Disclaimer: Firefly, Serenity, and all related characters are copyright 2002-2005 Mutant Enemy, Inc., Universal Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. This is a work of fanfiction. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Mal and Zoe discuss their previous job, Zoe and Lilah come to an understanding, and a handsome man of dubious character receives his birthday gift. Now Complete.
Still Flying: Part VII
Dinner that night broached a subject that was rarely spoken of.
It was actually Zoe's turn to cook and she did so without complaint. She was somewhat talented in the kitchen, even though she cooked the least out of the crew, except for perhaps River. She only ever used to cook for Wash, pulling rank over the others to stay out of the rotation. Wash had loved her cooking, and he had enjoyed every one of her meals as a special treat, claiming that each one was his absolute favorite. He'd always taken her turns in the rotation and he hadn't been a bad cook either.
After Serenity had been patched up, she'd taken his place on the rotation without saying a word to the others. She cracked a smile as she whipped the potato grains into the water, the mixture becoming thicker and fluffier by the second. Feeling extravagant, she added a bit of the precious, little real butter they had.
She sent River, who had been sitting at the back table while drawing intently, to go and gather up the crew. Zoe began moving the food over to the table, smelling her handiwork and smiling faintly. She could do wonders when she actually had real food to work with. Dinner was courtesy of the pirate ship they had raided: roast beef in brown gravy with onions and the last of the mushrooms. She'd chosen protein meant to taste like green beans to go along with her mashed potatoes and all in all, thought she had done a decent job.
The crew trickled in one by one until all were sitting and eating happily. Mal had actually moaned when he had his first bite and Zoe raised her eyebrow at him. The only person Serenity who was so vocal about food was Kaylee, and that was usually for something that was red and sweet and called a strawberry.
"This is damn good, Zoe." Mal said. "I think I finally get what Wash meant when he said your cooking was nearly as good as sex."
"He actually said that?" Inara asked with a laugh.
"Oh, surely you heard him carrying on whenever Zoe cooked for him?" Inara shook her head. "You know, he was the only one she ever cooked for." Mal said. "He used to rave about it on the bridge."
Zoe smiled and shrugged, clearly unused to such praise.
"I move that Zoe cooks permanently." Jayne said, in between mouthfuls of food.
"I move that Jayne shuts up." Zoe said.
"I second that motion." Simon said quickly.
"Thirded." Lilah added.
"All in favor?" Mal asked.
"Aye!" Chorused seven of the eight people sitting at the table.
"Motion passed." Mal said, chuckling.
Jayne looked as if he were about to bite out a nasty retort before snorting and laughing. He turned his attention back to his food, clearly enthralled.
"So, Cap'n, you have an idea of where we're going after we get done at Persephone?" Kaylee asked. The others looked up from their food to look at Mal.
"Yeah, barring any complications, we'll be heading towards Haven." Mal said quietly.
The crew fell silent at that, remembering that it was indeed almost the anniversary of the Miranda broadcast and the loss of two of their own. Lilah didn't know what to think; Leaf had been the only one she had known. She hadn't known Shepherd Book and she hadn't been part of their mission to reveal the truth of the Alliance's genocide of an entire plant to every world spinning. She wasn't sure she even had the right to set foot on the place that Mal and the others obviously considered to be hallowed ground.
"Have to go; can't forget. We mustn't forget them." River said, smiling slightly. Lilah was unsure if her comment was directed at her or not. "We have to remember that it happened and that we survived. Have to remember to honor them."
"River's right." Inara agreed. "It would be wrong to not go."
There was a long moment of silence.
"So, about that pie-" Jayne started.
"No." Was all Mal had to say.
Things seemed to lighten up after that and they went back to eating and talking animatedly.
"So," Zoe said to Mal, as they sat in the catwalks, sharing a drink. "You gonna tell me what the hell had you wound so tight on the job earlier?"
Mal sighed heavily. It'd been a question but meant as an order: "Tell me now, damn it."
"The frames. Inara was looking at the art, curious about it because she's into that sort of thing, I suppose, and she noticed the frames. She said they looked wrong and when we took one off and pulled away a sealing strip on the inside, we found drugs hidden in the hollowed out area.
"Simon found us and told us that they were illegal drugs that we needed to get rid of and fast. The three of us worked to get the drugs out and then we spaced them before sealing the frames up and re-framing the work."
"And that's why you were so glad to see that she wanted them burned." Zoe said. "She didn't have a clue about them…it must have been the grandson's doing."
"That's what I figured. But Zoe," he said, looking at her intently. "Simon said that some of them could kill a person quick and quiet with just a drop or two. He also said that the Alliance were the ones what started making them. Penalty for just being connected with them is 15 years on a penal moon. Those drugs were bad news."
