day 1, fandom: firefly, for nextian
Mal had a notion, for some reason he'd probably deny to his dying day, to make himself useful and help get Inara settled back in.
It went along with the usual dosage of mocking and bickering; then he knocked over a scented candle and put the fire out with a tapestry.
And Inara lowered her painted eyelids and told him, "That was a Zayed."
"A Zayed." Uttered in a flat, I-have-no-idea-what-that-means tone.
"Semi-priceless fabric, nothing more."
Which paved the way for the dress-shop caper.
"We go into Fazeli while everything's closed, get the stuff, get out. What's the hitch, sir?" Zoe is brisk, to the point. All in a day's work.
"It's a caliphate," Inara says succinctly.
It gets her a roomful of stunned stares and a, "Cali-what?" from Jayne.
"You always can be counted on to make a group feel brighter," Mal declares, nodding at him.
"The caliph's vizier doesn't take kindly to outsiders, but we need work badly," Inara points out, with her most persuasive smile. "However, men aren't permitted in during the holy days and women aren't permitted weaponry."
"Vizier?" Simon blinks disbelievingly, as if he's never encountered a concept half as foreign in all his time on this ship.
Mal cuts back to the pertinent part. "Say we do decide to rob a rutting dress shop whilst completely unarmed. What are women permitted?"
"Money, clothing, foodstuffs—innocuous unless you're creative."
"Useless go se like biscuits and tortoiseshell combs. Shiny."
"And just who do we know," Inara counters, "capable of self-defense with a biscuit or tortoiseshell comb?"
All eyes slowly shift to River.
"There are so many ways to stifle a voice," comes River's contemplative murmur. Jayne and Simon look distinctly unsettled for distinctly different reasons. Inara smiles, innocently this time.
"Fine," Mal says, just as she expects. "'Nara's gonna work it out. Zoe and River'll go in and get what needs getting."
Simon starts to protest and Mal cuts him off: "Shouldn't be a need for violence if no one's supposed to be in town. Girl's the only one can think quick enough on the fly and since it's only women who're allowed in anyhow, she's it." He leers showily. "Unless you're itchin' to have a try at passing for female."
Jayne shrugs. "Wouldn't be much of a stretch."
Kaylee elbows him.
They're on the job, the prodigy and the prodigious, seasoned soldiers from vastly differing spheres. Dichotomy, chiaroscuro, partners in crime and opposition, gutting the shop while worship is proceeding. Mal's atheism applauds it from afar. River can hear.
Nothing's that easy, Zoe decides, and the thought rings to River like a resonating alarm. "Alarum" she whispers, as things like rage and grief and Wash sift and simmer inside Zoe, pushing the pieces out of place. "Arms assembled, arms open, but a leaf is blown wherever the wind chooses."
Her foot slides into her mouth as easily as if she's Simon and Zoe's hand cracks across her cheek like River's nothing more than an ordinary human. It's admirable: only Zoe would slap a walking weapon with a quick, brutal backhand and not care about the consequences. River looks at her, filled up with secondhand sorrow, feeling the lines of Zoe's palm crumple inside the fist forming at her side.
"I didn't mean it that way," she says, working the door open, and she feels Zoe's ire erode just a tad. Like she's trying to understand.
But they can't think of sorrow or slapping now, not while they have their hands busy and overflowing with jewel-colored tablecloths and sheets and gowns and that's good—there's a purple one embroidered with scallops that might as well be embroidered with Kaylee's name too and River thinks she'll hide it away and give it to her later. Her mind is stuffed with satin and gold thread and she doesn't anticipate the rush of voices and footsteps outside.
Leave it to Mal to wrongly estimate the length of a religious observance.
"Diversion. Before anyone comes in." Zoe's voice is sharp and soft at the same time. "Go distract 'em till the shuttle's loaded. Sing or something." She's grasping at straws and hopes it doesn't show.
"That wouldn't be advisable. Diaphragmatic manipulation isn't optimal and tonal accuracy isn't guaranteed."
Zoe suspects that sometimes their little savant deliberately fills her speech with the biggest words around just to keep people from knowing what's really happening. It takes her a second to decipher the most recent example of that, then she fixes River with a stern gaze. "Sweetie, are you saying you can do everything in the 'verse but carry a tune?"
The girl's brow furrows. "I can travel through the ventilation shaft, remove a solar panel, and construct an escape route through the ceiling. Fast."
"And that's a better alternative than singin'?"
"It is," River says solemnly.
"Right, then." Zoe shoulders her pack and sighs. "Through the ceiling it is."
Every time Mal gets to manning up for Inara, they end up in an extra-fancy mess instead of a blue-collar mess.
All this so they can earn a profit and some exquisite textiles.
But Kaylee's not gonna pick any bones over that kind of misguided chivalry, especially not since she gets a new addition to her wardrobe out of it. Some ports may not let a ship dock without a registered Companion, but a Companion with a singed shuttle isn't much.
"Shame about the old one," she says, staring at the tapestry replacing the one Mal had burned a hole through. They're sipping sherry in their new dressing gowns and she can sort of pretend she's a Companion, too, even though her cuticles are ragged and her palms are too rough around the wineglass. "It was awful nice."
She laughs out loud when Inara grins at her like they're sisters and confides, "It was practically worthless anyway."
O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
Poem: "Salutation" by Ezra Pound