Two captains speak of the future and the past, and Serenity's crew tries to blend into 21st century society.
He sat, that same beach from so long ago, yet not so long ago. Palkia was a ruined planet now, the shards of Kaon province all around him - yet that beach they'd been to before was the same as ever - just a lack of a population. Not for long, for it'd be repopulated again in the next few hundred years. The oceans teemed with life. It seemed all the colors were the same, but then he blinked and then they weren't. The sky, streaked with orange, was otherwise dark with stars. The ocean blood-red. The sand, bone-white. Ruined crucified figures and destroyed buildings behind him.
It was quiet.
He had been here now for two days. He'd actually slept, in Rose's bed, the previous night. Dark dreams, burning, and a single girl, not Rose, nor Martha, nor Donna, nor anyone else - this one, a fragile-looking thing, huge eyes and long hair, night-dark. A girl in a synthetic womb, nude. Her eyes opening to look straight at him.
"Red sea. Red moon. Rose white, rose red. Missing their bear."
And then Rose, always Rose, turning back to look at him, the tattoo on her back still raw and bleeding from that alcohol soaked night she'd gotten it, him feeding her jager shots to numb the pain, tasting her laughing mouth and the festival lanterns outside lighting the way red down an infamous path in Kabukicho. "Go back to them." "I can't. It's all been lost." And then he'd woken up. And gone outside, and seen the different scenery on a familiar landscape.
Red sea. Red moon. Palkia, in the fallow period between birth and death. And the girl in his dream who he'd never seen before, and Rose. Images of those cursed zeppelins floating in the sky - he guessed this girl in his dream must be from parallel Earth.
He raised his face up to the sky, took a sip from his flask of hyper vodka. He rarely drank these days, but he needed it. Heard that Martha was on some Torchwood contingent not affiliated with Jack - not yet, at least. At least she was still alive, as was Jack.
Rose, his hearts cringed in an echo that was now involentary.
In his other hand, he held a pendant that Rose had given him shortly before that battle at Canary Wharf. He stared up at the stained moon, unaware that the pendant in his hand, its charm a ruby rose with thorns of onyx and leaves of emerald curving around it, purchased on one of their haunts on Midgard. Elven-made silver and mithril circled it, much like that cloak he'd gotten her. He hadn't noticed when it started to glow warmly in his hand, golden huon pouring from between his fingers.
"You have to go back, Doctor Bear", the girl had said. "They need you. Now more than ever."
Instead he closed his eyes, letting the cold light of the moon bathe his face.
"Awake." "How can I?" He muttered to himself tiredly, setting the flask down beside him in the sand. "What does it matter anymore?"
"She needs you."
He banged his head annoyedly against the TARDIS door.
"Now, Doctor. Now, Bear. AWAKE!"
His eyes opened and were filled with the moon.
"Awake! Rose! Wake up!" River was poking at her as she was curled on Jack's couch. Rose stirred, rolled over and almost fell off the damn sofa. She looked up, annoyed, through her hair.
Jack was at the door, carrying two mugs of coffee. He arched an eyebrow as he walked past River. "How did you get in here, little one?" He asked, putting the steaming mug near Rose's grasp, sitting in his own chair, feet up on the desk. Little one. What her Captain called her. She looked up at the room, instantly analyzed its structure, and told him the easy path she took. He grinned, saluted her with his mug, "Your brother was right. You're definitely a rocket surgeon. Cheers." He chuckled, sipped his coffee.
Rose sat up, muzzy, aching from the sofa. "Too bloody loud for something so early." She mumbled, took her coffee, let its warmth soak into her hands, to her arms, steam into her aching sinuses. River chuckled and then caught sight of a tousled and annoyed-looking Mal linger at Jack's doorway, made way to hide behind Jack and his chair.
"River..." Mal's voice was a warning, and he blinked. Rose saw what the problem was - River had drawn on his face while he slept. She started to laugh. River poked her head up behind Jack - and it was like a bizarre creature, two headed and blinking, that faced Mal.
"She didn't do it", River answered, muffled.
"I have to say, Captain, it looks like your Reader is also a gifted artist", Jack said, trying not to laugh but failing. He looked at River, right at his side, still hiding. "So this is why you got here. You wanted immunity?"
Rose chuckled softly, setting down her mug. "River, why'd you do that?"
"Had to. Good oppertunity. Made a bet with..." And her hands flew up to her lips. Mal arched an eyebrow, and uninvited, stepped inside of Jack's office. Jack wordlessly directed him to the small basin and mirror so he could wash the marker off of his face.
"Mutiny", he said, lathering the washcloth violently, "that's what this is", a grumble and motion in River's direction. As he was occupied with swearing and washing his cheeks, River came out from behind Jack. "Plain and simple."
"Sorry, Cap'n." She said contritely, with a dazzling smile. She laughed.
"At least someone's having fun with this." He mumbled under splashing water. "I'm guessing the rest of the crew made it worth your while?" She didn't betray her confidences. "When I find out who came up with this, I'll be shooting someone and not very politely at that!" He said and she yelped, flying out of the room - all colt legs and hair - looking the happiest Rose had seen her since she'd boarded Serenity.
