Characters Mal, Inara, Jayne, Zoe, River, rest of Serenity’s crew; Jack Harkness
Spoilers: Most of Firefly the series, just prior to Heart of Gold; up to CoE for Torchwood, but nothing specific
Warnings: Implications of sexual shenanigans, violence
Disclaimer: Firefly and Torchwood belong to their respective creators, who are not me.
A/N: Written for thinlizzy2 for xover_exchange. Thanks to brighteyed_jill for betaing!
Summary: To make ends meet, Mal listens to a suggestion from Inara that he rent out the other shuttle. She has the perfect candidate, a charming Companion named Jack…
“Mal, this is becoming a bad habit,” Inara said tightly, a brittleness in her voice that boded no good. Mal wasn’t in the mood for a fight, especially not with Inara, but it didn’t look like he had a choice. Zoe had vacated the galley the second she’d come in, leaving him with no allies, and no options, unless he wanted to tuck tail and run.
“And what, pray tell, bad habit of my many is bothering you this time?” Mal asked as civilly as he could.
“I’m three days late for my appointment on Persephone, and this has been the third time in a month you’ve let it happen. If I can’t count on you to be reliable and get me to my clients on time-.”
Never mind. Mal was more than ready for a fight now. It was inevitable. Hell, it was therapeutic.
“We couldn’t get you here on time, this time or the other two, as we had a rather pressing lack of fuel and had to do a few things I’m none too proud of to get it. Now if you feel like rolling around helpless in the black, being that we’ve already done that once before and nobody really much cared for it, just say so!” he snapped.
“Mal, if things are that bad…” Inara softened a bit, which perversely made Mal more irritated. And that irritated him all the more, but at himself, not her. “Do you have another job lined up on Persephone?”
“Can’t say that I do, but Badger owes us one after the last time,” Mal said tightly.
Inara’s cheeks were still flushed with anger, but she suddenly looked thoughtful. “There’s another way to help make up those gaps, Mal.”
Mal looked almost pained. “Tell me you and the doc haven’t come up with some kind of job.”
Inara almost cracked a smile. “No. But I know there are several other Companions on Persephone, some few who are also looking to expand their client base. Assuming you can keep your tongue in check and not run everyone off, you could rent out the other shuttle. Provided I’m able to convince anyone that you’re reliable.”
“Reliable-!” Mal was about to start the argument again, recalled why they’d started arguing in the first place, and shut his mouth. He owed Inara more than a bit for the whole Saffron thing, and she’d stuck her neck out more than she really needed too for the whole crew. And if he wasn’t able to pick up a good job on Persephone, he might as well just plant flowers in Serenity’s engines because they wouldn’t be flying anytime soon.
“Ok,” Mal said finally, swallowing most of his resentment. “You do your thing, find me someone, and I’ll get us a job.”
Inara had a very odd smile on her face, the kind of gamine grin that would have looked more at home on Kaylee’s face than hers.
“I think I know just the person.”
Two days later, Mal was sweating and swearing up a storm to rival Jayne’s string of complaints as they wrestled the last of the bulky cargo containers into place. He’d found a job, a legitimate one even, bound to Bellerophon, which ought to make Inara happy. Not that that had been the deciding factor, no sir. Just a good rate of pay and some bits to haul that wouldn’t add another black mark to his record if he got caught. Even so, the money would barely get Serenity up, let alone pay for the engine parts Kaylee had been clamoring for for three months.
Never mind. They’d survive. They always did. Unless, of course, they didn’t, and in which case, at least it wouldn’t be his problem anymore.
Wiping his brow, Mal climbed the stairs to the upper deck slowly, and came to an abrupt halt, exhaustion forgotten, when Inara appeared arm-in-arm with a strange man. If Mal thought that Simon might have been trouble, with his pretty-boy looks and Core planet manners, this man was even worse. Tall, dark-haired and pale-eyed, dressed in tailored silks that probably cost as much or more than the entire cargo he’d taken on today. And, not surprising considering he was a Companion, he was also physically perfect, with an attitude that he was very well aware of the fact.
He was going to be Trouble.
“Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Jack Harkness,” Inara said smoothly, before Mal could regain enough breath to say something scathing. “Jack was just telling me he was very much interested in seeing some more of the ‘verse.”
