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Water under the bridge

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Summary: No map, no home, but plenty of free time. Xander, Willow, Dawn, and Faith are traveling free after being forced to leave the only home they've ever known to save it.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Firefly > General(Current Donor)dogbertcarrollFR15713,569810349,07315 Jul 099 Apr 14No

Chapter 2

“Do you take passengers?” Willow asked as the doctor was busy making Xander and River get decent.

“Sometimes, but I think we'll need to know a bit more about you first,” Captain Reynolds replied a bit numbly, still holding his pineapple like he would a baby.

“How many strawberries can you produce a day?” Kaylee asked eagerly.

Willow giggled. “Tons.”

Kaylee shivered and grabbed Willow's hand. “Welcome aboard the Serenity, she's a Firefly class ship and my baby.”

“Don't I get a say in this?” Mal asked plaintively as Kaylee drug Willow aboard.

“Apparently not,” Dawn replied amused.

“Howdy, I'm Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the Firefly Serenity,” he said formally as Inara beamed at him.

“I'm Dawn Summers ok in a fight with melee weapons, better with a crossbow, and master level linguist. I spend a lot of time reading and tend to get kidnapped a bit.”

“Nice to meet you. What do you mean kidnapped a bit?”

Dawn sighed. “It’s like there's an invisible sign over my head that means anyone looking to take a hostage immediately grabs me, it sucks.”

“Ok, I doubt you'll have that problem on board. Anyone who comes after the ship finds it easier to take the ship with all hands aboard.”

“That will be a nice change of pace,” Dawn mused thoughtfully.

“What?! Can – oof!” the Captain's breath left him in a whoosh as he was elbowed by the dark haired lady next to him.

“I mean I'd like to introduce you to the ship's long term Companion Inara,” Mal said rubbing his stomach.

“Pleased to meet you,” the olive skinned woman offered with a smile.

Dawn nodded. “Back at you. You said Companion like it’s a title?”

“You don't know what a Companion is?” Malcolm asked, a bit surprised.

“Dictionary definition sure, but the way you said the word means it probably means something more. Also my friends and I come from a society that's had zero contact with yours, so we've missed a lot,” Dawn explained.

“Completely separated from the Frontier and the Core?” the captain said. “That would be a sight to see.”

Dawn shrugged. “You'll have to ask Willow for the specifics, but it was basically a one way trip with no way back. So we've been wandering the verse for a bit and taking in the sights. But enough about us, what is a Companion?”

“I'll handle this,” Inara told Mal. “A Companion is a person specially trained to relieve the stress and worries of others in a variety of situations.”

“Ah! Geisha rather than streetwalker with emphasis on the psychological well being of the client,” Dawn replied.

“Pardon?” Mal asked, confused.

“Ok, as everyone knows humanity is rather obsessed with sex. It’s pretty much written into our DNA, but since we came up with an ungodly number of rules and laws complicating it a profession sprang up offering the necessary service for a monetary value,” Dawn explained in detail, trying to phrase everything as politely as possible. “At the lowest level of this profession we have streetwalkers; girls with little training if any.”

“Whores,” Mal said flatly and winced at sticking his foot in it.

“Not really, that word carries a lot of negative connotations that simply don't fit the profession,” Dawn said. “Sex for a value of trade is so common as to be practiced by every human alive. They trade sex for expensive dates, emotional closeness, or even just for a vague acknowledgment as a fellow human being. I reserve the term whore for those who sell out others not themselves.”

“Yeah,” Mal agreed, perking up as he saw what she meant.

“Now as I said, prostitution with no training is your basic streetwalkers who generally take up the trade to keep themselves fed. As you go up the scale sex takes on less and less importance, just a couple of steps up is an escort where their job is to look good and blend in with social situations and sex is no longer even guaranteed to be part of the job.”

“Sounds like Companioning,” Mal allowed.

“Stepping up from escort we have very specifically trained sex therapists; who are very much mind healers and has sex with their patients when needed to help straighten out any twists they've got complicating matters.”

“Really?” Mal asked, a bit shocked. “Licensed docs and all?”

Dawn nodded. “Requires all the proper medical credentials.”

