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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Nobody here but us chickens.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 869 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)
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Follows TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10). Precedes ENDS WITH A HORSE (12).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
A/N: With particular thanks to my friend Julie, Official Fowl Consultant and Chicken Wrangler Extraordinaire, for contributing her expertise and wit to the chicken-y portions of this fanfic. Any mistakes and inaccuracies are not her fault.
Nobody here but us chickens.
* * *
It was late in the day when Mal finally remembered about the chickens. He’d just grabbed a couple of apples from the bowl on the dining room table and cut them into slices. As he walked down toward the infirmary and cargo bay, he savored a couple of the crunchy, juicy pieces. Jayne surprised him with his generosity sometimes. Musta paid for the apples outta his own pocket, ’cause Mal hadn’t given him no budget for luxury items like fresh fruit when he sent him to re-stock Serenity’s supplies on Beaumonde.
Shoulda checked on the chickens the first night in the Black, before turning in. Chickens left unfed started to turn mean and vicious. But it had been, by any standards, one helluva day, and he’d barely made it to his bunk. Fell asleep with all his clothes on, including his boots. Woke up feeling groggy and guilty—guilty about sticking Inara with the night watch, guilty about Zoe getting shot, guilty about allowing River and Ip to walk into danger, guilty about Kaylee’s close call discovering the detonator as she worked on the ship. Then River dropped the bomb about Ip’s friend Bill the gorram Blue Hand assassin, and by the time Mal was finished rocketing around the ship, it was getting on in time. Eventually, having made the rounds and settled everybody (including himself) back on a more-or-less even keel, it was evening. And Zoe was hungry. Mal went up to the galley to rustle up something to eat. Most handy was the apples Jayne had bought, so Mal grabbed a couple of them and sliced them up.
And that is how he found himself remembering, of a sudden, that there were two crates of live chickens in his cargo bay as hadn’t been checked on, watered, or fed in at least twenty-four hours, and probably longer if they’d been brought in from afar before they were delivered to Serenity. Gorram chickens.
After delivering the apple slices to Zoe, Mal headed straight to the cargo bay. “Alright, let’s see what we got in here,” he muttered to himself as he sprung open the latches and lifted the lid.
“Nobody here but us chickens,” answered a voice from within the crate.
“Gah!” Mal jumped out of his skin and the lid went clattering to the floor of the cargo bay, as a wave of excited squawking erupted amongst the startled chickens. He wasn’t scared—just startled beyond measure. A body don’t expect chickens to speak. He looked into the crate, and there, sitting amongst the settling chickens, was Saffron.
His first instinct was to slam the lid back on and bolt it tight until they reached Hektor and got the gorram crate off his boat. But he’d already noticed that, despite her smart remark, Saffron looked miserable. She looked just as droopy as the birds surrounding her. She made no move to stand up and he reckoned she was too stiff to do it. Can’t be no fun to sit locked in a four-foot-high chicken crate for a day and a half.
“Please,” she begged, looking up at him, “help me out, Mal.”
He stared down at her, silent. At her face, gorrammit, not at her low-cut blouse and 馒头 mántóu. Ammonious fumes wafted out of the crate. A chicken hopped onto Saffron’s shoulder and plucked at her hair.
“Get me out of this box,” she pleaded in a miserable voice, waving her hands in a half-hearted attempt to fend off the chicken. Mal guessed she’d made the gesture hundreds of times in the last thirty hours.
“Like hell,” he responded, aiming for hard-edged 混蛋 húndàn, but falling far short of the mark.
“I won’t cause any trouble,” she promised. “Just let me out of this…” she cast a miserable glance around at her malodorous surroundings as she sat stiffly in the straw, now scattered with chicken droppings and crowded with droopy-looking fowl.
“Woman, you are off your nut,” he countered, but his heart wasn’t really in it. He remembered with perfect clarity the havoc that resulted when Saffron got loose on Serenity, and he was in no way eager for an encore performance. If he let her out, he did so in the full knowledge that she would take advantage of any bit of freedom she was given and screw them over just as fast and fully as she was able. But it just didn’t sit right with him to keep a human being—any human being, even Saffron—confined to a filthy chicken crate for the duration of the journey to Hektor. It was cruel. And he wasn’t cruel. Well, not that cruel.
“Mal, you gotta let me out of here.”
“Ain’t gonna happen.”
“Won’t you let your own wife out of a cage?”
“You ain’t my wife!” he exclaimed, his voice rising.
“Married me, didn’t you?”
