THE TAMING OF THE CREW
The scowl on Loan's round face deepened considerably at the latest sideways insult Jayne Cobb had just directed her way. The crew of the Serenity had sat down to enjoy the evening meal together when the new pilot and the veteran merc had decided to renew their ongoing quarrel from earlier in the day.
Loan, much to her delight, had been allowed to finally land the firefly ship solo that morning under Mal’s somewhat overprotective guidance. Unfortunately, things had not gone quite as smoothly as hoped for. In her newfound excitement, Loan had forgotten to deploy the retro thrusters until the very last minute and as a result, the crew had been treated to an unexpectedly abrupt and hard landing. Jayne had been emerging from his quarters at the time, and was instantly flung backwards down the ladder of his bunk cursing to land rather abruptly on his head. Not one to ever miss a chance for retaliation, Jayne had spent the rest of the day gleefully needling Loan about her crappy landing skills at every chance he got.
Mal had added insult to her injury by not allowing the girl a second chance when the ship had departed Santo later that day. He had instead decided it would be wise if he guided the ship out of orbit with Loan carefully watching. Loan knew she should have been paying more attention to the controls during her landing and so the young pilot accepted Mal’s decision and Jayne's merciless ribbing with a weary grace...up until now. She glared across the table now at the beefy merc.
"Ni xi niu (you cow-sucking) -"
Malcolm Reynolds cut the girl off, his tone matching the ominous glint appearing in his deep blue eyes. "You want to be keeping a civil tongue at my table." he advised Loan. He slowly lowered his chopsticks to the scarred wood of the kitchen table and shot Jayne a glare, warning him not to push this further. "Play nice you two."
The merc pretended to be busy with his water glass knowing better than to cross Mal at this juncture. He'd been dismissed from the table before and didn't reckon this current bit of hoo-ha was really worth missing any grub over. The captain surveyed the rest of the group gathered amiably around the kitchen of his ship. His eyes lingered for a moment on Loan as she sat fingering a butter knife, her lower lip jutting out in offense. He wondered briefly if he should perhaps remove the blade from her reach, but then decided there wasn't a whole passel of damage the teen could do with such a blunt weapon if she were so inclined. Satisfied that things were once again in order, he grabbed up his chopsticks and-
"-qing wa cao de biao zi! (frog-humping son of a whore)” Loan quickly but loudly decided to finish her sentence.
Inara winced at the somewhat crude curse, while Kaylee just rolled her eyes; she had become used to Loan's colorful choice of vocabulary the past few months. The galley fell into silence as the tension in the dimly lit room grew disproportionately.
Everyone had been waiting for this moment to come. Mal had been pretty acquiescent with the girl's rough and tumble attitude so far because in all honesty, she'd proven to be a boon to the ship since they had first found her stowed on board. Even though she was barely out of short britches, Loan seemed to know her way around the cockpit well enough to help Mal, was downright impressive with a blade and could probably pick a Fed's tight pocket with her eyes closed. But even the captain had his limits as to how far a crewmember could discount his authority. And it looked to the crew of Serenity like he'd finally reached that limit. Mal very calmly, almost too calmly, laid his chopsticks down once again, fighting very hard to keep his mounting displeasure in check. This had been a pretty shiny day up `til now.
"You'll be stepping away from this table," Mal coldly ordered the girl, his jaw muscle twitching in anger. "Ma shong (now)."
Loan did nothing. He may be the captain and may have helped her out by giving her berth on this ship, but that sure as hell didn't make him her ruttin' lord and master, she silently griped. She'd spent too many long years surviving on the streets of Persephone by her own wits and wasn't about to give up her hard won freedom for the sake of letting Mal Reynolds save face in front of his crew.
Loan glared right back at the older man for the space of a second, her icy eyes flickering dangerously in the dim light given off by the small bamboo lamp sitting in the center of the table. Then, dismissing the look of death Mal shot at her, the fourteen-year-old dug her chopsticks into her steaming bowl of stew and resumed eating in the tomb-like quiet of the big room trying hard to ignore the fact that she was the only one eating anymore.
"I ain't finished yet," Loan mumbled around a mouthful of food.
