Old Habits - Part III
Friday, May 30, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. Zoe and Freya enter The Spa, while their husbands wait anxiously. NEW CHAPTER


‘Welcome to all our friends! We at The Spa know that inside you will find everything you could dream of, and if our imagination is lacking, do please ask and it shall be yours!’

--- -- -

Hank brought the shuttle in to land at the small port, nestling it cheek by jowl with the other vehicles already parked, most of which could have bought Serenity a dozen times over. The latest two seater runabouts were probably the most vulgar, but there were plenty of older, well-looked after craft, and the pilot hoped they’d get lost in the crowd.

“We’re down,” he called over his shoulder, shutting everything down.

Mal looked at the two women in front of him. “You good to go?”

Zoe nodded. “That we are.”

“I guess.” Freya was checking through her bag once more.

“Frey, you’ve got everything,” Mal said quietly, smiling at her.

“I don’t know. I just get the feeling I'm missing something.”

“Your guns,” Hank put in, coming through from the small bridge.

“Probably. I feel naked without them,” she admitted, running one hand down her hip.

“Well, Zoe is your bodyguard, so she can go armed instead.” Mal took the bag and handed it to his first mate, knowing she was wearing his wife’s shoulder holster under her jacket. “You know what you’ve got to do. Soon as you can, let me know you’re inside. We’ll be listening.”

“Yes sir.”

“Bring me back a bottle or something,” Hank said, sounding a lot more relaxed than he felt.

“Any particular vintage?” Zoe asked.

“Whatever you think will suit my fine tastebuds.”

“Beer, then.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know I’ve drunk some of the finest champagne known to man!” He grinned. “Well, for under ten credits, anyway.”

“That much.”

Mal knew they were bantering because of the tension in the small shuttle, a stress that had grown since they left Persephone. He felt it himself, an ache in the pit of his belly like something bad was about to happen. “Well, as much as I myself would like to hear about Hank’s adventures with alcohol, it’s show time.” He crossed to the shuttle door. “Ready?”

Freya took a deep breath, using all her control to cleanse her mind. Her shoulders settled, and her face took on a superior look with just a slight raise of one eyebrow. “Ready.”

Mal smiled. She was damn good at this, and he felt so proud of her. “Shiny.” He opened the door, sliding it back into its recess.

“Sir?” A flunkey in a purple and gold suit was outside, already waiting. “Do you have an invitation?”

“Not me, son, but my employer does.” He handed over the two invitations, duly completed in River’s very best copperplate handwriting.

“If you would wait just a moment …” The flunkey turned to his companion, similarly attired, who took the cards and ran them through a handheld scanner. For a moment Mal wondered if Badger had tried to palm off a couple of fakes onto him, and had visions of having to fight their way out through a sea of purple and gold. It didn’t help hearing Freya snort with unladylike laughter behind him. Then the flunkey turned back, a veneer of obsequiousness overlaying the slightly superior air. “Sir. If Madam Romanov would care to accompany us, we will deliver her and her servant to the main house.” He indicated a spacious groundcar waiting a few paces off.

Mal gave a tightly controlled smile and turned back inside, thanking all the gods he could think of for having a treasure like Kaylee back on board. With only a little help from River, she’d hacked The Spa’s systems, making sure Freya’s alias was on the list. “Madam,” he said, holding out a hand.

Freya took it, letting her eyes linger on his only for a moment, then sliding past to the men outside. “Thank you, Reynolds,” she said, stepping out into the warm evening air.

You’re enjoying this just a shade too much, Mal thought firmly.

Wasn’t I supposed to? She didn’t look back as the flunkey assisted her to the ground.

“Madam, if you would step this way?”

She nodded her head in gracious acceptance.

Zoe went to pass Mal, but he whispered, “Mian mian ju dao.

“I will, sir,” she breathed back, following Freya out to the waiting groundcar.

“Damn, she’s good,” Hank breathed, watching as the sleek vehicle took their respective wives towards the blur of buildings.

“That she is,” Mal agreed.

“I still wish I was going in with them.”

“And have Zoe kill you if you even looked at those gaming tables?” Mal shook his head. “Can’t be finding me a new pilot at this late stage.”

“I know.” Hank sighed and sat down on the bench against the wall. “It’s hard, Mal.”

“Which? This addiction of yours, or knowing your wife is heading into unknown territory?” He dropped onto the opposite seat, feeling the need to be accompanying Freya as keenly as Hank.

“Both. But I was actually thinking of the gambling.” He glanced over his shoulder, just able to see the lights blazing around The Spa. “Just knowing it’s there, not more’n a short walk away … it’s hard.”

“You want I should tie you down? Hit you with something? ‘Cause all you gotta do is ask.”

Hank managed a smile. “No. But thanks for the offer. About the fifth I’ve had this week from various of my ‘friends’ but I do appreciate it.”

Mal settled back. “I conjure one of ‘em was Jayne, and another Zoe, but who were the other two?”

