thewarbingminstrel: (Firefly)
[personal profile] thewarbingminstrel
Here we go! Episode two is finally here! Can you feel the awesome?

Well, tell me if you can after you read it. Tell me what you think!

And remember, I am not Joss Whedon. No, I am but a humble servant.


Sebastian.

Companions are incredibly punctual service providers. When making an appointment with a client part of the package offered, other then discretion, is promptness. So the fact that I am already late to see one of my regulars in Bellevue is nothing to be taken lightly.

I had a good reason for being late. Someone aboard the ship had required the use of my aid. Affinity. She had not been sleeping regularly and that made her an easy mark for catching a small flu. Knowing that she would not have taken care of herself on her own, I had forced a high dosage for 24 hour bugs down her throat, then forced her to bed. And after that I had been bothered into a heated argument with Champ about the use of herbal teas verses medications. All legitimate reasons to be running behind on a honest business venture.

Goodness.

Now I was stuck trying to make myself as presentable as possible. Thankfully, the endeavor is not a difficult feat for me to achieve. My clothing was of the latest stock in fashion and made to fit my form in a perfection that even my tailor didn’t understand. My longish locks had grown recently, giving me a shaggy animalistic look to go along with my precision. The only problem was a whitened scuff on the toe of my boot, so I whipped out my black polish and set to righting it as quickly as possible. I would not tolerate even a minor disruption to my appearance.

A small knock rapped at my shuttle door, and I looked up as Hale peeked his head in.

“Seb. Do you have a minute?”

“Not exactly.” The rush I was in had gravitated to my voice. “I should have left ten minutes ago.”

Hale marginally shuffled from one foot to the other, his gaze directed at the shag of my carpet. “Right. You are a busy man. You have a lot on your plate. I just had a question, but it can wait.”

He looked like a lost puppy. I saw that even as I dabbed at the disappearing abrasion on the toe of my boot. “I am. But, hell, what’s another minute?”

If Hale had anticipated my invitation, he didn’t give it away. He walked in leisurely. His eyes spied the various vignettes dotting my walls. I was certain that he was familiar with them. He and I moved in the same sort of social circles, therefore he must have some semblance of recognition when it came to Monet.

“You know a lot about women.” Hale dove right into the middle of his thoughts. “You’re able to articulate what you mean without…offending them. Or making them wary of your intentions.”

I’d had a ton of practice. “These concerns lay with a woman?”

Hale’s eyes widened into ovals. “Yes,” he emphasized the word with almost jest. “A woman with a past that completely conducts her behavior. She is demanding and tiring, she makes me want to pull my hair out. But I cannot get over her.” He sighed. “I don’t think I want to get over her.”

“You’re far too loyal to ever deny her.” I looked him in the eye, giving him the full of my understanding. At the same time though, I pulled my boot over my foot.

“That’s basically it. I‘ve come to the point where I am ready to give her what she needs, but she‘s not helping me. Whenever I try to talk to her about making our dallying official, she bites my head off. She wont let me honor her the way two people in a relationship are supposed to, yet she also wont let me go.”

I was nodding as I continued to ready myself, giving the impression that I was all ears. I was staring into my full length mirror, making sure all of my finishing touches had been worth the effort.

“It sounds like you are dealing with a devil of a lady. But there are ways to breach the defenses around her headstrong nature.”

Hale didn’t say anything, just stared at me in wait for my expert guidance.

“The best thing to do is make her want you. All of you. Force more of your personality into your lovemaking. Talk to her while you touch her, compliment her, make her feel like a queen. She will end up revering your masculine qualities, and if you do it right, she may end up depending on them.”

“Tempering a woman’s willfulness with sex. Of course you make it sound so easy.” A bitterness took over Hale’s tone.

“It is. The best thing to try, if you can, is refuse her in the bunk. Take away that what she relies on from you in order to clarify the other things you are useful for, where she is concerned. Your relationship will evolve from being nothing but sex to being something more. If that is what you want.”

That last bit seemed to connect to him better then anything else I had said. “I knew you would have the proper solution.” Hale was moving around my vanity, staring at a few of the things propped up there. “You are always so put together.”

“When love is your business, you have to be.”

Hale was picking around a few of my bottled colognes. “Do you mind if-”

“Oh please, whatever you’d like.” I did not look over at him, yet I knew what was going though his mind. It had to be hard standing in my room, gleaning further into my mastery. Perhaps my narcissism would have been a personality disorder had I not become a companion and a doctor. The two gave me the outlet needed for my cocky nature.

Hale thanked me again and left my shuttle. I did not realize the box he had taken was opaque. If I had, I would have insisted that he take a different cologne. But I was in too much of a hurry, and once the doors closed behind him I was underway for the next two days.

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Hale.

Nothing could be more out of custom for me then to go to a Companion for advice about women. Or, rather, advice about Fin. I had been so caught up in my questioning him that I forgot to ask how she was doing. Fin never sleeps. She is always doing something. Its unhealthy. But she had been through this before, and I knew whatever treatments Sebastian gave to her would work. They always did.

