DISCLAIMER: Firefly and Serenity are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Universal. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Post-Serenity. Written at the prompting of a friend in 2009 and posted to ff.net with the same title.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To howlingturtle[at]hotmail.com
Bald Is Beautiful
How did they always end up in these situations?
One minute they'd be doing a job, things would be going well, and the next thing she knew they'd be in a firefight for their lives. She didn't know what Mal did to attract so much negative attention from the universe but it was making things exponentially more difficult for them to eke out a living out here in the black.
This time they weren't even on a job. They were having some vacation time planetside and Mal had made some off color comment in a bar about some goon's heritage, something to the effect of his mother was a pig and his father a Reaver it wasn't pretty. It led to them getting into a brawl and having to beat feet before the whole of the bar turned on them. One call on the handset radios Kaylee had made up and the whole crew was headed back to the ship from various parts of town as quickly as they could.
Zoe was running slightly ahead of her captain, dodging any folk who happened to step into her path on their way to the safety of inside. She could hear Mal panting along behind her, laughing a little at some internal monologue, no doubt imagining how he was going to retell this story to Jayne and Simon. She could also hear the shots the unhappy bar patrons were taking into the crowd, trying to hit her or Mal. Their shots were effectively clearing the streets of townsfolk, leaving them wide open and leaving her and Mal clear targets.
She looked ahead of her and saw Inara's back hurrying up the street; she chanced a look behind her and saw Mal, gun drawn and firing, forcing the drunks to duck their heads and take cover. She kept moving, her goal to get to Inara before the Companion got hit by a stray bullet.
Zoe reached Inara, startling the Companion, then grabbed her and dragged her behind some water barrels even as she drew her weapon and scanned the street for her captain and the barflies. She spotted him with his back to a support beam barely thick enough to protect all his vital parts; she couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes. She called out a loud "Sir!" and started firing, providing him the cover he needed to get to better protection.
He chose a large wagon parked in the street across from where she and Inara were crouched.
"Plan, Sir?" She queried while she fired sporadically to make sure the gentlemen were keeping their heads down.
"Thinkin' Zoe!" Mal shouted back as he ducked a zinger and fired back.
Inara, who had been catching her breath, reached for Zoe's belt, extracting one of her backup weapons and checking it over before aiming and firing over the barrel. "This is all Mal's fault isn't it?" Her bullet landed in the shoulder of an unfortunate drunkard.
Zoe was quietly impressed with the other woman's marksmanship, "Yup."
"What has he done now? This was supposed to be a peaceful stop." Inara fired again, lifting another man's hat from his head. She was obviously displeased with this progression of events.
"Started a bar fight." Zoe idly fired another shot down the street as she answered Inara's question.
"Again?! We can't take him anywhere!" Inara took another shot and grazed a man's thigh and he squealed in shock, sounding much like the mother pig Mal had accused him of having. "At this rate I'm going to have to go around armed."
"If it'll stop you poaching my weapons I'm all for it," Zoe teased.
Inara shot Zoe an unrepentant smirk and took another shot, her bullet found another shoulder.
"Zoe!" Mal called from behind the wagon raising his voice above the gunfire, "Nothin' to do but run for it. You two go that way; I'll go this way, meet back at the ship!" He said nothing more, just disappeared down an alley.
"Yessir," Zoe huffed out sarcastically. She took another couple shots making sure none of the grunts were watching as she pulled Inara up and took off down the opposite alley. "Hope you got your running shoes on."
Inara kept pace with Zoe, following her twists and turns and hoping the taller woman knew where she was going.
Suddenly Zoe pulled Inara into a small dark space, halting their motion abruptly, and whispered, "Shhh."
Inara quietly caught her breath, listening for noise over the pounding of her blood in her ears. She heard Zoe's breathing even out, and felt the heat radiating between them in the enclosed space. It wasn't too much longer before they heard the sounds of pursuit, thankfully running in the wrong direction. She blew out her breath in a long stream and shook her head.
"Alright, come on." Zoe moved out of their hiding spot pulling gently on Inara's wrist to make sure she followed. "We've got to get back to the ship and make sure the others made it, too."
"Here," Inara said holding Zoe's weapon out to her, intent on returning it.
