Since there was a limit to the places she was willing to clean — not because they were beneath her, but because of a respect for the privacy of others — Vanya found herself alone in the lounge with nothing else to occupy her thoughts. It was so much easier when she kept busy. No time for regrets or second thoughts. Just the happy distraction of light manual labor.
Deciding that some hot water for tea was at least somewhat productive, she moved into the kitchen section. Her brothers, of course, would want something stronger but there might be at least one or two others who would consent to joining her in a warm drink. She reached for the switch, noticing absently that she was in need of a good manicure, only to hear a dull click.
Frowning, the companion tried again. Another click. “O, zhe zhen shi ge kuaile de jinzahn…” With a sigh, she left the pot of water on the counter and went to look for someone to help her.
Joe sat on the corner of his bed scraping molten rubber off the top of his shoe. A small electrical fire had contributed to his wardrobe this afternoon and he was making his best attempt at minimizing the damage. Careful to keep from slipping and slicing into his hand, he dug the sharp end of a blade beneath the black rubber.
Though she could have easily pushed the door open, Vanya paused at the entrance to Joe’s room. Delicate fingers hesitated for only a second before rapping lightly against the hard surface. “Joe? Do you have a minute or two?”
Looking up from the minor work, Joe’s grease streaked brow arced towards his hairline. “Come in…”He wiped the sides of his knife on the leg of his trousers, not quite making the steel any cleaner than before.
Smiling gently, Vanya hugged her arms to her chest as she leaned up against his door frame. “I’m afraid I have bad kitchen news. I can’t get the stove to work.” With a soft chuckle, her laugh turned somewhat mocking. “I’ve tried everything: turning it on and off, pouting, yelling at it…”
With a little smile, he flicked his knife shut and tucked it in his back pocket as he stood. “I can take a look at it for you ma’am.” Pulling off his hat he ran his fingers through his dark oil slicked hair and followed the companion out of his room.
“I’d appreciate that. And so would everyone who likes hot food,” she said, still smiling as she led him back down the hall to the lounge. Her bare feet made little noise on the deck plates as she took careful steps, aware that there were still many areas of Alice still not repaired.
Joe pulled a worn soft once blue rag from his pocket and wiped his hands, trying to get them somewhat cleaner before entering the kitchen. “I know I am counted among those fans of hot food.”He tried to keep his smile casual and relaxed. It was the first time in a long long time he had been around a companion and he was unsure of how he should behave, trying not to give himself away.
Pushing away a lock of burgundy hair that had somehow escaped from the scarf she had wound around her head, the companion watched the boy out of the corner of her eye. “I have faith in your ability to fix things.” As they drew nearer to the cold stove, she slowed her steps, falling behind him.”I’ll do my best to stay out of your way. Unless, of course, you need another hand.”
The back of Joe’s neck turned a little red. “Well, I am sure I could, um, always use some help.” He glanced back over his shoulder with just the slightest look. “I’ll let you know.” The boy pulled a screwdriver from one of his many pockets as they reached the stove, setting it on the counter in preparation for the work.
One delicate brow arched toward her hairline as she watched the boy. “How comforting.” Violet eyes narrowed on Joe’s back. “Well I am good with my hands…” She left the thought hanging, still watching the boy closely.
That red turned redder. “I’m sure you are ma’am.” His eyes focused on the control panel as he pried it free from the back, checking for shorts or loose wires. “I’d bet it comes in handy in your… line of work…”
Her lips curled in a quick smile before letting her face settle back into its impassive mask. “Of course it does. I wouldn’t be nearly as accomplished, if I wasn’t talented in many ways.”
Distracted, Joe’s hand slipped raking the side of his palm along a length of sharp steel, splitting the flesh up the side. With a sharp wince the boy jerked his hand back, covering the wound with his still dirty handkerchief. “Kao!”
Vanya did her best not to roll her eyes. “That’s not going to help. Here.” She took the boy’s hand and led him firmly to the sink. “You’re at least going to wash it,” she told him, fingers still circling his wrist.
Cringing as if she had just clamped hot irons around his wrist, Joe let the woman drag him reluctantly to the sink. “It’s fine. It’s just a scratch… I’ve scratched myself before.” His wrist twisted a little, trying to wriggle free from her surprising grasp.
“And I’ve cleaned wounds before. So hold still.” Turning on the water, she moved the boy’s wrist under the gentle flow. Releasing him only after she was sure it was at least somewhat clean, she felt the smile coming back to her lips. “You may be used to scratches in your line of work, but it doesn’t seem to damage your skin too much. It’s very soft.”
Pulling the two sides of the wound apart with the fingers of his other hand, Joe frowned at her comment. “‘S not like I lay bricks or grind gears.” He glanced up at her, his head still bent. “And electrical grease is good for the skin, you should try it sometime.”
