Categories > TV > Firefly > Under Their Skin

Chapter Five

by Stormkpr 0 Reviews

The penultimate chapter of "Under Their Skin"

Category: Firefly - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure, Romance - Characters: Inara, Jayne, Kaylie, Mal, River, Simon, Wash, Zoe - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006/04/29 - Updated: 2006/04/29 - 4826 words

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Chapter Five

Thank you to damn hero zoe and Kat for their beta-testing skills.

*

The installation is finished as the sun begins to set. Kaylee tells the group that another twenty-four hours, minimum, need to pass before /Serenity /is cleansed of the radiation and will be safe for the crew to set foot inside.

The group is gathered around a small fire. Inara insisted upon the group eating the oats and fresh strawberries she brought with when the crew evacuated. Inara is desperately trying to cheer Kaylee up, and she hopes this will do the trick. After much debate, Mal allows the fire to be made. They are far from town and have not encountered another soul anywhere near their campsite, so it appears that setting a fire will be safe. River assures them that they are still alone.

The oatmeal provides a stick-to-the-ribs nourishment that the dry protein bars lack, and the strawberries are tart and refreshing. The crew will go to bed tonight satisfied in this small way.

Turkhana IV is in for another chilly night, and the crew sits huddled together around the fire. The moon is full and bright.

Zoe and Wash are cuddled together in their usual way, with his arms around her, as they enjoy the fire's small warmth. Kaylee is flanked by Simon on one side and Inara on the other. She's still shivering despite the hot oatmeal that she is eating, and she spoons it into her mouth without her usual gusto.

"Can't wait to get off this rock," Jayne mutters.

Mal looks at him. "You take the first night watch."

"Sir," Zoe pipes up. "Been pretty uneventful here. No one's been around base at all. Let me do my duty and take one of the shifts." Zoe had been feeling content reclining against Wash's chest, and she doesn't want to break the mood, but her duty is pressing.

"Yeah!" Jayne exclaims, enthused at the possibility of a shorter shift. He did, however, spend most the day napping to replace the sleep lost the previous night.

Mal nods. "That's fine by me. We'll do three watches of three hours."

"So what'd you guys do all day while we was in town?" Kaylee asks. Her question startles the group because she's been taciturn since her return with the equipment.

Inara smiles, thinking that this has to be a good sign. It was an eerie afternoon with Kaylee being so wounded and it's heartening to hear her voice.

"We sat around in a circle like this, told stories, sang a few songs. It was shiny!" Wash jokes.

Jayne smirks at Wash's attempt at humor.

"We spent most of the day playing cards," Simon admits.

"I took a deck with me when we evacuated," River boasts.

"I wish I'd been playin' cards instead of goin' into town," Kaylee says glumly. Her gaze is fixated on the fire and she doesn't blink as she watches it crackle. Normally she loves to look at campfires and see the different colors provided by the small flame, the warm reds and oranges with their multitude of shades. Today she can take no joy in this, or anything.

"I wish I could forget what I saw today," Kaylee continues. She takes a breath and then asks, "Why do you suppose they call people 'white' or 'black' here? And 'yellow' don't make much sense either. Ain't our skin colors more like brown or beige or pinkish?"

Zoe turns towards Kaylee and at first wishes the mechanic had not spoken up. No need to waste any breath discussing the circumstances of this place - what's the point of rehashing its horrors? They all agree the place is a misery. But then Zoe's perspective subtly shifts and she looks upon the younger woman with empathy. Kaylee hasn't lived the hardened life Zoe has. She does need to discuss it and who can blame the girl for that? If Zoe's wish of someday having a baby ever is fulfilled, she will be having several difficult discussions with the child as he or she passes through adolescence.

"It simplifies things," River says. The lucidity in her voice is surprising though it still retains the spine-chilling quality of which River is capable. "It creates an 'us' versus 'them'. Makes it easier to classify someone else as not one of us."

