thewarbingminstrel: (Firefly)
[personal profile] thewarbingminstrel
Okay. Here it is. My firefly fanfic in all of its glory. Read it, love it, tell me what you think of it.

Above all remember: I am not Joss Whedon. I am nothing more then a humble fan following in the universe he created.



Affinity.

“Captain.”

“Yes, Zoe?”

“You do realize that we are being followed, right?”

“It came to my attention, yes.”

“Anything you plan on doing about it?”

Captain took what was very similar to a double take. “I thought I was.”

I watched Zoe’s face cringe up in slight annoyance. She didn’t show emotion very often. Unless it was apropos to the situation. This must have been serious enough for her countenance to break like that.

“You could make a better effort at losing them, sir.” Zoe’s stance stiffened even as her tone stayed even.

“You act like we ain’t never had run-in’s on Beylix before.”

“No, sir. We’ve had too many to count. Startin’ to make a bad rep for ourselves around port.”

Malcolm laughed heartlessly. “A bad rep?” he repeated back at her. “We’re a ton more pretty then half the feh wu step on that moon.”

“I’m not arguing motives, I’m arguing altercations.”

“If you ask me, it’s a hard thing to avoid when you lead the lifestyle we’ve chosen.” Mal straightened his spine and took a few steps closer to Zoe. “And you know better then most. I can‘t have you softening on me, you‘re too valuable ‘a crew member.”

“I realize that, sir.” Zoe’s eyes flitted back to the beeping monitors. “They’re hailing us.”

“And?”

“I was under the impression that we were giving them the slip.”

“Might do,” Mal seemed mildly interested in the situation. “On second thought, they may be useful.”

“How do you mean, sir?”

“Well, we got what they’re after don’t we? Shiny little deal we made down on Beylix, even though we were just in the market for fixin’ Serenity. If this is the crew that old crony was warnin’ us about, well, we may be in the way to make us a profit.”

“Or further trouble.”

“Its crossed my mind. But can’t exactly pass up the chance for hard coin simply from bein’ cautious. These men may be less then honorable, I‘ll give you that. But that ain’t never exactly stopped us before has it? Oh we‘ll give ‘em the old hornswaggle, and if they want the loot bad ‘nough then they‘ll be willing to pay. You can‘t deny we could use the pay.”

“I cannot disagree with you, sir.”

“Then why are you?”

Zoe’s eyes cut to me. I thought I’d been hiding just fine crotched down by the Pilot’s seat, but apparently I was wrong. Her jaw tightened and she looked back to Mal.

“Little trouble maker.” Malcolm walked over to the seat and peered down at me. “Git from there. Ma shong.”

Even though I was being reprimanded, I wasn’t afraid of him. Most of the crew knew that the Captain could be more bark then bite. Even if he didn’t like admitting it. No, I was more afraid of the woman staring me down. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she did not look happy about my eavesdropping. Not even amused by it.

I was all knees and elbows, and a lot of long curly hair, but I managed to dislodge myself. I crawled from my hiding place and stood in front of Mal. He pushed me by my shoulders in Zoe’s direction, but kept a sturdy grip on me.

“Now I see why you’re so crazy.”

“It’s a good reason to be, sir.”

“I get it, Zoe. I just didn‘t know the little runt was about.” Mal turned his attention back to me. “How long were you under there Shao Jeh?

I wasn’t going to say anything at first, but the second-in-command gave me a stern look, and I answered quickly. “Since you first came in.” My shoulders sank solemnly.

“What were you doing?”

I held up the two dinosaurs I was holding in my hands. One was a stegosaurus, the other a tyrannosaurus rex. “Playin’.”

“How many times have you been told not to play in here?”

Too many times, and they both knew it. But they could probably guess it wouldn’t be the last time I heard the speech.

“Haven‘t we made up a nice little play timin’ area for you and the other rat?” Mal continued. “Zoe, I’m beginning’ to think our generosity ain’t bein’ appreciated.”

“Maybe that’s because it’s in the galley, sir.” Zoe pointed out.

Mal got defensive. “This ain’t a nursery.”

“Are we in danger again?” I changed the subject, since there were very few ways to save my hide right now.

“Are we, sir?” Zoe relayed the urgency of the situation, as if he didn’t get why she was so upset in the first place.

Mal looked annoyed that both of the females in the room were now eyeing him. He held his hands high. “Hey! Stop lookin’ at me like that! I‘m going to handle it.”

“Sooner would be better then later.”

No one else in the ‘verse could get away with talking to Malcolm Reynolds like that on his own boat. No one.

Mal walked over to the controls to send a wave just as Jayne walked on the bridge. The lummox of the ship, and hired muscle. He was shirtless and polishing his beloved gun, Vera.

“What’s all the fuss up here?”

Zoe walked over to me and covered my eyes with her hand. I still manage to peek through her fingers, however, and when she heard me giggle she sighed in annoyance and gave up protecting me. Damage done, might as well tack it up on the list. “Your charm knows no bounds,” she growled at Jayne.

Jayne didn’t get her meaning at first, then slowly came to realize that he was half dressed. He grunted in nonchalance. “Nothin’ nobody ain’t seen before.”

“But somethin’ some of us shouldn’t wanna see a second time around.” She pulled me closer against the strength of her legs, and I stopped laughing. I was already in deep trouble, might as well not worsen it.

“We’re being hailed by some kindly folk, wanna do some trade,” Mal called over his shoulder to Jayne. “Nothin’ too dangerous or scary like.”

The Captain was cleaning up his talk for my sake, but it was too late for that. I knew the trouble we might be in. Seen it too many times before, as Zoe had said. This wasn’t the life she really wanted for me, but it was one she couldn’t escape. This was the life she had been born into, and thus was the same with me. The former wasn’t something that she had planned, but had happened nonetheless.

One of the main problems was, I found it all exciting. She didn’t like that either.

“If that’s the case, then why all the ornery behavior?”

“Zoe and I had a disagreement about the nature of our soon-to-be guests.”

“Well, ain’t that shiny.” Jayne hiked Vera up higher on his shoulder and waggled his brows at me. “Its always nice to have company. Hopefully more peach then sausage.”

Zoe glowered at Jayne.

