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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A routine delivery turns into a gunfight. One and a half miles is a long way to walk when you've been shot in the belly.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1045 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
I know. Two in one day. Too much. Well, I got a bite of inspiration so strong that I managed to belt out two slices of my story. This one was that dark turn I mentioned last time, taking a page out of Out of Gas. Showcased are introductions to Friday, Zane, Anne, and Syl, all seen through the eyes of Anne, because this is her episode. Mostly, because she was the only one present for all of these.
Watch for the plot development at the end. Aahh. Ain't that sweet?
All your Firefly are belong to Joss
Give me feedback. It is like chocolate to me.
"I'm sure we'll work something out."
"You should cut your hair short."
"Boss, I can fix this."
"How'd you like a job?"
Two crisp gunshots filled the air, a shiver of agony already filling the inners of her as the weapon slipped from her fingers. A pair of shocked eyes stared into her own, sliding away from her as they fell to the ground. He stared at her, unable to scream, or move. He just stared at her, and took slow, ragged breaths. He stared into the clouds, which began to disgourge their heft onto the parched soil. He questioned her. Why? How could I be so stupid? He didn't say a word, but she could see every word written wide on his face. He still breathed, and would likely continue for a long, agonizing time.
She coughed, a ripping pain reaching all the way into her innards. She turned to run away, but she couldn't get her legs to work right. She fell, her head striking the arcing roots of the tree. She let her hand explore the landscape of her abdomen. The fingers quickly became warm and wet.
She coughed again, feeling something painful at the base of her lungs. Damn it, she thought. Made it this far. So close.
Hell, she was not just going to die here. With a groan of intense pain, she hauled herself back to her feet. The rain falling around her plastered her short hair to her scalp as she began her shuffling stride back toward her ship. Please, Jacob, she thought, don't come after me. Run.
"Any luck?" Anne asked as Zane approached. The young mechanic shook his head.
"Ain't so much as a gorram witch-doctor 'round these parts," he said. "Seems nobody likes havin' a front row seat to stare at Shadow, corpsified planet and all. What about the ship?"
Anne's shoulders sagged a bit. She was hoping, praying, that somebody would be here, a surgeon, a doctor to heal poor Jacob's hurt. By now, it was probably too late to save the eye, but what happened if it got infected? She ran her finger around the edge of her glass again. She still hadn't touched the liquid inside.
"Union of Allied Planets Ship Registery is having difficulty determining whether Salvager's Right is applicable in this instance," she recited, flicking the glass for good measure. Its off-tone hum seemed the perfect accompanyment to an unpleasant day.
"So, their gonna take the ship?" Zane sounded no small bit disappointed. "They can't do that!"
"Yes, Zane, they can," she pointed out.
"But... it's a Firefly... I been waitin' five years to get back on one of them. I ever tell you about my last flight on..."
"Yes, Zane, you've told me about Serenity," she muttered. Her mind kept drifting back to the fact that Jacob was unconcious in the medical bay, possibly even dying slow from a wasting illness. And there weren't nobody that could help her. A spot of water appeared on the bar next to her drink.
"Anne, you alright?" Zane asked, face a picture of concern. Sometimes, he was as guileless as a child. She growled aloud.
"I'm perfectly gorram alright!" she shouted, pitching her drink off into the room. It shattered on the floor, splashing the boot of a man sitting not to far away. The man looked down at his boot, then up at her. He stood.
"Uh, Anne?" Zane said, noting with fear the two men that came over. The slightly dampened one put his arms on either side of Anne, boxing her in. His face was decent enough, she thought, but his eyes were entirely too dark. Not in color; they were blue. They just had a real darkness to them.
"I think you should apologize for that, miss," the thug said.
"I am in exactly no mood for this," Anne said, not backing away a jot.
"Didn't ask what mood you's in, I just asked for an apology for your careless behaviour."
Anne's fury flashed over. "Wo xi wang ni man man si, dan kuai dian xia di yu!" she spat at him, both figuratively, then literally as soon as her invective was in the air. The man stared in shock, then, as the four-foot-ten, ninety pound woman pitched her head into his. The two met with a resounding thump, and he reeled backwards clutching his nose. The man next to Zane caught his shirt and delivered a haymaker to the mechanic. She half expected him to sag lifeless to the floor after that shot, but he didn't seem the slightest bit fazed by it, panickedly but wisely reaching behind the bar to grab something to hit him with. He ended up with a length of rubber tubing, which he flailed at his attacker with, dodging the other blows the man through as best he could. Anne's own thug rushed back at her, trying to catch her in his meaty mitts, but she easily ducked past him and let him charge into the bar. He turned around, readying to attack her again, but an Asian woman had interposed herself between Anne and the thug. She also had the other man by the shirt sleeve, interrupting him in the middle of a punch.
