"You've got something that belongs to us, Captain Reynolds." The cold voice matched the emotionless face that stared back at them over the connection. "We'd like it back."
"All I got in my cargo bay is a couple of sheep," Mal protested. "I didn't know they were stolen, else I wouldn't have taken them on board."
"Not the sheep." The words you moron were unspoken, but clear as a bell anyways. "The passenger that came on with them."
"Last time I checked, people wasn't property," Mal said carefully. "Leastaways, not on the planet we just come from. You tellin' me different?"
"Your passenger isn't strictly 'people.' Now, you can let us board, or we can blow a hole in your hull and get it back that way. It's up to you."
"All right, all right. Don't get your britches in a knot." Mal hit the disconnect.
"Captain?" That was Simon's voice over the intercom. "River's gone practically catatonic. What's happening?"
"Tama de...Wash, give me a visual of that ship." It was triangular, smaller than Serenity, with a big gun slung underneath that looked more than capable of doing what the man had threatened.
"I guess his friends heading off in the other direction didn't fool those guys," Wash said.
"What's the plan, Sir?" Zoe asked.
"Spike's passage was bought and paid for, and he ain't done nothin' to hurt us. Far as I can see, these hun dans ain't official, or, at least, they ain't shown me anything telling me I'm required by law to do as they say." Mal clenched his fist. "And I don't cotton well to bein' browbeat."
"That's certainly so." Zoe's voice was dry.
"That's just a two-man boat, ain't it? Here's what we'll do..."
Spike stood between Jayne and Mal in the cargo hold, shoulders slumped and wrists shackled--apparently. Inara's skill with makeup had provided a pair of nasty-looking bruises on his face. The two men who came into the cargo hold took note of this, and one lifted his eyebrow. "He gave us a little trouble," Mal said.
"Won't be sorry to see him go," Jayne put in. "The whole blood-suckin' thing was a mite creepifyin'."
"We're glad you decided to be reasonable about this, Captain," the taller one said, while the shorter one took a pen-sized rod out of his suit pocket with a blue-gloved hand. It extruded a filament from each end and began making a high-pitched noise that Spike was pretty sure Mal and Jayne couldn't hear, but which his vampire ears picked up just fine. The sheep began panicking as well. Oh, shit... "Captain, Jayne, get out!" he shouted, leaping towards the men.
They hadn't expected him to resist, and he got the chain of the cuffs around the shorter one's throat and yanked hard, causing him to drop his infernal machine. Mal and Jayne stumbled backwards, noses beginning to bleed, and Spike released his adversary and dove at the device. He snatched it up and snapped it in half, but while he was doing that, the other man had pulled out a similar contraption.
Zoe's gun roared from the catwalk, twice. Both men dropped with gigantic holes in their heads, and Spike grabbed the second device and broke it as well.
Then they all stood there, staring at each other and panting. "What in the name of suoyou de dou shidang was that?" Mal asked, blood still streaming from his nose.
They'd spaced the bodies and sent the men's ship spinning off into the black. Now they sat around the kitchen table again. Mal and Jayne had finally stopped bleeding, and Simon fingered the pieces of one of the devices with a disturbed expression.
"It's a hemoresonator. I thought they were illegal. They are illegal."
"Need that in Captain-dummy-speak, doc."
"It uses sonic vibrations to destroy cellular walls. Specifically, blood cell and capillary walls." He gestured at the reddened cloths that Mal and Jayne had used to stanch their noses. "It kills messily, painfully, and quickly."
Mal turned to Spike. "You wanna tell me what they want you for? Because I didn't sign up for getting my gorram blood dissolved when I took you on."
Spike's hands had angry welts on them from where he'd touched the hemoresonators. "I'm not sure."
"That ain't good enough." Mal was obviously pissed.
"All I know is that someone drugged my blood one night, and I woke up in a cage. People in lab coats poking and prodding at me, sticking me with needles. Then, I guess they got tired of that, and they put me on display like some sort of zoo animal."
"Oh, that's awful!" Kaylee exclaimed.
"I'm fairly certain they were watching me then, too, observing my reactions as they put different drugs in my food, gave me different sorts of blood to drink. Then..." Spike swallowed. "They stopped feeding me altogether. That was all kinds of bad."
"What exactly happens to a vampire that doesn't eat?" Wash said. "Because, I'd hate for something to happen to the sheep..."