Inara chuckled. “That's also part of our training Mal, it’s an eighteen month course all Companions are required to go through and pass before they can become Companions. Of course it’s just one of a number of courses we have to take.”

Dawn nodded again. “Up from sex therapists a bit we have geisha, who at the highest level were required to help run the government and produce heirs for the ruler.”

“Companions are rarely at that level but it’s not unknown. Most of the time we provide a pleasant date and help people straighten out their priorities a bit.”

“No sex?” Mal asked, quite confused.

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Of course there's sex, as humans we're obsessed with it and it’s a lot easier to get a man to listen when you've got him by the balls.”

“Not only men,” Inara pointed out. “I can't tell you how stubborn a couple of the women I helped were until I managed to wear them out a bit.”

“You companion women that way?” Mal asked, shocked.

“Yes, I thought you knew that. This isn't going to be a problem is it?”

“No, not at all. I thought it was just a little snuggling not… proper… companioning,” Mal replied with a forced casualness that wasn't fooling anyone.

Inara sighed and shook her head. “I can read you better than that. Listen, just companioning one sex is fine, if females are a problem I can just take male clients. There are many companions who only handle one gender, it’s not a problem.”

Dawn burst out laughing so hard it hurt.

“What?” Inara asked, confused.

Dawn wiped tears from her eyes as she regained her breath. “You're too close to see it.”

Inara acted like she'd been slapped. “I've taken great pains to maintain my objectivity and not … Hwoon dahn!”

Mal's eyes almost bugged out. “You swore!”

Inara blushed. “You make my self control go all to hell.”

“Well at least we have that much in common,” he replied with a grin.

Dawn could easily read the writing on the wall with these two. “You'll have an easier time if you just switch to female clients.”

“But he was clearly upset,” Inara argued. “I mean he controls his emotions pretty well… sometimes, so when his voice goes off tone like that I know he's upset.”

Mal wondered what he could say without eating boot leather.

“I have a test from Earth that was used to determine the truth in situations like this with 100% accuracy,” Dawn said. “Want to give it a try? It'll only take a couple of seconds.”

“Sure,” Inara said, curious about any test that came from Earth that Was. The next thing she knew she was in a heated clench and her training kicked in.

Mal froze in place as he watched the two make out right in front of him.

After a few seconds Dawn pulled back and turned Inara to face Mal, then grabbing Inara's right hand she placed it firmly on his crotch. “He very much doesn't mind you switching to only female clients,” Dawn announced.

“I – I thought it was sex for money that upset you?” Inara said, not moving her hand from his crotch. “I thought it was a principles thing?”

“Don't go stickin' me up on no pedestal. I don't like … prostitution because generally it’s got some poor young girl down on her luck with no other choice at the base of it and I hate that such a situation exists. I admit I may have unfairly painted companioning with the same brush because it seems there's a lot more to it.”

“And not minding me taking female clients?” she asked.

“That's genetic,” Dawn broke in. “Other men coming into the picture means competition, other women don't.”

“So, you're only human after all,” Inara teased.

“Never claimed to be anything but,” he replied softly.

Xander and River showed up, dressed and minus Simon.

“You led him to water!” River told Dawn with a bit of shock.

Dawn nodded. “Just had to figure out his handle.”

River examined the scene carefully and smiled. “Good, I wanted to go to the bar and Xander didn't,” she said before sticking her hand down the front of Xander's pants and dragging him down the road, unnoticed by the three.

“I think a tea ceremony is in order,” Inara announced.

0oOo0

The three sipped their tea and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, keeping the conversation to inconsequential things and just getting to know one another.

“I had a dog once, like most boys, but I left him at home for the war and I got a wave that said he'd passed of old age before I got back. Never seemed right to get another, especially one I'd be dragging all over the verse and back,” Mal said.

“We had the most adorable little black cat. Unfortunately there was some unpleasantness involving a crossbow, we never did replace her,” Dawn offered.

“I had crickets,” Inara smirked at the raised eyebrows. “You see having a cricket in a little bamboo cage was considered good luck. They were clean, didn't take up much space and don't require a lot of attention. I thought they'd be perfect, but no matter what I did they'd die the next day.”