“We’re having guests?” Kaylee, the ships mechanic, waltzed up on the bridge with her always bright smile and sunny disposition. “Right now?”

“Nothing warmly welcomed.” Zoe murmured in her direction. “I think we need to put the goods away.”

Kaylee nodded once, getting the second’s meaning, and stooped down to look at my level. “You heard the woman, Finy. Off with you.”

I pouted and bounced a little. “Can’t I stay and watch? Just this once?”

I looked up to Zoe and got my answer. Not a chance in hell. “Why do we hide?” She asked.

“To stay safe,” I answered obediently.

“What do you do when you get there?”

“Don’t move, keep quiet.”

“And when can you come out?”

“When one of the crew comes for me, and not a moment sooner.”

Appeased with my answers, Zoe did not give much praise away. That was what I was supposed to do, and I would get no rewards for knowing it. She did, though, bend down and kiss my forehead. “Get Hale. And the two of you stay put. Someone will get you when this is all over.”

“Will it be you?” I asked her every time she ordered me into hiding. And I always got the same, fervent answer.

“It’ll be me.”

Since that was always the case, I trusted it with all my heart could bleed into giving. I ran in the direction of the stock room that I knew Hale liked to read in. We had to find a cranny to get behind and stay behind. It was better this way, so that everyone on the ship had one less thing to worry over. The tactic could mean the difference from getting kidnapped for leverage or sell. Or worse then that still.

Killed.

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Recollections of growing up on board Serenity were thoughts that clouded my dreams every night. Only occasionally would I dream of something that wasn’t a memory. There were so many good ones, so many sweet ones. From the times the crew prospered from the jobs they took, the merry games aboard the ship, even the crass jokes. And then there were the darker ones, where things didn’t go smooth. Those memories were locked tight in my brainpan as well, couldn’t be avoided. But at the same time, I didn’t want to avoid them. It was all a part of my life. No use in acting like it never happened. And no use in not taking the lessons where they came.

It was early as I lay in my bunk staring at the expanse of ceiling hovering above me. Some instinct told me to be up and alert. I wasn’t one to ignore my instincts. So with a halfhearted grimace I crawled upright and rubbed at my eyes. Sighing with frustration at the long unruly hair in my face, I took the time and secured it in a long braid that coiled around my neck and to the valley of my chest. Then I drew a tight white shirt over my bare form.

It was that moment that the speaker above my desk went off.

“Affinity. You have a wave.”

See? Instincts. Or maybe it was just that every morning around this time I was disturbed.

“Send it on through.”

The monitor below the speaker flickered on and Zoe’s face stared back at me. I gave a small smile and a finger wave to the camera, trying to hide how tired I still was.

“You’re still abed?”

“Always around this time.” I straightened up and tried to seem pleasant. “You’re looking well.”

“Resting properly will do that to you.”

“I get plenty of rest.”

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you about lying?”

“There may have been a lesson or two about the dynamics of it, sure.”

Zoe’s eyes shifted to something behind me. “Is that someone in your bunk?”

I chose not to answer her question. “What do you want, mom?”

Her eyes were sharp at me. “Affy. I’ve been hearing a lot about how you’re doing lately, and none of it comes from you.”

“Rumors.”

“Rumors hold weight.”

Something she knew better then I did. “Who are you going to believe?” I tried to bat my lashes, but its not like I was fooling her.

“Affinity. Just because you grew up on a ship doesn’t mean you need to carry on the life I’ve led.”

“I didn’t think you were charting a course for my life to take.”

“That wasn’t my intention. Yet if it were, who better to put you in your place? I want you safe. That clouds my motives a tad.”

“I’m safe as a caterpillar in its shell. But in the case that I weren’t, its not like you need to worry.”

“That‘s like telling rain to be dry.”

I caught her meaning. I looked down for a moment, then back. “You’re not going to bury me too, mom.”

Zoe might have stiffened, but I didn’t see it on the camera. Her eyes continued to blaze at me. “I wouldn’t mind a visit from my only child now and then.”

“I’ll let her know when I see her.”

“I love you, Affinity.”

“Love you back, mom.”

The screen went black, and I took a long stretch. Talking to my mother was always slightly reminiscent to an interrogation. I knew she didn’t mean for it to be, but the woman could be intimidating. She’d had practice.

“You know why you make her so angry.”

I looked over my shoulder to the turned back in my bed. The strong form of the man I had taken in as lover and crew was a welcome sight. But his listening in on my conversation with my mother was not.

“Well you’ve known her all your life too. You know its not hard to make her angry.” I made light of the situation with a shrug.

“That’s not what I mean.”

I stood up to grab my nearby pants and hiked them over my hips. “When did the announcement go out ‘bout me taking advice from naked people?” Or from anyone, for that matter?

He sat up in bed with a disgruntled look on his face. “I would be in my own bunk had you not dragged me in here last night.”

“Not the point.”

Hale chewed the corner of his cheek with what looked like annoyance. “Its your manners. You know who you act like.”

I squared my shoulders and gave him a frown. But instead of saying anything at first, I walked over to my mini sink area and pulled out my toothbrush and paste. “You know, some women wouldn’t like being compared to a man.”

I didn’t talk until my mouth was full of the minty foam. Very lady like, I should think.

“However,” I continued. “Why would my mother dislike me takin’ after Mal Reynolds? He is a great Captain, she is still under his employ. To me, that says a lot.”

“Just because she works with him doesn’t mean she wants her daughter to live under his every example.”

“That’s not very fair.” I paused to spit, then began to brush again. “I don’t follow his every example. I sit instead of stand in the toilet.”

Hale grunted. “Its all very understandable. He was your main father figure.”

The topic of father’s was a touchy one for me. And he knew it. “It might be in your best interest to bi jweh right about now.”

“For all your tough acts, you really are rather sensitive, aren’t you?”

Hale didn’t say much after that. He stood up and got his own clothes on. Hale usually dressed in button down shirts and denim pants. He chose thick sturdy boots for ease and protection.

I waited until he was fully dressed, then looked back at him. He was a big man looking a lot like a combination of his father, the good doctor, and his mother the mechanic. He had his father’s strong jaw but his mother’s soft cheeks and mouth. His hair was sandy and his eyebrows bushy. His body was hard and muscled, and his mind was sharp. My attraction to him was based more on his body then his brains.

