Evens and Odds
a Farcsape/Firefly crossover story
by dirty diana
For the Thea in the multiverse 2004 space crossover ficathon. Much thanks for the beta to sf fan and to Aly, my goddess of Farscape.
In the end, and whether or not she wanted to admit it, she had no real reason to go. No real reason to stay, either, and that may have been the thing that kept her there, with no possessions to speak of. Except her stubbornness.
They talked, of course, about getting another ship. Talked and talked and didn't mean much of it.
And she stays because Mal stays. That is part of it.
Work is scarce on Auckland in the summer, on account of the planet rotating through an ice belt that none too many pilots care to fly through. No ships meant no work, or close to none. They manage.
The room that they sleep in, rented by the week, has one bed. Zoe sleeps on the floor. Mal objected, that first night.
"It'll be cooler on the floor," Zoe answered, and that was that. Mal sleeps loudly.
Zoe makes no noise at all, rolling over on top of the worn blanket, pretending not to notice the empty place on her left.
The captain spends most of his time in the bar at the end of the shipdocks. That bar is crowded, most every day. Zoe went some days. But not often.
Most days she simply walks through the docks, and listened to the grunts and groans of the half-dead engines, that stand back to back on the damp earth. The air smells always thick, of dirt and of rust. She watches the few ships with captains brave enough or stupid enough to take the chance, casting off into the sky.
The woman wears black, and that is the only reason the Zoe notices her, at first. Black isn't a popular colour on Auckland. The few resistance supporters that still dared wore brown, Mal and Zoe among them. White was worn often as well, for the men and women that went into space and never came back. Black was unusual and impractical, due to the heavy, dusty heat that set in every March and stayed most of the rest of the year. It is cooler down at the shipyard, beside the cold, dark ocean. But not by much.
"You wouldn't think that such a rusted-looking piece of garbage could get off the ground."
Zoe is pulled out of her daydreams, by the rough voice, deeply accented, and a hard belligerent stare. She nods. "People used to say that about my ship."
The look drifts, into one of reluctant interest. "You have a spaceship?"
"It wasn't mine, exactly. But, yes. Did." Zoe pauses, with whole stories on her tongue that she doesn't feel like telling. "Lost it."
"And that's what keeps you here?"
Zoe shakes her head. It's a long story. "Why do you stay here?"
The mistrust flashes back, and then dies, pulled down by an exhaustion that Zoe recognises. "I'm waiting for someone," she says slowly.
Zoe nods. She knows that her answer is the same, a vigil she has nothing to replace.
Every day she goes to the docks and waits.
"Where have you been?" The captain asks her that most every night.
It would be inexact to say that Mal is drunk. It would be unfair to judge him at all, so Zoe chooses not to, and the nights get shorter, the days dryer, edging into the belly of summer.
"At the docks," she says, with no reason to lie. Not today.
He stares at her, with clouded eyes that want to say something, but won't.
"Got a job," he tells her. "Escorting some settlers to the next town."
The next town is a three day ride, give or take. Zoe nods. "When do we leave?"
"Tomorrow," he answers. "Best get some sleep."
The valley is hot, even hotter than the coast. Zoe rides behind Mal, her horse's hooves kicking up a thick brown dust that gets into her hair and clothes, into her lungs with every hard breath that she takes.
The traveling is always worse, with too much time to think. She misses him.
Almost a week goes by before she goes back to the docks.
The woman isn't surprised to see her. "I though perhaps you had found your ship," she says.
"Had a job, is all."
"That's good." The woman touches her waist, where her sidearm hangs. It's a habit she repeats often. Zoe notices things. "Work is good."
"Sh́de," Zoe says, and watches a transport taking off. Its belly hangs just over the ground for long moments, loaded down with cargo, and then it's gone.
"Where did he go?" Zoe doesn't know what brings her to ask that. The whole, hot morning she hasn't spoken a word. Maybe not for days.
The answer takes minutes to come. "Who?"
"The person that you're waiting for."
"That's none of your business."
"I know," Zoe answers.
The woman takes a moment to think about it. "To Kansas," she answers finally.