She sipped her tea before continuing, “I went through over a hundred crickets and had several experts called in before we discovered what was wrong.”

“What was it?” Mal asked, unable to wait any longer.

“Well the perfume I'd had personally designed just for me turned out to be the most narrowly targeted insecticide ever.” She grinned.

“Don't tell me.” Dawn snickered.

“Yep, the specially tailored and patented perfume I used that was 95 creds an ounce was deadly to crickets.” Inara burst out laughing.

“So, what'd you do?” Mal asked.

Inara shrugged. “What could I do? It was as absolutely perfect a perfume for me as could be made, but was deadly to my chosen pets.” She grinned evilly as she sipped her tea. “So I sold the formula to the Verse's biggest insecticide company and now when I want to buy more perfume I can get half a liter for a single cred.”

“That's brilliant!” Mal declared, grinning wildly while the girls giggled.

“Well now that we're somewhat comfortable with each other lets exchange a bit of crew info,” Mal suggested.

Inara nodded. “Introducing them to Jayne without warning would be cruel.”

Dawn snickered. “We feel the same way about Faith.”

“Jayne is pretty simple,” Mal said. “He says what he thinks, has no manners, and likes to shoot things.”

“Faith is much the same, except she likes to stab them,” Dawn replied.

“Any good in a fight?” Mal asked curiously.

“I've seen her matched but never beaten,” Dawn replied.

“Are all of you trained in fighting?” Inara asked.

Dawn nodded. “We were in a long running war against stuff that looked human, but was about as far from human as you could actually get, so well all picked up fighting skills, but most of the things only got annoyed if you shot them, so it’s mostly edged weapons and hand to hand.”

“Except for the annoyed at being shot part they sound like Reavers,” Mal ventured.

Dawn shook her head. “We've ran across Reavers, they're a lot easier to deal with.”

“You've run across Reavers?” Inara asked.

“Yeah, we were travelling on a commercial freighter that thought it could save a little time and money by cutting through an area that was marked as a possible reaver threat. Fortunately Xander, the pantsless guy, woke us all up about an hour before they attacked and made sure we were all armed.”

Mal and Inara exchanged glances before Mal said, “If you don't mind me saying so, Xander reminds me a lot of River.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” Dawn said thoughtfully. “But I thought I was reading too much into it.”

“Is he a reader?” Mal asked.

“Reader?”

“Someone who can read minds,” Inara explained.

Dawn nibbled on her bottom lip deep in thought for a moment. “I'm not sure, but I don't think so. He can tell what people are thinking, but that's just because he can read body language like it was written on their face. The only thing we know he reads is possibilities.”

“Possibilities?” Mal asked curiously.

“He can see what can; could, should, would, and will happen,” Dawn explained. “And just about any other word that fits.”

“You didn't have to rescue him from a lab in the Core did you?” Mal asked bluntly.

“Huh?” Dawn replied before putting things together. “No, Xander always had the gift. It was a small thing; easily overlooked, but in the final battle we were trapped and even all of Willow's power wasn't enough to get us out without reopening what we'd fought so hard to close, so Xander opened his gift father than any sane person would, or should have been possible for that matter, and found us a way out.”

“You love him don't you?” Inara asked gently, hearing the pain in Dawn's voice.

“All of us love him,” Dawn said, shaking her head. “And I'm not sure mine should count, since I was created to love him so they could be sure he'd protect me and I'm not opening that can of worms, so let’s change the subject and talk about something else.”

“Ok,” Mal said quickly, feeling empathy for Dawn and her not wanting to talk about her feelings. “How does Willow conjure fruit like that?”

“Willow is a magic user, meaning literally one who uses magic. Female magic users are generally referred to as witches, but really that's misleading if you look at the most common usage of the word, though accurate if you look at the original meaning of the base word it’s derived from, because it’s really all about knowledge. Willow can do what she does because she knows how to manipulate forms of energy that mankind generally ignores once they reach a certain tech level, because science unlike magic doesn't require you to have a gift for it and always operates the same way.”

“You've given this speech a lot, haven't you?” Inara asked with a smile.

“Someone has to. Faith's explanations aren't, Willow's leaves them more confused than when they started, and Xander's response is a bit random these days.”