“Me and every man in the galaxy!” he exclaimed. “你是公共汽車 Nǐ shì gōng gòng qì chē.”
“What kind of husband locks his wife up in a box?” she asked indignantly.
“I did not lock you up—” he exclaimed, forgetting to counter the ‘husband’ part of her rhetorical question. “How’d you get in there, anyway?”
“Help me out.”
“I ain’t lettin’ you—”
“Wait ’til they hear you keep your wife locked in a filthy chicken c—”
“I do no such thing! And you ain’t my wife!”
“We are not married!”
“爱人 Àiren, you gotta let me out of here. You can’t keep me cooped up—”
“Don’t see why not—”
“Cruel husband! Might as well kill me now…” She began weeping.
“I ain’t killin’ you!” he exclaimed, completely disconcerted. “What kind of crappy place—now will you stop that?”
“Better kill me now, husband,” she moaned. “Better to die now than waste away in a chick—”
“Now cut that out.”
“—kept locked in a box, pecked by the cruel beaks—”
“Will you shut up?! Those ain’t Reaver chickens.” He couldn’t help but notice that several chickens were, in fact, walking on Saffron, pecking repeatedly at her skin, hoping to discover that this time, one of her freckles was really a delicious bug to eat. He felt like he was completely spun about. He looked around the cargo bay, hoping to find an ally—and saw Inara. She had come partway down the stairs from the catwalk. He didn’t know how much of the exchange she had witnessed. “You make a move, any move at all, and I will riddle you with holes,” he told Saffron, his gun hand hovering over his holster. Keeping Saffron in his peripheral vision, he went right over to Inara and conferred with her in a whisper.
“Inara—” Mal began, quietly, urgently.
“You brought your wife back aboard, I see,” she hissed back at him. “Are you going for a harem? Want to be cock of the walk?”
“I ain’t—she ain’t—Inara, that ain’t fair!” he hissed back at her.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair. That’s exactly what it looks like,” Inara responded.
“Listen, I’m tired a’ walkin’ on eggshells around you, Inara. This woman’s bad news. She’ll steal the ship and leave us for dead if we give her the chance.”
“You can’t keep her cooped up in a box for a week, Mal.”
“Can, too. And it ain’t even a week to Hektor, it’s only four more days.”
“Mal!” she hissed.
“I ain’t lettin’ her out. You know what happened last time she got loose on the boat.”
“She disabled Serenity and left you for dead in the desert.”
“I wasn’t dead, I was only—”
“And I had to ride to your rescue, when she left you stranded in the middle of nowhere with no clothes!”
“C’mon, Inara. You enjoyed that,” he said meeting her eye, challenging her to admit which part of that she had enjoyed the most.
Inara was in no mood for games with Mal. “Yes,” she hissed. “I enjoyed it. It was delightful to be a Big Damn Hero for once.”
“Bein’ a Big Damn Hero ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Heroes got to make the tough calls. Like leavin’ that evil double-crossing snake locked up in that box where she belongs.”
“You can’t leave a human being locked in a chicken coop, Mal.”
“Can’t I?” he responded, defiantly.
“Oh, for god’s sake, Mal, can’t you at least act like a decent human being?”
He held her stare—god, she was so beautiful and full of fire, madder ’n a wet hen as she was, and—she would probably clock him if he tried to touch her. He backed down. “’Course I can, Inara. I’m just sayin’ what I wish I could do. She’s gotta come outta the crate, but I can’t let her loose on the ship. She’s gonna hafta stay locked up in one of the passenger dorms. She gets out, she’ll muck up the engine, muck up the helm, blow the airlock and leave us all for dead while she flies the coop on one of our shuttles.”
Saffron couldn’t hear what Malcolm Reynolds was saying to that 泼妇 pōfù Companion of his, but she could read their body language perfectly well. And it was instantly apparent to her that the situation had changed since she was last aboard Serenity. They were lovers. She couldn’t see his face full-on, but his gestures, as he nearly touched Inara, were loving and intimate, and her face, despite its carefully schooled expression, lit up as she spoke to him, her emotions revealed in her eyes. The crackling hot sexual tension between them was just about palpable, as they hissed and whispered and spat words at each other. Saffron took it all in, as she shooed away yet another chicken that came to pluck at her hair. She could tell that their relationship was still new, still fragile, easily shaken—and easily broken. She was careful to hide her smile. This job would be more of a pleasure than even she had imagined—and she had a very vivid imagination. She could drop the “hubby” come-on to Mal, although it would still be fun to annoy him. It would be much more satisfying for her to scuttle their relationship. She began to calculate what she could do to get them beyond arguing with each other—and take them to permanent estrangement. It was all in how you played the game. It almost made up for having to stow aboard among the gorram chickens.
