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All That Glitters

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Ever since those amateur slaver assholes roofied Five, Three has been ... well ... it's not that he tries to keep the kid in sight when they're on a station, exactly. That wouldn't be fair to her. If nothing else, she proved on that trip (and so many others) that she can handle herself -- and okay, if she needs a little help now and then, it's not like the rest of them don't (as he can attest to, from the various times she's saved his ass, that particular trip being a case in point).

Still, he gets a little twitchy when she wanders out of sight. Which of course she does constantly, because she's Five. He doesn't really follow her around so much as just keep general tabs on where his teammates are. Which is good team protocol, right? He's being a good team player.

He comes around a corner and finds her bent over a display of girly doodads. He quietly scoops up a handful of little sparkle glitter things from a bin off to her left and decides to see how many he can put in her hair before either Five or the vendor notice he's there. The answer turns out to be four.

"Gah!" she yelps. It's very satisfying, all the more so because he's alert enough to avoid being kicked anywhere below the waist with a little quick sidestepping. He takes a long step backwards just in case she's thinking about following up with a punch to the throat.

"Time to think about heading on back to the ship, kiddo," he remarks, leaning on the display and ignoring the vendor's dirty look.

"I'm not done."

Three picks up a massive, tacky string of sparkle beads and dangles it next to her hair, where it clashes spectacularly, at least as far as he's a judge of these things. "This one."

"It's not for me," she retorts, snatching the bead string out of his hand and hanging it back up.

Ooh. Interesting. "Are you glittering up the android? Wait -- are you the one we oughta blame for that hat she walked around in for a week?" And made him jump every time he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye. It wouldn't have been so bad if the hat didn't have enormous flowers and fake birds on it.

"No, she picked it out all on her own. Although," Five remarks, running her fingers through another display of necklaces, "if I'd known how you were going to react, I would have bought it for her."

"Haha, now c'mon, before Two has to come looking for us."

She's wearing a small backpack, which he takes hold of and uses to give her a little tug in a shipward direction. For a moment they wrestle over it. Five wins, but only because he lets her (which has nothing to do with the fact that she's eyeing his shins and wearing big clompy boots today).

"It's for Two, actually." Settling the pack on her back, she looks up, giving him a little smile accompanied by big eyes. Damn it. "Help me pick something out?"

"You're getting boss lady a present?" He looks at the necklaces again. "Shouldn't you be shopping in the armory district? Bet she'd rather have a new gun than any of this junk."

"But she already has a lot of guns." Five rolls her eyes at the pointed look he gives her. "Okay, so I'm talking to the wrong person. But I thought she might want something ... you know ... fun? Something she'd never buy for herself."

Three pokes at a dangling necklace adorned with an enormous poof of purple-colored blossoms. "You definitely came to the right place."

"Come onnnn, give me ideas."

"It would help if I knew what you were buying it for. Is this a thanks-for-saving-my-ass present? A sucking-up-to-the-boss present?"

"No and no. It's ..." She hesitates. "Never mind."

Which of course makes him a billion times more curious, but he has a feeling she wants to talk, so he just scoops up another handful of sequins. "Fine, don't tell me. It's not like I want to know anyway."

"Tomorrow's the anniversary of the day we came out of stasis," Five says in a rush. "Which I figure is kind of like our birthday, in a way? It's not like any of us have birthdays, exactly. I mean, we do, but we don't remember them. And Two really doesn't have a birthday at all." She scowls at him. "If you laugh, I'll glitterbomb your quarters."

"Nah, I think it's sweet." It is sweet. And it makes him think, as he sometimes does, that she really is a kid, without the hard shell the rest of them have built up over the years to shelter them from the world.

"If you're going to play with those," the vendor says tightly, with a sharp look at Three's fingers trailing through the bin of sequins, "it's a quarter kilo for a bar."

Three drops them back in the bin and brushes off his hands. "Look, kid, if Two wanted sparkly pretties, she'd buy them herself once in a while. She's not that kind of girl."

"So what do you think she'd like? I can't buy guns on this station because they have laws--" She says it like it's a dirty word. "-- and I'm not old enough. Same for booze. I thought about getting her a kitten, but the Raza isn't really a good place for a pet."

That's actually ... kind of tempting. ... No. No, it isn't. Kid's right, like he told Two back on Earth, a mercenary ship doesn't need a pet, however small and adorable it might be.

"Yeah," he says, patting her hair, "one ship's mascot is enough."

"I already regret asking you for help," she mutters, brushing glitter out of her hair.

"This means you owe me a favor, right? Because --" He grins toothily at her. "I have the perfect thing."