"Yes. You. Are." Mal bit off each word as he attempted to stare a hole into his youngest crewmember.
His tactic didn't work though. Loan kept up her blatant disregard and shoveled more food into her mouth, now angrily stabbing the pieces of stew meat in her bowl. When Mal continued to stare and the others continued to remain motionless, Loan became agitated almost to the point of embarrassment.
"Chur ni-duh (screw you)," she muttered crossly not knowing what else to do.
Loan never imagined in her life that the captain could move so fast. But Mal Reynolds was up from the long table and almost on top of the startled girl before she sprang like a demented jackrabbit from her seat, bowl and chopsticks flying across the table to land in Simon Tam's unsuspecting lap. With a look of weary put upon disgust, the ship's doctor began swiping at the wet sticky mess as the rest of the crew silently watched Loan race towards the open door lock and the short hallway beyond leading downstairs to the lower level with Mal calmly stalking after her.
"Seen that comin'," Jayne sniffed matter of factly.
He reached past Kaylee to help himself to more rice from the ceramic platter at the other side of the table and then smiled innocently at Simon and pointed to the dish. "Want some more rice to go with that there stew on yer pants, doc?"
"No. Thank you." Simon shot Jayne a nasty look before continuing to swab off his lap with his napkin. He had no actual hope of saving the expensive slacks, but felt it was important to make an effort anyway.
Kaylee shot Zoe a questioning look as if the second in command might already have some sort of a plan of action in mind. "Um, should one of us maybe do something here?" the young mechanic asked tentatively. "I mean, before one of them maybe shoots the other one? Because I can see that possibly happening..." she finished helplessly and looked at the others.
"Ain't gonna happen," Jayne said.
Kaylee gave him a skeptical look and Zoe appeared doubtful as well.
"Ain't gonna happen," the big man firmly repeated.
"And, why is that, exactly?" questioned Simon looking up from his lap in irritation.
Jayne smiled grimly. "Cause scared as shit runs faster than mad as hell, doc. Mal ain't gonna catch her afore she locks herself in one o’ the rooms downstairs."
Simon sighed in exasperation, desperately hoping it wouldn’t be his room Loan chose to barricade herself in. Zoe started to speak up, but River's singsong voice interrupted her.
"No shooting.” The young reader calmly chimed as she helped herself to another sweet bun from the little basket next to her elbow. “A projectile randomly fired within an atmospherically sealed container has a fifty-two percent chance of producing decompression." She studied the sugary roll as if it were some new lab specimen before carefully poking it with a slender finger and then licking it once with a flick of her tongue. “Asphyxiation would result in 2.8 minutes.”
“Well that there’s a cheery thought,” Jayne grumpily responded as he shoveled another spoonful of stew into his mouth shooting Simon a nasty glare. “Hey, how’s about you keep your cracked sister quiet-like while I finish my supper?”
Zoe and Kaylee gave Jayne a disapproving look as Simon wearily turned to his younger sister sitting beside him, a placating grimace on his face. “River, why don’t we-“
"Bullets are unnecessary,” she interrupted, and then frowned slightly. "There are other ways to bleed."
That got everyone's immediate attention.
"Shu muh? (what)" Kaylee stuttered looking up from her bowl of food.
“River?” Simon asked hesitantly, his eyes full of concern.
River’s dark eyes seem focused inward, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she took a bite of her roll ignoring the rest of the crew now staring at her. “All battles require sacrifice…blood is just one of them.”
Simon reached over to his sister and gently placed his hands on either side of the disturbed girl's head to turn her to face him. "Blood? River, what do you – what do you mean blood?"
Simon carefully looked at his sister, deep worry now settling over his handsome face. Memories of his and the captain's first face-off came to mind, and Simon paled at the thought of Mal punching poor Loan in a fit of anger. River continued to chew her food thoughtfully as all at the table waited to see what she'd say.
The young woman calmly swallowed and said in an almost computer-like drone, "To bleed: to exude a fluid; to be wounded as in battle..." She glanced at the blank stares meeting her and tried again, her tone one of mild exasperation as if she were speaking to a room full of ignorant hill folk. "He who lives without discipline dies without honor because human blood is heavy - the man that sheds it cannot run away. The soul will be sour. It will have no purpose."