I spit the rest of the mint from my mouth, then turned to face him. My arms crossed over my chest as I watched him leave my quarters without another word.

I had to uncomplicated my life, and fast. But considering the profession I had chosen, that most likely would be a long task ‘a comin’. When it came to Hale, though, I had a better handle on things. He was far from a new problem. No, we’d been at this dance for quite some time. Since we were teens.

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Serenity was banked up at port in Greenleaf. The planet was mostly jungle, and considering its rare species of plant and animal life it was prime for smuggling of drugs and other legal/not so legal paraphernalia. But exploring was out of the question. It was also crawling with alliance, and Mal made it entirely too clear that if I or Hale decided to have our own adventure off ship he would tan our hides with something large and heavy.

The threat was more directed at me then at goody-two-shoes Hale. At the time, he wouldn’t dare cross Mal in any insubordinate fashion. He was not close to growing into his muscles yet, still a soft and young sixteen year old. Also, Simon had instilled a strong will into him. A will of obedience and discipline and things of that nature. Hale did not want to disobey his father, either.

Me? Well, Zoe only had to look at me once to let me know what was in store should I hie off on my own. But I was far from rebelling at the notion. No, the only way I would go off to see the wild jungles was if Hale went with me. But he wouldn’t. So I couldn’t even have the pleasure of not listening. I was stuck.

The crew decided we would be safe mostly on our own, leaving River and Inara with us on board. If anyone came poking around and saw a state official there, with River dressed as her bodyguard, they wouldn’t think twice of giving them trouble. That left us kids relatively on our own.

I was seated at the helm of the ship, my legs tossed one atop the other on the console, chewing my lip and staring off into space. The port we landed in was a beautiful array of color and shocking beauty. I could only imagine what goods lay in store further into the towns. Things for sale, things for trade, delicious, exotic foods, strange foreigners with strange customs, animals running amok. My imagination was teeming with things not seen.

It occurred to me that I had never gotten to run through any trees, not once. And the thoughts of doing so were crippling me with want. I could imagine my arms thrust out as I touched the fronds with my fingertips. The rush of hot, musty air filling my lungs, a sudden rain dampening my freed hair and clothing, mud trekking its way along my pants…

But no. Not only was I sitting on the boat, I was sitting on the boat bored to death. And all while my mother and her crew were off having yet another exciting day. Sure, it was excitement they felt they could do without, but what about me?

Desperate for a taste of the world, I abruptly rose from my seat and headed off to find Hale. He just had to understand where I was coming from, right? If he just heard me out, we could sneak passed Inara and be in the thicket of trees before she even thought of pursuing us. We could take off and find a waterfall somewhere, dive in and find caves with pretties all along the walls. We could climb trees and catch monkeys-

“No.”

I stomped in anger when Hale gave me his answer. He was curled up on top his bunk with a large book in front of him. His eyes didn’t even dart off of the page to look at me.

“Oh, come on!”

“No.” He repeated himself. “Its not a good idea, Fin.”

“So what’s a better idea? Staying in and ignoring the beautiful planet we’re on?”

“A better idea is doing what we’ve been told.”

Bei bi shiou ren!

“That’s a heap more elegant then half the other things you’ve called me.”

Damn. I had been hoping to spur him with making him feel cowardly. I didn’t have many options left.

“Hale, what’s so nice about following the rules all the time? Especially when it keeps you from livin’?”

“Rules are there for a reason.”

I rolled my eyes at him dramatically. “A edict you intend to live your life by?”

“An edict. And yes, as much as possible with this outlaw upbringing we‘ve been entitled to.”

“You’re even more boring then your father. At least he is a doctor.”

“My father is the one who taught me the downfalls of conformity.”

“And even he is out with Mal this very second!”

“Only because he was ordered to be. And because whatever work the Captain has will benefit the ship and keep us fed. All you want to do is cause trouble.”

“No, all I want to do is have some fun.” I paced by his doorway, intent on my mission. “Last chance. I’m going with or without you.”

Hale dropped his book to his lap. “You wouldn’t.”

“I will. Come on, think about it. We can go find rare flowers to pick, or somewhere to hike, or go skinny dippin’, or catch a parrot. We could even find a-”

“Skinny dipping?”

I rose a brow at him. “That caught your attention, did it?”

His thick brow lowered as he peered at me. “You actually mean…naked?”

“Yeah.”

“Where did you even hear about something like that?”

“Jayne mentioned it before.” Jayne made everything sound fun, especially if there was a little danger involved. Or nakedness. “You swim in the buff in fresh water. Don‘t that sound like somethin’ to take a risk for?”

“Why would you get naked in front of me?”

“I ain’t really shy,” I assured him. “Anyhow, you’ll be naked too.”

Hale’s cheeks lit up red, and I tried not to laugh at him. He was too innocent. Something about that was endearing. Hale was the only friend I had, the only one my age anyway, and he was damn near family. Why would he be embarrassed to swim with me?

Sneaking off of the ship was too easy. River and Inara were playing some card game, and they weren’t even in the way of the exit like I suspected they would be. If they suspected me, they didn’t make a peep as I crawled animal like so as not to be seen.

I was running through the trees before my heartbeat had time to catch up and accelerate. My hands hit every branch and bramble, which turned out not to be as pleasant as I’d previously thought it would. But I was free. And my oh my, did it taste sweet.

I was running so fast and for so long that it took me a minute to hear the footsteps behind me. I stopped hard in my tracks and turned around, my nose meeting Hale’s.

“What on earth did you-”

“Same as you. I cannot believe you left the ship. Do you know what your mother is going to do to you?”

“Not a lick. I plan on snaking back there before she finds out I’m gone.”

“Aunt River knows. She was muttering something to herself about shadows not being as stealthy as wind when I followed you.”

“Gorrammit!”

“Yes. But she didn’t stop me. Or tip off Inara.”

A part of me hated that the crew left over on the ship might be blamed for our effortless escape. On the other hand, we were out. Why go back now?

I shrugged. “Oh well. Come on.”