Usually when Sebastian is giving counsel he will sit in a high back chair with his fingers steepled before his chin. Occasionally he will nod knowingly, as if everything you’re saying is something he has heard countless times beforehand. His brow is lowered in a serious manner, his tone straightforward, and he will always begin his advice with, “Well, I am glad that you came to me with this…”

In this instance, Seb was obviously incredibly rushed when he talked with me about my misgivings with the Captain, but somehow he still managed to give me something that I could use. I did not want to give too much away about the woman of my nighttime affections, being that Finy would most likely put me in a leg locked choke hold were I to talk about our relationship, but something told me that Seb already knew who I was speaking of.

Well if he knew, he wouldn’t be gossiping with anyone about it. So perhaps I was in the clear on that one.

I sat at the edge of my bunk and stared at the gossamer sheet covering the cologne I had taken from Seb. It had not yet been opened. Scribbled across the glass bottle were the words Enhanced Euphoria Eau De Cologne. The writing was so decorative it was almost difficult to interpret correctly. I lifted the bottle from the bank of the case and the silk of a cover floated off of it and to the floor.

Running my thumb across the bottle, I stared at it. In my experience with colognes in the past, once you took them out of their coverings they immediately wafted the room in a pungent, almost crippling, aroma. This one didn’t even have the faintest of smells lifting from the package. All I smelled was plastic from the bindings.

Using cologne wasn’t a habit that I planned on taking up. There were times that Katherine walked about the ship and I would smell the sweet of her shampoo or perfume. But Champ is a woman, a woman who has managed to uphold her charms aboard a ship. I’m a man. And I’m the second-in-command. I had standards to meet.

But it wasn’t like we were currently on a mission. Seb had taken his shuttle off for business, and we were waiting in orbit. Affinity was ill. No one would complain with having a day or two off.

Having one last staring contest with the bottle in my hand, I gave up with a sigh. This endeavor wasn’t for me in the first place. This was for Fin. So even if I didn’t like it, I would do it anyway.

Pulling the stopper off of the cologne took some effort. I figured I had been using too much force when it came off with a loud plunk. Droplets landed in a splash on my shirt, and I grunted.

I wasn’t good at this. I had known that from the start.

The smell was very subtle, like dew on leaves or a soft rain atop fresh moss. Due to the name, and Sebastian’s nature, I had expected something a bit more…lurid. Instead, I got just the sort of thing I would have picked out were I to wear scent. But I wasn’t the type to put the bottle to my nostrils, just like I wasn’t the type to wear cologne. The way I saw it, Seb wouldn’t pick something that wouldn’t drive women nuts. I trusted that whatever he would have on his person was something I would want as well.

I placed a generous amount of the pleasant liquid onto each of my wrists, then dabbed some onto my neck. I couldn’t smell it, even though it was dripping off of me. I was placing the stopper just so onto the opening, when my fingers fumbled and it fell into my lap.

“Gorrammit!”

Cursing vehemently, I picked up the vile before all of the cologne spilled out. A spot on the front of my pants was now soaked; though it was drying fast I was still embarrassed. What was Seb going to think when I returned the bottle only halfway full? Maybe I could convince him that it had already been opened and that I wasn‘t ham-fisted.

Deliberately pushing the stopper into the bottle’s top, I twisted it until I was convinced nothing more would freely spill. Then I replaced it into the plastic, reached for the flimsy film that covered it, and closed the black box. I put the box on my bed, then left my quarters to check on the ship.

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Katherine was in the hull, lugging things about with a sour look marring her face. We had some cargo aboard that I wasn’t surprised had not been touched by anyone on board the ship.

“How’re the pickles looking?”

“Fine.” Champ answered, a little out of breath. “Though they still smell to high heaven. Why do we have to do this damn pickle run every other week?”

“Its reliable work. And a certain restaurant in the core is depending on its safe shipment.”

“I just never thought a classy restaurant would have pickles on the menu.”

“I’m sure they use them in something.” Though I didn’t know what and didn’t want to know. This batch was fresh from the vinegar tubs. Champ was right, they stank. I doubted that they tasted much better.

“Hale, get over here and help me with this one.” Champ didn’t look like she was having a hard time lugging it, more like she was turning her nose too much to lift it properly. “Mi tian gohn!

I sighed heavily, but walked over to her regardless. “Is it that bad?” I lifted the other side of the crate, then had to stop myself from gagging. “Christ!” I wasn’t sure what facial expression I had, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of when you get water up your nose. “Its rancid!”

“Well, your perfume is helping a bit…” Champ gave me an odd look, as if she hadn’t thought me the type of person to wear something along those lines.

I wasn’t, so maybe she should be surprised.

“Its cologne,” I clarified. “And you can smell it?”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t.”

“Its because you’re too close to it. But its nice. Like…a lake.”

“I was thinking somewhere along those lines as well. What little of it I smelled, anyhow.”

“It’s a heap better then these dang pickles.”

“Glad to have your approval.” Female input was highly appreciated here. Especially since Champ knew how to act like a woman and Affinity didn’t.

We took our time checking on all of the crates contents and replacing them on the side of the hull. And just as we were setting the last crate on top of the others, Champ made a high pitched sound and stumbled a little.