She tried to move her legs—she was so cramped. Another pair of those awful chickens was pecking at her freckles again. She was careful to keep her triumph to herself, as Malcolm Reynolds strode back over to the chicken crate. She cast a sad, miserable, pleading look up at him.
“Please…” she whispered, with an expressive look, somewhat diminished by the feeble swat she made at yet another chicken.
“I will let you out only if you agree to my conditions,” he said in a loud, captain-y voice. “You’re to stay confined to a room in the passenger dorm at all times. You may leave the room only for meals and to visit the head, and only under escort. Is that understood?”
She nodded, weakly.
“You can get outta the box now.”
She made no move, but let the tears well in her eyes, fully aware of the audience she was playing to.
“Now what is it?” he demanded, again aiming for hard-boiled, and again missing the mark, as her tears found their target.
“I…can’t…get up,” she said haltingly.
With a huffing of annoyance tinged with pity, Mal reached down into the box to give her a hand. Saffron allowed him to haul her up, caressing the hand that helped her. She lost her balance just as she reached her full height so that she careened into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her to steady her, then recoiled at the closeness of her position, and the smell. Saffron delighted in the play of emotions on his face as abashed confusion and instinctive physical desire chased annoyance. But she kept her thoughts carefully to herself, lowering her eyelashes and sniffling.
“I’m…faint with hunger.” She wobbled into him again, making sure to rub against his sensitive regions as she swooned.
He caught her, steadied her, and spoke soothingly, trying not to breathe through his nose. “Sshhh, ssshhh, we’ll get you fed, and bathed—” He broke off, embarrassed by his own suggestion of bathing. “Not nobody deserves to be stowed in a chicken crate. Who put you in there, anyway?” he demanded.
“It’s a long story,” she said faintly, rolling her eyes up into their sockets as she collapsed limply in his arms.
“Get Simon,” Mal said to Inara. He picked up Saffron and carried her into the infirmary.
“So, the Captain’s wife stowed away in one of them chicken crates. Didn’t much like bein’ cooped up, did she?” Jayne remarked as he entered the passenger lounge, glancing into the infirmary, where Simon was tending to Saffron. Most of the rest of the crew were already gathered outside the infirmary. Zoe, with her knee in a brace, lay on the sofa.
“She is not my wife,” Mal countered, defensively.
“Bet that put her in a ‘fowl’ mood,” Jayne chuckled, ignoring his protest, as the others groaned.
“Captain married her on Triumph, near two year ago,” Zoe filled in, not-so-quietly, for Ip’s benefit.
Mal’s reaction was immediate. “Zoe, cut that out. That marriage was invalid from the word go.”
Ip stretched his eyes. “You really did marry her?”
“I was tricked!” Mal exclaimed, almost a whine. “That evil snake has married half the men in the galaxy, just to take advantage of them. Ain’t none of those marriages real.”
“Was real enough when you let her cook for you and be your nubile little slave girl,” Zoe returned, not missing a beat. “Was real enough when she took to your bed.”
“I will not put up with this,” Mal said, trying to glare at Zoe at the same time as he shot a guilty look at Inara, who would not make eye contact. Neither the glare nor the look was very effective. “You’re misleadin’ Ip.” He glared at Zoe again. “You’re not playin’ fair.”
“Cap’n had a little make-out session with—” Kaylee began.
“I was poisoned!” Mal exclaimed. “Y’all are makin’ Ip think I was some kind of evil lecherous hump.”
The idea had of course not occurred to Ip before the Captain suggested it, but now he was intrigued, and wanted to know the full story. “Why would I think you were an evil, lecherous—?”
“Captain?” Simon leaned out of the infirmary and beckoned Mal in.
“She’s a bit dehydrated, and there are some abrasions—and peck marks—on her arms and legs that are a bit infected, but otherwise, there’s nothing a shower and a good meal won’t fix,” Simon informed the Captain. Saffron lay on the infirmary bed with her eyes closed. “She won’t tell me how she came to be in the chicken crate,” Simon added quietly, for the Captain’s ears only.
Mal responded with a hard look, then he spoke aloud. “Good. Right. Well. I’ll, uh, I’ll have someone make up a room for her. Probably just wants to…” He paused, unsure whether to offer the meal, the bath, or the bed as the first option.
Simon took over. “Someone should escort her to the shower first. Then she needs a meal—she said she hasn’t eaten in more than twenty-four hours. After that she can get some rest in a proper bed.”