Hale and I hiked for nearly two hours before we found a running pool of water. The rush of a waterfall could be heard far off, but the cool stream beaconed. The swarthy heat was taking its toll, and I just wanted to get to the swimming part already.

It didn’t look like Hale was eager to take off his clothing, but I had my pants off so fast it was almost a blur. The rest of my clothing was off just as quick, so I dove in the cool water within the next moment without wasting anymore time.

The water was a mix of cool and warm fronts. The surface held warmth from the humid jungle, but the depths were more and more frigid. I headed for the surface before exploring too much.

I came up quickly with a gasp of air and a smile, my hair plastered to my face. Jayne turned out to be right. “Oh, this is fun.”

Hale had his shirt off, but he was still on the bank looking unsure. “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Sure you can. Just lose the pants and jump in.”

The high blush he’d had earlier was even more pronounced. “Look, I only came to make sure that you wouldn’t get hurt. Or lost. I had no intention-”

Bi jweh, you baby, and get in the water!”

It took nearly ten minutes for Hale to get in. And when he finally did, his pants were still around his hips.

I laughed in his face when he rose for air. “You only committed halfway.”

“I don’t mind wet pants.”

I laughed again and started to tell a crude joke, but Hale cut me off by putting a finger to my lips. “You got me in here. Let that be enough.”

Something changed from that small contact. I didn’t know what then. I didn’t understand how something so small could turn the tables. A lightening strike blazed from his touch to every newly budding hormone in my body. It was scary, and exciting. I licked my lips nervously, all before he had a chance to pull back his finger. His eyes went dark, and his blush stretched down to the pale of his neck.

That was the very moment that I stopped looking at Hale as some gangly kid aboard the ship.

Hale floated a little bit out of my reach and frowned at me. “Are you okay?” His voice trembled.

I didn’t have time to answer him. That was the moment that the mule crashed into the clearing. And even dunking our heads beneath the water didn’t save us.

The last thing I saw before I dove deep was Zoe’s face. If looks could kill…I wouldn’t be here today.

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It doesn’t look good when the rest of the ship is up before the Captain. Then again, anyone made a smart comment about it they would be limping for the rest of the day. I felt haggard. I’d cleaned up as best I could and looked as presentable as I was going to be. My clothing consisted of slightly baggy black cargo pants, the white shirt from earlier, and a black vest. It was comfortable without being restricting. All my clothing was of similar style.

I was passing Hale on my way to the bridge. He avoided my gaze and started to head on to his duties.

“Mighty fine morning, isn’t it Hale?” I stopped right in front of him, arms crossed.

“Sure it is, Cap.”

“What’s your rush?”

Hale finally looked at me, and when he did his eyes held a lot of pain. That pain could have been me, since he was also looking highly irritated.

“I have to do a diagnostic in the engine room.”

“I just don’t understand what has you so cold to me.” It was said in a harsh tone, but it was a question all the same. Even as I was planning on ending…whatever Hale and I were to each other, I had to be the one to do it first.

He just walked away again. But before he was out of ear shot, he turned slightly and sighed. “Fin. To me, you’ll always been that brown eyed girl forcing me to live in ways I never did want. And I’ll always be there for that girl. But as for us? I can’t take the theatrics any longer.”

My jaw clenched and I straightened my spine. “Well then, I guess that’s that.”

Since I’d gotten the last word, I turned and continued on my way. The problem was, deep down I knew this dance wasn’t over. And so did he.

I made it to the helm to see my pilot seated there. Gordon Case. The best damn pilot I had ever met. I don’t know where he came from, or why he had chosen to sail with my crew when plenty of opportunities were sweeter for a man of his skill, but I knew I did not regret his company. He kept a lot about him secret. I knew he was ex military, and I guessed that he grew up on a core planet. However, he had a certain lifestyle that screamed Laisseiz-Faire. And that contradicted his former, and what I supposed, Alliance friendly lifestyle.

What wasn’t secret was his looks. It got him attention, which is why for covert missions I liked him to stay aboard the ship. He wasn’t very tall, but men didn’t always need height to capture a woman’s interest. Dark hair, dark eyes, firm, light tan form, and a megawatt smile. He was trouble. But he’d had yet to trouble me, so I didn’t mind. As for his clothing, Case usually wore something comfy looking. Tank top shirts for when he got too warm, loose trousers for easy movement.

“Afternoon, Cap.”

Morning, Case.”

“Didn’t mean to interrupt you with that wave.”

“Nonsense, you do it every day.”

“Well, its your mother. She’s…”

“Scary?”

“Some form of frightening nature, yes.”

“The woman has led a hard life. It makes you solid.”

“Its also like seeing you in the future.”

I rose a brow. “I’ve heard it before.”

“Nothin’ to be ashamed of,” Case shrugged his shoulders. “The lady is handsome. Very handsome indeed. You’ll be just as appealing. Slightly lighter skin, but the same bodacious curves-”

“You have a real knack for drawing women with words.”

“Did I cross a line somewhere between handsome and bodacious?”

“No, just….no need to compare us any further.” I squinted at the monitors. “What am I looking at?”

“Sihnon.”

“Right…” I leaned my elbows onto the back of his chair. “Its hard to believe that Romana Maria would be on such a moon.”

“Our purveyor is a classy lady. Why not?”

“Well, when it comes to Sihnon, I think of a different kind of folk.”

“Right, someone part of your mother’s crew was raised there.”

“I don’t think you could consider her one of the crew. She was more…a commodity. Anyhow. Send a wave to Romana. Let her know we‘ll be meeting with her after we make berth.”

“Right-o, Cap.”

“We’re ‘bout to land?”

The new voice was that of Katherine Blacklott. My heavy weight champ of the ship. Katherine was built like a tank. Hefty form housing muscles, yet she stood at an average height. Her long hair was dyed a sharp red and kept in a severe bun. Her weapons of choice were dual pistols kept in holsters on each side of her hips that seemingly never left her hold. She talked about as pretty as I did, which meant she had no manners. The fanciest I had ever seen her get was when she sweet talked a man into giving up his long range Mauler machine gun into her hold without more then a bit of a pout. She possessed a talent that I didn’t have, which is why she was on my crew. Didn’t know much about her past, but that so far was never really a priority on this boat. I knew she came from St. Albans, a hard place where if you mess with one you mess with the whole gorram planet. The place was built for hardy people, and no one I knew was as hardy as Katherine.

