The problem with bars, Jack thought, was that when he was drunk they all looked the same. The problem with him was that he wasn't drunk right now. He hated this century. He couldn't drink without making a political statement of some kind, and he wasn't sure what kind of political statement he wanted to be making.
"Won't you drink with me in honor of this day?" an obnoxious-sounding man pressed him. Turned out that just by hesitating he'd made his statement.
Jack shrugged. "I think I'm in the mood for sobriety, actually." Jack didn't want to let all of the centuries pass in a blur of meaninglessness, just most of them. But sometimes the ones that he knew he should skip were the most rewarding to experience. And bar fights were a part of this era.
"Here." A man sat down on the chair next to him and put a glass in Jack's hand. "Drink it." He leaned in closer to Jack. "I don't really want you drawing that kind of attention just now."
Jack shrugged. "To the Alliance, then," he said, raising the glass and drinking. It tasted only a sight better than piss, but at least he knew it wouldn't kill him. Not permanently, anyway.
After the drunk Alliance fan had left, Jack turned to the man who'd given him the drink, and considered. Maybe this century wasn't so bad after all. "Do I owe you?"
"The bartender. Didn't want it to be on my penny if you split."
Jack shrugged. "That makes sense. I'm Jack Harkness." He had, with some difficulty, learned to drop the Captain. It was dangerous to claim he was one if he didn't have a ship. And Jack didn't have a ship, because there were better ways to see the universe, especially right now, during this time period that the Doctor wouldn't ever visit because there was too much wrong that he wasn't allowed to change. But the name still served.
"Cap'n Mal Reynolds. Any particular reason you didn't feel like drinkin'?" Mal asked, as Jack payed the bartender.
"Didn't agree with his principles. Any reason you thought I should?" Jack indicated Mal's coat, the same color brown as the alcohol Jack had just finished.
Mal smiled a slightly more genuine smile. "Nothing that's of concern to you."
Jack shrugged, and decided to try another tack. He'd gotten stuck on this particular moon after he'd been shot while traveling with his last captain, and had decided it was probably best if he didn't surprise him by still being alive. "Captain, right? You have a ship?"
"You have room for a passenger on this sometimes-ship? I can pay."
Mal shrugged. He'd never been particularly picky about who he picked up as a passenger. Which had gotten him into significant trouble, but that just made life more exciting. "Sure. I've something to do first, but I'll meet you tomorrow evening? Here?"
Jack grinned. "It's a date."
"We're getting a new passenger?" Kaylee asked Mal after he made his announcement.
"That's the idea," Mal said.
"Are we sure that's wise, sir?" Zoe glanced at Simon. "Given our current passengers and situation?"
"It'll be fine," Mal reassured them.
"Do you think River and I should stay out of the way until he-he?-'s gone?"
"I seriously doubt he even knows enough to ask after you. Just, you know, act like you belong here."
Jayne chuckled, an unpleasant noise.
"No other objections?" Mal asked. "Then I'm off to collect him."
Mal returned shortly with Jack to a now-emptied cargobay. "So, where's the ship heading?" Jack asked.
Mal ignored him briefly, favoring instead a shout toward the interior of the ship. "Zoe! Tell your husband to set a course for Kerry." Mal turned back to Jack. "From there, I ain't sure yet where we're going." They were well into Serenity now, and, as Mal closed the doors, Jack removed his wallet to get out the money he owed for the passage. Mal counted it before stuffing the cash into a pocket. "It doesn't look like you have much in the way of luggage to get sorted, so I'll show you your room. While we're in the air, you're to stay confined to it, unless you're taking dinner with the crew."
"That sounds dull."
"It's the way of things," Mal said. "At least for now."
Jack shrugged, and followed Mal to his aforementioned quarters. So far he hadn't seen any of the other crew. "What time is dinner?" he asked.
"Whenever the Shepherd has it ready. I'll send someone for you."
After Mal had left, Jack sighed and sat down on the bed. His plans for the evening hadn't included being held prisoner, but he would do with the situation what he could.
Mal sent Jayne to bring their newest passenger to the dining area, because he thought it would be funny. And because he knew that, as Captain, he should have more important duties, or at least look like he did.
Jack opened the door to meet whoever it was who'd gotten impatient with knocking after three taps, and had quickly moved on to full-fledged pounding. "Hello," he said, smiling. "I'm Jack Harkness."
"Jayne." Jack winced, and made a note that he should introduce himself using just his first name. "Cap'n sent me to collect you."
"Well, then." Jack grinned. "I'm afraid I don't know the way, so you'll have to lead." On their way to the dining area, he made several attempts at conversation, none of which Jayne replied to.
Jack bowed to Kaylee, who giggled but looked pleased. He shook hands with Simon, a young man who looked ready to bolt the moment Jack did anything unexpected. He just smiled slightly at the married couple-Wash and Zoe-and the Shepherd, because he knew that in this century, in this place, he would do better not to flirt with them. Jack mock-curtsied to Inara, and decided he liked her when she did a full curtsy back. "And you, I'd met already," Jack said, finally reaching Mal.
