Categories > TV > Firefly > Under Their Skin

Chapter Two

by Stormkpr 1 review

Chapter two of "Under Their Skin"

Category: Firefly - Rating: R - Genres: Drama, Romance - Characters: Inara, Kaylie, Wash, Zoe - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006-03-22 - Updated: 2006-03-22 - 2719 words

Author's Notes:

- A big thank you to everyone who has posted or emailed a review. Much appreciated.
- Please see the disclaimers and spoiler warnings in chapter I.
- A few people asked about this being a crossover. I would consider this story to be a very mild crossover with X-men. While it does contain a few non-Firefly characters, the focus is on Firefly (mainly Zoe and Wash) -- the additional characters are here to highlight the canon characters.

Chapter II

Serenity continues its journey towards Zeus. Zoe one day finds herself cleaning and inspecting their weapons supply, as Inara and Kaylee walk down the catwalk and enter the cargo bay. They acknowledge Zoe, with Kaylee flashing a sweet smile and Inara a demure one, and continue their conversation.

"I'm so glad to hear that things are going well with Simon," Inara says sincerely. She's always thought Kaylee was adorable, and a Kaylee-in-love is doubly so.

"I'm so happy!" Kaylee enthuses, with that smile that lights up the dark galaxy.

"Do you think you two might ever marry?"

"Oh, I don't know. It's awfully soon to think about now, you know?"

Zoe continues to listen as she works, and she likes Kaylee's answer. Love-struck as the young woman is, she's not without common sense here either. Marriage is nothing to be rushed into, no matter how desolate the 'verse is and no matter how numbered your days might be. Zoe also muses that her captain sure wouldn't like having two married, happy couples in his crew. That would really give him some divided loyalties to worry about, not to mention more daily reminders of his situation with Inara.

Then again, maybe Mal has accepted the fact that anything that strengths the bonds of two crew members will strengthen their group overall.

Kaylee then asks, "Have you ever...had a married man as one of your clients?"

"Some companions will do that, but I do not -- except under rare circumstances," Inara answers evenly. "There was one man who had an 'open' marriage and both he and his wife occasionally sought companions. I spoke with a companion who had serviced his wife, and I waved both members of the couple. I was comfortable that the situation was agreeable to both of them and so I accepted him as a client."

"Really? Were there any other times?"

Inara easily tells Kaylee more than she tells anyone else, Zoe notes. She must trust that Kaylee won't reveal her secrets to anyone. But then again, Inara doesn't seem to mind that Zoe is within earshot and Zoe's inwardly pleased to be included in their dialog, in this small way. She's always meant to bond with the other women on the ship, but she just hits it off so much better with Wash and Mal.

"I had one offer that I considered but eventually declined," Inara responds. "If I recall correctly, the man actually wasn't married but he may have been engaged. He said he needed help performing better for his woman. He wanted to learn to better perform...certain acts. He said that his woman knew he was seeking a companion for first-hand assistance and that she supported that. I waved him briefly but I got the sense that he wasn't painting the entire picture, so I just sent him an article that had some tips instead."

Zoe doesn't try to stifle a giggle at Inara's answer, and the three women share a laugh.

It must be Zoe's day to talk to female shipmates. Not long after Kaylee and Inara's exchange, Zoe finds the new female passenger, Ororo in the lounge, lifting weights that she must have brought herself. Serenity doesn't exactly have a fitness center.

Zoe looks at the other woman admiringly. 'She's a lot like me,' she thinks. `She moves like a warrior, she has the grace of a cat.' It was almost like looking at a reflection. Zoe wonders what Ororo did during the war, where she is from, what her business is on Zeus. But as a rule she doesn't pry from strangers and the desire to do so doesn't often come up anyway. Zoe nearly scratches her head over it. Rarely does she speculate or feel interest in anyone who's not a crew member, especially anyone who's not Wash or Mal, and she can't explain her desire to converse with Ororo.

"Did you want to join me?" Ororo asks. "I could stretch while you do your reps."

Zoe nods at the invitation and the two women work in silence together for a while. Zoe senses that Ororo isn't one for small-talk, a trait which she appreciates.

"Did you fight in the war?" Ororo asks after a while, and for some reason her question does not sound abrupt or nosy.

Zoe nods. "I'm a Browncoat."

"I figured that was the case. I sensed there was a reason your ship is named Serenity, and you certainly didn't look Alliance."

"What about you?"

