused. 'Dung ee-miao! Where the hell did that come from?' she wondered. 'Did I really think that?
Kaylee saw Linda freeze for a second and gave her a push. "Come on, fly girl! You're supposed to keep a man waitin', but not ‘til Hell freezes. Short attention spans, you know."
Wash went back to unbuttoning her pants and started rolling them over her hips. Whatever Kaylee was going to pick for her, she was sure it was going to be pretty, and feminine and exactly what Wash didn't want to wear. She just knew she wasn't going to like it.
'But I bet Jayne will,' she thought, and another smile grew on her lips before she pushed it away with a will. 'Aiya! Huaile! What is wrong with me? I feel like I'm fighting myself -- and no matter who wins, I know I'm gonna wind up losing!'
'You lied to her, River.' Chiang's voice was mild inside River's head, but she could hear what he wasn't saying as clear as if he'd said it aloud.
'Don't talk to me about lying, old man.' Her mental tone was conversational, almost as if they were discussing the weather. 'You've shown that you're surprisingly good at deception for someone who's supposed to be a good guy.'
'As are you, child," Chiang replied, a touch of ice behind his words. 'I'm still recovering from my ... night at the ballet.'
River smiled. 'Good. It wouldn't be much of a lesson if it didn't stick, now would it, Gladys?' The mental sigh made River smile wider, although her concern over Wash made it slip away much faster than it might have otherwise.
The object of her concern stood below her, shivering in her bra and panties. River perched in the gridwork above Wash’s cabin and watched through the many small holes in the ceiling. She could clearly see that the pilot was torn somehow, and a glance into her mind told her why. Half of her was excited by the prospect of wearing something that would catch Jayne's attention, and the other half was wondering why the first half had suddenly popped up and decided to let her know it was interested -- and how she could get that part to just go away.
'She's been acting more and more feminine in the past few weeks, but this ... it's way too soon. It's like something inside her wants to take things to the next level with Jayne,' she mused, reaching out to try and find where that impulse was coming from. 'But the Wash she used to be is soooo not ready.'
'Still, you did lie to her." Chiang appeared behind Kaylee in the room below, watching the proceedings with interest. Kaylee, of course, remained totally oblivious to his presence, as did Wash.
'I didn't lie," River replied, her mind elsewhere. 'The shooting lesson was exactly what Wash was planning on doing anyway. She just didn't realize it was actually a date until Kaylee decided it was one. And once that was out in the open, it was obvious that the word "date" really was a label Wash couldn't deal with ... yet.'
'But you downplayed its significance. It really is not just a shooting lesson anymore. Kaylee is quite right. Jayne is viewing this as a way to impress her ... to bring them closer. This is a date.'
'Yes, it is.' The girl kept probing the dividing line between Wash's two sides. 'And it's more. It's also forcing a confrontation inside her that could rip Wash apart. I won't let that happen.'
Chiang was silent for a moment, watching the pilot shiver. He sighed. 'I can tell you what Wash's problem is, although I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to help her.'
River growled inside. 'We'll see, old man. What's wrong with Wash?'
He looked up at the ceiling directly into River's eyes and sighed. 'Linda.'
For a while at least, the trip back on the Mule was whisper quiet. But Mal just knew it couldn't last. Even though a half hour had gone by since they'd left the meeting, he could feel Zoe finally getting ready to speak. He braced himself for the flood of common sense objections he knew she'd be hitting him with ... well, just about now.
"I don't like it, Sir." 'And there it is,' he thought, setting his jaw.
"I'm not likin' it too much my own self," Mal replied, his voice deceptively calm. "But there it is."
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Then ...
"I REALLY don't like it, Sir."
"I'm getting that, Zoe. I truly am." Heavy sigh. "But we owe Berenger a lot for gettin' us that ammo durin' the war when the supply lines were cut. He saved our lives when they needed savin', and that's a fact. I ain't about to say no to him now that he's the one in a tight spot. Especially since there's more cashy money waitin' when we set down at the delivery spot, and we never have enough of that."
Another long silence. "Captain, most of the crew are women."
He let a touch of irritation slip into his tone. "I had noticed that, Zoe. I ain't completely moon-brained."
"Not completely, no Sir."