My hand reached out in reaction, though I didn‘t touch her. “Are you okay?”

“I think so…” She looked wobbly. “Maybe I should sit down.”

I frowned at her. “What’s wrong?”

“I think the pickles have gone to my head,” her voice was a little far away. “I feel almost…witless. Drunk.”

Shad walked up to us with his shy look about him. I liked Shad. He was probably the only person on board the ship who didn’t go out of his way to be noticed. Being timid wasn’t always a problem. And it worked perfectly if you didn’t want to be recognized.

“What is going on?” He pushed his specs higher on the bridge of his nose and wiggled his fingers before his chin.

“I don’t know.” I walked over to Katherine with a suspicious look. “She was fine a moment ago.”

Champ was wiggling a little bit, seated on top of one of the crates. Her arms were floating at her sides in a little dance and she was smiling from ear to ear. “I haven’t felt this wu toh wu now since I got plastered on Higgins’ Moon!”

Shad walked up beside me and joined in as we watched Katherine. She definitely looked drunk. But could a storage crate of vinegar and cucumbers get you this silly?

“The…pickles?”

“I don’t think so,” I said to Shad, watching as Champ got up to dance around the floor of the hull. “Maybe she’s cracked and it only took until now to find out.”

I heard Shad sniff the air lightly. Then I heard him do it again, this time stronger and more purposeful. “Perfume?”

“Cologne.” I corrected again, still watching Champ. “I borrowed it from Sebastian.”

“It smells like a fog.”

I turned to face him. “A fog?”

“Yeah, like a morning fog heavy with dew.” Shad shrugged. “It reminded me of home for a moment. We always got fogs around the mines in the wee hours of the morning. It makes me think of dynamite.”

“I doubt there are many things that don’t remind you of explosives.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

Champ was singing a song in a lovely bird like voice that I didn’t expect her to have.

“Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse,
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes!”

“Is she going to be okay?” Shad was looking edgy, wringing his hands together.

“I don’t know…” I didn’t lie to him. “I don’t even know what’s got her running about the ship.”

“Ecstasy!” Champ hopped up and down in circles. “Ecstasy!”

“Apparently, its ecstasy.” Shad giggled.

My frown increased. I had never really heard Shad laugh like that. Even so, I did not find this entirely funny. “Lets look at that cargo.”

We walked to the nearest crate and flipped the heavy top over. I stared into the mass of vegetables, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. They smelled exactly the same, like dilled hell. Considering our buyer ran a restaurant we wouldn’t want their customers running about like Champ was doing now. They would accuse us of tampering with their merchandise.

My hands found a languorous way to my hips. “I don’t understand it.”

“Neither do I. Nothing like this has happened before.”

“Something peculiar is going on.” I rose a brow at Champ when she whooped.

“Something indeed…something.”

I looked over at Shad when he slurred slightly. “How are you feeling?”

“Shiny, Hale. Shiny.” Shad was squinting at me. He smiled a broad smile and patted me on the shoulder. “In fact, I haven’t felt this good in…a long time…”

Wo bu shin wo dah yan jing!” Not him too. He had the same glazed look as the other crew member dancing around the ship.

Champ started in on a new ditty:

“There once was a plumber from Lee,
Who was plumbing his girl by the sea,
She said, ‘Stop your plumbing,
There's somebody coming!-”

“Said the plumber still plumbing... It's me!” Shad finished the line with oomph and walked over to Champ, taking her hand and spinning her artfully. They both laughed raucously and began to dance together arm in arm.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I closed the lid of the crate firmly and made sure that everything was secure. Then, I headed off to the bridge. I had to talk to our procurer and make sure that these pickles hadn’t gone through some new sort of processing. I didn’t want the entire crew acting like this.

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“Hale, I’m telling you, I haven’t done nothin’ different in twenty years of growin’. You aint got nothin’ to be concerned ‘bout!”

I had waved our procurer, a farmer by the name of Tuck. He was angry with my call, apparently I had interrupted something, and even angrier that I would accuse him of any misdeeds.

“Look, I need to check. We’ve never had a problem with the cargo you give us, but two of the crew have began acting out of character.”

“Did they eat any of it?”

“No. Of course not. But they both were exposed to the opened crate.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Hale. Bring it back if you want me to inspect it. Especially if you counter my word.”

“I’m not countering your word, Tuck. Nothing like this has ever happened before, and I’m not sure what to blame.”

“Maybe they got to some drink on board?”

“Fin doesn’t allow alcohol on board. She needs her crew always alert, in case we come across something…unsightly.”

“Look, do you want me to take a look at the food or what?”

I scrunched my face in thought. “Even though the ship is under my command at the moment, I would rather not fly out of the way if it isn’t entirely necessary. I was exposed to the cargo and I feel fine. Maybe they did get at some drink been snuck aboard.”

“Call me if you need anything, Hale.”

“Will do. Thank you, Tuck.”

Case ended the wave and sat back. “So, they’re down there having their own personal festival?”

“I v’ent down to see for myself,” Vanya cut in with her thick accent, and always matter-of-fact tone. “Hale is correct. They act…out of normal bounds.”

