Time FugitiveAuthor Name/LJ: fajrdrakoCrossover Fandom
In Doctor Who
chronology, this is set after "The Parting of the Ways". In Firefly
chronology, it is set somewhere a while after "Our Mrs. Reynolds". With thanks to atropos_too
for beta-reading. Cross-posted to my LJ
, and crossoverfic
Mal got edgy on firm ground. He liked to be in the sky, maneuverability at his command, free to escape from the Alliance in any direction he liked. But a man couldn’t stay in flight all the time and still earn a decent living, so they were visiting New Rome. It was not a pleasure stop, even though Kaylee begged and Jayne complained. New Rome was crawling with government men. This was going to be quick: refuel, take on provisions, take on cargo, leave.
It took a while to get the contraband into the hidden part of the hold, and when they were done and taking off again it was almost time for supper. Mal sent Simon and Jayne to wash up, and went to get a report from Zoe about what’d gone on while he was getting the merchandise, and a few nuts and bolts Kaylee said she needed to make the engine happy.
"Simple, like you said, sir," said Zoe, when he met with her on the bridge. Wash was concentrating on getting the acceleration and navigation right, so she wasn’t touching him, but his hair was still sticking up as if they’d been fooling around while everyone else was planetside. Since no one had even had a few minutes for a drink or an ice cream or whatever they might have been hankering for that you can’t get on a boat, it seemed Zoe and Wash were the only ones who’d had any fun at all. Mal didn’t mind. Zoe would know Mal wouldn’t mind. So why wasn’t she looking at him? Zoe only looked like that when she had something to hide.
"What’re you not telling me?"
"Kaylee, sir. She took on a passenger."
Fuck. "I didn’t authorize that. Zoe? Did I authorize that?"
“He offered good money, sir.”
“We got good money from the cargo job.”
“We get more good money from the passenger, sir.”
So she was taking Kaylee’s side, and whether it was women sticking together or there was something about this passenger he didn’t know yet, it was damn annoying. He said sourly, “Did he bribe her with a strawberry? Is that it?”
Zoe looked wistful. “If he did, she didn’t offer to share. I wish.”
“Who is he, then?”
“A flight captain from Daedalus, sir. Name’s Harkness. Jack Harkness.”
“A flight captain? Civilian?”
He had a bad, bad feeling about this. The chill that went down his back was as glacial as his voice. “Zoe. You telling me that heart-for-brains girl brought an ex-forces Alliance officer on board my boat? With a load of illegal material in the hold and River in our prettiest room?”
For some reason Zoe did not shrivel and die under the strength of his glare. “I might remind you, sir, that we’re ex-forces too.”
“Not for the gorram Alliance! Not from fucking Daedalus! That place is crawling with fascist - “
“That’s a stereotype, sir. I met him. He didn’t seem a danger to us.”
“Every gorram Alliance man is dangerous! You know that well as I do. And since when does Kaylee choose whether we have passengers or not?”
“He paid twice normal, sir.”
“Oh, great, so he’s on the lam. Unless he’s a spy as well. Didn’t that even make you suspicious?”
“Don’t yell at me, sir, I didn’t bring him aboard. Go shout at Kaylee.”
“I’m gonna do that,” growled Mal, and stormed out of the cockpit. He knew Wash and Zoe exchanged a glance of relief when he left.
He found Kaylee setting the table for supper. She’d lost to Jayne at cards one night and owed three suppers to everyone. “What’s this about a passenger, Kaylee?”
Her smile was as sunny and sweet as a summer day at the ranch. “I asked him for twice the rate, Captain, and he didn’t even argue. He paid half up front.” She faltered at his frown. “I thought you’d be glad.”
“I didn’t authorize a passenger this run.”
“No. But you’re always saying we should do what we can to keep business up, and taking passengers is a part of our business.”
“Where’s he going?”
“Gibralt, same as us.”
“You say that first, or did he?”
She thought. “I don’t remember.”
“Zoe says he’s a soldier.”
“Flight captain. Former flight captain.”
“So he said. I fear you brought a big load of trouble down on us, Kaylee. What’s going to happen if we have to kill this man to keep ourselves out of prison? Or keep River out of their hands? You think of that?”
“Don’t get paranoid!” she snapped. “He showed me his papers, there was nothing weird about him. We’ve no reason to think he’d do us harm. You haven’t even met him. We take his money, we deliver him where he’s going, what’s so bad about that?”
“We can’t hide River away the whole trip. If she -“ Mal broke off because the stranger, the passenger, this yang gui zi had appeared in the doorway.
He smiled. It was the sexiest smile this side of Copernicus-Twelve. The owner of the smile crossed the room, holding out his hand. “Captain Jack Harkness,” he said. His hand, taking Mal’s in a firm, manly grasp, was not particularly warm, but Mal thought he could feel the touch all the way to his elbow, or maybe his groin. Dark hair, warm eyes, the right kind of body. Shit.
“Mal Reynolds,” Mal replied. “Captain of Serenity. Welcome aboard, Captain Harkness.”
“Call me Jack,” said the passenger, with a nod. There was no need for wondering why Kaylee had let this fly-boy on board. Her hormones made her do it. One glance from those pretty blue eyes and she’d be falling at his feet. This soldier wouldn’t need any strawberries to get whatever he wanted.
Mal couldn’t help feeling some sympathy for her. He found himself wondering what Captain Jack Harkness would look like out of that long coat, naked and eager in someone’s bed. He wondered if Kaylee’s case of hormones might be contagious, or if Jack’s dimples were a new secret weapon.
This ex-Alliance ex-pilot was more dangerous than he’d even suspected.
Captain Jack sat at the table. Mal sat across from him. Kaylee sat beside him, not even pretending to work on supper, and Mal hoped it was already prepared and in the warmer waiting for them. Otherwise it might be late night before anyone got any actual food. “Where’re you from, Jack? Before New Rome?”
“I’ve kicked around a bit. I was born on Franklin. Know it?”
“Never been there.” Mal was trying to remember what he’d heard of it. “Mining planet? Out near the Devil’s Trail?”
“No, it’s out near Hazard. Not much mining there, any more.”
“I bet Wash has it on his maps,” said Kaylee. “Or in his brain. Wash knows all the planets.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. Mal wondered if it was something he practised in the mirror. Jack’s attention right now was all for Kaylee, and wasn’t she enjoying every moment. “Wash? Is he your beau?”
Kaylee actually blushed. “Wash? Oh, no. He’s our pilot. He’s married to Zoe, and she doesn’t want to share.”
