Categories > TV > Firefly > Under Their Skin0 Reviews
Chapter three of "Under Their Skin"
Same as previous chapter. Thank you to Warrior Zoe and Kat, and anyone who has beta-ed any draft of this fic.
Serenity docks at Zeus. Its three passengers bid brief farewells to the crew. Mal has some business to take care of on board Serenity, and only later is ready to set off with Zoe and Jayne to check on the business prospect. He considers ordering that River come along too - given what she's capable of and the fact that she's in the best shape mentally since Mal's ever known her. But bringing anyone other than the captain and two crew members to the meeting today would be overkill, so he allows River to accompany the rest of the group as they investigate Zeus' bustling marketplace and see what supplies can be procured.
Inara heads to the market with the others. Her schedule did not synch up with that of any potential client and she would like a chance to get out of the ship and look around.
It is the middle of a busy weekend and the streets are clogged with vendors, noise, and activity. The colony is quite a change from the last one the crew visited; instead of Persephone's dust and heat, Zeus is chilly. It is blessed with conditions not dissimilar to the Earth's-that-was and terraforming equipment that actually worked. It contains lush grasses and tall trees, giving it an impressive sheen. It's a popular destination and the terrain of its neighboring planet, Turkhana IV, reportedly has similar beauty.
"Meet ya back in two hours," Mal says to those crew members who are not accompanying him.
Wash approaches Zoe for a farewell kiss. He's not surprised when the peck on the cheek he receives is perfunctory, as she's been distant and preoccupied for the last few hours.
Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are led through a dark tunnel. Zoe wants to shiver, wishing she'd brought a heavier jacket. The torchlight grows brighter until they reach a wide open space occupied by six or seven men and women wearing dark clothing. Computer equipment hums steadily in the background and several overflowing boxes stand stacked against the walls. The introductions are brief and to the point.
"We've heard of you," the ringleader, a middle-aged woman named Collins states. "Anyone who brings the Alliance down a notch or two is a potential friend of ours."
"It was our pleasure," Mal answers. He's usually sketchier when referring to past deeds but this one he can't resist owning up to. Besides, with the Alliance at its weakest now, he has greater freedom to speak candidly. "So what can we do for you?"
Collins rises from her desk and approaches Mal. "We got some goods for you to transport a short distance. Mostly weapons. Gonna require you to do some...clandestine flying and an even more clandestine landing. We made a deal with the government of Turkhana IV. They need us to get the weapons to 'em 'cause they've been having trouble with insurgents and -- "
"Fuck that," Mal says. He spits at Collins. Then he turns to leave, and his crewmembers follow his lead. "We don't do business with the government of Turkhana IV. Not ever - and especially not when it involves getting them weapons."
Collins doesn't look surprised. She might even look a bit chagrined. "You're passing up a lot of money," she warns but the Serenity crew is already making its way back through the tunnels.
"We're gettin' off this goushi buru place," Mal says, as soon as he finds the rest of his crew. His language and posturing leave no doubt that he is to be followed at once.
"But I didn't get my new radiation shield!" Kaylee ventures a protest, as she and the others get in step behind the captain.
"Nothin' wrong with the one we got," he mutters.
"Sir," Zoe begins, addressing Mal for the first time since they left Collins' lair. Mal, Zoe, and Jayne have not exchanged any words since Mal spit at Collins. Even Jayne knows why Mal is upset and figures his best bet is to keep his mouth shut. "If I may suggest, there certainly is no reason that we can't get our supplies here."
"Did something happen?" Simon asks.
"They were offered a deal," River states, sounding faraway and yet lucid. "It was wrong. Very wrong."
"Thanks for reading my mind, River," Mal states. He picks up the pace and the others have to scramble to keep up with him.
Simon sighs quietly, resigned to the fact that he will get the details later on. "At least I got some of the medical supplies I needed," he says, more to himself than anyone else.
Wash sticks a hand inside his pocket. He also successfully haggled for the item he came for. He reaches his other hand to try to hold Zoe's, but she's walking a few paces ahead of him, oblivious.
When Mal and the others reach Serenity, they stop dead in their tracks. Logan, Ororo, and Bishop are waiting in front of the ship.
"What's going on? Is something wrong?" Mal gruffly asks the trio. This is unusual indeed. The three have paid their fees and were taken to the agreed-upon destination. Mal can see no reason for them to return.
"Everything's fine. We got the supplies we came here for," Bishop replies. He and his comrades are holding several boxes, and a few more are stacked near them. "And we need you to take us somewhere else now."
Zoe looks at Mal. The Captain shrugs and says, "You got more money, we can take you. Whereabouts?"