“Great ship you have here, Captain,” Jack said heartily, reaching out to thoroughly shake Mal’s hand with a winning smile brightening his face. “I have to say, Fireflies are really my kind of ship. A lot of personality in each one.”
“He was talking to Kaylee earlier. Jack here is quite the Renaissance man,” Inara said warmly, her sweetest smile fixed on her face. Wonderful, she already started turning the crew against Mal. Anyone willing to talk shop with Kaylee had her undivided attention for as long as they wanted. Mal couldn’t very well dismiss Jack as a potential distraction to the crew without risking his chief engineer sulking for a week.
Even if it were the Kaylee version of sulking, which weren’t that bad, it still didn’t keep Serenity running smoothly. When Kaylee was upset, the ship seemed to sulk in sympathy.
“Glad you think so,” Mal said, dredging up a pleasant expression from somewhere.
“Inara said you were looking for a tenant for your other shuttle. I think I’m your man,” Jack said, putting his arm around Inara’s waist. “She’s told me about all the opportunities out here, and I’m always keen to meet new people. I’m not a bad man to have around in a sticky spot, either. I’ve been to the Outer Rim a time or two, so I know the drill.”
Mal didn’t laugh in the man’s face, though he was sorely tempted. More than likely he’d been to the Outer Rim on a tourist trip, if that. Whatever hobbies Jack had picked up on the Core planets didn’t mean he was suited for Mal’s ship.
Then again, the arguments Inara had made for her presence on Serenity, that of increased respectability and opening doors, went double if Mal had two Companions on board. Any ship that could “afford” two Companions would be seen as having something very special about her crew, no matter the appearance of the ship. Which was true anyway, but then Mal wouldn’t have to fight past as many suspicions to get a decent job.
Didn’t quite make up for the fact that Jack just seemed born to rub Mal the wrong way.
But money was scarce and Mal had taken pay before from people he held no fondness for. Damn business was getting in the way of being properly mad at someone.
“I expect you’d be wanting Inara’s conditions,” Mal said, wanting to sound Jack out a little more. He figured Inara would have already warned Jack as much as possible, and wanted to see how good Jack’s poker face was.
“Inara, what conditions would those be?” Jack asked, seemingly guilelessly.
Inara looked a little flustered when she responded. “A third less rent than the price I told you, no one on my shuttle without my permission, and I don’t serve any of the crew.”
“You drive a hard bargain!” Jack said, eyebrows rising. “And you always did cultivate an aura of mystery.”
Mal looked from one to the other, valiantly not rolling his eyes.
“But that’s not me,” Jack said, turning back to Mal, his smile even brighter than before. “Inara’s a force of nature, and she can do as she chooses and come out even better on the other side. You’re traveling with a living legend, Captain.”
Inara seemed surprised, no more so than Mal, at Jack’s extravagant praise.
“Me, on the other hand, I’m more of a free-for-all kind of guy. You guys could come in anytime you like, aside from when I have clients. And I’ll serve your crew too, Captain.” He winked. He gorram winked at Mal like a flirtatious bar maid. “I’m flexible.”
“I’m-,” Mal hesitated. “Sure you are.”
“Well, if you’ll have me,” Jack said, and pulled out a heavy purse, which he pressed into Mal’s hand. It clinked invitingly, and Mal pulled open the drawstrings to gape at the amount of money inside. “That’s six months’ rent up front.”
Mal hated sounding like he was giving in on anything involving his ship, especially when he’d basically been painted into a corner like this, but it would be very fine to get to Bellerophon in one entire piece instead of several burning up in the atmo.
“Well then,” he said, doing an admirable job of keeping his voice even. “Welcome aboard.”
Mal thought he was going to mutiny against his own crew before the month was out. Everyone liked Jack. Mal couldn’t go anywhere on the ship without seeing just how damn much everyone liked Jack. He’d heard him laughing in the engine room with Kaylee, both of them with smudges of grease on their nose and talking in such thick jargon about couplings and catalysts that Mal couldn’t make heads or tails of it. He found him in the cockpit with Wash and Zoe, flirting outrageously with them both in turn, making them both laugh, all three enjoying the joke immensely.
