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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
In the fourth part of WASH: DOUBLE BOOKED, the crew finds out where the cargo's destined for, and ain't none of 'em are happy about it. A lot happens between pick-up and delivery -- folks get inventive, Wash learns more about herself than she'd like, and everyone wonders if, just this once, Mal's plan will finally go smooth. *snort* As if.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1082 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“We’re going WHERE?”
Inara’s shout bounced off of the kitchen walls. The whole crew was sitting around the table, dinner dishes still waiting to be gathered and washed, when Mal let slip where the ship was heading.
Mal looked at Inara. “Flynt. That’s the job. It’s just a delivery, ‘Nara. Zoe and I owe Berenger from ... before, and this job is payback. That’s all.”
“The Guild has a standing warning out for Flynt,” the Companion said, her face torn between anger and fear. “The people who run it have Alliance patrons so powerful, not even the Guild can put pressure on them. And any woman who lands on Flynt never leaves. Ever. No one knows why, and anyone they send in to find out doesn’t come back either.”
“Ain’t gonna land.” Zoe spoke up, although her tone indicated she didn’t necessarily believe what she was saying. “Captain said we’d load the cargo in one of the shuttles, then he and Jayne make two or three trips. I believe the expression was ‘easy, peasy,’ wasn’t it, Sir?”
“Serenity ain’t getting any closer to that moon than she has to, and that’s a fact.” Mal stood up. “I ain’t risking my crew or my ship just to pay back a debt. If I didn’t think we could do this, we wouldn’t be on our way. Hell, they don’t even have to know we got women on board. We just tell ‘em we’re using the shuttle to save fuel, ‘cause the cargo is so small.”
“Yes, Cap’n ... but Flynt?” Kaylee looked up at Mal. “I mean, I heard about Flynt long before I signed up with you. Campfire stories, like Reavers, and we all know how much truth there was in them.”
“Well, Mal and I keep our eyes open, maybe we find out why Flynt’s so gorram scary,” Jayne said, pouring himself another whiskey. “I ain’t sayin’ I’m happy we’re goin’ anywhere near the place, but if I learned anythin’ from what happened on Miranda, it’s that not knowin’ somethin’ can bite you pretty hard. And I ain’t got over the last time we got bit.”
Mal shook his head. “We already know Flynt’s dangerous. That’s all we need to know. We do the job. We get paid. And we get gone. Dong-mah?” He gave Jayne one last look before turning and walking away from the table.
Inara watched his back and sighed. “That exit would have been more effective if he actually had somewhere to go.”
“Anywhere but here was good enough for now, I’m thinking.” Zoe looked in the direction Mal had gone, as if she could see him through the walls of the ship. She shook her head. “Captain isn’t happy with doing this either. He doesn’t want to put any of us in danger, but he owes Berenger, and Mal always pays his debts. So he’ll do what he can to keep us safe, but he can’t turn down the job. Not and be the Captain.”
“Some of those stories, Zoe ...” Kaylee shivered. “I know they were supposed to be scary and all, but some of ‘em talked about girls treated like animals ... and one girl said she heard the men there liked to steal women from passing ships and serve ‘em up in a stew for supper.”
“You seem awfully quiet, Linda.” Inara turned her attention to the pilot. “What do you think of all this?”
Wash was staring at the far corner of the room, thinking back to all the stories she’d heard in flight school about Flynt. Wash had become a pilot to go see as much of the Verse as she could, and visit every star she could never see from the surface of her cloud-shrouded homeworld. But even when she had been a he, she’d had no desire to go site-seeing on that particular hunk of rock. She remembered wanting to give the moon a wide berth. After all, any place that made women disappear was no place Hobart Washburn ever wanted to go. He LIKED women. A lot.
Now that she was one, Flynt was about as attractive a destination as the heart of the Sun. Or whatever was left of Earth That Was. She sighed.
“I’m thinking that Flynt is the last place any of us want to be,” she said simply. “I also think it’s the one place Mal has to take us to still be Mal, even though it’s eating him up inside to take us along. He’s my captain, and this is my crew. So I’ll be flying when Serenity hits orbit. No matter what happens.”
She pushed her cup around on the tabletop, then looked up at Inara.