"Captain, taking a ship full of women to Flynt is asking for trouble. It isn't safe, especially for Inara."
Mal set his jaw. "I ain't about to put her at risk, knowin' how they feel about Companions." Zoe flashed him a look, and he sighed. "Ain't about to risk any of you womenfolk going near the ground, either. Serenity stays in orbit. Me, the Doc, and Jayne take the cargo down in one of the shuttles. There ain't gonna be so much of it that we can't do it in two or three trips, easy peasy."
Another long silence. "Then I'm going with you, Sir."
"No, you ain't."
It was Zoe's turn to look stubborn. Mal sighed.
"Not sure if you looked in a mirror lately, Zoe," he said, "but there ain't no way in the Verse they ain't gonna notice you're a woman, and prob'ly a darn sight prettier than the ones they already got. You know gorram well what'll happen next. If you or me or Jayne have t' kill somebody 'cause they decide they want you to stay, we probably ain't gonna get paid. Now we're not flyin’ quite as close to the raggedy edge as we used to, but havin' coin sure enough beats not havin' coin when it comes to keepin' my boat in the black and my crew fed. So you stay on board and keep an eye on Serenity. That's an order."
It was Zoe's turn to sigh. "Yes, Sir."
Another minute passed. "Sir?"
"Just wanted to tell you I appreciate the compliment, Captain."
There was a small smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. "Yes, Sir. It sorta takes my breath away. All these years serving together and I never once knew you thought I was pretty."
Zoe could see the muscles in Mal's jaw moving as he gritted his teeth. "Just drive, Zoe."
Jayne hovered over the targets and the weapons, making sure everything was lined up just so. He knew he couldn't afford to mess this up, not even a little bit.
'Things have been real shiny with Linda the past few weeks,' he thought, moving a revolver just slightly to line up with its automatic cousin. 'Sure, there ain't been nothing like when she kissed my hand that night, but things are pretty easy between us, and gettin' easier every day. She sure does smile an awful lot when we're together, and that's more than I coulda hoped for back when she first joined the crew.'
Mal seemed to think Jayne was doing good, too, and that made him feel okay, even though he couldn’t quite puzzle out why the Captain’s opinion should matter all that much.
‘Listenin' to Mal ... well, it's workin' so far, even if it ain’t worked so good for Mal in the past,’ Jayne mused, picking up a clip full of hollow-point and running his thumb over it. ‘Still, ‘Nara seems happy enough, and that’s no lie. If he can keep ahold a' her, he must know somethin’ about keepin’ women happy.’ He thought about it for a second, then shrugged. 'Maybe he just knows how to keep 'Nara happy. But I guess for Mal, that's plenty.'
"Hey, mister. That's a lot of iron you're laying out there. Thinkin' the cows might attack?"
Linda's voice sounded almost like music, and he turned at the sound of it with a smile on his face to find her standing there --
-- wearing a dress.
Wash felt awkward and clumsy and a little exposed. The joke she tried to use to take the edge off of her "unveiling" had evidently slipped completely past him -- or had been totally trumped by his reaction to the outfit she had worn.
And it was just the reaction she had hoped to avoid.
The trouble with this double life of hers was that Wash had no way of coming up with good reasons why she didn't want to do what Kaylee wanted her to do, especially if it were something a woman might do and not think twice. For better or worse, Linda was a woman, and Wash was Linda now. Kaylee's usual response to Wash's half-hearted protests was confusion. "Why shouldn't you wear this dress, jei mei? How often do you get the chance, anyway? And why do you have it in your closet if you don't want to wear it someday?" Wash just wasn’t fast enough to keep up with questions somebody born in a body like this could answer.
And she couldn't just say "no" – not to Kaylee. Wash had always had a soft spot for the mechanic. She was one of the sweetest girls he'd ever known, back when he was still a guy. The pilot could see how important it was to Kaylee to dress Linda up, and in her new life, she loved Kaylee too much as a friend and a sister to push back too hard when she really wanted something. Also, the pilot knew that Kaylee's chances to indulge the girl inside her were few and far between -- after all, there was no room for frillies and flowers in the engine room, for all that she enjoyed her time there.