"Boys, boys, no need to fight," the woman said, voice sultry and flowing. "This was all just a little misunderstanding, dong ma?" the bartender, a middle-aged man, found himself smiling and nodding along with her. She was a rather lovely woman. "And you, I know she didn't mean to get that on her. Look at the little girl, she's tired and scared and alone. You should begrudge her one little outburst, should you?"
The thug, for a wonder, and despite his blood-dripping, possibly broken nose, was nodding with a shrug. "And he was just asking for an apology," the woman said to Anne. "Surely, it wouldn't have hurt to give it. It was just a bit of whiskey, right?"
"Yes, it was," Anne said, eyes flat. The Asian woman stared at her for a moment longer. Seemed this woman was used to things going her way.
"And nothing, I'm going home. Zane?" Zane's opponent had released him several moments ago, and only now seemed to realize that. The mechanic rubbed his nose, noting with displeasure that his fingers came away bloody. She caught his sleeve and pulled him out of the bar.
"Perfect end to a perfect ruttin' day," she muttered.
"Oh, Zane?" the woman called out. Zane turned about, pulling free of Anne's grip. The woman came right to Zane's face and leaned in close. Was she going to... No, she instead tilted his head back and then forth, and manipulated his nose gently. "As I reckoned. It's broken."
"Didn't need to tell me," Zane said nasally. The woman gave him a reproving look.
"Wait here while I get my bag. I'll set it so it won't go sideways on you," she said, turning to leave.
"Hold on, one damn minute," Anne said. "You know how to fix a nose?"
The woman turned back. "I know how to fix a lot of parts."
Anne took a step forward. "You a healer?"
The woman laughed. "Hell nah. A doctor, I'll have you know," she offered her hand. "Name's Friday."
Anne sighed with relief. "Thank God. I have somebody who needs your help a damn sight more than Zane."
"What's wrong with him?" Friday asked.
"Got cut-on by a Reaver," Friday winced. "We're in a Firefly on the docks."
"A Firefly, y'say?" Friday tapped her chin. "I'll see what I can do for your menfolk, just get the boy here to show me the way."
Friday was already retreating again, with Zane tagging along to show her the way back, when Anne called out again. "Wait. Doctor... ah..." she bit her lower lip. "We ain't got much in the way of payment.
Friday smiled back at her. "I'm sure we'll work something out."
Jacob sighed as the last of the crates was set in place. All of them had stripped to as little as possible for this grueling, demanding job. Considering this world was still in the end of summer, rather than the late autumn of many others. Early leaned against the side of the broken-down craft and breathed deep, still not entirely recovered from his four-gun salute he'd recieved almost a half year ago. Anne smiled up at Jacob from her position, lying prone on the lush grass with her chin resting on her knuckles.
"What?" He asked with a smile.
"Just enjoying the view," she replied. Sometimes she would just do this, watch him when he wasn't paying attention to her. The naturalness of his actions, the ease by which he accepted the cruelties of fate and the joy he expressed at the simple victories he could achieve. She would watch him when he slept, back on the Jack, and wonder what he was dreaming about.
She wasn't really sure when she befriended him. Nor was she sure how she'd fallen for him. It happened so slowly, she didn't even notice until it was too late. And looking back, she wouldn't trade it for anything in the 'Verse.
"I must say, you've done us a great service," Garret said. She was a small woman, rather like Anne herself, but much older. And with things having gone so terribly awry, with both the protection and transport of the indigo from other dealers, Garret and her dyers were running out of product. Which meant Jacob stood to make more than enough money to cover expenses for a wonder. "Ain't often we get this much at a time, though."
Jacob smiled and nodded. Garret glanced around. "Somethin' wrong?" he asked slowly.
"Oh, no, not a thing," she said. "Should be gettin' back to your ship, though. Them clouds's gonna be droppin' their load soon."
"I'm just gonna sit a spell, if y'don't mind," Jacob said, watching her as she glanced around again. Anne sighed and moved over to him, plopping herself down on the grass next to him.
