Mrs Reynolds and Miss Johns
Our Mrs. Reynolds
“Doc, is there a reason we got an aggressive sort of man hollerin' down in the med bay?”
Mal had just come from the bridge, annoyed by the foresight his first mate and kid happened to have in regards to saving. They'd gone and hid two of the seven loot bags somewhere in his ship and there weren't a body telling him where; normally he was the one who hid the ship coin, and normally it was a bit less he tucked away. Aside from those two, there was now a tiny little girl was running around on jobs as an efficiency expert, his companion was an Olympic sharpshooter, and a murderous convict was speaking in tongues with one of his girls.
“He's still numb,” Simon explained with a wave of his hand. “River will probably have him silent in a few minutes.”
“Point of interest doc, your sister ain't all there. She followed us into town.” He watched the doctor exhale, deep and drawn, worrying not over his sister, but over something else. The man who'd recently spent every waking moment mother-henning over the girl was seemingly ignoring her actions. “Care to share?”
“It's...there are certain rules in my family.” Simon looked into his tea as Mal sat down. “Rules I'm not allowed to share without permission.”
Mal heard Riddick stop shouting. River was down stairs, talking to the convict in the strange, melodious, throaty language. “So why's your sister so stuck on him?”
“Grandmother arranged it.” Simon took a long draw of his tea, making a face after he swallowed. He wasn't drinking tea at all it seemed, a few seconds later Mal found himself with a glass of scotch as Simon refilled his own. “A long time ago, right after River was born, I remember a phone call between my grandmother and the headmaster of one of the best private schools in the sector. She was checking on her son-in-law.” Simon looked up at Mal, the haze of alcohol in his eyes. “Richard Brandon Riddick. River Marie Tam's future husband.”
The captain was very glad to be sitting in that moment. Two of the alliance's most wanted were engaged and had been since Lil' Bit was born. It didn't bode well for anyone in the universe. Certainly not the bounty hunters of the verse and most assuredly not the law.
“So, once she marries Richard, she becomes the head of the Tam family. All of the family fortune goes directly to her, all holdings, everything.” Simon laughed lightly. “Even my paycheques.”
“And your Ma wasn't having it.” Mal's jaw set, eyes narrowing as he glowered into the bottom of his own drink. “That's why your folks let her off to that school without doing research isn't it?”
“It is, intensely possible my mother knew,” Simon sighed. He was thinking again, thinking on how to explain the situation without going against his family's rules. “My mother came from a very high ranking family. When she married my father, she didn't expect to be relegated to second class citizen in her own home.”
Mal remembered Inara saying something about that. The Tam family was matriarchal, so when Granny decided to give River-child the position, Reagan Tam had sent the heiress off to a school of unknown quality and curriculum. A school she may well have known about according to Simon. The things folk were willing to do for a bit of coin. Hunting down folks, cutting into folks, selling ones own kin. He couldn't imagine sending Jack or Riv off, so they'd get his ship when they got hitched? Good, a child needed a way to eat and he wouldn't have to worry so much. Admitted, he'd rather wait until he was ready to retire, but sending one's own child to a prison...
“This, was it round the time Ricky got sent to the slam?”
Simon was thinking, the sort of drunken thought process that showed very clearly upon one's face. “I think, it was about a year after he broke out of the first one. The press was having a field day with it and River was defending him, very open about finding a lawyer for him. It sparked a few arguments between my mother and River, especially once grandmother disappeared. Our father was actually looking for lawyers until she left. But, Hurricane Reagan destroyed my family.”
“This is not Milosz.”
“Well aware of that.”
“Yes, I'm sure.”
“You promised Mal.”
“It was on the way!”
Mal turned to face his crew. All of them seemed mighty twisted over their current location and the lack of viable shops. The boys were looking forward to a gun shop and the girls had been harping on him for quite some time regarding the acquisition of clothing. Hell, even Mal was looking forward to a nice cold glass of vodka, especially after what the Doc had told him the night after Whitefall.
“This rock is right in between Whitefall and Milosz. Need a few bandits taken down, six men ain't nearly so intimidatin' as some old hag and near sixty hired guns.” Mal gave his crew a look. What a ragtag bunch of folk. Convicts and fugitives and mercenaries all led by a man in a brown coat. “Small point of interest, they're willing to part with some produce.”
Of course his crew perked up at that. Fact was, Whitefall hadn't much in the way of vegetation with Patience hoarding all of the seed. Too much dairy and meat bound a body up, clogged the drains and made for some terrible pains. Whole crew had been faced with the issue of clogging or protein rations for the last week and a half. A bit of running around would be good for them, too much time shipbound tended to lessen a body's ability to dodge.
“No more pitstops. Swear it.” Doo barked from beside him. “See? Now go gear up, finish your coffee, get your affairs in order.”
“Dad!” Jack started climbing into Mal's cabin. “Dad, there's no Cortex access.”
Jack held the screen in front of Mal for his inspection. “The only access I get is bouncing from the ship and even that's fuzzy. I need to actually go in and hook my cortex up to the mainframe! No security systems, no audio feed, no electronic locks...no wifi!”
“Welcome to the real world Jackie,” Mal laughed at her. “Gonna have to learn to work without it this time 'round.”
Jack was not pleased with that explanation. It was in fact, the worst reaction she'd gotten since discovering that the cortex was offline here on Triumph. What the hell was she supposed to do without the cortex? She wasn't much use else-wise, and there wasn't a thing broken on the ship. Inara didn't have any clients for her to organize and she was a lousy shot compared to the rest of the crew. Except maybe Kaylee. And Simon. Maybe Diesel.
“Jackie, I actually do have some work for you to do.” Mal stood and herded her towards the ladder, moving closer until she had no choice but to exit his bunk. “Research. Means you'll have to hoof around town, ask questions and look into archives, but there's a time when you can't depend on tech to get everything done.”
She settled herself against the wall as she waited for Mal to follow her up.
“All the logistics in the world, all the data every computer can compile doesn't make up for talkin' to a person face to face. Dong ma?” Mal grinned at her. “Most times, what's on paper ain't the truth, isn't that right Richard Serra?”
Jack hadn't even noticed Riddick standing in the doorway to the bridge. He was grinning at her knowingly. He agreed with Mal. She could tell. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized that what she heard growing up was usually a bit truer than what she'd heard on the cortex.
“Okay,” Jack nodded. “Okay, I can...hoof it I guess.”
“Ain't so nice, being without something you know,” Mal patted her on the shoulder. “Now go, get into town and find out what you can. Take Ricky with ya.”
Jack was certain her Cap'n dad was going to get shanked for that. Especially when Riddick's eyebrow rose.
“All my kids get names,” Mal grinned at the man. “You callin' me Dad, well, proves you're kin. Ricky.”
Mal walked down to the kitchen, calling out to Inara as he entered said room. Jack turned back to face Riddick, brows raising a his shaking shoulders. He was laughing. Quiet at first until he threw his head back with a wide, maniacal grin. She wouldn't dare say he was giggling, but he he wasn't chuckling either.
“I missed something.”
“Picked a helluva crew Jack,” Riddick climbed down the steps and into his bunk. He'd picked the one right next to Jayne's and she knew he'd done it to keep an eye on her. Mal on one side and Riddick on the other? The chances of Jayne giving her any attention were equal to a snowball's chance on Hades. Then again, if it rained, the planet must have some sort of winter. Too much cold and night, the water must freeze eventually. Winter on Hades, stuck in the cold dark, that sounded miserable. Twenty-two years of sunshine and death, followed up by a few months cold, frozen death.
Jack shook the thought from her head. Hades always found it's way into her thoughts. Not all the time, not every day or even every week, but every so often it would appear. Usually when she was frustrated by something beyond her control or comprehension. It was popping up a bit more than usual since the Tams boarded. They were pretty good at saying things that she didn't always get. Wash too. But his nonsensical ramblings had to do with dinosaurs, not Science and Medicine.
She dropped her non-functional cortex off with Inara before heading down into the bay and hopping on the ATV. Riddick would get down there eventually, and if he didn't he'd catch up to her. They weren't too far from town, but honestly she wanted a chance to talk to him without her sister watching or her meimei talking or Jayne posturing or Cap'n Dad being all protective. She just wanted a bit of time to reconnect and hang out with the man.
Something sharp was at her neck.
“Loosin' your touch Jack.”
“Never had much of one,” she spoke instead, starting the ATV. He climbed on, his back to hers as she pulled out of the bay. “Can I expect to see you after we leave Milosz?” She didn't mean to ask it so soon. It just kind of spilled out. “I just, It's nice having you around. Whole family, you know?”
It was a few moments before he spoke. They were nearly in town by then and Jack was worrying that he wasn't going to answer her at all. Worried she might have made things weird.
“Fry asked me if I wanted to rejoin the human race, rejoin the civilized world.” She could feel his voice rumbling through her back. “Told her the same thing I'm telling you. I don't know how.”
Jack couldn't help the grin on her face.
“Haven't your heard? Our crew isn't civilized.”