"Turkhana IV," Ororo answers.
"Anywhere but there," Mal states. He starts as if to walk past them, up Serenity's entrance, but Zoe touches his arm lightly.
"What sort of business you got there?" Zoe asks.
"I thought only Alliance ships are allowed to dock there," Simon says to the three passengers, baffled.
Mal shoots Simon a menacing glare. The doctor has no business taking part in negotiations of this sort and Mal is going to have a discussion with him - ending with Mal's fist making contact with Simon's pretty face if need be - regarding this subject.
"We're obviously not Alliance," Ororo says. She lowers her voice and adds, "We're part of the resistance. The group fighting the slave system and working towards liberation. We're goin' there to help bring that government down."
Zoe's eyes scan the three. Mal verbalizes her thoughts. "And why in the hell should we believe you?"
"Yeah, how do we know you're not Alliance spies or some shit like that?" Jayne asks.
"How do we know you're not slave traders?" Zoe asks, eyeing Logan.
Mal turns to glare at the speaker of those words and is startled to find that it was River who stated, plainly and clearly, that the three travelers are neither Alliance spies nor slavers.
"They bought weapons here," River continues. "In that box is a 47-KL, that box contains grenades, and that one has a dozen rifles. They are going to fight with the resistance and free the slaves."
Jayne doesn't wait for the nod from Mal. He opens up the travelers' boxes and finds that River correctly identified the contents. The travelers watch Jayne mutely and without protest.
Mal and Zoe look at each other, and Mal then looks at River. He faces the trio of travelers and says, "Let's talk."
It has been a long day on board Serenity, and Zoe and Wash gladly retire to their bunk. The day has been full of - as Simon might delicately word it - spirited discussion and debate. Mal has decided to take the job and transport the three passengers to Turkhana IV.
Turkhana IV is a stone's throw away from Zeus but Serenity is currently still in orbit around Zeus. They need to wait for an advantageous time to approach Turkhana IV and make the clandestine landing. Bishop has a contact who provides information on when the planet's sensor scans are at their peak and when they go down for maintenance. With some of Wash's fancy flying, Serenity should be able to sneak through, when the time is right.
"You still don't look convinced of this," Wash says once he's made his way down the ladder. He's tired, and the harsh tones of Mal and Jayne - and that Bishop guy - are ringing in his ears from the day's long debate.
"I spoke my peace at the meeting," Zoe responds. She sits on the bed.
"You did," Wash nods. "And you seemed convinced then. But I know you too well and something's still bothering you. You know, there's still time to talk to Mal if you - "
He stops when he sees Zoe shake her head.
"We grilled 'em good enough," she says, as she removes her boots and searches for her sweatpants. "Even if we didn't have a psychic tellin' us what they said is true, I'd believe 'em. I think."
Wash's eyebrows raise. Rarely does Zoe express uncertainty. He believes the last time that occurred was when he was fighting the battle of his life, the one where he fought to win over her affections. In between the period of time when Zoe intensely disliked him to when she fell in love with him, she went through a period of ambivalence regarding Wash. It drove Mal crazy. Wash loved it because at that point, and for the first time, he knew he was winning.
"You think?" he echoes.
Zoe sighs and frowns. She rehashes some of the discussion from earlier in the day. "What if it's possible that Ororo and Bishop are slaves, that Logan is a slave trader? But they don't act like slaves, and slave traders usually work with a lot larger groups. And Bishop looks like he could easily kick Logan's ass." She pauses for a second and continues, "But Bishop's story is hard to believe - that he's actually from Turkhana IV and he escaped in an Alliance transport. Been working with the resistance for years." She shakes her head slightly. "It is possible though, and River keeps sayin' they're tellin' the truth. And if we help them then we're helpin' the resistance and fightin' against slavery."
"Honey, I've never seen you so...so loquacious. And so unsure. I, uh - wow," Wash fumbles, truly surprised.
She's quiet for several seconds and then says, "My head hurts." She turns away from Wash.
"Maybe you need a little massage," he suggests, his voice now rich and romantic. "I could rub your temples."
He gently reaches his hands towards her face. She pushes them away.
"Or not," Wash says, partly disbelieving that his wife just pushed his hands away.
Zoe says, "I think I just need to go to sleep." She sounds as cold and distant as the old River. In a businesslike fashion, she removes her shirt and pulls the fluffy sweatshirt over her head.
Wash takes a breath and tries to compose himself. "Xin gan," he begins, "You want to talk more about this? I can tell you're hurting. Maybe we could - "
"Wash, back off, okay? I said I wanna get some sleep." She turns away from him and pulls the covers around her.
