Title: Cerberus, Mark III
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Firefly
Rating: PG-13
Length: This section, about 1800 words.
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Feedback: Concrit adored! If you see something that can be improved upon, please let me know.
Written for: The Muse is going wild on this fic. Yet another alternate scenario.
Notes: An "alternate middle." What if River had offered to tell Niska who she was in order to stop the torture? Starts after the chain scourge.

Minion One pushed the button a couple of times, making sure he had current, then tore the remains of Jayne's bloody shirt off and pressed the metal end against the bared chest. Jayne's body jerked spasmodically as the electricity coursed through it...and this time, he couldn't help it; he screamed.

River closed her eyes and counted off the seconds in her head. When she got to five, the sounds stopped, and she sneaked a glance before quickly shutting them again. Jayne had a burn mark on his chest, and the scent of scorched hair filled the room. He'd bitten his tongue as well.

"Ah, yes." Niska sounded satisfied. "Certain forms of pain are fundamental. Mr. Cobb, are you familiar with the writings of Shan Yu?"

She had to put a stop to this. They were going to kill him if it kept up any longer. "Warrior poet," she answered for Jayne, who wouldn't know in any case. "'Live with a man forty years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man.' You're taking a shortcut."

"I'm an old man; I can't wait forty years," Niska said with some amusement.

"Would you like to meet the real me? I have a secret." She was going to have to be very careful about what she was about to do.

"And what secret would Jayne Cobb's cousin have that would interest a businessman such as me?"

"A two-hundred-thousand-credit secret."

Jayne wrenched against his restraints. "Shut up, girl! Don't listen to her; she's nuttier than my ma's pecan pie. Weren't you electrocutin' me or something?"

"Hush, Jayne. Bad doggy. Crazy girl knows what she's doing." River made some calculations. She was going to have to make Niska come close, quite close, for her plan to work. "I'll have to whisper it to you, though. Don't want them to know." She nodded at the minions. "Not for them, just for you. Wouldn't want you to have to share."

Niska was tickled by her audacity, somewhat, but also intrigued. "And what do I have to do in exchange for your secret?"

"Leave him alone," she said promptly. "Turn him loose without hurting him anymore, and never have anything to do with him again."

"Gorramit," Jayne snarled. "I won't have you--"

She cut him off. "Not for you to decide, anymore. I can make my own choices. I choose this."

"And I accept," Niska said. "This experience has proven very educational. You are willing to sacrifice much for one another." He motioned to his henchman, who stepped away from Jayne while he raged incoherently.

River shook her head. "Noisy puppy. You'll have to come quite close, Mr. Niska. Jayne is objecting very loudly."

He squatted down beside her. "All right, little girl. Tell me your sec--urk!"

He wasn't expecting someone so small and harmless to move so fast. She scissored her legs around, catching him across the chest and throat and pinning him to the floor with his neck caught in the crook of her knee. However, she wasn't exerting pressure...yet. She still had things to accomplish. Dancer's muscles held him helpless, although his nails scraped at her legs while he flailed around. "You might want to stop that," she said conversationally, tightening her grip on his throat just a little, as a warning. He stilled instantly. "Tell them to unchain my puppy and give him his teeth back."

He hesitated, and she clamped down a touch more. His eyes widened. "Yes, release him, please. Return his knives and gun."

Jayne had stopped swearing and was staring at her in disbelief. He grabbed the x-frame support to keep from collapsing when Minion Two undid his shackles. He rested for all of two seconds before he straightened determinedly. The aspects of the minions had changed from gleeful-threatening to uncertain-fear.

"No, unlock me and give me the gun. Jayne's angry, would probably use the gun. Can't have that."

Jayne snorted. "I wouldn't fire a gun in here. Noise'd likely bring the whole place down around our ears."

Minion One released River, gave her the gun, and stepped back. She noted his position and that of his partner--and coolly shot them both dead without looking. "Room is soundproofed," she said, before Jayne had a heart attack. "Niska knows about psychology. Different person to clean up the mess each time; whispers carry faster than screams. Right?" She smiled brightly down at the man she still held in the grip of her legs.

Niska's breath was coming in short, quick gasps. "I will give you...whatever you want..."

"Shh. First I have to tell my secret. Made a bargain, after all." She leaned down and whispered in his ear. "My name is River Tam, and the government would give you two hundred thousand credits if you turned me over to them. However--" She put the gun down and placed her hands on either side of his head. "You're not going to be able to do that."