She sped up, happy when she felt his rumbling laugh again. It had been a long time since she'd been near him. He'd saved her life as often as he put it in danger, showed her how to use and load the gun she'd grabbed off of the batty bitch of Kublai, and while she'd had a crush on him before, he'd shown her what made a nice man and what made a good man.
“So where were you?” Jack finally asked.
“Ice planet. The locals weren't too friendly, tasted like shit to eat.”
“Worse than Simon's cooking?” Jack snorted.
“Not by much. The girl...River...”
“She's got a crush on you, yeah.” Jack ducked as they went under a branch, not a big one, but enough to sting if it hit. “Apparently she likes that you can keep up with her.” And some few other things, Jack was sure.
Late at night, River had crept into the shuttle and crawled up onto the bed with the Serra sisters. She'd questioned and wondered, unsure if her reaction was programmed into her by the academy or if her grandmother had convinced her he was hers or if she genuinely enjoyed his presence. She wondered and questioned the sort of girl men wanted and if she should show concern over the age, was it appropriate to desire someone so much younger and if so, would he seek out someone younger when she became too old. Inara had nipped that thought in the bud, suggesting that perhaps they work on becoming crew before River thought about becoming Riddick's lover.
“Knew her gran.”
Riddick hadn't shared that bit of information before.
“Really?” Jack turned as they approached a tree. The road wrapped around said flora, but ATV's and people did not. “How?”
“Put me through school. Sent me to Valetiel, then to New Cambridge.” He ducked with her this time. “After that, I ended up in Strikeforce. They were training me to be an officer.”
“Man in uniform huh?” How irnoic, that the man who wore the badge had arrested the man who had earned it. It explained a lot about him though. The lord of all he purveyed because for some reason, every New-Cam grad acted that way. Knew more than most cons about weaponry and tech too. Maybe not so much about hacking, jack couldn't imagine him in that role, but he was way more educated than other thugs and criminals she'd come across in her life. “How'd you end up in the slam?”
“Saw something I didn't like.”
She knew the discussion was over. He never liked to tell people about things he didn't like, particularly when it had to do with life and death.
“So they threw you in jail because of it.”
“Got it in one.”
The town was on them before long, the folk watching them with furrowed brows and worried expressions. An old lawman was napping on the porch, oversized and inept, a bottle of gutrot hanging from his fingers. It was the parishman who approached them first. His face was drawn with worry and he looked like a man determined to right the wrongs in his world. That was a dangerous look for anyone to be having these days.
“We aren't taking visitors,” the parishman told them in no uncertain terms.
“Heard you had a pest problem is all,” Jack shrugged. “My captain thought we aught to be good Samaritans, but....” She started the vehicle up again. “I'll tell him we don't have anything to do.”
“Told him folks don't want charity,” Riddick grumbled. “Needs to keep on with paying jobs.”
“Now wait just a minute.”
Jack had to hide her grin at the preacher-man's words.
“River?” Simon moved closer to his sister, watching as she stared down into the empty bay. The crew was milling about, prepping to go on a job or just plain milling about. Kaylee was one such person doing neither. She was in fact, laying out in the sun in the very smallest dress Simon had ever seen her wear.
“Gege is distracted by copper smiles.”
“I, River, I came to ask if you were okay.” Not to talk about Kaylee.
“She is acceptable. Would make a good match.”
“Where's your 'good match'?” He asked instead, moving to sit beside her on the grating.
“Richard is with Kyra, relearning each other. Just as Simon must meet her once more.” River looked at him. “He doesn't want to meet the new sister. Wants the old one. The girl Reagan sent away.”
“She's the only one I know.” Simon sighed, rubbing a hand across his face. “I just want to know that there is something I can still talk to you about. A commonality.”
River's hand rest atop his.
“The same blood runs in our veins Simon. He is her brother. Always will be.” River looked back a the bay doors. “She forgets sometimes, that she is not the only one with a brother.”
Simon didn't understand until Jack and Riddick rode in some twenty minutes later.
“River...I know that Grandmother picked him, but...how much do you actually know about him?” Simon was watching her just as she was watching those below them. He could see her fading. He could see the fog of madness spreading across her mind. “I know, it's not technically my place, but, I would ask that you spend a bit more time courting him. ”
River looked at him, her gaze piercing through the haze.
“Please, I worry. As your brother, as someone who cares about you.”
“Does not want her hurt. Want's her to remain as whole as possible. Remove the scars from her soul.”
“That is the gist of it,” Simon nodded. “Please River. I'll make it a boon if I have to, just-”
“She will do it. No boon.” River squeezed his hand as her gaze settled on the murderer below them. “The old ways are not the best ways. They are the only ones left. They must rewrite the world.”
Simon pulled her closer and rest his chin upon her hair as he felt her continue to lose herself. Diesel's claws tinked upon the steel and soon Simon could feel a warm patch from the dog's breath against his thigh. Even when the world was open for his enjoyment, he was sitting here and watching over River. Be it the dog or the doctor himself thought on, Simon wasn't sure. It was true in either case.
“Malcolm, why are you in my shuttle?”
Inara closed her robe about herself, wondering what it was about this man that made her feel so very exposed.
“Wanted to apologize, Makin' a small pitstop before Milosz, shouldn't take more'n a day.” Mal looked around her shuttle, eyes resting on the collection of medals upon her wall. “Figure now that you're likely to actually hit me, I should make it a point not to upset your schedule so much.”
“Thank you,” Inara nodded. “I'll be sure to adjust my appointments.” Like the appointment at the spa, the plan to buy new silks on Wednesday, not to mention the plan to sit around and enjoy her retirement. She was still trying to fit in the appointment to tell Mal she'd retired.
“I'd also like to know how often you plan on taking part in our sordid affairs.”
Inara had been wondering when that question would pop up. She'd been anticipating in fact, thinking how she could link his question to her confession.
“To be honest Mal, I was considering...”
She didn't have a chance to finish. The crew was calling for him down in the bay. A loud chorus of 'Dad' and 'Mal' and 'Cap'n' rang from below. The revving of the mule -dying as it was- echoed up and rather than stay in the shuttle, Mal stuck his head out and shouted down at them. Only a halfhearted to call to continue the conversation later marked that he was still somewhat invested in her answer. Damnable man. Honor he may well have, but when it came to noticing his surroundings...
Vaako didn't flinch when another body was dragged past him. Their Lord Marshal was growing paranoid, firing upon every scion who dared move too fast, enter a room to quickly, speak too loud. Two of his commander's had fallen in the last Unified Cosmic Month. One for each planet purged in this heathen system.
Vaako stood still, quiet, waiting for Zhylaw to acknowledge him. It didn't take long for the marshal to look up from his war map of the Helion system. The elemental was in chains at the head of the table, face drawn as she watched the map at listened to the planned destruction of her home. Her calculations had hit an unknown, though powerful, variable on New Mecca. An entire family had escaped with the aide of the Furyan. Four people had fled to Persephone, fled from the Reaper to the warm embrace of a death god. Right into the core of abomination and sin.
“Vaako. I trust your wife has been seen to?”
“I would request permission to renounce the dame.” Vaako pulled his shoulders back before continuing. “Her actions are damning, her words poisonous.”
“No. No, I need to root out the rest of her web.” Zhylaw smiled at him, placing a hand upon his shoulder. His touch was calming, euphoric almost, certainly fearsome. “I know the look within your eyes Vaako. The need for battle is bright in them.”
The lord marshal pulled him closer to the table and pulled up a capture. A single ship was pulling away from a planet, breaking orbit and heading quickly towards someplace else.
“This is the ship that left Helion 5. Track it. Find the pilot, and kill him.”
The elemental spoke up before Vaako could question him.
“Riddick has undoubtedly discarded the vessel.” The elder was smiling at them, though her eyes held a hint of doubt. “Any pilot you find will be little more than a waste of time. The Furyan will come for you Lord Marshal.”
“Find him, question him, and kill him.” Zhylaw spoke to Vaako, though he glowered at the elemental. “Take a squad of your best men. I need you to kill Riddick.” He smiled at Vaako. “Of course, if you find anything else along the way, you are certainly welcome to her.”
A wife of his own choice. His first wife had been a mission, decided by Zhylaw in an effort to discover one of the larger plots against his life. Neidra has beautiful, seductive and dangerous, but she was too dangerous and she used sex as a weapon rather than out of affection. If he brought a war bride into his home, she might jump to real weapons. Her plans would become more aggressive and the Lord Marshal would be in yet more danger. She would be caught all the quicker.
“And Dame Vaako?”
“I have several wives,” Zhylaw waved, turning back to his map. “My First should be allowed two.”
Vaako nodded, saluting before heading to collect his men.
Why she and Zoe were in back of the wagon while Mal played pretty little wife...never mind. It had the word pretty in it. Jack held back a snort at the realization, only to find herself holding yet more down as Mal-linda began in on Jayne. Zoe had to bite her cheek and even Riddick had his head bent. They'd been going back and forth at it since they'd started the trek, acting the part and adjusting their voices every so often. No, make it higher. No, that's too low and grumbly. Well you forgot to turn the tea kettle off.