“So anyone who knows how can do it?” Mal asked.

“It helps if you have a gift, to learn different branches, but almost anyone can learn some magic. For instance everyone I know learned how to use sanctuary runes.”

“What do those do?” Mal asked, interested.

“Properly carved and cast runes can have any number of effects. The most commonly used setup was designed so our enemies couldn't enter our homes without our explicit invitation. It was pretty amusing when a couple of tax men found they couldn't enter when they tried to push their way in.” Dawn snickered at the memory.

“Could you do that for Serenity?” Mal asked.

“Serenity isn't just a home, it’s also a place of business, which means it’s open to the public, but I can ward the areas considered private quarters where the public isn't allowed to go.”

“So people could force their way aboard, but they couldn't attack us in our sleep?” Inara asked.

“If they were in direct line of sight they could shoot or throw things, but they couldn't physically enter the area.”

“So if I marked the hall outside the crew quarters as crew only area they couldn't even reach the door?” Mal asked, grinning.

“Exactly, unless they were specifically invited in, but that also includes signs saying come on in or welcome mats saying Welcome. I even recall one case where the enemy could enter because there was a Latin motto welcoming all who sought knowledge to enter over the doorway.”

“That's still pretty impressive,” Inara offered.

“How long do they last?” Mal asked eagerly.

“As long as the quarters are considered home by the inhabitants, the wards work until physically removed.”

“Teach me?!” Mal all but begged.

0oOo0

“How much for a little slap and tickle?” a large man asked Faith in a friendly voice.

Faith's first instinct was to react violently, but since she was on the prowl for a little fun she decided to get her revenge a different way.

“How'd you know I was a hooker?” Faith purred rubbing up against the guy.

“Didn't,” the big man admitted. “But what you're wearing shows you've got the goods, and it would be rude to assume you're just giving it away.”

Faith chuckled, this was the first time she'd ever heard an answer to that question that didn't make her want to hurt the person offering it. She almost felt guilty for what she was planning to do to him.

0oOo0

“I'm going to drive your brother nuts,” Xander said cheerfully as he drank his beer.

“It'll do him good to get out more,” River replied. “Do you need gray skin?”

“Nah, too salty,” Xander replied, not liking the peanuts they served in bars.

“Captain says a little noise in bars is to be expected if you want to have a good time.”

“Yeah, but not till we're done drinking and remember not to appear too good or everyone concentrates on you. Bruises build character.”

0oOo0

Mal opened the door to the engine room and quickly shut it again, his face red. “I believe Kaylee is showing Willow and Simon the engine room, so why don't we start our tour with the bridge instead?”

“Simon hasn't seen the engine room before?” Dawn asked Inara with a raised eyebrow.

“Not for lack of trying on Kaylee's part, but Simon is from the Core and the glacial speed he was moving to see the engine room made me wonder if he'd ever reach it before the engine overheated and exploded,” Inara replied.

Mal groaned.

Dawn nodded. “In cases like that I suggest a tranquilizer gun and a net. When Xander didn't return from Africa for six months, like he was supposed to, I got everything ready to go after him, but he heard what I was up to and rushed home on his own.”

“Do you still have that tranq gun and net handy?” Inara asked thoughtfully, causing Mal to stiffen.

0oOo0

“Sir, the outsiders have made contact with River Tam.”

“That was not unanticipated. Send someone you don't mind losing to infiltrate the crew, preferably one with little to no infiltration skills.”

“You want him to be discovered, sir?”

“Yes, but he himself must be kept ignorant of that fact or River Tam will know it. This is simply a reminder that we are watching them to encourage them not to make waves.”

“And the outsiders?”

“Have no interest in politics or power and much like Tam's group they can be useful in resolving problems without wasting our own resources.”

“Like the situation on Tamandra?”

“Exactly. We had the ship they were on rerouted to Tamandra and they created a cure for the plague that had caused the planet to be quarantined and provided them with three new types of grain that grow in a variety of environments.”

“Put like that I can see how they'd be useful.”

“Not a tool that is 100% reliable, but a tool all the same.”

AN: Mucho gracias to godogma for typing this up!
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