Journey To Still Water
He lives in Serenity, which sounds ironic somehow. Technically he can only claim the hiring of one shuttle, but that's merely where he works. It doesn't contain all of his living. He works in the shuttle, eats in a communal dining room, paces the walkways in the main holding bay, watches the stars from the bridge, exchanges snatches of conversation in corridors, and sleeps in Zoë's bunk. His footsteps echo throughout the ship. His breath has drifted through every air-filtering unit.
He lives here. He fits.
He thinks that he doesn't deserve this, but maybe no one does.
He watches from the walkway as Mal, Zoë, Jayne, and River return from the latest job. As soon as she's finished parking the mule Zoë looks up and smiles at him standing there. He nods and lets the corners of his mouth tilt up a little.
They're not demonstrative people in public, although he doubts anyone but Mal appreciates that.
"We're back!" River's voice echoes in the hold. "Was it peaceful without us?"
"Quiet, not peaceful," says Simon with a smile as he comes through the door that leads from the infirmary. He's not quick enough for Kaylee, who squeezes past him with a kiss on the cheek and races across the hold to look at some new mechanical thing that the Captain has brought her.
"How did it go?"
"Smooth, believe it or not." Mal jumps down from the mule and slaps Simon on the back. "Sorry Doctor, nothin' for you to do."
Mal watches in amusement whilst Kaylee inspects her new equipment and Simon pretends to be interested in it. Jayne unloads. River twirls on the spot happily then dances up the stairs towards the bridge, waving at him on the walkway as she passes by. Zoë shuts the bay doors. Everyone is home.
"Well, this is nice," says Kaylee. "Isn't this nice?"
"It's edible is what it is," says Jayne, reaching across her for a bowl of green beans.
Kaylee grabs the serving spoon as the bowl passes her by. Jayne frowns and grumbles, but holds the bowl in place until she's finished serving herself.
They have fresh food for once, actual meat and vegetables, filling the table with colour.
Mal, at the head of the table, has already filled his plate and is busy chewing. Zoë sits on his right and Simon to his left. They share a smile over Jayne and Kaylee's antics. On Simon's other side River takes the opportunity to steal half of her brother's bread roll.
He is seated next to River and opposite Jayne, who offers him the green beans next. He takes a spoonful, then steals half of River's roll. It seems like the thing to do.
Zoë sees him and laughs. Mal looks at them both for a moment, then just shakes his head and carries on chewing.
a few days before
A callused fingertip gently traces the length of his nose. Soft, damp lips follow. Her eyelashes brush against his forehead. His eyebrows. His own eyelashes.
"Stay," she whispers and he wraps his arms around her, holding her as close as he can.
He doesn't ever want to be a replacement and never intends to be.
There are no similarities between himself and the departed Hoban Washbourne.
He did have a fascination with dinosaurs at some point during his childhood, but it's not something that he will ever tell anyone (although he suspects that River knows).
His shuttle is full of the contraptions and paraphernalia required for formulating drugs. He sells his products by trading from his shuttle, or handing them to other crew members to sell on his behalf and allowing them to keep a fraction of the profit as payment. Most of what he sells is legal and legally sold, but he's always willing to disregard the rules if he deems it necessary or practical.
River sits there watching him work, sometimes even helping a little.
"I used to think, before I found her, that River and I would find a good place where a doctor would be welcome and she would help me," says Simon wistfully when he finds her there.
"Out of your hair, being productive. Happy like you wanted." River smiles. "I am helping you."
"She's being a gorram nuisance," he tells Simon, but they all know he doesn't mean it.
"And he didn't notice?"
He rolls his eyes and tells her, "There is no end to the things that man didn't notice."
Zoë laughs and the sound startles his own face into a smile before he can stop it. She leans in close and kisses him, both of them still smiling.
some time before that
"I don't hold with you sleepin' with my First Mate." Mal folds his arms and moves forward, invading his personal space. "Romances onboard a ship complicate things."
"I'm not sleeping with her," he says. "I'm eating with her, talking with her, having sex with her, and then sleeping with her."
Anger slides across Mal's face and once he might have slept with Zoë just to see that, to invoke that reaction in someone. He doesn't know why, but something inside him tightens in satisfaction when he manages to aggravate another person that much, especially one in a position of authority.
Now he finds that he hardly cares. It's still satisfying on some level, but he's sleeping with Zoë because he wants to and she's letting him, and he wouldn't sleep with her for anything else, for anything less.
