In The Box
Disclaimer: Not mine, never was, very sad on that account. Joss is boss, and we praise him with great praise.
"Crate them up."
Gil Takei wasn't a bad man. Sure, Mal Reynolds had crossed him up and cost him a lot of money, but that didn't mean Gil was going to shoot him or torture his crew or even blow up his ship. (Although he had considered that last one.)
Nevertheless, Gil felt it was necessary to in some way demonstrate to Mal that he was unhappy about their situation.
Posting him back to his ship was not only a sufficiently pointed but basically humane solution, it was also damned funny.
"We got four crates here, sir, and there's eight of them." His second had seen a problem. Gil hadn't anticipated Mal bringing apparently his entire crew along - he'd expected the lovely Mrs Washburne and the knuckle-dragging Cobb creature at most. The fourth crate had been a strictly precautionary measure.
"Then they'll have to share." Gil rubbed his chin. "One tall one and one short one in each crate, do you think?"
"Should work." Indira nodded, running her experienced eye over their gagged and apparently fuming 'cargo'. "We'll have to put the midget in with Cobb, I think, else there just won't be room. He is a big one, isn't he?"
That provoked an interesting but sadly unintelligible reaction from the short man. Gil ignored him. "Sounds reasonable. Make sure he's on the bottom, though. She doesn't look like she'd be difficult to squash."
Indira nodded. "What about the others?"
Gil rubbed his chin and grinned wickedly. "Put the lovely Companion in with Mal. She had so much to say to him earlier, I'm sure she'll appreciate the chance to continue their conversation."
The Companion was glaring daggers at Mal, who looked nervous. Before being gagged, she'd been delivering a long lecture on his failings as a leader, a tactician, a captain, and a fully functional male.
"I'm sorry, Zoe, but you and your husband are just too tall to fit into the same crate." He smiled at Mal's second, who glared. "Indira, to preserve the symmetry of male-female pairings, put the charming young lady with grease on her nose in with Mr Washburne, and the nicely dressed young man in with his wife."
None of them looked particularly pleased, but there wasn't any horrified protesting through the gags. Good. Gil didn't blame them for Mal's shortcomings, and while he wanted to be sure they never crossed him, he didn't want this to be too uncomfortable for them either.
"Right. Crate them up, take the gags out, and tie them with the thermal plastic." Thermo-plac softened up when it reached body-temperature. They'd be able to free their hands easy enough after about twenty minutes. "You're sure there's still someone on Serenity to receive delivery?"
"Yes, sir. A Preacher. Believe he's a passenger."
"Good. Label Mal's crate with 'please open' so he gets to tell the story first." Gil smiled at his prisoners as his crew started manouvering them towards the crates. "Now, I know you've all had a chance to visit the head and so on. The next six hours are like to be a little uncomfortable, but you'll come to no harm beyond some embarrassment. Please don't exert yourselves by shouting - the crates are contained environments specifically constructed for the transportation of live cargo, and they are, among other things, completely sound-proof."
Cobb, for some reason, acted as if he was being put in a crate with a live tiger. The midget - a girl no more than eighteen or so - seemed perfectly calm about it. The others fought a little but not too much.
All in all, it was quite satisfactory.
"Mal, I have just one thing to say to you."
"Just one? But you had so many earlier."
"This is all your fault."
"That would sum most of them up, yes. Inara, I am truly sorry you got dragged into this."
"And I'm truly sorry I got dragged into this crate, with you of all people!"
"Well, now, that part is your fault."
"If you hadn't been so damned eloquent on my shortcomings before Gil gagged us, he wouldn't have put you in with me. I'd've like got Simon, for that uncomfortable male closeness feel, if you hadn't given him the idea that you'd make me suffer even more."
"This is still your fault."
"An' I'm still sorry. What more do you want, a pound of my flesh?"
"Not without the means of disinfecting it first."
"Don't you even think about doin' anything crazy in here."
"Did you hear me, moonbrain?"
"Heard you, but your statement was foolish and pointless. Insanity is not premeditated."
"Yeah, well, don't. I'll get my hands free any minute now."
"And then the embrace will end?"
"This ain't no gorram embrace! I ain't the one pushed you in so my hands was behind your back!"
"A delicate gesture to avoid embarrassment."
"How the gorram hell is this avoiding embarrassment?"
"If your hands were not behind my back they would be trapped underneath me at a point level with my pelvis."