"My face..."He moaned, scrubbing harder. Jack chuckled into his mug.
"That's so gay." Rose chuckled softly, shaking her head.
"Hey, hey", Mal pointed, "I ain't sly. I just care about my looks." He turned back to the mirror and saw a spot he missed, cursed. "And I am so very, very pretty." He rubbed at the spot with soap and cloth. "At least she's happy", he said softly, to himself, wondering if the other two heard (and they did).
"Not arguing with that." Jack laughed softly and Mal glared at him. He took a different tactic. "It looks like your crew is adjusting, Captain." Jack said politely, spinning around in his chair and grabbing a small towel, giving it to him. Mal accepted it, nodding in thanks. "That's no small feat. Jumping universes would get people all out of sorts for weeks, months. Years. Yet your crew seems to be back to its normal self, from what I observe here. You should be proud."
Mal gently patted his face, checked again to make sure all of the marker was off. He leaned against the basin after awkwardly folding the towel and setting it aside. "This ain't the worst we been through." He nodded, tugging one of his braces up over his shoulder. He'd only been half-dressed when he chased River out. She'd peering curiously (lovingly? he wondered, his chest fluttered) over him, caught red-handed drawing on his face. "You folk ain't Reavers, nor Alliance, and you been treatin' us good. I thank you for that, one Captain to another."
Mal's hands kneaded the towel. Rose took that as a silent sign that he wanted to talk with Jack alone. She got up, took her coffee and quickly pecked Jack's temple before leaving. Jack smiled to himself, then turned back to Mal.
"From what you tell us, it sounds like where your from isn't a cake walk." He got up, getting another cup of coffee for Mal, handing it to him. Mal sipped, this was real coffee! Nodded his approval. "Well, nowhere is, to be fair. But it sounds your universe is far harsher than ours is in the same year. The 2600's..." He cocked his head, sitting back down, putting his feet up, "I don't remember those years too well - too much drinking - but it was the time of the second great Human Empire, if I remember my history correctly. It shouldn't be so horrible."
Mal, unused to surprises now, merely blinked. Jack explained.
"How I know that...well, I think Rose does too...let's just say we've traveled. Between you and me." Rose had closed the door behind them. "Captain to Captain, there are things that our crews don't know about us, right? Mine didn't find out I was immortal up until last year. And that was pretty...embarrassing." He winced. "I want you to know, whatever you tell me in confidence, I won't say a thing unless you authorize me to. That includes the Torchwood Records." This had been merely unsaid before, and now it was explicit and tacit. "I've arranged an outing for appropriate clothing, food. You guys can stay here in the opened rooms, if you don't mind being underground. But until you get used to it, I suggest you do."
"So that's why you took our guns", Mal chuckled a little uncomfortably. "Where we're from, that's a downright sin."
"So I can imagine." Jack grinned, "before I joined here it was the same for me. I understand, or I think I'd like to. But here you won't need them - not, unless, you encounter any of our alien charges. It's relatively safe here in this century. The police are pretty competent when it comes to human crimes." He paused, thanking Gwen for showing him that - before he'd just thought them all the same. Idiots. "It'll take some getting used to until we figure out how to get you back there safely, but you will get used to it."
"I'm not sure I ever will", he said, feeling like he could let down his guard here safely for the moment - though if anyone asked, it never happened. "Even when I was a kid. They said that seven hundred years back - well, two hundred back from this era - that it was the same. The Wild West. People staking out new prospects with their herds and guns and hoping for the best. It's been the same. And now here, we're not even allowed to carry guns...well," he shrugged half to himself, "not that that ever stopped me and my crew before, but here I have the feeling we'd stick out a little more sorely if we carried. And for the good you done us, I'd rather not risk that."
"Oh, Captain Mal - are you coming on to me?" Jack flirted with a grin, draining the rest of his mug, "I have to tell you, I'm a taken man."
Mal just chuckled, sipping his own cup. "But yes, it is strange here. No one speaks in Chinese. Not like we did back there. We don't have to be looking over our backs every two seconds for the Alliance, worrying if they're going to send another Operative or ten after River and the Doc. But so fanciful people are here! Fine clothes and learning and everything." He chuckled again, this time, sadly, feeling out of his element.
"For now, you'll also be put on an allowance."
Mal jerked up at that. "Oh no. I can't accept that", he said shaking his head, "though I'd love to. It ain't right..."
"Of course it is." Jack got up, moved Mal over so he could rinse out his mug. "You've brought back someone very precious to me, and you're also in a strange new place with not much knowledge of it. What else can you do?"
"Aren't there jobs...or..something we could help with?"
Jack looked at him fondly, blue eyes dancing. "Someone's mother raised him right, that's for sure." He said softly with a dazzling grin, clapping Mal on the shoulder, "Owen could take a lesson from you." He dried his cup, put it upside down on the small table next to the sink. "We'll figure out something to keep you kids occupied with. I don't think I'd like Jayne getting in trouble with the law here. Last thing we'd need, really." He chuckled to himself. "I take it you and your crew are proficient in firearms and other fields? Perhaps for now after a crash course we can use your help on jobs when we need it. Owen and Simon can talk, as can Kaylee and Tosh since they have their own fields..."
