Disclaimer: Not Joss. Not owning anything in his 'verse. Not worth suing.
Fei hua: Nonsense
Fahng sheen: Don't worry
Wo de tian ah: God in heaven
A quick query to my computer confirms my thought: it has been three hundred and sixty days since he contacted me last. It may be that, as River says, “a 'day' is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles - not applicable”, but the Earth-that-was history that's been drummed into my head reminds me that almost a year has passed since our previous contract. He seems to be a traditionalist, in some ways, to commemorate as he does once every Earth-that-was year. He often waves me at other times, but this has been a long period without seeing him.
Day after day we train the girls who would be Companions that their pleasure is irrelevant, that all that matters is the satisfaction of the client. Yet I can feel my anticipation rising as I wait for his wave. Even here at the training house, I wish for more company. Or, perhaps different
company is more accurate. The Companions-in-training are enjoyable – polite, pretty, and respectful – for short periods of time, but I crave the interaction with a more adult mind, one who can participate in more intricate and thoughtful conversations.
The irony of wishing for more company in the midst of a hundred chattering girls, when I spent a year in close contact with only eight other souls, is heavy in my hands. As is the irony of wishing for intelligent conversation, when the voices that wake me at night speak crude, poorly accented Chinese, and are more likely to discuss larceny than literature.
Still, it will be good to spend an evening with him. He honors those he has lost by telling their stories to me. We have become comfortable with each other, and he draws out of me details of my life, small moments, the laughter, the kindness, the jealousy, almost as if using my memories to spark his own.
Our contracts are worlds away from our first, when I thought I might lose my client before I even finished the welcoming tea ceremony. I once asked why he continued to contract with me, and his answer surprised me. “You didn't try to --” he filled the blank with a leer and a raised eyebrow. “Not after the first time.”Wo de tian ah
, how could I have? That memory still fills me with embarrassment, though it's tempered now by experience.
* * * * *
“Don't,” he had said, cutting me off mid-sentence.
I looked at him with an expression of polite inquiry. As a companion I was trained to deal with interruptions by clients, and to take back control of the conversation. “What do--?” I began, but he interrupted me again.
“Don' play, luv” he said. “Don' pretend. Don' try to seduce me by spinning some fei hua
about how unique, or interestin', or desirable I am...” He took a slow drag on his cigarette, and then quirked a scarred eyebrow at me.
Inside, I cringed. Had I been clumsy in my wording? Had my interest appeared to be less than sincere? I was newly licensed as a companion, but that would be no excuse for letting a client feel manipulated.
I'm interestin',” he said around his cigarette, then pulled it out between thumb and forefinger. “Bloody fabulous, I am.” He smirked at me, daring me to contradict him.
I smiled slightly in response, even though I feared I had botched this contract even before it had begun. As a companion, I was supposed to determine what a client truly wanted, draw it out of him or her.
He seemed to be reading my thoughts. “Fahng sheen
, ducks,” he soothed. “You were doin' fine. 'S just I've been 'round for a while, seen one or two Companions in my time, know a bit about yer geisha roots, I do.” He winked at me. “Courtin' a reluctant 'suitor'? Convincin' a shy client that you want a shag even more than he does? Standard.
“But don' worry 'bout me. I know what I want, an' it's no quick tumble, alright? So just relax a bit, pet.”
I flashed him the “you just chose what I wanted most in the world” smile, and changed the subject. “Your Chinese is very ... colorful. And your accent is--”
“Old fashioned?” He used his thumb and middle finger to flick his cigarette over the balcony.
“I was going to say archaic
,” I replied archly, coming to stand next to him and look out over the valley.
He gave me a grin, replying, “Yeh, well, what can I say? I learned from a traditionalist,” he boasted, throwing back his shoulders. It made him look taller, and also somehow boyish.
“A traditionalist with an archaic accent?” I teased, looking into the blue eyes near mine.
“An archaic traditionalist,” he corrected me.
And just like that the conversation was back on solid ground again. “Even so, you must have been a good student,” I comment.
“Eh, I did all right,” he allowed. “Picked most of it up on the fly, dealin' wi' folks as didn' much like dealin' wi' me, and my ...family. Which accounts for the 'colorful' part.” He waggled his eyebrows at me, and I wondered why the bifurcated scar stretching toward his temple had never been mended. Born on a rim planet, perhaps? Somewhere that dermal menders were a rarity? I filed it away with the subtext of pain and betrayal in the word family
as clues to his history that might be useful in our contract.
Instead, I responded to the text of his statement, directing our conversation into safer, more certain areas. “I envy you,” I said with a slight smile, the one that said “I respect and admire you even more than I did” and continued, “Languages were always a challenge for me.
“So, Mister S--”
“It's Spike,” he interrupted again. “Just Spike.”
“Spike,” I said, infusing his name with warmth and affection. “Now that we have established what you do not
want from our contract, shall we discuss what you have in mind?”
I was more surprised than I should have been at his answer.