Rating: PGish (pre-slash)
Disclaimer: Misuse is unintentional. Borrowing is a productive process. Joss is fairly fabulous, and you can tell I'm not exactly him.
Feedback: Always welcomed and very appreciated. If you do have concrit, I'd prefer it if you'd email to katekat1010 @ livejournal.com.
Written for maleslashminis and in particular voleuse who requested nostalgia, awe, and a cup of coffee. Well, at least I got the coffee!
A/N: Oz fell into the Firefly universe through a dimensional hole. No, it wasn't random: it was created when Willow was doing the spell for the slayers - they were popping up all over, but since he's not in contact with the Council he wouldn't have known. This occurs sometime prior to the timeline for the film Serenity.
Translation Notes: (all translations are from here)
Kuágrén = madman
Hundan = Bastard
shun-sheng duh gao-wahn = holy testicle Tuesday
lángrén = werewolf
A/N2: I'd like to thank poshlil for not only doing a last minute beta, but being fabulous, giving me huge help, and making this better. All corrections are hers, all remaining mistakes are mine.
A/N3: Finally, I need to thank my darlingest elizabuffy because not only did she read this, she offered me fabulous beta advice, over IM of all things, to help this get better.
A/N4: At the advice of my brilliant beta and helpful thinky partner, BE WARNED. Sections marked with ////////// are flashbacks, and sections marked with ********** are present day.
Mal walked to the caf, lured by the smell. Something was cooking. Smelled better than chocolate – darker somehow. Found Oz waiting patiently, watching a glass stein filled with . . . dirt?
"Want some?" asked the man at the table.
Mal licked his lips. "Does it taste the same way it smells?"
"Not exactly. Unless you make it sweet." Flash of smile. Packets of sugar suddenly spilled onto the table.
Mal fiddled with the stopper on the stein. "What's it called?"
Mal had a bad feeling in his gut. Didn't get any better when they were led to a dais instead of a cozy back room. A dais with a ceremonial warrior armed to the teeth on each step. Got worse when their contact turned out to be a pierced and chained headman whose accent was so thick he could barely make out words.
Something about a trial. He knew the guy said something about a trial. But after trying out one of his best "charming boy" smiles and getting absolutely no reaction, Mal knew this conversation wasn't going to go anywhere fast.
Nope. The only thing that moved fast were those ceremonial boys, who were looking mighty unceremonial as they surrounded him and Oz.
"Mal, what's going on?" Oz asked, as they rotated, completely surrounded by the foreboding men.
"I'm getting the sense that these boys aren't real friendly."
"You think? What did the headman say?"
Mal edged closer to the one avenue of escape, his hand on Oz's arm, all the while keeping his eyes on the men who were closing in… "Not too sure. I think he understood what we wanted, but I don't think he's terribly inclined to give it up."
Just as Mal was about to put his foot on the final step that would get them safely back to Serenity, the guards pulled their spears into a locking circle around them, barring their way to anywhere safe.
"That might be a problem" Oz said.
Mal didn't know how he'd done it, but . . .he fit perfectly. It wasn't that he was small, not that it hurt; no, it had nothing to do with size. Hell, Jayne fit on Serenity. No, it wasn't that about Oz. From the moment Kaylee'd made pouty eyes at him, told him that the only way they could get the converter they needed was to let Oz on board. From the moment Mal said yes . . . Oz fit.
Mal got used to seeing him walking around the corner. Talking to Book about that damn bible and playing poker with Jayne. Watching River make growly noises with a smile. He didn't get that one.
Mal crossed the cargo bay, on his way back from talking to Kaylee about that final engine part Oz had silver-tongued his way into getting for them in the last port. He saw them down below, Oz and Simon, playing weiqui.
"Why does River call you wolf?" Simon was asking, putting a black piece on the Weiqi board.
Oz waited a few moments, considering the game. "She didn't tell you?" He placed his white piece slowly, carefully.
"No, she said I'd have to ask you myself. She said . . . that things were different where you'd come from, and that you were more than just a JOAT. Then she started signing a nursery rhyme." Simon leaned over the board, placing another piece, and then softly sang, "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?"