“There’s an old saying, dates back from when Earth That Was was all there was,” she said softly. “From Navy ships, I think. ‘The Captain is right, even when he’s wrong.’ I never used to believe it, but now I’m starting to understand.”
Inara tiled her head slightly, confused. Kaylee and Simon looked at each other, then back at Linda.
“Makes no gorram sense,” Jayne growled. ‘How can he be right, even when he’s wrong?”
River spoke up for the first time, and everyone turned to her. “It means we’d better hope that he’s right, even when we think he’s wrong. He’s the Captain, and that’s the hardest job on the ship. Mal has to make the right call every time a decision needs to be made, because we follow him and all of our lives are in his hands. If he calls it wrong, we could lose everything.”
Linda nodded. “What makes it worse for Mal is that we’re not just crew, we’re family. And this is not just a ship. It’s home.”
Zoe gave her a grin. “Damn, girl! When did pilots get so smart?” Linda blushed and looked down.
“So what can we do?” Kaylee took Simon’s hand. Simon gave it a squeeze.
“We do whatever we can to make sure the Captain’s plan goes smooth,” he replied. “And we think about what we can do to fix things if it doesn’t.” Simon thought for a moment. “Jayne had the right idea a few minutes ago.”
The mercenary turned. “I did?”
Simon nodded. “I know, it’s hard for me to believe, too.”
Jayne narrowed his eyes and gave the doctor a mock snarl. “We may be ‘family’ now, doc, but I grew up knockin’ my brothers around when they forgot to mind their manners.”
After looking at Jayne for a few seconds, Simon nodded.
“You’re right, Jayne, I’m sorry,” he said. “I saw an easy point to score and I took it.”
Jayne gritted his teeth to keep his jaw from dropping. The doctor was apologizin’ ... to him?
‘Ain’t never expected the doc and me would get along,’ he thought, ‘just sort of keep our distance. Always felt like he looked down on me, never did like it much. But Kaylee loves him. He stood up on the Skyplex. And this ... well, it’s – different. Not sure what it is, but it ain’t nothing. Best be careful about it.’
Still keeping his expression calm, he nodded once.
“All right, then,” he replied, and pushed his private bottle over to Simon. “Pour yourself some home brew and tell me what I was right about.”
Simon raised an eyebrow, then poured himself a small shot before continuing.
“Despite what Mal said, you need to keep your eyes open down there.” He stood up, drink in hand, and started to pace. “You’re going to have to watch his back and try to figure out what’s going on at the same time. And you need to let us know somehow, without them knowing you’re talking to us. Any ideas?”
“A short-range comm fits right in the ear,” Zoe said thoughtfully, “but it doesn’t have enough power to reach Serenity in orbit.”
“I can rig a short-range comm to bounce transmit through the shuttle’s system,” Kaylee said, watching Simon move around the room. “Just need to hide it from pryin’ eyes is all, so the channel stays open even when it looks shut down.”
“It would help if we had a way to see as well as hear.” River pulled her feet up and wrapped her arms around her knees. “A picture is worth a thousand words, and the less Jayne talks, the less likely it is that they’ll figure out he’s talking to us.”
“I don’t think we have anything that can do that,” Kaylee replied sadly. “That’s high-end Alliance tech.”
“Dobson!” Inara stood up. “He had some things with him ... a pocket transmitter powerful enough to reach an Alliance patrol ship. Maybe he had something we could use.”
“Ain’t gonna do us much good if he did,” Jayne said, slumping back in his chair. “I think Mal tossed his stuff out an airlock once we were far enough from Whitefall. Afraid there might be a tracker or somethin’ hidden in ol’ Lawrence’s luggage.”
There was a silence as the group sat, thinking.
Suddenly, Wash remembered something.
“Inara,” she said slowly. “You’ve got a high-end Cortex terminal in your shuttle, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Inara replied. “It’s how I find clients, independent of Serenity’s main comm system.”
River’s head came up, a tiny smile growing on her lips. “It’s got a very nice camera in it.”
“But it’s a desktop unit. Jayne couldn’t carry it around with him.” The Companion’s lip quirked. “I thought we were trying to be ... sneaky.”
