Notes: Thanks to kho and shoshannagold for their research assistance, and barely_bean for not so much betaing as midwifing this fic. Miss Sparky, I hope you enjoy it!
Hitching a Ride
by Celli Lane
After a few hard-learned lessons--Simon and River, the con man who stole about half a planet and blamed it on Mal, and worst of all, the guy who turned out to be a lawyer--Mal stopped leaving the choice of passengers up to Kaylee. So he was on deck, along with Jayne and Book, with the rest of the crew pretending to be idle up above, when their newest passengers boarded. He was still arguing with himself over this one. The boy was pretty enough to challenge Simon, with dark curls, pale skin, and downcast eyes. His gut expected no trouble from this area, unless Kaylee fell in love again or some luh-suh like that.
But the girl--he didn't need to consult his gut to know that she was walking trouble. Maybe it was the pink and purple dress that matched the streaks in her hair. Maybe it was the way the boy followed her like he was pulled along by a gorram string. Or maybe it was the way she looked around, taking in the ship, the crew, and who knew what else, before giving him a delighted smile. "Pretty," she said, and the way she said it, pretty didn't sound like pretty. It sounded like something Inara would do in her shuttle.
"Well, she's a bit small, but Serenity is home," he said, giving her his best please-pay-us-lots smile.
"What, the ship? That too."
He had a sudden urge to kick her off the ramp and run like hell.
He introduced his crew as briefly as possible, sticking to titles when he could and ignoring River and Inara entirely. "And this is Miss Den--"
"Oh, please, I only use that name planetside. In the real world, I'm Sparky." She gestured vaguely at the boy. "This is Bloom."
"Aye," Bloom said.
Miss Sparky ("Just Sparky, Captain." "Whatever you say, Miss Sparky.") spent the week en route lying to his crew.
According to Kaylee, Sparky had run off with Bloom despite a war between two of the moons of Athens it had caused. "His brother died in the fighting, Mal, and a bunch of the people on her moon, too. It was awful." She seemed entirely convinced of the story, so Mal didn't bother to point out that he'd have heard of such a thing. He just left her alone.
She told Book that Bloom had been a blacksmith when "God sent him on a mission, he did." Book was a bit light on the details--something about suicide and leprosy, and the person committing suicide wasn't the person with the leprosy, so far as Mal could tell. He'd been halfway out the door once God entered the conversation anyway, but it didn't matter. If that boy was a blacksmith, he was a gorram Shephard.
Wash and Zoe got spun a story about robbing Core world banks that hardly dignified listening to, although even Zoe seemed slightly intrigued by it. Inara refused to discuss it with Mal because of "Companion privilege."
"That girl was never one of your kind, Inara," Mal snapped.
Inara missed the compliment there entirely and glared at him. "I didn't say she was, and I also said I wasn't discussing it. And telling you to leave my shuttle hardly needs to be said at all, Captain."
Jayne spent an entire day in his bunk after Mal saw them talking in the kitchen one day. He'd be no help.
She didn't tell Mal anything. Simon, either, weirdly enough. "What did she tell River?" he asked Simon one day.
"I don’t know. They were talking for quite a while yesterday. River?" Simon called.
River's head poked around the side of the infirmary door. "Hi, Simon."
"Huh?" Mal started racking his brain for any planets, ships or crime lords by that name. There was Bender Tobin over in the Silverhold Colonies...
Simon's brain was clearly not going in that direction. "Bloom is bendy?"
Mal stared at him.
River giggled, wiggled her fingers at both of them, and disappeared.
"I have no idea what this conversation was about," Mal said after a long moment, "but I'm disturbed by it nonetheless."
"Aye," Simon said. "That is--I mean--"
Mal stared at him some more.
"You stole an Alliance ship."
"Did I? Bloom, did we steal an Alliance ship?"
Mal was really in the mood to kill her. He really was. Too bad she was on the other end of a video transmission. "Then you used that Alliance ship to lure an even faster Alliance ship out of planetary range."
"And then I tricked the crew into the first ship, killed their engines, and ran like hell. I was aboard, Captain Reynolds, you don't need to tell me the story."
She wagged a finger at him. "I beg your pardon. Captain Sparky."
"Pirate." Her grin was evil, it truly was. "You need to be leaving now, Captain. I'll be halfway to the next system by the time the Alliance arrives; I suggest you follow my lead. And thank you for the ride. I quite enjoyed it."
Mal had many, many things he'd like to say in reply, but they were all lodged in his throat.
"Come, Bloom. We have work to do." Sparky--Captain Sparky, if you please--vanished from sight.
Bloom tipped an imaginary hat at the screen. "I really was a blacksmith, you know," he said, and then the transmission went dead.
There was a shuffle of feet behind him. Mal knew without turning around that his entire crew had just seen that.
"That's got to be the best pirate I've ever seen," Wash said.
Mal whirled and glared at him.
"Ah, I mean...I'll just get us the guay out of here, shall I?"
"Aye," Mal said, and stalked off the bridge before anyone dared to laugh at him.
Chinese translations (or as close as I can get)
luh-suh - garbage
guay - hell