"I just don't get this whole concept of different races," Wash pipes up. "Where I came from, everyone figured they were all just human, no matter what their background was. Or their skin color."

"Same here," Mal said. He takes a breath. "I figure the idea of having different races don't have to be a bad thing necessarily. People can take pride in their backgrounds, their ancestry. But the way and the reason they separate it out here is dead wrong."

"Race is a cultural construction," River adds. She sounds even more coherent than she just did. "The idea of multiple races is arbitrary. We're all hybrids. Simon and I have Asian ancestors. On Turkhana IV we might be classified as yellows if our ancestry were known. But more likely, we'd be classified as whites because of the way we look."

"It is interesting that on Turkhana IV they divided people up by race. It seems everywhere else in the 'verse, it's your level of wealth that determines your status," Simon remarks.

"Not just wealth though," Inara adds. "Your gender matters too."

"It shouldn't matter," Kaylee pipes up. "None of it - color or whatever else. I don't get what someone's ancestors or the color of their skin matters in terms of bein' a person. In terms of whether they're a /good /person or not. And 'sides, it's all been so mixed together now anyway, but what should it matter?'

"It shouldn't, Kaylee," Inara responds. "It really shouldn't."

Zoe has listened to all of their words. She is a firm believer in not speaking unless she has something to say, but she makes an exception only to add, "I agree with what Mal said. I bet we all got a lot in our ancestry on the earth-that-was to be proud of. Differences like that ain't bad. But most of us don't know jack about our ancestry. We're all just human now."

The group is quiet for a moment.

"Whatever, people," Jayne says, tossing his bowl and spoon aside. "I'm gonna catch me some shut-eye."

*
"I'm liking this ring more and more, husband," Zoe whispers, once the fire has been squelched and the group has retreated to their tents. She peers at the ring, wishing the moonlight were even brighter. She caresses the band with her fingertips.

"I knew you would," Wash says.

"I like the idea of gettin' you one someday too."

"If we really want to go hog-wild, we can take 'em somewhere and get our initials engraved." He pauses and adds, holding her hand in his, "That's what I wanted to do with this, but it was too much extra."

"All in due time."

They reach for their sleeping bags and get under the covers. They are going to need the insulated material to stave off the cold. It's another chilly night on Turkhana IV.

"Are you gonna try to fall asleep?" he asks her.

"Yeah. I'll get some in before my shift in three hours, and some in afterwards."

"Want me to go on guard duty with you?" he asks, and Zoe knows he's grinning though she can't see much. "I could keep you company, tell stories and stuff."

Sometimes it's fun to respond to Wash's levity with dead seriousness. "No. I'm used to night watch. I'd rather you get your sleep and save me some of those stories for the daytime."

She reaches over to kiss him goodnight. They cuddle a bit longer and whisper quietly about nothing in particular. Zoe can tell, from the way his voice has changed and the way he's touching her right now that he wants to make love. She considers indulging him - he's certainly done it for her in the past a few times when he hadn't been in the mood - but she just cannot do it here and now. Zoe gently declines his unspoken offer.

"Not when we're in the middle of this forest," she whispers, in a tone so soft that he has to strain to hear. "I don't like the thought of everyone overhearing. And my hair is dirty."

"Your dirty hair really doesn't bother me," he says, though he knows the lovemaking is not going to happen tonight. "Mine doesn't exactly smell like a rose either and we're not making a shampoo commercial anyway."

"It ain't that. It's just that makin' love with you means too much to me to do it in a place like this." During her army days, sex was often nothing more than a five minute hump, sometimes in a field or in a bathroom. Everyone who wasn't injured or starving did it - the war and the constant rushes of adrenaline brought out something in the fighters. But Zoe considers making love with her husband to be sacred, and she doesn't want to downgrade it in any way. "I promise you, when we're back in our bunk and we got our privacy, I'll make it up to you."