"Somethin' wrong?" she asked him.
"Don't know. Garret's actin' kinda twitchy for my likin', though."
She frowned at the older woman, who was still watchin' the trees around them kinda intently.
"Anne?" Jacob said. "Somethin's gone south."
"What?" she asked.
"There's somethin' to this equation she ain't told yet, and I'm gettin' a feelin' that somethin' is of the killin' kind, dong ma?" Jacob said quietly, smiling to all the world as if he hadn't a care in the worlds.
"Bao bei," she whispered. "There's nobody out this far. Not Reavers, not Feds, not drunken mobs. We're finally gettin' paid for the work that we do, transportin' somethin' what's both legal and not stolen. Ain't nothing can go wrong here."
That's when men began pouring out of the trees, some twenty strong. And all armed.
Anne let out a clipped cry as she stumbled on the arrogant rocks into which the trees sank their roots. Her guts tore at her, a searing pain which focused her will. She knew her frail body couldn't take much more, but she forced herself onward anyway. She had to. She had no other option.
Garret's dying mills sat unobtrusive in the edge of the forest she'd ran into to hide. It was a rather respectable complex. Too bad the woman who ran it caught a bullet. She was an alright sort. She certainly didn't deserve that. She pushed off of the trunk of the tree she was using to support her, and took one painful step, than another. How far until she reached where they'd set down the shuttle? How long after that until she reached Legacy? What if somebody took the shuttle ahead of her? What if it was stolen.
Entirely too much if was comin' off this situation.
One step, then another, and another, and she was skirting the edge of the buildings. Jacob always had to be the big damn hero, didn't he? Try to save everybody from their own unfortunate lives. Couldn't he just have kept his mouth shut, Garret'd still be alive. They'd have walked away with their pay. Anne wouldn't have two slugs in her. Yeah, that sounded like a much better option.
But she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that were he given a chance to do it again, he'd not alter a jot. It was just the way he was. Of course, it wasn't all Jacob's fault. Zane figurin' that those folk were slavers, well, that just put some snap in his kettle. Weren't a thing in the 'Verse that could set Zane off of his cheerful demeanor. Nothin' but slavers, by which she meant.
And Zane goin' Wrath of God, well, that were a hell of a thing to behold.
One step, then another, and she was past the dyer's place, a complex deserted as its workers ran from the carnage. Nobody would help her their. Only one woman could help her, would help her.
"Friday, keep that slab ready for me," she hissed painfully through gritted teeth.
One step, then another.
"I," Anne said, running her hand through her now uneven hair, "am so, so very fired."
She looked around at the carnage she'd participated in, a three-deep pile of winos, barflies, drifters, and spacers that were summarily thrown out as soon as the situation inside had calmed down enough to be classified a riot. The spark for this bonfire of self-indulging insanity was now lying only a few yards away, waving his arms drunkenly towards the stars. A large shape stooped to help the fellow up, but was waved off. The man, Jacob, she thought his name was, somehow managed to get to his feet. He spotted her almost immediately and staggered over.
"I's gotta thank you, for a wonderful evenin'," he slurred. "Although that last bit weren't too fun,"
"Are you kidding?" she asked him. "I've been in barfights before, but I've never gotten a haircut in the middle of one!"
"You should keep y'hair short," Jacob said brightly, obviously too deep in the cups to realize that he was three sheets out. "Makes you look like a fairy."
"Excuse me?" she demanded.
"Like fairies. Fun li'l things. 'Cept when they steals m'socks," Jacob muttered. The large shape moved closer, resting a meaty hand on Jacob's shoulder. Then she remembered what they'd called him before that brawl broke out. Tony.
"Look, ma'am, I'm real sorry about Jacob, here. He just don't know when to quit," Tony said, running his other hand along his long widows peak. Anne scowled at him. He'd just cost her a job, a good paying job that she could do in her sleep.
"Hey, 'cause of that... that idiot, my crew's gonna go back to the boss and tell 'em what I done. Weren't right of them to play numbers on y'like that, but still. Now, I'm out of work, and unless you got a ship in your back pocket needs pilotin', that means I'm shit out of luck," she said miserably.
"You should cut your hair short," Jacob nodded. He was kinda swai, she had to admit. Only for the idiot thing.
"I'm not cuttin' my hair," she said. "What?"
"Jacob?" Tony said. "Jacob!"
"What?" the drunken man replied.
"She's a pilot," Tony said.
