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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Another in my occasional series looking at Mal (and who doesn't enjoy looking at Mal?). This is set a few weeks after Miranda, and is for Bytemite. Okay, it's too late technically for Thanksgiving, but maybe it's Mal's version. STANDALONE
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 835 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mal hadn’t been hungry. Since Miranda his appetite had wavered between meagre to thin, especially once he was well enough to have a say in it, but the last couple of days it had been non-existent.
“I can put a tray aside for you,” Kaylee offered when she came to tell him dinner was ready.
“Don’t waste good food,” he advised, letting himself smile for her. “Honestly. If I get peckish I can find something. I ain’t that far gone yet.”
“I know that, cap’n. Just looking out for you like you look out for us.”
“Then you’d best be getting back to the others before Jayne eats it all.”
“You know he don’t do that the same no more.”
“Then before it gets cold. Go on. Simon’ll be wondering where you are.”
She laughed and turned back towards the kitchen, her sunny nature still bubbling but muted beneath the sadness. It had taken a lot for her to step onto the bridge, and her eyes had kept flicking to the pilot’s chair.
He knew how she felt. It had been hard for him to take Serenity out of atmo the first time, even knowing the chair itself had been replaced. It still wasn’t his place, not his job, although maybe as captain it was more than anyone else now.
And Kaylee shouldn't be worrying, not over him. He’d tried to eat, to be sociable, and most days he managed it. Only this wasn’t one of them. He was actually going to that evening, then he’d looked into the warm kitchen and seen the empty seat. It had ripped open the barely healed wound in his heart and he could hardly breathe. Then he’d heard the hatch to Zoe’s bunk start to open, and he’d run for the bridge to hide.
He might be captain, but he was a poor showing of a man. Mal sighed, taking a deep breath of recycled air that had a flavour to it, something Kaylee must have brought in with her, a scent that reminded him of Zoe.
How she could bear it, he didn’t know. In the weeks since they’d fixed Serenity he’d half expected her to turn around and tell him she was leaving, even though there was a part of him that knew she wouldn’t, that she was his corporal still.
Hadn't always been that way, of course. The first time he’d met her she held a rifle on him, her purple-tinged armour shining bright. For the longest of eons he’d wondered if she was going to shoot him, spreading what little brains he had over the landscape behind him, but eventually she’d lowered the gun and taken off the armour.
Not that the men trusted her. Harry and Vinnie, well, they were his cousins, and as they had to trust him so they kind’ve trusted her, but the rest of the platoon were nowhere near as accepting.
Maybe if she hadn’t looked so gorram beautiful. All that wild, curly hair she tried to tame into submission, the dark smooth skin, those eyes ... Ms Gingrich, his old teacher, had told them once about the Amazons, fearsome female warriors from Earth-that-was who fought until death for what they believed in. That was Zoe. She might’ve changed sides, but at least now she was on the right one.
Trouble was, the men couldn’t really see that. So she tended to eat alone, cleaning her weapons, only talking when he deliberately sat next to her, engaging her in conversation. He learned some things about her, like how she was born on a transport freighter out in the black, about how she thought space was somehow hard-wired into her genes, and that it was okay to be alone. He told her stories about Shadow, making her laugh, and about how he was going to go back one day, and that made him wonder if she hadn’t had a tear in her eye, except Amazons never cried.
And yet, despite all his good intentions, it was Vinnie, of all people, who changed things.
Mal couldn’t remember the name of the moon, and wasn’t even sure he’d ever been told it, but it was a lump of rock with half a dozen towns clinging stubbornly to it, and maybe twice as many homesteads scattered across its scrubby surface. He and his men had been dropped off, told the transport for their next leg was on its way, and left to fend for themselves. The departing ship had barely disappeared into the heavy grey cloud layer when a message came over the comm. unit that there was a delay, and they would have to fend for themselves for a day. Maybe two. Certainly not more than a week.
“Seems like we ain’t needed,” Vinnie said, grinning widely.
Mal bit back on the expletives he wanted to spill from his lips: it wasn’t good for his platoon to realise he was quite so angry, although he had a fair idea they knew anyway. Still ... “Good men are always needed,” he said curtly.
“Good job we ain't good, then.” Vinnie could not be suppressed.
Harry shook his head. “You’re never gonna make an officer.”