Kaylee grinned. “Don’t need the whole terminal, ‘Nara. Just need to borrow the camera for a while.” She stood up and started pacing herself. “Got to figure out how to sync the transmission with the short range comm, but that ain’t the problem. Hiding the rig on Jayne might be. Won’t be huge – heck, camera’s not much bigger than a bug bite -- but it needs a clear view, a power source, and another short range comm.”
She stopped and turned, blushing slightly. “Oh, sorry. Gettin’ ahead of myself. Can we borrow it, ‘Nara? I can put it back afters, I promise.”
“Of course, Kaylee.” Inara smiled. “I can do without it for a while. After all, it’s not like I plan on doing any business on THAT moon.”
‘Or on any moon for a while, if at all,’ she thought, her mind wandering back to leaving the Guild and her profession. ‘I’m starting to think I can’t be a Companion anymore. But will it be enough for me just to be ... Mal’s?’
“I got some belt buckles might be big enough,” Jayne mused, staring up at the ceiling. “Got some mini-grenades in ‘em, for emergencies, like. Never got around to wearing ‘em, though. Havin’ explosives that close to my crotch – well, it just didn’t set right somehow.”
Kaylee came over and pulled Jayne out of his chair. “Well come on, then! Let’s see what ya got!”
Linda stood up. “I think I know enough to disassemble that terminal and remove the camera, if that’s okay, Inara?”
The Companion nodded, her attention focused on the crew she’d truly become part of when they found Miranda and lost Wash and Book. She watched these people coming together, using what they know to back up the Captain without him even knowing they were doing it, and suddenly felt strangely useless.
‘If I really am crew, I need a purpose on this ship.’ The thought disturbed her. ‘And what can I do to keep Serenity flying that no one here can do as well or better?’
“Inara?” Linda stood next to her. She looked up at the pilot and smiled.
“Yes, that’s fine, Linda. As Mal says, ‘let’s be about it.’”
Wash found her smaller fingers made working with the tiny Alliance-made electronics much easier than it used to be, and she delivered the camera to Kaylee in Jayne’s quarters. The mechanic was removing the mini-grenades from the belt buckle one at a time, bypassing the dispenser that armed them automatically when they were released.
Jayne picked up each explosive pill carefully and put it in a cushioned wooden box. As the pilot leaned in to watch, she found her breasts pressed into the mercenary’s side. Jayne froze in mid-motion.
“Linda,” he whispered, almost too soft to hear. “As nice as that feels, it ain’t worth all of us blowin’ up, don’t ya think?”
Wash backed up, realizing she had crossed a line she didn’t know was there.
“I’m sorry,” she said aloud, her voice trembling as she backed all the way to the ladder. “I shouldn’t be in here when you’re doing this anyway. Barely room enough for one as it is. Let me know if you need something.”
The pilot turned and climbed, moving up and out of the space as quickly as she could.
“Nice going, Jayne,” Kaylee muttered, her eyes still on her work. “She didn’t mean nothin’ – she just wanted to see what was goin’ on.”
“Well, don’t matter none if she meant it or not,” he replied. “That girl does things to me that shouldn’t oughta be done to a man when he’s movin’ ‘splosives around. I ain’t sayin’ I don’t want her to do that again, I’m just sayin’ there’re better things to be holdin’ onto when she does.”
“Maybe you should tell her that,” the mechanic said, lifting the last grenade from the buckle, “once her face stops being as red as a strawberry waitin’ to be picked.”
“Maybe I will.” Jayne took the device from Kaylee and turned slowly. He hesitated for a minute, then went on. “This courtin’ stuff ain’t easy. Seems like half the time everythin’ I do is wrong. If she don’t know what she does to me by now, maybe I’d best be showin’ her how I feel.”
“How do you feel, Jayne?” She bent over the buckle intently. “About Linda?”
He froze, then tried to bluff. “Gorram, Kaylee girl. Ain’t it a bit late for the birds n’ the bees, considerin’ the noises comin’ outta your bunk ... yours and the Doc’s?”
She tossed him a frown and went back to her work. “I ain’t talkin’ about getting sexed, sah gwa, and you know it. How do you feel about her?”
His fingers shook as he put down the last grenade. Kaylee snuck a peek out of the corner of her eye, and watched him swallow.
“You love her, don’t you?” The words hung there in the air for a second as Jayne thought about ‘em.