Which is both complicated and not.
the first time
She invites him in where he never would have gone uninvited and he doesn't mention the plastic dinosaur on the bedside cabinet or the jumpsuit too large to fit her that he can see in the open closet. He doesn't say anything at all as she leads him by one hand towards her bunk, her mouth a determined line.
Her hand in his is warm and that is all he thinks about.
It's just warmth in the dark and then he leaves.
a place to begin
Zoë sits down opposite him and slides the credits across the table.
"So what was it I just sold on your behalf?"
"It inhibits neural responses during the restive state."
She raises her eyebrows quizzically and he resists the urge to map their lines with his fingers.
"In layman's terms, it causes sleep without dreams."
"Can't think of anyone who couldn't use a bit of that."
She smiles while she says it, but it doesn't reach her eyes.
in the time before
River is fascinated by the workstation he sets up in his (hired) shuttle. She has ghosted fingertips over the labels that adorn vials, bottles, pots, jars, and boxes with his spidery handwriting. She has watched for hours the slow drip of liquids through his distillery.
Today she sits on the floor with her back against the wall, legs stretched out, bare feet crossed neatly at the ankle, holding a vial up to the light.
"Leaves and poison. Kills in three hours."
"Add 10ml from the red jar behind you and it removes cholera from a water supply," he says without looking up from monitoring the experiment on his worktable.
"You never used it for that."
"Believe you mentioned wantin' to hire a shuttle," says Mal. He looks confrontational for some unknown reason, arms folded and feet braced.
"Right. Standard contract fine with you?"
"I would like to look it over first."
Mal turns and stalks off, and he's left wondering how awful the last person who hired one of Serenity's shuttles must have been for the Captain to be like this.
prior to that
The five of them are laughing and joking when they return to the ship, high on a job well done. Mal and Jayne do the heavy lifting, Kaylee checks that the mule has been stowed away correctly, River skips up the stairs in the direction of her pilot's chair, and Zoë locks up behind them.
Simon stands next to him on the walkway as they watch the activity below, the two of them having stayed behind.
"Anythin' happen?" Mal yells up at them.
"Peace and quiet," Simon replies, his voice loud enough to be heard but nowhere near a shout.
"Quiet, but not peaceful." River sticks her tongue out at her brother as she passes. "You need to stop worrying."
"Not that he will," says Zoë, her tone almost playful as she comes up the steps behind River.
"Five hours, you say?"
He is faced with a crew of curious faces, the Captain's being but one.
"Give or take perhaps ten minutes, yes. It's impossible for me to calibrate the exact amount inhaled by each individual since the number of individuals is uncertain. That's as accurate as I can be."
"And they won't be hurt or nothin'?" says Kaylee, concerned as always.
Zoë is correct when she says, "He wouldn't have mentioned it if they would be."
"I dunno, Mal." Jayne leans back in his chair and folds his arms. "Druggin' folks. Can't we just hit 'em? That'd knock 'em out good. Always has before."
"How about," Mal says, looking at Jayne, "you hit any of them that wake up before we finish the job."
Jayne is doomed to disappointment.
"What, exactly, is wrong with your sister?"
At first Simon declines to give a straight answer, but when he demonstrates his expert knowledge of pharmaceutical drugs and their uses Simon starts to explain. He doesn't understand as much of it as he would like and spends a lot of time researching the matter further before proposing some new drugs that may be of use.
River comes watches him work. Not only does he let her, but he describes the process to her, explains the chemicals he intends to send into her bloodstream.
She doesn't make any comments that he considers to be sensible, but he takes her presence as a sign that she doesn't mind his interference in her health.
Simon is appreciative, the others indifferent.
He wishes they were all indifferent. He isn't doing it for them.
"So, not that you ain't delightful-like company, but I was expectin' you to be takin' your leave 'round about now," says Mal in a tone that implies he hopes this is so. "Good port for it. A body could go anywhere from here."
"I've been considering hiring one of your shuttles."
"You think I can't afford it?"
"Think I don't want to be hirin' out my shuttles."
"I would have thought the extra income would be welcome."
"Well it ain't."
in the days before
The food is almost always awful, but the company is almost always tolerable. Sometimes he might go so far as to say that the latter is pleasant, but never outside of his own head.
"He likes it here," River tells Kaylee as the pair of them dance past.
in the days before that
He's still sat at the dining table when Zoë walks in. Everyone else has long since gone about their business, but his business is a good book and with dinner being over this is the most un-occupied, and therefore quietest, place in Serenity.