So, since Wash couldn't come up with a good enough reason not to, she found herself standing in a cow pasture wearing a sunflower-yellow dress that wrapped around her and hugged her body like a giant cloth anaconda.
'It covers everything and hides nothing,' Wash thought with a suppressed sigh. 'Just what I was afraid of.'
Kaylee had also made her hold still for what she called a "lick of paint," although the labels on the applicators made it plain it was really lipstick and blush. Add a pair of low-heeled sandals and a giggle-driven push out the cargo door, and here she stood, watching Jayne's eyes fall out.
But what really bothered Wash was, even though she was feeling mostly clumsy and awkward and exposed, there was also a rush of satisfaction and even pride at the effect she had on Jayne. Whatever had surfaced in her cabin was still with her, sending messages she didn't want and raising desires she couldn't handle. Whatever was happening, she felt like she was being pushed over a cliff into a lake of womanhood so deep, she might drown.
And when she realized that part of her welcomed the fall, another emotion rushed in and sent chills up and down her spine.
Jayne didn't know enough about girl stuff to describe it, but it made her look so gorram pretty he couldn't take his eyes off her. It was mostly sorta yellow, and wrapped itself around her curves well enough so you darn well knew they were there. It also showed enough skin to take a man's breath away.
Linda gave him a nervous smile, and took a step forward. "Penny for your thoughts?" she said, her tiny feet walking through the tall grass while the rest of her body played catch-up.
Jayne grinned and ducked his head. "You'd be wastin' your money, miss. Ain't been a thought in my head since I saw you in that dress, and that's a fact."
He watched her blush, and realized she felt as awkward as he did. 'And why would she feel like that?' he wondered. 'She's the one who wore the gorram thing. She had to know it'd drive me crazy -- why else would she wear it?'
Wash didn't know what to say, but she knew she had to say something.
"Well, it's so hard to choose what to wear to a shooting lesson," she said lightly. She tried to look down at her feet as she walked, but once again found her chest in the way. "They didn't really cover that in school, but I thought if you're shooting, you might want to ... you know, stand out? Instead of blending in, I mean. So other folks can ... not shoot you?"
"Well, you do stand out," Jayne smiled again. "But then, you stand out all the time, Linda. That there dress just makes you stand out ... a mite more, is all."
She stopped a few steps away from the mercenary. Wash thought quickly, trying to come up with something to say to a compliment she really didn't want, but her mind just came up blank.
But from somewhere deep inside, a triumphant surge of emotions rushed through her, too powerful to repress. There was an overwhelming wave of pride and lust and love and joy -- 'he thinks I'm special!' -- and she felt a smile light up her eyes an instant before it reached her lips.
"Thank you," she heard herself say, and she looked Jayne right in the eyes an instant before she lowered her lids to look at him through her lashes. Then, to Wash's surprise, her body performed a small bob of a curtsey, followed by a laugh that was little more than a giggle.
And Wash felt ... wonderful.
"So, are we going to get to the part where you actually teach me how to shoot," Linda went on playfully, "or just stand here talking about how good I look until it gets too dark to aim?"
Inara Serra watched the pair from the cargo bay door, a slight frown on her face. She had been waiting for Mal's return, anxious to hear where their next destination might be. Although she and her lover had come to an uneasy truce about her chosen profession, she still tried to avoid confronting him with it directly. In fact, she hadn't really taken on a client since Miranda, and her first and only job since then had turned out to not to be a client at all, but a trap -- one that nearly managed to kill them all when Niska used her as bait for Mal and the crew.
The truth was that Inara's reasons for becoming a Companion in the first place had faded with experience. Originally, the thought of being a bringer of pleasure and comfort to men and women across the Verse gave her a positive reason to flee her home world, and gave her life a real purpose, where before, she had none.
Inara learned the arts well, being both intelligent and caring. The circles she traveled in were rich and exotic, and the people to whom she brought pleasure and peace were erudite and witty. For the first time in her life, she was well and truly happy, and she looked forward to years of a life she thought she loved.
