We pulled away from the Skyplex, and Wash gave a hard burn for the first hour to put some distance between it and us. We stopped and waited, watching the long range sensors for any sign of Abraham’s ship, but there was nothing. Perhaps he had taken my advice and decided against starting a vendetta. Deep down, I knew it was a forlorn hope. It saddened me to know that a person who I once would have called a good friend, was now someone that I would most probably need to put a bullet into, or he would do it to me first.
Within hours, things appeared to be back to normal. Jayne annoyed Simon, Kaylee defended Simon, Jayne made fun of Kaylee defending Simon…the never ending circle of the Serenity family bickering continued.
I stood at the back of the cargo bay, and stretched out the soreness from lifting weights. Shepherd had gone past earlier, and said he would return to help me attach the punch bag to the catwalk grating. When I was younger, and my older brothers would lift weights, I could never see the point. When I joined the military, being full of muscle was no good if you weren’t physically fit. Over the years, I developed my own regime, a mix between weight training and general fitness exercises. Since I'd joined the crew, I’d become a little lazy, and the punch bag was to be the start of my getting back in shape.
“So where are we going to put this then lad?, over here?, or from that support there?”
“Well, it’ll be out of the way there, an’ even if Mal’d need us to move it, we can just un-hook it an’ stow it away.”
A few minutes later, the bag was swinging in position. A few minutes after that, and the sounds of dull thuds as first me, then Shepherd, took turns at throwing punches while the other held the bag echoed around the hold. As I held it for Book, I noticed that he was using techniques that showed he had been taught fighting styles. He wasn’t just throwing a punch and hoping for the best… Jayne joined us, and when I watched him, the difference in styles was obvious. Jayne was all about power, the hard hitting first punch, but he left himself open to a counterattack should he miss. Book though, while not hitting as solidly as Jayne, kept his defence tight, and was ready for any retaliatory attack.
Within days, almost everyone in the crew was using the bag. Wash turned out to be a ‘swing and miss’ fighter, someone who although would back you up in a tussle, would probably come out the worse for it. Zoe took some persuading to use the bag, and when she did, she showed surprising ability, maybe not the hardest of punches, but certainly some of the quickest. Mal proved to be a solid hitter. Kaylee… Kaylee tried her best, but we ended up in hysterics as she tried her best to throw hard punches. Simon declined, stating a broken hand for a surgeon would be a silly mistake. River liked to sit and watch as we all took turns.
Jayne found it amusing when I started doing the kata’s that I had been taught when I joined the I.S.F.B. and later the Wolfpack. To him, all I was doing was standing in the cargo hold, waving my arms and legs about, doing rolls across the floor, and “dancin’ without music”. After watching me for a while, Inara correctly guessed what I was doing, and asked if I would like a sparring partner. Within hours, a new respect for her had grown in me. I never knew that part of Guild training would be the teaching of martial arts. Our styles were as opposed as could be. Mine, being the ‘kill or disable your opponent in an as efficient a manner as possible…’, whereas Inara’s style was almost like watching a beautiful dance unfold. It was obvious after our first sparring session, that she was a woman of many hidden talents. And after getting Simon to reset my broken nose, I knew from painful experience that she could handle herself if she needed to…
“We’re about 3 hours out from Beylix. We coulda taken a more direct route, true, but I thought it best if we wandered a little. Inara’ll be takin’ her shuttle to see a client or two on Newhall, so we’re gonna have a few days to spare. Kaylee, you can take the other shuttle an’ go lookin’ for parts an’ anythin’ else you need. While we’re here, we’ll see if we can find some work to tide us over, but if we can’t, no matter. Taylor, while we’re here, see if you can pick up some fresh foods.”
“If we are gonna be here a few days Cap’n, would it be ok if I took the shuttle to Sagami, I’ve an old friend there, an’ I was hopin’ to buy somethin’ off him.”
“Sure, long as you’re back by the time we’re due to break atmo’.”
At the mention of Sagami, the first Belix moon, Shepherd Book had looked at me like I had spoken a swear word of the worst kind. When the crew started to leave the table after food, and Kaylee and River were doing dishes, Shepherd took me to one side, and managed to ask the question that he wanted.
“You said you have a friend on Sagami? Would it be an intrusion to ask who?”
“No, course not. His name’s Yoshi Masamune. I served with his son Hiro in the war. Why? Do you know him?”
“…No, no…I don’t recognise the name. Excuse me, lad, I think I left something in my bunk.”
There was no question about it, Book was lying. About what, I had no clue, but when I mentioned Hiro’s father’s name, he visibly paled, and couldn’t wait to leave the table.
An hour later, Inara’s shuttle undocked, and she headed off to do her thing. Whereas Kaylee had wished her well, the farewell from Mal had been less than courteous. Me and River helped Kaylee prepare the other shuttle for when we landed. The general plan was that we would put down close to one of the larger townships, I was to take the mule, with anyone who wanted to tag along for the ride and go looking for foodstuffs and the like, while Kaylee and Wash headed off to one of the larger scrap-yards to haggle for parts. Simon was still a little wary of letting River out of his sight, so when we landed, he made sure that she stayed with him, close to the ship.
For once, me and Jayne seemed to have had the same idea. We were both stood in the cargo bay, discretely armed to the teeth. We both smiled and acknowledged that it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Cap’n’ll probably have a hissy fit when he sees us armed. He don’t like takin’ guns ‘less he knows there’s gonna be trouble. Course, if you aint got a gun when trouble finds you, you cant ask the guy to stop while you go get one, can you? Yu bun duh if you ask me.”