The list went on, but it was the thunder of hooves that finally made those in the back stop snickering. Men were shouting and guns were fired into the air. When the leader spoke up, Jack shifted to look through a hole in the canvas. You always needed a count when it came to your enemy. She could see two from her side, combined with Riddick's single digit and Zoe's two, they had their bullets ready.
“Five in the back.” Jack's whisper to the front was low, barely enough for those in front to hear her. Especially when leader boy was talking about getting intimate with the 'missus'.
“Oh, I think you might wanna reconsider that last part,” Jayne grunted out. He'd fallen into his slow southern twang, the one that only came out when he was very tired. “See, I married me a pow'rful ugly creature.”
“How can you say that?” Mal's high falsetto resounded into the small space, bringing a slight smile back to those in wait. “How can you shame me in front of new people?”
“If I could make you purtier, I would,” Jayne snorted before spitting. “Reckon I'd make you a better cook too.”
“You are not the man I met a year ago!”
The rustle of cloth as Mal and Jayne both stood had Jack pulling the wagon cover down; Zoe and Riddick pulled their guns on the bandits around them. Zoe's gun was charged and ready to fire, the soft whine unmistakable while Riddick had grabbed up a big gauge from Jayne's wall of weapons. Neither was willing to admit Jayne was bribing the man for alone time with Jack. The horsemen were looking a bit nervous now, some fingering the trigger of their weapons while others were very ready to bolt.
“Now think real hard,” Mal cocked his gun. “You been bird-dogging this township a while now and they wouldn't mind if your next visit was in a corpsified fashion.” Jack aimed her gun at one of the men with a creeping hand. “Now, you can luxuriate in a nice little jail cell like my boy Ricky done, but if that hand gets any closer to that gun, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”
It took a good second for the crew to keep from laughing. It was the gunshots that had them sobering up.
Inara was rather surprised when Mal came to request her presence at the village celebration. Kyra had invited her moments before, and she was intending to go if only for the experience, but Mal had actually asked her to accompany him. He'd started drinking though. If Inara knew anything about the 'enigma' that was Malcolm Reynolds, it was that alcohol turned him into a giant kid.
Kyra was facing the same issue, but instead of getting annoyed, she'd gone to fetch River.
Now, three, dark haired women, fair of skin and slender in build, were sitting around a small fire and watching the night pass. Inara had the feeling they looked like a coven from the looks they kept getting. A coven of witchy sisters, a hacker, a sniper, and a psychic...they could be fairly dangerous if they wanted to be.
“Mind and body and soul,” River sang as she rumpled the skin of Diesel's face. The dog's tongue was lolling as he played with his youngest human. “Saw the captain with one, broke the deal with one, the beast keeps one.”
Inara didn't understand until Richard joined them a few minutes later. He looked too close to feral. There was a slight spatter of blood on his knuckles, the skin faintly split by teeth. Moments ago she'd seen a young man walking past them quickly, hand to his nose as blood dripped down his shirt. As much as Richard ran from River on ship, he didn't seem to want anyone else near her on dirt. It made her grin, though Inara would never do something like grin in public. So she smiled. It was as close to cute as the two of them could get.
Mal's loud Whoop grabbed her attention away from the two. It seemed he'd moved from pretty floral bonnets to pretty flower crowns. He was a strange man.
“So, are you three drinking?” He sat on the ground, leaning against the log River had taken for her own.
“Sipping,” Jack admitted. Her cheeks were rosy and the giggle implied more than just sipping.
“We have a fourth glass if you'd like to join us,” Inara offered. She poured before he could answer, offering him the crystal just as she'd offered River. He was part of her family, and family celebrated together. They certainly drank together. Her family did. Not that River was drinking very much, she'd only had a glass or two.
“Ninety-eight?” He asked.
“From Nuveau-Napa,” Inara nodded. “I never took you for a wine drinker Richard.” He would always be Richard in Inara's mind.
“Normally I prefer something else,” he admitted. “But I'm on probation.”
Inara may have been lightly tipsy, but she knew a satisfied smile when she saw one. River was happily displaying hers.
“It was the mint, wasn't it?” Kyra asked, trying not to snort into her glass.
After the two agreed, she explained to the eldest what the issue was. It didn't take long before all four of them were giggling, chuckling, or laughing into their glasses; three empty bottles had created a clinking pile in front of them. Sometime between the second and third, however, Inara became witness to something beautiful. Something centuries old that had and would continue to carry on throughout time. The gift of a male to his mate.
Inara had been watching as a woman offered Mal a drink, the fire in her wine encouraging her to get up and say something, when Kyra had tugged on her sleeve and pointed out what was happening next to them.
The Beast had pulled something from his pocket, something small and ivory white. Carved upon and polished and carrying the feeling of time and determination.
“His first trophy,” River hummed as she took it; She held it between her fingertips, turning it in the firelight to see the many designs Inara's eyes could not. “Their ways?”
Inara and Kyra watched as River offered her neck to the convict. Did River trust him so much? Richard's fingers grazed the skin of her neck as he took the braid between his fingers and Inara realized why River had been so insistent that she place the braids in her hair. She watched through wine hooded eyes as the man slid the band from River's braid and slid the bead into her hair. The gentleness between them was intimate, an action Inara felt honored to glimpse, and the feeling between them was something she'd never thought of before she met Mal. She was hardly aware when she started crying.
“It's just so beautiful,” Inara spoke in a watery laugh.
Richard snorted, though to anyone sober they might have seen the fainest hint of pink on his cheeks. Assuming they had good eyesight in the dark. River smiled back at her, fair skin displaying a blush for the world to see as she played with her new decoration. Inara nearly cried again when River gave the man a peck on the cheek.
Simon stood in the doorway of the Serra shuttle. Contrary to what he may have thought, Jack had not retired into Jayne's bunk last night. She was curled up next to her sister, the normally refined woman laying at the edge of the bed while an expensive looking urn rest on the floor under her mouth. She hadn't gotten ill though, the scent of the shuttle consisted only of incense and the scent of the hungover. Simon had come to this shuttle looking for River; Kaylee had only talked him into a few drinks last night. He seemed to be the only close to sober person on the ship.
He also seemed to have found River. She was sleeping on the couch, curled up against the chest of one Richard B. Riddick while her legs rest between his own. He could see the bead hanging from her braid as well. Probably a finger bone if the size was any judge. The doctor sighed before turning away from the shuttle. His sister was making the convict carry through with the courting ritual, a good two to three months according to what little grandmother had taught him. That should be enough time, hopefully.
He glanced back.
If only he could keep her from drinking.
Jack helped Zoe move one of the many crates further back into the cargo hold. The townsfolk were milling in and out, depositing produce and fresh bread in the designated containers for each. The sound of so many feet on steel combined with the light of the setting sun made Jack's head ache. The physical labor Zoe had insisted on made her stomach turn. Cap'n dad's constant pokes in her head and side were just plain cruelty. River was being allowed to sleep in all day; hangover was punishment enough in the officer's eyes. Lucky brat.
When Zoe went to inspect the beeping of the ship radio, Jack took a moment to look around herself and see just what was happening. Inara was leaning against the railing, watching everyone with feigned serenity; Kyra knew for a fact that Inara's headache was enough to split the ship's hull. Simon was ducking out of the shuttle, grinning as he glanced back to it's suffering occupant. That alone was enough to make Kyra feel a little better, Simon smiling was far better than Simon mother-henning. Riddick was helping Jayne to the side, lifting the larger crates. A part of her surprised he'd drank so much last night, but another part was glad that he trusted the crew so much. Zoe ran past her once more, all semblance of relaxation gone and First Mate face in full effect.
“Mal, there's patrol boat heading into atmo right now.”
She could see Riddick tense up out of the corner of her eye.
“Well, we gotta fly,” Mal nodded tot he elder.
“We'll pray for your safe voyage,” Elder Gommen nodded to them. “And I hope to lay eyes on you again 'ere too long my friend.”
“You can count on it,” Mal nodded as he came up the ramp, waving his farewells.
“Bye now!” Jayne waved as well.
The final few crates were strapped down and each crew member could feel as the ship lifted off and into the sky. Even Mal helped to arrange their load, as small as it was. When they felt themselves break through atmosphere and level off, each seemed to relax once more. Calmer than they had been even last night, knowing that there was no risk of being trapped. Except there was, because they weren't' in the black. And that alone was enough to make everyone on the crew a bit twitchy.
Mal looked at all of them, grinning as he put his hands on his hips.
“Right then, who's up for a trip to Milsoz?”
Jack jerked up faster than she should have when Zoe's head rang out over the intercom. The tech girl had been checking the boards for new jobs, knowing that they weren't going to just land on Milosz without something to make Mal happy, and at some point she'd fallen asleep in her chair. When Zoe's voice called out, she'd fallen from said chair and onto the cold steel floor. It didn't help that Wash was laughing at her for it. Stupid pilot. Jack tossed her scarf at the ginger before pushing herself up.
“Wifey calls,” Wash managed out between his snorting giggles. He handed her scarf back. “Maybe Mal has agreed to go to Vladimir instead of Milosz.”