"Logan and I are from Rianne," Ororo responds, naming one of the core planets. Her tone and even the way she enunciates each word already give away the fact that she is educated and clearly not from deep in the black. "We supported the independents though. By the time we headed out to fight with the Browncoats, the battle of Serenity Valley - and the war -- was over. They gave us such a hard time trying to get out of Rianne, we're lucky we got out at all. We're glad to be away from the core now. But I wish we could've done something in the war other than hate the Alliance with a passion."

Zoe nods. "I see we got hatred of the Alliance in common." She eyes the other woman boldly. "You sure look like a fighter to me."

"I've had martial arts training." Ororo turns her head to see Jayne entering the dining room and fixing himself a drink. He doesn't take much notice of the two women though, and Ororo returns her attention to Zoe. "So, you're married to the pilot, are you not?"

"Yes. His name's Wash. We've been together for five years." Zoe cannot believe how easily she is revealing information to this woman, however she knows her own instincts are solid and continues to trust that she has nothing to fear. "What about you? You and Logan married?"

"No. We've been together for six or seven years but I don't think we'll ever formalize things."

"Really?" Zoe asks.

"He is not the marrying type. Nor am I." She finishes her set and then stretches her triceps. Jayne noisily leaves the dinning room. "You and your husband obviously see things differently?" Ororo states, as a question.

Zoe suddenly finds herself reticent. She likes Ororo but isn't ready to articulate what marriage means to her, why she and Wash have found it so important to solidify their bond through matrimony. She doesn't judge Ororo and Logan for not being married but believes she lacks the ability to convey why it was the right decision for her and Wash. She wishes he were here now. He would be able to explain it, sincerely and enthusiastically too.

Zoe does make an attempt though. "Ain't no guarantees in life but I guess we wanted to make some vows to each other."

Ororo nods as well, and Zoe sees the mutual respect in her eyes. Just as with Zoe, Ororo doesn't judge the other woman for following a different path.

"Just five more hours till we reach Zeus," Wash says. Zoe stands behind him on the bridge, one hand on his shoulder. Wash is in his element here, surrounded by his beloved bright stars and his trusty old console. Zoe's presence here is the cherry on top of the sundae for him.

"Captain says he got a wave," Zoe adds. "We might have ourselves a job there."

"What sort?"

"Didn't say," Zoe said, shaking her head. "I don't think he knows much about it till he meets with his contact."

Wash nods. "I'm glad we're getting some time down on Zeus. Kaylee says we need a new radiation shield. Last I looked at it, I gotta say I agree with her. I hope Mal springs for it. That thing's gonna last three more months, tops, if we're lucky."

He then swivels his chair around so he can look at Zoe, and speaks with a different tone. "Xin gan," he begins, "I've been meaning to ask you something."

Wash has Zoe's undivided attention. He has his serious face on, which has Zoe on alert.

"I want to get you something on Zeus. It's gonna be a little bit more pricey than what we usually spend on each other though. Actually, it's going to be more than a bit." He pauses, smiles, and continues, "Well, it's going to be a lot more pricey. But we can afford it and I think you'd really like it."

Zoe and Wash share all of their hard-earned money and discuss virtually every purchase. This practice was born out of need; they are used to having such little money that there was no way to conceal spending from each other if they wanted to, and they usually haven't been able to buy more than the bare minimums in life anyway. When one's discretionary income is spent on socks and underwear, there's not much need to discuss purchases with one's spouse. It is only recently that they have had extra capital.

Wash continues, "If you don't like it or if you think I spent too much money, I'm sure we could sell it back next time we land somewhere with a market place."

"Hmmmm," Zoe muses out loud. "So it's not perishable," she observes.

Wash shakes his head, amused. "You're always trying to figure everything out. Come on, honey. Can't I surprise you for once?"

She bends down to kiss his lips. "A surprise would be a nice thing. Xièxie nî, my love. I can't wait to see what you'll get me on Zeus."

Wash enthusiastically returns the kiss. He breaks it off only so he can rise from his chair and wrap his arms around the woman he loves. He adores the sensation of her lips against his, their mouths together as their bodies press in close. He marvels that her lips are always so deliciously moist.

He notices Zoe changing the kiss to a more aggressive one, as she grinds her body against his. One of her hands sneaks under the back of his shirt so as to touch bare skin, and the other starts to comb through his blond hair. Her tongue boldly enters his mouth and Wash's heart rate begins to accelerate. He passionately moves his mouth against hers. He wonders if Zoe will do as she has done sometimes: lock the door to the bridge, push him down onto his chair, and give him head. Once Mal almost walked in, which made it all the more exciting.