Mal watched as Oz looked sharply at the other man's head bent over the game. He didn't think Simon had caught the glance, but from where he stood it was clear as day. Oz looked … worried.
"What's a JOAT?" Mal thought Oz had wanted to ask another question entirely, but that's what came out of his mouth.
"You know, a Jack of All Trades… you're the man who knows what we need and where to get it." Simon smiled, a little bewildered at Oz's ignorance.
Something in Oz seemed to relax at that. "Yeah. Well, I've always been a social person."
Just then Kaylee walked out of the engine room, and all of Simon's attention was diverted. Oz, on the other hand, looked directly up at Mal, and smiled a small smile that left Mal feeling as if he'd missed the joke.
Mal turned away from the bars in the window of their cell. He hated this. Unceremoniously shoved into a dirty six-by-six space that stank. No place to sleep, no place to shit. Not an ideal accommodation for anybody.
Three days. They had to survive for three days. And if they were alive after three days Mal was personally going to kill somebody. Oz had laughed when he'd said that out loud.
Mal couldn't believe it though. Well, he could believe it, it was just his luck that the easy peasy job had turned into a * shun-sheng duh gao-wahn*. Hell that they were going to have to fight their way out of. Hell that no one on Serenity knew about. The rendezvous with Wash wasn't for another week. And they weren't being allowed anywhere close to a vid to tell them otherwise.
He hated fights. Oh, sure, give him a good bar fight. But he hated this "prove your strength and worthiness" crap. Hated that it was just him and Oz that were going to have to do it, too. Hated that he had to think about it for an entire evening. No guns blazing here. No, they'd have to win with fists at dawn. And again. And again.
"Never seen you in a brawl." He turned to Oz, standing quietly beside him, "You ever been in a fight like this?"
"Not exactly, but I should be ok."
Confusing response, but Mal just nodded. "Just remember, these are nasty men, with nasty intentions. Don't let ‘em corner you."
Mal turned back to the window in the cell. It had a great view – if you felt like seeing the arena where men would soon try to spill their blood. It was going to be one hell of a fight. He just wished they were out there now, instead of sitting around in this stank cell *thinking* about it.
"Got something to tell you."
Kaylee whined in that winning way she had. Mal refused. She whined the next time they touched down on Evercrest, and the next one after that. Mal didn't want extra passengers, even if this *kuagren* could get them every missing part they needed as soon as it broke. Kaylee apparently introduced him to Wash, and now they were both after Mal to let this strange guy on board. Something about wanting Serenity to actually run right for a change. They kept ragging Mal about that damn converter, and that Oz wouldn't give it up unless he was allowed to come along.
Mal sighed, and agreed to meet the man. He was sure that Kaylee and Wash had cooked up this extortion "plan", and he didn't like it one bit. But he met the JOAT, for them. Only true spacers needed their own JOAT, and his crew was just fine the way it was. But he couldn't stand the nagging. And they needed that part.
Oz wasn't quite what Mal was expecting. Sure, JOATs came in all sizes and shapes, but usually they talked a little more than this guy. Usually they tried to convince Mal they were needed with endless bravado. Usually once they'd sprung the trap of asking for a free ride, they did everything they could to make you feel the thumbscrews. This man didn't even bother. Made Mal curious.
"Why should I bring you on board again?" Mal asked, "You've got my crew all fired up, but you don't seem to care one way or t'other."
"I'd like to do some traveling again, and Kaylee says you run a good ship. But it's up to you if you take me on or not."
Not a bad answer, but Mal had to ask, "Kaylee put it that you insisted I let you on board. Said we couldn't have the converter unless we took you on too. You have anything to do with that?"
Oz looked surprised, "Huh. Well, I knew she had a plan, but didn't know that was it. You can have the converter if you want it. Don't have to take me too."
"That's it? You don't want plead your case?" Mal was shocked. Gave him an opening and he didn't take it.
"Nah. I'd like to get off planet, but I don't do blackmail."
He liked that. Liked that a lot. Maybe Kaylee wasn't so wrong. "So, you don't mind seeing the finer back woods and narrow ways of this great universe? Kaylee didn't make you promises of inner-planets and fancy balls did she?"