Then Inara chose to leave the central planets completely. There was a chance she might be pushed into service as a House Mother, instead of a working Companion, and the one thing she didn't want was to be in a situation where she would come to care for people as more than just friends or customers. So she headed out into the Verse, all the way to the Rim. But instead of the freedom she had hoped to find, she found Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity -- people who cared for each other, with lives that actually mattered. They were a family, held together by that impossible man who loved her for who she was, not for what she could do for him.
Mal was unlike any other man she'd ever known. His bitterness and disillusionment about the war hid a heart full of love and pride and fierce loyalty, and an honor that came from within. Oh, he was stupid on occasion -- Inara was sure that came with the testosterone -- but he was also brave and true, and a part of her had fallen for him within a week of renting his shuttle.
She fought it, of course. Getting involved was not a good career option for a Companion, and his dislike for her profession colored almost every interchange between them. But over time, she could see that Mal hated what she did, not who she was. And when she decided to stay on Serenity instead of going back to the Training House, Mal began to think about his reaction to what she did, and how it had pushed them apart. Even though he hated the thought of sharing Inara with others, Mal had gritted his teeth and agreed that she should follow her calling, if it was what she truly wanted. But once he agreed, she found her commitment to being a Companion fading, and her commitment to being Mal's alone growing.
It was not surprising that Inara was starting to wonder what she would do with her life if she chose not to be a Companion. But thinking about that just made her mind spin in circles, and the drama just unfolding outside the ship provided a welcome distraction -- and a bit of a mystery, too.
"They're cute, aren't they?" Simon had come upon her from behind, and followed her gaze towards the couple in the field. He shook his head. "I never thought I'd ever refer to Jayne as cute, but then I never thought he'd be able to charm our pretty new pilot quite so easily."
"It hasn't been easy for him, Simon." Inara didn't turn around. "He has been a hard man in a hard business for a long time, and not smart about many things. Learning to be something more than a thug -- learning to be the man he should have been instead of the man he was -- it was a challenge. Still is. And as for Linda ..." She let her voice trail off, watching.
Linda was still something of a puzzle. As part of her Companion training, Inara had been taught how to read people. Subtle cues in speech or movement were clues to emotional states, and in the two weeks since the Skyplex incident, Inara had seen Linda's actions warring with her emotions too many times not to wonder what was going on in the woman's head.
After the incident with the two hired men who tried to steal Serenity, Linda should have been a lot more shaken than she was. She had almost been raped by two strangers with guns, yet she seemed perfectly fine a few hours later. And Kaylee said she was talking and joking about the whole thing only minutes after Jayne rescued her. It didn't seem right, somehow, for her to shake off something like that so easily. Initially, Inara put it down to a pilot's overwhelming self-confidence, but still ... it seemed odd.
And Inara could also see that Linda was sometimes physically unsure as well. Most of the time she moved easily -- a woman comfortable with her body and content in her soul. But every once in a while her movements became awkward and unsure. Her face changed, too, sometimes, when she was thinking. Her expressions seemed strangely familiar, but not quite what you'd expect to see on a young woman's face at all.
"As for Linda," Kaylee said almost proudly, slipping into Simon's arms, "it looks like she's finally getting past that awful shyness that keeps creepin' up and stoppin' her from getting' what she wants. About time, too."
Simon's discovery of a swimsuit-clad mechanic in his arms distracted him for a moment, but after a kiss and a cuddle, he and Kaylee went back to watching the drama outside.
"She didn't look like she was enjoying herself when she first walked out there, Kaylee." Inara's voice held a note of mild disapproval, and her eyes never left the pair in the pasture. "One would almost think someone dressed her like that when she wasn't ready, and sent her where she didn't want to go looking like a princess ... or a snack for a certain mercenary."
"Well, she needed a bit of a push is all," the mechanic replied, just a touch defensive. "She doesn't want to admit that she likes him as more than just a friend, but a girl can tell. She's smitten, and that's a fact." She gave Simon a tight hug, and he hugged her back.
"Maybe." Inara watched a totally different Linda flirting her way through the lesson. "But for all that laughing and teasing she's doing now, a part of her is still fighting to pull back."
"That's not surprising, really," Simon put in, kissing the top of Kaylee's head. "Jayne's only been new and improved for a few weeks. She'd have to be a little worried he'd backslide, and become the ill-mannered thug he used to be."