“Did you ask her?” Jack seemed to think it a reasonable question.
“I’d have liked to have heard that,” murmured Mal. He suspected Zoe’s reaction might have been a tad volatile. Not that Zoe didn’t like Kaylee, she did, but she was overprotective when it was Wash in question, especially where sex was concerned.
“She told me that what she had with Wash was the most important thing in her life right now, and it was like a fragile egg that couldn’t be shared without destroying everything that made it precious.” Kaylee rubbed her hands together between her legs, remembering.
“Zoe sounds like a romantic,” said Jack.
Mal opened his mouth to say that Zoe was the most unromantic woman he’d ever met, and closed it again, not saying anything. Since Zoe’d married Wash, there was a whole side to her he’d never thought existed.
“It’s completely romantic,” said Kaylee enthusiastically. “They’re so very much in love.”
“Don’t reckon she’d like you talking about it,” said Mal mildly.
“Why not? Not saying nothing bad.”
“About whom?” It was Simon who came next through the door, followed by River, whose gaze went around the room twice before zeroing in on Jack, who stood up. Smiling, he held out his hand again. “Captain Jack Harkness,” he said.
River ignored his hand. She stood a little too close to him, on tip-toes, squinting a little as she stared into his face. Looked to be one of her not-so-good days. “Out of time,” she said. “You’re a man out of time, so far from home. Looking for lost parts of yourself. Looking for your Doctor.”
“My health is fine,” said Jack, courteous but puzzled.
“Let him be, River,” said Simon, putting his hands on her shoulders. He shook Jack’s hand himself, the picture of a gentleman. “I’m the doctor. This is my sister, River Tam.”
Captain Jack’s smile encompassed them both. “Delighted to meet you.” His focus moved past them, to the others coming into the room. Book. Jayne. No sign of Inara, Mal was sorry to see. Kaylee, having lost Jack’s attention, hopped up to the cooker and started dishing out food. About time, in Mal’s opinion.
Jayne’s handshake was ungrudging, but ungracious. “You a government man?” He asked bluntly.
“Hardly. Actually, I’m on the run.” Jack sat again, enjoying the silence that suddenly followed that small bombshell. Mal promised himself to say “I told you so” to Zoe at the next opportunity.
“From an angry husband?” asked Book, with a nod of thanks to Kaylee, who’d just handed him his meal. Seemed he’d already got Jack figured out.
“No, nor an angry wife either, more’s the pity. I had a misunderstanding with the law. Thought it best to leave, and quickly. Kaylee was most obliging.” He gave her a quick smile as she put the last plate in front of River, who was now staring intently at her own bare feet. Everyone sat, Jack last.
“Happy to help a traveller in need,” said Kaylee said brightly. “Specially when they pay. Even more so if I’d known you didn’t get along with New Rome lawmen.”
“Soldier?” asked Jayne, looking him over.
“I was a pilot. I quit.”
Jayne grunted. “Still packing, though”
“Wouldn’t you? It’s a tough world.”
For a second, Jack’s gaze held Jayne’s. Mal couldn’t quite understand what communication passed between them, but whatever it was, Jayne seemed suddenly friendlier to Jack. “Can I see your gun?”
Jack shrugged, and pulled something out from under his coat. He tossed it to Jayne as if it were a toy. “Never saw nothing like this before,” said Jayne. “This ain’t no regular sort of gun. What’s it called?”
“It’s a blaster, from a place called Villangard. Sonic disruptor. Can’t get them any more, but I’ve managed to keep it in good repair.”
Jayne’s eyes glittered. “How’s it shoot?”
“I’ll show you,” promised Jack. “But not here. Not now. Not at supper.”
“He doesn’t have a now,” said River, as if suddenly noticing the conversation. “Past tense, future tense. Always running. He lost his memories. He lost his courage. He lost his Doctor. He needs to find them all again. Then he can have his present tense back.”
“Tents? Don’t talk stupid,” said Jayne, annoyed with her, maybe because she’d interrupted his moment with Jack. “Nobody’s sleeping in tents. He’s staying in the second guest bunk.”
Mal wondered if that was a joke Jayne had just made, and whether he was likely to be safe in laughing at it. He decided not, on both counts.
Inara glided into the room. “I hope I haven’t missed supper,” she said, and paused, surprised to see a stranger at the table.
Jack had, of course, stood up as she entered. Mal was starting to think Jack was a mite too smooth for bearing. “I’m Captain Jack Harkness,” he said, with that same spectacular smile he’d used on all of them.
Inara did not seem to be swept away by it. She didn’t take his hand. Instead, she put her palms together at her chest and said softly, “Enchanted, Captain. I am Inara Serra.”
She sat and calmly began to eat, ignoring the gun that Jayne passed back to Jack - in fact, pretty much ignoring Captain Jack altogether, which made Mal feel a whole lot better about a lot of things. The sonic disruptor from Villangard disappeared into Jack’s coat. “Bet you’ve had an exciting life,” said Kaylee, who hadn’t taken her eyes off him yet. “Handsome man like you. You sly or straight?”
Some men might be discombobulated by the question, but Jack took it good-naturedly. “Flexible,” he said. “How about you?”
“Same,” said Kaylee. She looked as if she wanted to say something else, changed her mind, and said, “Have you been to a lot of planets? I bet you saw a lot, flying and all.”
As if flying wasn’t exactly what they were doing right then that minute. Mal wanted to tell Kaylee to eat her supper and be quiet. Sometimes Kaylee brought out his paternal instincts, which made him feel old, which made him feel even grumpier.
“I’ve had some interesting times,” said Jack. His warm smile included everyone. “I remember one afternoon when I was orbiting Cygnus Four...”
Afterwards, Mal recalled the evening with a certain pleasure. They weren’t drinking alcohol, because that was for bars and recreational brawling and other special occasions, but Jack’s stories brought out the laughter and the good feelings just like drinking might, only without the fighting afterwards.
Jack was entertaining. This was a good thing in a passenger. He bragged about himself in a self-deprecating way that no one could really mind, least of all Mal, and he used his hands in wide gestures to illustrate his descriptions. He used his face to present a cast of wild characters, used his voice for his own sound effects - he was particularly funny doing an indignant Cherusian hotelkeeper who accused him of seducing her staff and stealing her dog. Even River, who had started the evening in a world all her own, was laughing loudly and happily, and it truly warmed Mal’s heart to see the way Simon looked lovingly at her, all pleased to see her enjoying herself.