"It doesn't kill us. We slowly go insane. Hallucinations, voices in our heads, the whole nine yards." He shuddered. "I really didn't need to go through that again. And if we go too long without eating, then the condition is permanent. So, long answer short, I think they want their guinea pig back."
"They didn't cut into your brain or anything, did they?" Simon asked.
"Not that I remember. Plus, vampire healing. It wouldn't last if they did. Why?"
"The Alliance has a bad tendency to be meddlesome where they ought not," Mal said. "And they're almighty persistent when they want something back."
"I've put you all in danger. Might be best if you just dump me off on the nearest planet and have done with it."
"We can't do that!" Kaylee protested.
"Why not?" Jayne asked, crossing his arms.
"I got paid for the job, I do the job, Jayne," Mal said. "That ain't negotiable." Jayne grumbled, but subsided. "Wash, keep a closer eye on the space around us, make sure don't no one else sneak up."
"Is Wooly and Bully okay?" Kaylee said. "That thing didn't hurt them, did it?"
They all stared at her. "Wooly...and Bully? Do I want to know?" Zoe asked.
Mal put his face in his hand. "They're fine, little Kaylee."
At least that dissolved some of the tension in the room.
Spike rummaged through his suitcase the next morning, hoping against hope that someone had gotten him something decent to wear. Styles may have changed over the centuries and galaxies, but, he grumbled, black was always "in." Hawaiian shirt. Hawaiian shirt. Flannel. Who the bloody hell had packed this? Must have been Angel; only he would be so cruel.
He got to the bottom of the bag and found a surprise. Both his companions knew about his food fetish, but he revised his opinion of who had packed it. Had to have been Leery; Angel wouldn't care enough to buy real cocoa and actually put it in the bag. Why the silly bint had bought such outlandish clothing was a question for the ages. Maybe the marketplace had a limited selection...
Finally settling for something a bit less loud than the rest, he wandered toward the kitchen with the cocoa. He found Kaylee slamming utensils around and swearing in Mandarin. As a spoon flew past his head, he said, "Whoa, pet! What's got your knickers in a bunch?"
"Oh! I didn't hear you come in, Spike." Flustered, she pushed her hair back behind her ear. "I just--gah!" Apparently, she had trouble sustaining anger, because she just sighed and gave him the saddest look. "Do you think I'm pretty?"
"Pretty? Good grief, no." Her face fell even further, and he rushed to clarify. "You're beautiful, luv." There was the smile that lit up the whole ship, although tears lurked around the edges of it. "Why? Someone insult you this morning? Want me to hit him?"
She gasped out a laugh. "No, that ain't necessary. Don't know if you've noticed, but I carry a little torch for the doc?" At his nod, since he'd have to have been blind to miss it, she continued. "We was sittin' in the crew lounge this mornin' after breakfast...and he told me I had a 'great personality.' And then he wondered why I got mad."
Spike's jaw dropped at the idea that any man would be so utterly stupid as to use interplanetary code for "ugly as a box of toads" to a girl's actual face. "Did he mean anything by it, or is he really that clueless?"
"Oh, he's really that clueless. And I know that, and it's a silly thing to get kerfuffled about, but I did anyhow. And then I come into the kitchen and found this thing on the counter." She handed him a piece of paper.
"'Mongolian Lamb with Scallions,'" Spike read aloud. Kaylee had named the sheep... "Well, that's just mean." Funny, he didn't say out loud, but mean.
"Jayne tweakin' me, is all. But I didn't need to see that right after I had a fight with Simon."
"Maybe this'll make you feel better." He handed her the packet of cocoa and was rewarded by the sight of her eyes going absolutely huge. Then she flung herself into his arms and gave him a gigantic hug.
She remembered, after a few seconds, that she was hugging a vampire, and she disengaged and looked shyly at the floor. "A-are you sure you want me to have this? I mean, chocolate ain't somethin' we see every day out here..."
"Kaylee, pet, I wish I had more to give you. Stuck out here in the black, heading to a nowhere planet, with ridiculous clothes and no beer...and you just made up for all of it."
"Aw, Greenleaf's nice, and them clothes ain't so bad. Wash wears shirts like that all the time."
"What, you don't think they look dork-tastic?" She shook her head, smiling, and he continued, "Last time I had to wear a shirt like this, I attempted to commit suicide by jumping chest first onto a stake." He grinned ruefully. "I missed. Five hundred years ago and I still remember."