Mal had found Jack pumping iron with Jayne, swapping dirty jokes so filthy he’d banned Kaylee from going into the cargo hold while they were there. And then not two hours later, he’d heard Jack in the Shepherd’s room, and had stopped long enough to overhear the two of them in some deep philosophical discussion about the nature of life after death. He’d seen Jack talking respectfully with Simon about some mutual friends on Osiris, giving the doc an ego-boost he probably hadn’t had since he’d rescued River.
And Inara, of course, liked him because he was another Companion on board. Mal normally was keen to tell most people what he thought, but he’d bitten his tongue and hadn’t let the word “whore” slip past his lips since he’d agreed to take on Jack. Two against one was poor odds, not that anyone ever accused Mal of being overly concerned with odds.
And River… Well, Mal didn’t know what River thought about the whole situation. If she had even let Jack get a glimpse of her in the two weeks he’d been aboard, Mal would have been surprised. All to the good in his way of thinking, for the most part.
Mal stopped himself from cringing as Jack came out of his shuttle, hair freshly combed after his last appointment. The man had spent nearly every minute of their time planetside or stationside working. Last station they’d been at, Jack had constant stream of people in and out of his shuttle. Sometimes more were in than out, which had impressed Inara and made Book blush. Though, like Inara, Jack did tend to keep his business discreet.
“Jack,” Mal said, civilly enough.
“Hey, Jayne mentioned you were picking up some goods from Marko and Drake?”
“That’d be so. Just moving a few things for them, nothing to be concerned about.”
“They run a rather nasty crew, so I’ve heard,” Jack said earnestly.
“How does a Companion pick up knowledge about a couple of semi-legitimate businessmen working with farm equipment?” Mal asked. Farm equipment being the smallest part of Marko and Drake’s business, of course, but saying otherwise would be impolitic, at least in Santo’s capital city.
“I talk to a lot of people.” Jack grinned when he said it, and spread his hands a little in self-satisfaction. He was wearing another set of silks that must have rivaled the value of Serenity. “And they talk right back to me. About anything and everything.”
“Right, well, be that as it may, Jayne, Zoe, and I will be heading out in a while to do the job, so do us a favor and be docked before we’re due back.”
“Don’t need to expect it.” Mal required it. Left him less surprised that way.
“I could come along. I’m not a bad person to have around in these situations.”
Mal could feel his temper rising and held it in check. “I don’t need to haul around someone else who’s going to need looking after. No offense, Jack, but we’ve been doing this for a number of years. We’re not needing someone who’s had no experience dealing with these kind of people.” Marko and Drake would probably pay fair, but there was always the off chance they’d try to renege, and there was no need to put a passenger in that kind of danger.
“Inara told me that a few months back she helped you capture a rather dangerous criminal,” Jack persisted. “Your ex-wife, right?”
Mal clenched his jaw. “That was a bit of an extraordinary situation.” The less said about Saffron, the better. “I don’t need her or you to be getting in trouble on my account.”
Jack put up his hands in surrender. “I get it, Captain. Good luck.”
Mal watched as Jack sauntered casually back to his shuttle, seemingly soundly defeated. But he didn’t believe for a minute that he was going to get off that easily. For a minute or two, Mal wondered if there was any way he could lock Jack inside his shuttle for some guaranteed peace and quiet. Then he decided not. His luck had never been that good. Maybe he’d ask Inara to send a few clients Jack’s way to keep him distracted…
Marko held the claim ticket loosely in his hand while Drake looked over the specs Mal had provided him, squinting suspiciously at the diagrams. The faint background rumble from the bar put them in a little pocket of silence as secure as a private room.
“You can see we have the room for all your equipment,” Mal was saying. “It’ll be kept secure, locked up tight. No one’ll be touching it until it reaches Hammerhead Station.”
Drake grunted, and tapped something, drawing Marko’s attention to it.
“These’re yer best folks?” Marko asked, using his chin to point at Jayne and Zoe.
“Best security this side of the ‘verse, if I don’t sound too over-proud sayin’ so,” Mal said. Jayne just glared at their two potential employers while Zoe kept a roving eye out for trouble.
“Mighty fine they look too,” Marko said. “And who else is on this ship of yours?”
Faint alarms started going off in Mal’s head. “Just my crew. Pilot, engineer, everyone else you need to fly safe. I rent out the shuttles to Companions, but they mostly keep to themselves.”