“You’re not foolin’ nobody, Saffron,” Mal said. “Get up. One of the ladies will escort you to the shower.”
“—naked as the day he was born!” Snorts and guffaws drowned out the rest of the tale.
“Kaylee,” Mal called out, interrupting what was obviously a hilarious gathering in the passenger lounge, clearly at his expense. Inara was the only one who wasn’t looking amused. “You willin’ to lend Yo-Saff-Bridge here somethin’ clean to wear? And maybe bring some soap and uh, y’ know, woman-bathing things…”
Zoe snorted with laughter, earning another glare from the Captain. Kaylee, wearing a huge grin, responded, “One dress and woman-bathin’ things comin’ right up, yessir, Cap’n Tightpants,” and went off to her bunk.
“Ya need any help doin’ a strip search, Cap’n?” Jayne offered. “After all, she’s the 狐狸精 húli jīng in the henhouse, ain’t she?” Jayne chuckled at his own wit and leered unabashedly at Saffron.
Mal favored him with a withering look, then addressed the assembled crew. “For those of you ain’t met her yet, this here’s Saffron, also known as Bridget, also known as Yolanda, also known as con-woman of the first order. She is confined to her quarters at all times while she’s aboard this ship. She’s allowed out for meals and visits to the shower and head, only, and no other reason. And she ain’t allowed out at all without escort.”
“She’s a liar.” River’s voice sounded through the comm. “A liar and a thief.”
“That she is, Albatross,” Mal agreed, and glared at the assembled crew. “You turn your back on her for a second, she’ll get the drop on you. Like to steal the ship out from under us, and we’ll all find ourselves floatin’ back to Beaumonde.” Saffron somehow managed to combine a pouty face with a winsome smile, and directed this look primarily at the male members of the crew. “It’s true,” Mal reinforced. “This woman is dangerous, cold as ice, and dead crazy on top of it. Don’t trust her out of your sight.” As Kaylee re-appeared carrying a towel, a dress, and some sundries in a basket, Mal addressed himself to Saffron. “Alright, go get yourself clean.” He gestured towards the shower door, just off the passenger lounge, then turned to his crew. “Seems to me y’all got jobs to do, go do ’em. Jayne, go feed the chickens.”
Luxuriating under the hot water spray, Saffron contemplated the success of her mission so far. It was going very well now, despite having gotten off to a very bad start with no one checking on the chickens for so long after the crates were brought aboard. She’d counted on Malcolm Reynolds to be more conscientious. A couple hours among the chickens was bad enough, but tolerable—an inconvenience she’d been willing to put up with, given the rewards she would reap from playing this game. But a day and a half among the fowl was true misery. Saffron didn’t “do” misery. Misery was for other people. She hadn’t been acting, not completely. When Malcolm Reynolds lifted the lid off that crate, she could have kissed him, she was so grateful. And gratitude toward Malcolm Reynolds—that was not a feeling she wished to have anything to do with, near nor far. Kissing Malcolm Reynolds, on the other hand…
“Hey! Yo-Saff-Bridge! You plannin’ on usin’ up all the water on this boat?” Malcolm Reynolds’s irritated voice was accompanied by banging on the shower door.
“Come on in, sugar,” she called out, adding, “I’m naked.”
The banging stopped.
Keeping the water running, Saffron took the time to secrete several items that she had carried in her clothing in various places in the shower room. This was one of the places on the vessel that she would have regular access to, and it was less likely to be searched for contraband than the room that would serve as her cell. The chicken crate was already loaded with a vast array of tools and toys, many of which were still stowed in their hidden compartments, but she would only be able to access them when she managed to score an unescorted excursion around Serenity. Not that that would be all that difficult. She was really looking forward to playing the game.
“Make yourself decent and come on out.”
Saffron was delighted to find that her…assets…barely fit within the confines of Kaylee’s dress. Another advantage in playing the game. She opened the door suddenly and walked squarely into Mal as he leaned in to begin knocking again.
“Oh! Didn’t expect you to be so…close, sweetie.” She handed her dirty clothing to an astonished Kaylee with a condescending nod. “Search me?” she offered, raising both her hands, which hiked up the dress to show a considerable length of bare thigh. An embarrassed flush rose in Mal’s face as he attempted to perform a business-like pat-down in front of his guffawing crew, who, needless to say, had not dispersed to perform their jobs. Saffron assisted by moving slightly so that his hands came into firm contact with her backside.
“You missed a spot,” she hummed, her voice super sexy, as she writhed into him.
