“Sorry it’s taken so long, baby,” Jackson’s hand rubbed the engine lovingly, “I promise it won’t be long before we’re back in the black.” The mechanic’s head slipped inside Alice’s engines. “I almost have it, Alice. I know it’s uncomfortable with me inside you but I’m almost done.”
A soft couch echoed behind him. “That’s not something you hear every day.” The companion’s full lips were pulled into a wry smile. “At least not from a man in the room alone.”
The voice made Jackson jump, his head slamming against the steel of Alice’s engine casing,”Gorram it!”
With a wince, the petite woman slowly made her way into the room. She set a fresh mug of coffee down on what looked to be a relatively safe, flat surface and peered around the engine to announce her presence in a less startling manner. “I apologize, Jackson. I didn’t mean to surprise you.” That smile tugged at her lips again. “But I’m afraid it was too good to pass up.”
Alice’s mechanic pulled his head, rubbing it the entire time from the inside of her engine and gave the Companion a smile, “It’s okay, wasn’t using that part of my brain anyway.”
“But I come bearing gifts.” She gestured toward the still steaming cup with a smile that seemed to falter slightly. “Though now that I know I’ve caused damage to your brain it hardly seems like enough. Perhaps if I got you some soup as well…”
“Naw it’s fine,” the grin grew, “It’s my fault, the boys’ talking to the ship gets infectious.”
“Clearly.” The slight arch to her perfect brows spoke volumes. “They’re an infectious bunch. And so is she.” Delicate fingers ran along the smooth lines of the engine. The companion watched the reflection of her hand as she slowly let it drop back to her side. “This planet, however, is not. I was hoping maybe you could give me a hint as to when we’ll be ready to leave.”
“Unless I’ve missed something,” he turned his attention back to the engine, “it shouldn’t be more than a few hours now,” it was time for his eyebrows to raise, “Why, got a hot date?”
Though her face remained unchanged the spark in those violet eyes turned playful. It wasn’t something she verbalized but, like most of her decisions about a person’s character, it was settled quickly. She liked him. The tall mechanic fit well in this strange little family. “Not nearly as hot as the one I interrupted. But, I imagine, not all women are as lucky as Alice.”
Jackson’s cheeks flushed a bit, “Yeah well…”
With a smile, Vanya decided to have mercy on him. “No hot dates.” A slight frown creased her flawless brow. She wasn’t entirely certain her brothers would let her take on any clients at this point.”Just the desire to back out there.” She waved a graceful hand toward the ceiling and the sky beyond it.
Jackson nodded, “I get that. I love the vibration of a ship under my feet when she’s in the black.”
She chuckled softly. “Careful, Jackson, or I’ll have to start tormenting you about your hot date again.”
Jackson took a sip from the mug in front of him, “It’s okay, we’re not ashamed of our love are we Alice,” he patted the engine.
“Joe, you got those tweaks to the comm scrambler workin’ yet?” Tyler was antsy. He wanted to get off this dust-ball and back into the black. Of course, it was a feeling they all shared, but Tyler tended to be a little more vocal about it. Evidenced by the fact that he’d asked the young tech the same question a dozen times in as many minutes.
“Hey, Dru,” the boy said from where he was shoulder-deep in one of the cockpit control panels, “can you do me a favor and shoot Ty the next time he asks that?”
Dru laughed, “Boy’s got a point, Ty. Why don’t you go take a nap or something?”
Tyler mumbled something offensive and jammed the intercom with his thumb, “Jacks. How much longer till we can light this firecracker?”
The voice that came back to them was distinctly not Jacks. “I’m sorry. Jacks is busy doing unspeakable things to your engine… all in the name of love. I’m afraid you’ll have to try back later.”
“I am not!” Jackson’s voice called right behind her, “Exactly…”
“Whatever you do on your own time, I don’t want to hear about, but you’re burning up valuable get-the-hell-out-of-here time. Let me know as soon as we’re ready to fly.”
Clicking off the intercom, Ty looked back to the half of boy stuck out one of his control panels,”Joe…”
“Done!” The exclamation came as Joe extracted himself from the console, rubbing electrical grease down the front of his coveralls and sucking on a finger. “Gorram capacitors weren’t totally discharged.” He buttoned the panel back up, “We should be ready to send or receive any time now, Mr. Impatient-pants.”
Durden looked back at his brother. “See?” He smirked. “Just needed a little time was all,” he told his brother with a smirk that knew full and well that patience was never a pilot’s virtue. Taking things slow would never keep your ship in the air.