“If it isn’t the cargo, what else could it be?” I talked to myself, standing back slightly closer to Case and crossing my arms over my chest. “I just don’t get it.”

“My, my, my…don’t you smell pretty,” Gordon winked at me. “What is that, darling?”

“Don’t worry about it.” I shook my head, regretting ever putting on the scent in the first place.

“He is right,” Vanya leaned in for a whiff. “I ‘ave never smelled you before, Hale. You smell nice.” Even though she was complimenting me, her gaze remained icy and remote.

Case took in another whiff, a stronger one. “Doesn’t it smell like a fresh pool of water on a spring day?”

Vanya sniffed with him. Then she laughed. It was a short, almost derisive burst, and her face went stoic a beat afterwards, but it was a laugh all the same. I don’t think I have ever heard Vanya laugh before in all my time of knowing her. I’d never even seen a smile on her face that wasn’t sarcastic in nature.

“Its just something I borrowed from Seb!” I held my arms up in defense. “I just…felt the need for a change. Alright?”

“Alright, alright.” Case laughed, though I could tell he was still smelling the air around me. “We‘re just saying. Its odd that everyone is doing what they normally don’t today.”

“Yes.” Vanya agreed, looking as confused about the smile separating her lips as I was.

“I’m going to check on Fin. Maybe if she is awake she can help me with this mystery.” I turned on my heel and walked away from them. I heard Case chortle again under his breath, and I bristled.

This was the last time I was ever wearing cologne. Hand to God.

It didn’t take long to reach Affinity’s quarters. I stood outside the door with my breath held in my chest. What if she was awake? What would I tell her? That under my command two of the crew were now bonkers in the hull? How would I even begin with that explanation?

I righted my clothing and stiffened my back. Fin wouldn’t out rightly accuse me of being in the wrong. No, she wouldn’t. She would find out what was causing the commotion.
And THEN she would blame me.

Well, this definitely was not her fault. Whatever was going on, it had happened on my time.

Taking a breath for courage, I twisted the handle on her door and walked in.

The room was sweltering. The air was tinged with sweat and something sweet that I could not name. It was also dark. My eyes took a moment to adjust, nothing lit the room but a lone red light that shone unsteadily on a monitor. I couldn’t see any of the things in her room except for her bed and the small table beside it holding the picture of Wash.

Affinity was facing me, laid on her side. I could see her clearly, as the blaring, flickering red light illuminated only her face. In sleep, she looked almost angelic. The lines on her face from frowns and weariness were nonexistent. Her long hair was tangle around her shoulders and brow. Her mouth looked soft, inviting in a slumberous way. The sheets that surrounded her body were tightly bound, like a slinky dress, and pronounced the curve of her outlined form. Her tiny hands were tucked under her chin to support her head over her pillow.

She really was quite a beauty. Though I usually forgot that. Her personality usually wiped away the vulnerability that I was privy to at this moment.

My steps were silent as I walked to her bunk. I tread carefully, worried that I would trip over something sprawled on her floor. But I got to her without incident, my gaze never leaving her face.

I leaned down slowly to touch the soft of her brow and…

Unable to choke back my shout, I made a smothered sound and jumped about a foot when Finy pounced out of bed, her fists swinging into the air.

“WHOA!” I almost tripped over my heels in my effort to dodge her strikes.

Sa gwa! Moron! What are you doing, sneaking into my room?” Affinity’s voice was hoarse from sleep and the lingering cough she was suffering from. Her brow was dotted with perspiration. She didn’t look angelic anymore. Her eyes shot fire into mine.

“Sorry!” I shouted over her, defensive. “I was checking on you!”

“You scared the life out of me!” Fin sat back on the bed, her face still portraying her irritation.

“I thought you were asleep!”

“I was! Before you stomped in here with your elephant feet!”

I felt my cheeks heat up. I’d thought I was being stealthy. “Sorry!” I repeated myself. “I was not trying to frighten you!”

Her fists fell to her sides, though they were still tight. “Do I look frightened?”

She didn’t. No, she looked ready to do battle with her bare hands.

“How are you feeling?” I changed the topic, hoping she would calm down.

It worked a little. Fin gave a hearty sigh, blowing out her adrenaline, and sat back on the edge of her bed. “Fine. I suppose. I felt fine before, but Seb wouldn’t let me leave the room.”

“He wouldn’t let you leave because you were hacking. You sounded terrible. And your temperature was through the roof.”

“It was just a little cough.”

“Bah,” I wrote off her words with a gesture that she probably couldn’t see, being that it was so dark. Gingerly, I sat down beside her on the bed and felt her brow with the back of my hand. “I think your fever broke. Mostly. Though you could still use to catch up on the rest of your sleep.”

“You could be right about that,” Affinity spoke through a large yawn that made her head fall back. “I might be able to catch me more z’s.”

“Good.” I really wanted to talk to her about the problem with Shad and Katherine. I was sure they were still waltzing around the hull. But I just couldn’t bring myself to ruin her rest. Fin looked beaten. Her eyes were drooped and her mouth hung open with heavy breath.