She considers whispering in his ear a few specifics of what he can look forward to, but she wants to cool him down and not heat him up now.

Wash understands. Much of their lives are lived with the promise of pleasure deferred, happiness postponed. Patience is a necessity. He kisses her quickly and they bid each other pleasant dreams.

*
Zoe is woken up when the tent is quickly opened. She is instantly awake and alert.

"Everything okay?" she asks her captain.

"It's fine," Mal says. "Your turn for night watch."

Zoe is up on her feet in a second and quickly outside the tent with Mal. She does not even feel groggy as she steps into the cold night. Wash sleeps through the entire encounter.

"How was watch?" she whispers to Mal, setting her gun inside its holster and activating her lantern.

"Same as always here. Dead quiet. Not even any animals about."

Zoe nods and checks the time, making note of when she will need to wake Jayne.

"Guess I'll turn in for the night then," Mal says.

"Goodnight, sir," Zoe bids, and then both soldiers freeze. They hear a sound in the distance, possibly footsteps. Whatever it is, it is moving rapidly. The sounds suggest more than one person speeding their way.

They look at each other. Both ready their weapons and turn their lanterns off. Mal gestures for Zoe to move in one direction.

The sounds grow louder. Grass is being trampled and leaves are stepped on. Zoe feels a presence behind her and whirls, her gun ready.

"They need our help," River states, standing calmly.

*
Wash slowly regains consciousness. He turns over, trying to get more comfortable. Groggily, he's aware that Zoe isn't by his side and he knows she must be on her shift. When sleep eludes him, he fluffs his pillow.

`I shouldn't have drank so much of that water,' he tells himself. His bladder is full and he's going to need to get up to relieve himself. At least he can say hello to Zoe during her shift, he thinks. She can point him the direction of a spare lantern since he doesn't remember where they were placed. The water from the stream they found was too fresh, clean, and delicious to avoid drinking copious amounts. He thinks back to the polluted water on his home planet and does not regret his decision to sip so much during the day, even though it has now led to an inconvenience.

As Wash reaches a hand to open the tent, he stops. Voices. People are talking, right outside the tent. Their voices are low but they aren't whispering.

Wash strains to listen. He can make out the captain's voice as well as River's. And a few other people he doesn't know. He thinks he just heard Jayne say something too. And perhaps Simon is there as well.

Very slowly, Wash unfastens the tent and takes a look outside. Peering through tired eyes, he sees that most of Serenity's crew is sitting outside, talking to a small handful of strangers. Two lanterns illuminate the crowd, and the strangers are all either black or yellow. Wash cranes his head around to search for Zoe, and it looks like she's still circling the perimeter of their tiny campsite, still on night watch. Wash slowly approaches the group but no one takes notice of his presence, other than Zoe who gives a businesslike nod and then returns to her guard duty.

Simon is examining the ankle of one of the strangers. "It's not broken, but it is sprained," the doctor says. "I've wrapped it as well as I can. This will help with the pain."

"Does this young lady really know how to get us to the safe house?" one of the strangers asks, gesturing in River's direction.

Wash listens to them and quickly deduces the situation. Mal or Zoe must have encountered some escaped slaves during the night. Nothing ever goes simply or easily for the crew of this ship.

"She does have certain abilities," Mal answers. "I trust her," he adds, and Wash knows Mal speaks the truth. He looks at the captain and his facial expression is hard to read.

"I know exactly where it is," River says, once again tilting her head at an angle. She inhales the crisp night air. "That direction."

"I'm going with," Mal says, strapping his gun into its holster.

"Me too," Simon adds eagerly. "I know the other escapees could use a doctor." Wash looks at the doctor and is impressed. Simon is burning to help these strangers. He's sure that Simon also wants to keep an eye on his sister, but his main motivation seems to be providing medical care to those who need it.

"Zoe too," Mal adds. "Jayne will stay here and take over night watch for the camp. I want Zoe with us."