Zoe’s expression didn’t change, but Jayne snorted to cover up a laugh. Mal pretended he hadn’t heard anything.
“’Cause, see, I need these to go very quiet. Discreet, being the word I’m looking for. No gossip. Nobody flapping their jaw.”
“Ain’t nobody quieter than us when we put our minds to it,” Mal promised smoothly. He couldn’t see her face from this angle, but he could practically feel Zoe straining not to roll her eyes.
“Well then, it seems we have the best ship for the job, right Drake?” Marko put the claim ticket down on the table and smiled.
“What you said, Marko.” Drake pushed the diagram aside and prepared to rise.
The alarms in Mal’s head began to reach a crescendo, and his hand strayed to his holster. He hadn’t missed the greed in Drake’s eyes when he’d been looking at Serenity’s cargo holds, the look of a man who wanted to acquire what he saw, with no nevermind as to who got in his way. Next to him, Zoe and Jayne tensed, Jayne’s hand slowly sliding to the gun in his boot, but Zoe was actually looking over her shoulder, eyes wide.
“Captain-,” she started, but didn’t get any further.
“There you are!” Marko and Drake looked up in surprise as Jack Harkness, dressed in shimmering blue silks that did a fantastic job of leaving nothing to the imagination, strolled right into the private nook and throw an arm around each smuggler’s neck. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for thirty whole minutes. Don’t tell me you two are shy?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Marko demanded, trying to squirm out from under Jack’s arm. Which was, not so coincidentally, hampering his gun hand. Mal and Jayne took the opening, standing up and putting their hands on their holsters. Not drawing them yet, just posturing. Giving the outnumbered thugs a good reason to get and stay gone.
Jack seemed oblivious to the byplay. “You two aren’t my eleven o’clock?” he asked innocently. Well, as innocent as Jack ever got.
“You think I would hire a pretty boy like you?” Drake snapped, unwinding Jack’s arm and shoving him away. Jack only staggered a pace or two, and stood firm, hands on his hips. Posturing just as much as Mal, though he looked a lot less dangerous in his thin silks with a pout on his face.
“Now you’re just hurting my feelings,” Jack said, a curious bite in his tone that was at odds with his expression.
“You just shut the hell up for five gorram minutes!” Drake said, and turned back to Mal and his crew.
“Now, I think we were doing some business?” Marko said calmly.
“I think you were about to give us the claim ticket and half our fee up front,” Mal said evenly. His hand on his gun didn’t waver.
“How about I don’t give you either?” Marko said, smiling nastily. Mal heard the sound of several someones chambering a round just by his ear, and closed his eyes for a minute in embarrassment and the near-death feeling of chagrin that neither he nor his crew had noticed Marko’s back-up hidden in the patrons. Three more thugs stood behind him, Jayne, and Zoe, guns pointed at their heads.
“This is hardly discreet,” Mal said, a tight smile on his face.
“A Firefly would be most discreet vessel you can get for my line of work. And being that I own this bar, three unwanted bodies is pretty damn discreet. Whosever left on board won’t give me much trouble, now will they?”
“Choo fay wuh suh leh,” Jack said suddenly. Marko and Drake turned to see Jack leveling a gun at them, a hard expression on his face that Mal had only seen before on professional soldiers. And where in the name of all the ‘verse had Jack been hiding a firearm in that getup of his?
Marko rolled his eyes. “If you insist,” he said. Marko and Drake turned as one, firing at Jack, the force of the shots hurling the Companion back into the wall. Mal, Jayne, and Zoe moved fast, muffling shouts of shock and dismay. Jayne turned and slugged one man in the gut, making him double over so he could crack him on the back of the skull with the butt of his gun. Zoe took out her man with a single rifle stock to the face, while Mal ducked into the man lunging for him, helping him somersault over his shoulder to land on the table, breaking it with his head and leaving him to sprawl unconscious on the floor.
Marko and Drake whipped around from shooting Jack, meeting the three guns from Serenity’s crew. All five stared at each other, guns pointed at heads, hearts, and guts. One wrong move was going to resolve in a lot of very unhappy injuries for all.
“How’s about we call it a draw?” Drake said, smiling tightly when he realized he and Marko were now outnumbered.