Zoe sat her brows furrowed in puzzlement over River's incomprehensible babble and cast a glance over to Simon who kept opening his mouth as if to comment and then shutting it and shaking his head sadly.
Jayne, not one for erudite conversations to begin with, slammed his big fist down on the table making the plates jump. "What kinda yi-yu (insane talk) is that, ya gorramn ban han zi (half-crazed person)?" he shouted.
“Jayne!” Kaylee scolded, “That ain’t very nice!”
“What?” Jayne retorted, his patience wearing thin. He angrily pointed at River. “She ain’t makin’ no sense, as usual! Girl don’t know her head from her hind end,” he snorted under his breath.
“River’s got more intelligence in her little finger than you got in your whole body, Jayne,” Kaylee shot back, an angry pout on her face.
“I got ‘telligence!” Jayne countered as he finished picking his ear with the end of his spoon.
Simon let out a harsh laugh, his brows rising. “Really?” he addressed Jayne, his tone one of smug superiority. “Well, you must be hiding it well because I don’t think any of us have ever seen it.”
Zoe and Inara tried hard not to smile and Kaylee barely managed to stifle her own giggle. Jayne, on the other hand, continued eating a moment longer before the insult sank in completely. He half rose from his seat, one hand reaching back behind him for his bowie knife as he gave the doctor a malevolent sneer.
“You wanna go, little man?” Jayne warned.
“Jayne,” Zoe said in amused annoyance not able to contain her grin any longer. “Sit down!” She shook her head at the merc smirking and giving him a look that told Jayne he’d basically walked into that insult and he needed to just take it graciously. Jayne sat back down grudgingly.
River spoke up again breaking the tension. "He must bleed for her to believe." She gave her brother a genuine smile of admiration. "Simon can fix the captain later."
River bit off another piece of the roll and ignored the looks of disbelief that went around the table. Zoe gaped at Jayne who shrugged and glanced over at Kaylee who bit her lip and looked to Simon who then coughed politely and turned back to stare at River. River ignored them and frowned into her stew bowl. She cocked her head a moment as if listening to something and then turned to Simon on her left fixing him with a rather dejected look.
"Mal spanks hard," she sullenly announced.
Jayne's eyes suddenly lit up in comprehension and a grin exploded over the big man's face as he jumped up from the table, almost knocking his chair over in his haste. "Damn!" he sniggered over his shoulder at the others as he headed for the hatchway, "I ain't missin' this!"
The table emptied instantly, leaving River and Simon alone in the galley, River with her disjointed thoughts and Simon with his lap of lukewarm stew.
“Suo xi de jiu cha yuan, (petty disciplinarian)” Simon said under his breath.
This was directed toward Mal who Simon had not forgiven for spanking River over the incident on Dao Rhen. They’d had quite the shouting match over that which had ended, as usual, with Mal threatening bodily harm and Simon reluctantly backing off the subject. He’d forbidden River from hanging around Loan after that but had lifted the ban soon after realizing how impossible it would be to enforce on the small cargo ship.
“She tries but the current is strong and it catches at her making her stumble sometimes,” River quietly stated.
“Hmm?” Simon looked over at River who gave her brother a gentle smile.
“Daddy cares and she understands.”
Zoe took the steps down to the lower level two at time following closely behind Jayne and almost crashed into the wall of the big merc’s back when he stopped abruptly on the third to the last step. She stood on tip-toe trying to peer over Jayne’s broad shoulder but not succeeding.
"Anything?" Zoe whispered at Jayne. She felt Inara and Kaylee pressing against her own back jockeying for a better view.
"Nuthin' I can make out," Jayne muttered in disgust.
He strained to hear the conversation coming from the open cabin down the darkened guest hall, but it was too low in volume. The merc craned forward half hanging over the metal railing to catch a better glimpse while still remaining unobtrusive, lest Mal catch sight of his nosy crew. At that instant, Malcolm Reynolds strode angrily out of the one of the guest rooms and Jayne quickly pushed away from the railing ducking back into the shadows of the stairway.