Later in the evening, Jack said to River, “Are you a dancer? You move so gracefully.”
She looked downwards, suddenly shy, as if she were twelve again and afraid of strangers. “I dance,” she whispered. Then looked up at him, lucid, intelligent, mature. “Like you, I know both the pain and the glory. Movement makes us real. Dance bridges time and space.”
Jack did not smile. “You see too much.”
She was proud. “That’s all right,” she promised. “I won’t tell anyone your secrets.”
* * *
Later, Mal showed Jack to his bunk. It wasn’t a job he usually did for the paying guests, as Captain, since it was annoying and not useful and that’s the sort of thing he had a crew for, but he didn’t want Kaylee doing it this time, mostly because he wasn’t sure she wasn’t going to pounce on Jack. Besides, Mal wanted a chance to assess this man without the interfering conversation of everyone else around. Jack’s possessions were in a small black bag that he carried himself, and his hat had more of an Alliance look to it than Mal was comfortable with.
Jack didn’t speak as they walked down the corridor, and Mal said, a little more abruptly than he meant to, “Don’t mind Kaylee, Captain. She’s a sociable girl who doesn’t get enough folk to talk to.”
“She’s a sweetheart,” said Jack.
“That she is. And what I’m saying is, if she invites you to her bunk, don’t treat her unkind. And don’t expect to get your money back just because you don’t sleep in your own bed assigned to you. Cost of accommodation on this boat doesn’t change, regardless whose bed you’re in.”
They were at the hatch to Jack’s room. Mal opened it, but Jack didn’t go through. Instead he leaned a hand on the bulkhead and said, “Kaylee invited me to her bunk already and I turned her down. I was kind about it. Very.” His eyes were intent on Mal’s face. “Hoped I might be invited to share the Captain’s bed instead.”
“That ain’t on offer,” said Mal. He had to look at Jack, because it would be a coward’s way not to, so he met his eyes and said, “Neither’s the Captain.” His cock was half-hard because of this conversation, he couldn’t help that, and he hoped Jack couldn’t see it in his face. Jack wasn’t looking at his crotch, so it was probably all right.
Jack’s voice was warm and soft. Teasing, even. “Can I change your mind?”
“Nohow. A captain don’t change his mind. I only have a few rules around here, but I have one big one that trumps all the rest. I don’t touch my crew, and I don’t fuck my passengers. Saves me a pack of trouble in the long run.”
“Too bad.” Jack didn’t look disappointed. He looked devilish. Devilish handsome, too, with hair fallen over his forehead. The Alliance cap he wore was making Mal hot in places that should be behaving themselves better, for reasons he didn’t want to examine. Jack looked as though he thought he was winning in his attempt to seduce Mal, and why would he think that? Mal was going to walk away. Now.
“If there’s anything else you need,” said Mal, “ask me in the morning.” He turned his back and went down the corridor. He knew Jack Harkness didn’t move. He knew Jack Harkness was watching him. Last time he’d let a passenger touch him, it was Saffron, and she’d drugged him and Inara too and damn near succeeded in stealing the whole boat out from under him. He wasn’t giving Jack Harkness an opening.
Still, Jack was right about one thing. It was a shame that’s the way things had to be.
* * *
Mal usually slept easily and well, though he tended to wake at small noises.
Tonight he felt too edgy to sleep. He had a pleasant enough way of passing the time, with thoughts of Captain Jack Harkness to keep him company. He wondered what Jack was doing meanwhile. Had he stayed alone in his bunk, or gone looking for Kaylee? Maybe he liked Simon, the handsome, sophisticated type, all softspoken and subtle. Inara wasn’t in his price range, so Mal wasn’t worried there, though they’d be nice together. River wasn’t hardly capable, even if a man found her old enough, which she wasn’t. Book had his religion to keep him lonely. Would Jack go to Jayne, then, for a bit of slumming, or maybe rough trade? He didn’t know Jack well enough to guess, but the thought made him uneasy. Jack was a man looked like he could take care of himself, but it was no good taking things for granted.
Why was he even thinking about this? Jack had thrown his mind into a muddle: who slept with whoever was no part of his business. This was a boat, not an easy-house, and Jack should behave himself.
Which it seemed he had. Fresh from a good sleep, Jack joked with River at breakfast, and soon had both River and Kaylee laughing like schoolgirls, which was practically what they were, or could have been, if Kaylee had any schooling to speak of. Simon was looking at Jack with gratitude that almost amounted to worshipfulness. Anyone who made River happy, however briefly, had Simon’s full approval. Nothing untoward in that. Little River deserved all the laughter she could find.
Jayne was often surly at breakfast, but this morning he seemed to be listening to what Jack was saying - some wild story about shadow-puppets and turtle-races - and even laughed himself. Once he grunted in answer to a question, and when Jack called him Big Gun Man, he guffawed out loud.
Mal thought suddenly: Gou shi, the man is seducing us all. Conning us. He’s slick and he’s good and he’s utterly dangerous.
A chill went up his back. It felt more like arousal than fear or anger. More like admiration than was right. There was way too much pleasure in it.
Zoe came in, and poured herself a cup of coffee. “You’re still here, sir?” Usually Mal was finished breakfast before most of the others arrived, and he didn’t linger, either. “Wash wants to check out the forward lighting system. There’s something funny about the wiring.”
“Can I help?” asked Jack. Everyone looked at him.
“You know anything about Firefly-class boats?”
“Not specifically, but I’ve handled a lot of vessels, big and small.”
“Extra hands’d be good,” said Zoe. She sipped her coffee, gave a large sigh, then poured another mug for Wash, and headed off to the bridge with them. She smiled at Jack as she passed. He smiled back.
Jack rose to follow her. So did Mal. “Jack. A word.”
They went into the corridor where they could have some sort of privacy, and Mal shut the door behind them. He said bluntly, “You’re pulling a con on my crew.”
Jack flinched. “That wasn’t exactly the word I was hoping for.”
“Don’t flimflam me. What are you after here?”
“If that was it, that wouldn’t be so bad, but I know a con when I see one. You’ve got them all in the palm of your hand. What’s the payoff? You a spy for Alliance?”
“No. I don’t like the feds any more than you do.”
“So what were you doing on New Rome? That’s Alliance territory through and through.”
“I needed something there. Information. I needed to know how to get where I want to go.”
“And where’s that?”
“Gilbralt, for starters. First step on a long road home - I hope. I don’t know the way yet but I’m finding it.”
“Going home? You really think you’ll find anything left when you get back there?”