“Almost,” Case called over his shoulder, fiddling with the controls. “We’ll break in ‘atmo in about ten minutes or so.”

“Good. I got an empty purse need coin in it.”

“No need for the fuss, Champ,” I waved my hand. “We’ll all be the richer soon enough.”

“Just airin’ the concern, Cap. That last salvage weren‘t the most legal we‘ve done.”

“But Romana will scalp it easy. Its her territory, after all.”

“I was more concerned about the giant box going boom from all the ’splosive in it,” Case inputted without a hint of nervousness to his tone.

“That more than like wouldn’t have happened,” I assured him. “Its frozen solid in those airless lock boxes.”

“More than like?” he repeated. “You didn’t know the chances? Or if the liquid could freeze in the first place?”

He sounded incredulous, as if this were the first time I took cargo that I knew nothing about.

“It weren’t my area of expertise, no…” I shook my head from side to side, weighing my answer. “But the fellow who entrusted it into our care seemed mighty certain that we wouldn’t be in no terrible danger.”

“Its water under the bridge,” Hale said as he walked up to us, speaking up as the second-in-command. “We’re at Sihnon now.”

“Just surprised by our ever-so-knowledgeable Captain.”

“As always,” I beamed at Case and batted my lashes, then looked over to Katherine. “You weren’t worried, were you?”

“I was certain that should anything happen you would burn to death first, since you’re the one always getting us into trouble. That comforted me.”

I threw my hands in the air. “Lord, send me a new crew. And fast.”

“He may be unpredictable, but I don’t think he’s crazy enough to do that.” Hale interjected with what could have been interpreted as jest.

Where is the loyalty when you need it?

“How’s her power?” I asked instead.

Chunjing is running strong. No worries there.”

“Lets keep it that way,” I ordered. “If we fall out of the sky, I’m blaming you.”

“You blame me for everything.”

“Maybe you’re just an easy punching bag?” Katherine suggested.

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Chunjing. Purity. A Walker model. It was really just a heap of junk with a made up classification, but Hale and I had a fondness for junk. The truth of it was we were used to flying in the unexpected, and we did not want what everyone else already had. So we went with what was the closest to home that we could find.

It had more advance systems then Serenity did. High tech artillery with automatic targeting and a systemic collision avoidance. Two things we weren’t entirely experienced with. But something we would quickly learn. She was a gas guzzler though. Something that needed constant attention. Well, that was not a problem with us. Serenity had been much the same. The dealer was so surprised with how hard we worked to pay the damn thing off he cut the price nearly in half. He felt that anyone who haggled for an unnamed model must be crazy, and he didn’t want crazy people in his establishment for too long a time.

We added our own taste to it over time. New paint. Extenders. And a grappling harpoon gun.

You see, Hale and I had this crazy idea. An idea so crazy we didn‘t want to talk about it to anyone, not even our parents. Since we watched the sometimes heated exchanges of our parents and fancied them as heroics, we decided to carry on their names as such. We had a plan and we were locked, loaded, and ready to go.

“Lets get us some reavers,” I smiled at Hale.

His look was tinged with that of someone pretty uncertain, but he did not look any less excited then I did. It was a first for both of us. Finally, at long last, we were on the same page.

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Romana Maria had an enormous antique shop. It was well away from any of the other flashies in town, but hers was an exceptional establishment of respect and deceit alike. The pretty lawn before the steps ascending to the front door was littered with primrose, heather, and lilacs. The small shop door has silver bells that chime melodiously in time with the over head classical themes flowing from the speakers. Inside there are marble lawn ornaments, ming vases, jewelry and jewelry holders, older then old instruments, gilded mirrors, large portraits of flowers, old figures, and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

We always took the back way. No need to disturb whatever customers she had with the riffraff we offered. The back way was a lot less formal then the front door. Just a gate with a personal entry code to identify her smugglers and a stone walkway to an enclosed waiting area. Beside the fluffy furniture and small table with teas and cheeses was an overlarge, dark skinned bodyguard called Mercury. Mess with him, you’ll lose a limb.

Romana chooses her clients, but that doesn’t mean she trusts them always.

Hale and Katherine carried the goods with easy hands, and I used my free ones to bid hello to the able body guard.

“Afternoon, Mercury,” I greeted him with a half smile.

“Affinity.” Mercury had a voice that was so deep it near quaked the earth beneath us. “Romana Maria will be with you shortly.”

Its what he was instructed to say, and he said no more then that.

Katherine, Hale, and I sat on the treasure that Romana called furniture and sunk into the cushions. Really, my bunk wasn’t nearly as soft as her seats.

We were seated for no longer then ten minutes when Romana Maria came out to greet us and welcome us into her personal office. “Affinity Washburne. Please, come in.”

Romana Maria had an accent I couldn’t place and a style that could not be matched. This diminutive, eccentric woman possessed a mane of downy cherry-blonde hair, startling grey-blue eyes, and a sardonic smile that could not be reciprocated no matter how long you tried. Her dress was usually long robes with decorative belts and beads. She wore more bracelets then a czar. And she was a traditionalist. She insisted on calling people by their full names, no matter how many times she was asked not to. And should someone call her anything shorter then her full name, well, she took it as a very high insult.

“Please, bring your lackeys inside. And sit, sit.”

We walked into her office and did as she bade, even though we did not plan on being there long. I was sure Romana planned the same thing. She had other customers to see to, and we had other business to attend.

“You look more and more beautiful every time I set my eye on you,” Romana shook her finger as if she were accusing me instead of complimenting me. “A perfect blend of your mother and father.”

It was always odd to meet people who knew my parents, especially my father. But I covered it easily enough in front of others.

“You know,” she continued. “I saw your mother, Zoe Washburne, not more then a week ago. She is very worried about you. Very much.”

The only reason I was allowed admittance into Romana’s company was because she knew Mal. She screens her clients fervently and refuses to accept goods from anyone who does not have references from former clients.