"Dang it," Jayne groaned in disappointment, "Nothing happened. He ain't bleedin'. Hell, he ain't even limping."
The group started to turn as one to return to the galley, but froze when they heard an unexpected yelp from Mal. All eyes once again squinted down the lower hallway, where they caught sight of their captain slowly raising a hand in stunned disbelief to his left ear. Mal drew his hand back and stared down at the blood now covering his fingers. It wasn't difficult to see what had caused the injury as the little black dagger still quivered slightly where it was embedded into the ship's wall opposite the room Loan was in.
"That’s the same ear Simon had to fix the last time," Kaylee muttered with regret. She was referring back to Mal’s losing said appendage during a rather nasty torture session with an unpleasant little man by the name of Niska.
"Ai ya, hwai leh! (shit on my head)" the captain swore under his breath.
After the girl’s sassy misconduct at the dinner table, Mal had chased Loan down to the lower deck of Serenity and had cornered her in one of the empty guest cabins of the ship. He’d proceeded to give her a rather scathing lecture on table manners emphasizing his displeasure with Loan’s profuse and inappropriate use of cuss words by assigning her to laundry and dish duty for the next several weeks as punishment. Thinking the matter settled, Mal had left Loan standing in the room silently fuming and was about to return to his dinner when the brat had decided to up the ante.
Mal pivoted back toward the open doorway wearing a look of murder on his face. He angrily strode back into the room and towards Loan whose eyes grew to saucer size. She hadn't expected to hit the captain with the blade from her boot. In fact, she had never even meant to get him with it. She had thrown it out of anger only meaning to get his attention. But, the captain had turned ever so slightly at the last minute and her aim had proved truer than it should have. And it had definitely gotten his attention. She silently sent a blessing to Buddha that his ear was only nicked and not taken clean off. That would have been bad … really bad.
"You - xia wu (disrespectful)…" Mal sputtered flabbergasted at her audacity as he reached out and grabbed a handful of the girl's floral shirtfront.
Mal's fist automatically cocked back to deliver a blow when the captain suddenly realized with some sense of irony that he was about to deck a fourteen-year old girl. His young pilot caught on quickly, recognizing the captain's moral dilemma. But instead of being thankful for the reprieve, she cocked a brow at the man, an amused twinkle coming to her mischievous eyes.
She looked up at Mal with a rather smug expression, and, to his utter confoundment, said, "Ya know, most folks wouldn't take kindly to those what hit defenseless young-uns in the face, cap’n."
Mal let his arm drop in obvious frustration. "Defenseless young-un?" he choked, his neck and face reddening.
Mal looked down at the girl's feigned cow-eyed stare of innocence and took a long deep breath, letting it out slowly. He ran a hand through his dark hair as he fought to bring his temper under control. He thought a moment longer and then a small smile appeared at the corner of his lips.
"Well now, little Loan, there's one place I can think of hittin' a young-un that won't get me bound and jailed." He tightened his grip on her shirt.
"Huh?" Loan looked at him in confusion, and then her eyes widened in horror when the sudden connection was made. The teen tried to pull from his firm grasp, but Mal ignored her struggles, and used the little stair by the doorway as a step for his booted foot. He swung Loan up and over his left knee.
"Ni xia wu, wan dun, YAO, you XING er zhao SHUO duh QIAN DA! (you disrespectful, uneducated, stubborn, willful, annoying child who needs a spanking)" Mal scolded. He punctuated each word with a hard swat to the girl's bottom, and Loan started to screech in pain.
Mal watched Loan kick and holler under his punishing hand as he covered her rear end with a cascade of blazing spanks determined to teach her a lesson.
"You gonna stop running that mouth of yours and start acting in a more civilized manner?" he asked the girl, as he let up a moment.
"Xi niu huan dan! (cow-sucking bastard)" Loan hissed at him through gritted teeth, her temper still getting the better of her.
"Wrong answer," Mal said tonelessly.
Loan instantly regretted her choice of words as Mal now increased the intensity of his swats.