"Can we eat now?" Mal asked, but he looked amused. "Or would you like to go 'round again?"
"Could I?" Jack asked, causing Kaylee to giggle again.
"Maybe we better just sit down an' eat. So the food don't get cold?"
Jack shrugged, and waited until everyone else was seated to see where the empty chair was. "In the future," Mal said, "You can just sit wherever. We're not so formal as to have seat assignments."
"You've not been out on the border planets long, I take it?" Simon asked, as the food started to be passed around.
"That's funny," Mal said. "You looked a lot like you wanted to stay sober to me."
"Yeah, well, I thought maybe I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did. Got me off that piece of godforsaken rock. Apologies, Shepherd."
"How'd you get out there in the first place?" Wash asked. "It's just that most ships that tend to come usually leave again."
Jack shrugged. "I got the last Captain I traveled with a mite pissed off with me." He noticed that almost everyone relaxed the instant he started talking like them, even if Simon looked a little disappointed. "One thing led to another, and he left a day early. Without letting me know."
"What'd you two disagree over?" This from Jayne, who'd been too busy shoveling food into his mouth to comment for a while.
Jack shrugged. "I'd rather not say. Kind of personal."
Most of the crew nodded. They understood personal, probably a good deal better than Jack, who just hadn't wanted been in the mood for making anything up. "Why didn't you want me starting a barfight?" Jack asked. "Seein' as I'm not going anywhere that's off the ship anytime soon, I'm unlikely to spoil any plans you're making."
Zoe glanced at Mal. "There wasn't a fight?" she asked.
"Not today," Mal said.
"I thought, it being Unification Day and all, that's what you went to the bar to do, sir," Zoe said, carefully.
"Yeah, not picking up strange men," Wash added, rather less so.
Mal would have choked, if it weren't for the fact that the tomato he'd just put in his mouth was too overripe and mushy to get stuck. He was grateful that he'd swallowed what he'd eaten when Jack actually winked at him. "I decided to give the fight a miss this year," he said, when he thought himself able to speak. "In favor of meeting with a contact. While I may look conspicuous in an Alliance bar, she'd look conspicuous anywhere else. But we work with who we have to. Which is to say, I've lined us up a job. If we take it, itll get us not only a little bit of money we can use to keep this ship goin', but possibly new faked papers for the ship. Which would include you and your sister as members of the crew."
"That'd be shiny." Kaylee glanced at Simon, who looked somewhat less enthused.
"I would appreciate that, Captain," he said, eventually. "But I thought you wanted us off your boat. Sooner, if possible?" He set down his fork, taking a sip of water while he waited for the answer.
Mal shrugged. "Could be I've changed my mind. More likely I just want to have any eventualities covered."
The crew ate in silence for a few minutes, until Jack interrupted it. "Well, whatever reasons you had for doing it, I'm glad we met up and you got me off that rock. The food alone proves that I'm somewhere worth bein' just now."
Kaylee smiled, looking pleased at Jack's attempt at making a little peace. "That'd be the shepherd's cooking."
On comfortable ground now, because he'd said something that hadn't made the place tenser, Jack continued talking. "I have to say, when you all gave me your names at the beginning you didn't get to mentioning your roles. I know who the Captain is, and I'm pretty sure on the Shepherd, but I have the feeling that I ain't had a proper introduction unless I know who is responsible for what jobs." Jack had the feeling that maybe he shouldn't be pushing like he was, but it would be awkward to leave things without him knowing. Besides, if he wanted to be trusted to be let out of his room he should be friendly. And Jack never had a problem with being friendly.
"I'm the ship's mechanic," Kaylee offered cheerily, and Jack was beginning to wonder if she was even capable of being anything else.
"See, that makes a fair amount of sense," Jack responded, with a smile aimed at her.
Jack contained himself to a polite nod at Wash's offer of "Pilot" and Zoe's quickly followed "First mate." "I'm the hired gun," Jayne said, warily, as if it were a warning.
"Nothing wrong with that," Jack responded amenably, eating some pumpkin-flavored protein. "Been it myself, on occasion."
There was a moment that seemed longer than it was, while everyone tried not to look at Simon to see if he would answer, before he did. "I'm the doctor."
Jack, even though he was prepared for those words to show up in a non-meaningful context like this one, was a little thrown, but he gave Simon a grin.
"And he's a great one, too," Kaylee said, obviously meaning the words to reassure Simon, even if they didn't seem to fulfill their purpose.
"I'll keep that in mind if I need a doctor, then," Jack said. Inara hadn't answered, but he didn't want to make any presumptions by asking. The meal was beginning to wrap up now, that was fairly obvious. "Can I help with the dishes?" he asked, as Jayne started to clear the table. Jayne looked at Mal, who looked to Simon, who looked bemused, then nodded.