Zoe looked at Inara's hand a moment before pushing it back towards the Companion, "You'd best hold on to that. We don't know if they'll find us again."
Inara wordlessly accepted that and tucked the gun in her sash where it was easily retrievable.
Zoe began leading them back out of the twisted alleys they'd run through. Inara just got more and more disoriented as they continued on, but she trusted Zoe's directional sense. Her trust was rewarded as they arrived back on the main street in short order.
Zoe turned them towards where the ship would be and started walking, keeping Inara in her peripheral vision while continuously scanning the streets for their new friends. People were starting to reemerge from their homes and businesses now that the firing had stopped. They were back to their daily business in a few short minutes, making Zoe and Inara harder to spot in the crowd but also making it difficult for them to stay together and make progress towards their ship.
The townsfolk were very industrious, moving stacks of things all through the town. Zoe and Inara were walking calmly along when a voice behind them cried, "Look out!"
Zoe, always quick to react, checked behind them and pushed Inara out of the way of the barrel falling out of a man's arms. The result of that action put her directly in the path of the tripping man, which meant the contents of the barrel spewed all over Zoe, coating her head to toe in a thick layer of pungent brownish-green liquid. Zoe shuddered internally at the stench and feel of the gunk now covering her. She looked first at Inara's stunned face then at the man's terrified apologetic one.
"I am so sorry ma'am! I tripped on a loose board there. Oh, oh no. I'm so sorry." He stood before Zoe, wringing his hands and shuffling from foot to foot.
Her voice as cold as she could make it Zoe asked, "What, exactly, was in that barrel?" She saw Inara out of the corner of her eye trying not to laugh at the picture she must have made putting the fear of the Lord into this hapless young man while looking like some lake monster.
"It's Marty's Mix." He said, knees knocking and teeth chattering.
"And what is 'Marty's Mix'?" Zoe demanded.
"Oh, oh, it's a mix of a buncha stuff. We use it ta stick things together; it's strong as cement but keeps like glue. This batch was for a boat my pa's building. Oh, I'm so sorry; it'll never come outta your clothes, or your hair. Trust me; I've been dunked in it myself. We had to cut off all my hair just so it would grow back even. Oh ma'am! I am so, so sorry!"
Zoe stood stock still processing the information that she'd have to cut off all of her hair just to get rid of this stinking concoction. Inara had to cover her mouth with both hands to keep her gasp from being too loud. Suddenly Zoe turned on her heel and squelched away in the direction of the ship. Inara turned to follow when she was stopped by a hand on her arm.
The young man dipped his head apologetically and said, "Miss, please, if there's anything I can do to make up for this mess "
Inara patted the man's hand and said, "Unless you can replace her weapons I really don't think there's much you can do."
"I can do that! I can! Ya just tell me what she had and I'll get 'em for ya right quick!" He was so eager that Inara decided she'd throw him a bone and listed off what weapons she knew Zoe was carrying today and told him where to bring them when he had them. The young man made up a list and shot off down the street calling back to Inara, "I'll have it all by tomorra'! Promise!"
Inara doubted that, but shook her head and followed in Zoe's wake.
Once she reached the ship she knew Zoe had been through. Jayne was rolling on the floor laughing with Simon and Kaylee. River stared down from the catwalk, her brows furrowed. Mal stood ramrod straight looking more frightened than Inara had ever seen him. When he caught sight of her he snapped out of it and asked, "What the gorram hell happened to you two?! Why's my first mate look like a pile of go se?"
Inara scoffed and said, "We got away from your new best friends and walked right into a barrel of 'Marty's Mix' and it's all your fault! If you hadn't provoked that fight none of this would have happened."
Mal held his hands out wide, "What're you talkin' about, 'Nara? Zoe's just gotta shower and things'll be fine again."
"No, Mal, they won't." Inara fumed. "That stuff won't ever come out of her clothes. Or her hair. Or her weapons. It's what the people around here use to stick things together and keep them together. The young man who spilled it said his father was going to use it to build a boat! Zoe's going to have to cut off all of her hair!"
Mal went wide eyed. "Oh, gorramit! She's gonna kill me. She's gonna kill me and take my boat!" Mal fled up the stairs.
Before he could make it very far Inara called after him, "We can't leave yet. The young man is going to be bringing Zoe replacement weapons tomorrow."
