Rating: PG12 (some swearing)
Disclaimer: If I owned the rights to any of this stuff I'd be a lot richer! Besides, if stupid Fox hadn't had to cancel Firefly I wouldn't feel the need to take them under my wing.
Timeline: Set Post Firefly (Inara and Book have left the ship) and pre-Serenity and sometime during season 7 of Stargate.
Wash let loose the muttered Mandarin curse as he dropped the end of the large crate he was carrying squarely onto his toes. Jayne gave a snort and took over shifting the heavy mass into a more secure position in the hold. He grinned as he watched Wash hop about unsteadily, looking for something to take his weight to save him from putting his injured foot to the ground. To Jayne's disappointment the imminent pratt fall was averted at the last minute as a muscular shoulder was wedged under Wash's questing hand.
Zoë took a moment to swing her carton onto the top of the stack with an easy economy of motion before turning to support her husband. She helped him over to the bulkhead where he slithered down to the deck. Zoë crouched in tender concern, cradling his foot in her lap as she worked at the laces.
"Did you break anything Sweetie?" she asked solicitously. He turned puppy dog eyes on her, putting on his brave little soldier face.
"Could be. Guess I should wait and have the Doc take a look at it. Darn, I guess that'll mean I'll have to skip the rest of the loading."
Jayne snorted at them as he brushed the reddish dust from his hands. "You can stop milkin' it, ya wimp! That should be the last of 'em."
Wash flashed a grin at his wife. "Hey, it's a miracle cure." He shot a mischievous look at her. "Of course, you could always kiss it all better..."
Zoë shot him a look that had him waving his hands in mock surrender. She straightened smoothly, letting his foot fall heavily to the ground and ignoring his yelp of protest as she glanced around the cargo hold.
"The miracle is that we seem to have completed a pickup without anything going against the plan."
Mal scowled at her as he stormed up the ramp. "Aint no call to be jinxing us now Zoë. I'll not be relaxing till all folks are on board and we're back in the black." He looked about impatiently. "Where've lil' Kaylee and the good Doc got to?"
Wash levered himself to his feet and started hobbling up the steps toward the cockpit, calling back over his shoulder "They took River into VerbenaTown to experience the delights of civilisation. Kaylee was saying something about underwear shopping."
Jayne looked up in interest. "Really? They say what kind?"
Mal scowled some more and swung around to start marching back down the ramp, muttering under his breath "I swear one day that girl'll get us all killed due to a hankering for feminine fripperies!"
He hadn't gotten as far as the bottom of the ramp before they all heard a stampede of booted feet and a frantic, panting Kaylee came barrelling into him, nearly knocking him flying.
"Gotta come ... River ... she's gone!" She gasped out the words between great swallows of oxygen.
Mal held her gently by both shoulders and gave her a little shake to get her to focus on him. "Calm down, bao bei, tell us what happened. I'm gettin' that something happened to River."
She took a deep breath but before she could speak Simon appeared round the corner of the ship looking flushed and wild-eyed. Not in the least his normal detached, immaculate self.
"Need the mule. River's run off. I can't find ..." He was red faced and shouting, almost as incoherent as Kaylee, but was stopped mid rant by a bout of coughing that doubled him over, hands braced on his knees.
"Look, if someone don't start telling me what in tyen shiao duh happened I'm gonna start knockin' some heads together!" Mal barked in frustration.
Kaylee took a long breath and ran a shaky hand through sweat damp hair. "We were shopping, Cap'n. Well, me 'n River were, and Simon was kinda watching us shop. Everything was shiny! River was laughing at some godawful panties we'd found then all 'a sudden she stared upward and just started screamin' like she'd got a glimpse o' hell or somethin'. I looked but I swear there weren't nothin' up there but clouds an' birds. Then she took off. We tried to catch her but she can move like nothin' you've seen!"