"Can I go with?" Kaylee asks.

"No," the captain firmly answers. "It's safer here. You, Jayne, Wash, and Inara will hold down the fort."

"Is this such a great idea?" Wash asks, rubbing his eyes and still desperately in need of a bathroom. "I mean, just the notion of us splitting up like this? Shouldn't we all stick together?"

"It's better than all of us leavin' camp -- and the ship. Let's move, people."

Wash and Zoe exchange a quick, but intense, kiss before she sets off with Mal and the others. The escapees are too exhausted and grateful to observe their interracial kiss and feel shock.

*
Wash, Kaylee, Inara, and Jayne sit in a circle around their campsite. Jayne is supposed to be patrolling the site but he's too tired. Vera is at the ready with him, though. The others are too anxious to attempt sleep right now.

"I can't stand this!" Kaylee exclaims. "I'm so worried about Simon. And the others."

Jayne rolls his eyes and attempts to tune out the conversation. He's exhausted and not in the mood for expressing his disgust over Kaylee's love for Simon, and ripping the doctor is less fun without Simon actually there to hear it, anyway.

"Does it ever get easier, Wash?" she continues. "Waiting for someone you love to come back from a mission?"

Wash shakes his head. His sleeping bag is wrapped around him and he's wishing they could rebuild the fire. But now that they know they are not alone out here, they have no desire to attract attention. They need to hope that the slave catchers who were tracking the runaways aren't as far off-course as the runaways themselves were. And they need to hope that if that isn't the case, then either Jayne and Vera will be intimidating enough or the trackers will interrogate them and then leave them alone.

"I've been through this a hundred times myself," Wash says. "It never gets any easier and the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach is always there. You just gotta wait and hope that everything will turn out alright like it usually does. Zoe and the others know what they're doing and they've been trained to handle anything."

Wash speaks the truth. He does know that Zoe and the others always find their way out of whatever predicament they encounter, but the role of the one who must wait is still difficult. He thinks of this and again, as much as he loves his wife, feels sourness at their on-going debate over whether and when to have a child. How could Zoe want to bring a baby into this situation? Their lives don't have even a day or two of stability in them.

Wash pushes those feelings away. Mentally rehashing their continuing argument never does any good and, fortunately, Zoe hasn't brought it up for a while. Maybe she's realized that a baby can't fit into their lifestyle now, Wash thinks.

"And they've got River who's basically our secret weapon," Inara adds.

"I know, I know. I usually ain't worryin' so much but this place just gives me the creeps!" Kaylee exclaims.

"We all have that reaction to it," Inara says. Somehow her voice is so soothing. She sits next to Kaylee, huddled with the other woman in an attempt to share warmth. If the temperature drops anymore, they will be able to see their breath when they speak or breathe.

"/Bi zui/!" Jayne exclaims, jumping to his feet. "I think I hear somethin'."

The others fall dead silent as Jayne investigates. They hold their breath until he returns. "Just an animal," he mutters. He resumes his place sitting with the group and reaches for his canteen to take a swig.

Several times during the night, the four crewmembers nearly fall asleep. When they see one of them nodding off, the others help keep that person awake. A half-hearted card game is played with the aid of the lantern's dim light.

The first rays of morning sun begin to shine, and the group hears noises. Jayne again rises to his feet instantly, and once again the crewmembers feel glorious relief. Mal, Zoe, Simon, and River have returned.

"We gotta help," are the first words out of Mal's mouth. "We have to. I have to. I got no choice."

Wash looks at Zoe and sees that she responds to Mal's statement with a definitive nod of her own head.

*
The crew of /Serenity /is now sitting around the dining room of their beloved ship. They munch on dry cereal though most are not hungry. Because they know the lay of the land on this planet, Ororo, Logan, and Bishop are joining them.