“I'm not getting off the ship if he did.” Jack followed the pilot down into the bay, noting that River had somehow managed to crawl out of Inara's shuttle. Then again, Riddick was sipping tea by the stove, it was more likely he'd carried her out. She didn't seem to be too badly damaged from last nights activities. “C'mon meimei, Cap'n Dad's got something' he wants to say.”
“Something he'd rather not,” River hummed as she rose slowly from her seat.
Jack didn't wait for her, instead she followed Wash down into the bay, second behind Book and Kaylee. She saw the blonde before she even made her way down the stairs. Correction, strawberry blonde like that idiot Johns. If this chick had blue eyes...
“God dammit,” Jack cursed as she came to a stop beside Mal. She ignored Book's look, instead preferring to peer at the bad omen shrinking into herself. “Dad...”
“Who's the new recruit?” Book's question cut off Jack's poorly worded one. It wasn't that she felt like being rude, it was more that she didn't want more family. She didn't want to have to make another pitstop, and she sure as heck didn't want to have to teach some dirt girl how to live in the black.
It was Zoe who introduced the woman. The first mate settled her hands on the woman's shoulder.
“Everybody, I want you to meet...” Zoe grinned wide. “Mrs. Reynolds.”
Jack's jaw dropped in shock before she turned to see Mal just as confused as she felt. Kyra looked over to her sister. Too much had happened last night; not enough had happened last night. This was going to be sorted out, and soon. Preferably before Milosz and preferably some place they could dump this woman. Was she really crying?
“You got married?” Kaylee's excited squeal was perhaps the only happy voice in the room.
“Well, that's...uh,” Simon pursed his lips. “I was expecting someone else to get married before you did.”
“We'd always hoped you two kids would get together,” Wash joked. His arm was wrapped around his own wife, the only wife that belonged on this ship. Until Jayne took her home, but that wasn't important right now. “Who is she?”
“She's no one!” Mal shouted. His temper was getting loose.
“Captain!” Kaylee put an arm around the now crying girl.
“Is he wrong?” Jack asked her copper haired friend. “And quit crying, whoever you are.” It only seemed to make her cry harder.
“All three of you better stop what each of ya is doin',” Mal scolded them. “Jackie, be civil. Kaylee, stop coddling, you...stop crying.”
“Hey sweetie.” Kaylee didn't stop coddling, in fact, she seemed to draw the woman closer. “Don't feel bad. They make everybody cry, it's some kind of Reynolds thing.” Kaylee turned to look at the both of them. “It turns the men into some kind of monster.”
“I'm not a monster!” Mal snapped. He turned to Wash and the two began to discuss turning around and it's declining possibilities.
What the heck had gotten into Kaylee? She knew Inara had feelings for the captain. She also knew that captain was less grumbling around the recently retired companion, even if the only people who knew were Serras and Tams. Kyra looked over to her sister once more, leaving the center of the circle to go to the elder woman. She could see Simon dart out of the room and Jayne was trying to reign his laughter in. Kyra instead climbed the two stairs needed to face her sister. River was hiding behind her, face hidden by her own hair as she watched the world move around her. Kyra hand't even noticed her meimei show up. Doo was sitting on the grating next to them, leaning against River.
“I'm sure it's a mistake,” Jack whispered lowly to Inara. “One more pitstop, yeah?”
“One more,” River agreed, wrapping her arms around herself. “It will be cold.”
“If all else fails I'm sure I could shoot one of them,” Inara managed to laugh. Her heart wasn't in it. This needed to be resolved before Kaylee got too attached and Mal resigned to a fate not his own. And Jayne needed to stop laughing with Riddick.
“Would you stop crying?” Mal begged the unnamed blonde.
“For God's sake Mal,” Inara's voice wasn't angry, nor was it loud, but it was enough to settle everyone. Mal stared back at her, a conversation exchanged between them that Kyra would never know. “Could you act like a human being for thirty seconds?”
“As one married man to another...”
“I'm not married!” Mal's shout was joined by at least two other voices claiming much the same. It made an interesting sound, two women mixing with the voices of two men. Jayne really was smart, and the captain was explaining himself to the blonde. “I'm sorry, you have...some very nice...qualities, but I didn't marry you.”
“I believe you did.” Book had claimed one of Simon's plascreen books and was holding it up much like a lawyer would hold a case file. “Last night.”
Mal leaned closer to Jayne, whispering something into his ear. Jayne's reply obviously wasn't helpful; thy stopped whispering when Book continued to speak. In fact, all of them went silent as Book recited exactly what all of them had seen last night. Even through a haze of wine and ale, they had all seen what had happened.
“What's it say about Divorce?” Mal asked a moment later.
The woman broke into tears, pushing her way past Jack and Inara to go hide. Kaylee started shouting at Mal in Chinese, words Jack still hadn't managed to memorize in all the time she'd been here. Before Jack could say anything in response to Kaylee's words, Inara excused herself, climbing the stairs in a whirl of silk and perfume. Damn it all. Jack turned to go after the woman, the blonde woman, but found herself being held back by Mal.
“Not you Jackie, let me.”
“Really think you're the best one to talk to her sir?” Zoe's question was an honest one, neither accusing nor defending.
“Considering two of my girls want her dead and the rest of you think it's a great big joke, yes.” Mal followed after the woman with a stern face and fixed shoulders. Jack turned to go back up the stairs and see to her sister, herding River towards the same place with Doo's help. Riddick and Jayne were still chuckling on the otherside of the bay and Simon had begun a discussion with Book regarding marriage customs. It was Kaylee's call that stopped her. In the middle of the stairs, just as River was finally starting to move without jerking.
“Why can't ya'll just be happy for the captain?” she asked, crossing her arms in front of her.
“Because it means being happy my sister just had her heart broken.” Jack turned back to River and the stairs, ignoring the questions and the whispers below. “You think you'll be okay with us Riv?”
“Tears wash away the pain,” River whispered. Doo had yet to release her from his contact, even going so far as to hold her hand gently between his teeth. “The beasts like her. Love her. Inavva believes she has lost her Monster.”
“Until we get this thing sorted out she kind of has,” Kyra pointed out.
“I guess I didn't really think about that, did I?” Kaylee asked Zoe. Wash had joined Simon and Book and the highly philosophical debate regarding religious ceremony. “But, shouldn't we be happy? Or at the least be nice to...I actually don't even know her name.”
Zoe gave her a soft smile. “Nice, sure, but not happy. What if Simon had gotten married to Jack last night? Or if Jayne was the one to get stuck in this mess?”
“That's different,” Kaylee protested. “The captain can't have Inara, and she can't have him. They should at least be happy that the other can find someone.”
“Except Mal didn't find someone,” Zoe pointed out. She turned to see her husband gesticulating wildly as he explained one of the courting rituals of New Vega. “I'll talk to you later. My mister needs to be reigned in.”
This was the first time Riddick saw himself as anything other than a convict in a long time. He and River were sitting in the kitchen again, the dog shifting where it lay by her feet as the scent of tea drifted through the air. A few minutes ago he'd been laughing down in the bay with Jayne and Wash. Jayne was an okay sort of man, a merc in name, but a crewman in spirit and unwilling to do anything that might upset Jack. Especially if Jack was likely to find out. The man hadn't even retaliated for the punch Riddick had given him that first day. Wash was a decent guy too. Over active, scared of the large men on either side of him, but not scared enough to be afraid. He was aware that he was no fighter. He knew that pissing of dangerous men was a bad idea. He was also very impressed that Riddick had been talked into juggling geese before being sent to the slam; He had been very drunk.
It was the scent of Jack and Inara that sobered him up. He could smell rage and fear and sorrow in the air. The scent of anguish bit at him and scratched at his senses and from the look of things Beautiful she was suffering from it even now. Last night didn't help at all, he was sure.
Last night, she'd fallen asleep in his arms. The scent of her clung to him just as his scent covered her. It kicked that primal part into high gear, made his beast purr as the man growled. She was wearing his gift too. His first stint had been dedicated to that bead; two years of carving down the bone. When he'd offered it last night, fire in his blood and her eyes, she'd smiled at him. The first time he'd ever seen her smile. Richard wasn't falling; he'd fallen years ago.
“Smiles and laughs do nothing to stop the steel.” River's voice was distant. An echo from the other side of time, spoken by a sphinx. “Will not gobble him up if he fails.”
Riddick set his tea cup on the table, still surprised that he was in a place he could do just that. Set something down and know it would be there when he came back for it. He was surprised to be allowed near women too. Too many years on the run and doing back-door deals meant the only women who came near him were the ones who wanted money from him. The price on his head or the price of their bed, it didn't matter. They wanted his cash. The people on this boat though, they reminded him of the good days in Strikeforce. People watching out for one another, taking on they missions they wanted to for decent pay. There was a time he'd wanted nothing more than to be free of such things.
“The Beast regrets. Wonders if he could have stayed a Man.”
Riddick poured her a cup of tea before answering. Two decades of instruction didn't break because of seven years on the run. Everyone else could go fuck themselves, he was doing this right.
“Nah, know I could never be a man.” He looked at River, finding her eyes in between the mess of curls. “If I turned into a man, you wouldn't have a Beast.”