“Oddly enough Zoe wasn’t considering doing me grievous bodily harm. At least, not recently. No, it was Kaylee and River. The former said she’d be more than happy to hit me with a wrench, and our little psychic assassin twice offered to burn out that part of my brain I use to gamble with.” He shuddered slightly. “Can she do that?”

“I don’t think you want to find out.”


Mal had to suppress a smile at the look on Hank’s face. “So Freya didn’t say anything?”

“No. She doesn’t need to threaten me. And Zoe was telling me how she got all uptight over Magpie.”

“You think those two things are related?”

“I don’t think you want to find out, either.”

Mal shook his head, looking out into the rapidly descending darkness. “Everyone on my crew thinks they have the right to advise me on my love life.”

“Probably because we’d be hard pressed to find us a new captain at this late stage.” He grinned. “Besides, what else is there to do out in the black?”

His current captain glared at him.


The suite of rooms Freya and Zoe were shown to were grand, if such a small word could be used for the opulence they found themselves in. Wall to wall green carpeting that looked like the lushest of grass and so deep there were probably whole civilizations lost in it, spindly ormolu furniture ready to leap into splinters if anyone even considered sitting on it, and a huge Cortex screen hidden behind dark green curtains that complemented the gold-flecked wallpaper.

The flunkey deposited the bags by the large four-poster bed and turned to Freya. “Mr Salazar is already greeting guests, but please take your time. When you are ready please join him in the main lounge.” His eyes flickered towards Zoe. “And if you need anything else, anything at all, please ask.”

“In case your imagination hasn’t already thought of it?”

He smiled. “As a certainty, Madam Romanov.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

The man bowed low and backed out of the room, closing the door silently behind him.

“Well,” Freya said to Zoe. “We’d better see if the accommodation is adequate.” She walked around, running a finger along an escritoire, then examining it for dust while Hank remotely swept the room for bugs or other surveillance devices.

“Shall I unpack for you, Madam?” Zoe asked, keeping in character.

“Yes. But run me a bath first.”

“Yes, Madam.” Zoe headed through the open doorway, and heard Hank’s voice in the tiny ear-wig.

“Nothing so far, but just give me a minute more.”

Zoe nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see, and began to fill the large tub, her nose wrinkling slightly at the scented water flowing from the faucet.

Back in the main room, Freya had completed her circuit. “Well?” she breathed.

“Nothing, Frey. No bugs or cameras in here. But I picked up a lot as you came through the corridors, so don’t get sloppy.”

Freya smiled. “Me? Sloppy? That’s Mal’s department.” She heard her husband’s voice spluttering in the background, and the smile became a grin. “But thanks, Hank,” she said.

“My pleasure. We’ll keep this line open, if you need us.”

Mal’s voice got louder as he moved closer to the com. “Get yourselves ready and downstairs. Soon as you leave that room I want to be able to hear everything that’s going on, dong mah?”

“Understood. Talk to you soon, zhang fu.” She slipped the tiny comunit out and scratched idly at her ear. “We’re shiny,” she called, and Zoe stepped back into the room.

“I heard. And I don’t think I could’ve stood that smell much longer.” She sneezed. “Perfumed water indeed.”

“All the rage, I gather.” Freya picked up her bag and emptied it out onto the bed, looking up at the mirror suspended above. “Do you think they expect us to sleep together?” she asked, eyeing it somewhat uncomfortably.

“I’m your bodyguard,” Zoe said. “I’m not supposed to sleep.”

“You know they don’t believe that for an instance. That you’re my bodyguard.”


“It’s true. You saw the look that man gave you. If we’d invited him to join us, he’d have been naked before I finished the sentence.”

“Not my type.”

“That’s why he was disappointed.” Freya laughed and tested the mattress. “I’m just glad I’m not paying.”

Zoe crossed to the windows, her feet sinking into the carpet at least an inch. “Pity we don’t have time to enjoy it. Likely looking tree outside.”


“Low enough.” She turned. “Come on. We have to get downstairs.”

“I know.” Freya’s voice was almost wistful.

Zoe smiled. “I’d’ve thought you’d be used to all this. Didn’t you live in such splendour as a child?”

Freya shook her head. “My mother would have considered this the height of vulgarity. While resisting the almost overwhelming urge to poke about, of course.”

“Well, you’d better resist too. Do you want to take the bathroom or shall I?”


Fifteen minutes later and Freya swept back out to find Zoe with her arms crossed, tapping her foot.

“It’s about time,” Serenity’s first mate said.

“I had to make myself look beautiful,” Freya responded. “That takes a while.”

“Yeah, right.” Zoe all but scoffed. “Still, you’ve come up clean enough.”

Freya laughed. “So’ve you.”

They examined each other closely. Zoe was in an outfit they had hurriedly bought before they left Persephone, a somewhat severe full-length silver-grey dress with matching bolero jacket that did little to hide the shoulder holster under her arm. She’d argued with Mal that she should be wearing pants, not a dress, but in the end was persuaded that she had to look like she worked for someone obscenely wealthy but not stand out too much. To that end she’d twisted her hair into a knot at the back of her skull, catching it with a pair of carved chopsticks that had silver tips. She still looked stunning, but in a workmanlike way.