She elbowed his ribs. "Well, good thing. Who'd bring me cocoa otherwise? Also, you said something about teaching me to cook food you'd actually eat. How does that work, anyway? I thought you ate blood?"
"Need the blood for sustenance. Just eat food because I like it." He perused the spice shelf. "Ah, here we are..."
Something he'd said earlier about a lack of beer suddenly clicked. "Oh! Be right back. Don't go nowhere."
He puttered about for a few minutes, putting ingredients together. She came back with a glass jug of clear liquid, grabbed a pair of mugs out of the cabinet, and poured a generous measure into each. "It ain't beer, but maybe it'll do?"
Spike swallowed a mouthful before he realized what it was, and nearly choked. "That's some strong...stuff you got there. Where'd it come from?"
"Brew it myself in the engine compartment. You like it?"
He took a longer, slower sip. "This is the best I've had in a long while." Which wasn't technically a lie; high alcohol content covered a multitude of sins, and he'd never been one for high-class booze to begin with.
Cooking with Kaylee promised to be fun.
The hooch soon distracted them from their cooking duties, and they moved their business to the kitchen table. Kaylee stared owlishly at her glass. She was starting to hit the "angry" stage of drunkenness. "So, Spike...Is your boss a kewu de lao baojun who gives you the thankless assignment of keeping the boat in the air...and no money, parts, or tools you need to do the job right? And then blames you when things go wrong?"
Spike was feeling the effects himself. The girl was a master moonshiner, she was. Of course, he'd never admit to Angel being his boss no matter how drunk he got, but... "'Go do this, Spike,'" he said in a mocking tone. "'But I won't actually trust you to do it on your own; I'll be checking up on you to make sure you don't screw it up, even though you never do.'"
"And even though he don't even know which end of a wrench to hold hisownself." She nodded, sagely and drunkenly.
"So, whassa nice girl like you doin' on a ship like this?"
"Aw! You think I'm nice?"
"You've got a teddy bear on your pocket, pet. 'Course you are."
"Glad someone thinks 'm nice," she grouched. She pointed her finger in his face. "Tell me this, Spike...'s a funny name. You think it's appropriate to kiss a girl what's jus' waitin' for you to do it? When she's droppin' hints alla time?"
"Appropriate? I should think it'd be required." Spike poured them another round.
"Stupid Core-type doctor-y person." She picked up her glass and took a drink.
"Maybe he's sly." He was rewarded by a spit-take of monumental proportions, followed by a coughing fit. He pounded her on the back until she recovered.
"Yanno...that would 'splain a lot. I mean, he don't hardly even look at Inara, and she's...well, look at her."
"Oh, I have. She's something, all right." He lifted his glass in a toast. "Like you better, though. You're all, all wholesome. And stuff. Remind me of someone I knew, once upon a time, at a evil law firm."
Her eyes went dreamy, and she rested her chin on her hand. "Tell me I'm pretty again. I like to hear you say it."
He put his fist on his chest, closed his eyes, and declaimed: "'You walk in Beauty, like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies;/ And all that's best of dark and bright/ Meet in your aspect and your eyes...'"
"Oooh. That's--that's real pretty, that is."
"Chap named Lord Byron wrote it. Glad someone can appreciate my Victorian upbringing." He snorted. "Not like Illyria ever does."
"What, that girl that brought the sheeps? You'n her ain't got a thing?"
"'You are beneath me, half-breed vermin,'" he said, taking care to get her inflections just right. "Beneath them all, I am. Was never good enough. Or bad enough. Or something."
"Eyes like that and magic cheekbones, and the hair, with the arms...and you ain't got a girlfriend?" She grinned at him roguishly. "Ain't sly yourownself, are ya?"
"Could prove to you just how not-sly I am, if you like."
"I think I'd like that ver' much."
Mal walked into the kitchen on his way to the cockpit and stopped abruptly. "Hey! We gotta eat on that table!" He really hadn't needed to see his mechanic on top of a vampire, half-tearing his shirt off, both of them kissin' each other like a world was gonna end if they quit. "Kaylee!" No reaction. "Kaywinnit Lee Frye!"
"Mph? What?" She half-disengaged and looked over her shoulder. "Oh, hi, Cap'n." She gave him a little wave, and he had an unpleasant flashback to the first time he'd seen her, with Bester...
"Why is my mechanic kissin' a vampire?"