She heard him curse before he ducked past River and onto the bridge.
Kaylee approached Inara then, "Zoe's really gonna hafta cut off her hair?" At Inara's nod she continued, "Oh, that's such a shame. It's so pretty too."
Inara didn't really feel like rehashing the incident or commiserating with Kaylee over Zoe's loss, so she went instead to find the furious first mate. But first, she stopped by her shuttle to pick up some supplies.
She found Zoe in the bunk she had used since moving out of the cabin she used to share with Wash. The taller woman had already changed her clothes and cleared the muck from her face. Her hair, though, was still liberally coated with the sticky hardening mix, and Inara knew she was trying to figure out a way to save her locks.
"Zoe," Inara called tentatively.
The first mate turned to Inara misery written in her eyes. Inara could see just beyond Zoe to a small table where there sat a pair of scissors and all of the weapons she had carried that day, save for the one still tucked into Inara's sash. "My guns are ruined."
Inara walked forward and placed her small basin of supplies on the table then fished the gun out of her sash, "Not this one. And the young man responsible for " she waved a hand vaguely, wanting to say 'mess' but not wanting to offend she settled for "this is gathering replacement weapons for you as we speak, free of charge."
Zoe narrowed her eyes as she took her weapon back from Inara reverently, "And how does he know what to get?"
"I listed all the ones I could remember you carrying. I think, from what I see here, that I didn't forget any. I don't think he'll be able to replace all of them, but he seemed very determined to try. He said he'd have them by tomorrow. I told him to take them to a drop point."
Zoe nodded. The weapons probably wouldn't be as good as hers had been, but at least she wouldn't be going unarmed for long. She sighed heavily as she now turned her thoughts to her soon to be missing hair. It was one of the things Wash had loved most about her, and she had no little pride in its beauty herself.
Inara hesitantly spoke again, "I've brought some things we can try to see if we can save your hair, if you're willing."
Zoe nodded, "I'd try just about anything. I'm not looking forward to being bald."
Inara rummaged in her basin pulling out various oils, lotions, and soaps. "Should we try them on the guns so we don't create a bigger problem on your head than there already is?"
Again Zoe nodded.
The two of them set to work testing everything Inara had brought, but nothing worked. The young man had been serious when he'd said it was as strong as cement. Most of the things they tried slid right off the surface of the gunk and pooled on the table. Reaching the end of their options they both sighed, knowing Zoe's hair had no hope for survival.
"I'm sorry Zoe. This wouldn't have happened if I'd gotten out of the way fast enough." Inara felt real remorse, knowing Zoe could have easily dodged the mess if she hadn't taken the time to protect her.
Zoe shook her head. "Doesn't matter now, let's just get this done. Sooner it happens the sooner I can grow it back."
Zoe lifted the small scissors from her table and moved them towards her head when Inara stopped her. "Let me," she said pulling a much more suitable set of scissors from the basin along with a razor blade, "it'll be easier and faster if I do it."
Zoe set her scissors down and let Inara take charge. She felt Inara moving clumps of her hair around, heard her tutting over the mess, and heard the slicing noises the blades made as they sheared her hair from her head. She watched the hair fall like rocks to the floor, the stuff having dried much like cement. When the last clump was cut away Inara switched from the scissors to the razor and set to work. The scrape of the blade against her scalp was a strange sensation for Zoe, not entirely unpleasant but not anything she'd like to ever repeat.
When it was finished Inara set the blade down and ran her fingertips gently over Zoe's scalp, checking for any missed spots and massaging away any discomfort she could. Zoe sighed a little at the attention, enjoying the feel of Inara's fingers on her skin.
Inara felt like crying, she felt so awful about this whole thing, "I'm so sorry Zoe. This is all my fault."
"No, it's not." Zoe turned to face Inara, briefly mourning the loss of the Companion's fingers on her scalp, "It's Mal's. Never would have happened if he hadn't started that fight. We'd have never been near that kid or that barrel if we hadn't had to run around town."
"I still feel terrible Zoe. To lose your hair it must be difficult." Inara suddenly had an idea, she wasn't looking forward to its possible consequences for her but she voiced it anyway, "You could," she swallowed hard, "You could shave my head, if it would make you feel more comfortable with this."