“I ain’t never been in love before, as far as I know,” the mercenary said finally, his eyes glued to the box of grenades. “But I ain’t never felt like this for a woman before, and that’s a fact. I been workin’ on being the kinda man she’d think about lovin’ back, but damned if I know how that’s workin out.”
“Pretty well, I’m thinkin’,” Kaylee replied, “If what happened just now means anything, she’s as confused as you are. Maybe it is time you showed her how you feel, so she knows where you stand ... and whether she wants what you’re offerin’.”
“I bought her somethin’ special.” Jayne turned to look at the back of Kaylee’s head while she worked. “Back at the Skyplex. Figured I’d hold onto it until the right time – like I’d know when the right time is.”
“There you go. Maybe it’s now. Give the girl a gift already, let her know you care.” She popped out the dispenser mechanism and started poking at the buckle’s innards with her smallest tools. “In the meantime, go somewhere else for a while.”
“You kickin’ me out of my bunk?” His eyes widened. Kaylee turned her head and gave him a frown.
“Unless you want to explain to the Captain what I’m doing carrying around your belt buckle, Inara’s camera, some short range comms and a whole bunch of tools – you know, if I should bump into him on the way back to my workbench.” She turned back to her work. “I ain’t leavin’ this room until somebody can look at your crotch and smile, Jayne. So this might take some time.” Her lip twitched.
“Huh,” he muttered, heading for the ladder. “That’s HI-larious.”
Wash let the ladder-door of her room slam shut above her, then hugged herself and blew a stray piece of hair out of her face.
“Ai-yah. Tyen-ah,” she moaned, “Gao yang jong duh goo yang!”
She threw herself face first onto her bunk, then rolled over to stare balefully at the traitorous orbs she saw peeking from the top of her tee shirt.
‘Damn,’ she thought, ‘you two are going to get me in big trouble someday. I remember how good it feels when a woman does that. And I did that to Jayne?? How the hell did I NOT remember you were there? You move around so much most of the time, I couldn’t forget you if I tried, and then just this once you disappear from my memory long enough for me to ... to ...’
“To press ‘em both into Jayne’s arm?”
River stood on top of the dresser, a knowing smile on her face.
‘Damn that maintenance hatch!’ Wash raised herself up on her elbows, letting a little anger slip into her eyes. “You said you weren’t going to be looking into my mind without permission.”
River looked down, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, but you were so hurt and confused I could hear you clear across the ship. If you want me to go ...”
Wash bit her lip and sighed. “No, it’s okay. Please stay. I need to talk this out.”
The younger girl slipped down to floor level and sat down next to Wash on her bed.
“So you gave him ... both barrels?” The reader tried unsuccessfully to hide her smile
“Yes, while he was handling a grenade. Talk about distractions!”
“I’m not thinking that’s the sort of explosion you were trying to create, jei mei.”
“I wasn’t aiming for ANY kind of explosion!”
“Part of you says different.”
“Well, parts, anyway. You never said breasts could think for themselves.”
“They can’t. But you can. And we both know you want Jayne more than you’re willing to admit.”
She rolled over and curled up into a ball. “River, I wasn’t trying to seduce Jayne!”
“Your body was. That’s why you forgot. That’s why you pushed closer.”
Wash rolled back to face the other woman. “No! That’s not true. I pushed closer to see –”
“See what? People moving dangerous explosives around in a very small place?”
The pilot stopped, her mouth open.
“Is that what you wanted to see close up? Does that sound like something Wash would want to do? Ever?”
Wash closed her mouth, then her eyes. She took a deep breath, and then sighed. “I am so humped.”
“You’re not humped, Wash. You just want to be.” The pilot groaned and buried her face in the pillow. River smiled softly. “And it’s not a bad thing, jei mei. It’s a good sign that your soul and your body are coming together, learning to coexist and eventually merge.”
“But I’ve never ... thinking about a man that way ...” Wash’s voice was muffled, but her pain and confusion were clear.
“Okay, step back for a minute,” River said, putting her arm around Wash and giving a squeeze. “The prevailing belief in the medical community is that the gender you’re attracted to is located in the brain, not the body.”