She giggled, and he realized, with horror, that she was plastered. "Have you seen him? Be kinda silly for me to not be kissin' him, dontcha think? He's shuài, and he's nice and thinks I'm mêilì--"
Mal glared at Spike, who had gotten up onto his elbows. "You takin' advantage of her, you se mi mi de ren hump?"
Unrepentant, Spike looked up at Kaylee. "Seems to me she's the one on top, here, Cap'n."
That was so. And while Kaylee had just about taken Spike's shirt off, Mal noticed that she was still decently covered herself. He put his face in his hand. "You're both grownups. If you're gonna be doin' that sorta thing, at least do it in private. Or...not on the kitchen table. Dong ma?"
Kaylee giggled again. "Yessir, you pianzhi de jiuchayuan. Sir."
Mal headed toward the bridge, swearing under his breath.
Even Jayne's managing to leave another mutton recipe at her spot at the table didn't dampen Kaylee's good mood as they all sat down to dinner. She wasn't completely plowed anymore, but she still had a nice glow that she knew she was going to pay for later. At this point, she didn't care much. Spike had drunk his blood beforehand, and he helped her serve, in a gallant way. Mal glared at them, the memory of finding them on the table still fresh in his mind, but was soon distracted by how scrumptious the food smelled--and tasted.
And when she brought out real chocolate cake? The meal was declared an absolute triumph. She felt her ears turning red at that. "Well, if it weren't for Spike, I wouldn'ta had the cocoa for the cake, and he helped me with the protein..."
"Psh," Spike said. "You knew what to do. I just showed you a couple of new tricks, is all. Hell, I didn't even pack the chocolate."
"But you didn't have to share it." Kaylee leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He grinned back at her, and she nudged him with her shoulder and gave him a grin of her own.
She was gonna miss him when he left them at Greenleaf.
They landed at the docks in the evening, and Spike stood in the cargo hold with his bag beside him, getting ready to get off. "You sure you'll be okay?" Kaylee asked him.
"Right as rain, pet. Angel and Illyria'll meet up with me in a couple of days, and we'll be off adventurin' before you know it. Maybe I can cross paths with you again sometime."
"I'd really like that."
"Me too." He tilted her chin, and her arms went around his shoulders. They exchanged a smoldering kiss as the others looked on with various expressions. Simon, in particular, looked as though he'd just eaten something that tasted very, very bad. Spike met his eyes over Kaylee's shoulder and lifted his eyebrow. Best make your move soon, mate, he thought. She won't wait for you forever.
He broke the kiss, squeezed Kaylee one last time, and slung his bag over his back, giving them all a sketchy salute. "Ta very much for the ride, Captain."
"No problem," Mal said. "Wouldn't mind doin' business again sometime."
"I'll have a chat with Angel." He turned and disappeared into the marketplace.
His first self-appointed task was to find himself some decent clothes. After that...well, he was pretty much free to do whatever he wanted until he met up with Angel and Illyria.
A pair of objects in a toy-vendor's booth caught his attention, and he picked them up, grinning. He didn't even haggle over the price.
Kaylee dropped down into her bunk with a sigh. It'd been a long day, but Mal had let her buy some much-needed parts for her girl, and she'd spent the better part of it doing some repairs.
She tittered at the thought of how easy it had been to talk Jayne out of eating the sheep. He'd apparently been roped into helping Simon with the blood-drawing over the last several days, and, far from holding a grudge, Wooly and Bully had developed affection for the big mercenary. He confessed that they'd visited with him when he lifted weights; and, she noticed after Spike walked away, they were standing on either side of him, nudging his hands with their heads and asking for ear-rubs. Which he was providing.
So, the sheep had been sold to a petting zoo, and everyone was happy.
She pulled her shirt off over her head and turned to toss it onto her bed--then stopped abruptly with a little gasp.
Two plush sheep, one all white, the other white with a brown face and legs, sat on her pillow, with pink ribbons tied in bows around their necks. A note in flowing script read:
You made what could have been an unbearable trip into something I actually enjoyed. I'll never forget you, pet.
"Aw!" She sat on the bed and hugged the sheep to her. "I'll never forget you either, Spike," she said softly.
suoyou de dou shidang: All that's proper
kewu de lao baojun: Horrible old tyrant
se mi mi de ren: Lecherous
pianzhi de jiuchayuan: Stubborn disciplinarian
Credit for the translations goes to Eudiamonia and her Chinese Cheat Sheet.