River hid behind her hair again when the temporary Mrs. Reynolds came in, looking intent. Meek people rarely looked determined, and when they did, it was time for everyone else to watch where they stepped. She barely adjusted herself when she noticed the two Furyan's siting at the table, merely bowed her head and began looking through the shelves and cabinets. She was an odd one. Just accepting that she'd been sold, falling into the role of wife without batting an eyelash or bothering to ingratiate herself.
“Janus rising,” River hummed, laying on her arms. She was obscured fully from his view. “Chaos abounds as the river of time flows ever forward. She must wear a veil on Milosz.”
“Figured you might have to. Inara wants me to play guardian when we get there.”
“Masks can be torn away,” River's voice was muffled. “Like the peel of an orange. An apple is hiding beneath the rind.”
Riddick had no idea what she was saying. He didn't speak River-talk, not yet at least. Maybe a few more weeks, maybe when she'd adapted to what had happened in the New and Improved Strikeforce Academy. Maybe never. The scent of food being prepared had the both of them aware of the hunger beginning to make itself known. It was almost the wrong scent to a soured stomach; he could feed them quickly, get out of the kitchen. Nothing big. The light haired woman seemed to be trying to push him out of the kitchen altogether. Trying to send him off, offering to help his wife prepare his dinner if he was hungry.
“Got a brain in my head and two hands,” Riddick ignored her as he searched the pantry. This close he could scent the blonde. She smelled cold, like frost and winter, not dust and hard work. The scent of soap was less than a few days old and she didn't move like a woman beaten down.“My girl isn't exactly feeling great.”
“You would serve a woman?” The Woman asked him as he grabbed a pack of crackers and peanut butter from the top shelf. An apple had been hiding up there beside them, hidden away by a certain psychic, he was sure. The blonde was too close. “Willingly, knowing she is able bodied?”
“Your planet has their ways.” Riddick backed away from her. “We got ours.”
“But, to serve a woman goes against god's will.” The Woman was focusing less and less on her task. She gave Riddick a look of confusion and petulance. “Colossians 3:18, Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as is befitting those belonging to the lord.”
“God can kiss my ass.” Riddick seated himself as River began to organize the things he'd deposited on the table. He pulled his knife loose from it's sheathe, satisfied when he heard the Woman make a sound of surprise, and began to peel the apple he'd found.
“Broken book,” River pointed out. She was still hiding behind her hair. “Improbable events combined with temporal anomalies and physical impossibility.” Her head tilted her head and she silk shifted. “Broken skull. She can hear every creak and every creak. Regrets lack of sympathy towards the family.”
“It's called a hangover,” Riddick chuckled as he fed the peel to the Diesel. “Weird dog.” He glanced over once more and her talk of masks made sense. “Qemmolat hatif?”
She made a sound for the affirmative, amusement weaving its way in between the madness and the haze. “Dik ezok. Maegi...” She leaned against him. “Zhikhat.”
Mal entered the room some moments later, face drawn as he thought on what they were going to do now. Riddick had heard what Wash said before about some rich kid was playing at robbers, and now his uncle was looking for blood. They had two choices now, drag The Woman to Milosz for the next week and a half, or kick her off some place closer. Except every planet between here and Milosz was Alliance run or had a warrant for each of them. Mal seated himself across from them and opened his mouth to speak, jumping when a plate was placed in front of him.
She didn't move. The look of confusion on Mal's face was enough to make the convict grin as he ate the slice of apple from his knife. Beautiful's small whimper made him slice off another piece, watching as Mal tried to shoo his new wife away. Captain got serious when River's teeth hit the steel. Apparently he wasn't overly fond of seeing a murderer feed a teen girl like a pet.
“Saffron, I need to talk with Ricky here about his intentions with my youngest.”
“The girl is yours?” Saffron asked. She was genuinely surprised. Shocked even that someone like Mal could have a child. She seemed to recover quick enough. “Had I known your blessing was not given, I would not have stood idly by.”
“Now hold on just a minute,” Mal held up a hand. “Last night might have happened but the fact of the matter is you got no say in how my family runs itself.” He turned to face Riddick and River once more. “So happens I ain't got much say in it either seein' as her gran was the one set them together.”
“Blabbering Simon,” River grumbled. She was sitting up more fully now. “Ruined the surprise.”
“Not like Kyra and Inara didn't already know.” Riddick continued to eat, watching the Saffron from behind his goggles. He wanted to take them off. See as best as he could in the dim kitchen, but not yet. Not in front of her and not in front of the crew until he was sure.
“You, they...” Mal was looking flummoxed and Saffron was hemming by his side, looking between one man and the other. “They guessed didn't they?”
Wash and Zoe came in as River answered the affirmative. The spice woman was thinking in circles, wondering how to get around the family, thought she only had to fool a single man. Thought she need only fool two men. Thought she need only avoid on angry girl before making her home. Too many variables. Angry girl was a daughter. Sickly girl was a daughter, married to the Beast, no opening in between them. None she could see yet. Would try.
Would anger Zoe. Create a rift, a new opening.
“Too small,” River hummed as she rest her head against the wood once more. “Too loud.”
Her stomach made a noise, interrupting the meaningless words of the maegi. Brother Wash wanted to know if there was more. Feeding himself, but the family as well. Certainly this tiny bird. Circular thoughts, a child's thoughts. Irregular, logical in a way only known to the thinker. Working as they should to create the desired outcome.
“If you're done with supper...would you like me to wash your feet?”
She'd never heard a person's thoughts come to a complete stop. Heard the expression, knew the data proved otherwise. She heard them stop. Too much shock and confusion before stutter to a start once more, trying desperately to turn and figure out the Saffron's words. The Amazon felt disgust and annoyance, Wash thought only of geese juggling, and Daddy was trying desperately to block the image of Inavva kneeling before him.
“Will be sick.” River rose from her place. “Goodnight Daddy.”
“Ya know, Jackie might be openly aggressive, but River is just kind of...mean.”
“Noticed that.” Zoe was still watching the door River and her apparent fiance exited from. Secrets didn't keep very long on the ship, especially when a woman's mister opened up the intership comm-system to root out secrets. Zoe had been up there with him the night Simon spilled all over a bottle of scotch. Strange people, the Tams, not nearly so strange as the resident Serra's though. It seemed like something from a romance novel; the companion who left her life behind for a roguish captain from the rim. The fact that it was really happening, with Her captain of all people, made this entire month surreal.
Zoe smiled as he husband offered her one of the bao, glad that while strange, she and her mister were happy.
“I'll be stopping on Milosz within the next two weeks. City of New Moscow, estimated arrival October 24th, standard alliance calender. Departure date unknown. Accommodations have not yet been made, however...”
The sound of booted feet entering her shuttle made Inara cover the screen and the person on the other side. She didn't have to turn around to know who it was. Only one person sounded like Malcolm Reynolds. Only one person carried his scent and only one person had a boot that squeaked like his did.
“Can I come in?”
The fact that he asked was shocking, but this mornings events were sharper than his sudden need to be polite. The idea that she had lost him forever to some blonde, bible thumping, bao-making, bimbo...
“See?” His tone was light. Enough to make her turn and face him fully. To make her show exactly how worn and tired she was becoming. His face softened, the joking manner put aside, even as he finished speaking. “That's usually why I don't ask.”
“What do you want?”
Mal didn't say anything, instead he sat down on one of her couches. He wasn't supposed to come in further. They were supposed to trade barbs and then he'd leave, exasperated with the whole thing and she'd go back to making appointments. Only she didn't have appointments to make anymore. She didn't have anyone to make her feel and she didn't have faces to place his in the stead of. She had a salary now and a mission and he was the single factor that had changed her life.
“I just, I needed a place to hide.”
And you chose me? These were the words she'd wanted to say.
“I take it the honeymoon is over?”
“She's a fine girl,” Mal admitted. “Hell of a cook.”
“I'm sure she has many exciting talents.”
“Well I don't' care to learn 'em.” Mal leaned back against the couch. “All I wanted was to do somethin' good for those as didn't have anyone to help them. That was the whole plan. Kill bandits, get some groceries, go hunting on Milosz.”
“You were going to go hunting?” Inara had assumed he'd wanted to go drink himself stupid again. Maybe make some back door deals.
“Yeah,” Mal grinned. “Only place in the verse where wildlife outnumber the population. Heard their actually bumping up their bear limit.” Mal leaned forward once more, elbows on his knees as he spoke of his plans. “Few years back they had a boost in subterranean flora, course that means the deer jump, then the bears and tigers jump, so now they've got a surplus of things that like to eat people. Only place a guy like me can go hunting and not get a dirty look from the men in charge.”
She didn't want to relax around him. Relaxing meant she was giving in. It meant that she was well and truly retired. It meant she was passing the point of no return and giving in to the captain. But hadn't she been ready to tell him yesterday?
“Do...do any of your clients ever ask you to wash their feet?”
“It's my specialty,” Inara deadpanned. Forget everything. She had a purpose and a drive. She had Kyra and River to focus on, along with the pending nuptials of each. “We're going to be on Milosz at least two weeks, right?”
“Can't exactly be sure,” Mal shrugged.