"I'm getting that, Mal," Zoe said. "Just wish you wouldn't hold out on me when it comes to stuff like this, I can't help this crew if I don't know what's going on."
"You know I trust you more than I trust anyone, Zoe," Mal said seriously. "But them drugs made me panic. I don't like 'em and I don't deal in 'em and those bags of them that we spaced could've rained down heaps of trouble on us. It was late at night when we found them and I wasn't about to go knocking on your hatch door to tell you about it. You don't get enough sleep anymore as it is."
"I sleep just fine, Mal," Zoe said. "It's getting better," She added quietly.
"Take all the time you need, Zoe," Mal said kindly as they started setting the mess back to order, both ready to settle down for the night. She smiled at him as they walked to their bunks. "I mean it Zoe," he told her as they got ready to descend. "Take all the time you need. We couldn't do any of this without you. Not a bit."
She smiled and bade him good night.
Me especially, he thought, climbing down into his bunk. Me especially.
Lilah wondered who was knocking at her door at this time of night. She dragged herself out of bed and slid the door open a little to find Zoe, who had her album with her.
"Couldn't sleep?" Lilah asked, inviting her in.
"I was getting ready to turn in for the night and I remembered that I still had this. I thought I'd give it back before I forgot." She handed the album to Lilah and sat down on the built-in wall-seat in her room.
"Thanks. Did they help at all?" Lilah asked.
Zoe smiled faintly.
"A little. It's hard to take in, you know? It's easy to forget that we all had these whole other lives before we came on this ship. And when I looked at those captures and played a few, I saw a lot of my Wash in your Leaf. He was a character even then."
"He was." Lilah agreed. "He was the heart of our little group."
"It was the same way here." Zoe said. "You know, when he came on board he had a mustache?"
"Oh, he grew that horrid thing back?" Lilah groaned. "We shaved it off when he slept one night that first week we were in training. It was atrocious. It looked as though something had died on his face."
"I made him shave it off too; told him either it went or he went."
"Why he loved that gorram thing, I'll never know." Lilah said.
It got very quiet between them and Zoe stood to leave, saying that it was very late and she needed to get some shut-eye.
"Zoe?" Lilah questioned as Zoe started to slide the door shut.
"Things between us… are we okay?" She had to know.
Zoe was silent for a long moment, before she sighed and smiled slightly.
"Yeah, we're good." And she left.
Three Weeks Later…
The fancy shuttle touched down on the estate of Shiloh Wu. The pilot powered the shuttle off and then exited to cross to the other side and open the hatch door.
"Sir," the pilot said respectfully, head bowed.
A young man stepped out and surveyed the view with only the slightest hint of interest, as if the magnificent ocean view was beneath him.
"Is there anything you require, Sir?" The pilot asked.
"No, Jeffries. I need nothing at this time."
The young man made his way to the large mansion on the estate with the practiced ease of one long familiar with the area. He wondered back to the garden, obviously sure of what he would find.
He came across a lady wearing a large, floppy-brimmed straw hat with a ridiculous ribbon and flower decoration.
His charming face lit up, though the lady did not notice how the smile did not meet his eyes.
"Oh! It's you! I'd so hoped you would make it within the week. I have a very special surprise for you! Oh! You're going to be so thrilled!" Shiloh Wu bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet and clapped her hands excitedly. "I can't wait to give my favorite grandson his birthday surprise."
The man dutifully escorted her like a true gentleman, nodding in all the right places and offering up a polite "Indeed," at Mrs. Wu's conversation.
When they were inside the mansion where he had spent so many a holiday, she playfully bid him to close his eyes.
"It wouldn't be sporting of you to ruin your surprise. I'm so excited for you!"
He managed to not roll his eyes before he closed them. He heard his grandmother say, "Bring them in!"
He patiently waited. He'd been waiting for months now; a few moments wouldn't make any difference.
"Open your eyes! Happy Birthday!"
He opened his eyes. In front of him were several large paintings, none of them particularly attractive or breathtaking. And the frames…
"Well, what do you think? When you mentioned your interest in them I just couldn't stop myself! I do love to spoil you so!" His grandmother said.
"They're perfect, Grandmother. Thank you," he flashed his most charming smile. "But what of the original frames, I'm rather curious as to what happened to them."
Shiloh Wu snorted.
"Those hideous things? I burned and replaced them. I don't know what that art director was thinking, choosing those frames. There were just awful."
He nodded and smiled at her once more, not revealing the fury that raged inside him at his plans being so magnificently thwarted.
"Thank you for the birthday gift, Grandmother. I love them," he said with a gesture to the paintings, before sweeping over to her to wrap her in a hug.
"You're so very welcome, Atherton, my dear."
Damn you, Malcolm Reynolds. He thought savagely, still hugging his grandmother. I swear I'll find a way to make you pay for this.
I hope you enjoy! Questions, comments, and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!