“I’m not the only man looking for his past.”
“So what do you want with us?”
Jack’s voice rose in emphasis, in anger. “Nothing. A ride to Gibralt. The company of good people while I’m with you.” He was breathing harder than he had been. He added, in a lower tone, “Sex with you if I can get it. Seems I can’t.”
Mal gave him the look that had been known to make strong men quail. Even Zoe looked worried when he did it to her. Jack met his eyes and waited.
“Don’t believe you,” said Mal. “You’re hiding too many things.”
“So’s everyone here. You’re willing to trust them. Why not trust me, for eight days? Then I’ll be gone. Listen, I’ll be frank: I’ve done con jobs, I’ve done good ones, I made good money at it. I thought I had good reasons, and I made sure no one got hurt in ways they couldn’t afford unless they deserved it. One day I realized I was doing the wrong thing, and I stopped.”
“What could be right about running con jobs?”
“The same sort of thing that’s right about smuggling and harboring fugitives under the nose of the Alliance.”
He had a point. “Why’d you stop conning? You were caught?”
Jack’s jaw set. “I didn’t sign on with the bad guys, if that’s what you mean. I met someone who taught me something about self-respect. He trusted me, and I learned to be trustworthy. Can you believe that?”
“Time will be the proof of your intentions,” said Mal. “I’ll tell you this, Captain Jack. If you harm anyone on this boat, most especially the young ones, but anyone at all, I’ll throw you out the airlock so fast you’ll think you’re a bullet. Or maybe I’ll feed you to the Reavers. Understand?”
“Yeah. I understand.”
“Okay, let’s go help Zoe and Wash.”
Jack didn’t move. He still looked angry. “We going to change the sleeping arrangements? Is the Captain’s bed still only for the Captain?”
“And no more bed talk either!” snapped Mal, but he knew he didn’t sound quite as commanding as he wanted to this time.
“Aye, aye, sir. You run a tight ship.”
Mal knew when he was being teased, but he had no rejoinder, now Jack had got his hormones excited again. He was going to have to work on that.
* * *
As the days went by, Jack caused no trouble to nobody, unless rendering the Captain sleepless in his own bed counted as trouble, and you could hardly blame Jack for Mal’s private thoughts. Jack turned out to be a hard worker, and like he said, he had a lot of ideas about making boats fly that even Wash and Kaylee had never heard of before. One thing was certain sure, he wasn’t lying when he said he’d been a pilot. He had odd tricks up his sleeve - a hologram from his wrist-band which looked uncommon expensive and made Mal wonder just what sort of con jobs Jack used to be into, and how he’d come by such a thing.
And that sonic blaster, a weapon like no one had seen anywhere, which Jack let them examine. Jayne was practically drooling all over it it. Mal hoped he hid his interest better. “Where’d you get it?” he asked again.
“I worked for an Agency. They outfitted all their agents with good weapons. I bought this one myself in Villangard.” It wasn’t on any of Wash’s maps. Mal checked. Wash had never in his life heard of it. There was a Villanford somewhere, where they raised yaks. If this Villangard had ever existed, it existed no longer.
Did he really think his home still did? Too many planets had died in the war, or the people on them had. Ghost towns and empty craters.
Mal told himself not to think about it too much. It was Jack’s business, whatever it was. It was Mal’s business to stop staring at Jack’s behind, which he kept doing before he realized he was doing it, and he was none too happy when Zoe caught him at it, and smirked. He knew her too well to read that blank expression as anything else. He knew she’d been looking at Jack, too.
Nighttime fantasies that fueled the fire weren’t helping any. How had Jack gotten through to his sex-sense that way? Only thing for it was to avoid the man. Hard to do, when they were working together, and living in such a small space.
Jack worked as long and hard as long as they wanted him too. Other times, he talked with the others - with Mal about navigation and routes, with River and Kaylee about dancing and travel and tall tales about himself he swore were true. With Jayne, about guns and war. Mal found other places to be, most of the time.
It wasn’t so easy for him the afternoon Jack went to visit Inara. Near as Mal could tell they hadn’t exchanged two words with each other, and she hardly ever invited anybody into her shuttle except for clients. Kaylee sometimes. Well, all of them, sometimes, but a passenger? One only on board for a week? And not for business, neither. So what, then?
He was pacing the bridge. Zoe said drily, “Don’t wear out the carpeting, sir.”
“There’s no carpet here.”
“Guess you wore it out already then.”
He might have laughed, if he hadn’t been thinking about Jack and Inara. Sometimes he thought there was something about Jack that reminded him of Inara, in a classy, sensual way, which had to do maybe with the way they moved and maybe with the way they thought, all wanton and clever at the same time. Maybe it was that they were both beautiful and smart.
Wash and Zoe were exchanging significant glances. Jack had been in Inara’s shuttle for three hours now. More than three. Almost four. Mal paced himself to Inara’s door, stopped himself from pounding on it, and waited till he was calm-seeming. It wouldn’t do to charge in all fired up with jealousy, which would just make Inara mad.
He knocked, then walked in without waiting to be invited, not being sure he would be invited and not wanting to risk the alternative.
Since he was both a moron and a fool, he’d more than half thought he’d find them in bed, which would have been three ways embarrassing but would have given him an excuse to hit Jack. Instead, he found Inara and Jack each sitting on the floor, fully dressed, with half-finished cups of tea beside them, and each of them holding a musical instrument. Jack’s looked like a colourful cross between a banjo and a basketball. Inara’s looked like a Tibetan flute. She was playing a tune and Jack was singing - he had a fine, melodic voice.
Both of them broke off. Inara looked alarmed. “Mal? Is something wrong?” She stood.
“No. We need Jack’s help in the engine room.” Almost half-true, since they always needed someone’s help in the engine room. One way or another there was always more work than bodies, on a boat like this. “Sorry to interrupt your ... rehearsal.”
Inara looked at Jack, who was already halfway to the door. “You’ll come back?”
“I’ll have to,” he said. “I’ll never remember the harmony on my own.”
Which did nothing at all to make Mal feel less jealous. He couldn’t hardly sing a note.
* * *
Next day, when Mal walked into the kitchen, where he’d thought nobody was, he found the room filled with music he’d never heard before from Jack’s fancy wristband, and River dancing with Jack. They must have known he was there, but they didn’t stop. Mal didn’t know what kind of dance it was. He only knew that River and Jack were practically the most beautiful things he’d ever seen, motion and sound intermingling like a dream, and that the look on River’s face held excitement and peace and happiness all at once. And Jack - Jack looked at him over River’s head, and his eyes held sudden desire that sparked the same in Mal, and all he could do was turn his back and walk out, walk away, get out of sight of this man who had somehow got under his skin even though he knew better.