“What’d I wanna be one of them for?” Vinnie asked, honestly mystified. “The purplebellies get you, they put you up against a wall and shoot you, without benefit of trial or a final cigarette. Maybe worse.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Mal said. “No chance of the Alliance ever thinking you know anything they’d like to find out.”
The others chuckled. Not that Vinnie cared. He was used to being the butt of a lot of jokes, initiating more than his fair share in the first place, and he nearly always got his own back.
“Anyway, I’m too pretty to be an officer,” the unrepentant Vincent Reynolds went on. “All that responsibility ages a man. And can’t have my fatal attractiveness to women be compromised.” He winked at Zoe.
She didn’t sigh. Mal was impressed by the way she didn’t sigh. Or punch. Or shoot him someplace extremely uncomfortable, for that matter, something they’d all thought about doing more than once. “Well, we’re here for a few,” he said, “so better check what rations they’ve left us.”
It wasn’t good. It wasn't truly bad, either, considering some of the stories he’d heard of good Independents having to make do with little more than flour and water. That they had, along with some dried soups and what purported to be butter but had probably never been within a light year of a cow. That and a double handful of tins of beans, and they had enough to last, so long as no-one minded going to bed feeling somewhat less than full.
Harry, though, scoffed. “Ain't hardly enough to keep a gnat alive,” he groused.
“Won’t do you no harm,” his brother said. “You could do with droppin’ a few pounds.”
“Now, Vinnie, you know the women love me just the way I am.”
Mal, unlike Zoe, didn’t hold back on the sigh. He made it a theatrical event, so much so it could have opened at the Osiris Opera House and gotten a standing ovation. “If you two have quite finished ...”
Harry put his arm around Vinnie’s shoulders. “Not sure. Have we?”
Vinnie pondered for a moment. “I guess. But I reserve the right to make an ass of myself in the not too distant future.”
“That’s a given,” Mal stated. “We ain’t going anywhere so we’d better make camp. Vinnie, you and Zoe take first patrol, make sure there’s no Alliance about to leap on us.”
Vinnie puffed up his chest with pride. “Sure thing, Mal.”
“Hell, I remember when you was running around with no pants on.” He grinned. “And that was only last week.”
Mal had two options. He could put his cousin on a charge of insubordination, ensuring at least a spell in the stockade, or he could ignore it. His old corporal would have insisted on the former, but Chet Mallard had finally succumbed to his ulcers a week or so ago, and the medics said he wasn’t likely to be fit for duty any time soon. Mal hadn’t got around to promoting anyone in his place so far, so he chose option two. “Get going,” he ordered.
“Yes sir.” Vinnie snapped off a textbook salute then marched out, Zoe following on silent feet, something like a slight curve to her full lips.
“You think that’s a good idea, sarge?” Beaumont asked.
“Well, only one of ‘em might come back, but I don’t think Vinnie’d mind going out that way.”
“That wasn’t what I meant.” Beaumont was a diehard, one of those who thought once a turncoat, always a turncoat.
“I know what you meant. And whatever colour Zoe was before, she’s brown now. And don’t you ... don’t any of you forget it.”
By the time the two scouts had returned the short day was ending. A fire burned in the centre of the temporary camp, warming stones placed around it ready to ward off the chill night.
“What took you so long?” Mal asked, then did a double take. “And what are you wearing?”
Zoe fingered the fine chainmail wrapped around her shoulders. “I felt … naked, sir. Without my armour.”
“And where did you find it?”
“Same place as this.” Vinnie dragged an improvised sled into the firelight, piled with small crates. “We found an Alliance shuttle about five klicks from here. Been down a while, at least from the state of the crew.” He wrinkled his nose. “I’ll tell you, I don’t know how Zoe handled going in there. She didn’t even flinch.”
“I’ve seen worse,” the woman in question said.
“Hate to think where. When that door opened …” He waved his hand in front of his face.
“So you thought you’d scavenge?” Mal enquired.
“Surely did,” Vinnie agreed enthusiastically. “There was all sortsa gos se in there, looked like stuff from a museum.” Vinnie nodded at Zoe. “That’s where Zoe got her accessories.” He patted the crates. “And these.”
“Food. Lots and lots of food.” Vinnie couldn’t have grinned wider. “Self-heating pouches mostly, some tinned, and a coupla sealed containers of fruit.”