Her eyes met mine in the dim room. Even in the dark I could see them ringed with crust from sleep. Her hair was a mess, some curls standing up on end and others matted against one another. Her nose sounded stuffy. But if she could go from being asleep to jumping me, I was not about to underestimate her.

“You smell nice.”

I had almost forgotten about the scent marring my clothes. Though how could I at this juncture? Everyone was reminding me that I had spilt nearly a full bottle all over myself. The only person who couldn’t seem to smell it was me.

“You like it?” I asked, for lack of anything better to say.

“Yeah. You smell like…like…remember that waterfall we ran away to? On Greenleaf? When we were young?”

“How could I forget?” My voice unwittingly dropped an octave. “That was the first time I had ever seen you naked.”

Affinity giggled. I liked it when she laughed. It sounded musical, like tender fingers dancing merrily over harp strings. I had missed that mischievous laugh every day after we got split apart, as teenagers.

“It was,” she agreed. “And you. Too afraid to take your pants off.”

“That was my attempt at morality where you were concerned. You were a lady.”

“If I recall, I didn’t stay a lady. Not long after that swim.”

I looked down at my lap and curled my fingers into hers. Our past was a mix of children’s playtime and pubescent discovery. “I still think your mom is mad at me about that.”

“My mom? What about your mom?” Affinity frowned at me. “I don’t think Kaylee will ever forgive me for making a man out of her little boy.”

“Well I wasn’t a little boy. I was almost seventeen. And so were you.”

“That was our argument, anyhow. Lookin’ back, we were small whelps who didn’t got no business in that sort of thing.”

I knew she was right. But I also knew neither of us regretted our rebelling. Not in that fashion, anyway.

Affinity rested her head to my shoulder, then curled her neck over to sniff my shirt. “You do smell like that waterfall. Like…tumbling water. Falling. Splashing. Cool on my skin. Taking me down.”

She was slurring. But I didn’t put two and two together. Finy was sick. And highly medicated.

Not so medicated that she couldn’t grab the back of my neck and force me to a kiss, however.

Our lips mingled slowly for a few breathtaking moments. It always shocked me when Fin and I shared a kiss. At first it was all brute strength and forwardness, not allowing the other to back down. And then it evolved and changed. It softened. It quickened. It stole away thought and rationalization and clothing. Especially clothing. Always, clothing.

Affinity made a gurgled sound and tried to climb into my lap. I wanted to ward her off, knew I should, but she was so feverish. Still sick, and yet she wanted me. Her arms and legs trapped me, her mouth trapped me, her body. She was heated like a furnace, blazing me everywhere she touched.

How could a woman still be so alluring when she was ill? What spell was I under?

“Hale, give me it,” Fin spoke against my mouth between scorched kisses. “Give me it.”

“What?” I asked. “What do you want?”

“You.”

“No, Finy. Finy, no. Stop. You’re still sick. You’re not well.”

“I know what I‘m doing. Don’t fight me.”

“Finy. Finy.”

Another long kiss. Another sweet embrace. I was not sure if I could deny her. It was a lot like I had told Seb. No, it was exactly that. I was too loyal to deny her. If she needed me, I would be there. Always. No matter what. No matter if she stripped the very last dignity that I had. No matter if it sent me to my cold, lonely grave. She could chew me up and spit me out as many times as she wanted.

I hated it, but I didn’t know what else to do.

“Finy stop. Love, please. You need to sleep.”

“No, I don’t. I need this. I need-”

And that was that. She stopped dead sentence and slumped in my arms, out cold.

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There were many rational explanations for what just happened, right? Fin was sick. Sebastian had given her something strong to make her sleep and get her well. That was obviously still in her system. Maybe when she woke violently and hopped out of bed that had taken the extent of her strength. And then the onslaught of our kisses finished her off.

It made sense. Of course. That had to be it. So, why wasn’t I convinced?

I walked out of Affinity’s bunk after I tucked her in tight and made sure she was comfortable. She had that angelic look about her, and it took a lot to make myself leave. I had a discomfort in my trousers, but I walked instead of limped out of her room and made sure the door was shut.

A noise off in the direction of the galley caught my attention. I was no where near ready to deal with the crew, especially if they were up to no good, but I grunted and redirected my stride toward their sounds.

When I got there, gorram…

Clothing was all over the place, in the door way, on the counters, on the stove. The crew were mostly in their skivvies. I say mostly because whatever flesh I saw I forced my gaze away from. Champ was on top of the table, kicking her legs out and dancing about. Case and Shad were up against a counter, touching each other’s faces and hair, then touching themselves in much the same manner.

Vanya was playing a fiddle, loudly singing in a rough, heavily accented timbre:

“Once upon a time there was a tavern,
Where ve used to raise a glass or two!
Remember how ve laughed away the hours,
And dreamed of all the great things ve v’ould do!

Those v’ere the days my friend,
Ve thought they’d never end!
Ve'd sing and dance forever and a day,
Ve'd live the life we chose!
Ve'd fight and never lose!
For ve v’ere young and sure to have our v’ay!”