Her face goes through a whole range of emotions; it's great. "Okay," she says at last, "you owe me a favor. What is it?"

Three bounces a little and leads her around the corner to a booth with a bunch of knives.

"Something she'd never buy for herself, remember?" Five says, hands stuck in her jacket pockets, looking around without much interest at the racks of gleaming blades.

"Trust me," Three says, taking down a small knife in a sheath with straps and holding it out. "She lost her favorite boot knife in the fight with those smugglers on Rakkis-4, and this one's better than the one she had before. Good workmanship, good balance, draws great from the sheath." He's already thought about buying it for himself, but reluctantly has to admit that if he hides any more knives on his person, he'll clank when he walks, and he's running out of storage space for his backup knives.

"I'll take your word for it, I guess." Five leans down to fish out a little bag of bars tucked into the top of her boot. "If this turns out to be you trying to get me involved in some kind of elaborate game of one-upsmanship between you two, I'll tell her you're responsible."

There's a flippant answer in the back of his throat, but instead sincerity smacks him in the teeth, as it sometimes does. "I wouldn't mess around like that. She deserves something nice."

"Yeah," Five says, smiling at him. "Yeah, she does. Thanks."

"Yeah, well ..." As Five goes to pay, he gives her a quick tap on the shoulder with the back of his hand. "Gotta run for a minute. Talking about Two reminds me, boss lady had fresh fruit on my shopping list and I never ordered it. Meet you at the ship in a few minutes?"

The look she gives him is suspicious, but if there's one thing being a professional scoundrel has taught him, it's never give them time to think about the con, so he's off before she has time to say anything.

He doesn't have far to go. He remembers the display of antique electronic junk because Five had refused to be peeled away from it -- that was actually where he lost her the first time, when he'd wandered off to look at a display of guns a ways down the aisle. And he remembers the longing look she was giving a shelf full of colorful little boxes.

A few minutes and an unexpectedly large handful of bars later, he's headed back to the ship with a colorful little box tucked under his jacket.

Nestled next to it, there's a bag of little sparkly bits from the other stall, too.

 

***

 

It's been a busy evening, but Five is brimming with satisfaction as she wriggles through the vents back to her quarters. Everyone else is eating in the mess, but she ducked out early, taking a tray back to her quarters on the pretext that she has a project to finish. She does it often enough that nobody gave her a second glance ... well, except Three, but it's not like he doesn't know what she's up to, so she just flicked her eyes at Two and shared a conspirator's smile with him.

Her backpack is much lighter now, after one visit to each and every crew member's quarters, including Android's charging station.

Birthdays only come once a year, after all. She's just lucky that Three didn't find her 'til the end of her very special shopping trip, when she only had Two left to go, or she'd have had to sneak off again.

Her only regret is that she won't get to see the looks on their faces, but maybe she can get Android to show her the ship's surveillance feeds. It's for a good cause.

Happy and satisfied, she drops out of the vents onto her bed -- and into a whole world of glitter.

"What the hell?" she says out loud, looking around. It looks like someone took handfuls of glitter and threw them all over her bed, her desk, the floor. Every time she moves, there's a cloud of sparkles.

There's also a colorful little box sitting on her pillow.

She drops her backpack on the bed in a cloud of glitter, and pokes the box cautiously before picking it up.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! is scribbled on the box in a sprawling, careless hand that she knows all too well. It's a brand new game cartridge for the game rig she brought back from 21st-century Earth -- one of the ones that she looked at and then decided not to buy because she couldn't afford to get that and also to buy presents for everybody with her share from their last heist.

Five sinks down on the bed with the box in her hands. She has to blink hard to make her eyes stop going blurry. She didn't mind that doing all of this on the down-low meant she wouldn't get a group-birthday-observed present of her own. Sneaking around was its own reward.

It's just ...

This is the only birthday present she ever remembers getting. Actually, from what she knows about Emily's past, it might be the only proper birthday present she's ever gotten in her life, amnesia or not.

She swallows hard and turns the box over in her hands to check the specs on the back. It's not for the same game system she has -- there's no way Three could possibly have known that there's more than one kind -- but rigging up an interface to make it work sounds like a fun evening's project.

A lot more fun than cleaning up a ton of glitter, which has already covered her fingers and clothes. She's already knows she's going to be finding glitter in her hair and under her fingernails for weeks.

Which makes her have absolutely no regrets whatsoever that, before she dropped Three's present (a bundle of candy and books) from the vents to his bed below, she opened up the box of chocolates and very carefully, using her pocket knife and a mini welding torch to re-seal each bite-sized piece of chocolate, doctored a random assortment with those sour fruits he hates.

She wouldn't want to be accused of being too sweet, after all.