"You want to act [WHACK] like some snot-nosed brat [WHACK], then you'll be treated as such!" [WHACK, WHACK, WHACK]
The crew of Serenity stood on the stairwell in amused silence listening to Loan's swearing, the captain's lecturing and the sharp crack of Mal's hand doing a job on the poor teen's backside. Finally, Kaylee, who knew from past experience how unpleasant a whupping could be, couldn't take it anymore and squeezed past Inara and Zoe to head down the rest of the stairs, but Jayne put up a hand to stop her.
"We gotta do something," the young mechanic pleaded, "Capn's gonna wear her out if we don't."
"Nuh uh." Jayne countered, eyes still fixed gleefully on the open doorway beyond. "This is betwixt Mal and l'il britches. Ain't our fight."
Mal applied several more thunderous smacks to Loan's thoroughly bruised bottom while explaining just exactly why it was against ship's rules to pull a blade, or any other weapon for that matter, on the captain. Loan agreed with his argument wholeheartedly while trying to squirm away from his relentless hand. She had come to the late conclusion that she wasn't going to win this round, and finally gave up cussing the captain's manhood. Instead, she lay defeated over Mal's lap, hissing and wincing from the stinging pain that now demanded her full attention. The crew continued to listen, rapt, to the angry condemnations coming from down the hall.
"Aw, Jayne," Kaylee tried to wheedle, but she never got to finish her sentence.
For at that precise moment, the spanking and hollering stopped. Jayne quickly swung about making erratic herding motions toward the others as he began shoving them up the stairs before Mal could catch sight of them.
"Move!" he barked and everyone tumbled hastily up through the hatchway and raced back to their seats in the galley.
Mal, sweating a bit but none the less for wear, strode calmly out of the little room, turned and took one last look at the subdued teen who was gingerly rubbing her tender backside, her face a mixture of vexation and chagrin.
"You even think about stepping one foot out this door `fore I say, tao shen (naughty child)…and we'll be revisiting this here lesson again. Dong le ma? (you understand me)"
Loan nodded sullenly, her only willing gesture to conceding defeat in the battle. Mal, feeling better now that he was back in control of his crew, slid the door firmly shut, turned, and very nearly put an eye out with the dagger that was still dangling in the wall. He cursed under his breath, took a step back and wiggled the blade free from its temporary sheath. He stared at it a moment then shook his head in mild wonder and started back towards the stairs and his awaiting dinner.
No one met his eyes when Mal appeared back in the galley. He knew they'd all been eavesdropping as usual, so he ignored the awkward silence and casually tossed Loan's small boot dagger onto the table. The clatter it made sounded loud to everyone as Mal took his seat and scooted up to his bowl of food. Only Jayne was brave enough to finally address his boss.
"So…everything square with you two?"
Mal nodded once as he dug into his food, finding it quite tasty despite the fact that is was now cold. River cocked her dark head and studied Mal a moment much to his great consternation. He unconsciously reached up to rub at the dark stain on the left shoulder of his tan work shirt realizing that his ear was still bleeding a bit.
"Only daddy's spank," River solemnly stated, "Are you our daddy now?"
Mal choked on his mouthful of stew. "WHAT?!"
As if on cue, the entire table erupted in accusations and opinions, most of them directed at the captain. Mal watched his jabbering crew with a sense of rising impatience wondering just how exactly he'd lost control of them again so gorramn fast.
"Nimen dou bizui! (everyone shut the hell up)" he shouted in tired exasperation and everyone fell silent.
Simon made to stand. "Maybe, I should go look in on her," he suggested.
Mal shot the younger man a withering look. "I walloped her, doc, I didn't put a bullet in her," he commented shortly. "'Sides, I'm the one that's bleeding here." His voice carried a hint of mock injury as he looked around the galley in mild annoyance at the seeming indifference of his crew. "If anyone should be looked at, it's me."
Simon began to rise again from his chair as if on command and Mal rolled his eyes. "Sit down, Simon, I'll be fine."
The captain tucked his napkin back into his shirtfront and picked up his chopsticks. "Just one meal," he grumbled under his breath, "All's I ask is for just one meal that don't start or end with something on my boat gettin' blown up or someone challenging my authority ‘round here."
Mal ignored the smirks, snickering and elbowing being passed around the table by his shipmates as he dug into his dinner once again.