Aeryn goes down to the docks because it was the coolest place that she could find. She waits, because John said he was coming back.
She had wanted to go with him.
"Can't." John's fingers traced the knots in her spine. "We need McCallum in a good mood, if he's going to sell us that shuttle. And, no offense, babe, but you're kind of scary."
"I am not scary," Aeryn said. She said it in English. She was practicing. He had kissed her.
She still remembers.
"Anyway," he continued, and his words spiraled across her skin, down the length of the bed. "Your job is to stay here. Keep an eye on our friend Mr. Yu. He's the only one on this pissant planet with the technology we need to get home."
"Why?" Aeryn asked, even thought she knew that she wouldn't understand the answer.
John explained it to her.
"I don't like this plan," she said finally.
"Just trust me," he said, as if the alternative was unthinkable, and his hands spanned her waist. "I'm going to get us back to Kansas."
The cool wind rose off the nearby sea, salty in her mouth, and cool on her skin. Aeryn waited.
She could see that she wasn't the only one.
The human woman's hands were always perfectly still, by her side, as she stood. It caught Aeryn's attention, so different from all the others. From John.
This one was as quiet as a painting, except for her eyes.
Aeryn watched her. "You come here often."
She shrugged without moving. "Just like to watch the ships, is all." And then her eyes floated off for a moment, as another misshapen steel hull broke through the cloud-covered atmosphere. She was telling the truth.
They talk to each other because there is no one else to talk to. No one in the shipyard, and no one in the town. Not Mal, drunk more often than not as the months roll on. Zoe talks to her hands sometimes, to the sliver of gold that curls around her finger and holds her down.
The days keep on. Mal and Zoe, they work hardly at all. Zoe thinks about leaving, more. But not often.
Mal comes down to get her one day.
He nods to the stranger, her fingers wrapped loose on the base of her pistol since Mal's approach. He'd noticed. "Ma'am."
There is no response, the woman's mouth tight. But she watches Zoe, and Zoe is calm.
Mal was losing interest. "We gotta go. Got a job."
Zoe doesn't move right away. She generally doesn't, anymore. "What kind of job?"
"Escorting a shipment out to Trelawney."
"That's a month-long ride," Zoe says.
"It is," Mal agrees. "Pretty rough riding, too. And there's bound to be bandits." For the first time in a while, he looks pleased. "Lots of them. Could be, we could use one more rider."
He addresses Zoe only. She turns. "You need a job?"
It wasn't a question, so much. Everyone needed a job. "I'll need to stop in town," she says. "Leave a message."
"Better be quick," Mal says. He's ready to be gone.
They are camped for the night, twenty miles out, when Zoe realises that she doesn't know the other woman's name.
"Air-in," Zoe repeats, but it isn't quite right, the syllables too slow on her tongue.
Aeryn can't pronounce her name either, lips stumbling over the first letter. They try again and then they make sounds, the both of them, something close to laughing. Mal raises his eyebrows, then gets up to pitch the tents. Two tents, sleeping underneath a sky that couldn't be trusted.
"I'll take that one," Mal says, and disappears.
Zoe is a restless sleeper. Aeryn watches her turning over, and over. She lies motionless, dead still.
The humans need so much sleep, it is a wonder that they'd ever gotten anything done. Caves, Crichton said that they'd lived in, with sticks for utensils.
Aeryn wonders why she is thinking about John now. She knows why. She buries her fingers in the thin, loose blanket that covered the stony earth.
Zoe turns again, whispering something that Aeryn can't understand. Automatically, her hands reach out to stop the disturbance.
Zoe's dark eyes fly wide open, as if she is under attack.
"It's all right," Aeryn says. The words don't sound quite right.
Zoe nods anyway. Her body draws still, awake and breathing in the dark.
It is fall when they ride back, barely distinguishable from the summer except for earlier nights. The captain had been right. There had been bandits.
"You'll be taking off now," Zoe says.
"I would, if I were you." Mal's mare canters up behind them, making noise on the hard ground. "Get off this rock. Ain't nothing here but dust."
"And us," Zoe says.
"And us," Mal agrees. Then he continues on ahead of them.
They ride towards the town.