Tony scowled, and wiped his face. "We need a pilot. One we got drinks more'n you!"
The thought seemed to take a damn long time to creep through his brainpan, and when it did, he raised a finger. "Right," Jacob declared. "How would ya... How... Hu..." Jacob fell to his knees and vomited on the ground, almost covering Anne's boots in his supper, lunch, and nightcap. Stepping quickly, she managed to avoid it. When he was emptied, Tony hauled him to his feet.
"Sorry," he said, a bit less slurred already. "How would you like to work on my ship?"
She glanced between the two. "Is this some sort of joke?"
"Hell nah," Tony replied. "Ever since our good pilot got zapped on the way to Beaumonde, we've been runnin' with half-assed help. Pay's good, but the accomodation's ain't so much."
"So I'll get my own room?" she asked.
"Might have to move some folk," Jacob said, still unsteady on his feet. "Maybe. Ain't rightly sure. Where'd y'say you went to flight school?"
"I have to admit," she said, carefully dodging that particular subject. "You're a pretty good fighter, for a drunk."
"And you're a pretty... lady," he said. "'Xcuse me, I need to go t'tha bathroom."
As Jacob staggered off, Tony seemed a bit confused. "Is he always like this?" she asked.
"Drunk or courteous?" Tony asked.
"Drunk, fairly often. Courteous, never," he said.
"Shuh muh? That was courtesy?"
Tony laughed aloud. "Hell, woman, times were normal, by now he'd be negotiatin' your price!"
"Is there some sort of problem here?" Jacob said from the ground as the men approached. The leader, if that's what he was, reined up his horse in front of the owner of the dying company.
"Garret," he said, his voice drawling. "Garret, Gerret, Gerret. Ain't dodgin' payin' what's due us, woman."
"Excuse me," Jacob said again, rising to his feet this time. The horseman looked down at him, obviously in dismay. "Is there some sort of problem.
The horseman leaned over and spat on the ground. "I reckon that depends on you, don't it?" He turned back to the middle-aged dyer. "Can't rightly tell me that you put all your havin's in the care of this rabble?"
"Thomas, I didn't... I never..." Garret shook in her place. "We can pay... just didn't get our shipments on time. S'all we need, a bit more time."
Thomas chewed whatever was betwixt his teeth for a moment. "Ain't in the market for time, woman."
Jacob took a step toward the man, and was waved off by him swinging down a hogleg level with Jacob's remaining eye. "Just let Thomas speak his piece, oi?" the horseman waited for Jacob's waved consession, and he continued. "As I sees it, you're owin' us a fair bit from our last delivery, and you ain't even got to payin' us yet. And if I see proper, you got y'self another shipment. You paid them, bu shr mah? Saw fit to pay their wage. Why the prejudice?"
"You charge double the cost," Garret said lamely. "We can't even pay our debts."
"Codswallop!" Thomas shouted. "Y'had enough to pay them, didn't ya?"
"Wait, you'd have paid twice that?" Jacob asked humorously. "Kan zhe, I think I got robbed."
"So you empathize with this'ere sit'ation?" Thomas asked.
"Not exactly," Jacob responded, crossing his arms over his chest. "You've been extortin' these folk. That don't sit well with me, dong ma? I figure you're owed what we's owed. Cost and market value, and not a cent more. We have an understanding between us?"
"Don't see how you're dictatin' the terms of an agreement already set," Thomas growled. "An' that's 'sides the fact that y'ain't exactly in a, ah, superior bargainin' position."
"You sure you don't want to reconsider?" Jacob said, his eyes growing hard. Oh, damn, Anne thought. Jacob always believed that everybody deserved a second chance. Thomas had just used that second chance up. The chance which was the one thing standing between him and hot, flying lead.
"Well then," Jacob said, dropping his hands to his side and gripping the pistol he'd tucked into his back belt. Thomas' eyes naturally followed Jacob's right hand, which remained in plain sight. "I suppose we've got ourselves a problem."
Thomas spat again, right in front of Jacob's boot. "I reckon we do, then."
There was a moment of pristine silence. Anne saw Early coiled to strike, Friday far away near some of the dyers. She pulled the small revolver from her boot. Thomas' eyes, locked on Greyson, never even noticed him. Anne's eyes flit around. Where the hell had Sylvia gotten to?
Jacob smiled suddenly. "What?" he quipped. "Expecting a sniper bullet to crack my brainpan for you?"