“I think I’ll stick to lotion,” she replied with a throaty little chuckle. “I’m not going to bite, you know…”
Shifting his weight uncomfortably into the role he had set out for himself, he smiled at her somewhat awkwardly. “And I woulda figured that would be one of those talents you’d have.”
The companion almost felt sorry for him. Almost. “But I save that for special occasions.”
“Lucky occasion…” His eyes fell back to his hand. To say he was foundering at this show of normal maleness was an understatement.
Vanya watched him for a long moment. Though her expression remained the same, her violet eyes softened slightly. “You don’t have to pretend around me.”
That youthful face paled as his eyes shot to her. “Pre-pretend?” His voice jumped with a very puberty like crack.
She smiled sadly, making no further moves to touch him. Whether is was the years of training, intuition, or a little bit of both, she felt more sure than ever that Joe had a good heart. Or, at the very least, that he was no danger to her family. “Not everyone enjoys the company of the opposite sex,”she said finally, making her decision. “It’s not something you need to hide.”
His mouth fell open. She thought he was… “Oh.. I..” The boy looked down, dumbstruck at her conclusion. He always thought a companion would be less convincible than others. He had never anticipated this but it just might work. Blood rushed back in, turning that face from pale to flush. “I don’t huh?”
Patting his hand gently, Vay was more sure than ever that she’d done the right thing. “Of course not. There are many reasons to want to hide.” She knew that all too well. “But this is one place where you don’t need to. And, just so you know, listening is one of my many talents. Along with my amazing fashion sense.” She chuckled again then moved back slightly to give Joe room to flee if needed.
Tucking the handkerchief back into his pocket, Joe laughed a bit. “Well, I don’t have much occasion for fashion but I may just take up your ear sometime.” Running his thumb across the slowly healing slash, he turned back to the oven. “Now we better get this thing heatin’ like it should or we will have a handful of complaints come suppertime.”
“Well we can’t have that,” Vanya laughed. “So maybe you should let me help this time. Just to avoid any further injuries. Next time you might lose a hand,” she teased gently.
“Well, if I do, you said you’d have one to offer.” His smile was more genuine, more relaxed as he pulled a flashlight from his hip, twirling it a bit in his palm before handing it to her. “But I am sure I’ll keep all my fingers even if I can see what I’m doin'” He pointed a grimy finger into the stove’s maw.”Right there.”
Though her eyes lingered on Joe’s face for a moment, the diminutive companion nodded and held the flashlight steady. “I do hope they’re back soon. I tend to get nervous when my brothers are gone for extended periods of time… especially with so much potential for disaster.”
“Those guys seem to have a pretty strong streak of luck when it comes to getting out of tight spots.”His hands dug into the control panel, nimble fingers feeling the wires for any irregularities. He glanced at the clock next to the oven. “We’ll give ’em another couple of hours then start gathering a search party.”
“I’m sure the two of us and the Shepherd will make a highly impressive search party,” Vanya laughed.
Pulling a harried wire from the mess, Joe cut into the wire, removing the shorted out bit. “I’m sure you can be quite effective if properly motivated.”
Though her smile didn’t fade, the light in Vanya’s violet eyes seemed to dim slightly. The infirmary on Repose seemed suddenly very close. “That I can,” she murmured. “But there’s no need to start worrying… yet.”
“Yeah, I find it way beyond the mind of one man to go and worry ’bout those three.” With a quick twist of copper and a winding of electrical tape he snorted. “Those guys are magnets for trouble. Why do you think I prefer to stay on board?”
“And here I thought it was the charming company,” the companion chuckled.
He winked in a way that was more friendly than flirty and thereby far more natural. “That just makes it bearable.” He began feeling again, making sure that one short was the only one.
Sure now that, at the very least, they would get along, Vanya leaned in to try to get a look at what Joe was doing. “So what’s the prognosis? Will our patient survive?”
Glancing skyward in a motion of thought, he concentrated on the wires between his sensitive fingers.”Looks like. She’s a strong girl. I think she’ll be just fine.” With a little shift of his shoulders, he pulled his arms out of the panel and pressed it back into place until it clicked. He nodded at the oven as he wiped black residue off his hands. “Give her a try.”
Crossing her fingers, Vanya reached for the switch one more time. “You’re good. Very good.” She couldn’t help but give a soft sigh of relief as the stove sparked to life. “I was most definitely not looking forward to a future full of cold tea.”
“I’m sure we’d find a fire in the middle of the lounge before you went without hot tea.” He leaned on the wall, trying to remember what it was he was doing before.
“Now that that’s settled,” the violet haired woman gave him a playful little smile. “Would you like some help cleaning your room? Or should I stay far away?”
Joe paled imperceptibly. “Away… I would suggest staying far far away.” His laugh was a little forced.”Everything else aside… still a teenage boy, remember?”
“Of course,” she replied with a perfectly straight face. “In that case, I’ll just call you if I stumble upon any other broken appliances.”