Oz smiled, and Mal noticed his whole face changed, even though you might not see it unless you were looking closely. "Back woods are fine with me. Not much of a fancy man myself."
Mal couldn't disagree. In fact, he wondered if this JOAT was worth his while. But he'd gotten them a whole rasher of parts every time they were in port, at below cost. And Kaylee said he could do it again. He trusted her, and her sense of what was good for Serenity. It's what made her family.
"Well, I'm not bowled over by your personality, Mister Oz, but you'll do. Kaylee vouches for you, and if it's one thing she knows, it's what's good for the running of Serenity. If you'd like to come with us, you'd be welcome."
Oz nodded, a little glint in his eye. "Thanks. But it's not Mister Oz, it's just Oz."
The headman gestured again, and the guards poked them down the dais.
"Now, now, gentlemen," placated Mal. "We're all friends here, aren't we?"
All he got was a grunt in reply. They were steered around the compound, and they walked around a corner to find this gigantic dome of metal in front of ‘em.
Oz started laughing. Mal looked at him in curiosity and a bit of fear. Wasn't like Oz, really, to laugh that much.
Between giggles, Oz explained, "There's a . . . story where I come from. Story about a dome made of metal, where men fight to the death. The story goes, ‘Two men enter, one man leaves.'"
Mal grimaced, since he couldn't quite see the humor. "Best be two men leaving tomorrow, and the days after that, if I have anything to say about it."
Oz grew quiet, serious again, and nodded.
He never trusted anyone right off. Not anymore. But there was something about that Oz. They hadn't exchanged more than thirty words, but there was . . . something. Mal realized he liked to watch Oz move around the ship. He went from room to room like it was still new, like he could see the original paint on the walls. Or something.
He did that with people though, too. Never surprised by what they said, no, that wasn't really Oz's way. But he delighted in ‘em. Liked talking to Jane, or listening to him go on and on about Vera. The day Mal had stopped on the edge of the kitchen to hear that conversation was a laugh. Oz was willing to listen to anyone, about everything – from flintlock to magazine, cleaning mech to dealer.
But it was more than that. He caught Oz signing to River one day, an old guitar clutched in his hands. River went off on some ramble about angles and cowboys, and Oz didn't do anything but smile. And Mal could tell it was one of those delighted smiles, like he could've sat there all day.
Made him see why Oz was such a good JOAT. After three days he'd heard the life stories of the entire crew, and they all just . . . accepted him. Mal was surprised to find that he didn't mind. Oz wasn't the type to share all his secrets. Or anybody else's.
Something still bothered him though. He lay in his bunk below the decks, listened to the warm hum of Serenity as they sped away from another job well done, and wondered what it was. Some itch he couldn't seem to scratch. Pictures flashed in his head.
White skin. A pink shadow on a jaw-line just going to stubble. A grin that he could tell was a grin from just a twitch of the lips.
Mal pounded his pillow, turned over, closed his eyes. And was caught again, by a memory of calm storm colored eyes.
He didn't know what was wrong with him. The pictures kept coming though, turning and tossing doing nothing to stop ‘em.
Then came the full sense – sight and touch and sound. The sight of that pale skin lade bare beneath him. The sound – a low murmur turning into a growl – he'd never heard a man growl, but he liked the thought of it. Touching, being touched, made his body writhe on the sheets. He gasped.
And woke. And wondered when he'd slipped from waking to dreaming. When Oz had gotten that far under his skin?
They stood back to back in the center of the metal dome. Men crawled along the outside, screaming, chanting, jeering. They pounded on the metal structure and made it clang. Above them there was a cloudless blue sky, mocking Mal with its pretty color.
Inside, it was just fith. Filth piled around the bottom of the dome, fith standing outside it, fith came after them with fists and guts; stinking of fear, trying to make him and Oz fail. The ground was packed dirt, with blood spattered here and there, and he'd had a bad feeling when they'd walked in.
Oz insisted that he call it Thunderdome. He couldn't quite get the joke, but it made Oz smile. Mal wondered at the man gone furry at his back. Who would've thought, a lángrén? Mal grinned a feral smile at the fear he saw in the faces of the crowd the first time Oz changed. They were gonna beat these men. Beat ‘em to the bone.
