See prologue for disclaimers et al.
Chapter Seven - Bearing Fruit
Zoe leaned against the railing beside the Captain watching as the crew played ball below. She glanced over at him then back down at the boy… no man below. After a week in his company she was a little less wary about him, but still on her guard. Though that was mostly ‘cause she had the oddest feeling she knew him. Part of her wanted to trust. Already trusted him. And she didn’t like that. She’d never automatically trusted anyone. Yet, there was something about this man. “You decided yet?”
Mal shrugged. His eyes following Jayne as Jayne, with all the subtlety of a dog in heat, chased after Xander. “Got no place to go. And I ain’t in the habit of just turning people out on the street. No matter how much trouble they cause.” His gaze darted to River. Who shot him a mischievous grin before turning her gaze back to the game.
Her gaze turned back to the game as well. Xander, Simon and Inara were on one team. Jayne, Wash and Book on the other. She would have said it was an unfair squaring off. Except Xander seemed to be holding his own. Not only that but he kept an eye out on his teammates as well. She grudgingly admitted she liked that. You could tell a lot about a man, watching how he played with others. Zoe hmmed.
Mal scowled. “It ain’t right to take advantage of the boy. He ain’t much older than little River girl.”
“Did I say that, sir?” Zoe quirked an eyebrow. Wondering at the direction her captain’s thoughts had taken. She knew Mal pretty much flowed anywhere the current took him. But she’d thought his current direction was Inara. Xander’s appearance seemed to be altering that. How much was left to be seen. What needed to be decided was his future with them. While he might have been a solider in an old war, he was new here. His presence had both pro’s and con’s. She doubted he was likely to be too thrilled with their less altruistic pursuits. On the other hand he struck her as a man willing to do what needed to be done.
Mal glowered at Zoe who remained impassive. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. The boy was an interesting contradiction. Not naïve, but young. Far from home if he was to be believed. And despite everything Mal believed. River might not be the sanest thing but the girl had an uncanny knack for being right. If you could ever puzzle out her meaning. But she’d been pretty clear about her liking for the dark-haired young man. He knew Wash liked Xander as well. Since he’d appeared the two had spent a bit of time together. You could often find Xander sitting on the bridge with Wash, playing something called Jurassic Park. Inara and Book, however remained distant. They weren’t rude or anything. They were just a bit standoffish. At least, he hadn’t gotten the special hell speech again. Kayle adored him. And even prickly Simon seemed to get along well with him. And Jayne… Mal’s scowl deepened as he focused on the mercenary. Well, it was pretty clear where Jayne stood. Entirely too close. All the time.
As the heavier body hit his again, Xander hit the floor. He rolled in time to avoid Jayne landing on top of him. Again. It had happened one too many times all ready. As he glanced up his gaze caught Mal’s. He fought back a blush. The dark eyes were intent and unyielding. Xander couldn’t decipher what he was seeing. He knew the man didn’t know what to do with him. He could tell Mal wasn’t exactly happy to have him on the boat. Ship. Outer space vehicle. A week of this had him on edge, and he didn’t know what to think.
But now was not the time to dwell on it. Not with Jayne and his ever wandering hands helping him to his feet. That was another problem all together. The incident with Caleb, hereafter to be known as the Monumental Moment of Shame, was really kinda the first time he’d ever seriously thought about a guy that way. Sure, he’d noted that Angel was kinda buff and Spike was really well put together but that was sizing up the competition. Okay, fine he didn’t even believe himself. Still. It was just something to be noted and moved on. The Monumental Moment was in it’s own category. There were time’s when Mal would give him a look and he’d flash back to the groping and that whole area. Thoughts of that area were enough to make him sweat.
Mal cleared his throat, loud enough to catch everyone’s attention. “I seem to be missing a pilot.”
Wash glanced around suspiciously. “All right, which one of you’s kidnapped the pilot?”
“Wash,” barked Mal.
“Oh, you meant me.” He grinned then headed for the stairs at a loping run.
“All right, Xander. We need to have ourselves a little chit-chat,” began Mal.
At the words the crew scattered. Everyone except Zoe and River finding somewhere else to be.
“Now, I’m not in the habit of taking on strays--”
Zoe’s snort interrupted. He shot her a glare. “However, I’m also not in the habit of tossing out folks who’ve got nowhere to go.” Mal turned his gaze to Xander as he leaned back against the railing. “On this boat we’re in the business of keeping ourselves afloat. Sometimes that don’t ’xactly match up to the ’lliance’s laws.”
Zoe snorted again. He glared at her. “You want to deliver this here speech?”
Zoe held up her hands. “You’re doing a fine job, Cap’n.”
River held up her hand. Mal ignored her. “Now, everynow and then. We might pick up a package and deliver somewhere else--”
“You’re smugglers,” Xander said. “Not that I’m telling you what to do with your boat. But as long as you’re not dealing in slaves or committing acts of wholesale slaughter. I’m not gonna make waves.”
“Everyone on the crew pulls their weight,” piped up River when she saw the captain pause. She could sense the conflict in him. But best to start as they meant to go on. The White Knight valued honesty.
Xander glanced from Zoe to Mal. “I take it, I’d be expected to help in these….” his voice trailed off.
“Heists,” finished Zoe. She stomped down on the urge to try and convince him to join with them. This feeling of familiarty was all together strange and she wasn’t quite sure it wasn’t dangerous.
“I won’t help you hurt anyone,” Xander said arms crossing firmly. “Unless it’s in defense of the ship. Or self-defense. Or to protect River and Kaylee. Or you know someone I liked. Or if they were bad people. But other than that…”
Zoe covered her mouth. Trying to hide the snickers that wanted out. He’d given himself a thousand outs. But each and everyone of them was something she could respect.
Mal rolled his eyes. Boy, babbled entirely too much. But if he knew him better he wouldn’t have had to add all those caveats. Maybe if the gods were willing there’d be time for that. “Yeah, I can see you won’t be hurtin' anyone.”
Xander nodded sharply. “I’m glad that’s understood.”
River giggled loudly.
“This should go easy-peasy,” said Mal as they gathered in the hold.
“What about the purty,” asked Jayne, tugging at his hat.
Xander narrowed his eyes. He was going to break Jayne of that idiotic name if it was the last thing he did.
“This here’s a job. His first bit off of this boat is not gonna be today,” said Mal.
“He’s not getting a share of the take then is he,” asked Jayne, slightly worried. The pickings had gotten slim already with the moon-girl and her brother.
“Your share is fine Jayne,” snapped Mal. “Zoe. You’re with the ship.”
He glanced over to see Kaylee dragging Simon to him. “Cap’n--”
“Now, Cap’n that’s not fair. I ain’t even asked,” pouted Kaylee.
“Fine ask,” he said arms crossing. His gaze narrowed.
“You said yourself this was an easy job. This’ll give Simon some experience,” Kaylee pointed out.
Mal frowned. He hated when the girl started making sense. “It’s a point you’re making.”
“Cap’nnn,” her voice picked up a bit of whine.
“Fine,” sighed Mal.
“River,” tried Simon.
“I’ll watch out for her,” said Xander, glancing over his shoulder up at the girl watching them all. He’d been wanting to have a private word with the mini-Dru for awhile. Though she was always somewhere in his vicinity he could never seem to catch her alone. He had the oddest feeling about her.
She turned bright blue eyes to him. The sly grin slid across her face again. Then she was gone.
Xander grimaced. It looked like hide and seek was the name of the game.