And just like that, she snapped the little sumbitch's neck. Jayne reminded himself (again) to never, ever get on her bad side. She stood up and dusted her hands off. "He gave me what I wanted. We should go. The others will be worried."

Jayne took a step and stumbled, his head going all fuzzy from blood loss. The girl was beside him in a flash, draping his arm over her left shoulder while she brandished the gun in her right hand. Holding him up. Well, that weren't proper. "I'll get blood all over your dress," he protested, trying to push her away.

"Of course you will, you big boob. Think I care? It'll come out. Stop that." She batted at his hand. "Grab your commlink off that table and let's get out of here."

"Wait, where are we? Are we in Niska's skyplex? 'Cause that would be all kinds of bad."

"He has warehouses and buildings all over the system. This is one of them. Safe on the ground. Can we go now?"

Do the job. Get her back to the boat. Then you can collapse, he told himself. Wouldn't do to fall down in front of her, so he let her hold him up, because his legs weren't doin' their job at all. Thankfully, they didn't have to kill anyone on their way out, because the way River had just shot those two right between the eyes without even looking was downright freaky; and as much as he admired anyone who could handle a weapon like that, he wasn't sure he wanted to see it again.

They stepped out of the building and into the sunlight, blinking in surprise at the fact that Niska had put his torture chamber right beside a pretty shiny park, with grass and trees and squirrels and benches. A fountain sprayed sparkling water into the air. River guided them over to where a maple tree spread its branches over an inviting patch of green, and they collapsed together. She handed him his gun, and he holstered it clumsily. World was goin' real fuzzy...

It snapped back into focus when he realized that her face was in her hands and she was crying. Well, hell. He never knew what to do when womenfolk started up the waterworks, and sittin' here with his back on fire and a metallic taste in his mouth from nearly passing out weren't helpin' none. "Aw, babydoll, don't do that." He patted her awkward-like on the shoulder. "You done real good back there. Better'n I did. You came up with a plan and got us the hell out. And you weren't hardly crazy at all."

"I killed those men." Her voice was muffled. Suddenly he found his arms full of girl as she threw herself at him and sobbed on his chest.

Startled him for a second, it did, but just for a second. He never expected any of the crew to come to him for comfort, least of all this one, but he guessed that he was the only one available right now. He stroked her hair gently, like he was taming a skittish horse. "Them men needed killin'. 'Member what they did to Mal and Wash? What if he'd got ahold of Kaylee?" Now, there was a thought didn't bear thinkin'. "Not that you should get used to killin', because you shouldn't. Cap'n wouldn't like it and neither would your brother. You ain't a stone-cold mercenary like me, and that's how it should be."

"They're not the first I've killed. Oh, God. The Academy turned me into a monster..."

"You ain't a monster. Saved me. Saved us both. You done what you had to." Had he got the shakes this bad, first time he'd killed a man up close and personal?

"Not my first." He twitched; she was reading his mind again. "I killed one of the doctors at the Academy." She hiccuped. "With a pen."

"That's pretty personal," he acknowledged. "But you ain't as crazy now as you was then. Hits you harder when you're sane, I reckon. All this means, girl, is you're dead normal. Reg'lar people don't get used to takin' lives. I don't take no pleasure in it myownself. You'll be all right." Time to call the ship and get them off this rock, sooner rather than later. His back was still leakin' pretty steady, and that weren't doin' nothin' good for his head, which was starting to feel mighty thick.

He fumbled the commlink into his ear. "Cap'n? C'n you hear me?"

"Jayne? Where the hell are you? I swear, I'll put you out the airlock for real this time, you tried to turn River in to the Alliance again--"

Jayne choked at the absurdity. "Hey! Weren't my fault this time. Niska's men took us off the street. Little crazy girl..." He petted her hair again, and noticed that the spots exploding across the world weren't stopping this time. He started to fall sideways, caught himself on his hand, and sank down into the cold, welcoming grass. "She saved us. Saved us both..."

And then his vision went black, and he didn't know anything for a good, long while.

A/N: This is a sort of alternate middle, and the rest of it happens where Mal, River, and Jayne are in the infirmary. This fic has been a very interesting ride for me; it's the first time I've ever gotten a what-if AU--or more than one!--for one of my own stories. I'm not going to stick a "COMPLETE!" in the summary of this one, because I'm not sure it is. Heh.