Jayne set the dishes down in front of Jack, who picked them up and headed to the sink as other people started to disperse. He finished washing the first set, and was looking around for a strainer to place them in, or at least a towel, when Kaylee took the dishes from his hand. "Thanks," Jack said.
"No problem," Kaylee said. "You just looked like you weren't sure where to put them."
"So, you mentioned that you'd done Jayne's job for a while? You don't seem very much like him."
"Well, I'm doin' his job now, without being like him." Jack continued washing dishes, but interrupted Kaylee when she started to object. "I know, it ain't the same. What I'm saying is that it's not the job that makes a person. I would bet there's not a mechanic in the 'verse who's like you."
"But I was only the appointed muscle for a short time. Mostly I've done what's needed, as a second-in-command."
"Oh. Neat!" Kaylee set the cups into the cupboard. "So how'd you end up here, then?"
"I had...a disagreement with my Captain." Jack felt a little bad about lying, but he wasn't precisely saying anything that wasn't true about a past situation he'd been in, just not the most recent one. "He didn't feel comfortable mixing our professional and personal lives, and I don't think I've ever learned to separate them. It's probably for the best that we broke up, but I might have preferred he'd left me somewhere a little closer to civilization."
"Most of us out here don't have no need for civilization," Kaylee told Jack, but she sounded disappointed.
Before Jack had a chance to say anything that might convince her the conclusion she'd come to was only partially right, Mal walked into the kitchen. "Jack," he said, as Simon appeared from behind him. "As you've pointed out, we're a bit far from civilization just now, and I don't think you had baggage large enough to hide a transmitter in. So maybe there's something you should be knowing, since you're a passenger on this ship," Mal said.
"I have a sister," Simon said. "She's been in Alliance control, and I don't know what they did to her, but it wasn't good, so I helped her out. To escape. And because of that, we're both wanted fugitives."
Jack smiled at Simon. "Good for you." There was something nervous about the young doctor that made Jack want to reassure him, if it was possible. "And you're making sure I don't have a problem with that?"
"That's about the size of it," Mal replied.
"Well, I don't. I figure the government doesn't have the right to be doing that to people." Many people may have considered some of what Jack had done questionable, but that was during different times, and Jack felt strongly that times as bad as these called for idealism more than any other time.
"Oh," Mal said. "Good."
Jack wasn't surprised to be informed that his confinement to quarters had been lifted, but he was a little annoyed that his relationship with the crew didn't seem to be relaxing at all. He hadn't had a chance to speak to Kaylee alone since that night doing dishes; it seemed a lot like she was avoiding him. If he'd really wanted to talk to her, he could have found her in the engine room. It probably said something that he hadn't, and that he was currently standing in the dining area with the Captain instead.
"Can I get you a cup of tea?" Mal asked. He'd come down from the cockpit to see Jack standing there, contemplating the labels on the cans about as intently as River was want to.
Jack looked up, and fixed Mal with one of his smiles. "Sure, thank you."
Mal didn't say anything as he prepared the tea, and Jack waited until he had his in hand and was leaning against the counter before saying anything. "My passage is paid up to Kerry," Jack said.
"That it is," Mal replied.
"But I was wondering if it would be possible to stay on a little longer, depending on where you're going. Kerry isn't exactly a crossroad."
"Yeah, sure," Mal said. "I take it you have the money."
"Right, that's not an issue. I just thought you might not like having me on your ship."
Mal shrugged. "I can't say I know quite where you got that impression from."
"Then it was the wrong impression," Jack said. "That's...good to hear."
"Because you were honestly afraid we might toss you into the black of space if you got to be too much of an annoyance?"
"A little, yes. I don't think Jayne likes me."
Mal chuckled. "Probably not, no. But I don't believe he writes the policy on the Serenity."
Jack shared a smile with Mal. "Mā de, I hope not."
Jack drained his cup, and pushed off against the counter. "Do you want more tea?" he asked.
"Nah," Mal said, emptying his own cup and setting it down next to him.
"You have work to be getting back to?" Jack asked, not wanting to push but feeling faintly letdown.
To his surprise, Mal shook his head and looked frustrated. "You're as bad as Inara," Mal said, and even he wasn't entirely sure what all he meant by that, or why he'd suddenly taken a step toward Jack. "You never do or say what you really mean."
"Not never," Jack said, stepping in, and brushing his lips lightly against Mal's. He'd meant it to prove a point, so he told himself he wasn't surprised when Mal didn't respond to the kiss. He was certainly disappointed.
Mal, on the other hand, looked shocked and faintly bemused, and like he expected to fall over any second now. When he didn't, he grinned, but it paled beside Jack's answering grin. "Oh," Mal said, and tilted his head to meet Jack's lips this time.