"Jayne said you cleaned up."
"Yes," he says, not bothering to look at her.
"You didn't have to do that. Wasn't your turn."
"I am, if it has escaped your notice, trying to read." He places a finger between the pages to keep his place, then holds the book closed with the rest of his hand. "I don't like reading surrounded by mess and the joyous smell of burnt protein. Nor do I enjoy being interrupted, as I would be by someone else finally getting around to solving the problem. So yes, I cleaned."
Some of the tension leaves Zoë's shoulders and the hint of a smile appears on her face.
"You weren't just doing something nice then?"
"I don't do 'nice'," he informs her and goes back to reading his book.
some time before
Simon is the one to explain why there are plastic dinosaurs on the bridge. The others seem to consider them two of kind, perhaps because of the narrow strip of common ground where their professions meet, and Simon himself appears to want to encourage a friendship between them. This is hardly surprising when the other choices for male companionship onboard Serenity are considered.
"Wash was married to Zoë," says Simon when they find themselves suffering through a protein breakfast together. "You would have liked him, I think. He had a way with words."
As does Simon himself, but he doesn't point that out, concentrating instead on ignoring the taste permeating his mouth.
"He was certainly a character, somehow always managing to get away with winding Mal up. The dinosaurs on the bridge belonged to him. River loved watching him when he pretended they could talk to each other."
There's an awkward silence for a moment as he struggles to form a response. He's left people behind as he's moved on, but he can't say he misses any of them as such and to the best of his knowledge they're all still alive.
"I suppose this Wash, wherever he finds himself, is at least spared the misery of eating this repulsive go-se that we're required to call food in such depressive company."
The corners of Simon's mouth curve upwards, just enough.
a long while back now
The corridor is narrow and he doesn't see why he should be the one to move out of the way. She may be the First Mate, but he isn't part of her crew, so he continues striding forward unchecked and she doesn't back down either. He can feel the warmth of her as they push-squeeze past each other, smell the leather of her vest.
"I don't do complications," she says, launching the words at him with a pointed glare.
"I fail to see," he replies," what is so complicated about getting out of my way."
"People like you, always expecting to get what they want. Why should I?"
He doesn't bother explaining that in his experience if you don't act like that then you never get anything. Instead he sneers. He's good at that.
a little while before that
River Tam has a bad habit of turning up when he least wants company, bare feet assaulting the space he occupies. He wonders idly if she can feel the engines humming through her soles, if the vibrations make her feel safe in the knowledge that the ship is functioning.
"There are ghosts following you," she tells him. "White beard and red hair and sad smiles."
He raises his eyebrows and peers down his nose at her. Like most of what she says, it makes no sense, and he doesn't care to go searching for what sense there may be.
"Don't worry," she says, smiling. "They won't catch up."
He waits until she's gone and counts to twenty, to be sure she isn't coming back, before slowly turning around. There isn't anything there and he never thought there would be.
a week previous
The First Mate frisks him thoroughly and he's more than uncomfortable with having his privacy so invaded.
"Would it make this easier for you if I just stripped off?" he says snidely. "I could make a show of it. Then at least I might be paid for having to suffer through this nonsense."
"I don't do complications," Zoë says flatly, as if he was making an invitation.
He wonders if she is that stupid, to think a woman treating him like a piece of meat is something that he finds attractive, especially when he stands here wearing distaste on his face for the whole affair.
Something draws him to this ship, and it isn't the pretty brunette twirling her parasol like a cheap whore trying to catch the passing menfolk with her charms. It's the ship itself, a certain style to it, and the sight of two shuttles that perks his interest. Although he's not foolish enough to put forward the idea of renting a shuttle, even to himself, until he's travelled aboard the ship they're tied to.
He almost changes his mind when he sees the three from the bar the other night approaching, but the fare is more than reasonable and he's not one to be put off a ship by the people onboard her.
"Perhaps you're not recallin' the fun filled times we had when last we took on passengers," Mal says as he walks up the ramp.
"We can't afford not to, sir," says the woman walking alongside him. "We'll just have to take care, is all."
"This here's the Captain," the brunette tells him, "and Zoë."
the night before
It isn't a particularly impressive bar fight. The smaller man lays out the other with a few solid punches and the threat of the large man backing him up causes anyone else who might have bothered joining in to back away.