“Well I need you to be exactly sure, Mal. I can't make commitments and not keep them. I can't make plans that never follow through.” She turned to look at Jack and River's shared dresser, realizing Richard didn't even have one. “That's your specialty.”
“I'm sorry,” Mal rose from his seat. “Are you tetchy because I got myself a bride or because I don't plan on keeping her?”
“I find the whole thing degrading,” Inara scoffed. The very fact that she'd fallen so far was just annoying, it was the blonde who made the situation embarrassing.
“Funny, she said the same thing about your line of work.”
“Maybe you should think twice about letting her go.” Inara had taken pride in her past, even if the man in front of her didn't. She took pride in what she was doing now, in the fact that she was now a Seeker, finding other girls to send to the Guild, matching them with the appropriate houses. “You two seem like quite a match.”
“Maybe you're right. Maybe, Me and Saffron are soulmates.”
“Yes. Great.” Soul-mates in ignorance. “I wish you hundreds of fat, squalling children.”
“Aw, could you imagine that? Me with a whole passel of critters underfoot?” Mal was genuinely imagining it. She could see it in his eyes. “Hell, ten years time-”
“Ten years time, Jack will have the ship and you will be stuck on the same dirtball you got Saffron from. No children Mal, remember? You don't allow them on your ship because you can't stand them.” She turned back to her screen. “Could you leave me alone. Please?”
He finally left her, huffing as he went, offended as he slammed her door. Whatever he said was lost in the steel and the sound of her own tears.
Mal backed up when he saw Jayne standing in front of him. He always did seem to find fights. Or fights found him. His hired muscle, the first hired muscle, and the...male person of his daughter, his first daughter, was standing there with a mighty large rifle in his hands. A very shiny rifle he was polishing oh so slowly. Jayne himself had a very fixed look on his face, focused, calm, dangerous. Even as scruffy as he was, he looked cold and methodical. Mal didn't see this side of Jayne too often; he could count the number on one hand and still enough left to go bowling. Slightly less now.
“Kyra's got herself in a mood Mal.”
“Shi ma? Whole damn ship is wu toh wu now.” Mal leaned against the railing. He could see as well as anyone that Jayne wasn't planning on moving.
“There's times I think you don't take me seriously Mal.” Jayne pushed himself from the rail to face Mal fully. “Don't expect it to change any time soon.”
“Really?” Mal was becoming uncomfortable. Not only because of the large rifle, but because of the mass of emotions his entire crew seemed to be swelling with.
“Hell, don't much expect it to ever change.” Jayne continued before Mal could speak up again. “Fact is, you got something you don't deserve.”
“And it's brought me a whole galaxy of fun, let me tell ya.”
“Ain't talkin' bout that bleached prarie harpy,” Jayne snorted. That look was back. Jayne's Serious Face. “She ain't got shit to do with what I'm sayin' right now. Fact of things is, you got yourself a damn loyal crew, and more than that you got yourself a family people'd kill for.” Jayne set the rifle over his shoulder. “Now see, you, just threw a big ol' rock into our happy little pond. Not that damn harpy!” Jayne cut Mal off. “Only gorram reason Inara's even here anymore is 'cause of Kyra and River.”
Mal pushed himself off of the railing and crossed his arms. He knew exactly what was going to happen because it happened every damn time he and Inara got into a fight.
“Jayne, are you going to get to the point?”
“You're going to apologize.” The way Jayne said it convinced Mal that he wasn't the one to have come up with this idea. At least, not entirely. “Most the crew agreed that iffin' you can't be man enough to apologize, then, well, we ain't speakin' to ya.”
“How many is most?” Mal asked. He could feel a headache coming on, right in the corners of his eyes.
“Zoe and Book are the only one's didn't agree. Simon is going to keep things clinical like. Riddick ain't said nuthin one way or another. Kaylee wasn't there when we took the vote.”
“Are they going to keep doing their jobs?”
“Depends. Apologize, and they tell ya why they ain't doin' their jobs.”
“And you're elected spokesman for them?” Mal asked. He kept his eyes closed, willing the whole thing to be a very, very bad dream. Honestly the refusal of work wasn't unusual, but this was just going to be frustrating. He knew the vote wasn't exactly a vote either. It was his crew going on strike for better treatment. His own mini-rebellion in a much smaller, cleaner, non-deadly Serenity.
“Until this conversation ends.”
Mal nodded, lips pursed as he looked to the door that would lead him back into his ship. Lead him to his bed. Maybe he could go to sleep and this whole thing would fix itself. Except his luck wasn't that good. It never would be.
“Your ma sill lookin' for help?”
“Still on bout that harpy huh?” Jayne snorted. “I suppose I could take her home. Course that means another detour 'fore we hit up Milosz.”
“It does, but few days in a place ain't tryin' to kill us might do us all a bit of good.” Mal nodded to himself. “Wave yer Ma, tell her you got her some help for the house.”
Jayne nodded and turned to head up the walk way. He paused after a few steps however, making Mal wonder just what his gunner was going to do now.
“For what it's worth Mal, I don't blame ya none for what happened with that harpy.” He glanced behind him. “Don't tell my girl I said that.”
“You can bet I won't.”
Mal nodded as the burly man went back into the ship, off to go inform the crew of the next detour and the plan for Saffron. Was he the only one calling her by name? Better still, he had a seedling of respect growing for Jayne. It had been the first part of his speech that made Mal really think about things. His crewman didn't expect anything from him beyond a paycheck and an airlock. Man knew where he stood, didn't expect much else, just happy to be living and in love. He shook his head as he thought of the shift that had happened in Jayne, from the first day they met when nothing but cashy money caught his eye, to now, when nothing and no one but a brassy tech girl held it.
“Gah!” He'd turned to corner to find Saffron lurking just behind the steel. Mal caught his breath. “You do sneak about, don't you?”
Vaako stared out at the ever growing darkness.
The night is dark and full of terrors. A phrase from a storybook he'd read in his other life. The first time he'd read a book made from real paper. Such things were useless now. Dead vegetation pressed into new form. Giving foolish ideas to the breeding masses. He would find his wife amoungst these masses. Find her, convert her into a new being, a perfected being who believed in fate and destiny. A woman he would cross the threshold with. Hand in hand, side by side.
“It's trying, isn't it?”
The commander turned to face the purifyer. He'd been a member of Zhylaw's clergy long before Vaako had been reborn.
“Being so far from the armada, it tests one's faith.”
“If you seek to test my faith, you succeed only in testing my patience.” Vaako looked back out into the black. Which sparkling star would he find her on?
“Are you thinking on our prize?” the purifier continued.
“I am thinking on mine.” Vaako glanced over at the man, suddenly aware that the room had emptied out. “I wish to find my Bride. The woman I am destined to cross the threshold with.”
“Your Bride? I take it things have lost their shine in your household.”
“The woman I married, she is not the woman I fell in love with.” He'd never met that woman. “She has, changed. Worsened. Ruled by petty thoughts and emotions. She is self destructive unto the point she will drag everyone with her.”
The purifier nodded before he too stared out in space.
“The lord Marshall gave you leave to seek out a new one.”
“Indeed,” Vaako nodded. “I only pray I find her soon.”
The purifier laid a hand on Vaako's shoulder, comforting as the will of the Lord Marshal ran into him. The push, the assurance was carried in all purifiers. They were conduits for every Lord Marshal, a constant supply, and test, of faith.
“You will find her when it is time,” he spoke with a smile. “Though, I hope you find someone with the strength to defend herself. You cannot be with your wives at all times.”
Vaako only intended on keeping one.
Jack was sitting outside of the infirmary, tapping away at her cortex as she waited for Simon to finish treating River. No drugs, not since Riddick broke the key in the lock of the drug cabinet; that was going to cause problems one day. Jack just knew it. As much as they got shot at. As much as they argued and fought, someone was going to need something from that cabinet. Probably Mal. Damn that man. Inara had locked the door to the shuttle sometime between Jayne relaying the message and the captain walking into the room a few minutes ago. No one could get in. Not even Jack!
Hell, not even River could. Part of the reason River was in the med bay right now had to do with the onslaught of emotion flooding the ship. The maegi, woman, trollop, thing, was giving her a headache, confusing her until she couldn't tell what way was up or left of diagonal. There was anger and hurt and sorrow and so many bad emotions that no one knew what to do. The silent game had more to do with giving everyone a chance to think about things than Mal apologizing. He'd say he was sorry, or do something like get stabbed, and then they'd end up laughing together and then fighting again and life would keep going forever.
“This is a Bad Day then?”
Jack turned to Riddick. He'd been leaning against the wall beside the couch for at least as an hour and a half. Eyes always fixed on the medical room. Fixed on River.
“No.” Jack shook her head. “Bad Days are...she doesn't come out of the air vents on a bad day. This is more along the lines of having a hundred watt bulb shined into your eyes.” Jack looked down at her screen once more. “Whatever they did to her in the academy, she hears things she shouldn't. All the time, without a filter or an ID as to who she's hearing.”
Riddick grunted in understanding. Overload. Too much at once.
