The Beast hunts for Beauty
“Guess who I found!”
Jack almost jumped when Mr. U's shining face popped up on her screen. Serenity was in it's night cycle right now and she had watch thanks to Mal's ridiculous sense of honor. Jayne wasn't on duty until after Mal, in fact, the door to his bunk had been locked after he climbed down. It wasn't to be unlocked until Mal locked the door of the shuttle at his shift. Honestly, it wasn't like they'd done anything outrageous, just a bit of kissing in places not normally kissed.
“A way to prevent baldness and extend erections?” Jack shrugged.
“No! I found one Fantastic and Mingojerry!”
Jack's eyes narrowed. “Bullshit.”
“It's true, my dear. Your friends seem to have made quite a name for themselves on Beaumonde.” His fingers flew as the information popped up on Jack's screen. She was good, yeah, but he was better. “Have themselves a little bar by the name of Maidenhead.”
“Perverts,” Jack snorted. “Glad they're alive though...when did they jump dirt?”
“Not too long after you left,” Mr. U spun in his chair. “Apparently they just couldn't stand to be without their precious Jack.”
To be quite honest, she was surprised they didn't get themselves killed after she started living on Serenity. Jack, Fanty, and Mingo had their own little slice of heaven on New Mecca, running deliveries, making deals, getting thrown into juvvy together. The twins weren't as smart as she was though. They didn't always think things through and had a tendency to think with the wrong heads. As she looked through the information, she was both surprised and satisfied to see how well they'd done for themselves.
“You should wave them, let them know you're still alive.”
“Is that concern I hear?” Jack asked, grinning. “Thank you, I mean it. Now what's the catch?”
“Bring me one of the cows?” he asked. “There's a gray one in your hold, with a green eye. I'll pay double.”
“I'll tell Mal,” Jack nodded. “Does he have a name?”
“Her name is Smokey.”
“He'll put up a fight you know,” Jack pointed out as she accessed the video feed. Cows were all over the place. “We aren't swinging by your moon for almost another week.”
“Then take part of your payment from Smokey, she's a milk cow.”
“He says he's willing to pay for a trip to Origin,” Jack argued. She'd been chasing Mal through the ship, trying to get Mr. U his beloved cow. The price had kept going up last night, ending only when Mal came in to take watch. An offhanded remark last night had turned into a game of chase in the morning. Unfortunately for him, he'd led her into the kitchen where Wash and Kaylee were sitting.
“Origin?” Kaylee asked, eyes growing wide. “Cap'n that's the best shipyard in the 'verse!”
“We do need some new equipment in the bridge,” Wash agreed.
“And a compressor coil that fits,” Kaylee pointed out. “Not to mention our exhaust regulator is getting' downright jinky.”
“And thanks to your little outburst, you need a new cortex screen. And the extra shuttle needs a new intake valve,” Jack reminded him. Since Imam and his kin had taken up residence, they'd become very aware of how poorly the extra shuttle was outfitted. “We need a ship that won't die on us in the middle of the black and a shuttle that won't kill us while we're trying to escape.”
“And Zisa came down with something last night,” Kaylee gave Mal the eyes. Those demanding puppy eyes that Jack could never quite manage. She was quite lucky if she manged cat eyes.
The complaints increased as the crew entered the mess. Zoe wanted a decent light in her bunk; the bulb insisted on turning on in the middle of the night and not listening when you asked it to turn on in the first place. Jayne's bunk was a bit wobbly and entirely too small for his frame, let alone sharing it with someone else. Simon asked about getting one of his drawers fixed and River made her opinion known as to the condition of her bed. Even Doo made a grumbling noise at Mal.
“Shaddup!” Mal roared. He pinched the bridge of his nose, breathing deeply. “You say he's gonna pay the whole thing? Every repair our girl needs?”
“And gas,” Jack nodded. She'd been very careful to explain just how bad Serenity was before closing the deal. Mr. U was a friend, and friends didn't lie to each other, especially when they had the ability to completely destroy each others lives. “Just wants Smokey.”
Mal scrubbed at his face. He looked around at the gathered crew and at this point his passengers as well. Inara had heard the commotion some time ago, she'd come in to give her few cents regarding an unnatural smell coming from her shuttle's hygiene bank. Imam had stayed quiet throughout, Matea and Zisa down in the infirmary.
“Alright, alright fine!” Mal relented. “Imam, you get yourself situated in the passenger bunks until we can get the shuttle fixed up, riv, you spend half your time with the Serra's anyhow, you bunk up with them til we get your bed fixed up.” Simon nearly argued with the decision; he realized Mal was right. “Jack, go wave our client, tell him we gotta make a stop on Jiangyin first. Ain't drivin' all the way to the other side for a gorram cow when we got a whole bay full of the damn things.”
“Smokey,” River corrected. “He knows who he is. Never forgets. Knows where he is.”
“Right you are River, someone's gotta take care of Smokey iffn we're taking him on board a while.” Mal looked around at everyone. “Gotta pick up feed next few stops. For Doo too.”
“I would not mind assisting,” Imam spoke. “It is the least I can do.”
Mal nodded. “Looks like we're getting some fresh dairy out of this deal.”
It had been a long time since he smelled beautiful. The merc bitch thought he was talking about her, he could see that, the way her pulse kicked into high gear, the shift in her scent. No. He was talking about His Beautiful. The scent that had been following him since he was eleven, tagging along with Shirah, fresh and clean and not quite dangerous, but getting there. It was refined, playful, soft and everything he'd wanted as an eleven year old boy. He'd never been so distracted during lessons, scenting Shirah's hands as she taught him. She'd laughed at him, explaining at the end that she had a granddaughter.
The scent followed him, even when Shirah did not. It tagged along beside him through his waking life, increasing in strength whenever he got into a fight. He'd be lying if that wasn't half the reason he started them. It got stronger when he got into school, rewarding him almost for being better. He was twenty-five when it disappeared on him. A moment of excitement that had nothing to do with getting off of the merc ship, and a rush of so much fear and panic that he'd nearly tripped over his damn self landing his ship on the frozen hell. Then she'd been gone. So completely and utterly gone from him that he'd nearly gone mad.
Then, in the midst of flames and burning flesh, in the middle of war and destruction, she came back to him. No more than a whisper on the wind. Different. Dangerous. And he knew, he knew in the deepest part of himself that it was Her. The girl hiding behind Jack's hair, shy and wary, teasing him.
That was known. He didn't have to be there to know she was playing with him.
He just knew it was her, he'd felt her panic again, her fear and the confusion. He felt a tickle along his spine, along the spine of the beast and the growl that escaped his lips was anything but threatening. Dangerous yes, but not threatening.
He adjusted the controls of Tommbs' ship for the second time in as many months. Jack had a cortex address, easy enough to track if you knew the right people to ask. Ungles was good at what he did, and he'd been only too excited to help him track the crew of Serenity. They were hitting up some backwater planet, delivering goods that didn't meet alliance standards for sale. He'd meet them there.
“Beautiful,” he whispered, leaning back and watching the stars.