Thomas' lip quivered, which was all the time Jacob gave him. The Mauser was out and firing before Thomas could even swing his hogleg back to Greyson, the bullet striking the horse just back of the haunches. Right in the heart, if she figured it right. The horse collapsed, crushing Thomas' leg onto the dirt. Thomas tried to put Jacob in his crosshairs again, so Jacob took a moment to squeeze off the next shot, this one right into his throat.
"Run!" Jacob shouted as he took aim at another horseman who was spuring his steed to a gallop to run him down. "Get away!" The pistol, his by the simple expedient of not having given it back, belched out another high powered slug. Anne stared in horror as one of the men ruthlessly drove a round into Garret, leaving her to twitch on the ground. With a glance back and a wish for the best, she bolted away.
"Huh," Jacob said, his eyes beholding the tall, lanky blond man hiding inside the crate.
"What the hell?" Tony asked as he found his shotgun from inside his long brown coat. "Stowaway?"
"Um, hello?" the youth said, bringing forth a click from Tony as he racked the shotgun. The youth retreated a bit back into the box.
"We land and have to tell Niska we're a hundred pounds short, he'll have us skinned," Anne said. Tony scowled at the youth, little more than a child despite his height.
"I'm thinkin' we show the runt to the airlock," he said, jaw tight and eyes flashing.
"No," the youth said, "You can't leave me on Jiangyin."
"Tony!" she shouted, but the youth continued.
"I can't be a slave again!" the youth bolted forward with that shout, grasping for Tony's gun. The massive man seemed to be having a peck of trouble with the lanky man, who was now shriekin' with desparate rage. "I won't be a slave. I'd rather die."
At last, Tony managed to get one of his large hands into the course fabric of the youth's shirt, hefting him into the air and away from any ordinance. "Ain't on Jiangyin, boy," Tony said. "You're takin' a swim."
"Jacob," she hissed. Jacob's eyes flit from her to his old friend and back, finally, the softened and he turned back to Tony.
"Tony, put the kid down. We ain't murderers here," he said slowly. She gave him a smile, which he gratefully accepted. Jacob squatted down to where the youth lay, giving a Tony a back-off look. "What's your name kid?"
"Name's Zane," he replied. "And I ain't no kid."
"I stand corrected," Jacob offered a smile and his hand. Both seemed to be accepted, and he brought Zane to his feet. "So, Zane... Zane what?"
The young man smiled, a wide beamin' thing that looked like his natural state of being. "Zane nothin'. Surname'd just slow me down."
Anne and Jacob shared a look. "So, Just Zane," he said. "Mind explainin' t'me why yer in a box just then?"
Anne watched Tony's shoulders tense as he stared pointedly not at the young man. She never heard the details, but she knew he had an extreme aversion toward stowaways. "I was runnin'," Zane admitted. "Worked at a machine shop for th'last few years, but while I was out diggin' a new privvy pit, I got took by the hill-folk."
"Machine shop?" Jacob said, intrigued. "Who was your master?"
"Didn't need one, owned the spot free and clear," Zane said proudly.
Jacob scoffed. "Unlikely. Way too young to be..."
Zane smiled wide again, taking a look around him. "This here's a Sihnon Heavy-Freighter. Eight-thousand ton displacement, standard radio and accelerator core. Three cylindrical holds runnin' down the core of the ship, hydralic lift connectin' 'em. Known for faulty gravity controls causin' lowered G's in the lowest cargo hold while in the Black. And if I hear correctly, ain't runnin' on the stock engine."
Zane made his way to the lift and placed his ear against the beam. His wide smile dropped away.
"Aw, hell," he said, eyes open and more than a bit afraid. And annoyed, she noted. "Your mechanic let you put in a Capissan?"
"He didn't say nothin'," Jacob said, a bit defensive, "Why, what's wrong with a Capissan?"
"Any mechanic with half a brain knows anythin' with a Capissan engine falls right the hell out of the sky," Zane said, pressing his ear back to the beam. "And right now, yours is burnin' through a Catalyzer."
Jacob waited a moment. "That's bad?"
"If a fireball engulfin' your engine is bad, then yeah," Zane began to pace, his face gone slack. He must have been thinkin' through the problem, cause Jacob always said she had a face kinda like that when she was doin' something on the bad side of easy. "I got it!" Zane exclaimed, that wide smile returning to him. "Boss, I can fix this."