“How’s about we stake your double-crossing ass out on the lift-off pad, you go neong yung duh?” Jayne snarled.
A shot rang out, and a visceral shaft of fear pierced Mal before he realized none of the five had pulled the trigger. Then Marko suddenly slumped to the floor, moaning in pain and clutching a bullet wound in his thigh. Lifting his gaze in shock, Mal realized that Jack, still sprawled up against the wall and looking far from dead, was lowering the smoking gun.
Swallowing his disbelief, Mal regained his voice, and kept talking as if nothing had interrupted him. “Looks like we’re in a better position to negotiate now, Drake. How about we get all our money up front, instead of half?”
“Would you mind telling me how you’re not dead?” Mal asked. Jack looked up from his chair at the galley table, his eyes looking very pale in the light from Santo’s sun, now receding into the distance as Wash set a course for Hammerhead Station.
“Body armor, like I told you on the way back,” Jack said flatly.
“When does a Companion wear body armor? My experience may be a little limited, but it seems like your kind doesn’t go in for heavy clothing.”
“I wasn’t always a Companion.” Jack looked over at Mal with a frank and open expression. “Just like you didn’t always captain a Firefly.”
Mal nodded thoughtfully and pulled a small flask from his belt. He opened it and took a sip before sliding it across the table.
“You’ve been making yourself mighty popular with my crew.”
“I like them. You might not believe it, but I even like you.” Jack smiled at him, but it seemed less showy, and far more sincere.
“Being as Inara probably gave you two earfuls about things she doesn’t care for about me, why would that be? I’m not exactly the friendliest man in the ‘verse,” Mal asked.
“You remind me of someone I used to travel with,” Jack said, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip from the flask Mal had passed him.
“And who might that be?”
“One of the last of a dying breed. Upright guy, always trying to do the right thing, even if it cost him. He had the most amazing ship, but it was old, and he was always trying to keep it in repair. He picked up the strangest bunch of people to travel with him, and they were always amazing. Some people didn’t think much of them, but they could save the whole damn universe when they put their minds to it.” Jack paused for another sip, and turned to look directly at Mal. “That was one of the happiest times in my life.”
Mal opened his hand, and Jack slid the flask back over to him so he could take another sip, looking around the battered-but-sound galley that was the heart of Serenity. “Why’d you leave?”
“I… had to learn to make my own way, I guess. I miss it though. I miss the adventure-.”
“That being why you damn near got yourself killed today? Thrillseeking?” Mal demanded. “This ain’t some kind of carnival ride.”
Jack shook his head firmly. “No! I just had a feeling things weren’t going too well.” He traced his finger on the table idly, drawing patterns only he could understand. “This has been the best place I’ve been in a while. Damn if I was just going to let that slip away when I could help.”
Mal nodded, slowly, and passed the flask back. Jack took another sip, and paused, mid-gulp, as River emerged from underneath the table to sit cross-legged on its top, as calmly as one could please.
“You’re an anomaly,” River announced, looking at Jack. “I wasn’t sure before, but it’s certain now. The river rushes around you, and you’re the rock. The rock that won’t be worn away.”
Jack froze at her words, staring at her like he’d never seen a girl before. Then again, Mal was inured to River’s strangeness by now. It was perversely satisfying to see someone else wonder what was going on. And simply satisfying to see River emerge from her self-imposed reclusiveness. She might be stranger than snake feet, but rarely did she read someone wrong.
“And I am the river.” She giggled at the expression on Jack’s face. “River is the river.” River jumped off the table and walked over so she could look right in Jack’s face, her nose a hairsbreadth away from his. “The river and River don’t mind the rock.”
Jack seemed to forget to breathe as River lithely strode out of the room, and finally shook his head.
“This still the best place you’ve been?” Mal asked, relaxing slightly.
Jack finished his swallow of whiskey before answering. “Definitely.” He smiled again and passed the flask back to Mal. “So, permission to stay, Captain?”
Mal took his last sip and corked the flask firmly. “We’ll see,” he said, with a faint grin that matched Jack’s cocky smile.
Translations (from the The Firefly and Serenity Database):
Choo fay wuh suh leh – Over my dead body
Go neong yung duh – Son of a bitch
Prompt: Unlikely allies
Firefly/Torchwood Pairing: Mal/Jack (gen only)