It was his kind of job. Easy peasy. Mr. Universe needed a package picked up. A world that didn't have major fire power. He and Oz could hop down, pick up, and be out before anyone was the wiser.
Zoe didn't approve of running errands for Mr. Universe, but Wash was on board. They'd planned it so everybody else would be off getting new supplies at Saganaw base, and he and Oz would meet ‘em back at the rendezvous.
Nobody had said a word about it being him and Oz. Mal wondered a little at that, but chalked it up to that strange power the other man had. Nobody asked him questions he wasn't ready to answer. Did it for both of ‘em, these days.
So they hopped off ship, and into a right mess.
They were winning. He loved that feeling. Loved it. Loved knowing they were striking fear into their hearts with every punch, that strong men shook every time they heard Oz howl. Hell, it'd made the hair on the back of his head stand up the first time he'd heard it, but now it was part of the sounds of their opponent's defeat.
Two days. They'd made it through two days with nothing from the crowd but jeers and shrieks. Nothing from their jailors but grunts. Nothing from the thieves and murderers put in to fight them but the sounds of fists whistling through the air.
Now, on the third day, it was quiet. Something big was coming. Mal knew it in his bones. His hands were bloody from fighting, and Oz had blood on his muzzle. But he knew they were gonna beat this last bastard and were getting home.
At least he knew it until the ten-foot giant they'd saved for the last day stepped through the metal gate and it clanged shut behind him.
"What right did one man have to get so damn big?"
"Maybe he ate all his vegetables growing up." Oz responded, as Mal realized he'd said his thought out loud.
"Must be." Mal girded himself, "This is the last, Oz. He may be big, but you know what they say. . ."
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall?" Oz asked.
"Sounds like a damn fine plan to me."
Mal decided to wade in, and get this show on the road. That was his last real thought for a while; he and Oz moved in unison, to take that giant *hundan* down.
But he wouldn't go. Mal punched him, straight on, everything he had behind his punch, and the bastard just grinned at him. Oz tried jumping onto his back, and was thrown off and against the iron grating. They brushed themselves off, and tried again. Mal decided to stop being polite, and kicked the man right in the family jewels. He got mad at that. Mal didn't care – he liked mad.
Or he liked it well enough until that giant fist connected with his face, and he dropped to the ground like a stone.
He woke to find Oz's human face above him. A smile bloomed in those eyes, erasing the concern that had drawn the sides of his cheeks in. Mal liked him better smiling. Oz's smile widened, and Mal realized he'd said that out loud.
He tried to sit up, but found he was weaker than he'd thought. And he was back on Serenity.
"Oz? We made it then?"
"We made it."
Simon piped in at that moment, "Well, you almost didn't make it. That was quite a concussion. And if you expect to be able to stand up on your own for the next two days, you've got another thing coming."
Mal started at that, "Why not? I just took a knock to the head, right?"
Simon shook his head in dismay.
He turned to Oz, "Right, Oz?"
"Not exactly Mal. He kind of broke your ankle when I was taking him down."
Mal sank back. Zoe appeared in the doorway. "And if you think you're going to get off easy just because you've got a broken ankle . . ."
Wash came up beside her, "Now Zoe, I told you I wasn't their fault. You can't go blaming them."
She raised her eyebrows in that quelling look that Zoe could do so well. "You probably don't want to talk to me right now about being nice, since you were involved in this little job as well, and I'm not exactly in the mood to think about my *husband* lying to me."
Jayne appeared in the doorway behind her, "Yeah Mal, you could've at least invited us to your fun."
"Fun? Jayne . . . trust me fun it wasn't." Mal looked up at Oz, still standing beside him, "Next time I'll pass on that kind of fun." Oz smiled a little again, in agreement. "I don't suppose I could get off this gurney and rest in my own bed?"
"You can, if someone will help you get there." Even Simon sounded annoyed at them.
Oz moved to release the restraints, "I'll help you."
Mal grinned up at him. "Been doing that a lot lately."
"Yeah, it's not such a bad job, as far as it goes," came the reply. Mal thought he could get used to that.