“I think I played a pretty big part here,” their younger electrician groaned.
“True.” That smirk grew “You should thank the young man.”
Tyler’s chin dropped and his eyes stayed focused on his brother’s face. It was the expression equivalent of being punched in the shoulder. It was in these lighter moments that you could tell that these two men were more than just companions that had been through life and death together. They were brothers. “Thanks, Joe.”
Alice’s pilot snagged the corner of the console and gave it a quick tug that sent his chair circling back around. “Now if only-” There was an audible hum as Alice’s heart roared back to life. Tyler shot a look back over his shoulder to find Durden chuckling softly.
The ship’s comm popped. “She’s back and purring again,” Jackson’s voice crackled through the shaky speaker, “Just please take it a bit easy starting out, she needs to be tweaked a bit and I can only do that while we’re out and runnin’.”
“I can fix that static,” Joe said, leaning over the grate of the speaker. “prolly just a wire all loose.”
“Ask and ye shall receive.” Dru put a hand on the pilot’s shoulder. “Get us out of here.”
Tyler’s fingers were already flipping switches across the board, prepping Alice to pick her feet up as soon as she was able. “You don’t have to tell me once.” The Looking Glass started to rumble around them in a familiar vibration. He pulled the com from its clip and held it to his mouth, thumbing the button down.
“Grab some hull, people,” his voice echoed throughout Alice’s metal belly. “We’re gone.”
“I think you need to give Joe a proper thanks,” Dru said to the back of Ty’s head. he was sitting on the crash couch at the back of the cockpit. They had no real direction at the moment. Not to say that they were flying blindly through the black, just that the next job had yet to present itself.
Ty twisted around in his seat, “Fine. Next time we’re dirt-side, I’ll take the kid out and get him drunk and find him a lady that likes’m on the young side…”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” Dru knew his brother well enough to know that he was joking. Mostly. He smirked, “Still… not a bad idea.”
“What’s not a bad idea?” Vanya said as she stepped through the hatchway.
Tyler shot Dru a warning look, which his brother ignored, “Ty’s gonna take Joe out next time we’re planet-side and get the young fella drunked up and find him someone of the female persuasion to spend some quality time with as a thanks for all the hard work.”
“You most certainly are not.” As punishment, she took a seat near Dru, leaving Tyler’s lap abandoned for the moment. “Joe’s just fine the way he is.” Doing her best to give her brothers a stern look, she managed to hide her amusement at the thought of what an entertaining disaster Ty’s plan would actually be.
“Thanks. Ever so much.”
Testing the mood of the room as she settled into her seat, not quite relaxed, the diminutive companion looked back and forth between the pair. Though she’d never admit to deliberately manipulating them, there were times when they were more agreeable than others. And, since she expected arguments, she was determined to enter this conversation with every weapon at her disposal. “It feels good to be on the move again.”
“Never a better place to be,” the bearded Kokezaru replied, shifting back into the dark cushions of the worn old couch. His eyes fell to the glass below, the twinkling, dusting of stars that slowly drifted by as Alice sailed through the black. “Drift a bit and catch our breath…”
His head tilted and he caught Vanya’s eyes from their corners. Their time apart hadn’t been so long that the browncoat couldn’t tell that something was up. Even so, the companion always had been relatively good at hiding her intentions, even from them. “Last job left us sitting well enough to relax. Keep us sailing.”
“Don’t need another job like that.” Tyler stomped on the flooring. “Girl’s taken enough of a beating these last few months.”
Dru nodded. “Work’ll come when we need it.” He smirked, that corner of his lip disappearing into his beard. “Always does.”
He turned back to Vanya. “New quarters suit you?” His shoulder slid towards hers. “We know it’s not your old room and all…”
Those violet eyes glowed with a warmth that seemed to reach to the stars around them. Never one to say no to Dru, Vanya leaned her head on his shoulder, the silken locks of hair falling across him to claim that arm as her own as the faint scent of lemons rose to fill the air. “I’m home,” she answered simply. “It’s not the room that matters. However…”
Tilting her head, she looked into his eyes, preparing to work her magic on him first. “If we’re talking about the things we need…”
Dark eyes looked down to hers, catching that exotically colorful glint. “Yes?” He drew the word out, giving it that mild inflection that turned its end up in a way that denoted clear suspicion. Somethingwas up.