“Shhhhh.” River put a finger up to Wash’s lips. “But your brain isn’t YOUR brain, silly. It’s Linda’s. Chiang put you there and you’re dealing not just with her hormones, but her desires as well. She’s a normal young woman who happens to be hetero. She likes men, and she has an itch she wants scratched in the worst way. I bet you haven’t done a thing to address that, either.”
“Like I’d know how!” Wash blurted out, then blushed all over. “Besides, there’s some element of fantasy involved in the whole itch-scratching thing, and I have no clue who the hell I’m supposed to be fantasizing about, let alone what I’m supposed to be wanting them to do for me.”
“Leaving the who aside for a minute, the what is easy. Do what makes you feel good -- what makes Linda feel good.” She looked at the pilot sideways. “You’ve got Linda’s memories in there, too. So experiment, Ho-ban. Think about what made Linda squeal ... what made Zoe squeal ... and try it on yourself.”
Wash thought for a moment, then shuddered all over and shook her head.
“This is going to be hard.”
“Only as hard as you make it, jei mei.” River grinned. “In more ways than one, if Jayne’s involved.”
“Oh, Jayne ...” The pilot moaned, falling back onto the bed and staring at the ceiling. “Wo you dian bu shu fu! I feel sick! Why do I want Jayne?”
“There are a few reasons a girl might look twice at the ‘Hero of Canton,’” the younger girl said. “But stop thinking about Jayne for a minute. I want to get you to look at this from a different angle. Close your eyes.” Wash gave her a quick look, then put her head back and did as she was told.
“I want you to think back to the depot now.” The pilot took a deep breath and nodded. “How did you feel ... about Dolph?”
The pilot raised her head and looked at River. “Dolph?”
“Head down, eyes shut!” River commanded, and Wash hurriedly complied. “Yes, Dolph. You talked with him, you took his arm and walked with him back to the loading bay. You even flirted with him, remember? That guy you watched lifting heavy things as he loaded the boat until the captain told you to go prep for lift?”
Wash blushed. “Oh. Dolph.”
River nodded, even though the pilot couldn’t see. “Think back to when you were with him. How did he make you feel?”
The pilot took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I was just coming down, realizing I wasn’t going to have to fight my way free. Then he came out of the crowd and reminded me there are decent men in the world.” She thought for a moment. “He cared about me. He made me feel ... good.”
Wash bit her lip and sighed. “Okay, he made me feel ... special. I could see I really mattered to him. I was something more than just a woman he wanted to ... take to bed. He ... liked me, maybe. I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was more than lust ... and I found myself thinking about him the same way.”
The younger girl let it rest for a moment, then spoke. “And physically?”
The silence grew. Finally, she spoke. “I ... wanted him.”
After a second, Wash went on. “I didn’t even know exactly what I wanted, but I wanted him. Warm all over, and a melting feeling inside I couldn’t ... or maybe didn’t ... want to understand. It was hard to see the cargo hatch close with him on the other side. I had to shake off a feeling like I was missing something, and I didn’t even know what it was I missed.”
“Opportunity,” River said softly. “I think the word you want is opportunity.”
Simon sat in the med bay, pouring through his encyclopedia and looking for references to Flynt. It wasn’t very helpful, just a single listing and a scattering of loose references that left him frustrated and confused. The listing was as bare bones as he’d ever seen, almost as if the moon wasn’t worth talking about. The references in other listings were vague, and whatever links there were led nowhere – literally. It was as if someone had gone through the publication before its release and eliminated everything they could find about Flynt.
“Considering the Alliance’s interest in the moon, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,’ he thought, tossing the reader aside. ‘They certainly did a number making an entire planet disappear when the whole Pax experiment went bad on Miranda.’
“Doc?” Simon looked up to see Jayne standing in the doorway.
“Yes, Jayne?” The mercenary looked ... uncomfortable. “Is something wrong? Are you alright?”
“Just fine,” Jayne replied, and fidgeted for a minute. “I was wonderin’ if you could do me a favor, after Mal and I head down to Flynt.”
“If I can,” the doctor said, a little confused.
“There’s a stack of boxes in bright wrappin’ paper under my bunk. I was wonderin’ if you’d take ‘em and put ‘em in Linda’s room after I’m gone ... stack ‘em up somewhere she can see ‘em when she goes back in there.”
“Sure.” Simon stood up slowly, not sure why. “Be happy to.”