"Not when he's got her interested at last," Kaylee insisted. "The walls are down, and he's got himself a gorram reward for trying to be better. Ain't no way he's gonna mess that up now."
Inara smiled, and shook her head. "He's still Jayne, Kaylee. He's made more than his share of stupid decisions over the years. I'm not sure he's totally cured of being his own worst enemy, are you?"
Jayne was a mite surprised by how downright ... playful Linda was being. Not that he minded. It was the first time she'd really flirted with him since she came on board, and he had to admit it was a hell of a lot of fun. He really wasn't sure what it meant, though.
He spent a lot of time thinkin' about it, between teachin' her how to hold and aim a piece, and doin' his best to flirt back. Flirtin', he'd discovered, could be plenty hard. Playin' with words, while keepin' an eye on all sorts of lines he couldn't cross, while she said and did things that made him want to scoop her up and carry her to his bunk. Gorram confusin' -- he was both excited and scared at the same time.
'In the past, flirtin' was what came before bein' sexed -- or at least settin' a price,' he thought, watching her handle one of the smaller revolvers. 'But I'm know she ain't lookin' for coin. Question is, is she lookin' for sex? Or is it just too soon for that? Damn it, Mal, where the hell are you? If I guess wrong, she's gonna hate me somethin' fierce, and that's a fact.'
One thing for sure -- even in a purty yellow dress, she could shoot the wings off a gorram fly, and it'd never know they was gone until it tried to take off. And that was just with what he had out here. With the Callahan Minaret he'd bought her back in the Skyplex, she'd be durn near unstoppable.
Linda was enjoying herself, mostly. There were so many things to experience now, and so much fun just being again. She loved the feel of the dress as it held her. She couldn't remember the last time Linda had worn it, but it felt wonderful, and she knew ... she knew she looked good in it. She loved the way Jayne paid attention to her when she moved, and she loved how it felt inside when she paid attention to Jayne as he moved. And flirting! Gods, she'd always loved flirting, and she enjoyed watching Jayne do his best to flirt back.
And the shooting! She'd hadn't been bad at it, back when Wash was a he, but in Linda's body, every shot was a bulls-eye. Every weapon felt just right in her hand, and the shots always went where they were told. In a way, it was just like flying, only in the palm of your hand. She knew it impressed the hell out of Jayne, and she really wanted to impress him ... among other things she'd like to do with someone built like that.
For the first time in weeks, she was well and truly happy, and it made her glow in ways she couldn't describe, but didn't have to. She just felt ... good!
Meanwhile, the man who used to be Hoban Washburne felt the bits and pieces of who he had been start to slip away in the joy of just being. The desperate need to be whole again -- to finally just feel right, body and soul -- poured out of the core of what had been Linda Wehr and threatened to drown him, leaving nothing but a memory.
'Hey! Still IN here!' he hollered into the rush of feelings. 'Still ME in here!' When nothing happened, he yelled, 'Still SUPPOSED to be me in here, right?!'
'Yes, it is.' Chiang's voice settled over him, granting a measure of calm. 'But the years of memories from Linda's past, and all the physical responses from a past happily spent as a woman, have risen together. They are threatening to take back Linda's life from the soul we sent to take her place. And all you have to fight her is who you were ... who you are.'
'It feels so good, not to fight it anymore. To just BE.' She shuddered, as another wave of happiness washed over her. 'But I can't surrender. I can't BE her. I have to be ME to save the crew.'
'How do I fight this?!' Wash was frantic. 'It's too much. Too soon! Damn it, Chiang, save me!'
'I can't save you,' the old man replied with a touch of regret. 'This is one battle you must fight on your own.'
'But they're ALL battles I have to fight on my own!' The pilot felt frustration merging with his fear. 'Ai-yah! Tyen-ah, Gladys, can't you do anything except float on command and hang me out to dry?'
Wash felt Linda eyeing Jayne lustfully as he bent over to retrieve some spent shells, and the feelings of desire that rushed through her were so strong that they overwhelmed what little restraint she could muster. It was both unbelievably welcome and incredibly frightening. The chance to be whole again ... she wanted it so much, Wash and Linda both. But accepting her need for Jayne meant surrendering completely to the woman she had become.