Mal walked over to them and Jack focused her attention back to the tourest attractions that made Milosz famous. Jayne wanted to go hunting, so did Riddick, but Jack wanted to check out the gadgets, and Kyra...she wanted to lay in a spa for a whole week.
“So, where are you standing on this whole thing Richard?”
“Don't trust her Mal.” Riddick's voice was low, growling, and it was making River calm down. “Somethin' about her hit me wrong the second I saw her. River ain't too thrilled with her either.”
“Well, that's why I suggested dropping her on a ranch.” Mal's voice was relieved and Jack could understand why. Zoe never was one for small talk and Book was pushing Mal to sit and contemplate his life before setting things to rights. “Place like Mercy aught to be decent. Open port, she can grab a ride any place she likes.”
“You tell Wash?”
“Told Wash, didn't say much of anything in response, but Zoe says we're on course.”
There was a silence between them, broken only by River screaming at her brother in a mix of English, Mandarin, and her and Riddick's special language. Riddick left the wall and walked into the infirmary, closing the door before telling Simon to close the blinds and get out. Jack was rather surprised when the doctor did so. River had calmed when he entered though. Perhaps there was hope for Simon after all.
“Soon as we hit Mercy, I'm going to go begging it from your sister.”
Jack wanted to thank him. She wanted to say something. Instead she felt his hand rest on top of her head.
“Picked yourself a good man Jackie. Knows how to make a stand. So do you.” She felt him shift, from serious to joking. “Course, this is mutiny. Familial mutiny. Risin' up against dear old dad.”
Something thumped in the infirmary, making Simon jump forward before pulling himself back.
“Your sister okay in there?” Mal asked the doctor, hand still resting on Jack's head. “She seemed a bit tetchy.”
“River is...reacting to the situation around her.” Simon rubbed his face and sighed, a deep and long sigh. “I don't know what's going on. The equipment on the ship is good, but it's not what she needs. For now, all I can do is let my mei xu calm her down.”
“Told him he was kin,” Mal spoke to no one in particular. He patted Jack on the head before turning away. “One more day after tonight. Get some rest, time will pass quicker.”
Jack couldn't help the smile spreading across her lips. The lights in the infirmary dimmed and Simon really did rise.
“Relax Simon. He's just showing her his eyes.” Jack turned to face him. “You haven't seen his eyes yet, have you?” She turned her cortex off and shifted to face him fully. “We were on Hades, the first time I saw them. The first time I met him. I stowed away on a ship, ran away from the home to go find...”
She'd never actually sat down and Talked to Simon. Not really. Not too much beyond a few playful insults, and the not so playful ones, and the ones that came around when she was hiding River from him. He'd heard of bio raptors, thought they were a myth and despite what he'd thought initially, he still wrote a paper on them for his myth and symbol class. He wasn't such a dumb guy. And he wasn't as overly smart as she thought he'd be. They had a bit in common actually. Seen as the weaker sex through their respective childhoods. Consistently brushed off and sent to some place out of the way. Both of them had found a place to hide in school and in friends.
They were comparing terrible History teachers when the alarm resounded through the ship.
“What the hell?”
Simon set his tea cup aside and rose, moving to the infirmary which had just lit up again. He'd changed from laughing man-boy to doctor just as quickly as Kyra had turned back into Jack. Her cortex was on and she was looking through the ship log. At least, she was trying to. All she was getting was the laughing yellow face of her screen saver. Setting the screen aside, she rose from her seat to find out what was going on. She could hear people gathering in the mess above them and she felt the shuttle take off as she walked.
Her steps became hurried, relaxing slightly when she heard Inara's voice echoing thorugh the ship. Her voice was crackling and frantic over the intercomm.
“Simon! Mal's hurt.”
Simon was a step behind her, doctor bag in hand; the doctor in him had taken over his whole being, going so far as to slide past her to get to Mal's room quicker. She could hear the tinkling of River's ankle bracelet and Riddicks boots behind her. Jayne was standing by the door of Mal's room, as was Kaylee. Simon slid down the ladder with all the ease of a practiced spacer, face intent and bag slung over his arm.
“What's going on?” Jack asked the former mercenary.
“Damn harpy locked us out of the cockpit, drugged up Mal, hit Wash over the head with something, and your sister slipped.”
“She burned out the network too,” Jack admitted. “Can't see a thing on my cortex, Simon's was flickering.”
“Engine's bout the only thing she didn't screw over,” Kaylee nodded. “Course, she did try to lock me in. Only got out thanks to the vents.”
“Quietly screaming in the dark.” River was peering down into the whole. “Screaming together again.”
“Suppose so,” Jack nodded. “Better than screaming alone though.” She looked over at Jayne. “Go get the cutting torch, get us in so we can see what happened. Riv, you wanna go make some tea?” She turned to Kaylee. “You're the only one who knows how to make sure he doesn't burn up all the gas in the torch.”
“You're not so bad at it,” Kaylee admitted. “Sorry, about before. I just, kind of like weddings. Sad to know I missed it.”
“You can come to mine,” Jack laughed. “Seriously though. He's going to grab the wrong tank and you know it.”
As Kaylee followed River and Jayne out of the hall, Jack found herself being watched by Riddick. He was smiling at her, grinning almost.
“Got yourself a good crew.” He moved to enter Mal's bunk. “Good family. I'm glad.”
“Thanks Richard. Now let's go see what kind of trouble Dad got into.”
“She's a pro.”
“A masterful muck up. Look at how she crossed the drive feeds!”
“We even try to reroute, the whole thing locks down. Fucking brilliant.”
“Went straight for the thermal cap too, engine room is about as safe as the Bayou mud flats.”
“We are so hung,” Wash laughed.
Mal ducked down to look at his flight crew. The three of them were laying on the ground under the primary control panel and having a grand time. As though they weren't all completely hung. Jack slipped back into her old slang too. Cursing...he did not hate kids. He just, had some already.
“I'm glad you three are having such a great time, but I need you to make us not completely screwed over.”
“That's not going to happen for a long while Cap'n,” Wash pushed himself from under the panel.
“Well we don't have a good long while. We could be headin' straight into a nice big solid moon for all we know.”
“Likelihood of the hypothesis unlikely,” River hummed from the pilot's seat. "Nearest moon of any consequence is the Moon of Mercy. Gravitational pull combined with the ship speed would result in slow orbit. Approximately seven and a half days until the family broke atmo. Enough time to fix the problems.”
Jack watched as Mal turned to face the youngest of his crew. He lifted a finger to his lips before shushing her. His whole speech had been deflated and it took genuine effort for Jack and Kaylee to withhold their giggles.
“Why don't my crew just do their jobs, and all of us work?”
“Hey, it was your big make-out session that got us into this mess.”
“I was poisoned!” Mal defended.
“You were drugged.” Inara was leaning heavily against the pilot's chair. It had taken Riddick and Jayne to pull her out of Mal's bunk.
“'s why I never kiss Jack if she's put on any kind of lip goo.”
“Like I don't own half of your things already,” Jack snorted under the console. “And it's not lip goo, it's lip balm. And I'd much rather punch you than drug you up.” She grunted as she reached for a wire. “You'd feel my wrath.”
“Yeah, I felt your wrath.”
There was a pause as the crew listened to the kind of normal gossip they were used to. It was Wash who brought the conversation back to hand. The entire crew had pushed itself into the small room, watching the only action on the ship and now watching their favorite prime-time comedy.
“Give us some time,” Wash moved to inspect the console, turning River's seat so he could better access the buttons. The girl in question tilted while Inara was forced to grab a hold of Riddick's arm. “Sorry Inara. Just, let us get the cortex and nav comm back online. We can at least see where we're heading.”
“What about steering?” Mal pressed.
“Or stopping?” Inara asked. She'd sank down to the arm of the pilot's chair.
“She humped us pretty hard,” Jack called from the panel.
“We're gonna have to do a lot of...” Wash was cut off by the captain.
“Well do it. Doesn't help me to see where we're going if I can't change course.” Mal looked at the three in front of him. “Got three of the best, y'all aught to be able to fix this without much complaint.”
Something clanked under the console and a hunk of wire was thrown out from the alcove occupied by Jack and Kaylee. A string of silent cursing came up after something sparked and presumably shocked the two girls.
“Girl knows her ships,” Kaylee pushed herself out from beneath. She was nursing an angry looking burn on her hand. Simon was kneeling in front of her before she could speak again, tending the wound in full doctor mode.
“That's not all she knows,” Inara spoke up. Her voice was clearer now than it had been down in Mal's room. “She's well schooled.”
“What do you mean?” Simon asked. “The sedative? It's just a good night kiss.”
“Well, I only hit my head, Mal went through that.” Even under the console, Kyra could tell her sister was lying. Hell, anyone that had heard her over the intercom an hour before knew she was lying. “But no. I mean seduction...body language, signals. She's had training.” She paused when the crew gave her a look. “As in companion training, as in Court Academy.”
“Place they send promising female soldiers,” Riddick spoke up. “Right next door to Strikeforce. Train them in espionage, spy-work. Low key assassins.”