* * *
He went to breakfast extra early the next day, to eat alone and in peace, but Kaylee was already there. She looked at him angrily. He ignored her to pour his coffee and get out a package of cereal. It looked like corn-flavored styrofoam. Fine.
She waited till he sat, glaring at him all the while. Then she said, “Captain, why’re you being so mean to Jack?”
“How am I being mean to Jack? Making him work? He offered. He’ll get his share of pay when the cargo’s delivered to Gibralt, same as the rest of us. I’m treating him fair.”
“I’m not talking about that and you know it. He wants you something awful, Captain, and you won’t give him the time of day.”
“Not my fault, if a passenger comes on board all horny.”
She slammed her fist onto the table. She was too little to make much of a bang, but it sure did catch his attention. “Don’t make light of his feelings!”
“Tsway-niou,” said Mal rudely. “You think him and me are Romeo and Juliet? Not hardly.”
“Don’t make fun of him. He wants you. He told me so. I’ve seen how he looks at you sometimes. He’s lonely and so are you. I think he’s a lovely person he’d be good for you and you’re too stubborn to see it.”
“None of your business who I sleep with, Kaylee. Or don’t. Thought you wanted him yourself.”
“Not if he wants you. Are you made of stone, Captain? Or you’re going to hold out for Inara forever, even while you push her away, too? Maybe you were you more damaged in that battle of yours than anyone knows.”
The look he gave her would have shattered steel, and it made Kaylee shrink back in her chair. “My parts still serve and you’re overstepping yourself. This conversation is over.”
There was a long, sulky silence. Mal heard the voices of Jayne and Simon approaching, and he made himself scarce.
Only three more days with Jack on board. They worked together in the kitchen, putting together maps on the table to find the way that would give them a silent, invisible approach to Gibralt until the last moment. No one wanted to be spotted by the Alliance authorities. Mal found himself relaxing for the first time in days, enjoying calculating trajectories while Jack scribbled notes and made calculations. Mal thought he could feel Jack’s body heat from six inches away, or maybe it was some sort of animal magnetism. Mal remembered how he had looked, dancing with River, all smooth, muscular limbs and rhythm. He suddenly remembered what he’d been dreaming last night about Jack and naked skin and touching parts.
Jack broke off what he was saying and looked at Mal. Looked at him as if to read his mind, but not like River did, spooky and fey. “Anything wrong?”
“Nothing in the ‘verse.”
Much later, almost bedtime, he was sitting eating spread on stale rye-crisps when Zoe walked into the galley, catching him off guard. “Sir? You’re still up?”
“Just about to turn in.”
“Me too.” A certain mellowness in her voice hinted at anticipation: Wash was waiting for her in their bed. Mal envied that, but he couldn’t claim Zoe didn’t know how lucky she was. “You look exhausted,” she added, frankly.
He shrugged. “Not unduly.”
She sat with her own mug of coffee. “Troubled?”
“You’re as bad as Kaylee.” She raised her eyebrow in inquiry. “She thinks I’m impotent. Wounded at Serenity.”
“Kaylee thinks?” Zoe burst out laughing. She couldn’t even talk for a minute or two. “Oh, sir. That’s rich. Kaylee. She told you this?”
“She did, in this very room.”
Zoe was shaking helplessly. “I reckon you have her fooled, then, sir, with your stoic act.”
“I reckon,” agreed Mal, regretting already he’d said anything.
“You want me to set her straight?”
Zoe chuckled again. “She’s very young.” And as she left the room: “Don’t let it get to you, sir.”
He almost groaned. Ta ma de! Everything was getting to him.
Two days from now Captain Jack Harkness would be out of his boat and out of his hair for good.
* * *
Before that happened there was another bucketload of trouble.
They were stopped by a Space Police ship out of Triptonache, which was pushing the limits of its territory. They shouldn’t have been this close to Gibralt, but no one could tell Space Police where they shouldn’t be. Nothing for it but to stop, wait politely for instructions before they were grabbed by a tractor beam. Mal put on his coat, just in case, and waited for the transmission to come through on Wash’s console in the bridge. “They’ll want to see me,” Mal said to Jack. “Best keep out of the way.” Nodding, Jack moved into the front of the cockpit beside Wash, where the camera couldn’t catch him. Simon and River were already below, suiting up to go outside if need be. In case they were boarded. Mal was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
Jayne was wearing two of his bigger guns, just to see what Alliance authority was going to say to them. Zoe was standing calmly by the wall, chewing her lip. Book waited with his best man-of-god expression. Mal supposed they all felt the familiar sense of dread. What this time? Another search for River Tam? Crackdown on smugglers? Or simply intimidation of random browncoats because the troops were bored?
The transmission came to life. “Captain, ah, Mal Reynolds, freighter ship Serenity.” The speaker was reading from a paper. Mal hoped they’d spelled his name right.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“We’re coming to board you, Mr. Reynolds. Stand by.”
“For what reason, sir?”
“We’re looking for this man.” Transmission showed them a photo of Jack’s face, faintly blurred but unmistakable. “Gerard Sinclair.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Boarding in five minutes.” The transmission went dead.
“Tzao gao!” said Mal, with feeling. “Okay, time to move. Jayne, help River and Simon get out. You know the drill.” He glanced at the space beside Wash, now empty. “Where’d Jack go.”
“He ran as soon as they showed his face on the screen,” said Zoe.
Fuck. “Stay here,” snapped Mal behind him, and he ran in the direction Jack must have gone. He had to guess, when he got to the corridor to the sleeping quarters; but it was likely, if Jack planned to steal a shuttle and run, he’d get his weapon first, his sonic whatchamacallit, and his stuff. What was he dealing with here? What was Jack thinking? Had he panicked?
The hatch to Jack’s room was open. Good. Mal skipped the ladder, jumped right down to his deck as Jack lifted his weapon.
Jack wasn’t going to shoot Mal. He was going to shoot himself.
With the momentum of gravity still with him, Mal barreled into him, throwing them both off balance. Mal got his hand around Jack’s wrist and used leverage. The gun went off almost silently, and a hole appeared in the ceiling, neat and complete. Fuck. He didn’t want to think what that would do to a man’s head, least of all Jack’s. The gun fell to the floor as Mal’s full weight overbalanced Jack and they landed half against the bunk, half on the floor. Mal stood, looming over him. “You fucking sagua, what are you trying to pull?”