"How many fights you intend to pick today, Mal?" the large man complains to the victor, but Mal ignores him, stumbles on his way over to the bar, and calls for another drink. His first, or previous, beverage seems to have ended up on the floor, but this is far from the cleanest bar in the 'verse and so much seems to have graced the floor beforehand that it hardly matters.
"D'you have issues drinkin' next to someone wearing a brown coat?"
He turns away, not caring to be involved with this man. "In my experience both sides of the war were equally as idiotic as each other."
"Thought this wasn't about the gorram war," the large man mutters in the background, seemingly to a woman with a gun strapped to one thigh. "Thought it was about Simon pissin' him off again. Is it always about the gorram war an' I'm just missin' it?"
in the years before
He makes it halfway to the Rim with enough money to afford clean lodgings in cheap areas along with enough food and alcohol to make life bearable. The drugs he has been selling on various black markets have made him a fair amount, but drugs aren't challenging enough.
He wants to be challenged.
He puts the word out, trying to find work as an independent contractor in specialist concoctions, and finds himself making even more, but whilst he can pick and chose what offers he takes he is still constrained by what other people want him to make. He saves, dreaming of hiring quarters on a transport ship or a commercial space station, where he could make whatever he wanted, sure of someone coming along who would want to buy it eventually.
a long time ago
"For three nights?"
"Seven credit, for one night."
He glares at her and moves closer, making his long coat swirl around his legs and trying to look at intimidating as possible. "Five credits per night."
The old woman, Chinese tattoos decorating her face and neck, reaches up to pat him on the cheek. She smells like urine and spices. "Seven credit, one night."
He needs somewhere to stay and he needs to be near the Tarish Market, where he can have access to the supplies he needs and customers for his finished products. He'd anticipated those supplies being extortionately expensive, since black market goods always were, but he hadn't thought that the accommodation to rent in the surrounding area would be this pricey.
Still, he thinks as he hands over the money, he should be able to charge highly for his products.
The woman pats him on the cheek again and he fights the urge to scrub himself clean this very instant. "Three credit more for heating."
He fingers the top button of his coat. "No, thank you."
The less he spends and the more profit he makes then the sooner he can move on.
in the early days
He does well as school, better at university, and brilliantly when hired as a member of a governmental research and development programme, and yet it isn't enough. He still feels like he doesn't fit, a square peg in a round hole where it has no right to try and live.
"I can't believe you want to leave. Pharmaceutical chemists," Robert says, "just don't do well outside of government funded research institutions. This is where the money is."
"I," he replies, "don't do well being told how and what to research."
Everyday he is told what to make, knowing that the final product may be used to save lives or to end them. He isn't sure what bothers him more: that he cannot chose his own projects or that he cannot chose the use they are put to, but he knows that the latter is something that should not be voiced here.
"You don't have to branch out alone, though. There are hundreds of research teams, even some privately funded, and practically all of them would jump at the chance of hiring you." Robert combs through his short hair with his fingers and readjusts his goggles. "You're one of the best and you know it. Don't sell yourself short."
"It isn't about the money."
It's more complicated than that.
It is not a particularly wonderful childhood, but then he is not a particularly wonderful child. His parents ignore him for the most part, which he makes him feel happier than it should.
He doesn't know why, but sometimes he waves a stick in the air and part of him expects something to happen, but nothing ever does.
"I don't believe in reincarnation," he says flatly. In truth there is not a lot he does believe in.
"Oh. Do you believe in Heaven and Hell and all that?"
Remus looks younger than the last time he saw him, but the half-buttoned grey cardigan is familiar.
He feels the urge to point out that assuming he follows the Christian religion professes ignorance, but thankfully it is no longer his place to lecture, if it ever has been.
"Only from what I've seen so far there is none. Just a grand old collection of everyone that ever was, all in the same place."
Remus smiles, as if this is wonderful, and for him it probably is.
He tries not to think of all the people that have died before him, many of them at his own hand, and fails. He fights the images by thinking of those who'll likely follow him instead. The Boy Who Lived will more than likely live again (he hopes), but with such a vast quantity of Weasleys in existence it seems practically a certainty that at least one of that family will be along shortly. And the dunderheads he's taught over the years hardly have a chance.
Oh, sweet Merlin. He could end up sharing an eternity with Longbottom.
He clears his throat. "I find that reincarnation holds many previously unthought-of advantages."
"Yes," says Remus, smiling crookedly, "I rather thought you might."
And Severus Snape is reborn.