"Boss? Ain't your..." Jacob began.
"Just give me ten minutes and reprime your number two feedline," he said, jumping down the elevator shaft and sliding down the ladder running down its side. Jacob turned to Anne, then to Tony.
"Tony? What do you think?" he asked.
"Either he knows this ship better than you do," the large man said, "or..."
Jacob nodded. "Rouse Slim, and watch that kid. He tries to hump us, you put him out the airlock, dohn luh muh?"
Tony nodded. "Last run, last gorram run," he kept repeating. Tony had just gotten a job captaining a ship of his own, so understandably he was more than a little tense. The man followed the runt and left she and Jacob alone.
"Jacob," she said, but he forstalled her with his right hand. His left rubbed his eyes.
"Please, Anne," he said. "Not now."
She saw the battlefield, now. The closest were them as hadn't a horse to ride on, them's made the easiest targets. With a moan of pain, she forced her way across the field. She saw the place where Garret had fallen, the pool of blood. She saw a horde of bodies, some ten in all. As she lurched past Thomas, she spat on him, a white and red glob landing squarely in his unseeing eye.
As she lurched, she started looking at the bodies that remained, afraid that she'd recognize one. Afraid that one of her friends, her new family would be there, staring back at her with unliving eyes.
She continued to lurch, forcing her way toward Legacy. The magnificent form of the craft sat at the far end of the depression, and the thinnest point of the forest. She looked back at the carnage behind her, taking in the bodies. The blood. Her blood.
Her feet stomped and scraped along the ramp, into the ship that had somehow become her home. She'd reached the middle of the cargohold when Early, still wearing his red armored suit, appeared, leveling a weapon at her. A moment later, the weapon was reholstered and he loped forward to her side.
"Jubel," she said. It took her several breaths to speak again. "Where's Jacob?"
Early forced her arm away from her injuries, and let out a curse as he saw them. "Syl!" he shouted. "Anne's hurt bad."
She was about to protest when the large man simply hoisted her up and carried her into the infirmery. She was feeling a bit woozy, but that came and went a bunch of times as she made her long march back. She felt herself placed rather carefully on the slab.
"Where's," she began, but had to stop as she coughed painfully again. Her chin felt wet. "Where's Friday?"
"Out," Early said. "Syl? Can you do this?"
That pair of blue-green eyes stared down at her for a moment, then flit to the door. Anne followed the other woman's gaze to Jacob, who was standing in the doorway. He stared at Anne, fear seeming to consume him.
"Sylvia," he said. "It's her time."
What? Her time? Was he just going to let her die? Sylvia grasped her hands onto Anne's face.
"You want to know the big damn secret?" Sylvia demanded. "You want to know it?"
Anne growled, but Sylvia's hands slipped through the holes of her clothing, pressing on the raw flesh circling her wounds. "Bullet went straight through, both of them," Sylvia said. Then the world disappeared in pain.
"For the last time, no!"
Anne laughed at the look on Jacob's face as he threw the sheet of paper to the floor. "Just cause he can't read or write, that's enough to shut the door on him?"
Jacob growled. "I hate this. Verna was worth a hundred of these dumbass hun dahn," his jaw tightened simply at the mention of her name. They never even found her body, and after this long, with the Reavers involved, they wouldn't. "Ain't a one of them can even be trusted to hold his wad if violence were to ensue."
"I know how it is," she said. "Once, we lost a hand on my old boat. Ain't none of us felt anyone'd be able to replace him."
"It ain't that," he said, rifling through the papers again. "It's just the names Niska's dumped on us, as heavy a horde of jing-tzong mei yong-duh bullyboys, pissant kids, and... and..." he plucked one up in particular and tore it in half. Frustration shone in his dark eyes. A knock came at the door.
"Ching jin," she called, and a familiar face appeared as the door swung open.
"Tony!" Jacob exclaimed, bolting up from his seat and letting the papers fall as they would. "Gorram, but it's good to see you again."
"Wish it were likewise," Tony replied, looking over the contents of the table. "What happened? Take up accountin'?"
Jacob shook his head slowly. "Verna got took by Reavers while she was visitin' her relations on Whitefall," Tony's eyes flashed with rage for a moment. He'd seen the Wave. They all had. Now, his inclinations against the Alliance were further augmented by the knowledge that they created the greatest monsters in the 'Verse. "Tryin' to find a replacement for her."