Mal removed his hands as if they were burned, but his only response to Saffron was a glare. Zoe hooted with laughter, which earned her a glare. “You’re gonna be cleaning the latrine with your face, you don’t cut that out, Zoe,” he called. “Start walkin’,” he ordered Saffron, and marched her off to the passenger dorm room. “Someone’ll come fetch you for dinner,” he told her, and locked her in.
Saffron didn’t waste any time. As soon as the door was closed, she investigated the room from one wall to another, floor to ceiling. The passenger dorm rooms didn’t have private heads, which was all to the good as far as Saffron was concerned. The nearest head adjoined the shower where she’d hidden her tools, and that meant that she’d have a reason for frequent access.
The room itself had potential. The walls were a lightweight paneling, as was the ceiling, and as she stood on the bed running her fingers over the surface, she detected a break in the ceiling panel. With a little work, she decided, she could work it loose. Going over the details of the late model 03 Firefly in her head, she planned her next move.
With a satisfied smile, she lay back on the bed and stretched out to her full length for the first time in a day and a half. Inspector 代號 Dài Hào was an ass. And his aptly named minion Pugh was even stupider. Of all the asinine, 缺心少肺 quēxīnshǎofèi, 白目的 báimùde, 愚不可及 yúbùkějí modes of entry, they had to think of stowing aboard inside a chicken crate. A chicken crate! Filled with actual live, beady-eyed, clucking, pecking, pooping fowls. And the smell!
The first evening wasn’t so bad. The hens’ water container was still full, and they had plenty of chicken scratch to find and eat. The fearful ones kept aloof, while the curious ones came over to check her out. Although some had tried to pluck at her hair, and a few explored her arms and legs with their beaks, most just gave her that one-eyed chicken-y stare and scratched around among the straw. With the onset of nighttime, the birds had all settled down, and the worst she’d had to endure was having a dozen hens snuggled up next to her like so many loaves of bread, sleeping with their heads scrunched down and their eyes closed, making occasional muttering sounds.
But when day dawned (or rather, when the lights came up as the ship’s day cycle began), it was a different matter entirely. The chickens soon scratched out all the good things to eat, and her freckles and birthmarks began to attract much more unwanted attention. The 愚蠢 yúchǔn birds thought the marks were bugs, and found them irresistibly attractive. (Saffron was used to being considered attractive, but she had no desire to be considered attractive because someone thought there were insects crawling over her skin.) Saffron discovered that the term “bird brain” was no exaggeration—to her very great dismay, as the same bird pecked at the same freckle over and over and over again, only to discover each time (and forget two seconds later) that it was not a delicious tick. The chickens became more aggressive in their search for food as the day wore on, pulling her hair, fluttering onto her shoulders, arms and legs, and pooping—pooping!—on her. It was intolerable. Luckily, when the water ran out, they began to wilt a bit, and were not quite so active. But by that time the straw bedding was completely filthy, and she discovered to her very great chagrin that the phrase “fouling your own nest” was not just an idle expression.
Saffron wasn’t one to get angry with herself. But she did regret that she’d been fool enough to let that 傻瓜 shǎguā Inspector 代號 Dài Hào talk her into it. It was a mode of entry that was really beneath her. A goddess didn’t arrive on the scene in a chicken crate. A chicken crate was way too déclassé. A goddess came down from the sky. Dea ex machina. She’d suggested the apple crate as a better mode of entry, but unfortunately the crate wasn’t big enough. Too bad. It would’ve been more fitting. What begins with a crate of apples, will end with a Trojan horse. What begins with a crate of chickens…ends in fowl play. Do not cluck with me….She shook herself. The time in that ungodly hell of a chicken crate was really affecting her brain.
馒头 mántóu [steamed buns (boobs)]
混蛋 húndàn [bastard]
你是公共汽車 Nǐ shì gōng gòng qì chē [Slut (lit., “You’re a public bus,” i.e. “You get around, and everyone has had a ride”)]
爱人 Àiren [Spouse, Lover]
泼妇 pōfù [shrew, bitch]
狐狸精 húli jīng [fox spirit, idiom for “overly seductive woman”]
代號 Dài Hào [code name]
缺心少肺 quēxīnshǎofèi [brainless]
白目的 báimùde [moronic]
愚不可及 yúbùkějí [impossibly stupid]
愚蠢 yúchǔn [silly, stupid]
傻瓜 shǎguā [idiot]
代號 Dài Hào [code name]
Dea ex machina [Goddess from the machine (Latin)]
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