“Don’t fret, Romana Maria. I talked to her this morning. Every morning, to be precise.”

“Yes, but you must not be saying much. Whatever you are up to, she will find out. And I would not want to be on the bad side of Zoe Washburne.”

“Neither would I. Which is why I am being a good girl. Now, Romana Maria, I have something for you, something you personally requested.”

Romana clapped her hands together. “Ah yes! The tick-tock juice!”

I nodded and looked at Katherine. She and Hale leaned down to pick up the overlarge crate they had carted in and set it on a nearby table. Romana walked from her desk to the table and punched in the code I told her. The top opened with a whoosh and a freezing cold cloud puffed out of the large opening.

“Liquid nitrogen. Scary stuff. And will fetch a good price to those who can pay.” Romana looked pleased with what I had made available to her. “Have you had others interested in the contents of this box?”

“A few prospects, yes, but none offered the anonymity that you do.”

“Or the price, I am guessing?”

“That too.”

Romana closed the lid with a smile. “We have a deal, Affinity Washburne.”

I knew that when we had flew in. It just felt nice to hear it out loud.

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We walked back to Chunjing with heavy purses and a feeling of accomplishment. Which was ridiculous because what we’d just accomplished was very frowned upon. However it got us coin and coin was what we needed. Especially in the straits we were currently in. None of what we sought had been spied for near a month, and since reavers made us the most money that was what we vied for. But it wasn’t anything steady or reliable, so other missions were in order.

We reached our port and walked up to the ship, seeing Vanya Motts on guard at the opening. Vanya was standard muscle, tight lipped and stoic. She was of Russian decent so she tak-ed liek dis. Da, darling. Her build was tall and slender, statuesque. Her dark hair was usually straight and in a high pony tail, her eyes were liquid blue and hidden behind small spectacles, and her stare could freeze a man solid. Her clothing was usually tight and were bland colors that didn’t stand out like beiges and browns, sometimes maroons and blacks. But she stood out anyway. Always on her shoulder was a high fire Grizzly GRZ 3 gatling weapon. I liked and feared her.

But she was loyal. And she was crew. Her family lived on a core planet and didn’t hurt for money. She’d been through lots of vigorous schooling, but didn’t find high class society too big on her liking list and set out for her own lessons. Some had done her good, some hadn’t. But it all led her to my ship. And I didn’t think she was too unhappy. Even if she never talked to me about it.

“Ist ze mission completed?” her accent was fairly thick, when she chose to talk, and sometimes it took me a minute to interpret her vowels.

“Do you see a crate?” Katherine answered haughtily before I had a chance.

If Vanya was famous for anything, it was for keeping her cool. She looked at Katherine like she was a fly and then looked back to me, awaiting my answer.

I shook a fat purse at her. “We made a deal, and the earnings were generous. We‘re still sailing.”

“We would have made more if we’d found an enemy ship,” Katherine put in her two cents.

“Point me in the direction of one, and we will,” I turned to her with a quirked brow. “The skies have been quiet lately. And I can’t say I’m regretting it. Its kind of nice not sticking my neck out every week.”

Katherine was right. Reavers brought in more pay. But we took what we could get. And this was easier for me to handle.

I wasn’t too much in the talking mood so I walked pass my crew, leaving instructions for a small wait. The arrival of one of our passengers was later then I would have liked, but it wasn’t such a problem right now. If we left in a hurry, it might make whatever feds were out there suspicious. Might as well lay low and enjoy the money we had made.

I thought I had been doing nothing but wandering on the ship until I made it to my bunk. Apparently my listlessness had a purpose.

I walked into my disarrayed room and sat on my bed, running my hands over my cheeks. When that didn’t help the weary feeling overpowering me, I moved my fingers to my temples, then my eyes, then my hair. I didn’t know exactly what had me in a grump. It was hard to pinpoint. It could have been lack of sleep. Or my wayward crew. But when my eyes flitted over to my bedside table, I knew what it was.

The picture of the man staring back at me wasn’t a bad one. He had a smile on his face that looked like it had been placed there at birth. His eyes were of a jesting nature, like he never took anything too seriously. His bright hair went with what I could only assume was a bright nature. The shirt he wore was the more glaring of blues and printed with floral patterns that even I didn’t wear. He was looking over his shoulder from the helm of Serenity, a prized seat.

I stared at the man and tried to feel something. Maybe grief over the man I never got to meet. Or adoration for his happy smile. Or even love. Love would have been the nicest. Instead I felt anger. I picked up the frame and held it between tight fingers. Then I voiced aloud something I had thought numerous times but had never said.

“Why do I have to hear from everyone else how wonderful you were? Why couldn’t I find that out MYSELF!”

I heard the last word echo shortly in my room, then it hung in the air like a fog of misery. I frowned for what felt like hours before my face relaxed and I felt nothing but tearing guilt. It wasn’t my father’s fault that he was dead. But I knew whose fault it was. That’s why I hunted them.

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It took Sebastian two hours to make it to the ship. Sebastian Hart was our resident medic, but he was also a registered companion. The man was charming and witty in ways that would be outlawed if it didn’t benefit society in a backwards way. And even though he maintained his clientele, at the same time he managed to be there to patch up any hurt my crew sustained.

He was also a soothing sort of person. Not only was he comforting to those who needed his care, he also offered his services as a whore to the crew. It was something unheard of, for me anyhow. A well off man of his stature could be in the arms of any wealthy heiress or widow the ‘verse had to offer. Instead he chose to extend his services to me and mine.

Well, I did save his life once. But I didn’t ask for all of this in return.

Whenever I saw the companion my gentle sensibilities went aflutter. But no one ever saw it, since I kept it under wraps. His brow was high, his face was round, and it came to an end with his strong chin. Silky golden locks suited him, as did his kind dark eyes. His form was thin, more lithe than brawny. He dressed elegant to complete the picture. A crimson, velvet suit that would have looked flashy and awful on anyone else, but it complimented him. He even had a tiny bowtie.

Sebastian walked an easygoing step up to greet me in the galley. A grin was spread across his ever-so-attractive face.

I was busy fashioning out something edible. I was always hungry after having an emotional wipe-out, and today‘s episode had been a big one.