"Well, lucky I showed up then, ain't it?" he said. Jacob looked confused for a moment.
"Wait, you're askin' for a job?" Tony nodded slowly. Sadly. "What happened to that little ship you was runnin'?"
Tony spat on the floor. "Gorram Feds confiscated it. Didn't have a jot a' nothin' on it, neither, just up and took her away."
"I'm so sorry," Anne said. He'd been hitchin' to captain his own boat for a dog's life.
Tony waved it away, even though a blind man'd know he wasn't lettin' it go by a long shot. "Past an' done, Greyson. Past an' done. Just gotta get back doin' somethin' before I go whimsical in the brainpan, I reckon."
"Well," Jacob smiled, "consider y'self hired," he offered his hand. Tony took it and they shook.
"How's the ship been?" Tony asked as Jacob extricated himself from behind his fortress of paper.
"Better'n ever, since Zane pulled that Capissen engine out of 'er," he replied.
"You still got him on your crew?" Tony laughed.
"Couldn't live without 'im, seems like," Jacob chuckled. "No, but he has done a lot of good to that old fei-oo bucket, I tell you."
"Hell, I still remember when you tried to tell him he got Slim's job. Had to dump him out of his hammock," Tony smiled at the memory.
"Oh, that's nothin," Jacob riposted. "Couple months back, our boy came this damn close to walkin' up with a wife."
"Really?" Tony's features were still hard.
"Yeah, I'm makin' a rule against that, for future reference," Jacob muttered. He missed a step, falling behind the pair as they walked. He turned and faced a woman who was seated on a bench and staring pointedly at her feet. Anne gave him a questioning look, and he shot her a 'trust me' look.
"You," he said. The woman looked up at him; her eyes were somewhere between green and blue, and she was kinda pretty. She felt a pang of jealousy just lookin' at her. "What's your name?"
"Sylvia," came the reply. The voice was strong, used to havin' to look out for herself.
"How good are you with a shotgun?" he demanded.
Sylvia didn't hesitate, offering a slanted smile and a single word. "Very."
Jacob nodded. Anne stepped closer to her man. "What are you doing?" she asked quietly.
"Trust me," he said, smiling at her, then looked back down to the woman waiting on his word. "How'd you like a job?"
Her eyes slid open slowly as she took in the new hangings that Friday must have hung. Jacob was right there beside her, head hanging as he drifted near sleep. What the hell happened to her? Strike that; what the hell had Sylvia done to her? Her hands reached down for her injuries, but this time they quested across uninterrupted flesh.
"Son of a bitch?" she muttered.
Jacob's eye snapped open at her words, and seeing her immediately brought a grin to his face. And his grin brought one to her face. "You've got to stop doing that," he said nervously.
"Doing what?" she asked.
"Gettin' hurt," he said. "I'm just terrified that one day I'm gonna wake up and you're not going to be there."
She touched his cheek lightly. Then she slapped him as hard as her position would allow.
Jacob flinched with the blow. "That was for not telling you, I take it?"
"Why the hell didn't I deserve to know?" she demanded.
"You always did. I just didn't know how to tell you. I mean, you were there. I hired her after five seconds of interview. How's it gonna look when I picked out the only telepathic, faith healin', gunslinger in the 'Verse."
"You were afraid I'd think you had..."
"I have never wanted anybody else," Jacob said. His expression softened as he looked backward in time. "How long have we known each other?"
"'Bout five years," she answered.
"And how long since we started..."
"Three," she said, pulling herself to a sit. It didn't hurt at all. Besides a bit of fatigue, she felt like she'd never got shot. "Look I know what you're getting at, and I trust you. I really do."
Jacob smiled then. "Not exactly what I was getting at," he said, taking a seat beside her. He smiled for a damn long time, so long that she actually started to get uncomfortable. He always smiled before he did something insane.
"What is it?" she finally asked.
"I was just wondering," he said lightly, "if you'd want to get... you know... married."
She stared at him.
"Really?" she asked. "As in, really asking me?"
"I've loved you, so damn long it makes me sweat cold just thinkin' about you not bein' there. Ain't anybody in the 'Verse I'd rather spend the rest of my life with," he whispered. His eye shined nervously. "So... would you?"
She smiled, her eyes brimming moistly. She never thought she'd be in this position, and now that she was, she was almost unsure of what to do. "Yes," she said, wrapping her arms around her fiance's neck. "Oh, God, yes."
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