"The likelihood of at least one of your thumbs - "
"I know ruttin' well where my thumbs would be!"
"They'd be exactly where yours are."
"Is there discomfort?"
"You've got all your weight on 'em, of course there's discomfort! I think you're doin' permanent damage!"
"Will try to move to one side."
"Is that better?"
"Your hip's pretty damn sharp too, but at least it ain't pointy."
"I'm really very sorry about this, Zoe."
"I know. Don't worry about it."
"I'd move if I could."
"I told you, it's fine. Believe me, I've been in worse positions."
"I'm sure you have. But I haven't. I mean, not that... uh... I meant that it's embarrassing, not unpleasant. I mean, not that - "
"I know what you meant. You can't help the height your face is at, Simon. I know you'd be taller if you could."
"You're a doctor, anyway. All that trainin', you ain't gotten used to breasts by now?"
"I generally don't conduct examinations with my chin. Besides, my specialties were surgical and pediatric medicine."
"Pediatric? Kids, you mean?"
"Yes. I may not be much good at talking to girls, or authority figures, or anyone else remotely adult, but I'm really good at the three-to-twelves."
"You like kids?"
"I really do. My plans for my future before... all this... included a useful and stimulating profession and at least half a dozen children. All to be clever and attractive and perfectly clean, of course."
"What about you?"
"I've thought about it."
"What do you mean 'what'?"
"I thought it would be impolite to admit that I knew the cause of your discomfort unless you brought it up first. Simon is adamant that I try to remember manners."
"Yeah, well, ain't like you could miss it."
"The blood flows where it wishes, without consultation with the mind."
"That means you know I ain't doing it on purpose, right?"
"Yes. Sexual arousal is often involuntary, automatically resulting from physical stimulus. Males are particularly likely to - "
"I'd take it as a personal kindness if you didn't talk about it."
"Your chest buzzes when you growl."
"And stop moving around, wouldja?"
"It isn't comfortable to lie on."
"You think it ain't comfortable for you?"
"I will make it go away if you like."
"...what the hell are you..."
"Pain does not work?"
"No, an' don't you bite me again! That ruttin' hurt!"
"Morbid and creepifying is all right, if it is quiet."
"Given an adequate vacuuming system I could drain your body of blood in eight seconds, which would resolve your problem."
"Fear is effective. Will remember."
"You... you evil, brain-readin' little witch!"
"She scares the big bad man."
"She does not!"
"She does too!"
"She does not!"
"So then I said 'What am I going to do with all this custard', and he said... are you sure I'm not boring you?"
"Not a bit of it. I ain't ever heard you tell stories about before you was a pilot."
"Well, compared to Mal and Zoe's war stories, or Jayne's whoring stories, or... well, I usually just stick to the witty quips."
"I like your stories. If it weren't for bein' locked in and posted and all, this'd actually be kinda fun. I don't think we've ever really sat down and talked just the two of us before, have we?"
"Not for long. Although this is more like lying in a box like a large coffin and talking. But the conversation is nice."
"The huggin's kinda nice, too."
"Yeah, that's making me feel better. You know, I really appreciated you asking. I know I should be being all manly and devil-may-care about this, but I'm not really very good with danger."
"Me neither. That's why I asked."
"I'm pretty sure we're going to be okay, though. Takei seemed much more interested in embarrassing Mal than hurting anybody."
"Yeah. That was nice of him. Not shootin' anyone or anything."
"If only everyone Mal crosses was so forbearing. I could get used to the crate, you know?"
"You think Simon an' Zoe are okay?"
"Oh, I'm sure they're fine. They're probably having a nice long chat about the infliction and repair of bullet wounds, or something."
"An' Inara an' the Cap'n?"
"She's probably chewed his ear right off in sheer annoyance by now. But he'll survive."
"What about Jayne and River?"
"... I honestly don't know. I hope neither of them get hurt."
"Jayne wouldn't hurt River. Not really. He might yell at her a lot, though."
"Or be horribly crude and scar her for life."
"Well, yeah. But he wouldn't hurt her hurt her."
"She might hurt him, though."
"How? Ain't hardly room to move in here."
"I don't know. Biting?"
"Well, we'll know in a few more hours. Will you tell me the rest of the custard story?"
"Sure. Then I have a very entertaining one involving Mr Universe and a bag of mice..."
"The mice don't get hurt, do they?"
"No, no, there's no mouse-cruelty, I promise."