Jayne reached into his back pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “If you could put this in front of the boxes, or on top of ‘em or somethin’. Just where she can see it.”
“I’ll take care of it.” The doctor took the paper from Jayne’s hand. The mercenary opened his mouth, and Simon shook his head. “Don’t worry, Jayne. I won’t read it.”
Jayne fidgeted, and then surprised the other man again. “It's okay, Doc. It's just tellin' her I left her a message on her terminal.”
Simon looked at the paper, and back up at Jayne. Jayne shrugged.
“I ain't much good at readin' or writin', and I sure ain't gonna try to put what I'm feelin' down on paper. I ain’t never been good at tellin’ anyone how I feel, either, but I figgered I had a better shot talking at a camera then putting words on a page.”
He turned to go, then stopped and turned back.
“From what I ‘member, you weren’t so good at it either when you first joined the crew. But you caught Kaylee right enough, so I figgered you must know more about this courtin’ thing than I ever knew.” He took a deep breath. “What’d you tell Kaylee that made her fall for you?”
After a moment, Simon sat down slowly, the letter still in his hand.
“All I ever did to win Kaylee was to tell her the truth,” he said. “I spent all my time worrying about River, and never thought about myself. When we almost died facing the Reavers, trying to get the word out about Miranda and the Pax, I finally told her how I really felt about her. She did the rest.”
He raised the paper up and looked at Jayne. “In your message, did you tell her how you feel?”
“I did the best I could,” he replied. “I ain’t much with words, but – I did the best I could.”
“Then I can’t help you do any better.” Simon put the letter down on the counter. “I’ll make sure she gets your message. After that, it’s up to Linda.”
Jayne nodded, and turned to go. As he reached the door, Simon spoke again.
“Thanks,” he said softly. The mercenary turned and looked over his shoulder. “For what?”
“For trusting me with all this.”
Jayne shook his head. “Aw, hell, Doc! Mal don't know about the present, and so I can't ask him for help. 'Nara might tell Mal, so I can’t talk to her. And there ain’t nobody else besides you ‘cept River and Zoe anyway. Besides, who else can a fella trust if he can’t trust his doctor?”
He walked out of the room, leaving Simon wondering what the hell had just happened, and why.
The picture was sharp and clear – nothin’ but shades of gray, but you could see and hear everything.
“I had to take the color out,” Kaylee said apologetically. “Juss ‘cause I was workin’ with the short range comms and I didn’t have ‘nough room for it on the wave. Best I could do.”
“No, Kaylee, it’s perfect!” Zoe bent over and stared at the belt buckle, as everyone else watched the monitor. “You can’t even see the camera.”
Jayne was feeling a mite uncomfortable, having Zoe staring at him like that.
“I adjusted the angle, too,” the mechanic admitted, feeling a little proud. “So we get to look up and see faces instead of bulge.”
“That’s a plus.” The first mate shook her head, still staring at the camera. “A definite plus. Bulge wouldn’t tell us much, I’m thinkin’.”
“Ceptin’ maybe who was popular.” Both women laughed, and Jayne felt worse. Zoe stood up.
“Now we go load cargo and get this underway,” she said. Kaylee shook her head.
“Not just yet. I made Jayne a promise a while back, and I can’t leave the room until ...”
River popped her head down from the maintenance hatch, stared first at the monitor and then at Jayne’s crotch, and smiled. Kaylee grinned and nodded.
“Okay, then. My work here is done. Let’s get to it!”
Mal handled the conversation with Flynt approach while Wash sat quiet in the pilot's seat and chewed her lower lip. It seemed to go well, but she heard something in the controller's voice that made her pause. It seemed to bother Mal, too, once he closed transmission, but he only hesitated a minute before giving the pilot a pat on the shoulder and turning away.
Everyone helped load the first batch of cargo, even Inara, which was the first surprise. She came down from her shuttle dressed in a black gi and slippers, and just started helping without a word. But the shock from that paled in comparison to what came next, when Jayne put his foot down and stopped Simon from joining in.
“You get those fingers of yours crushed and I ain't got anyone to patch me up or dig a bullet outta me when I need it,” he said, “and the way my luck's been holding out, I'm gonna need it, pro'bly sooner than later. I'm a mite selfish about my hide, Doc, so do what you're good at and leave the heavy liftin' to me.”