“Couldn’t agree more mate. But…why the grenades?”
“Well, you never know when you’re gonna need ‘em…”
The ride to the township took us past farms that had signs up showing what goods they had for sale. I made a note of one that sold fruit. If I couldn't find some bargains in town, then at least there would be the journey back, too.
By the time we found a place to leave the mule, the four of us were covered in dust. When Mal lifted his goggles to show two gleaming white circles around his eyes in the midst of a grubby face, we all collapsed in fits of laughter, which got worse when he tried to pull rank, calling us insubordinate.
“Of course Sir, we wouldn’t dream of tryin’ to undermine your authority, but when you look like a panda, it’s hard to take you seriously…”
“Zoe, for that, you get the first round of drinks. There’s a bar in this town somewhere, right?”
“Right ‘cross the road Sir, under the sign that says ‘Bar’. Perhaps the shine from your cheeks is blindin’ you?”
“I aint wastin’ time in a bar. We passed a whore-house back there. It’s been a while since I been sexed. I aim to get me some. I’ll see you later!”
“Jayne! Wuh de tyen ah! There are some things I jus’ don’t need to know!”
The three of us headed into the bar. Jayne headed off in the opposite direction…
Within half an hour, we were well on our way to being ‘merry’. I was winning 4 games to 2 in darts, and Mal was doing his best to try and win back a bottle of whiskey that he'd lost to Zoe.
“Cap’n, aint I suppos’ to be buyin’ stuff? Not that I don’t like havin’ you buy me drinks an’ all, but I do have a responsibility to the crew you know…”
A swaying Mal tried to steady himself to line up a throw.
“As Cap’n, I herby relieve you of shoppin’ duties for the rest of the day. Zoe, you’re first mate, do you agree?”
Zoe sat with her head on her arms, slumped on the table. Drunk, she lifted her hand and waved in our direction, and from below a tangle of hair covering her face, her voice was heard…
“Cap’n says you’re relieved of your cookin’ obla, obligi, is ’obligatoryness’ a word? Anyways, we aint goin’ anywhere, an’ we’re here for a few days aint we. Now. Taylor. As our newest crew member, I order you to get me another drink!”
“Better do as she says Taylor, she can be a mean drunk if she gets her mind to it…”
“Cap’n Sir, I heard that…need I remind you that you owe me whiskey too?”
By the time Jayne strolled into the bar, hours later, looking very happy with himself, Zoe had fallen asleep, and was snoring. Mal had conceded defeat, after the score stood at 20 games to 5 in my favour.
Jayne found me, able to stand, but slurring my words. Mal could stand, but needed to be pointed in the correct direction to walk in.
“What in tyen shiao duh happened here? I aint been gone more’n a few hours, an’ your all trashed! I aint carryin’ Zoe, last time I did, she threw up all over me, I aint doin’ that again!”
I hoisted Zoe over my shoulder, and nodded thanks to the barman for the present he had sold me without Mal or Zoe noticing earlier. Jayne steered Mal out of the door, telling him to put things down that for some reason Mal felt the need to want to take back to the ship. I heard snatches of conversation as I tried not to stumble into tables.
“No-ones put any funny little hat on me, have they?...”
“No Mal, you aint been given a hat…”
“No-ones tried to dance with me, have they...?
“No Mal, no-ones tried to dance with you…”
From over my shoulder I hear giggling…
“Cap’n, nex’ time you plan on gettin’ married, you gonna invite us all? I wana see my Wash in a suit!”
By the time we got back to the ship, Zoe had been ill over the side of the mule, and Mal had turned a shade of green.
Simon greeted as we pulled into the cargo bay.
“Give me a minute, I’ve got something in the infirmary that will help with your hangovers tomorrow. Do you want an injection too, Taylor?…”
An hour later, I was sat on the edge of the loading ramp, watching the sunset. The shot that Simon had given me had already started to take the edge off the worst of the drunkenness. The fire that had been lit was grilling the meat on the griddle. I sat, with my arms around Rivers shoulders as she sat between my legs, and we watched the sparks from the fire. On the other side of the fire, Kaylee and Simon tried not to show that they were slowly moving closer to each other. Wash chastised me good naturedly for allowing Zoe to get so drunk so quickly. Jayne tried to regale the group with his conquests from the afternoon. Soon, we are sat there listening to Jayne playing the guitar, which proved yet again his surprising range of talents.
I remembered the present I’d bought in the bar, from the barman. From my jacket pocket, I took out a silver chain with a pendent in the middle.
“Here, I got you this.”
“What is it?”
“Well, if you open your hand an’ look, you’ll see.”
I tightened my arms around River’s waist, not able to remember feeling as happy as I did at that moment in time. I watched as she untangled the chain. When she realised just what the pendent was, the smile that spread across her face was one that made the possibility of a headache in the morning worthwhile.
“Its a butterfly…you gave me a butterfly…”
“River, you’ve been givin' me them since we met, an’ when you gave me yours…well, lets just say, you made me very happy. 'fore we left the Skyplex, back in the bar, you’d said that you didn’t want to loose me. Well, I never knew I was lookin’ for someone ‘til I found you. I aint plannin’ on loosin’ you either. So from now on, if you’re wearin’ this, then I’m always with you…”
As I spoke, I had fastened the chain around her neck. As soon as she could, she took my hands in hers and pulled them back around her waist, and snuggled herself backwards into me.
From across the fire, Simon looked at me, and smiled and nodded his acceptance, that I was making his mei mei happy.