But Wash wasn't ready to give up being Wash just yet. And if she was supposed to save the crew as Wash, how could she do it when all there was left in the pilot's seat ... was Linda?
'Relax, Hoe-bann.' River's voice pushed back on Linda's influence with a calm assurance that lent Wash strength. The feeling of being overwhelmed receded just a little, and Wash took a trembling step back from the edge.
'River!!' Wash screamed inside.
'Don't worry, fly girl. I won't let you fall.'
'But how can you stop me? There's so much of her, pushing to make me be the Linda that was.' Wash felt her resolve slipping. 'How can you save me? How can I save myself?'
River's image rose in front of him, and she smiled. 'That's easy, Wash. By remembering.'
'Remembering?' The pilot let confusion enter her inner voice. 'Remembering what?'
'Who you are, and why you're here.' River looked right at her, and Wash could feel the young girl's power push Linda's ghost back even more. 'Think back to where you came from, and remember who you loved and lost and came back here to save.'
She looked over Wash's shoulder. 'Turn around, jei mei. This will make it much simpler.'
The sound of the Mule's engine's whine rose behind her, and fell off to silence. She turned, and saw Zoe's smiling face as she jumped from the driver's seat and wandered over to stand next to Linda and look towards her target.
'Zoe.' The name pulled Wash back from the brink, and pushed back the remnants of Linda's comforting sense of implacable wholeness with memories of the before times. Between the strength of her bond with her former wife, and the powerful love they once shared, Linda's influence receded, and the pilot found she could breathe again.
"Hey, Linda," Zoe said with a smile, throwing an arm around the pilot's shoulders and giving her a squeeze. Wash felt it deep in her soul, and smiled back. "If those targets are yours, you're a mighty fine shot."
"Well, Jayne's a mighty fine teacher," Wash replied, nodding over at the mercenary. "Credit where credit is due."
"I ain't had nothin' to do with it, and that's a fact." Jayne grinned. "She's a natural."
Mal's voice came from behind. "Well, this I've got to see. Knew we got us a better than fair pilot -- never figured we'd pick up a sharpshooter, too."
"Show 'em, Linda," Jayne said, stepping back and waving a hand at the targets. Wash took aim at the nearest one, and made sure the range was clear. Then she pulled the trigger.
And missed, barely hitting the target.
There was a long silence. She focused, and tried again. This time she hit one of the inner circles, but nowhere near the center.
"Whoa," she breathed. "What happened?"
Zoe put a hand on her shoulder. "We did, honey."
Wash turned to her, a question on her face. Zoe sighed. "I've seen this before. You were in the zone, and we came and knocked you out of it." She gave the pilot's shoulder a squeeze. "Not to worry, Linda. You'll get it back. Once you've been there, it's easy to find again."
Jayne started towards the fence. "I'll set up some new targets and we'll work on it some more."
Mal's voice cut in. "No, you won't, Jayne. We got us a job, and we need to hop to. Linda's shootin' practice'll have to wait. We need her in the pilot's seat now to get Serenity to the pick-up point." The captain looked her up and down. "Ain't got time for you to change, girl. Can you still fly in that pretty dress?"
Wash blushed. "Yes, sir, Captain sir," she replied. "The skill doesn't come with the flight suit."
He grinned and ducked his head. "Right enough," he said. "So get on back and start gettin' the boat ready. We lift as soon as we're able. Zoe, tell Kaylee we need to be in the air sooner rather than later. I'll help Jayne stow his ... gear."
Wash nodded, turned, and started making her way back across the pasture. She was in control again, thank the gods. But a feeling of uneasiness began creeping over her as she walked.
She was moving too easily. The uneven ground had been a challenge only a short time ago. Now the unfamiliar combination of dress and sandals felt almost comfortable, and she covered the distance between the targets and the ship with barely a stumble.
In spite of River's help, some of the Linda That Was had managed to wind up a part of Wash, almost without her noticing. And that frightened her, all over again.
Because if she lost a little of herself every time she won a battle, how long would it be before she lost the war?
© 2009 as a work in progress. The universe belongs to Joss Whedon, I'm just borrowin' it some. Posted by the author.
Friday, February 06, 2009 1:14 PM
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