Mal looked sideways at Jayne and shot Zoe a glance, clearly confused. She gave a little shake of her head and raised an eyebrow in return.
For his part, Jayne gave the doctor a long stare, and Simon realized what he wanted and excused himself.
Soon the first load was ready, and Mal made his way to the shuttle's cockpit through the cargo. Jayne stopped at the door and looked back, catching Linda's eye. Linda looked back and smiled.
“Give us a good show, Jayne,” she whispered. “And keep the captain safe. We're counting on you.”
Jayne nodded once, gave her the barest hint of a smile, and disappeared inside, closing the hatch behind him.
It was going to take a while for the shuttle to reach the surface, and Jayne’s camera was shut down for the trip dirtside to save power. After a few minutes, everyone went back to the day-to-day business of keeping the ship running. Even though Serenity was in stable orbit around Flynt and the proximity alarms were set far enough away to make sure nobody was going to be sneaking up on her without a whole lot of noise, Wash stayed in the pilot’s seat. It was where she felt most at home, after all.
Still, her eyes kept straying to the blip on the long range radar that was Serenity’s shuttle, wondering if they were going to be safe – or if this was going to be another in a long string of times where one of Mal’s plans just didn’t go smooth.
She had to admit she finally felt comfortable in her new body, even if it still felt strange once in a while. But her earlier conversation with River had left her unsettled, as if she had somehow crossed a line by admitting to herself that she had wanted Dolph the way a woman wants a man – which of course she had.
And crossing that line raised the question of Jayne, and how she felt about him.
Wash couldn’t deny she had come to like the man, which is something she never thought would happen. He had changed since he came to Serenity, and changed more after Book’s death and the events surrounding Miranda. After Wash’s death, a few months had passed before she came back, so she didn’t know what to make of the Jayne she met on Santo when she first became Linda. But it seemed pretty clear that Linda’s arrival had made Jayne want to be more than just a hired gun – and more to the pilot than just another member of the crew.
With a sigh, Wash admitted that Linda found him ... desirable. Since Wash was Linda, she was dealing with that attraction as well, although she was damned if she knew what to do with it -- or if she even wanted to do anything.
Because she graduated from flight school on Osiris, Linda’s contraceptive and STD implants were up-to-date, so worrying about pregnancy or the latest creeping crud from the Rim wasn’t an issue.
Being true to Zoe? “Til death do us part” was pretty standard fare for a wedding ceremony, even this far from Earth-That-Was.
Getting Zoe back? Linda wasn’t Wash, and never could be again. Zoe wasn’t wired that way, and Wash didn’t think Linda was, either. With a small tear, she finally let go of that last bit of hope that she and Zoe could ever be anything else but friends.
But ... Jayne? She liked him well enough, even admired him some for how hard he worked to change for the better – for her. Did she like him enough to cross that last line between Hoban Washburn and Linda Wehr ... without looking back?
‘And where the hell does love fit in here?’ The pilot asked herself. ‘Or does it? I don’t love Jayne. I may like him, but I don’t love him – at least, not the way I loved Zoe. But I loved Zoe a hell of a lot. Do I need to love someone for sex? The man I used to be did. At least he needed to care for her enough to trust her to care for him in return. To ... be with Jayne, I need to trust him enough to surrender who I was and be who I am. Can I?’
“I can trust Jayne with my life,” she whispered aloud. “He’s already proven that. But how much has he really changed inside? Can I trust him to really care for me? For the woman ... the person I’m becoming?”
After staring at the blip for the twenty-seventh time and chewing on her bottom lip, Wash decided to go into her cabin for a few minutes and stretch out on her bunk. She was only a few seconds away if anything happened, after all. That’s why she had the room near the flight deck.
When her boots hit the deck at the foot of her ladder, she turned and saw the stack of brightly wrapped boxes waiting on her dresser.
Wash walked up to them slowly, wondering where they came from, and who might have left them there. She saw a slip of paper sticking out from between the top two boxes. Opening it, she saw the words, “CHECK YOUR MESSAGES” crudely written in big block letters an inch high. The pilot sighed and stepped over to her terminal. More mysteries.
She hit the message button and collapsed back onto her bunk to watch.