Shad ripped open his button down shirt and jumped onto the table with Champ. They spun each other around until they fell off and hit the floor with a loud crash. Case was doubled over, almost to the floor himself, laughing like a maniac.

Vanya continued to play and sing:

“Just tonight I stood before the tavern,
Nothing seemed the v’ay it used to be!
In the glass I saw a strange reflection,
Was that lonely woman really me?

Those v’ere the days…!”

Case pulled Champ to her feet and the two of them began to dance around the kitchen in a stumble of a jig. Shad remained on the floor, his legs kicking about as if he were dancing upright along with them.

Vanya finished her song:

“Through the door there came familiar laughter,
I saw your face and heard you call my name!
Oh my friend we're older but no v’iser,
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same!”

“Those were the days!” Champ and Case shouted loudly, not singing at all.

“What in the yin jian is going on!” I tried to get their attention, but they were too far gone. Whatever was going around the ship had effected everyone so far.

First Champ. Then Shad. Now Case and Vanya?

Was Fin affected too? Is this madness what caused her to black out?

I was getting scared. I was the only one with any wits left about me. What was overtaking the crew? Why was I not in the same state?

A quick thought came over me. It couldn’t be the cargo. Even if Vanya had wandered down to check on Champ and Shad, Case had stayed on the bridge. Was there a virus? A brain flu? What…was different?

I was beginning to suspect…it was me.

Glancing down at my clothing, I saw the stains that the cologne had left all over me. I knew that it was pungent, everyone had noticed it when I came upon them. I was the only one too close to it to smell its force.

Lifting the edge of my shirt halfway, I lowered my nose to the hem.

It couldn’t be this. This was just cologne.

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Colors exploded in front of my eyes like bursting stars. My eyes widened at the display, I felt my pupils dilate. A lazy, wide grin stretched my cheeks and my muscles weakened.

Many emotions bubbled up inside of me at once. The need to dance overtook my feet. My voice began to bray in the need to sing, even if I didn’t know the song. The universe took me in, and I accepted it. My troubles, along with rational thought, were long gone.

I was also hot. Too hot. Too many clothes covered me. Well, they just wouldn’t do. They had to come off.

I felt arms embrace me, smelled the whiff of fresh skin and feminine musk. Vanya. She held me close and whispered something in Russian. I didn’t understand what she said. But it was beautiful.

She was beautiful. We could be beautiful together.

Vanya’s arms slung around my neck, her lips touched my ear as she spoke. Her voice was purrs and trills as she spoke in her native tongue. The language caressed my body in all of the intimate places. It was love making with foreign words. I whispered back to her, not knowing what I was saying, not caring what I was saying. All I wanted was for her to feel the wondrous ways I was feeling.

It was ecstasy.

Other arms embraced me from behind. Shad. He laughed loud, but I enjoyed the ringing of his mirth. He also stepped on the back of my boot, which made us all laugh. And since muscle function wasn’t primarily at the top of the list, we all fell to our knees and roared our joy into the vicinity of our bodies.

Champ picked up Vanya’s fiddle, but since she didn’t know how to play it all she did was scratch the bow along the strings in an unskillful portrayal of the owners expertise. The result was a drawn out squeak from the instrument, as if it were in pain. We all enjoyed the squeaky, nails-on-a-chalk-board sound when in any other situation we would have gritted our teeth in agony.

Everything was good. The taste in our mouths, the smell of the fragrance that stained my clothing, the feel of bare skin on skin.

Vanya threw me out of the way so that she could kiss Shad. Champ stomped on the floor and hollered something I didn’t understand. Case had a jug of water and was guzzling it so fast that most of it dripped off the sides of his lips to cascade down his chin and to the expanse of his impressive chest. I was still wearing too many clothes and trying to rid myself of their bothersome restraints.

I do not remember everything that happened. I do not know how long we spent our pleasures. All I know is that it was something that could not be recreated.

Everything we were, everything we did, was exultant.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sebastian.

My return to the ship was far earlier then I had anticipated, but I was glad about it all the same. The lady I had entertained for the last day and a half had sexual appetites that were not exactly my fare. And when she began to insist that I allow her husband into our…engagements…I was obliged to refuse and take my leave. Even if I still managed to procure my pay for the entirety of my expected visit, I felt embarrassed somehow. I fervently screen my clients, how could I let a mistake of this magnitude happen?

Well, we all learn from these sort of things. In the future I would add further questioning into my applications to ensure this would not occur a second time. That the lady was previously a regular client of mine only made matters all the shoddier.

However, I was happy to head home. I had been worried about Affinity. She had run herself ragged, more so then usual. I didn’t like to leave under those circumstances.

I walked out of my shuttle and onto Chunjing with hesitance and nervousness. Case had not answered my wave, nor had anyone else aboard the ship.

Rightfully, I assumed the worse had happened. The business of Affinity and her crew was to hunt reavers. The only thing that had stopped them from doing so for the past month was that there seemed to be a considerable lack of the loathsome creatures pervading in the black. But were the crew to find an enemy ship, would they attack with the captain ill? More so, without a skilled medic aboard? Sure, Hale had some medical expertise he had learned from his father, and Champ had her homeopathic methods, but neither of them would be able to save a crew member were they to be seriously injured. I was the only one who could, and I had been away.