"And River?" Mal asked, almost a bit too quickly, almost betraying himself.
Jack set the towel he'd been using aside. "I take it she isn't too keen on medical exams or tests", he said gently, "from what you've told me, she's been to hell and back and I don't want her to suffer anymore. However, if she'd be willing to help or go on record to further our own knowledge - all of her own free will, mind you", he said, trying to assure him, "That would be enough. With that Weevil yesterday she surprised us. We'll keep her safe for you, with you. Of course."
Mal shrugged, tried to pass it all off nonchalantly, but he was secretly relieved. "It's enough for me. It's her brother you need to talk to."
"Brother versus lover? I'd thought I'd get the consent of both." Jack passed him breezily with a small smile, and left Mal standing there, eyes wide and wanting to curse everything in sight.
Jack's laughter could be heard out the open door down the steps into the Hub, echoing brightly.
"Strawberries!" Kaylee breathed, almost wanting to fall down on her knees and at the same time hug the bright kiosk filled with the berries there in the supermarket. She'd never seen them so large, so ripe. They looked gorgeous. And so cheap! So plentiful!
"You act as if you've never seen them before", Ianto said with a small, wry smile.
"Not so many. Not so big! Not where we're from." She said, a little more quietly after a glare from Jayne who wanted to keep things incognito. With their wardrobes altered, they didn't stand out so much anymore. It hadn't taken much - Mal and Inara had undergone the most transformation but they all missed their guns. It was hard to believe there wasn't as much fighting here in this time than there was back home.
"She's right, things really are cheaper here, if your conversion is correct", Simon nodded, appraising a large watermelon. Rose had tried to put together a monetary conversion between universes - and she thought she did pretty well, considering how badly she'd always done in math.
"Where're the girly mags?" Jayne grunted, "I didn't come here for no fruit."
Inara rolled her eyes. "I'm guessing they're over there, where all of that nice bright red censoring packaging is", she said, pointing and turning her face away. Even in a plain summer dress, she still looked (and acted) every bit her station. "Things are more discreet here, I see?"
"I can't really say", Ianto bowed bit humbly, "but I guess so." Jayne made a beeline to the porn and pesudoporn magazines in the meantime. Inara just made a disgusted noise deep in her throat.
River walked with Mal close by, a new dress hugging her lithe frame in a muted silvery gray, setting off her skin. She looked down at new boots and knee-high stockings - they itched, she wanted them off, feel the floor that looked so smooth under her toes. He felt naked without his gun, and although he knew Ianto was carrying (along with Gwen, but she'd ducked back to the Hub after clothing shopping), it didn't comfort him. Mal's appraisal of him wasn't kind - a teaboy, he thought, wondering if the guy could even hit targets on a range.
River felt the whispers in her head all in English - still getting used to it, she frowned faintly. This neon light also coming from above them was harsher on the eyes. The market was so clean; medically so, like the few indoor ones on Osiris. She could almost smell the hormones in the cow meat, the pesticides on the inorganically sprayed fruit. The strawberries that Kaylee had spotted were thankfully organic, and her questing fingers felt chocolate, the real kind, made to be melted for dipping. She considered it, letting her fingers feel the plastic it was encased in, for a beat too long.
Mal noticed. "Somethin' botherin' you, li'l one?" He asked.
She shook her head, placing the chocolate in the small shopping basket Zoe carried. "It's not..I don't..." She looked for the words. "It's not right here. Everything in plastic, screaming. Not natural."
He nodded. He wasn't used to the hospital cleanliness of the supermarket either. He actually missed the fresh open-air markets like New Les Halles or New Haymarket, even if they'd been noisy and dirty; everything had been freshest, not always sprayed with all of the stuff here.
"At least it's not protein in fifty different colors of the rainbow", Zoe sighed, half-smiling as she found fresh-baked bread and put that in the basket. River made a face when she thought of that and Mal chuckled softly.
"No, I think we've had enough of that for a lifetime", he said, hooking his thumbs in the beltloops of his jeans and rocking back on his heels, whistling appriciatively when he saw the coffee station.
River felt seperate from the scene as she watched them all, as she watched Mal's back slouch as it normally did in its new clothes. They didn't look entirely right on him. She wanted to feel the skin underneath. Her lower lip trembled briefly, a dream she couldn't discuss in polite company coming back to her from the night before - her nails running red rivulets into his back, marking him, him chuckling lowly in her ear. The blood from her thighs marking the bed sheet.
He put the bag of coffee into the basket, Zoe complained jovially about how heavy the basket was getting, but he didn't hear her. He and River, staring at each other like the world had stopped, her mind leaking into his and back again, and felt goosebumps raise on his neck.
River's cheeks were faintly colored as she stared down into the basket (now set into a regular shopping cart by a weight-labored Zoe), her hands child-small on the brim as she held onto it. The world stopped for both of them, her heart loudly in his ears, for a slip-second covered her hand in his, only to jerk away the next.