The screen lit up, and Jayne Cobb looked back at her with an expression on his face she’d never seen before. It was a mix of fear, uncertainty, and resolve. She leaned forward, wondering what was coming next.
“Linda.” He stopped and cleared his throat. “I picked up that stack of boxes over there on the Skyplex a while back. It’s – they’re a present. Well, a buncha presents, I guess. I wanted to get ya somethin’, to make up for bein’ so gorram stupid when you joined the crew. I reckon you know by now that bein' ... well, one of us ... can be a mite dangerous, and I figured I'd get you somethin' that would help you keep your own self safe if things went south, and I wasn't around.”
Jayne smiled and looked down. “Don’t know if you opened ‘em or not yet, so maybe I’m spoilin’ the surprise, but you know me well enough by now to know that what I know best is guns, and that’s what I got you. I thought I'd step up and teach you how to shoot if'n you didn't already know. But then I find out you're a natural, girl, and that's a fact. Ain't never seen anythin' like it before, and if I had a hat, I'd … I'd take it off for you – well, to you. Aw, hell.”
The mercenary shook his head and looked back at Linda.
“You know I got feelings for you, 'cause I ain't much good at hiding it. Back when I first saw you, I tried treatin' you the way I always treated girls, 'cause I was stupid and didn't know better. Hell, I'm probably still stupid, but I'm tryin' hard not to be, ‘cause I don't much think you'd care for a stupid man, and I … well, I want you to. Care, I mean.”
“This is the toughest thing I've ever done, mostly 'cause I ain't never done anything like it before. In my line of work, feelin's tended to get in the way of makin’ it back to your bunk instead of findin' yourself in a pine box. But since I been on Serenity, I'm learnin' that carin' about somethin' makes a man want to keep himself alive, and the one thing I'm carin' most about … is you.”
“I ain't never been in love before, so I ain't too sure what it's supposed to feel like. But I think about you every morning when I roll outta my bunk, and the first time I see you every day, I just got to smile. You make me happier than I ever been, Linda, just by being around you. I know you don't know it, but to tell you the truth that ain't sayin' much, because I ain't never been all that happy before. I went my way and did what I pleased, but I'm seein' now it didn't matter worth a damn, because I ain't had nobody to share it with.”
Jayne's image looked down at his hands, and back up again. “Much as I want to, I can't make you love me, but I think you like me some, and that’s somethin’. I'm doin' what I can to be the kind of man you could love, maybe. I know I ain't smart enough for you, and I sure as hell ain't good enough for you. But I’m tryin’, and the one thing Jayne Cobb's always been is stubborn.”
“I want to be your man, Linda, if you'll have me. Don't know how long you'd put up with me if you said yes, but I'll take whatever I can get if you'd just look at me one time the way Kaylee looks at the Doc, or Zoe looked at Wash back in the day.” He grinned and shook his head again. “Or like 'Nara looks at Mal when she thinks he ain't lookin' ... or even when he is.”
“Anyway, that's about what I wanted to say. If I coulda said it in person, I woulda. But it was hard enough doin' it this way, and if you said no to my face ... well, lettin' you see me bawl like a baby … I don't think I could handle it.”
Jayne looked right into the camera … right into her eyes.
“I love you, Linda.” His voice caught in his throat, and as he shook his head again, she could see the tears in his eyes. “Gorram it, I love you. And I hope maybe, one day ... you'll love me too. If I’m lucky.”
The message ended and the image froze, and gods help her, Wash could see how he felt, pouring out of him with such longing that she could feel her own tears start to fall.
A few minutes before, she’d wondered if he cared enough. But this left no doubt. Jayne had changed. By telling her how much she meant to him, and showing her how he truly felt, he laid himself open like he had never done to anyone before – and trusted her with everything he had.
Jayne Cobb trusted her.
‘There is courage in this man,’ she thought, wiping her eyes as she stared at the frozen image on her screen, only to have them fill with tears again. ‘I doubted him. But he’s more than I ever thought he was, or could be. And he cares enough to put his heart in my hands and beg me not to crush it.’
Jayne had risked everything – just to tell her he loved her.
And he was too far away for her to tell him she understood ... and that she loved him, too.
Saturday, December 05, 2009 7:08 PM
Sunday, December 06, 2009 3:27 AM
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