He is stung by the harshness in her voice. Even she is taken aback by it and it came out more severe than she'd intended.
"You know, I'm not to blame for what happened on Turkhana IV!" Wash exclaims. His voice is loud and had anyone been standing in the hall outside their bunk, it might have been overheard. "I had nothing to do with it. I don't know why the hell you're blaming me!"
Zoe keeps her voice quiet and icy. She does not turn to face him. "Never said I was."
Wash hesitates for a second and then turns towards the ladder. He heads for the bridge.
Time passes and Wash does not return to the bunk. Sleep eludes Zoe, despite her fatigue. She tosses and turns for a while longer before deciding to give up any notion of slumber. She pulls a robe over her pajamas and slippers over her feet before climbing the ladder.
She knows Wash is on the bridge. She wants to go to him but decides to first get some tea. She needs a soothing beverage and figures Wash might want one as well. She pads down the long, empty hallway towards the dining room.
Bishop is sitting at the dinning room table. He is quietly drinking a liquid - Zoe can smell the faint whiff of alcohol - and is apparently undisturbed by Zoe's entrance. She finds the kettle and sets the water to boil.
Zoe is surprised at Bishop's question, given that the man hardly spoke to her during the previous days he was a passenger. He was, however, quite vocal during the debate held earlier on this ship over their current voyage.
"Looks that way," Zoe responds. "What about you?"
"Can't do it either. Got so much to do when we get to Turkhana. I start thinking about it there and I fill with anger."
"Me too," Zoe admits. She adds, trying to probe, "I think it's good that you don't...act like someone brought up as a slave. You know you got rights and you fight for them."
"My Mama taught me that all human beings are born equal and entitled to the same rights as everyone else." He pauses and adds, "The resistance is growing."
"Are there enough of you to change things?" she asks. Waiting for the tea kettle, she leans against the wall. "Enough to win a war?"
"I don't know," Bishop admits. "But every month we get more people. There's a whole underground working to shelter escapees. And some of the whites sympathize with us."
His eyes narrow and he studies her, as if for the first time. His tone of voice, which had been casual and weary, now makes a decided shift. "Speakin' of whites...you're married to one of them."
"Yeah," Zoe states, folding her arms across her chest. Using terms such as 'black' and 'white' to describe people is still new to her and she is very disturbed by the change in Bishop's tone.
"So what's going on? Is your own kind not good enough for you?" he taunts.
Disgusted and perplexed, Zoe opens her mouth to answer, but Bishop's rage is expressed first.
Bishop's hands are clenched into tight fists. "You should see what our women have to go through on Turkhana at the hands of white men." His voice begins rising with fury. "What my own sister went through. Forced to bear three children that belonged to her 'master' and his tamade hundan sons!" He drips with revulsion and fury as he says, "It makes me sick that you would willingly be with a white man."
Zoe has already assessed Bishop. He's huge and his muscles seem to bulge through his shirt. Zoe also suspects that she is on the receiving end of a rant that has been delivered to Ororo over her relationship with Logan numerous times. Despite the pulsing urge, she resists the temptation to fight back.
"Bishop, you had best keep to yourself your opinion of my relationship with my husband," Zoe states. She keeps her voice low, calm and steady, and she leaves no doubt that she must be obeyed. She also successfully conveys that she is not afraid of Bishop.
Bishop opens his mouth as if to respond but thinks better of it and takes another swig of his drink.
Uncertain whether she is now angrier at Bishop or the ordeal of his sister, Zoe turns away from him and towards the kettle which mercifully begins to whistle. She pours the steaming water into two mugs and places them on a tray.
Bishop's comments were odious but Zoe lets the anger dissipate quickly. By the time she has walked the long hallway to the bridge, her heart rate has returned to normal.
Wash is absorbed in his thoughts and staring at the stars, so he's startled when Zoe speaks and he discovers he's not alone.
"Do you want some tea?"
He recovers quickly and mutters, without looking at her, "Thanks."
She sets the tray down and leans against the console, facing him. She says, her voice tender, "Wash, I want to apologize. You're right - I am mad but you're not the target. I'm sorry," she says, sincerely.
The concept of making the other person squirm or grovel is unknown to Wash. He jumps from his seat and embraces his wife warmly.
"Thanks, lambie-toes. And I'm sorry for...for anything I - "
"You got nothin' to apologize for, husband."
The couple embraces again before Wash reaches for his hot mug and sits down, taking a sip of the tea.
"It's been an interesting day," Zoe says. "We didn't tell the rest of you what happened with the job down on Zeus."
She goes on to describe their interaction with Collins. Zoe sounds amused now, and both are smiling.