Jack lunged for the blaster. Mal kicked it away, under the chair, and with the same movement brought his knee up to meet Jack’s chin. Jack tried to roll with it, but had no space. He said, “Mal. Listen: you can’t let them take me.”
“Tell me why.” Mal watched as Jack stood, his hands spread to show he wasn’t going to attack. Mal didn’t let down his guard. “What’s your crime? Talk fast.”
Jack’s smile was harsh. “No crime. I was born in the fifty-first century. Worked for the Time Agency - our job was to keep the timeline safe. They messed with my head - took memories - I don’t know why. So I turned on them, and ran. That’s what the Alliance wants from me - secrets of time travel, methods the Time Agency used. If they get me, they’ll wring my brain till they get those facts. You know they will. Then your twisted fascist Alliance gets it all: the past and the future sewn up for them.”
Mal thought quickly. Truth? Fantasy? “So,” he said carefully. “This is how it’s going to be. This is my boat and no one dies on Serenity unless I’m doing the killing. That’s not negotiable. I may want to kill you, but I won’t. You’re going to hide with River and Simon, you’re going to stay alive and out of Alliance hands just like they are, and after the Alliance men are gone from here you’re going to come back and share the captain’s bunk for a spell.”
Jack’s eyes were dark and haunted, but his mouth curled into a half-smile. “Why?”
It was time for Mal to be at the front door greeting the visitors in uniforms. He started up the ladder. ‘I reckon you need some incentive to survive. I’m it. Go to hatch five, Jayne’ll suit you up.”
There was no time to look back, to see if Jack did what he was told. The door was already opening when he got to the cargo bay, and he tried to look as if he hadn’t been running. He knew the tricks in dealing with authorities. Don’t look anxious. Don’t be too friendly. Don’t let them know you’re afraid. Don’t let them know a damn thing.
Beside him, Kaylee looked terrified, but that was okay. Alliance soldiers liked it when pretty girls were scared of them. Made them feel powerful, and distracted them too, which was good. Book was there, offering a whiff of religious respectability. Zoe looked the way Zoe always looked, which made Mal proud of her all over again.
There was a Lieutenant in charge, with seven rank-soldiers dressed for battle, and a secretary with a notepad. Mal ignored the guns. “Mal Reynolds, Captain of Serenity. Welcome aboard, Lieutenant.” He didn’t act servile. Couldn’t even if he tried, it wasn’t in him. Respectful was the best he could manage.
The Lieutenant snapped his fingers. “Search carefully,” he commanded his men, and they moved in formation as if they’d done this routine a thousand times. “Cargo manifest?” Zoe wordlessly handed it to the officer, dropping her eyes. She knew the routines too.
“Show me the cargo containers,” said the Lieutenant. They were opening the second one when Jayne came in. The contraband was all properly stowed; these boxes were foolish things, dishware and cheap tools they’d be selling on Gibralt for pennies, which would probably sold to the locals for dollars. Straw hats, baskets, wicker chairs. They liked that kind of thing there.
Boring for soldiers to search. Mal could only watch the two in this room; five others were roaming his Serenity, touching what they liked with their oily hands, tramping their dirty boots over the carpets he didn’t have. He resented it. He followed the Lieutenant, who occasionally dictated laconic commands to his assistant - sometimes too low to hear, sometimes a code of letters and numbers and words like program 3 or note re seventeen X4W.
They went to the galley. They went to Inara’s shuttle, and Mal was relieved to see no one offered her any rudeness. They searched her things with quiet efficiency, hardly glancing at her, and left without apology. Mal’s mouth was tight but he kept his temper in check. It was the price of losing a war.
His own room. Nothing there. Book’s: he had a few things, clothes and his holy gospel, nothing to interest the searchers. Kaylee’s engine room, all machines and practicalities, except for a few touches Kaylee had added in her girlish way. They picked up her plastic flowers in the plastic vase she’d bought on Persephone once, to look inside, but they put it back again.
Nothing untoward in the other rooms. The Tams’ room looked as if no one lived there. Same with Jack’s bunk. They spent more time looking at the medical equipment Simon had left behind - real doctor’s stuff, good quality. The Lieutenant asked sharply, “Who’s your Doctor?”
“Died a year back,” said Mal. “We haven’t found a replacement yet. You know any quacks looking for work?”
The officer grunted, and seemed to believe it.
Mal tried not to look at the time. There was three hours of air in those suits that Simon and River and Jack were wearing. Least, he hoped there was. There’d been no time to check them over, and though they kept the suits ready for Simon and River just in case such a thing as this should happen, the suit for Jack had been grabbed at the last moment with no time to look it over or make sure there was oxygen decent to breathe. Three hours, then, maximum, a few minutes more if they were lucky and the suits had extra time for a fudge factor like they were supposed to. Three hours, and maybe a bit, and then airlessness, brain damage, death.
He wanted to clench his hands, but he didn’t want the Lieutenant and the soldiers to know he was worried, so he didn’t. Patience. Better for Jack and the Tams to die there in the friendly cold of space without air than to fall into Alliance hands. Better for Jack to die holding to the hull, surrounded by stars, than to shoot his own head into nothing with the sonic gun from his own time. Villangard. No wonder they hadn’t found it on the charts.
He noticed Zoe glancing at her watch, wished she wouldn’t. He thought Book was praying, silently, behind those tired eyes. He wished he wouldn’t do that, likewise. Jayne was as calm and stolid as an oak tree with weapons. That was good. It gave Mal heart, knowing he had muscle like Zoe and Jayne at his back. Book was good in a fight, too, if it came to that. Not that they cold overpower seven armed Alliance men, an officer, and a clerk, but they could go down fighting.
Three hours, and brain damage, and death. It wasn’t right for it to be like that. He wanted to haul Jack back in to a warm bunk, make him warmer with some skin-on-skin friction, see how hot things could be after the impersonal coldness of space.
The Alliance men started tapping walls with hand-held sensors, looking for hiding places for stolen or smuggled goods. They wouldn’t find a thing. Serenity was too good for that. She kept her secrets. But the human contraband he carried was another thing. Fragile. How long had they been out there? More’n two hours now, for sure. Almost three. Close to more than three.
He wanted to shout at them to get off his boat and leave them alone. Instead he waited, and answered questions in a way that wasn’t so bland as to be suspicious or so sharp as to be insolent. Boring routine for them, boring routine for us. All in a day’s travel. Yes, they had the supply records for the food in the galley cupboards and pantry. Wash produced them, marked with coffee stains and ripped a little. The goddam niao se duh du-gway went over them one by one, as if they expected secret spy code among the cans of potatoes and soy stew.