The cleaning out of the radiation proceeded on schedule - Mal and Kaylee donned space suits and verified that the ship was ready to be inhabited once again. The group eagerly boarded, quickly attended to personal matters, and then assembled to meet.

"We can't make no difference here, Mal," Jayne is saying. "Got thousands of people on this planet who like things the way they are. Ain't our business to meddle."

"What you're really saying is that there's no money in this and you're not interested," Zoe says. She says it evenly and clearly, without reproach.

"The resistance is damn well organized," Mal says. "We were there last night at their headquarters. They have dozens of people. We don't gotta just take /their /word for it," he nods in the direction of the three travelers. "We saw it with our own eyes."

"Then what in the ruttin' hell they need us for?" Jayne asks. "If they got dozens, then three more fighters ain't gonna make a difference!"

"They need every able-bodied person they can spare," Zoe says. "Four fighters," she says, nodding at River, "make a huge difference to a group of a few dozen."

"And they need a doctor," Simon adds. As tired as he is, he's sitting on the edge of his seat. He made a list of injuries and illnesses he saw last night, and medications that could help. He needs to be there at resistance headquarters, attending to those who need him.

"Well then maybe doc can stay with 'em," Jayne suggests, a smirk on his face.

Inara speaks up. "For sake of argument," she begins, "let's say Jayne has a point."

Jayne starts to grin.

Inara continues. "We need to look at this from a few different perspectives. First, I think we need to consider whether we can afford this. I'm not talking about the fact that we will make no money during our time here. But while we are here, we won't be on any jobs and will have no way to bring in money. We will probably exhaust most or all of the money we saved from the last few heists." She pauses, and adds, "Secondly, though I certainly am not an expert on this subject and will defer to those who are, my understanding is that fighting guerilla warfare is not easy. Are we ready to face the possibility that we may have casualties?"

"It ain't just guerilla warfare," Mal says. "While the resistance is fighting, they also are workin' with the citizens. They're gettin' more and more to convert to their side. Some of 'em are using the tactics of persuasion."

Logan speaks up. "He's right. And it ain't just people from this place. Some of the members of the resistance are people like us - who came here 'cause it's the right thing to do. We're gettin' more and more such recruits as fast as they can find ships to sneak 'in here on." He then adds, "We ain't had a lot of casualties either."

"But having casualties is," Zoe says, "a very real possibility. As Inara said. I'm gonna stay here and fight, but I think all of you need to consider whether you're ready to lay down your life for this."

Mal nods. He then adds, "And like the lady also said, this is gonna eat into everyone's savings. By the time we leave here, we might be damn well broke. We might have to take the first job we can get." He looks at Inara. "Even if it involves wobbly-headed dolls."

Jayne shrugs. "So what're you sayin' Mal? Do we got a choice in this or not? Or are you gonna threaten to shoot us again like on Haven if we don't go along with you??"

Mal and Jayne stare at each other and the tensions in the room rise. The two men look like wild animals who have sized each other up and are about to fight. Suddenly River speaks and breaks up the awkward moment.

"Maybe we are meant to be here," she says. "It all happens for a reason. I feel the Shepherd. And I know he wants us to help."

River usually has an eeriness to her, and a way of speaking that creates shivers. Her words today make many hairs on the backs of necks stand up.

Mal digests River's words for a second and then speaks again, "Jayne, you don't gotta do anything if you don't wanna. You can stay inside the ship in your bunk the whole time we're here for all I care. Hell, you can ask the next Alliance supply ship to give you a lift outta here if that suits you. But /Serenity's /stayin' here. /Dong ma/?"

"For how long though?" Wash asks. "Not that I disagree with what we're doing; it's just that we need to keep in mind that this isn't going to be any kind of quick job. We might be here a while."

"He's right," Mal says, looking at his crew to ensure they understand. "This won't be quick 'n easy."

"And there is the possibility that the Alliance will send in troops," Zoe adds. "To protect their tax revenue."