"And he spit in her face??" Wash echoes. "Good for you, Mal!"
"Once she told us what who the job was for, I knew he'd turn it down. Didn't think he'd do it that way though." They giggle together again. Zoe adds, "I wonder what Shepherd Book would've said about that. Or would've done if he'd been there."
The smiles on their faces dry up and the mood on the bridge turns from jubilant to sorrowful. Zoe takes a drink of her tea. She's seen a lot of people die but Book's death was hard to take. He'd been a member of the crew and his absence chills the bridge like a strong wind.
"This 'verse is such a sad place," Wash says. "A crazy one. Slavery. Reavers. Book getting killed by the Alliance. Er - I suppose I could go on all night here."
Zoe pensively remarks, "I was thinking of that the other day too. How cold the 'verse is. Times I think maybe it's meant to be evil, that our lives are meant to be one damn painful thing after another." She stops and touches his hand. She decides to share with him what she was thinking a few days ago. "I think of you as my light. You're my proof that this 'verse has good things in it, wonderful things. That it's worth it to love someone, and worth it to make a lifelong commitment to them."
In the dim light, it seems that Wash's face is now pink. He's either embarrassed or delighted, maybe a combination of the two. He's truly moved and, for the moment, speechless.
"Thank you, honey," he manages. His tone conveys that he is feeling honored. "Y-you know I feel the same way."
Zoe takes another sip of her tea. "Hey, speakin' of how strange this day's been, there's somethin' else I gotta tell you. I had me a little chat with Bishop while the water for our tea was boiling just now."
She doesn't want to tell him but she has decided that he needs to know. It is possible that Bishop could be a threat. Zoe plans to keep an eye on him - and tell Mal to do the same, and talk to Ororo to gage the scope of this threat - but Wash cannot be kept in the dark. So she tells him everything, relaying the entire conversation with Bishop.
"...and I'll talk to Ororo tomorrow to see what she says. I think Bishop's a lot of hot air and not a danger. But I'm gonna be sure."
Wash nods, digesting her words. He has every confidence that he will be well-protected. "And I'll lift more weights in the meantime!" he quips. He takes a breath and adds, serious now, "Wow. I've never thought so much about skin color as I have in the last few days." And then, with a smile, "Used to be that 'race' described when two ships compete to see which comes in first."
Zoe returns the smile. "I've thought about it a few times before," she admits. "When I was a kid, my great-granddaddy would tell me I was lucky that my skin wasn't as dark as his. Had no idea what he meant and my Momma said not to listen to him, he was just real old-fashioned."
She shrugs and then adds, "There was the time on...that planet where we picked up Saffron. Or whatever her name was. You remember that send-off shindig they threw for us? I thought I saw some people givin' us weird looks when we were cuddled up 'round the fire. And I remember lookin' and thinking that no one there had skin as dark as mine."
Wash shakes his head. "The Alliance isn't known for making diversity a priority when they set up a colony. I noticed some of those looks you're talking about. At the time," he laughs, "I thought it was because they were wondering why the hell a gorgeous woman like you was with me!"
"Honey," she chides playfully. She reaches to kiss him. She needs to feel his lips against hers.
Wash gladly returns the kiss, wrapping his arms around her and letting his lips and tongue enjoy hers. They remain together, kissing and caressing, their mouths exploring each other passionately. Warmth and love blissfully pulse through their bodies, helping to mollify the disturbing thoughts and events of late. The impact of the 'verse's troubles fades away against the delight of mouths and tongues touching, of rising passion. Zoe reaches her hands under Wash's shirt so she can touch his flesh.
Finally, they make a beeline for their bunk, nearly racing down the hall and then scrambling down the ladder.
Their clothes are rapidly discarded and they slip in between the cool sheets together. Limbs wrap around limbs. Zoe thinks this is the best part as she and Wash lay together, naked skin touching naked skin. She loves the feel of his heat against her, his hands roaming over her body, the utter abandon and sensuousness of having nothing in between them. Skin has such an amazing ability to bring joy, she muses.
No, Zoe decides a little later, this is the best part. She's on top of him now, straddling him, looking down at the ecstasy on his face as she thrusts. The joining of their bodies. The feel of his hardness inside of her, of his hands reaching up to fondle her breasts, his look of happiness when she leans forward to cover his mouth with her own. Wash's moans and her own sighs. It's all exquisite. The beauty of his pinkish skin and her light brown tones melded together. The feel of him moving his hips upwards against her. The way she moves on him faster and faster, knowing that orgasm is deliciously on its way.
Afterwards, they spoon together and drift into a contented sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED
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