“Welcome back,” I spoke to him while continuing with my task. “I trust you had a good…stay.”

“Sihnon is a big place with many clientele opportunities. I was very well engaged, thank you.”

I believed it. “So, ready to make it back up to the black? Even after a near week of pleasin’ the rich and powerful, you’re still yearnin’ for more of our reckless way of life?”

“I’m not looking forward to seeing you or any of the crew hurt, by any means. However, I am beginning to suspect your continued vigilante acts against the foulest creatures imaginable are becoming an homage to my healing abilities.”

“If that’s what keeps you aboard my boat, I’m not close to complainin’.”

“Yes, well, it is regarded highly in my book of accolades.”

“As if you need more compliments then you already get.” I finally looked at him and found his light smile contagious. Whenever I saw Sebastian, I was always taken in by how straight his spine was. It was like staring at an old time portrait of some dandy. Only this dandy was a master at martial arts and could take my head off if he so pleased.

“Look, Sebastian, you know I appreciate everything you‘ve-”

He cut me off with a raised hand, knowing what I was about to say. “No need for the lecture. Do you really have the time to look for another medic?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “Not likely, no. But ours is a foolhardy work. I feel the need to remind those on Chunjing just what they’re participatin’ in.”

“We’re all well aware,” Sebastian assured me. He then turned and began to walk toward his shuttle. He had barely turned the corner before Katherine poked her head into the galley.

“He’s back.”

“How observant of you…” I rose a brow at her and took my meal over to the awaiting table.

Katherine could almost be considered a stalker when it came to dealing with Sebastian. Either they would get into rousing arguments about the contrasts between homeopathic and modern day medical treatments, or she would be debating the merits of becoming his first on ship customer. So far the arguing had won out more times then the business exchange.

“He’s far too classy for this ship.” Katherine growled and walked to join me at the table.

“I couldn’t agree more. But he feels indebted to this ship.”

“He feels indebted to YOU.” Katherine frowned like that was my fault. And maybe it was. But can’t undo that what’s been done.

“It don’t matter none why he decides to contribute to the crew, he is valuable. I am thankful for his service. But he has a lifestyle to chose over this one. I just don’t know why he picks ours.”

“Maybe because we do some good?” she guessed. “I don’t imagine sleeping with flippant debutants is as worthy.”

“Worthy, no. But influential. He aint the first to prove that fact.”

Katherine kicked her feet up onto the table when Hale and Shad walked into the room.

Shad Burton was rotund, yet tall as well. He had a crop of reddish brown curls atop his head that were usually more messy then combed. His stance had a slight curve to it, as if he were constantly trying to hide his large frame behind the person in front of him. Shad had a pleasant face with big greenish eyes hidden behind oval spectacles. His nose was straight, his lips plump. His hands were often steepled before his chin, giving away his nervous nature.

But don’t let his shyness fool you. He was the ship’s demolitions expert, though most people would mistake him for an accountant type. His choice of clothing said as much, but if that was on the list of his talents it had yet to come up.

“Cap,” Shad nodded at me, pushed his glasses up on his nose and returned his fingers to their former position below his chin. “I wanted to talk to you about this morning’s wages.”

I tilted my head to the side. “Was there an unfairness to the divisions?”

“Yes, I feel so. You see, Cap, the only thing I did for this mission was help with the storage of the formula. I don‘t think my part in it called for such an excessive amount of money.”

“You don’t want your share?” Katherine clapped her hands together. “Hell, I’ll have a go at it.”

“What would you do with the money?” Hale asked her.

“Purchase a little one on one time,” she muttered to herself, though we all heard it.

I kept my eyes on Shad. “We split the wages the same every time around. You’re plenty useful on this ship. I’ll pay you accordingly every time.”

I could tell that Shad was too reticent to pursue the matter any further, so it ended there. He did blush slightly and then nod, accepting his fate.

“We took a major risk bringing in that cargo. Mayhap not as bad a terror as reavers, but bad enough to warrant a nice salary.” I took a bite of my sitting meal and began to focus on replenishing my appetite.

“And it isn’t very gracious of you, Katherine, to belittle someone’s time on this ship.” Hale did not sound like he was preaching at her, rather like he was surprised with her discourteous remark about taking Shad‘s earnings.

“Come on now, Hale, I was just sayin’. If he is planning on chucking his cash I’m not the only one who would be eager at nabbin’ it.”

“Money isn’t everything.” Hale pointed out.

Shad crept away from the conversation, looking a bit guilty. He hadn’t meant to start a debate, I knew that much. But that was too easy a thing on board my ship.

Katherine frowned. “Of course you think so. Your family is moneyed.”

Hale made a strange face at her, and I knew why. Though the story behind this is a little long.
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It took years for Hale’s father, Simon, to claim his birthright. After being declared a fugitive by the Alliance for saving his sister River, Hale’s father and aunt had been on the run for years. Then even after the massive cover up of Miranda had been exposed, the Alliance managed to make it work in their favor. A memorial day for the lost souls on Miranda was put into effect, and a large bounty was set onto the heads of reavers. As for Simon and River, they were no longer a top priority, but there were those that would still pay money for their capture. They couldn’t go home, and they couldn’t fully redeem their standing in the ‘verse.

That is, until the parents of the Tam’s kicked the bucket.

Poppa Tam didn’t know of Simon’s marriage to someone of little social acceptance, or even that Hale had been born. But he was left with very few options when his wife died and he was diagnosed with something fatal. So instead of letting it all get tied up in the melee of the socialites, he ended up doing the honorable thing and gave it all to his only son. Every penny, every estate. And when you get that rich over night? Well, the brunt of the Alliance backed off.

When Simon came to his old home with his sister, new wife, and child, they became a sensation to the bored dandies of the central planets. Former fugitives with such a large inheritance? Mommas were immediately trying to set up their daughters with Hale. And nobles who had consignments to get off world went to Simon for “advice”.

There were several catches, however. Simon had to hire full time body guards against anyone who sought to bring him or River in. There were secret divisions to be aware of, under cover agents. And the Alliance did not like that Simon and Kaylee would not testify against Malcolm Reynolds or his any crew.