Serenity's proximity detector sounds, immediately disrupting the mood. Wash scrambles towards his control panel.

"What is it?" Zoe asks, her voice all business. They may be closer to core planets now but anything is possible. Despite the Alliance supposedly trying to squelch the Reavers, it would not be unheard of for a Reaver party to make its way out here.

"Another ship," Wash says, his fingers flying over buttons, eyes rapidly scanning the screen. "Standard Alliance transport, Excelsior class looks like. They just passed too close." He confirms against one more reading. "We're okay now. They adjusted their course slightly."

Zoe looks over his shoulder at the readings. "Looks like they're gonna miss Zeus if they stay on that heading."

"Don't think they're going to Zeus. They're on a direct course to Turkhana IV."

Wash states the fact simply. He nearly continues his line of thought until something makes him pause. He senses behind him that Zoe has nearly frozen. Wash's brow wrinkles. "Turkhana IV. Where have I heard about that colony before?" he wonders.

He swivels around and faces his wife. "Tiānna," he murmurs. "Is that the place where...." he lets his voice trail off.

Zoe nods. "That's the place," she states flatly.

Wash curses in Chinese.

Turkhana IV is one of the Alliance's most spectacular failures, though the Alliance currently defines it as a robust success that contains one minor problem. The colony started out with the same story as most of the Alliance's experiments: lack of supplies, lack of consistent law enforcement, lack of infrastructure. Too many people fighting over dwindling food, water, and energy. But in Turkhana IV's case, a few charismatic men rose to prominence and vowed to restore order. They preached a doctrine of racial supremacy. They believed that their race, the white one (they resurrected terms such as "white", "black", and "yellow" to describe people), was the superior one. They revived the concept of racism and convinced people that "inferior" races were to blame for the colony's predicament. Other races became scapegoated and, of course, the true culprit -- the Alliance -- was nowhere to be found. Not enough people questioned these leaders and those who did mysteriously disappeared. The leaders and their doctrine grew more and more powerful until now, a few generations later, the people who have been categorized as black or yellow live in slavery to whites, beaten down by cultural beliefs that one's skin color determines one's worth, dignity, whether one was a human being or not.

The Alliance could restore order by sending and stationing a few dozen squadrons, but they say it's not worth the time and cost for a colony of only a few thousand people. It seems the Alliance's policy of one rule and its rhetoric of not allowing planets to self-govern just doesn't apply here. Of course the slavery system has made Turkhana IV one of the Alliance's wealthiest colonies and it benefits greatly from the tax payments it eagerly collects.

Other planets have forms of slavery; indentured servitude and outright ownership are fairly common in the 'verse. But Turkhana IV is the only place where the system is based on skin color, based on this concept of race. Zoe thinks about it and her skin crawls.

"So that's what's been bothering you," Wash breathes, shaking his head. "I should've known."

Zoe nods again, her mouth inexplicably dry.

"I guess it was stupid of me to be thinking you were bothered by...what I thought was bothering you," he adds.

"Not stupid at all, honey," Zoe answers. "I -- I actually am...touched by how concerned you've been," she says, and nearly balks at how sentimental she sounds.

Wash finds himself moved by her being flustered and rises from his chair to kiss her, this time with such tenderness rather than passionate urgency.

"I love you, bao bei," he whispers, breaking off the gentle kiss.

Zoe is ready to return the sentiment but her thoughts are drifting elsewhere.

"We couldn't be together if we lived there," she says, her voice sounding uncharacteristically faraway. "It would be forbidden." She reaches a fingertip towards his face and gently moves it along his chin, cheek, and brow. The color may be several shades lighter than hers but the texture is the same, apart from the stubble on his chin.

"Maybe we would've found a way to be together," Wash speculates. "Somehow."

"Maybe. But I am no one's slave. Even if we lived there and had the same feelings we do now...I wouldn't be with you unless we could live as equals."

"Maybe we would find a way to leave Turkhana IV."

"Maybe. But it's a closed colony," Zoe states, sounding more like herself now. "They don't let anyone land there and don't let anyone leave - except for the Alliance ships that come with supplies and take their tax money."

Wash nods and is at a loss for words. He knows that now is not the time for humor and can't think of a witty rejoinder anyway. Thinking about Turkhana IV feels like a punch in the stomach.

"I wish there was something we could do," he manages. "Damn Alliance won't lift a finger to make things better."

"You got that right," Zoe says, her mind rushing.


Chapter 3 will be posted soon. I welcome all feedback.
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