Jayne grunts, "Alliance, eh? Sure wouldn't mind stickin' it to 'em." For the first time, he sounds as if he's liking the idea of joining the struggle.

"They might not though," Ororo adds. "They've kept out of things so far. Even they know they're on the wrong side and they can't keep up their hypocrisy forever."

Mal shakes his head. "Don't know about that. I wouldn't put anything past 'em." He then looks at Inara. "Are you with us?"

"I am fully with you in principle. But I don't know what I can contribute to the struggle. I'm not a fighter or a doctor - or a mechanic," Inara responds, looking with admiration at Kaylee.

"You can help in the battle of public opinion," Ororo says.

Bishop boldly eyes Inara. He takes in her ornate dress and the way it hugs her figure. "She's right. We're cut off from the rest of the 'verse here. We don't have any companions here, though people have heard of 'em. You're articulate. And attractive. People listen to that, and they also listen to /white /people. You might be able to convince some of the planet's decision-makers."

"You could attend a few shindigs, chat up a few important people," Ororo suggests. "Not the ones at the very top of this colony's hierarchy, but maybe you can talk to some of the people at the middle. That's where change tends to happen."

"That is a challenge I look forward to then," Inara smiles.

Mal turns to his mechanic. "Kaylee? You ain't spoken much. What do you think?"

Kaylee opens her mouth and chooses her words carefully. "I totally think that helpin' the resistance is the right thing to do. I want to do this 100 percent. I - I'm just kinda worried...what if we do have casualties?" She looks around the room at the faces of her family, the people she loves - Inara, Simon, River, Mal, Wash, the others. She has a lot to lose.

"Well, I don't know if this will be any more risky than the jobs we usually take on," Simon contributes.

The group knows that his point is a very valid one. This crew has always faced danger together, some of it extreme. "Think of how many times we put our lives on the line," the doctor continues.

River's face slowly lights up and she smiles. "You forget. I can help the resistance. I can kill people with my brain."

The three passengers look at River. They saw a demonstration last night of the girl's power. Bishop is nearly salivating at the thought of having such a weapon on his side.

"Well, the girl's got a good point there!" Wash pipes up. "Never hurts having a super-powered psychic on your side." He then turns serious and adds, "Maybe there is a non-violent way to solve this, and River can use some of her brainpower to help find it."

River returns Wash's gaze. She states, calmly and matter-of-factly, "I can." The group is silent for a moment or two.

Ororo leans in towards the group. "I must stress again what Inara said," she says, using the silence to make a point. "The resistance has no money to pay you. The three of us have a benefactor who funded our travel here and weapons, but that's it. We're not collecting a salary."

Bishop crosses his bulky arms and looks at Jayne. "And we can't pay you in sex either, like at the Heart of Gold." During their journey here, Bishop and Jayne shared a few stories over a drink one night. Bishop then looks pointedly in the direction of Ororo and Zoe -- who happen to be sitting next to each other -- and adds, "Our women don't sleep with white men."

His comment raises a few eyebrows.

Ororo smiles, seemingly oblivious to Bishop's jab. She adds, also looking at Jayne, "But some of our white sympathizers might. In fact, I'd say some of them would like a rugged man such as yourself." As she says the last few words, she touches her hand to Logan's arm.

"Why in the hell didn't you say so before?!" Jayne asks. "Alright, I'm in." He turns to Mal and grumbles, though everyone knows his demand is without sincerity, "You owe me back pay for any jobs we're missin'!" He takes a breath and adds, "But if I get some action in the bedroom, I might let it go."

"Ah, Jayne! Such a paragon of virtue and principles!" Wash exclaims. His sarcasm elicits a few giggles from the others.

Jayne clenches a fist and threatens, "You wanna fight little man?!"

"Stop it," Mal orders, stepping in between them. "So we're all solid then?"

The crew agrees. Wash and Zoe reach for each other's hands and grasp tightly.

*
TO BE CONTINUED

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