She looked away for a fraction of a second, luring him in. Then, though the space between their bodies remained the same, her tone shifted towards business. “I’ve been screening auditions from potential clients. I plan to accept one from a longtime contact on Cherti.”
The laugh came from across the room as Tyler swung that chair back around. “I see,” Dru replied, though his tone implied that whatever it was he saw, it wasn’t exactly eye to eye. He looked at her with a look that flirted with more older brother than it did the business that she had started. “Makes sense. Or wait.” His brow knit together, and he turned from her face. Hey, Ty. Remember Triumph?”
Tyler didn’t turn around, just spoke. “Like it was weeks ago.”
“There was that guy.”
“Yeah, that was him.” He stroked his beard. “Man… Whatever happened to that guy?”
“I shot him in the chest.”
Durden snapped his fingers. “That’s right,” those eyes feel back to his little sister, “Ty shot him in the chest because he was trying to hunt you down for that obscenely rich, murdering bastard.”
Since divide and conquer clearly wasn’t working, Vanya crossed her arms over her chest and settled her increasingly frosty gaze on Tyler. “So now I can stay in my room forever? Maybe I should want to…” Her tone was slipped from the professional into more of a sister. But either way, she wasn’t backing down.
Her brother broke, snickering. “Please…” his eyes rolled. “Am I supposed to take that bait, mei-mei? Really?”
Those perfect lips pulled into smirk. “Of course not, you’re far too smart.” Despite the devious little twinkle in her eyes, she patted his knee fondly. “But I will not live my life looking over my shoulder. We’re alive. We’re flying. I need to start getting my life back to normal.” Her hand lifted through her hair then fell back to her lap in frustration. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve worked?”
Dru shrugged his shoulders. He ran a quick calculation on how long it might have been since she’d landed on Triumph. “A month?” Judging by her pose and barely contained exasperation it was considerably longer. “And a half?”
“Unless you count Vincent while we were arranging homes for the kids, since before I boarded Repose.” Her lips snapped shut in a thin line, but her eyes found his again, appealing to him as someone she knew would understand. “I need this.”
He looked at her, those violet, pleading eyes holding him. “Wong bah duhn…” He sighed, shaking his head a little, a small glance shot to his brother who shrugged his shoulders. “What the hell wereyou doing on that ship?”
One down. A small chuckle shook her frame as she lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. “There were orphans, bandits, and aggressively-offensive crew members.”
“Sounds lovely,” the pilot snorted, swinging back about. “Like hanging out with Micky Grant for a weekend.” Their old mechanic had been a rather notorious pain in the ass.
“God…” Dru gave a squeeze of his sister’s shoulder, leaning her against him. “Don’t remind me.”
Many a man had paid a high price to hear the soft murmur of contentment that eased past Vanya’s lips. “So we’re heading to Cherti.” It wasn’t a question. Her gaze settled once again on Tyler. “It wouldn’t be altogether unheard of for a Companion to have an escort or two…”
Tyler leaned on the arm rest of his chair and palmed his face. He sighed. Slowly his fingers ran back through his hair until he came face to face with her. “Cherti?” He sat back. “You couldn’t have found a client not on a graveyard?”
Leaving the circle of Dru’s arm, the little companion moved closer to Tyler. Placing her hands on his clean-shaven cheeks, she smiled at her victory. “Samuel is the client I’m accepting at the moment. Perhaps next time I’ll let you suggest a more picturesque location for my work.” Dropping her warm palm from his cheek, her touch was both gentle and insistent as lead him to the couch. With a light push, she encouraged him to take the seat then placed herself between the boys, settling into that comfortable Kokezaru sandwich. “Graveyard or not… you’ll go there for me, won’t you?”
Tyler and Durden shared a look. Cherti had managed to stay neutral during the war. The reward for the planet’s inaction had been its use as a graveyard for both Independents and Alliance. The brothers served with more of the planet’s residents than they cared to admit, only taking a small amount of solace in the fact that they were also responsible for planting a fair number of the other side there themselves.
Tyler sighed heavily, “Why do I get the feeling we’d go to the very center of Hell if she asked?”
“All of them.”
“Because we’re here already,” Durden replied, looking over at their sister. “And she didn’t even ask for that one.”
Her lips pulled in that familiar smile, the one just for them. “I don’t recall asking for brothers either. But I love you both, just the same.”
The Kokezarus looked at one another. “Alright,” Durden said, shaking his head a little with that defeat.
Tyler got up and went back to the pilot’s chair. “Cherti it is…”