Mal snarled an oath that stemmed the flow of words from the wide-eyed mechanic. "That sister of yours Doc, got a talent for inventing new ways to disturb my calm! Fine, we'll split into teams. Zoë, you take the Doc in the mule. Circle the town; see if you can pick up her trail. Me 'n Jayne'll ask around quiet like if anyone's spotted a screamin' crazy person. Let's find her, people, before she draws down more attention than any'v us need!"
The bustle of activity was interrupted by a rustle of static from the intercom.
"Captain, I'm picking up a distress call from the next town over."
Mal grimaced. "Wash, we've got more'n enough troubles of our own without ..." He was stopped by Zoë's hand on his arm, her face grave. She'd caught the tone of suppressed panic in her husband's voice.
"Captain! They're being attacked by Reavers!"
A moment of deadly quiet followed Wash's tight, strained announcement. Then everyone erupted at once.
Jayne cursed and backed away from the hatch. "Reavers! Well what the hell are we waiting for? We gotta get outta here!"
"Oh Jesus! River! We hav'ta find her!" Kaylee whimpered, white faced and shaking. Simon had gone very still, head bowed, arms clutched around his waist as if he'd been gut-shot. Now he straightened, an icy mask slipping over his handsome features. He took a deep breath, levelling an arctic glare at Jayne.
"Even you can't seriously be suggesting leaving her out there!"
"Screw her! If we don't we'll all be screwed!" Jayne's belligerent stance was belied by the sweat beading on his brow. "We gotta go, Mal. I ain't planning on being no Reaver's munchable sex toy!"
Mal stood very still, gaze locked with Zoë's, whose hand was still clutching his arm. "There's not enough time." she said in a quiet voice.
Simon stared at them in disbelief for a second before his eyes narrowed and his jaw clenched.
"Fine!" he grated "I'll find her myself!"
Mal broke free from Zoë and strode after him, catching him at the bottom of the ramp and clapping a hand to his shoulder. Simon whirled to face him, but the look of desperate hope on his face was put out by the fist that cannoned into the side of his jaw. Mal caught him under the arms as he sagged and began dragging him back up the ramp, ignoring the choked sobs from where Kaylee had slumped in the corner.
"Zoë, get these doors shut!" he called over his shoulder. "Wash, get us out of here boo yao ming duh soo doo!" He'd hardly finished speaking before the ship was vibrating around them, the cargo bay doors nearly snapping shut on Simon's trailing heels.
There followed an aeon of pressure that had the occupants of the cargo bay gripping, white knuckled, any handhold whilst Serenity herself groaned in protest around them. The silence, when it came, seemed almost indecent. It was broken by a crackle from the intercom.
"We're clear." Wash's voice sounded flat and lifeless, devoid of its usual energy. Zoë walked over to where the Captain had fallen on his ass, Simon's head and shoulders resting in his lap, and held out a hand to him in silent companionship.
"Thanks." He muttered gruffly as she hauled him to his feet. "Can you 'n Jayne get him to the infirmary? I should be in the bridge." He moved away but was stopped as Kaylee stepped in front of him. He straightened his spine, standing tense and ready, not quite meeting her eyes.
"I'd like ta' stay with him Cap'n." she said quietly, silent tears streaming unheeded over her flushed cheeks. "He'll need someone, when he wakes." Mal looked startled, as if he'd been expecting something else, then gave a deep sigh and ran a slightly shaky hand over his face.
"Sure, Kaylee." He hesitated. "Take Jayne with you. I don't want you alone with him. He's like to be a mite unhappy when he comes to."
Kaylee looked up into brown eyes that suddenly seemed indescribably weary.
"I don't think anyone's gonna be happy on this ship," she muttered, her broken whisper barely audible, "not for a long time."
AN. I'm really keen to get some feedback from you guys. Seriously, love it, hate it .. please let me know! Especially tell me if you think things need changing. Only, be gentle! This is my first fanfic!
Chinese phrases in order of appearance:
Name of all that's sacred
Life risking speed