“Great, so, we could be heading straight for alliance and we could all end up in the slam.” Mal slumped into the empty co-pilot's seat. A look passed his face before her turned to Inara. “How did you know? About the training?”
“She tried to seduce me too.”
A spark came from beneath Wash's console, echoing through all of them and summoning a string of curses from all three of those working.
“Really?” Mal leaned forward. “Did she...did you?”
Inara snorted. “You don't play a player. It was sloppy of her to try it, but I think she was in a rush.” She folded her arms in front of herself, obviously recovered from her bump to the head. It was also a bit odd to hear her speak so candidly about her profession.
“Yeah, but she had professional-”
“Government,” Inara corrected. “They specialize in Meek and ignorant. While effective, it's the lowest form of seduction.” She smirked. “Usually used against the foolish.”
“So in my case, it was really...” He looked over to Book with a triumphant smile. “You woulda kissed her too.”
Zoe popped his bubble by pointing out that Wash hadn't. The discussion progressed further down into the gutter when the comparison of naked women versus sexy talk came up. Down it went, to which was better, articulate or mysterious until finally Wash poked his head from under a console.
“Okay!” he shouted. “Everybody not talking about sex, in here. Everybody else, go elsewhere.” He waved his wrench for good measure. “Riv, would you mind coming over and holding something for me?”
All but Mal left the room. He was still sitting in the co-pilot's seat, watching as the four moved around and yanked wires and replaced others. He listened as River was sent to get the A3 wires and Jack's tool belt. He watched as they continued to shock themselves, making all of the lights flicker; Simon rejoined them in moments, watching and bending down whenever another person cursed and whacked things. Mal didn't know too much about the techy part of his ship. Something that might have paid off in this moment.
The light flickered once more before glowing merrily above them. The primary control panel lit up, dimly, and a crow of joy came from Wash's lips.
“You got it?” Mal asked as the man came around to reclaim his seat.
“Uhm we got light. We got screens. It's a qualified yes.” He paused as the girls smacked something. “A partial.”
“What about nav control?” Mal asked.
Kaylee's muffled voice came out with a resounding No.
“Where we headed? Can you tell me that?”
Another spark came from beneath the girls' panel, along with Jack calling out a frustrated Yes.
“Let me...the coordinates she entered...well, on the upside it's not too far.” Wash scrolled through the data. "Waved someone too. No ID, same location.”
“Who is it?” Jayne's voice came from behind them, startling everyone. A loud thunk came from the girls again. “You okay?”
“Five by five,” Jack called. She extended her hand for the set of wires Jayne had come up with. River had gotten distracted it seemed.
“Uhm hold on a bit,” Wash played around some more. “Jack, I need you to get the signal converter up.”
“Hold on.” there were no sparks this time. Only a happy chirp as the requested equipment came to life. “Okay, so...electo magnetic interference is...everywhere. And...we're heading for a circle.”
“It's a net.”
Riddick turned to face the girl on the catwalk above him. His starlight was hidden away again. Kept behind thick glass as the spirits were kept behind thick walls. She would release him. Soon. They would free each other, bonds cut as they hunted together. Sang together.
“A government trained trollop sabotages the ship, and you tell me not to worry?”
“The only blue is her eyes.” River leaned forward, holding to the rail as she came face to face with Riddick. “Blue eyed succubus. Flaunts the power behind the badge and the training. Left it behind for cashy money. Doesn't realize her brother's bounty sat across from her.” River released the bar, knowing Riddick was going to catch her. Her arms rest over his shoulders, keeping her form balanced as he held her. “Willful ignorance. To admit means to surrender her brother's bounty. To return the glitter she gave to the ponies.”
“Got some faith in me.”
His arms were warm around her legs and lower back. She could feel the heat of his form and the rising red in his mind. The red and the blue of their people. He breathed it out, the warm air spreading across her abdomen. She breathed it in, and allowed herself to slide down to the cold steel.
“The beast is her Beast, not for sale or barter. Has known since she was young.” Her hands came to rest upon his chest, one directly over his heart. “Believed when she saw him counting bullets. Believed when she heard him making escape plans for two instead of one.” She lifted his goggles from his face. “She is his Beautiful. Not for sale or barter.”
“Allah hu hassen,” Riddick laughed. Still smiling, his lips found River's.
The scent of her, the taste of her. The scent of him, the taste of him.
The sound of the bay door opening and half of the crew cursing while Captain Daddy and Elder Sister's Man started talking about the gun with a name and cutting the net apart. Her beast released her, mind filled with annoyance and frustration. He echoed her own, louder and more organized, scattered though it was. She would give his spirits freedom, release, and they would sing together.
“Now what I got planned...” Mal came to a stop in front of them. “...I don't wanna know. Also, you have very pretty eyes Ricky.” The captains grin made all three of them men light up with the bright yellow of amusement. Mind filled with giggles as their mouths released only snorts.
“Fuck you Dad.” Riddick pulled his goggles back over his eyes. “What's your plan?”
“Headin' towards a carrion net, gonna put Jayne and Vera” Mal nodded towards the large gun in Jayne's hand “In suits, he's gonna shoot it.”
The simple logic of the plan made River's mind stutter. It made Riddick raise his brows and River let her giggle loose.
“It is a very sound plan. Seein' as we don't have any ship board weapons, we gotta make due.”
“And that means Mal and I standing in the airlock shooting at things in space.”
Riddick only shook his head, stepping aside so the captain and the bear could get the suits needed to cut the net apart. River went with him, still giggling. The giggles held back were erupting through her. She would giggle for her khal when he would not. When he could not. His tears would become her own. Because he could not.
“Is there any merit to their plan?” Riddick asked. His laughter was subsiding, replacing by the feeling of wonder that he was so trusted. By the wonder that she could look so beautifully happy.
“Best tracker this side of the verse,” River spoke softly. “Bang, squish, bullet in the brain pan. Second only to Inavva.” She tilted her head, mind turning on as she ran the numbers through hr head. “A single shot to a single receptor, short circuit. Home free. Pitstop on the way to Milosz.”
“This is your captain speaking. I'd like to let you all know that Milosz is now locked in to our nav system.” Mal's voice rang out over the comm system of the ship. “There will be no more pitstops. Promise.”
The captain released the button on the microphone. His hand hurt, his bones hurt, and now, seeing as they weren't stopping at Mercy after all -Jayne's message hadn't even run through- he had to get up and go apologize to the companion sitting in his shuttle. Soon as the danger of dying had passed, the whole crew had gone back to silence, save Riddick, Book, and Zoe. Not the Richard was much of a talker. Book only gave him stern looks. Zoe didn't say much either.
Mal found himself knocking on the door to the Serra shuttle for the second time in as many days. This time he waited for her invitation to enter.
She was a lonesome queen. Garbed in fine silks and linens, delicate chains of gold hanging from around her neck and wrists and ears. She was lounging upon a divan, open book on her lap and a pot of tea on the table beside her.
“Back on course now. Should only be a day or two late.” Mal shifted his stance, unsure of how one went about apologizing for what had happened between them. “Hope that's all right.”
“It should be fine. Thank you.” She closed her book and turned to face him fully. “Does the vixen live?”
“Yeah, I suppose you could call it that.” She wasn't making this easy. “Alls well I suppose.”
She hummed at him, returning to her book. How in the hell did such a graceful woman end up on his boat? He couldn't help the thought that sparked up. They always teased each other to apologize, and now, something amazing had popped into his mind.
“You're a very graceful woman Inara.”
His words gave her a start. He'd never seen her unable to respond to a compliment before.
“That's where I start to get fuzzy though.” Mal folded his arms, confident that he'd caught her. “You got by that girl, came and found me, and somehow you happened to just trip and fall.”
“I kissed you Mal.”
Mal hadn't caught her at all. In fact, he was now doing his very best to imitate a fish. His arms unfolded themselves and moved about and refolded themselves and eventually entered his pockets.
“I did.” Inara shut her book once more and turned to face him fully. “I retired from Companion status right before we stopped on Whitefall. I'm officially a Madera Seeker.” She leaned forward and flipped the other cup over, filling it with tea before setting it before Mal. “Part time Sniper if you'd have me.”
Mal needed to sit.
Holy Maters of Gawd. This, was a long one. I knew it was going to be long when the 18 page mark was met at Dinner Time. Jeebus. 32 pages of story alone you guys. 32. And! Aren't you all just wondering who Vaako is planing to take as his bride? LOL Please, review, give me all of your thoughts or rants or whatever.
Mercy – reference to a Doctor Who episode, a place for second chances. Where people don't look too closely at a man or woman or cyborg's past. Great Episode btw. It could actually fit into Firefly very well.
Mie Xu – I actually had to look this one up. Mie Xu is 'brother in law', but more specifically, it's the husband of the younger sister.
Jie Fu – Brother in Law, husband of the elder sister.
High Furyan/Dothraki words
Qemmolat hatif? - Cover face? Interestingly enough, Hatif means 'In Front Of' and 'Face'. I suppose it should technically be Qemmolat hatif hatif? It seemed too redundant for me.
Dik ezok. Maegi... - Quick learner, the witch...
Inavva – sister
Allah hu hassen – god is great.