Then at last, after an eon, they were done. “Keep your nose clean, Reynolds,” was the last thing the Lieutenant said on leaving, and damned if the secretary didn’t make a note of it.
The door shut.
Zoe cursed. Then they all ran - Wash to the cockpit to get them away from the Alliance patrol ship as fast as possible, the rest to hatch five. It took maybe thirty seconds to open the airlock, but each creaking second felt like another hour.
Zoe said, “Three hours, sixteen minutes.” She sounded calm. Mal knew she wasn’t.
The outer hatch opened. They pulled in River, then Simon. River took off her own helmet, smiling, radiant with delight. Simon moved to help her out of her suit, his face tight and pale. Mal knew he had felt the fear for both of them. Then Jack, moving, breathing, alive. No more brain-damaged than he’d started out, it seemed, and the glance he gave Mal as he pulled off his head-plate was enough to burn away Mal’s worry, bringing heat to body parts that liked to be heated up from time to time. “Welcome back,” said Mal.
Kaylee went over and kissed Captain Jack on the cheek. “I’m glad they didn’t get you,” she said.
His manly dimples showed. “It’s never over till it’s over,” he said. Book shook his hand in silent congratulation.
River smiled at everyone. “All that beauty,” she said. “The sky spread out like infinity and the stars watching like shining celestial -“
“Angels?” suggested Book.
“Like celestial brain neurons, with their own exquisite songs.”
Zoe and Book went to find something for supper for all of them, since nobody’d had any chance to eat because of the Alliance. It wasn’t time to go to bed yet anyhow. Mal went to join Wash, make sure they put plenty of space between themselves and prying Alliance eyes. With any luck, they’d be surveillance-free now till they got to Gibralt.
“What did they want Captain Jack for?” Wash asked.
“His own business,” said Mal. “None of ours.”
Wash shrugged. “Curious, is all. Any enemy of theirs is a friend of mine.”
Mal didn’t answer. He was looking at the screen where the blip of the Alliance cruiser was fading in the far distance. Good riddance. They were all still alive, and flying free, and he had a pleasurable appointment coming up in his bunk in what was surely only a short while.
* * *
Everyone was mighty talkative at the supper table, except Book, who liked to look wise and be silent, a good combination, and Simon, who watched River with anxious eyes because he had been so afeared for her. Captain Jack told a story about a situation on a planet where he’d had to hide on the roof of a penthouse, holding onto a potted plant.
Mal had no appetite. He wondered it was maybe almost time yet when a Captain could retire to his bunk without all the crew talking about it. He wonder if Jack was feeling the same anticipations as he was. He didn’t want to rush things and he didn’t want to make Kaylee all curious, she was such a gossip, but impatience was gnawing him like a hungry beast and he had no desire to linger over food. It wasn’t that it was any sort of secret either, but right now it felt like what was between them ought to stay between them.
Inara had joined them for supper, obviously not hungry herself, but wanting the company after the unpleasant intrusion into her space. He wondered if her sharp eyes caught the tension between him and Jack, and what her sharp intelligence made of it. He didn’t owe her anything (or she him) but it felt odd, to have her here, and Jack, at the very same table, and Jack so close he could reach over the table and touch him if he’d a mind to.
Soon, very soon.
Book suggested a game of cards. Kaylee said, “Maybe Inara and Captain Jack can sing for us again. That was so pretty.” Which meant they’d done their singing for the others when Mal wasn’t around, since he hadn’t heard it.
Jack said, “No, I need some winding down after an evening spent floating in the void.” He got up from the table. “Good night.” His smile encompassed them all; Mal thought he could feel it touching his skin as he turned away. Jack’s trousers were tight enough and he was just wearing his shirt, no jacket, no greatcoat, so the view was good. Mal blinked.
Simon was asking River what she wanted to do. River was talking about lights and candles and songs sung by the dead to the living. Zoe had a distant look in her eyes as if she was thinking about Wash. Jayne was talking about the time he went hunting bison in a planetary reserve, thinking that someone was listening to him, which Inara might have been and Book certainly was. Enough waiting.
Mal got up, muttered a good night, and went into the companionway. Jack was waiting for him. Jack didn’t move aside as he approached. Jack put an arm around his waist and kissed him, the kind of kiss that asks promises and makes demands, which Mal liked just fine.
* * *
He’d wondered, before, if memories of Saffron would be bothersome when the time came that he brought someone else to his bunk. Turned out to be no problem at all, maybe because Jack was as much unlike Saffron as anyone he could imagine, in everything except they were both con artists. Some things were constant no matter where you came from.
Jack wasn’t soft where Saffron had been soft, and he pretended to no kind of innocence. They undressed messily, each taking clothes off themselves and each other, touching and kissing and tasting and sucking all the time. They ended in the bunk, entwined and touching in every way they could find. Jack said, laughing, “A captain doesn’t change his mind?”
“A captain adapts to circumstances,” said Mal.
Mal had never had much experience in sex with men. He’d have liked it, no problem, but people where he came from didn’t do that much, and made it a shameful thing. Whatever or whoever he might have wanted from time to time, he’d never been eager to face the lynch mob that might come for him afterwards. Then there was the war, and more opportunity maybe, except that he wasn’t going to touch anyone under his command or men driven desperate by fear and loneliness, and that was most people he met. So what experience he had with men was mostly rough-and-fumble, dirty and quick, and nothing like the sensuous skill of Jack.
Being with Jack was like Mal had always imagined being with Inara would be like. Not a rush to the finish line, but a game of touch and arousal. Mal didn’t have satin sheets or silk scarves or pretty music like Inara did, but Jack’s touches were velvet and his tongue was sugar and spice. Jack didn’t need Companion school for this. It wasn’t that Jack was like Inara - Jack was all man - but it was like he knew how sex starts in the brain, and the slower you go sometimes, the better it gets.
And Jack talked. His voice was a tickle on the hairs of Jack’s thigh, and he licked and kissed and nuzzled. He had sweet talk and dirty talk, warm talk and elusive growls. He talked about what he was doing and what he wanted to do, and how, and why, and every word made Mal harder and readier and hornier. It wasn’t that he wasn’t groping and kissing and making himself free of Jack’s own body, it was that Jack was like a powerful engine set to full throttle and it took some work keeping up with him.