Mal couldn’t help it. His mouth began to water. He hadn’t tasted anything even close to a fresh peach for … He swallowed, washing away the phantom flavour until there was nothing but his certainty that the men needed this more than he did. “Well, parcel out what anyone wants. I’m gonna go on patrol. And don’t eat it all.”
“Mal …” Vinnie’s voice, all surprise and disbelief, followed him out of the makeshift camp.
A couple of hours later, and having seen nothing of any interest but having pretty much enjoyed the peace and quiet, he headed back in, smiling when Beaumont challenged him.
“Good work,” he said, then stopped as a fragrance assaulted his nostrils. “What the hell …”
“I kept you a piece, sir,” Zoe said, holding out a tin plate with what looked like a slice of pie on it.
Handing his rifle to Beaumont and wondering if his hands were trembling just a little, Mal took the plate, letting the scent of peaches waft through his brain. “How … when …” The realisation struck him that he wasn’t proving a good example, and he got his tongue under control. “Who baked?”
“Me, sir,” the dark Amazon admitted. “Pies are about the only thing I was ever good at cooking. And I don’t do it very often.” The last was a warning, even he got that. Zoe wasn’t the stay-at-home, married with three kids type of woman, not unless that went hand in hand with wearing chainmail and scaring all the neighbours. “And it made it go further.”
Mal walked to the edge of the firelight and sank down onto a convenient log, knowing the rest of his platoon were watching, grinning, and not caring a jot. Harry held out a fork, which he took without even noticing, then he broke off a piece of pie, lifting it to his lips.
The pastry was sweet, itself tasting faintly of peach, and there was a part of him expecting that to be it, that he was going to be disappointed. Then the full flavour hit. His eyes widened and his mouth would have fallen open in delighted shock if that hadn’t meant he might lose the pie he was chewing. He felt it melt on his tongue, slipping down his throat to placate and enthral his stomach.
He didn’t speak a word until there was nothing left on the plate but crumbs, and he used his thumb to pick those up. One final swallow and he looked up at Zoe. “That ...”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it, sir.”
He patted the log next to him. “You know, you don’t have to call me sir. I ain’t an officer.”
She stayed resolutely standing, hands grasped behind her as if she was about to go to attention at any moment. “Yes, sir.”
Mal shook his head, not caring too much that he wasn't sure what she was agreeing with, not when she could cook like this. “Marry me?” he joked.
“Ain't I pretty enough for you?”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you tasted the rest of my cooking, sir. Pies and soup, about all I can do.”
“So this is for high days and holidays?”
“Yes, sir. My mother always cooked it for my birthday.”
“Well, you keep cooking like that and I’ll be making you my corporal just for the sake of morale,” he said, licking his lips to try and get just another taste of heaven.
She’d smiled slightly at that.
Of course, that wasn’t the reason he’d promoted her, but maybe it contributed to the men accepting her.
Mal half-turned in the pilot’s seat to see Zoe standing in the bridge doorway. “Hey.” Then he realised she was holding a plate in her hands, and a tantalisingly haunting perfume reached out to him. His mouth began to beg. “Is that ...”
“Zo, you ever gonna give in and call me by my first name?” His eyes, and most of his attention, was on the pie.
“Hell hasn’t frozen over yet, sir.”
He glanced up, almost shocked. She always surprised him, and her strength after the ... after Wash’s death was extraordinary. He knew he couldn’t have gone on, if he’d lost the love of his life, probably doing something stupid in the middle of the night and leaving everyone else to clean up the mess. It just showed how much better she was than him.
She must have seen the thought cross behind his eyes, because she said, “Wash always loved my pies. And wife soup.”
For a long, uncomfortable moment he wondered if they were talking about the same thing, then decided to take it at face value. “Well, hand it over so I can see if it’s up to scratch. And ... thanks.”
She nodded, stepping closer so he could take the plate, then sliding into the co-pilot’s seat beside him. “It’s just a pie, sir.”
“Sure it is.”
As he took a bite, and the flavour of peaches overwhelmed his senses, he knew it was anything but, and in the companionable silence he considered maybe his corporal was starting to heal.
Sunday, November 27, 2011 1:30 PM
Sunday, November 27, 2011 6:52 PM
Sunday, November 27, 2011 10:01 PM
Monday, November 28, 2011 7:03 AM
Monday, November 28, 2011 12:10 PM
Monday, November 28, 2011 1:16 PM
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