Oh. if anything had happened to them…

I walked down the catwalks with stealth, approaching the opening to the hull. No one was around, though a foul smell was. It must have been their cargo. Nothing seemed out of place, there were no bodies and no smell of gun fire. I began to relax marginally.

My relaxing only continued when I heard the heavy footfalls approaching me without covertness.

“You’re back early.”

“Affinity.” I sighed away the rest of my ebbing anxiety, then even happened upon a sincere grin. “Thank goodness.”

The Captain was up and about and looking much better than when last I saw her. She had a healthy glow about her, a glow that was all the more pronounced by her lopsided smile.

“I have to ask, Seb, are you back early on account of your practical joke on my crew?”

I started a little. Her tone held a fierceness that had not been present in her initial greeting to me. “Excuse me?”

“I can admit that it was a good one. But it was reckless. Do you have any idea what I’ve had to put up with since I got up? On top of that, since I got up from being sick?”

It went without saying that I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was speaking of. I was hoping it showed. “Affinity. What do you mean?”

“Does this ring any bells?” Affinity pulled out a small glass bottle of cologne from her pocket. She shook it slightly from side to side. The cursive across the bottle looked familiar. I felt a jolt go down my spine.

“Where did you get that?”

“From Hale’s bunk.” She tossed it at me and I caught it easily. “I’d like to thank you for the near orgy that took place in my galley. Now I have a useless, hung-over crew. Including the pilot, which I think makes this adventure all the more amusing.”

I was staring at the bottle in my hands, confused. I knew that this was in my collection of scents, but how did Hale get his hands on it? I racked my brain, trying to think of a logical explanation.

“Well?” Affinity was losing patience. “Why is it on board my ship in the first place? Especially with the harm it causes.”

I stared at her angry features and shook my head a little. Then, it all came back in a sudden flash. Hale asking me for advice about women. Well, advice about a certain woman. I was in such a rush, and he was picking around my vanity. Oh heavens, how could I be so careless as to let him take this?

I chuckled a little. “Oh, Affinity. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s a start.” She didn’t look appeased.

“Hale did borrow this from me. But if it occurred to me that he would take this one-”

“What do you mean if it occurred…!”

“Let me finish, Fin. I was late to my appointment, I wasn’t paying attention to what Hale grabbed. You are correct, it is my fault. But believe me, Captain, it wasn’t intentional in the least.”

Affinity frowned in my direction for a heartbeat longer before shrugging. “Fair enough. I believe you.” She nodded at the offending vile. “What is that stuff exactly? Aint no regular smell good.”

“That it is not. This is a fragrance from a company called Enhanced Euphoria INC. They create sensory amplifiers. They specialize in cosmetics that people can use to make their partners feel…well, many different sensations. The intense urge to sing, it frees inhibitions, raises joy, rapture, it all corresponds with sexual desires.” When I saw her lips press together harder, I sighed. “What did they do?”

“I’m not sure exactly. I was asleep for the majority of it. When I woke up, the damage had been done and they were on their way to going unconscious. But considering that the majority of their clothes were off…”

“Say no more. I have something that will counter the effects of the drug.” I felt my brow raise. “But…unconscious? How much did Hale use?”

Affinity shook her head and waved me along. “Come on. I’ll show you where they are, and you can make your estimations.”

The crew were a intoxicated mess upon the floor of the galley. Affinity had redressed them halfway, what she could get over their motionless forms anyway, and stretched them out comfortably on the floor. She’d even put pillows behind their heads.

“How…motherly.” I smirked at her.

“What? I can’t exactly drag them all to their respective bunks. This’ll have to do. Unless you have a better idea.”

“I suppose you are right.” Instead of arguing further, I got to work.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It took a couple of hours to get the crew sensible again, but soon blurry eyes were open with questions in their gaze. Hale was the fist to come to, and besides seeing my smiling face he was also seeing the dour one of Affinity.

“Welcome back to the land of the livin’,” she said humorlessly.

“Fin? Why are you out of bed?” Hale scratched the back of his neck, tried to sit up and failed. “Last I saw you were…well…you were…”

Affinity pointed at him. “Hale, do me a favor. Don’t ever use no smell good again.” The one thing she didn’t say was that this was all his fault. Surprising, I had expected it.

Vanya made a faint womanly sound, one you wouldn’t expect to hear out of such a hard warrior, and then sat up fully with a dark gaze. Her long black curls fell about her face and she stared hard at Hale. “V’hat happened.” It wasn’t a question. It was a solid demand. “V’ere ve attacked?”

“I feel like I’ve been.” Case didn’t bother with trying to move. He was spread out thin like butter on the floor, his arms at his sides. “But if we were, why was I involved in this? I’m just the pilot.”

“The last thing I remember…” Vanya stopped. She pursed her lips and kept her eyes on Hale.

Hale was staring back at her, his gaze taking on a slightly horrified look.

Champ whined and curled into a ball. She didn’t bother speaking, but instead held the top of her head and whimpered.