But the officials found it difficult to drag anyone in now that the Tams were a societal hit. They didn’t want to cause anymore fuss. The people enjoyed their core planet lifestyle, however they were now wary of their holy government. Even though all powerful, they still required the support of the rich. The Alliance had to remain on their best behavior, and that meant leaving the Tams alone.

There was also another matter entirely where Malcolm saved this public official from being killed by his psycho ex. The woman, who was considered Mal’s wife due to some strange happenstance, was planning on wiping his accounts clean and then murdering him. The fool had trusted her again even though she had revealed herself to him time and time again. She would have had his head on a platter if it weren’t for Mal saving the day. So Mal got public recognition as someone you could count on, and even managed to scalp a priceless weapon the official had overlooked.

Can’t exactly arrest a hero. Especially without the proper witnesses or proof of the crimes he’s accused of. Well…maybe you can. They could, they ached to, but they wouldn’t. Not with eyes watching. And there were too many. So they smiled at what they considered criminals and are even now awaiting their chance to take them out.

Now do you see why we’re out in the black following the footsteps of our guardians? They managed to spit in the face of the Alliance AND walk away wealthy from it.

My mother, as far as role models go, was a strict one. But loving all the same. She was the one who taught me how to walk a ship with pride and respect. Everything I am, everything I’ve learned, I owe it to her. I never saw Zoe Washburne weak. I was never allowed to.
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“But where are we going?”

“We have to go over here now! You need to meet the rest of the crew!”

“The crew? Will they eat me?”

“Don’t know ‘bout that one. You’ll have to be very quiet around them…”

I was skipping along the ship, walking two toy dinosaurs along the walls of Serenity. I was no more then three years old, so I didn’t know at the time that they were sort of favored figurines of the bridge. I was under the impression that any toys along the ship, be it at the helm or in someone else’s bunk, were up for grabs. And since Hale was taking a nap in the engine room, I was on my own for entertainment. Which wasn’t always a bad thing in those days.

I was going to the galley, where I had more toys to add into my current adventure, when I heard a sniffle. I stopped in the doorway, seeing Zoe sitting at the table. She had a picture that I had seen many times before. The picture of the glowing, golden haired man with the floral shirt. She told me that the man in the frame was my daddy. But I had seen daddies before. Hale’s daddy wasn’t in a frame. Hale’s daddy was in that big room where the needles were that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

How come my daddy was in the frame?

Zoe seemed to be wondering the same thing. Her face was hidden mostly by her hair, but I did see a trail of water falling onto the man in the picture. Her shoulders were shaking a little, and she didn’t seem to notice me there.

I was about to call for her when I felt myself get picked up sideways by large arms. I was down the hall before I had a chance to squeak.

“You can’t bother your momma right now, Shao Jeh.” Mal stooped down to my level and looked at me. “Alright?”

“What’s mommy doing?” I rubbed at my nose a little bit, feeling the onset of a wail for Zoe.

“Your momma is just fine. She just needs a little alone time. And you need a nap.”

My eyes were going watery. I didn’t want to take a nap. I wanted to sit on Zoe’s lap and hear about the floral shirt guy again. I wanted to play with my toys and make them fight each other. I didn’t want to sleep, sleeping was boring.

“Hey, hey,” Mal gave me a goofy smile. “What’s with the water works? I thought you liked me.”

I did like the Captain. He was funny. Sometimes he would scoop me up and put me on his shoulders. And other times he would make engine sounds and swing me by my arms. There were even the occasions when I was in trouble and Zoe punished me, the Captain would give me a piece of candy and tell me to behave myself so I didn‘t get spankings anymore. More then like, I loved the Captain.

“Who are these two guys you found?” Mal asked, pointing to the dinosaurs in my hands.

That distracted me. “Pumpernickel, and Zoom-Zoom.” I answered him, my tears forgotten on my cheeks.

Mal muttered the names under his breath with a short chuckle. “Those are mighty fine names. I know Wash would have liked them.” He picked me up, cradling me, and headed for the bridge. “In fact, let me tell you more about what Wash liked.”

Comforted in his arms, my tired eyes were already drooping when he started talking. I heard maybe the beginning of his grand story before sleep took over, and his words became nothing but foggy dreams in my head.
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I have a lot of misgivings with that man in the picture, the father that was long ago denied me. The man that swept my steely mother off of her feet and made her laugh when she didn’t want to. The man I would have gotten a sense of humor from. I didn’t feel that man anywhere inside of me, and that gave me a complex or two. But the people he had touched in his life, those who knew him best, they were around me all through my growing up. And they assured me that had he the power, he would be around. I would know him if fate hadn’t decided to deal my mother the hardship of being a single mother. Knowing that helped most of the time, when all I felt was bitterness from my daddy issues.

And when I didn’t want to think about it too much, there was always the sky. The sky my father adored so much. The sky that had a hand in his death. The sky that housed the psychotic man eaters who were the other part of his death. The sky that housed the Alliance that overlooked that death. Until I got my due from that sky, I would be flying in it.

The thing to remember is, there is no ease to come from something got stole from me I never had. I was fighting just to fight. But when it really came down to it, that was better then nothing.

To me at least.

“Cap, we all set to take off world?”

I was in the hull, sorting out what’s what with Hale. Hale dragged in the last crate to be organized while I walked over to the intercom.

“Sure are, Case. Lets take to sky in five.”

“Yes, mamm.”

I crossed my arms and watched Hale stand upright to close up the gangway. He walked over to me, standing close enough that I had to look up at him.

“Closed up tight, Fin.”

“Good. Sooner we get to the black, better off we‘ll be.”

He nodded in agreement, then started to walk away. I was in step beside him.

“I’m sorry about earlier.” Hale surprised me with an apology.

I kept my eyes on the walk ahead of us. “I know you are.”

Hale bristled. Whenever he found it in himself to apologize to me, I never returned the favor. It was most of the reason why our partnership had so many hurdles. But I’d already made myself a reputation as a woman who made no apologies. I just kept on the road ahead and didn’t look back. I only looked back in my dreams.

“Finy, do you think you could meet me halfway? Just once in your life?”

“Maybe one day in my life, Hale.” As we turned around the corner toward the helm, I put my arm around his waist and patted his lower back. “But not today.”

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