And while the other men Mal’d messed with had worries of their own, Jack was shameless as a groundside jackrabbit. Between the taunts and the promises and the sex-talk banter he managed to tell a story about a brothel on some rim planet of the future, and halfway through, Mal said, “Shut up,” and kissed him hard. They were sitting up, face to face, him between Jack’s legs and his legs over Jack’s, and it was a good kiss, long and hard, and in the middle of it Jack put his lube-slicked finger up Mal’s ass and suddenly everything felt even better. Mal was groaning now, and Jack toppled him back on the pillow and fell on his dick, proving his mouth was good for more than telling stories, even though they’d already been experimenting this way some. So Mal came hard right in Jack’s throat, and he couldn’t remember when it had been so fine, and Jack took it all as if he had some sort of special magic. When Mal finally pulled out, all soft and shaky because it had been so good, he still had Jack’s finger in his ass and Jack was still smiling as if he owned the world, which as far as Mal was concerned just then, he did. Jack purred. “I want to fuck you, Mal. Long and hard, and you’ll like it, and want more.”
Even though nobody[‘d ever done that to him before, Mal said, “Yeah,” on a soft gasp, because he believed Jack’s promises and just hearing Jack say it made him hot, and this was probably his only chance ever. Then Jack held him, kissing him softly and telling hm how fine he looked lying there naked Jack’s arms, and body to body Jack rubbed gently against him and made Mal believe it. All the time his finger played inside Mal, and Mal wasn’t even sure what he as doing but it felt marvelous fine and better all the time. “Ain’t never been fucked before,” he said. “Hear some men like it.”
“You do, too,” said Jack, lips and teeth working gently at his throat. “You love it. You just don’t know it yet.”
Mal wondered where he’d ever found the fortitude to say no to Jack in the first place, that first day in the corridor. He certainly didn’t want to now. He’d wasted a week almost, and this was time stolen from real life.
And Jack, for all he’d been hard for a very long time now, was in no hurry. So that when he slipped his fingers out of Mal and pressed his well-lubed cock inside, it wasn’t pain Mal felt as much as a change in pressure, like the first time you step through an airlock. Still Jack took it slow, pushing in with a deliberation that made it last forever, pulling out even more slowly, and back in, while Mal found his body experiencing sensations he hadn’t thought were possible and no one had told him. He tried to speak but couldn’t find voice or words, and instead growled “Jack!” and touched his face, which was a face he found fascinating, even in the dim light of the bunkside lamp, with its expressive angles and shadowings of reaction.
His body was going through odd transformations, a spectrum of change. He felt filled with heat, overcome with a strange rapture, waves of both discomfort and comfort, as if being turned inside out, and he liked it He was moaning, but couldn’t stop - didn’t want to stop. He sucked hard on Jack’s fingers.
Then Jack lost it: pumping furiously, with a hoarse cry, he pulled out and climaxed over Mal’s legs, and then fell alongside him. “You okay?”
“Muh,” said Mal. He felt so good he couldn't manage words. Jack seemed to understand.
Jack buried his face in Mal’s neck. They lay, sticky and dozing for a while. Mal slept, and woke, and smiled to find Jack still wrapped in his arms. He dropped off again. Waking later, cold and stiff, with his body more like its normal self (except for an unfamiliar ache in his ass), he moved, waking Jack. “Gotta wash,” he said.
“I’ll help,” said Jack, his voice heavy with promise. So they washed each other, with a fair amount of laughing and tickling and kissing and pawing, until they fell back into the bed, blanket pulled over the wet bits.
Mal slept soundly, then. He woke to find Jack propped on an elbow, looking down at him. He said, “What?” and Jack fell on him, and that was it, this kissing and touching and rubbing together happened all over again. All that skin, perfect to the touch, skin to skin and hands to skin, cock to cock and lips to everywhere. Jack came first, but only by seconds.
They lay, talking sleepily about nothing in particular. Mal slept a little more. He awoke with Jack’s legs entwined in his, and Jack’s head on his shoulder. There was an annoying buzzer sounding. The bridge. “Captain,” he said. His voice was rough. He cleared his throat. Jack, moving languorously, started to suck his nipple again. He squirmed.
Zoe said, “You all right, Captain?”
“Just sleeping late,’ he said. Jack nipped. Mail made no sound, but grabbed a fistful of hair. Against his nipple he could feel the breath of Jack’s silent laughter.
“We’ll be arriving at Gibralt in a few hours.”
“I’ll be there. Prep without me. Captain out.” He shut off the intercom. “Bunch o’ nosy nursemaids,” he grumbled.
“They thought I’d murdered you,” suggested Jack.
“Killer fly-man,” said Mal. “You did.” They kissed again. He added, playing again with his fingers in Jack’s hair, “You know, you could stay.”
“There’s a place for you on Serenity. We’re doing well now, getting jobs enough. We could use another pair of hands. You know a lot about making things fly. And the Captain’s bunk is on offer.”
“With the Captain in it?”
“Sure. I’ll have to rent out the other room; only way to pay your wages.”
Jack grinned, but shook his head. “You’d be worth it,” he said. “But I can’t stay. I have places to go... I have to find my home again.”
“What’s your home? Daedalus?”
Jack’s eyebrows raised ironically. “No. A police box hurtling through time and space.”
“What’s a police box?”
“Damned if I know,” said Jack.
* * *
Jack wore his Alliance uniform for the first time since his arrival. Mal had thought before that it looked sinister and suspicious. Now it looked sexy and dashing. A man’s perspective changes.
Jack said goodbye to the others, each in his way - a punch to Jayne’s arm, a hug for Kaylee, a handshake for Zoe, an graceful bow to Inara, a handclasp for Wash and for Book. He nodded to Simon in formal respect, and it was Simon who proffered his hand and said, “Thanks for everything.” He meant: Thanks for being good to my sister. Mal knew that.
Then River threw her arms around Jack and he swung her around in the air and said, “Keep on dancing, beautiful.”
“I won’t forget you,” she said. “Future-man.”
Jack turned to Mal last. They shook hands, like friends might. “It’s been good knowing you,” said Mal. He wasn’t going to admit to sadness.
“It’s been good,” said Jack. He didn’t wink, but there was a light in his eye.
They watched him walk onto the docks of Gibralt. Kaylee tucked her arm into Mal’s. “You won’t forget him either,” she said.
“Not no time soon. So what are we standing around for? We’ve got cargo to unload. Move!”
They all moved, and Mal did not look back.
But he did not forget.
- end -