“Did you have fun, at least?” It probably wasn’t the best time to make jokes, but I’m ashamed to say I found it funny. It was quite obvious that Vanya and Hale had fornicated. And Champ and Case had deep purple bruises on their necks where they’d recieved love bites.

Shad was still completely asleep, a small snore occasionally creeping from him. He too had markings all along his neck, which I hoped he would remember later. Just so he would know what he’d experienced.

Vanya looked like she was going to be sick. I had never seen such a shocked expression on her face before. The memories had to be coming back to her slowly, as she kept her gaze on the second-in-command with all she had.

Affinity stood upright and actually smiled with me. She was giving Hale a look that I could not comprehend, a look that must have been deeper then what she was letting on. “Well, well, well…” She licked her top lip in thought, then uncrossed her arms and started to walk away. “If you are done with your partying, I’d appreciate it if we could get back to work.”

Case stood up more fluidly then I would have expected, considering the deep colors around his eyes from fatigue. “Give me about thirty minutes to collect myself, and then I’ll start flying this thing toward Santo.”

“Plenty of fluids,” I reminded them all and stood with my doctoring bag. “And maybe you should think about washing up a bit.”

I turned around before the insults started, then headed to the infirmary to put my instruments to their rightful place. Too bad everyone aboard the ship was too uptight to appreciate my night time essences. I would have expected at least Champ to enjoy the release.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hale.

“You raped me?”

I scoffed at Vanya. She was standing, though unsteadily, and yell-whispering at me in the hall away from the still sleeping Shad and Champ. “Trust me, Vanya, it wasn’t rape.”

Her frown increased. “How can you say that?”

“You can’t rape the willing. Besides, look at you. You are far from mauled. I’m sure if I tried anything you didn’t like, intoxicated or not, you would have been able to assassinate me.”

“You think me so capable even while I’m under the influence of that stink?”

“Yes!” Emphasizing the word elated my voice. “We were both taking in by that drug. Don’t try to make this all-”

“All what? Your fault? Why not! It IS your fault, Hale!”

“I’ve apologized already for this. I thought the cologne was your average every day stink, as you put it. Seb took the responsibility for this one. How was I to know all of this would happen?”

“Maybe next time you should try acting like a man instead of relying on perfumes!”

“Ah, but it brought us together.” I was not sure why I said that. It was catty, and I didn’t mean it. I did not want Vanya, and she definitely did not want me. But I had to admit, she did look awfully interesting while stomping and angry at things she couldn’t change. And with her beautiful hair down. I had never seen it out of a pony tail-

Okay. Obviously I was still being possessed by the lingering of that drug. Me being whimsical over Vanya? It was unheard of.

She looked like she wanted to hit me, but she kept herself from doing so. Instead she spat something out in Russian and trudged away.

I didn’t care. I had someone else to check on.

It wasn’t hard to find Fin. I knew when she was on her high horse she either went to the bridge or her bunk. And since her bunk was on the way to the bridge, I peeked in there first.

She was standing in front of her monitor. Zoe was staring back at her.

“Don’t make me worry about you, Finy.”

“I’m trying not to, mom.” Fin sounded weary. They’d had this conversation before, I could tell.

“And don’t think I don’t know what you are up to. Hunting Reavers? You know the Alliance offered that bounty to rid the bulk of any vigilantes out there. You know its not reliable.”

“We’re not hunting Reavers, mom.”

“I hope you aren’t so bad at lying when you’re in a tight spot.”

“No, usually I’m very good. Its just that I’ve been sick for a couple of days.”

Zoe frowned at her.

Fin shrugged. “I can assure you that we’re not hunting any Reavers right now…”

“If you get yourself killed-”

“I know. You’ll cry a lot. And you never cry.”

“Do not do that, Finy. Do not underestimate what I would go through without you.” Zoe actually let the emotion enter her voice. The fervor behind what she was saying shook even me. I could only imagine what it did to Affinity, since that was her mother.

Fin looked down at her feet. She scuffled them a bit, then looked back at her mother. “I am good at what I do. And it betters the ’verse. Don’t underestimate that.”

Zoe changed the subject. “When am I going to see my daughter again?”

“When she doesn’t have a hung over crew.”

“I love you, Affinity. And I miss you.”

“I love you back, mom.”

The screen went black and Fin collapsed on the edge of her bed. Her face was in her hands, and her shoulders shook a little.

Jao gao!” The edge in her voice sent a chill down my spine.

I had no idea what she was going through, and even though I wanted nothing more than to swoop in and save her…I couldn’t. If I even tried to talk to her about her parents, I don’t know what Fin would try to do to me. And considering I had recently gotten messed up and slept with one of the crew, I was sure she wasn’t in the best talking mood with me right now.

The dynamics of our relationship had changed yet again. And I was guessing that it was for the worse.

So what could I do? How could I help her?

I knew the answer a heartbeat later.

I turned and walked away, heading to the bridge and away from the raw emotion in the Captain‘s bunk. My head hung a little, and I took a heavy breath while trying to pull myself together.

Affinity and I would never be together. Not really. Not anymore.
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