Freya, on the other hand, was in red, almost the colour of fresh blood. Like Zoe’s, bought in a hurry and put on Badger’s account, it still fit her figure perfectly. It hung from a wide slash neckline, twisted around her torso, then flooded to the ground to pool at her ankles where her feet were encased in flat gold pumps.

Zoe looked her up and down then said, “Are you going to be okay not being armed?”

“Actually, I am.” Freya turned enough so that her friend could see the slash in the skirt of the dress to the top of her thigh, where something sparkled.

“What the –“

The sleek fabric parted to reveal a thigh sheath, encrusted with jewels, the hilt of the knife resting snug against her skin. “Like it?”

“Where did you get that?”

“It was a wedding gift. From Badger.” Freya couldn’t help chuckling at the look on Zoe’s face. “I thought it was appropriate, since I haven’t had the opportunity to return it.”

“Let me guess. Into his chest?”

“Don’t tempt me.” She reached back into the bathroom and tugged out her bag. “Better get this all done.”

Zoe nodded, lifting out a length of rope from her own case. Tying both of them together, she carried them to the window Freya had already opened. “Nothing to break in there?” she asked.


“Good.” She swung the rope and let go, the bags sailing accurately into the dark to hang on one of the lower branches of the tree outside. She brushed off her hands and asked, “Ready?”

“Ready.” Freya pressed the ear-rig, hearing it click on. “We’re heading out.”

“About time,” Mal said, his tone suggesting he was annoyed. Then his next words betrayed him. “Take care, xin gan.”

“You know me.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem.”

Zoe smiled as she picked up the small silver case and opened the door. “This way, Madam,” she said smoothly.

“Thank you, Mills.” Freya flashed a grin that disappeared as soon as she was outside in the corridor.

Back in the shuttle Hank looked at Mal. “You worried?”

“Me?” Mal shrugged. “Why would I be?”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Just keep on listening, Hank.”

“Wasn't going to do anything else, Mal.”

to be continued


Friday, May 30, 2008 7:27 AM


Wow! I like it. Freya is defintely my kind of woman and most assuredly the right type for Mal. I like how you write Zoe. She has that toughness that some tend to water down. Wondeful!!

Friday, May 30, 2008 5:09 PM


Can't wait to see how this works, or doesn't, work out.

Friday, May 30, 2008 6:07 PM


Parties and Serenity's crew are usually a bad combination. Waiting eagerly to see how this one goes pear-shaped! :D

Friday, May 30, 2008 11:14 PM


at least they get a moment to relax! i just know something wicked this way will come...:)
loved all the character touches here - and some nice swift descriptions.

Saturday, May 31, 2008 1:44 AM


Gorramit, I'm as nervous as Mal and Hank are pretending not to be. I'm thinking that feeling Mal had in his gut at the beginnning maybe a foreshadowing of what is to come - gulp. Glad Hank hasn't given in to the urge to gamble. Zoe truly would kill him this time. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, May 31, 2008 3:04 AM


Mal shook his head, looking out into the rapidly descending darkness. “Everyone on my crew thinks they have the right to advise me on my love life.”

“Probably because we’d be hard pressed to find us a new captain at this late stage.” He grinned. “Besides, what else is there to do out in the black?”

His current captain glared at him.

Great lines and great snark - gotta love Hank! Looking forward to more.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 2:03 PM


~~~~"Our little psychic assassin twice offered to burn out that part of my brain I use to gamble with.” He shuddered slightly. “Can she do that?”

“I don’t think you want to find out.”


My favorite bit. I like it when the women folk are all stealthy and crafty and what not. Enjoy it immensely!


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“Then do you have a better suggestion? No, let me rephrase that. Do you have a more sensible suggestion that doesn’t involve us getting lost and freezing to death?”

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"I honestly don’t know if my pilot wants to go around with flowers and curlicues carved into his leg.”
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Mal took a deep breath, allowing it out slowly through his nostrils, and now his next words were the honest truth. “Ain’t surprised. No matter how good you are, and I’m not complaining, I’ve seen enough battle wounds, had to help out at the odd amputation on occasion. And I don’t have to be a doc myself to tell his leg ain’t quite the colour it should be, even taking into account his usual pasty complexion. What you did … didn’t work, did it?”
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“What’s wrong with that?” the ex-mercenary demanded from the doorway.

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[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank's not out of the woods yet, and Mal has a conversation. Enjoy!]

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[Maya. Post-BDM. A seasonal one-off - enjoy!]

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Jayne hadn’t waited, but planted a foot by the lock. The door was old, the wood solid, but little could stand against a determined Cobb boot with his full weight behind it. It burst open.

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“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]

“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

[Maya. Post-BDM. A little with each Serenity couple, but something goes bang. Read, enjoy, review!]