"Don't be stupid," Zoe rolled her eyes. "You'd be out of a job if you did that. Your clients pay for a certain look."
Though she didn't want to be bald, Inara couldn't stop herself from saying "Actually, there is a very select list of clients that prefer their female companions bald."
Zoe gave her a flat look which expressed volumes about her opinion on the subject, "I'm still not shaving your head, Inara. Forget it. And stop blaming yourself; you've already made up for it by getting that kid to replace my weapons and helping me with this."
Inara sighed in relief, and then really looked at Zoe. "You know, you have a beautiful head, Zoe." Inara's voice was soft, unsure of how this would be received.
Surprised but pleased, knowing Inara would never pay her a false compliment, Zoe asked, "What?"
"Your head. It's shaped beautifully. Not many people can look good bald, but I think you're an exception." Her fingers reached out to absently caress Zoe's scalp, but she stopped when she caught Zoe's eyes. She was startled to see the heat, the lust and hunger in Zoe's eyes, but she felt a thrill warm her from head to toe as that look infused her. Boldly she let both hands reach out, this time achieving full contact against the skin of Zoe's head. She gently smoothed her hands all over Zoe's newly revealed scalp, thoroughly enjoying the feel of it and the half-lidded eyes Zoe looked at her with. She whispered softly, "You're so beautiful."
"Thank you." Zoe was a little surprised that she was feeling this way for Inara. She'd always thought the Companion beautiful, but had never thought to lust after her even since she'd been widowed. She reached out to touch Inara and was pleased the other woman leaned into her touch, bringing them closer together.
Soon, they were lost in each other, and happy to be so.
Zoe decided she wouldn't kill Mal for this. She was sure, given time, Mal would give her plenty of other reasons.
The next afternoon found Inara and Zoe walking to the drop point to meet the young man who claimed he'd have her new weapons.
They were quietly laughing about the reactions they'd gotten from the crew this morning when they'd emerged from Zoe's bunk.
Mal's mouth had dropped open when Inara had appeared from Zoe's bunk, not disheveled but obviously satisfied. He'd nearly swallowed his tongue when Zoe had followed Inara up, her newly bald head making her an even more intimidating sight than she'd been before. Zoe's casual greeting of "Sir" seemed to break him out of his stupor and he nodded to them both before fleeing to his cabin.
Jayne had leered at them when they'd appeared in the mess and said "I'll be in my bunk," but before he could vanish Zoe said softly, "Jayne, you think of either of us in there and I'll use your favorite knife to make sure you never have thoughts like that again." Jayne wilted and moved to the cargo hold to work out his frustration.
Kaylee had beamed at them both, glad they'd found some happiness in all this trouble, while Simon turned an unflattering shade of red and stammered something incoherent then disappeared into the infirmary. Kaylee had followed him, giggling all the way.
River had bestowed her own strange blessing on them when she'd peered at them and said only "your colors match" and wandered away into the depths of Serenity leaving them both mystified as to what she meant.
It wasn't long before they spotted the young man waiting with a box in his arms a short distance away. When he spotted them he practically danced on the spot, so eager was he to make things up to Zoe.
"Ma'am. I got everything Miss told me about. It's all in pretty good shape, too!"
Zoe looked at him coolly while Inara smiled and thanked him. She had him set the box on the ground and then she opened it. She was shocked, awed, and thrilled to see so much gleaming weaponry. It was all so beautiful. She pulled out and inspected several pieces to keep up her stern appearance while she was inwardly squealing with joy. She nodded after she'd finished and said, "Well, you did very well here."
The young man effervesced with glee. "Oh ma'am. I'm so glad ya think so. I just felt so awful about dumping that barrel on ya. I hope this helps ya out. I've gotta get back to my pa. We've still got that boat to build." He turned and jogged back towards town, happy to have made up for his bumbling.
Inara smiled after him, "Such a sweet boy." She turned her attention to Zoe who was still kneeling by the box. She spent a few moments just admiring the other woman, enjoying the play of light across her naked scalp.
Zoe looked up and caught Inara's eyes, she quirked her brow, "What are you thinking?"
Inara smiled saucily at her lover, "Bald is beautiful at least on you it is."
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