"The sun shines, and therefore creates sunlight, yet the sensation of sunlight is found where the sun does not shine."
"It is kinda cosy in here, I guess. You don't like the cold?"
"I am not designed for efficient conservation of heat."
"Guess not, scrawny as y'are."
"Were not taking exception to scrawniness an hour ago."
"That was involuntary, you know that."
"It ain't my fault you're a midget. Bitch to God, he's the one made you skinny."
"Sticks do not speak. If the girl is a stick she cannot speak to the tactless ape."
"Never said you was a stick."
"Am not a stick?"
"I didn't say that, neither."
"Is too cowardly to venture an honest opinion!"
"Your teeth are right near my jugular!"
"If she promises not to bite, will you give a verdict?"
"No scratchin' or kickin' or anything either."
"The word is given."
"You're too skinny, but you ain't all bad. Definitely not a stick."
"What area is not sticklike?"
"Well... uh... 'round the back, I guess."
"You must narrow the parameters."
"You pinched my gluteus maximus!"
"Well, you wanted to know which part I meant."
"You are an uncouth ape-man who takes unfair advantage!"
"And you didn't know that?"
"Vengeance will be had."
"Sure it will."
"What are you doin'?"
"Gorrammit, stop that! Aaaugh!"
Book was more than a little worried. He thought he could probably just about get Serenity in the air, but even if he could, exiting atmosphere was beyond his capabilities, and in any case he had no idea where to start looking for Mal and the rest of the crew.
The four large crates came as a great relief. Surely this was cargo. Cargo meant that Mal was, if not all right, still attempting to make a deal with someone. That could go either way, of course.
They were standard crates for shipping smallish live cargo, and one of them was carefully labelled with a large 'please open'. Book considered it for a moment, then took the precaution of arming himself with a length of steel pipe before doing so, in case whatever came out was inclined to bite.
Whatever came out turned out to be Inara, wincing and covering her eyes. "Shepherd! Thank goodness!"
There was a pained grunt as she crawled out of the crate, and Book looked in to see her foot planted solidly on Mal's stomach. "Might I inquire as to what - "
"No. We ain't ever talkin' about this again. It didn't happen." Mal sat up, also covering his eyes. Presumably it had been quite dark in the crate. "Just let the others out, Preacher, so we can get right on with forgetting that this ever didn't happen."
"It was all his fault." Inara pointed, wiping her watering eyes with her other hand.
"It usually is." Book proceeded to the next crate, undoing the seals and lifting the lid. "Hello?"
"Shepherd!" Kaylee popped up, blinking but looking a lot less frazzled than the other two. "Hey, was it six hours already?"
"Six hours already?" Mal glared at her.
"Wash and I talked and all and it just went right by." Kaylee wriggled out of the crate apparently without inflicting any bruising on her companion. "This is about the nicest way our plans've ever gone totally wrong, doncha think?"
"No." Inara said witheringly.
"Well, maybe not for you. Kaylee and I were pretty comfortable, though." Wash climbed out and followed Book to the next crate. "We came up with some new evasive techniques while we were in there, for Serenity."
"At least you put the time to good use." Book popped the seals on the next crate.
"-not that he don't want kids, I think... Preacher?" That was Zoe, but Simon's head appeared first. Being the shorter of the two, he seemed to have been stacked on top.
"Where's River? Is she okay?"
"River isn't out yet, she..." Book trailed off, looking at the last crate. There were only two people left and... "Oh dear."
"Get her out!" Simon climbed out with a bit less care than Kaylee, judging by the grunt from Zoe, and hurried over to the crate with his eyes squeezed almost shut. "So bright... come on, come on..."
Wash went to help him, while Book helped Zoe out of her box. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. A little squashed, but fine." Zoe looked rather fondly at the young doctor. "He's a good kid, once you get him talkin'."
"Shhh!" That was Wash, the lid of the last crate just cracked open. Everyone fell silent as he slowly raised the lid.
A duet of snores rose into the air. One snore was quiet and deep, with an occasional grunting noise. The other was much higher pitched, leavened with a regular little sigh.
Book and Zoe joined the others in tiptoeing over to peer in.
Jayne's arm was looped loosely around River's waist, her head resting on his broad chest. They both looked perfectly comfortable and thoroughly asleep... for some time, if the patch of drool on Jayne's shirt was anything to go by.
"Awww..." Kaylee whispered. "Ain't they sweet?"